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June 4, 2024

For the Love of Summer

Standalone Women's Fiction

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery comes an unforgettable tale about finding friendship with the unlikeliest person…

As the owner of Seattle’s best salons, Erica knows the sharpest cuts come from those we love. She’s terrified that she’s losing her daughter, Summer, to the teen's “other” family, especially to her stepmom, Allison.

All it takes to blow up Allison’s happy life is one collect call. From prison. Her beloved husband, Peter, has been arrested, leaving Allison pregnant, broke, scared and alone with a toddler. But when her stepdaughter ferrets out the truth, the teen rushes to the last person Allison wants to ask for help—her husband’s battle-ax ex, Erica.

Erica would do anything for Summer, even take in the woman her daughter loves like a second mom. Allison feels intimidated by Erica—a woman who never let herself become so dependent on a man. But the more time they spend together, the more Allison realizes what Erica truly needs is a friend. Can these two women who married the same man move beyond their complicated past and rethink what it means to be family?

Chapter One

“But it’s orange!”

“I saw.”

“I didn’t know hair could turn that color of orange.”

Erica Sawyer glanced from her laptop to her partially closed office door, her focus on monthly product sales overtaken by the conversation from the hallway. Two women spoke in hushed voices. The calmer of the two was Daryn, a level-six stylist at Twisted. Erica didn’t recognize the other voice.

“Did you ask the client if she’d been using box color at home?”

“I did! Twice!” Tears thickened the unknown woman’s voice. “She lied.”

“It happens.” Daryn sounded more resigned than surprised.

The conversation continued, but the stylists had moved out of earshot.

Erica looked back at the spreadsheet, telling herself Daryn was more than capable of handling whatever disaster had been brought down on them because a newbie had thought she was better than she was. Oh, and because a client had lied. If Daryn got into trouble, then she would go to her supervisor and if she couldn’t help, there was still the salon general manager. There were layers and layers between Erica and the hair drama du jour. Part of running a successful empire meant trusting her staff to take care of business. And that meant staying out of the day-to-day issues.

Three minutes later she swore under her breath as she walked out of her office, apparently unable to be the boss she should be and let it go.

“I’m not going to meddle,” she murmured to herself as she headed for the main salon. “I’m on a fact-finding mission.”

She spotted the client instantly. The bright orange shoulder-length hair was hard to miss, as were the tears. Everything about the body language warned Erica the day was going to take a turn for the complicated.

She continued to the back room, where stylists mixed color. Daryn was already doing a color test on a swatch of orange hair. Next to her was a petite blonde with a blotchy face and tear-filled eyes.

“How bad is it?” Erica asked as she entered.

Daryn shrugged. “Bad. She used box color regularly and lied about it. Plus I think she switched products. See how some of the strands are lighter than the others? She wanted to go blond. Not happening. We just have to get the color close to normal and hope her hair doesn’t turn to spaghetti.”

Erica glanced at the other stylist. “I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Erica Sawyer.”

The blonde—maybe twenty-five and shaking—swallowed before she spoke. “I’m Poppy. I know who you are.”

“That’s gratifying. What’s your level?”

Stylists were rated on a scale from one to six. Those fresh out of beauty school started as associates, aka assistants. They washed hair, held the foil, swept the floor. Every few days they were allowed to work on a client, supervised. If they were smart, they listened and learned. If they weren’t, they complained about the drudge work, then quit.

Depending on their enthusiasm and talent, they graduated to a level-one stylist in six to nine months and began developing their own client list. If they worked hard, followed the company rules and gave a damn about their career, they could quickly work their way up the food chain. Somewhere between levels two and three, stylists at Twisted were clearing a hundred thousand a year. Once a stylist hit level four, he or she was given an associate of their own.

“I’m a two,” Poppy said, staring at the floor.

“How many color correction classes have you attended?”

Poppy seemed to shrink a little. “I haven’t.” She raised her head and looked at Erica. “She swore she hadn’t colored her hair before.”

“Did it feel like virgin hair? Did you believe her?”

Poppy slumped. “No, so I asked again.”

“And she lied again.”

“I thought it would be okay.” Tears poured down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry, Ms. Sawyer. Please. I’m sorry. I love my job here. I messed up but I can make it right.”

“No, you can’t and that’s the problem.” Erica turned her attention to Daryn. “Can you fix this?”

Daryn grinned. “I’m offended you have to ask.” Her humor faded. “I’m booked all afternoon and this is going to take a while.”

“When’s your next client due?”

Daryn glanced at the large clock on the wall. “Ten minutes. It’s an easy color-and-cut. Just roots. We did highlights last time. Her hair’s in a classic bob.” Daryn jerked her head toward Poppy. “She could do it.”

“You’re very trusting.”

“I don’t understand,” Poppy said. “You want me to take Daryn’s client?”

“Right now I want you to stay here. Once we figure this out, you can stop by my office at the end of your shift.”

Erica swung by reception to request notification when Daryn’s client checked in, then she returned to the main salon and walked over to the orange-haired liar.

The woman was in her early forties, pretty enough. Her Botox wasn’t great and whoever had injected her lips had added way too much filler, but her jawline was good.

Erica introduced herself to the woman, who stared at her blankly.

“Oh my God! You’re Erica Sawyer.”

Oh, good. A fan—or at least someone who was starstruck. That would help the situation.

Erica leaned against the counter and shook her head. “Well, we messed up, didn’t we?”

The tears returned as the client stared at herself in the mirror. “I can’t believe what happened. That girl—I didn’t get her name—said she knew what she was doing. Obviously not. I’m surprised you let someone like her work here. I thought Twisted was better than that.”

Erica shifted behind the client and lightly touched her hair. “How long have you been coloring your own hair?”

“What?” The woman flushed. “I would never do that.”

“The problem isn’t the color so much as the minerals some companies use. I could explain the chemistry, but as you can see, box color doesn’t play well with others. When Poppy went to lift what she’d been told was virgin hair, the minerals revealed themselves. You must admit, it’s a spectacular orange.”

She rested her hands on the other woman’s shoulders. “Our biggest worry is your hair falling out.”

“What!” The single word came out as a shriek. Several clients turned to stare. “No. No! You can’t let that happen.”

The tears flowed hard and fast. “Please, help me. Okay, yes, I’ve been coloring my hair myself for years. I didn’t think it was a big deal. I’m sorry. Just save my hair. Please.”

Erica had little patience for the client. Just tell the truth. If she’d come clean, Poppy would have known she was over her head and could have rescheduled her with a more experienced stylist. End of problem.

“We’re going to get you back to a more normal color,” Erica said, her tone soothing. “I would suggest going a little shorter until the damage grows out. We’ll send you home with some treatments that will strengthen your hair. If you’re careful, in a few months, you’ll be as good as new. Then we can take you from a fabulous brunette to a gorgeous blonde.”

She let her expression harden. “If you color your hair before it’s grown out, it will break and break until you’re left with about an inch all over. Understand?”

The woman nodded. “Yes.”

“Good.” Erica paused. “Color correction is six hundred dollars, triple what you were quoted. Sometimes clients lie to get cheaper service, but I’m sure you’d never do that.”

The woman flushed again. “No, I wouldn’t. I’ll pay what it costs.”

Erica held her gaze in the mirror for another couple of seconds before offering a faint smile. “We’ll stick with the quoted price. Daryn will be here shortly to walk you through the process. She’s one of the best. You’re in good hands.”

Erica stopped by reception again and tagged the account so the client would only pay the original price. Hopefully she had enough class to tip Daryn well. She sent her office manager a quick note to let her know Daryn was to be fully paid for the service, then she introduced herself to Daryn’s client and explained about the crisis.

“If you’d like to reschedule with Daryn, we’ll get you in as soon as we can. If you’re willing to take a chance on Poppy, I think you’ll be happy with her work. It’s totally up to you.” Erica paused. “Either way, I’d like to give you a complimentary hair mask treatment. As a thank-you for understanding.”

The client glanced past Erica toward the salon. She flinched.

“Is it the woman with the hideous orange hair? What happened?”

Erica smiled. “Trust me, you don’t want to know. So you’ll give Poppy a try?”

“Sure. Thanks. I’m looking forward to the hair mask.”

“The lavender one is my favorite. I’ll make sure you get that one.”

“I’m excited.”

Twenty minutes later Daryn was dealing with orange hair and Poppy was mixing color under another stylist’s supervision. Erica retreated to her office, where she typed up notes on what had happened and sent them to her office manager.

A little after four, Erica heard a tentative knock on her door.

“Come in.”

A very pale and red-eyed Poppy entered. “You wanted to see me?”

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