The Promise of Paradise - By Allie Boniface

Chapter One

“Is this it?” Jen craned her neck and stared at the street sign.

Ashton wiped one damp palm on her thigh and tried to will away the knots in her stomach. “I don’t know.” She pulled her Volkswagen to the curb and dug in her pocket for the email print-out with directions. “Next right after the town green.” She looked across the street. Don’s Convenience Store waved a limp awning in the afternoon heat. “Across from Don's. Yeah, this is it. It’s gotta be.”

Already out of the car, Jen walked to the corner. Pulling her platinum blonde hair into a ponytail, she checked the crooked street sign and nodded at her best friend.

Ash made the turn and parked. “First house on the right,” she read aloud. “Number two.”

She leaned her forehead against the steering wheel and closed her eyes. Deciding not to take the job at Deacon and Mathers was one thing. Moving to an unknown town a hundred miles from her parents, fleeing the scandal that now appeared in every Boston newspaper, was something else altogether. The knots in her stomach multiplied and stretched fingers of steel that began to strangle her heart.

“Ash?” Jen poked her through the open window. “You okay?”

She raised her head and forced herself to take a deep breath. “I don’t know.”

Jen pulled open the car door. “Come on. Let’s look at the place.”

Shoving dark blonde curls from her forehead, Ash got out of the car and stopped. “What if I’ve made a mistake? Like the biggest possible mistake in the world?” She stared up at the house, a nondescript two-story with dusty windows. It didn’t look like anything she’d ever seen before. Well, that’s the point, right? I wanted something completely different. I wanted to start fresh, someplace where no one knew me.

Willing her feet to step one in front of the other, she followed Jen to the front porch. “What if I’m really supposed to open my own law practice, go into politics, like Jess and Anne? Like Dad?” She sank onto the bottom porch step.

Jen tried the door. “You’re not,” she said over her shoulder.

“How do you know?”

“Because you spent the last two months of law school miserable and because you need a change.”

“My parents are going to kill me.”

Jen joined her on the step. “To tell you the truth, I think your parents have other things on their minds these days.”

Like explaining to the press why my father was caught with drugs and a nineteen-year-old prostitute in his car? Two months before he was about to receive the Democratic vice-presidential nomination? Ash dug her toe into the pavement, tracing cracks and watching ants scurry. “I guess you’re right.” Suddenly, her decision to leave Boston and the center of the Kirk family scandal didn’t seem like the worst decision in the world. In fact, when she thought about it, it seemed downright practical.

She eyed the car and wondered how long it would take her to unpack. Not that long. The apartment was supposed to be furnished, and she’d brought only a few clothes and books. Most of the memories she’d put into storage or burned.

Jen worked her fingernail beneath some peeling paint on the porch railing. “You need this, Ash, a summer to yourself. You need to be…” She stopped for a moment, as if searching for the right word. “…away.”

“Away from the media circus? Or away from Colin?”

Jen didn’t answer, and for just a moment, Ash let herself ache with the memory of Colin Parker, her love all through law school. She’d planned to accompany him to Europe and then move in with him at the end of the summer. Hell, she’d planned on marrying him. But Colin had dumped Ash thirty-seven days earlier with a note tucked into her planner.

I need some time and space to think… it began and ended with his scrawled signature minus Love or any other word that suggested he’d shared her bed and her heart for the last three years.

One month before graduation, and three weeks after the debacle with her father, he’d dumped her. A tear snuck its way down her cheek, and Ash dropped her head to hide it. The breakup hadn’t been the worst of it. Colin hadn’t needed time. He’d lied about that part. He had needed space, though, space in which to date Callie Halliway, president of the Student Activities Council and Colin’s co-author on a half-dozen journal articles. Beautiful and well-pedigreed, Callie partnered him perfectly, both on his arm and