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Ashley Herring Blake | Exclusive Excerpt: ASTRID PARKER DOESN'T FAIL


Astrid Parker Doesn't Fail
Ashley Herring Blake

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December 2022
On Sale: November 22, 2022
Featuring: Jordan; Astrid
368 pages
ISBN: 0593336429
EAN: 9780593336427
Kindle: B09T5GJ8BV
Trade Paperback / e-Book
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Also by Ashley Herring Blake:
Astrid Parker Doesn't Fail, December 2022
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Delilah Green Doesn't Care, March 2022
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From ASTRID PARKER DOESN'T FAIL published by arrangement with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2022 by Ashley Herring Blake.

 

Astrid didn’t usually attend demo days. She hated the dust, the chaos, the crew tearing cabinets out of walls and wielding sledgehammers like Neanderthals. But the Everwood Inn wasn’t just any design project, and everything had to be documented for Innside America, including her overseeing parts of the demo—or at least pretending to. Plus, with her reputation already on shaky ground with the lead carpenter, Astrid knew she needed to be involved. Passionate. Maybe peeling off a segment of wallpaper or two might go a long way to repairing things with Jordan. All she had to do was be her usual collected self.

Except when she pulled up to the front of the inn and spotted Jordan and Natasha standing on the porch, laughing, Astrid’s nerves quickly rebelled. With the giant dumpster situated in the front yard, coupled with the show’s crew mixing among the demo crew, things were getting real.

“You’re here,” Jordan said when Astrid got out of her car and headed toward the porch, her work bag hooked onto her elbow.

Astrid made sure her smile reached her eyes. Jordan’s short hair was flaked with dust and god only knew what else, clear safety goggles perched on top of her head. A worn tool belt encircled her waist, fastened around another pair of overalls, these a dark gray denim, with nothing but a bright pink sports bra underneath.

Astrid felt her stomach flip—public displays of skin always made her uneasy, an unfortunate byproduct of three decades of Isabel’s etiquette lessons. Logically, she knew revealing certain parts of one’s body in a situation that didn’t involve water and a bathing suit was perfectly normal and acceptable for some people, but her gut instinct couldn’t shake off the years of crossing her legs at the ankles, right over left. Still, she found herself tilting her head at the other woman, admiring the smooth skin showing through the sides of her overalls, wondering what it would feel like to be that free.

“Hello?” Jordan said, waving a hand in front of Astrid’s face.

“Sorry, hi,” Astrid said, slipping her sunglasses over her eyes. She felt better with a barrier between herself and this woman, an extra wall of protection. “How’s everything going?”

Her eyes searched for Josh Foster, the contractor the Everwoods had hired and whose crew handled the demo. When they met on jobs, Astrid interacted with the man as little as possible, emailing him design schematics with a curt “Here” in the body of the message and leaving it at that. As her best friend Claire’s ex and the father of Claire’s daughter, Ruby, Josh was an inevitable presence in Astrid’s circle, but she didn’t have to like it. He’d crapped out on Claire enough in the past that his newfound responsibility—complete with contracting business and permanent home in Winter Lake—did little to endear him to Astrid. His crew was here though, dumping ancient sinks and countertops and cabinets into the large green dumpster on the front lawn, so she had to give him that.

“Things are going fine,” Jordan said. “Destroying my childhood home is fully underway.”

“Dammit, Jordan,” Natasha said, mirth filling her tone. “Save that sort of snark for the cameras.”

Jordan laughed too, and Astrid forced herself to join in, though the action felt desperate, like she was a tween asking to sit at the cool kid’s table. Still, Natasha wanted her to play a role? She’d play a role. She was fantastic at playing roles.

Astrid let her laugh fade. “So, you want to keep that clawfoot tub with the rust ring and the—” She squinted at the details on the bathtub two crew members were carrying to the dumpster. “What are those, cherubs on the faucets? Then again, you do love gaudy dancing fairy clocks, so.”

Jordan continued to gaze at her coolly, one eyebrow lifted. Goddammit, Astrid wished she could lift one eyebrow.

“Oh, this is going to be so much fun,” Natasha said. Then, placing a hand on Jordan’s shoulder, she turned and called into the house’s open front door for Emery. Jordan kept her eyes on Astrid, a tiny smirk on her raspberry red mouth. Astrid tried to hold her gaze, but she couldn’t stop looking at Natasha’s thumb swiping over Jordan’s bare shoulder, how comfortable Jordan seemed with the contact. Yet another thing Astrid wished she could do—touch, be touched, without the urge to straighten her posture.

“Hey, what’s up,” Emery said, appearing on the porch with their own safety goggles and wearing a gray T-shirt with six horizontal bars printed on it, each one in a different color of the rainbow. “Oh, hey, Astrid.”

“Hey,” she said, smiling.

“Okay,” Natasha said, clapping her hands. “Our two stars here are fired up and ready to go, so I say, let’s get something really interesting.”

“What’d you have in mind?” Emery asked.

Natasha turned to Jordan. “You’ll feature more prominently for the demo shots—we already have some planned with you and Josh, as well as one or two with Simon and Pru, if you think they’d be up for it.”

“Absolutely,” Jordan said. “My grandmother would love to hit the shit out of some kitchen cabinets.”

“Actually,” Natasha said, her voice curling mischievously as she turned toward Astrid. Then she just grinned at her.

“What?” Astrid said. “Actually what?”

“No way,” Jordan said, shaking her head.

“Oh, come on,” Natasha said. “Emery, am I right?”

“You’re right,” Emery said, winking at Astrid before tapping something out on their phone.

“What are you right about?” Astrid asked.

“That has disaster written all over it,” Jordan said, ignoring her completely and still looking at Natasha.

“It’ll be fine,” Natasha said. “It’ll be like a teacher-student moment.”

“I don’t know,” Jordan said, finally glancing at Astrid. She slid her eyes down Astrid’s crisp fitted white tee, dark skinny jeans, and white sneakers. Astrid squirmed under her gaze, fighting the urge make sure the cuffs of her short sleeves were rolled up evenly. “That’s a lot of white.”

“Even better,” Natasha said.

Astrid’s pulse roared in her ears. “Will someone please tell me what the hell is going on?”

Everyone’s eyes went wide. Astrid’s voice had bordered on a yell. And she’d sworn. She’d sworn in front of Natasha Rojas.

Natasha, for her part, looked delighted. “We have the perfect task for you.”

“Why do you say that like you mean the exact opposite?” Astrid asked.

Jordan grinned—a Cheshire cat kind of grin. “Look at us. We all know each other so well already.”

Astrid sighed and hoisted her bag higher on her shoulder. Whatever this was, she had to be game. Anything else would come off as…well, elitist and bitchy. “Fine. Lead on.”

Natasha beamed and shot a thumbs up to Emery, who disappeared into the house ahead of them, calling Regina’s name. Jordan watched Astrid for a split second before turning and heading up the rickety front porch steps. Astrid followed, the sounds of demolition growing louder as they walked through the open front door.

Jordan and Natasha led her through a swinging dark oak door and into the kitchen. It was a large space with a bank of windows along the back wall, surprisingly bright for a century-old house. Still, Astrid couldn’t wait to change out the dark cabinets for white shakers, remove the peeling laminate counters and replace them with smooth marble.

Regina and Emery were already inside, setting up lights and cameras, as well as Darcy, whose job was setting up the aesthetics in each shot, everything from hair and makeup to debris on the floor.

“Let’s get you settled,” she said, sitting Astrid on a stool in the back of the room. She inspected Astrid’s face, while Astrid focused on Darcy’s eyebrow piercing and her purple eye shadow. “Well, you already look pretty damn fabulous.”

“Oh,” Astrid said. “Thank you.”

“What about me, Darce?” Jordan said, looking affronted.

Darcy laughed, her asymmetrical bob swinging. “Please, you could probably do my job with that eyeliner work.”

Jordan laughed, catching Astrid’s eye. For some reason, Astrid felt a blush creep into her cheeks. How was Jordan so friendly with everyone already?

Darcy fluffed Astrid’s hair, added a swipe of blush over her cheekbones, and then patted her shoulder before releasing her. Astrid stood up, set her bag on the stool. She still had no idea what they wanted her to do in here.

“The network is cool with you wearing that necklace on screen?” Jordan asked, motioning toward the single gold charm around Natasha’s neck, that same double wishbone Astrid remembered from their first meeting last week.

Natasha laughed and picked up the charm, looking down at it. “Most people have no clue what this is.”

Jordan rolled her eyes. “I’m gay. Of course I know what it is.”

“What is it?” Astrid asked and immediately wished she hadn’t. Both women’s eyes flew to her, then back to each other. Clearly, she should know what this was.

“Point,” Jordan said, nodding at Natasha.

Natasha, at least, was a bit more polite and smiled warmly. That is, until she opened her mouth. “It’s the clitoris.”

“It’s the…” Astrid trailed off. Blinked. She didn’t think she’d ever said that word out loud.

“The clit,” Jordan said.

“Yes, yeah, I got that,” Astrid said.

“Those who have them have to prioritize their pleasure, am I right?” Natasha said.

Another fist bump between Natasha and Jordan. Darcy let out a little woot from near the back door where she was moving a pile of broken wood further into the corner.

“Right,” Astrid said. Was she sweating? Shit, she was sweating. It wasn’t that she was appalled or offended. Quite the opposite, actually. Iris Kelly was her best friend, for god’s sake. She simply felt…lost. The crew—Natasha and Emery and Jordan, everyone—were vibrant and funny and brazen.

Everything Astrid wasn’t.

Everything she sort of wished she was.

“Okay, we’re ready,” Regina said, face still hidden by the camera. “Five…four…three..” Then she simply held up her fingers for two and one, and before Astrid knew it, the camera’s light was green.

“Oh,” she said. “Um—”

“Here.”

Something cool and smooth pressed against her arm. She looked down at the steel head of a sledgehammer pressing against her bare arm, the long wooden handle in Jordan’s hands.

“What do you mean ‘here?’” Astrid asked.

Jordan quirked a brow. She pulled the sledgehammer back and choked up on her grip, hands sliding toward the steel head as she held it up. “This, my sweet summer child, is a sledgehammer. It smashes stuff. Big crash, big boom.”

Natasha, who was off screen for this shot, laughed into her hand, eyes sparkling. Astrid squared her shoulders. She was going to do this right, goddammit. She was going to sit at that cool kid’s table.

“Oh, so you’re a smartass?” Astrid said, and Jordan grinned. Astrid was pretty sure her mouth was trying to do the same, but hell if she wanted to give Jordan the satisfaction.

“You’re a quick learner,” Jordan said. “I’ll show you. Here.” With her free hand, she tossed Astrid a pair of clear goggles, which Astrid fumbled but managed to hold onto. “Protect those baby browns.”

Something about the way Jordan said “baby browns” sent a surge of blood to Astrid’s cheeks as she slipped the goggles over her head. She had no clue why. Eye protection was a basic requirement on renovation sites and she’d worn them enough to expect them here as well.

Jordan settled her own goggles on her face, causing a longer piece of hair to tangle in the strap and stick out from her head in a golden-brown loop. Astrid doubted she noticed or cared as she hoisted the sledgehammer onto her shoulder, planted her booted feet on the plastic-covered floor, and let the tool fly.

A huge crack resounded through the kitchen. Even though Astrid was prepared for it, she startled, stepping back a couple of feet as chunks of wood catapulted into the air. Jordan’s lean arm muscles rippled as she reared back and did it again. She had abs—actual defined abs visible between the denim of her overalls that contracted each time she reset herself for another swing.

It was fascinating. Jordan’s body was efficient, quick, like a finely-tuned machine that knew exactly what it was built for. Astrid had only ever seen men do this kind of work, which was probably why this—Jordan, exhibiting such power—was so enthralling. Astrid felt like a horrible feminist. Of course she knew women and nonbinary people worked on construction sites all the time, but she still couldn’t pull her eyes away. Score another point for internalized sexism.

She shook her head to clear it, shoving any and all fascinated thoughts from her mind. This was a woman doing her work and doing it well. That was all.

Once the bank of cabinets was clear, Jordan stopped. She shoved her goggles on top of her head, pressed the steel head to the floor and leaned on the handle as she turned to face Astrid.

She was sweating.

Arms glistening. Droplets on her chest.

Astrid felt like slapping herself for noticing these details. True, she was a detail-oriented person. Type-A, organized to a fault, eyes keen and constantly searching for flaws. She was the friend who always spotted the piece of fuzz in Claire’s hair or that Iris had missed a button on her shirt, but still. She was in a professional setting for god’s sake—on camera, no less—and here she was noticing beads of perspiration trailing into her carpenter’s cleavage.

“And that’s how you do it,” Jordan said.

“Looked thrilling,” Astrid deadpanned. “Now where’s a steamer? I’m great at removing wallpaper.”

“Oh, no,” Jordan said, laughing. “It’s your turn.”

Astrid’s stomach tightened. She probably couldn’t even lift that sledgehammer, much less send it flying toward a collection of wood. She’d rather not experience Jordan-the-sexy-carpenter—not to mention half the show’s crew—witness her flailing with the tool. She’d probably end up breaking a toe or finger or something else she was most definitely not supposed to be destroying. No thanks.

“What’s wrong, Parker?” Jordan said, taking a step closer to her, sledgehammer in tow. “Scared?”

Astrid got the distinct feeling Jordan knew the answer to her question, but hell if Astrid was going to admit it. The carpenter was even closer now. Astrid could see a circle of darker green rimming in the center of her hazel eyes. She’d never seen eyes like that before.

“So?” Jordan said, that shit-eating grin on her face again.

Astrid swallowed and set her jaw. “Fine.”

Triumph—that was the only to describe it—flooded Jordan’s expression.

Astrid followed the other woman to a still-intact row of cabinets.

“Put these on,” Jordan said, taking off her gloves and handing them over. They were still warm as Astrid slid the rough material over her fingers. “Okay, now here’s what you’re going to do…”

Jordan proceeded to explain how to hold the sledgehammer, how to use your legs for leverage, how to grip it firmly before letting it fly toward the intended target.

“Once you hit the cabinet, don’t loosen your grip,” she said. “Keep it tight, pull back, and go again. Got it?”

“Got it,” Astrid said, but she felt anything but confident. Her hands shook as she took the handle, suddenly terrified that she truly wouldn’t be able to lift it.

“No time like the present, Parker,” Jordan said, watching her with what could only be described as a smug expression. Did she…want Astrid to fail?

The thought was a punch in the gut. Then again, it wasn’t like Astrid didn’t deserve whatever attitude Jordan felt like dishing out, but Astrid’s whole body suddenly felt like a healing bruise—the gentlest press was bound to hurt.

She sucked in a lungful of air and lifted the sledgehammer into the air. The weight was substantial, falling heavily on her shoulder and pulling at her neck muscles, but she did it. She squared herself in front of the nearest cabinet while Jordan took a few steps back.

Probably wise. God only knew where this thing was actually going to land. She set her body to mimic exactly what Jordan had done, eyeing her target like a bullseye. She breathed in slowly through her nose, but couldn’t seem to move beyond her current position.

“I always picture something I really despise,” Jordan said from behind her.

Astrid turned. “What?”

Jordan gestured to the cabinet. “Imagine it’s something you hate. Or someone. The forty-fifth president. Racists and homophobes. Brussel sprouts.”

Astrid cracked a smile. “Brussel sprouts?”

“Loathe them entirely.”

“Is that what you do? Picture Brussel sprouts?”

Jordan’s wry expression dimmed, just a little, and when she spoke her voice was softer. “Something like that.”

Astrid turned back around, but felt suddenly empowered. Something she hated. Jesus, where did she even start? Clutter. Victorian-era furniture. Berry-flavored sparkling water. Shape wear. Four fork choices at dinner. Her mother’s eye-twitch. Her mother’s sigh. Her mother’s pursed mouth when Astrid ate a goddamn carb.

Her ex-fiancé’s face appeared in her mind. Spencer Hale’s perfect, chiseled, golden-boy face with his new perfect, golden-girl fiancé. She didn’t hate him. Not exactly. She certainly didn’t hate her. More like she hated who she was when she’d been with Spencer, hated how she believed she needed to marry someone like him. Hated feeling powerless to make her own choices, live her own life.

Astrid heard a grunting noise, a growl almost, and it took the sledgehammer actually flying through the air for her to realize the sound was coming from her. The steel end slammed into the cabinet with a crash, splinters flying everywhere. The action and resulting consequence surprised her so much, she loosened her grip and the sledgehammer plummeted to toward the ground, taking her arm with it.

“Whoa, killer,” Jordan said, suddenly right next to her. “Keep it tight, remember?” She slid her fingers over Astrid’s bare wrist and helped her lift the tool back up.

Astrid shivered. Her whole body was shaking, adrenaline coursing through her veins. Goose bumps erupted along her arms.

“Again,” she said and Jordan’s brows lifted. The other woman said nothing, though, stepping back and flourishing her hand for Astrid to proceed.

And proceed Astrid did. She forgot all about the cameras, about Natasha Rojas watching. She demolished the cabinet until it was nothing but a husk of wood hanging from the wall by its brackets. Then she pulverized the one next to that, swinging the sledgehammer over and over until she was out of breath and her fingers stung despite the gloves protecting her skin. She felt wild, alive, like every bit of her will had been poured into this tool and she alone was calling the shots.

She didn’t think she’d ever had so much fun on a job site.

When she finally stopped, her arm was sore, bits of wood and dust speckled her white tee, and she didn’t even want to think about what her hair looked like.

She shoved her goggles on top of her head and turned to face an open-mouthed Jordan Everwood. “Damn, that felt good.”

ASTRID PARKER DOESN'T FAIL by Ashley Herring Blake

Astrid Parker Doesn't Fail

For Astrid Parker, failure is unacceptable. Ever since she broke up with her fiancé a year ago, she’s been focused on her career—her friends might say she’s obsessed, but she’s just driven. When Pru Everwood asks her to be the designer for the Everwood Inn’s renovation that will be featured on a popular home improvement show, Innside America, Astrid knows this is the answer to everything that is wrong with her life. It’ll be the perfect distraction from her failed love life, and her perpetually displeased mother might finally give her nod of approval.

However, Astrid never planned on Jordan Everwood, Pru’s granddaughter and lead carpenter for the renovation, who despises every modern design decision Astrid makes. Jordan is determined to preserve the history of her family’s inn, particularly as the rest of her life is in shambles. When that determination turns into some light sabotage to ruffle Astrid’s perfect little feathers, the showrunners ask them to play up the tension. But somewhere along the way, their dislike for each other turns into something quite different, and Astrid must decide what success truly means. Is she going to pursue the life that she’s expected to lead, or the one she wants?

 

LGBTQ | Romance Sports [Berkley, On Sale: November 22, 2022, Trade Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780593336427 / eISBN: 9780593336441]

Buy ASTRID PARKER DOESN'T FAILAmazon.com | Kindle | BN.com | Apple Books | Kobo | Google Play | Powell's Books | Books-A-Million | Indie BookShops | Ripped Bodice | Love's Sweet Arrow | Walmart.com | Book Depository | Target.com | Amazon CA | Amazon UK | Amazon DE | Amazon FR

About Ashley Herring Blake

Ashley Herring Blake

Ashley Herring Blake is a reader, writer, and mom to two boisterous boys. She holds a Master’s degree in teaching and loves coffee, arranging her books by color, and cold weather. She is the author of the young adult novels Suffer Love, How to Make a Wish, and Girl Made of Stars (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), the middle grade novels Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James, and Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea (Little, Brown), and the adult romance novels Delilah Green Doesn't Care and Astrid Parker Doesn't Fail (Berkley). Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World was a Stonewall Honor Book, as well as a Kirkus, School Library Journal, NYPL, and NPR Best Book of 2018. Her YA novel Girl Made of Stars was a Lambda Literary Award finalist.

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Re: Ashley Herring Blake | Exclusive Excerpt: ASTRID PARKER DOESN'T FAIL

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