Authors: Leah Atwood
Madison folded down the sun visor and checked her reflection in the small mirror. Her hair was all in place, but she needed to reapply her lipstick. She took the tube from her purse and smoothed on a layer to darken her lips a shade.
“You’re gorgeous, with or without lipstick.”
She hadn’t realized Archer had been watching her since they had pulled into the driveway. “Thank you, but I don’t want to look like a bum when visiting your friends for the first time.”
He quirked a brow. “You could never look like a bum.”
A brief laugh escaped. “Then I think you’re blind. You’ve seen me first thing in the morning.”
“And you’re beautiful even then.” Leaning over, he kissed her. “Ready?”
“As I can be.”
“Don’t be nervous. I’ve known Shep and Lyndsey for years. They’re good people.”
She sucked in a breath, released it slowly. “I’ve met Lyndsey at church. She seems really nice.”
“I wish they would have invited us before the entire church found out our story.” Nerves caused her to keep running a hand over her pants.
Archer tilted his head, giving her a strange look. “Why?”
“Because now they’ll have heard all the gossip about us.”
“Yet they still invited us.”
“Only because you’re their friend.” She was on the verge of being unreasonable. She didn’t regret her relationship with Archer in the least—she loved him more every day and was thankful for the circumstances that brought them together—but she hated the idea of anyone looking down on her. Maybe she wasn’t so different from her husband in that regard.
“Not at all.” Archer glanced at the front door, then back at her. “I’ll tell you a secret, but it doesn’t leave this car.” She bobbed her head in agreement to his terms. “Shep and Lyndsey’s marriage also began as one of convenience. I’ll leave it to her to tell you all the details when she wants to, but if anyone understands, it’s them.”
One small tidbit of information made her feel much more at ease about dinner at Archer’s friends’ house. She missed her own church family, but enjoyed Archer’s church. She knew she’d feel like part of the family there eventually, but in the meantime, she’d have her husband by her side.
Archer had come to her door and opened it for her. She stepped out, a smile on her face. Why had she been nervous? Even if not for the nugget of knowledge he’d dropped a minute ago, she’d still enjoy the evening because Archer was with her.
He rang the doorbell and there was a lot of movement from inside the house. She thought she heard someone tell someone else to hush. Lyndsey had a son if Madison remembered correctly. She must be telling him to be quiet about something.
After a minute or so of them standing and waiting, Shep answered the door, accompanied by his pregnant wife. Both wore large grins that were about to explode.
“Glad you could make it. Come in.” Shep moved out of the way as did Lyndsey.
As soon as they walked through, a chorus of “surprise” rang through the house.
Madison spun to look at Archer, who looked as stunned as she felt. A quick survey the house full of people revealed Anna and Paul, her parents, some friends from her church, Gran, Archer’s parents—who stayed in town after Gran’s surgery to help her out—Tanya, Landon and his new girlfriend, and a handful of people from Archer’s church.
Lyndsey came forward and gave her a hug. “We wanted to welcome you to our church and give you a reception of sorts for your wedding.”
“Wow.” She was too surprised to form a coherent sentence.
“You don’t mind, do you?” Her lack of response must not have been what Lyndsey expected.
“Not at all,” she said, finding her voice. “This is wonderful. I never imagined…”
Archer laced their hands and together, they greeted all their guests. Full of love and acknowledgement of all her blessings, she beamed. After they’d moved through the crowd, Madison stood on her tiptoes to whisper in her husband’s ear, “Thank you for asking me to be your fake fiancée.”
First and foremost, thank you for your patience in the delayed release of Calling Love. I had every intention of releasing it much earlier, but it wasn’t meant to be. I truly appreciate you standing by until it was finished. Your support means a great deal to me!
Lost in Love, the final novel of the Modern Convenience series will release in September, so stay tuned. And if you can’t get enough, there will be a Christmas novella as a bonus this fall/winter, featuring Tanya, Archer’s sister.
Have a great summer! Stay cool, have fun, and enjoy a multitude of good books!
Until next time,
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Welcome to Treasure Harbor, located on the southern Outer Banks, where lore of pirates and treasure permeate the atmosphere. When a storm unearths gold, chaos takes over the town as treasure seekers come from all over to find the missing Callahan fortune stolen by Drake Burton centuries ago. In the midst of the hunt, seven couples heal old wounds, learn important truths, and ultimately find love.
The Space Between Us- Treasure Harbor Two- Available
The bell above the door chimed, interrupting Avery Callahan from processing the new stock which arrived that morning. Lifting her head, she appraised the new customer. Camera around the neck, brochures sticking out of her purse, and clean sandals with no signs of wear.
“What can I help you find today?”
Don’t say books on the treasure, don’t say books on the treasure.
“Do you carry any literature on the history of the lost treasure?” the customer asked, earning Avery’s immediate annoyance.
“No, ma’am.” Avery pasted a plastic smile on her face. If one more person came in before she closed for the day and asked about the treasure, she’d… well, she’d close early so she didn’t scream at a customer.
She despised the treasure and everything it represented. When she’d bought Bounty Books from the previous owner, she’d taken every book related to the treasure out of stock. She’d wanted to change the store name as well, but Bounty Books had a well-established customer base, which she didn’t want to rock with too many changes.
The lady looked at her, brows furrowed in confusion. “But you’re the only bookstore in town. I thought for sure you’d carry something.”
“My apologies. However, if you’d liked a book about the history of Treasure Harbor and the crystal coast, I do carry numerous titles of those.”
“No thanks. I specifically wanted a book to read regarding the lost treasure.”
Tamping down her unwarranted irritation toward the innocent woman, Avery stepped out from behind the counter and walked to the door. She pointed to a building across the street. “Harborview Gifts has a nice selection of what you’re searching for. The historical society also has a large collection of documents that might interest you.”
“Thank you.” The lady turned and walked out the door.
Avery put out an arm to block the door from closing. Taking a deep breath, she inhaled the salty air blowing in from an ocean breeze. She needed a break from the store. Normally she’d stay in and have a working lunch, but her nerves were simmering to a slow boil.
It was all she could do not to take a vacation until this treasure mess blew over. Get as far away from Treasure Harbor and gold as she could. Maybe Alaska. No, there’d been a gold rush there, and she wanted nothing to do with gold fever. Nothing at all.
Once upon a time, her parents had nearly split over the legend of the lost Callahan treasure, stolen by Drake Burton. How many other families had been torn apart over the course of three hundred years of fable and lore?
Just when she’d thought the rumors had faded for good, the storm last month changed everything. When the storm surge receded, several coins were found on the beach and had been traced back to the time of Drake Burton. All rumors of the lost treasure resurrected overnight, and the town had been in a frenzy since.
Disgusted, she slammed the door and locked it. Flipped the open sign to close and adjusted her
Be Back At
sign for noon. She grabbed her wallet then slipped out the back door. The scent of a robust marinara and sautéed garlic teased her senses. She circled to the front of the building and crossed the street, following her nose to Pirate Pizzeria.
Sauce made from scratch every morning, never a frozen crust, and freshly shredded, imported mozzarella. Hands down, Pirate Pizzeria had the best pizza along the coast. She’d eat it every day if her waistline wouldn’t grow. Reaching for her phone, she started to call her sister, Lara, and invite her to lunch then remembered she had plans with Ryan for the day.
There was sure to be someone at the Pizzeria she knew and could join, but if not, she didn’t mind sitting by herself. The more she thought about it, today was one of those rare days she’d rather not have company. Everybody in town lately was incapable of having a conversation that didn’t include the treasure.
Her opinion was that the treasure didn’t exist. Just because she didn’t carry the literature, didn’t mean she lacked knowledge of the story. The opposite, in fact, though none of that knowledge convinced her there was a lost treasure. She could quote from memory every theory and postulation about what had happened to the lost valuables. She knew every piece of gold and jewelry to wash ashore and be recorded at the historical society.
And all of the information taught her that not all knowledge is a positive power. It could be a disease that invaded a person’s senses and kept them craving more until it became an obsession and ruined their life. Or marriage.
Her decision not to carry any books in her store was an intentional choice. She would not be party to any other lives ruined by an elusive, veiled promise of riches. However, there were times she wished the rumors and legends were true—then there was hope of someone finding the treasure and putting an end to the madness once and for all.
She shook her head, clearing all negative thoughts from her mind. A slice of pizza topped with grilled peppers, onions, and chicken, was too delicious to enjoy while disgruntled.
The line reached the door, typical for that time of day. Most patrons were there to pick up a slice or two, then eat on the go or once they’d returned to work. Once she was inside, she could skip lines and go to the shorter one for parties wishing to be seated.
While she waited, she scanned the restaurant for any friends. She spotted a few casual acquaintances and waved to them in their seats, but she didn’t see anyone with whom she could trust to share a meal and not bring up the treasure.
Charlotte, one of the waitresses, sat her at a corner table away from the bulk of the crowd. “I know you want be away from all the talk. It hasn’t stopped all day.”
Her reputation around town for despising anything and everything related to the treasure preceded her. Common knowledge to the locals, but not to the visitors who inundated her cozy little town.
Avery rolled her eyes. “I wish I could close my eyes and make it go away.”
“Don’t think that’s happening anytime soon. All the false calls with the coins only stirred it up more and started rumors of other treasures.”
“I don’t know how Lara can stand writing stories about it.” She wrinkled her nose, not caring who saw her.
“Your sister might hate the treasure, but she loves a good story.” Charlotte winked. “And Treasure Harbor hasn’t seen a story like this in years, at least not that I know of.”
“No, nothing like it in my lifetime.”
“Do you know what you want or should I come back in a few minutes?”
A menu sat wedged between a shaker of parmesan cheese and another filled with crushed red peppers. She knew the offerings but absently picked up the laminated paper and gave it a once-over. “A slice of the grilled chicken specialty and a side greek salad.”
Charlotte scribbled the order on her notepad. “Raspberry tea to drink?”
“You know me so well.” Small towns had their advantages, and knowing each other well was one, though sometimes it was a curse.
“Shouldn’t take but a few minutes. Brody just put a fresh pie in the oven.”
She suppressed an eye roll at the mention of Brody. Unambitious, obnoxious—two of the many unflattering qualities that stood out about him. “Sounds good. Thanks Charlotte.”
Not even two minutes later, Brody appeared at her table with a frosted cup in hand. To her dismay, she had a fleeting thought that he was an attractive man, even in the red polo uniform top. Wavy brown hair was trimmed short at the sides, and slightly longer at the top. Wrinkles creased the corners of his cocoa colored eyes, making him appear older than his twenty-eight years. She only knew his age because Ryan Burton, her sister’s fiancé, was friends with him and had mentioned it one time. Disgusted with her musings, she shoved the thought aside.
He put one hand behind his back and bowed, setting the cup on the table. “Your tea, madam.”
“Why are you bringing it?” she asked, aware of her rudeness, but perturbed by his presence.
“Can’t a man hand deliver a drink to a beautiful woman?” He flashed her a wink and thick, long lashes tapped his brow.
“Do you take anything in life seriously?”
“More than you know.” He spun around and abruptly left.
Her loud sigh caught the attention of the patrons who’d just been seated at the table next to her. She gave an apologetic smile before taking a sip of her tea. Why had she been so rude to Brody? The man got under her skin, but she’d never treated him like she had just now. She wrote it off to her frustrations about the treasure.
Charlotte came with her pizza and salad. “What did you say to Brody? He came back to the kitchen in a huff.”
“All I did was ask if he took anything in life seriously.” She grimaced. “I might have said it with an attitude.”
“What do you have against him?”
“He’s annoying, and I heard he’s here seeking the treasure.” The second reason was enough to cause dislike in and of itself.
“Now Avery, you’re like a little sister to me, so I say this out of love.” Charlotte skimmed the restaurant, making sure none of her tables were in immediate need. “You need to get over yourself.”
The words punched her in the stomach. “What do you mean?”
“Brody’s been here for four months, since before the treasure hysteria began. Secondly, you’re judging him without knowing his story.”
“He’s a grown man working at a pizza joint. How can I take him seriously?”
Charlotte flinched. “He’s the manager, plus I’m a grown woman working at a pizza joint. Life isn’t always wrapped up in a pretty bow, and you do what you have to do to survive. It would do you well to remember that.”
Immediate remorse for her poorly chosen words knotted her stomach. She placed a palm on Charlotte’s arm. “I’m so sorry. Of course I didn’t mean it like that, but Brody… I don’t know. He drives me insane.”
“Have you thought about why that is?” She glanced toward the kitchen again. “I better get back.”
Avery sat alone at her table. Horrible guilt for insulting a friend kept her from enjoying the meal she’d looked forward to. When the check came, she left Charlotte an extra generous tip as amends for running her mouth.
She stood to leave, subconsciously searching for Brody. Her eyes locked on his, and he shared a distant, disappointed smile before breaking contact.
Was there more to Brody than what met the eye?