The Bad Penny

In this modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, tragedy forces newly divorced chef Molly Price to reconnect with her troubled parents and she must step in to save her five-year-old sister. Molly soon learns that, though her sauces never break, the same can’t be said for her heart.

An excerpt from chapter one of Knife Skills

 

Fricassee, a stew of poultry or other white meat with a white sauce . . . Molly Price repositioned herself under the shower so that the stinging hot water hit the tense spot between her shoulder blades while she recited the five liquids chefs use in making white sauces. She’d gotten through veal, chicken, and fish stock when there was a knock on the bathroom door. Not now. “…Vegetable stock. Milk.”

Her roommate Lynne poked her head in. “Your cell phone is ringing.”

It was half-past six in the morning. Who’d be calling her? “Just let it go to voicemail.”

Molly didn’t need the distraction. Closing her eyes, she let the shower spray course over her back and down her legs and continued to review for her big exam until the water ran cold. Wrapping herself in a towel, she ran across the cluttered living room to the curtained alcove that served as her bedroom in the tiny 400-square-foot apartment. Her cell phone rang. Grabbing it off the window sill she used as a nightstand, she read the flashing blue screen. Antonio. What the hell does he want? Molly took a step back and stumbled onto her twin bed. The phone continued to screech. As usual there was no ignoring Antonio.

“What do you want?” Molly asked.

“Molly, hey. Where have you been? I must’ve called twenty times.”

“Two times. I’m busy. I have to get ready for school.”

“That’s right. You’re gonna be the next Julia Child.”

Oh, this is going to be bad. “Antonio, what do you want?”

“It’s not me, Mollita.” Pause. “It’s that hijo de puta at E-Z Storage. He’s out for our blood.”

Our blood? She’d signed the divorce papers six months ago. “How much this time?”

Molly could barely think straight she was so angry. By the time she finished dealing with Antonio, she had only enough time to throw on some clothes and run her fingers through her damp red curls. Now they’d probably dry frizzy. Well, one Little Orphan Annie comment from any of the cracked-voiced jerks in her class and she’d fillet him nose to nuts. She was just in the mood for it.

In the kitchen, Lynne munched on toast smeared with peanut butter. “It’s a little early to look so pissed off.”

“I’m never going to be free of Antonio. Am I?” Molly retrieved two bottles of cabernet from the wine rack on top of the refrigerator and wrapped them in newspaper. Bedford Brothers 2007 Reserve. She’d trekked all the way out to Mattituck, to her aunt and uncle’s vineyard, to get them, a last-minute inspiration that just might give her an edge in today’s exam. Long Island wine country. Every time she visited, she wondered why she’d ever left. People wrote magazine articles about it. They scrimped to pay for honeymoons there. But Molly couldn’t wait to get away, out on her own to live a real life. Only the life she’d found hadn’t worked out that well.

Lynne leaned against the sink. “What’s he up to now? Trying to make another date for coffee and recriminations?”

Molly winced. She knew Lynne didn’t intend to be cruel. It hurt, though. The marriage had been bad enough. Now she had to put up with post-mortem evaluations by friends and family. Everyone, it seemed, had spotted Antonio del Castillo for what he was, though none of them had seen fit to mention anything to her before the wedding. Almost none of them. Ned, Molly’s best friend, had been more than generous with his warnings. But he’d never liked any of her boyfriends, so she didn’t take as much notice as she should have.

“Well?” Lynne asked, still waiting for an answer to her question.

“No coffee or recriminations.” Molly tucked the wine bottles into her backpack. “Just money.”

With Antonio, it always came down to money.

Despite being behind schedule, Molly and Lynne made good time on the Long Island Expressway. That changed as soon as they left the highway for route 110. Cars seemed to appear out of nowhere. The one in front of them slowed to turn into an office complex. Molly waited and then urged her aging Toyota forward, picking up speed as the road descended toward downtown Huntington. She registered a movement to her left but didn’t dwell on it. She had right of way. Such technicalities didn’t appear to matter to the driver of the battered white pickup that turned in front of her. Molly’s brakes screamed as car and truck collided. She flew forward in her seat, her safety belt digging into her chest and ribs. She looked over at Lynne, who sat in the passenger seat with her eyes squeezed shut and her arm braced against the dashboard. “You okay?”

Lynne nodded. “I think I peed myself.”

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