by Cade Haddock Strong
Everyone fantasizes about winning the big jackpot, but what if you actually won…
Ty MacIntyre’s life changes the instant she wins the lottery. People are after her winning ticket and she’s not sure who to trust. She’s been given the gift of wealth. Will she use it to get her life back on track or will that prove easier said than done?
Karla Rehn is forced to walk away from her dream of being on the US Ski Team. She’s angry at the world—especially herself. A trail of reckless behavior threatens to derail her plans to earn a college degree and become a nurse.
Ty is drawn to Karla the moment the two women meet. Can they guide each other through the obstacles that life has thrown their way?
FROM THE AUTHOR
"In Jackpot, Margaret McIntyre (aka Ty) wins the big jackpot and the first question she faces is: Who can she trust? A lot of people are suddenly after her for her money and she doesn’t know where to turn for help.
The other main character in Jackpot is Karla Rehn. When we meet her, she’s just skied her final race on the world stage and is forced to walk away from her dream of being on the US Ski Team. She’s mad at the world, especially herself. In juxtaposition to Ty, Karla must give up her dream because her family can no longer afford to support her skiing.
Skiing happens to be one of my #1, all-time favorite things to do and I loved writing about a kick-ass skier like Karla. A large portion of Jackpot takes place in Colorado, a place I called home for a few years, working odd jobs and happily living life as a ski bum until I reluctantly returned to the real world and traded in my skis for a computer.
In Jackpot, Ty and Karla are drawn to each other from the moment they meet but they must each navigate a path paved in pitfalls. Among other things, the lottery jackpot looms large over their relationship. Will all that wealth end up being a blessing or a curse?"
—Cade Haddock Strong
Cathy W. - This is my first time reading a Cade Haddock Strong book, and I must say if they are all as good as this then I shall be looking for more. What I really loved about this book is that it starts at the beginning for both Ty and Karla, it's not a story of they meet and flash back. It starts at the beginning and you get to read their story as they move along. There are many layers to this sweet story which is well written and kept me keen.
Conversation at Thirsty’s Tavern came to an abrupt halt. All eyes were on the TV. A man in a pin-striped suit gave the audience a toothy smile and said, “Good evening and welcome to Lionball, America’s favorite lottery game. Tonight’s jackpot is more than five…hundred…million…dollars!”
A big glass machine whirled in the background. It spat out a ping-pong ball and sent it dribbling down a small metal chute. The man swooshed his hand through the air and said, “The first number in tonight’s drawing is seventeen.”
Five more balls followed. He announced each with equal fanfare, and after the sixth and final one, the winning numbers flashed on the screen. Everyone in Thirsty’s let out a collective groan and tossed their red and white slips of paper up into the air.
That is, everyone except Ty. She stood behind the bar and stared down at her ticket. Every single one of her numbers matched.
“Holy shit. I won the jackpot.”
Her coworker Zach and the patrons within earshot all snapped to attention.
“You’re pulling our leg,” Rusty, one of the regulars, said.
Ty shook her head in disbelief.
Rusty leaned over the bar. “Let me see that ticket.”
Ty stuffed it into the front pocket of her jeans.
He reached out and grabbed her arm. “Hey, Blondie,” he slurred.
Ty hated it when he called her that. She wriggled out of his grip and fell back toward the long shelf of liquor bottles, knocking a few to the ground. This caused more eyes to turn in her direction.
“I said, let me see your ticket,” Rusty said.
He was twice her size and drunk, but even sober, Ty didn’t trust him. On more than one occasion, she’d seen him pocketing money someone had left on the bar for a tip. When he lurched at her again, she took off toward the back of the bar, sped through the kitchen, and slipped out the rear door.
An alley ran along the back of the bar. If she went left, it dead-ended at a tall chain-link fence. If she went right, it would dump her out on the street in front of Thirsty’s. She went left. At five foot seven and in decent shape, she could scale the fence, and if he came after her, she was pretty sure Rusty could not.
Her shirt caught on the top of the fence. She tore it free and jumped to the ground on the opposite side just as Rusty and one of his buddies stepped into the alley. After a quick check of her pockets for her phone, wallet, and the lottery ticket, she took off running. To where, she didn’t know.
When she was about three blocks from Thirsty’s, she dipped behind a parked car to see if she was being followed. It was a mild Saturday night in Asheville, North Carolina, and the street was full of revelers. Fortunately, Rusty and his pal did not appear to be among them. Ty assessed her situation. She had twenty bucks in her wallet, it was a chilly evening in early spring, she was wearing nothing but a ripped T-shirt, and a drunk asshole wanted to steal the lottery ticket tucked in her pocket. Winning lottery ticket. She’d have to wait to celebrate that. Right now, her priority was getting home undetected.
After scanning the crowded street one more time, she took off toward her apartment. It would only take her a minute to grab a few supplies. After that, she’d jump in her car and find a safe place to crash for the night. She was pretty sure Rusty had no idea where she lived, but she didn’t want to take any chances, at least not until she was able to get the winning ticket in a secure place. Her apartment was on the top floor of an old house a few blocks off the main drag. A lone streetlight flickered, and the faint sound of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” could be heard coming from one of her neighbors.
When a car turned down the street, Ty dove behind a row of hedges seconds before its headlights fell on her. The car door opened, and the sound of some top 40 song and laughter spilled out. Three young women climbed out of the car and made their way toward the hub of bars at the far end of the street. Once they were gone, Ty bolted across the road and bounded up the three flights of stairs to her apartment. She put her key into the lock, stepped inside, and closed the door behind her. The only light came from a floor lamp in the living room.
“Hello,” she called out.
There was no answer. Her roommate, Misty, was probably down at Lola’s, the one true lesbian bar in downtown Asheville.
Ty didn’t waste any time. She stuffed clothes and toiletries into a backpack, emptied the jar of cash she kept hidden under her bed, grabbed her laptop off the kitchen table, and snatched her car keys from the bowl near the front door. She locked the apartment door and crept down the back staircase to the gravel parking lot behind the house. Thankfully, her old Subaru wagon started on the first turn. Unfortunately, its gas gauge hovered just above empty.
Not wanting to risk running out of gas, she pulled into a station just outside of town. The bright lights illuminating its pumps lit up the whole block. Ty pulled a credit card from her wallet, but after a moment’s hesitation, tucked it back in place. Better to pay in cash, even if it meant having to go inside and prepay. Her paranoia was off the charts, and there was no reason to leave an electronic trail if she didn’t have to. She scurried inside the station’s convenience store.
“Nice evening, ain’t it?” the attendant asked.
Ty smiled politely and handed him a crumpled twenty-dollar bill. “Sure is.”
He slowly keyed in the numbers to activate her pump. “Pretty soon it’ll be hotter than the dickens. Spring’s my favorite time ’round here. Nice weather, and all the college kids leave for the summer. Not that I mind them. It’s just nice and quiet once they’re gone.”
The guy was probably lonely, and Ty didn’t want to be rude, but there was no time for chit chat. “Have a nice evening,” she said and pushed through the door before he could utter another word.
While the gas chugged into the tank, Ty twisted her long blond hair into a knot on the top of her head. When the pump shut off, she spun the cap back on her tank, slid behind the wheel, and peeled out of the station. As she drove out of town, her eyes darted between the road, the car’s speedometer, and the rearview mirror. The last thing she needed was to attract the attention of the local police.
Twenty minutes later, she slowed when a flashing motel sign came into view. It was one of those seedy roadside joints where you park outside the door to your room. Half the bulbs on the neon sign advertising air-conditioning and free cable TV were either flickering or totally burnt out, and it was impossible to tell if they had Vacancy or No Vacancy, but she decided to give the place a shot. She was only about fifteen miles outside of Asheville, but she figured that was a safe enough distance, and she was anxious to get off the road.
She paid cash for a room, and rather than park out front, drove her car around back. The room was small, and the décor was dated, but it looked clean. She double locked the door and pushed the dresser up against it. Not exactly Fort Knox, but it would have to do for now.
No one knows you’re here.
She sat down on the orange and brown floral bedspread and pulled the lottery ticket out of her pocket. As she stared at the small slip of paper, she wondered if it was all a mistake. Maybe she hadn’t won at all. Maybe she’d misread the numbers in the midst of all the chaos at Thirsty’s. She typed Lionball into her phone, and when the winning numbers came up on the screen, she compared them to those on her ticket. They all matched. She really had won. She should be jumping for joy, but instead, she was scared shitless.
The ringing of her phone startled her. It was her best friend Sarah.
“Ty?” Sarah yelled over the booming music in the background, a strong indication she was at Lola’s. “Where the hell are you? I thought you were going to meet me after—”
“Sarah, can you step outside for a sec?”
“What? I can barely hear you. Get your ass down here.”
“Sarah, listen. I need your help.”
“I need your help,” Ty shouted into the phone. “It’s kind of an emergency.”
“Oh, my God. Are you okay?”
“Yes, no. Can you get away from the speaker?”
“Okay. Hold on a sec.”
Ty heard some rustling and the music got fainter. She thought maybe Sarah had dropped her phone. “Sarah, you there?”
After a brief pause, Sarah said, “Yeah, yeah, I’m here.”
“Listen, I’m going to text you an address. Can you come right away?”
“Why? What’s going on?”
“I’ll explain when you get here.”
“But I just met a total hottie and she’s eyeing me across the room…”
“Please, Sar. I need you to snap out of it. I’m not kidding around.”
“Shit, okay. I’ve had a few shots of tequila.”
“I can tell.”
“Text me the address. I’ll try and find a taxi.”
“Hurry. Oh, and Sarah?”
“Make sure no one follows you.”
Ty ended the call and frantically looked around the room for the motel’s address. It was printed on the phone affixed to the wall near the bed. She texted it to Sarah. Aside from her brother, Reed, there was no one in the world Ty trusted more. They’d been best friends since they were five.
After what felt like an hour, there was a soft knock on the door. Ty peeked around the edge of the heavy curtains covering the window. Sarah stood there, coatless and shivering. Ty dragged the dresser away from the door and disengaged the locks.
“What the hell are you doing holed up in this seedy motel?” Sarah asked as soon as she stepped inside.
Ty reinforced the door. “Have a seat and I’ll explain.”
Sarah lowered herself into a chair near the door and took in her surroundings. “Okay, I’m all ears.”
Once Sarah was seated, Ty dug into the pocket and extracted the small red and white piece of paper with the word Lionball etched across the top. She held it up for Sarah to see. “I’m here because of this.”
“Is that a lottery ticket?”
“Yes, but not just any lottery ticket. It’s the winning lottery ticket.”
“Are you trying to tell me—”
“No fucking way.” Sarah ran a hand through her cropped, bleach-blond hair. “The jackpot was huge, like 500 million or something.”
Ty stuffed the ticket back in her pocket. “510 million, to be exact, but I’m probably not the only winner.”
Sarah waved a hand across the drab, cramped room. “Then what the hell are you doing in a dump like this? And why aren’t you smiling?”
Ty sat down on the bed across from Sarah. “I’m scared out of my mind.”
“What? How come? Call me crazy, but if I’d won the jackpot, I’d be jumping up and down on the bed. Scratch that. I’d be running through town naked. You’re acting like you just lost the family dog.”
Ty relayed the story about Rusty and how she’d ended up at the motel. She tapped her pocket. “I’ve effectively got 500 million dollars in my pocket, and if anyone finds out where I am…”
“Do you have a gun?”
“No! Are you nuts? Of course I don’t have a gun.”
“Maybe you should call the police,” Sarah suggested.
“I considered that, but it would only bring unwanted attention. The fewer people who know I’m the winner, the better. I should probably lie low for a little while.”
“In this shithole?”
“I’m not sure yet. I’m still trying to work out a plan.”
“Well so far, I’d say your plan sucks.” Sarah pointed at the hotel room door. “All that stands between you and the crazies in the outside world is that stupid dresser.”