My first book for Tule Publishing releases May 22, 2018
I loved this story. Pax is a swoon-worthy hero and Evie Barclay is the kind of heroine we all wish we could be.
Here's a sample...
Tuesday morning, Paxton James walked up the main street of Paradise Key, Florida, drinking in the ambiance. As a small business owner and the mayor of a town undergoing a major revitalization, his days were long. But seeing the storefronts that were being taken back to the style of Paradise Key’s origin, young trees planted in boxes by parking meters, and a totally rebuilt boardwalk renewed his energy. With the renovations of the Paradise Key Resort finally begun, most of his residents would soon be gainfully employed, and business owners would be rolling in money from the small, but elite, group of tourists they hoped to attract.
If he was proud of what had been done in his years as mayor, he figured he deserved to be.
With a quick punch on the door of JavaStop, he entered the coffee shop.
The attractive owner glanced up. “Hey, Mayor! What can I get you?”
“Coffee and this scone,” he said, pointing at the pastry inside the glass case.
She laughed. “Never met anybody so particular about his pastries.”
Lorelei poured his coffee and retrieved his scone while he picked up a copy of USA Today. She tried to wave off his money, but he insisted on paying, then took his coffee, scone, and newspaper to one of the comfortable seats in the back.
He settled into the sand-colored traditional chair beside the matching sofa, set his coffee and scone on the glass coffee table, and opened the paper, glancing up when the door opened again.
When he saw Evelyn Barclay, he winced. She wasn’t just a tall blonde drink of water; the woman was smart. The great-granddaughter of an industrialist, granddaughter of a U.S. Senator, and daughter of an activist, she’d gone to Oxford and gotten her master’s at Harvard.
While she, Lauren, Jenna, and Sofia mourned the loss of their childhood friend Lily, Pax and Evie had run into each other enough that he knew to stay away from her. She was single minded. Devoted to the city of Philadelphia. And fiercely protective of her friends.
She approached his chair. “What are you doing here?”
He peered at her. Not only had she gone home a few days ago, but also her dad had gotten into big trouble the day before. He’d have thought she’d be out hiring lawyers or something.
“What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you.”
He frowned. Oh, Lord. He could have handled the storm in her soft gray eyes, except he found it sexy. And being attracted to her was wrong for about six hundred reasons.
“Looking for me?”
“For the next few weeks, I’m in charge of the Paradise Key website. Today’s the day you’re supposed to be on the beach at eight.” She frowned at his dress pants. “In shorts. Ready to tell people what a wonderful place Paradise Key is before rattling off this list of events.” She waved a sheet like the one laying on his desk in his office in town hall.
He glanced at the list of events, and the little buzz he’d gotten staring into Evie’s eyes disappeared. He hated that damned video. That was why his subconscious kept forgetting it.
“Why don’t we have somebody else rattle off that list?”
She gaped at him. “You’re the mayor!”
“I know…but what about you? A beautiful woman.” And Lord, she was beautiful. Her blond hair hung past her shoulders in a perfect wave, her pale eyes were set in a face that could charm the angels, and her sweet voice could melt snow. Just looking at her made his head spin. “A beautiful woman with television experience. I’ll bet you could make a much better video than I could.”
“No. For a video like this, people want someone in authority.”
He frowned. “How would you know?” His frown deepened. “Now that I think about it…why are you in charge of the video? Where’s Lauren?”
“Working with other clients.”
He sat back on the comfy sofa and crossed his arms on his chest. “Okay, I get that. But why you?”
“You think I can’t direct a video?”
“I don’t know.” He rose from the sofa and took a step toward her. “This isn’t exactly prime time TV. And you’re behind the camera. Not in front of it. Do you have any experience? I’m not working with somebody who doesn’t know what she’s doing.”
Her sexy eyes flashed fire again. For a few seconds, he regretted pushing her. Not just because it was a cheap excuse to get out of doing the video, but because that flash hit him right in the gut. His wife had been gone five years. Two years after her death, he’d even reentered the dating pool. But he’d never felt for any woman the weird things he felt around Evie Barclay.
What was he doing egging her on?
“Look, just tell Lauren I’m not doing the video anymore.” He returned to his seat and picked up the paper, mindlessly opening it. He couldn’t get the strange tingling sensation out of his chest, and if her eyes were still flashing fire, he didn’t want to see it.
“You’re doing the video.”
He turned a page in the paper. “No. I’m not.”
“Oh, yeah. You are.”
Her voice sounded so positive, so sure, that he let the paper crumble. “You come up to my shoulder, and I don’t think you weigh a hundred and twenty pounds. You don’t scare me.”
“Yeah, well, what if we have Tyson Braddock do it? The guy who wants your job.” She laughed. “This is sort of a backhanded way of giving it to him.”
Her mention of his rival made him laugh. “You know what? We asked him. Even he doesn’t want to do it.”
She groaned. “Come on! It’s one stupid video. Once a week. All you have to do is read a list.”
“And look like a piece of cardboard with permanently bugged eyes. Some of us were not made for the camera.” But she was. Her hair was glorious. Her eyes were tantalizing. Her smile made him want to sigh. She was perfect. “I still think you should do it. Come on. Please? I’d try to bribe you, but I know you don’t need money.”
“No. I don’t.” Her anger faded, and she stepped back. “But even if I did, I’m staying out of the limelight for a few weeks.”
Remorse filled him. Of all the stupid things to say, nagging her to do the video was the stupidest. Yesterday, it had been only a matter of hours before people added her father’s arrest with her sudden reappearance in his secluded small town and realized she was hiding out. Her dad was a criminal. She’d been gossiped about her entire life. She’d lost her mom the way his daughter Samantha had lost hers. She was the poster child for the saying money does not buy happiness.
And suddenly, all his good arguments about not doing the video sounded like mean-spirited tantrums in his head.
With a heavy sigh, he folded the paper. “All right. I’ll do this week’s video, but then I want you guys to come up with another plan.” He paused, cutting her a look. “I mean it.”
She shrugged. “I’m not management. I’m just the hired help. If you want to change the plan, you have to talk to Lauren.”
He wondered if he hadn’t been hornswoggled. Or if his own dumb soft heart had read things into the situation that weren’t there. He’d seen her on the beach reading, seen her in Scallywags enjoying her friends. If she was staying out of the limelight, it wasn’t because she was hurt. It was because she didn’t want to damage the pristine reputation she had in Philly.
Still, he was kind of stuck. He pointed at the door. “Let’s go.”
He didn’t know why she was helping Lauren, but after the way Evie had conned him, he suspected it involved something for Evie. He’d learned that from his television star mom. Ten years in one of TV’s most popular sitcoms had netted her a bundle, but she’d spent it all trying to develop another show for herself. When that didn’t work, she’d borrowed money, trying to create shows for him and his younger sister. She’d dragged them to development meetings, sent them to dance classes and singing lessons—not to mention class after class of acting techniques—made them run lines in front of producers and directors, and in general stolen their childhoods…while wasting a fortune. Not because she wanted them to be happy, but because she wanted the fame back. Jenny James did nothing that didn’t benefit her.
Evie Barclay might not want the limelight, but she wanted something.
He opened the JavaStop door and let Evie out first. “I’ll go home and change, then meet you on the boardwalk.”
Evie nodded and started down the street, but he stopped her. “And, Evie? We run through this once and only once. So get it on the first take.”
He turned and headed in the other direction. It was a small demand, but it somehow made him feel the tiniest bit better. How could her attractiveness have made him forget for even one second that some people only looked out for themselves?
He hurried down the street, across two blocks and down another to his house, a blue-shingled Victorian with a wide porch that fronted the entire structure and wrapped around the left side. White columns ran from roof to floor, matching the spindle railing that gave it a cozy, homey feel. He strode up to the double front doors, black with etched glass cut in sections, held together in black iron frames that gave them an art-deco feel.
Opening the door, he called, “Samantha?”
He’d left the Victorian style behind when he remodeled the inside. Touches like the fireplace, crown molding, and original hardwood floors—which he refinished a stunning gray—remained. But the open-floorplan displayed a bright white kitchen, dining area with white tufted chairs around a reclaimed wood table, and a living room with a flat-screen TV that served as a mirror when it wasn’t displaying shows.
His twelve-year-old daughter came flying down the stairs. Her dark hair wasn’t caught up in the usual ponytail. Instead, it hung past her shoulders, poker straight and shining, as if it had just been washed. Her wide brown eyes, so much like her mother’s, sat in a face made up of high cheekbones and a straight nose, with peaches-and-cream skin.
As she’d grown taller, she’d also begun losing baby fat. Today, she wore scruffy jeans with a dressy blue blouse with bell sleeves. He’d thought a T-shirt would look better with the jeans, or dress pants with the pretty blouse, but when he’d mentioned it, Samantha had laughed.
“What do you want?”
“I’m changing clothes, and then I need you to come with me to make the video for the town website.”
Her eyes widened. “You want me to be in the video?”
He sighed. If only she could…
“No. I want you to come along. I don’t want you to be alone. You can’t spend all day, every day in the house. It’s not right.” It wasn’t really a lie. Since summer vacation started, he’d been worried about her. In the evenings, she’d been quiet and moody, staying in her room when she normally came downstairs to watch TV with him. He couldn’t take her to the office. Too boring. But she could accompany him to the boardwalk and hang out while Evie and her crew set up.
And if Samantha also kept him too busy to interact with Evie, that was just a bonus.
It didn’t take a lot to set up for a video to be put on a website. A sixth grader with a phone could have done it. In fact, the technician hired by Lauren’s firm had told Evie it would probably be easier to use a phone.
Pax didn’t show up for twenty minutes. Evie had only needed five to get back to the boardwalk, so she and Dave had been waiting for fifteen boring minutes. She swiped the hair from her face, but the breeze off the gulf blew it back again.
“How can it take twenty minutes for a guy to remove one shirt and one pair of pants and replace them?”
Dave Calhoun laughed. “Maybe he’s having trouble figuring out what to wear?”
Even as he said that, Evie saw the mayor of Paradise Key coming around the side of the resort. He wore board shorts and a big T-shirt, exactly what they wanted for the video.
A few quick strides took him past the scaffolding and construction workers and onto the boardwalk—
With his daughter.
Everything inside Evie stewed. She had the oddest sense he was going to say he couldn’t tape today because he had to babysit.
It was ridiculous. But he was being ridiculous.
In this day and age of casual videos, who argued about rattling off a list on camera?
She and Dave headed over to meet them. “Mr. Mayor.” She smiled at Samantha. “I see you brought your daughter.”
“I thought she might enjoy watching us make the video.”
Okay. Evie could accept that. She could even counteract it. “That’s great. Samantha, do you want to stand behind Dave with me?”
Her already big eyes widened. “You mean like a director?”
“Sure! Why not?”
Dave hit a few buttons on his unnecessarily advanced camera. “Ready?”
Paxton said, “Ready,” and ambled farther down the boardwalk, so the video wouldn’t pick up the renovations on the resort, but would get the ocean and incredibly blue sky as the backdrop. A few beachgoers were already setting up. The wind had enticed out a couple with a kite. The air smelled like heaven as the surf rolled toward the shore.
It was perfect.
Dave raised his hand, counting down from five with his fingers. “Five, four, three, two, one…” He pointed at Paxton.
“Hey! It’s a glorious eighty-one degrees here in Paradise Key, Florida.” Pax held out his hands as if embracing the warmth. Then he started moving toward the camera, just as they’d done in the videos they’d already made.
“This week, there’s a chili cookoff sponsored by the ladies’ auxiliary to benefit the fire company.” He motioned down the boardwalk. “Stroll up and down all day and sample the offerings. At the end of the day, pick your favorite and make somebody’s day.”
Evie sighed. “Cut!”
Pax stopped dead. Dave turned to look at her.
She shook her head. “It’s a little thing, but saying at the end of the day, make somebody’s day… It’s repetitive. Especially after you’d already said stroll up and down all day.”
Pax crossed his arms on his chest. “We said one take.”
She laughed, but when he just stared at her, she said, “I thought you were kidding.”
“No one does these things in one take.”
Samantha solemnly said, “It’s true, Dad. Some of my friends tweak their YouTube videos for hours.”
“There! See,” Evie said, suddenly glad he’d brought his daughter. “Even people who post pictures of their dogs do more than one take.”
“My friends don’t post dogs.” Samantha glanced at her dad, and then back to Evie. “They post makeup tips.”
“Oh. I did show on that in Philly.”
Samantha’s eyes brightened. “You did?”
“Yes. Those videos are very popular. One of the best ways to keep up with makeup trends.”
“Hello,” Pax called, waving his hands. “Mayor needs to get back to work.”
“Oh, right!” Evie turned to Samantha. “When your dad leaves, you and I can get a coffee, then I’ll tell you the top three videos I found.”
Dave threw her a patient look.
“Oh! Sorry again.” She motioned to Dave. “Start when you’re ready.”
Pax backed up. Dave hit a few buttons on the camera. “Five, four, three, two, one…” He pointed at Paxton.
“Hey! It’s a glorious eighty-one degrees here today in Paradise Key, Florida.” Pax held out his hands as if embracing the warmth, then started moving toward the camera.
“This week, there’s a chili cookoff sponsored by the ladies’ auxiliary to benefit the fire company.” He motioned down the boardwalk. “Stroll along all day and sample the offerings. When you’re done, pick your favorite. See how your taste stacks up against everyone else’s.”
Everybody glanced at Samantha. “Dad, the wind’s making a mess of your hair.”
“My hair is supposed to look windblown,” Pax said in exasperation. “I’m at the beach. We’re trying to give people the full experience.”
She pulled a comb from her pocket. “You look like Einstein. Last week, my friends did memes.”
“Memes? What the hell’s a meme?”
Dave leaned toward Pax. “It’s where people create cartoons to make fun of something.”
He gaped at his daughter. “People made fun of me?”
“Only your hair.” She handed him the comb.
He took it, ran it through his hair, and handed it back. “Can we do this all ready?”
“Sure,” Evie said, stifling a laugh.
“I see that smirk.”
“I was just thinking that somebody in the public eye as much as you are should be accustomed to criticism.”
“Of my policies? Yes. Of my hair?” He shook his head. “That’s just stupid.”
Dave mumbled. “That’s the digital age.”
Evie took a breath to stop a laugh that spilled out and composed herself the way she did before the cameras were turned on her every day at noon. “Count it down, Dave.”
He did the countdown, and they started from the top. It took three more tries before they finally got it right.