Along for the Ride is my debut novel! It’s a sexy romantic comedy I hope will make you laugh and squee.
I am so excited to share my beautiful cover with you. But before I get to revealing, I want to first thank my ah-mazing cover designer and illustrator, Leni Kauffman. She brought my vision to life, and I’m so grateful for her and her skill.
What’s Along for the Ride about?
When Jolene Baxter offered to help her sister and brother-in-law move halfway across the country, she didn’t foresee the last-minute changes that would leave her making the journey with the one person she can’t stand. Jason Akana is similarly unenthused about driving with the woman he publicly argued with five years ago at his best friend’s wedding.
But a lot of things can happen in sixteen hours, especially when car problems, an unplanned pit stop, and chemistry are involved. Once the dust settles after their trip, can these two stubborn people successfully navigate the unexpected feelings that follow close behind? Or will they hit a roadblock before reaching happily ever after?
Content Notes: Deceased parent | workplace harassment
So, without further ado, the Along for the Ride cover:
Excerpt from chapter 1 of Along for the Ride, by Mimi Grace
Jolene Baxter suspected she was some sort of masochist who enjoyed the special hell where avoidable inconveniences dwelled. She was wide awake on a Saturday morning without coffee, standing in front of her sister’s recently sold house studying the massive moving truck she would operate on a sixteen-hour trek across the country. Adding to her agitation and restlessness was the thought of making the journey with the one person she would rather never spend that many uninterrupted hours with.
“Thank you so much for doing this,” Jolene’s older sister, Nicole, said as she exited her almost empty house. She offered Jolene a travel mug that held coffee. Nicole wrapped her arms around her sister’s shoulders.
“You know I love you, but if you think I’m not going to steal that gorgeous rug that was in your bedroom for compensation, you’re deluded.”
“Oh, shut up,” Nicole said as she flicked Jolene’s ear. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“I wasn’t going to do it initially, but because of recent developments”—she shrugged—“I’m actually considering it.”
“You know I would’ve tried to pick someone else to go with you if it weren’t last minute,” Nicole said as if that sensible explanation would help Jolene not feel anxious and annoyed about her trip with the arrogant and cocky Jason Akana.
She stifled her desire to complain about him. She tried to be as nonchalant about the whole situation as possible. Think person-in-a-tampon-commercial-spinning-in-a-cornfield laid-back. But nothing said, “I’m totally unbothered” like changing travel outfits multiple times and settling on a less comfortable but more visually appealing jeans-and-light-sweater combo. Jolene ignored that these particular jeans had become a little tight in the last few months and would most likely give her issues on the long trip.
“I’m sorry Dad bailed,” Nicole said after a moment.
“If I got a free trip for two to the Bahamas, I would also forget I had daughters. Besides, I told you, I’m taking the rug as compensation.”
Nicole rolled her eyes and replied, “Fair enough, but I know there’s tension between you and Jason, and I don’t want you to be miserable during the entire trip…or catch a homicide charge.”
Fortifying her resolve not to complain about the less-than-ideal circumstances, Jolene said, “Seriously, Nicky, don’t worry about it. First, Auntie Julie is a fantastic criminal defense lawyer. Second, I’ll simply rotate between FaceTiming you and Mom. She can put down her sangria to relieve me of a hellish trip for a few minutes.”
“I can’t believe I’ll be a sixteen-hour drive away from you,” her sister said, abruptly changing topics.
Jolene shook her fist at the sky. “Damn being a brilliant and talented architect who gets amazing opportunities at prestigious companies far, far away.”
Despite her best efforts, Jolene’s voice caught on the last few words. Her sister embraced her once more. Jolene refused to cry because her sister deserved good things, and she wouldn’t make it any harder for Nicky by crying about being more than a fifteen-minute drive away. Jolene had jumped at the chance to help her sister and brother-in-law move across the country, partly because they were family and she would do anything for them, but also because the trip would work as Jolene’s mea culpa for regularly being difficult and at times complicating her sister’s life.
“Do you ladies want some of these muffins?” Nicole’s husband, Ty, asked as he joined the women on the driveway, interrupting what would’ve been an ugly cry session. The tiny apron he wore looked comical on his large body made for playing full-contact sports. His big smile exposed all his straight white teeth.
“No!” both women shouted too quickly.
Jolene didn’t need any of her brother-in-law’s concoctions he called food to further complicate her trip.
“C’mon, try a tiny bite,” Ty encouraged while he pressed a muffin to his wife’s lips.
“Ty, baby, I’m not going to eat the science experiment you made from the remaining products in our pantry,” his wife said.
“Jolene, how about you take some for the journey? They’re not that bad,” he said.
Jolene let out a grunt. “Do you remember Mom’s sixty-first birthday party?”
The two women burst out laughing at the memory of their mother, Jacqueline Baxter, sputtering and spitting out the disgusting tart Ty had baked for her. She hadn’t had time to grab a napkin before the reflex to get rid of the taste hit. Their mom embodied the refined Black church lady, and her subsequent conclusion that her daughter’s new husband had tried to poison her had been absolutely distressing.
“Hey, man,” Ty shouted, his voice cutting through the women’s laughter.
Jason had arrived undetected in an Uber, and made his way across the street to Nicole and Ty’s recently sold house. The laughter died down, and Jolene forced herself not to react unnaturally to Jason’s sudden presence. The arrogant tilt of his head tempted Jolene to roll her eyes and suck her teeth. But in a demonstration of her herculean control, she pasted a saccharine smile on her face instead. Jason ate up the distance between them with large strides and sure footing. His straight black hair dared not move out of place despite sufficient winds and what looked like a lack of hair product. The morning sunlight played with the golden undertones in his brown skin, a blessing from his Polynesian heritage.
Her smile faltered a bit when he finally arrived before her. They stood closer than they had in years, and she must’ve forgotten his arresting eyes and how tall he was. He all but towered over her, and she had the urge to take a healthy step backwards. She’d last seen him at Ty and Nicole’s New Year’s Eve party. They hadn’t greeted one another, and they never found themselves in the same room.
Jason hugged Ty in that way many guys hug, with a lot of patting and thumping on each other’s backs, then he gave her sister a gentle squeeze, but Jolene only received a simple nod. She quelled an odd feeling that sprung at the dismissal.
“See, Jojo? He only has a backpack, so your suitcase will definitely fit in the front.” Nicole pointed to the bag slung over one of Jason’s impressively broad shoulders.
“It’s barely a two-day trip,” Jason said while he stared right at Jolene. His brow slightly furrowed.
“I needed a large suitcase for the wardrobe changes every five miles,” she retorted.
“Then in that case”—he gave her a quick once-over—“I hope to be impressed.”
She wasn’t quite sure if he made a judgment on her current outfit or the body underneath that would hypothetically be exposed in this ridiculous set-up. The possibility of the latter made her sweat. His eyes met hers again, and everyone—including Jason—waited for her to say something snarky. She failed to come up with anything and instead buckled under the intensity of his brown eyes. Thankfully, her lovely sister could sense she was drowning and interrupted the silence, which had gone on just long enough to make things uncomfortable, with a quick airy laugh.
“Why doesn’t Ty give you both a tour of the truck, then Jason can come inside and pick up the coffee I have for you in the kitchen,” Nicole said before she walked back into the house.
Ty slid the back door of the box truck open to reveal its contents. “In here we have most of the furniture and appliances from our bedroom, living room, and kitchen,” he said, motioning toward the extremely packed interior of the van.
Jolene spotted the rug she so admired wedged between a mattress and the van’s wall.
“Don’t worry about driving any differently. The fragile stuff is in our car,” Ty continued.
Ty and Nicole planned to leave several hours after Jolene and Jason because they expected the buyer of one of their personal vehicles to arrive later from out of town. The passenger area of the moving van had two seats and very little space between them. A small suitcase would definitely make the area feel more squished.
“What’s your number?” Jason asked as the three of them made their way to the house after the tour.
Under any other circumstance, Jolene might’ve been thrilled or at least slightly satisfied that an attractive man had asked for her number. But he delivered the question so matter-of-factly and without the slightest hint of flirtation that she recited her number like she would while ordering a pizza. A few moments later, a message came through her phone.
“I’ve set up a driving schedule and possible pit stops we’ll take on our trip,” he said.
Jolene studied the detailed itinerary that outlined how Jason would take the first six-hour driving shift, and they’d swap places after lunch. He’d written out the gas stations they’d stop at and the possible restaurants and fast-food chains they might be interested in. He even included their operating hours. She now remembered how particular he was. Firmly pressing her lips together, she battled another rise of annoyance. She ultimately lost the internal fight and didn’t thank him for the perfect itinerary or even give an appreciative smile.
Instead, Jolene looked at him and said, “Wow, you really know how to take the fun out of things, don’t you?”
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I can’t wait for you all to meet Jolene and Jason <3