2:15 pm EDT, August 8, 2019

‘Hello Girls’ excerpt teases the perfect end-of-summer adventure

Hello Girls delivers a suspenseful, gripping tale of two girls looking to outrun their dangerous and broken families. Check out an exclusive chapter and our review!

Like most coming-of-age novels, the heroines of Hello Girls have their sights locked on the promise of life beyond graduation. Unlike other novels, caps and gowns are traded for wigs, glitter, and ski masks, the tassel ceremony is replaced with holding up a convenience store, and long, lazy summer afternoons making memories are spent on the run in seedy motels.

Brittany Cavallero (A Study in Charlotte) and Emily Henry (The Love that Split the World) team up to deliver the tale of Winona and Lucille, two girls whose chance meeting changes their lives. Confiding their respective at-home traumas to one another, the duo sets their sights on the freedom graduation affords them both. But, as things take a turn for the worse in Winona’s life when a family secret is revealed, circumstances push them out on the road with little to no preparation.

Billed as a Thelma and Louise-style tale, Winona and Lucille face their own dangers as they find themselves on the run from drug lords and a vicious father. Charting a course for the land of possibility — in this case, Las Vegas — the duo uncover the best and worst of each other as they scrap together what they can to get by.

Setting the story on the road not only opens up the possibility to meet interesting characters, but also locks the leading characters in tight quarters for many, many hours. Road trips can make or break a friendship. They can reveal more than you want to know, not only about a person’s inner workings through hours of conversation, but also their annoying habits.

A desperate need for companionship is the foundation of Winona and Lucille’s friendship. Their first meeting takes place in the most dramatic way possible — think rain, blood, and tears. And while Hello Girls benefits from the quick pacing of life on the road, the masterful execution of cons, and the thrill of the chase, it also shows how the weight of each decision weighs differently on the girls.

From the first page through to the last, the story twists together a surprising journey that will make you wish for a sequel of the continued adventures of Winona and Lucille.

Read on for an exclusive look at Chapter 4 of Hello Girls!

Hello Girls Cover

Read an excerpt from ‘Hello Girls’

Chapter 4:

Winona was supposed to be writing her French essay, but she was staring blankly at her dark bedroom window instead. Stormy had gone out for dinner with a visiting colleague, so she was home alone, and she’d long since eaten the single-portion dinner their person-al chef, Martina, had left in the refrigerator earlier that evening.

Her phone buzzed. A message from Lucille: It’s back.

The car. The one Lucille had seen watching her house the night before. She was worried it belonged to a barely-undercover cop, and her wasteoid brother was selling drugs to him.

“Marcus,” Winona hissed under her breath. If Winona had a time machine, she would snatch Lucille’s brother and dump him on the Titanic. Maybe save baby Leo DiCaprio while she was at it.

She quickly texted her best friend—her only friend—the one-word encouragement they’d been passing back and forth for weeks, whenever their lives in Kingsville proved to be particularly Kingsvilley: Chicago.

Lucille texted back: Chicago.

Winona sent two old-lady emojis back and waited for a reply, but Lucille didn’t send one, and Winona was forced to go back to staring down her homework.

She couldn’t get what Grandfather Pernet had said out of her head, and her mind kept wandering back to That Terrible Night, the night she spent a lot of time and energy Not Thinking About. Sometimes she wondered if that was the source of the weight on her chest, but the truth was, the weight had been there as long as she could remember.

That night, Winona had gotten home from school to find a voice mail from her father saying he’d be late. There was a hailstorm rolling in, and Stormy was going to cover it. She’d only been home twenty minutes when her grandfather called her.

Stormy had a rule about Winona talking on the phone with Grandfather without Stormy present. If he’s calling you, there’s a good chance he’s confused, and if he’s confused, I need to talk to him.

So Winona had ignored it, worrying whether Stormy would be angrier if she interrupted him at work or if she didn’t tell him about the call.

While she’d been deciding, Grandfather had called her four more times in a row. On the fifth, she panicked and answered. He’d been crying, babbling incoherently on the other end, and by then the hailstorm had picked up, and she’d been fairly sure she could hear it in the background.

The panic had started to set in. She should have answered right away; she should have called Stormy right away.

“Where are you, Grandfather?” she’d asked, again and again, until he’d described the nearest street sign. She knew Stormy kept the keys to the Land Rover—which would be hers in a few short months—in his desk drawer.

So she went to get them and drove out to pick up her grandfather, sobbing and soaked on the side of the road. She’d wanted to call Stormy on the way out, but her grandfather had been so scared, so confused. He’d begged her to stay on the phone with him. She couldn’t say no.

“If he knows I got lost, he’ll move me into a home,” Grandfather had insisted hoarsely. “He’ll get rid of me, like he got rid of her. That bastard wants my money! He’s always wanted my money! Well, I won’t be blackmailed out of my own house! I’ll spend every dime before I die, if that’s what it takes! Don’t you tell him, Winona!”

Even now, she remembered the way her stomach had turned at the prospect of trying to keep something from her father.
She had known it was impossible. Deep down, she had known.

But she’d also known he was going to be angry when he found out what she’d done. He might not let her get her license after all. He might not let her have sugar for a month or take her bedroom door off its hinges.

She’d decided to risk it anyway.

But when she’d driven her grandfather home, her father’s car had been parked in the driveway.

A neighbor had seen Grandfather wander off, barefoot, and called an Officer Carroway—lucky, because he was a “buddy” of Stormy’s. He’d let Stormy know so he could handle the “family matter” privately, and avoid the “town hens clucking.”

Stormy had seemed so calm as he explained this to her and Grandfather, and that was how Winona had known he was furious. Other people lost their tempers when they were upset; her father found his. He was more in control than ever.

“Winona,” he’d said. “Go wait in the car. I need to check in with your grandfather.”

When their conversation was finished, Stormy met Winona in the Land Rover and they drove home together, leaving his BMW behind. He hadn’t said a word, and all that time, the pressure was building. Her stomach was twisting. It was hard to breathe.

They walked inside in silence.

The first words Stormy said, when they reached their airy, tastefully-taupe great room, were, “Stay here.”

She stood in the middle of the cream-colored rug and waited while he disappeared into his office. As he walked back out, he lit up a cigarette: the next clue to how angry he was. He rarely smoked.

“Did your grandfather tell you what upset him?” he’d asked.

Winona shook her head.

Stormy took a long inhale and blew the smoke out through his nose, studying her.

“Every year or so, some con artist gets it into his mind to send the poor man a letter saying your mother isn’t dead. They’re trying to extort a poor old man.”

Winona’s heart had leaped like a fish from water.

“They want his money.” Stormy flicked the ash onto the coaster. “We know your mother’s gone, though, don’t we?”

It was a strange question to ask, but Winona had been so claustrophobic in her own body right then that she couldn’t puzzle over the question’s peculiarity. She just needed to anticipate what it was Stormy wanted and do it, so peace could be restored and the weight could lift. She nodded.

“She’s gone because she didn’t have self-control, Winona,” Stormy said calmly. “She made dangerous decisions.”
Winona agreed.

Stormy held the cigarette away from his mouth and looked at her for a moment. “You’re a lot like her, Winona.”

Tears sprang into her eyes, and she tried to blink them back. Stormy always thought she was trying to manipulate him when she cried. She shook her head.

Stormy frowned. “You always have been,” he said. “But you’re going to learn to control yourself, darling. You have to. It’s my job to keep you safe.”

Stormy had reached out and taken his daughter’s hand in his. Then he’d turned her hand over and pressed the cigarette into her skin.She’d started to cry out, to scream, but his grip on her arm tightened.

“You could have died today, darling,” he said while she struggled against him. He lifted the cigarette, and she gasped for breath. Stormy didn’t pull away.

“You did something stupid.” He pressed the cigarette to her skin again.

She could still remember the horrible smell, the ash mingling with something like rancid meat, and then the impulse to vomit, like a punch in her gut.

“We have rules for a reason,” he said. “Who knows what could have happened to-day?”

She wanted to fall into a ball on the floor, but she knew he’d think she was being dramatic, so she stood her ground.

“I’m so happy you’re safe, darling,” he said, tossing the cigarette into the ashtray. “Now go to bed.”

And she had, at least until she was sure Stormy was asleep. Then she’d crept out to the police station, seriously thinking she might turn him in.

She’d imagined a kindly receptionist meeting her at the doors, listening to her story and wrapping a warm blanket around her, as if she’d just been pulled from the choppy waters of Lake Michigan. You’re safe! the receptionist would promise her. That man will never hurt you again!

But when she’d reached the police station, the first man she’d seen through the glass was Officer Carroway.
That was when she knew: Stormy Olsen wasn’t a man anymore.

He’d made himself a god.

She’d met Lucille that night, and her life had changed. But in the end, she still went home, crept right back into her dark house with all the invisible weight that seemed to float around within its walls.

In the morning, their chef made them waffles. There were flowers waiting on the granite island when Stormy met her at the breakfast table. That morning, he’d given her the Cartier bracelet. He’d gone out to get it before she was even awake, wrapped it clumsily (she suspected even this was intentional), and presented it to her with a little card. He was so proud of her! He hoped she knew that he would always be there for her! She knew immediately the bracelet was meant to cover the burns.

The Louboutins, the Hamilton tickets, the new phone, the Land Rover. Each of these had appeared days or weeks after she’d upset him. Sometimes he even cried as he presented them.

But they never talked about their fights—if you could even call them that—and they never discussed what had happened to Grandfather Pernet that night. The in-home nurses had simply appeared the next Saturday, during their coffee visit, and been there ever since.

Nothing but the finest care for Stormy Olsen’s father-in-law. Nothing but the nicest jewelry for his daughter.
Winona emerged from the memory and slammed her French book shut.

This was ridiculous. One overreaction, over a year ago, and she was acting like her father was a mob boss. There was a way to settle this, once and for all, but she’d have to be quick.

She hopped off her bed and ran downstairs. She checked, then double-checked the driveway for signs of her father returning, then slipped into his office.

She crept around his mahogany desk and carefully, as though he were listening through a glass just outside the doors, started sliding the drawers open. She’d checked all but the bottom left when she bumped the mouse and his dark computer monitor woke up, the sudden blue light nearly scaring her out of her skin. She clutched her chest and laughed.

She was being so jumpy, and for no good reason.

A photograph on-screen caught her eye, a kitchen nearly identical to theirs.

It was a real-estate listing for a condo.

Sprawling across the top of the listing in bolded font: EVANSTON, ILLINOIS. The Chicago suburb that Northwestern was in. Stormy was condo-shopping. For her, for when she went to school? The place was gorgeous: all high ceilings and wall-high windows, white granite countertops and oversized bathrooms.

Lucille would never be able to pay rent on a place like this, and there was no way in hell she’d be willing to live there rent-free. Lucille was too proud for that.

Winona really needed to tell Stormy about her plans before he dropped nearly a million dollars on a place she couldn’t live in.

She put the monitor back to sleep, then knocked the drawer closed. Something rattled. She opened it again. A crack ran along the width of the drawer, right at the front, as if the bottom of it didn’t quite line up.

Her stomach dropped.

It was a false bottom. She lifted the thin piece of wood away, and beneath it found nothing but another file folder.
She tipped it open, and everything in her went cold.

The envelope lay at the top of the stack of pages within, and while the narrow, sloping handwriting across it wasn’t familiar, the name and address were her own.

Worst of all was the slice along the top of it, proof the letter—her letter—had been opened by her father.
It could still be a fake, she reasoned—but before the thought had even landed, she saw the photograph tucked under it, a bleary action shot of a woman in a crocheted top and yoga pants, jogging down a sidewalk with a rolled-up mat under one arm and the other waving, to someone outside the frame.

Winona’s heart jolted; her throat constricted until no air could get in or out.

She was looking at a photograph of a ghost, only ghosts didn’t change after they died, didn’t buy themselves new clothes or change their hair.

And Winona’s mother’s hair was longer than she’d ever seen it. Well beneath her shoulders, with a frizzy wave that Winona couldn’t reconcile with the posh, if melancholy, woman of society she remembered. Mrs. Olsen’s limbs were fuller, softer than they’d once been, but her face had thinned.

The woman was both her mother and a complete stranger. She would’ve been more at home in the practiced “bohemian” bedroom in Grandfather’s house, with its Persian rugs and towering stacks of Edward Albee and Sylvia Plath, than in Stormy’s modern art museum of a home.

And then there was the file underneath it. The name printed right there at the top: Kate Mercer. Not her mother’s name, but close enough to Katherine Pernet Olsen to call it to mind.

What was this? A dossier?

Her heart was really hammering now, so hard it hurt, and her stomach gurgled loudly as if all the confusion and pain and pressure in her body had turned to hunger.

Her mother was alive. Her mother was alive and her father had a private investigator following her.

Winona eyed the address on the top form. Kate Mercer’s address. The ghost of Katherine Olsen’s address. 1123 Morning Glory Road. Las Vegas, Nevada.

She had either been standing there staring down both for one second, or four hours, when she heard a key rattling in the front door. On an impulse she’d later regret, she snatched the envelope, stuffed the folders back into place, threw the false bottom over them, and closed the drawer.

By the time she heard Stormy’s heavy footfall in the foyer, she was at the top of the stairs. She darted into her room and slid the envelope under her pillow.

She couldn’t read the letter in this house, not with him right below her feet.

She needed to get out. She needed to talk to Lucille.

She needed to call a Cliffside.

Hello Girls is available now! You can order a copy from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Book Depository, or on IndieBound, and make sure to add it to your Goodreads as well!

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