Authors: Megan Mitcham
he unauthorized reproduction
or distribution of this copyrighted work is a crime punishable by law. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded to or downloaded from file sharing sites, or distributed in any other way via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the publisher’s permission. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000 (http://www.fbi.gov/ipr/).
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are fictitious or have been used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real in any way. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations is entirely coincidental.
by MM Publishing LLC
Edited by Lacey Thacker
Cover Design by Deranged Doctor Designs
or All to See
All Rights Are Reserved. Copyright 2015 by Megan Mitcham
First electronic publication: April 2015
First print publication: April 2015
Digital ISBN: 978-1-941899-10-6
Print ISBN: 978-1-941899-11-3
. To the sweat, the tears, and the perseverance it takes to make them a reality. To the people who encourage us along the rocky road. To my grandmother, who led with her heart and followed it with a spunk all her own. Thank you for encouraging my dream. You are loved and missed.
the sturdy door to Paradise Bar. The sun-bleached wood worked double-time as a drunk-o-meter. Those only a little tipsy added a Herculean flare to their efforts, grunting and shoving the door into submission. Pass the line into too-intoxicated-to-drive and their wrestle with the door typically ended with a face-plant in the gravel parking lot. The real lushes usually gave up after a few tries and passed out under a nearby table.
Success greeted her as the tinny beat of a scratch band on center stage and the spice of a sizzling mango salmon filet. A waiter held the bubbling dish high in the air along with several peach-colored slushy drinks that frosted the glass mugs. Her mouth watered while her shoulders relaxed into the easy rhythm of the island. In front of her three bartenders manned the square mahogany bar with its faux thatched roof, working their smiles, skills, and tropical shirts.
“Maddy!” The feminine voice cut through the crowd and the music. Not a wonder. On a daily basis the woman’s pipes trenched the boisterous noise only elementary school-aged kids could maintain for hours on end.
She turned away from the band and dance floor to the left and skirted through the sea of tables toward her best friend—second best friend, since Deacon slept in her bed at least two nights out of any given week. Nichole held up a half-syphoned coconut mango-rita in one hand and hurried her over with frantic flaps of the other.
“You’re a half a drink behind. Sit and sip.” Nichole sat forward and gestured at the untouched beverage complete with a salt halo and cherry on top.
Madelyn shrugged her purse, hung it on the back of her chair, and leaned across the table. Their lips met in a smacking kiss. “Please, tell me that’s your first.”
“It is, but it won’t be my last.” Nichole held up a hand. “Not another word until you down it.”
Before she finished the last sip the waitress presented another round. Good thing it was hotter than hell outside. Otherwise, the frosty drink would have chilled her brain.
“We still have to get through tomorrow,” Madelyn reminded.
“I’m testing in almost every subject. And a dab of concealer will cover up the dark circles.”
“Pfh, you haven’t ever had dark circle under your eyes.” Madelyn scoffed.
Open mouth. Insert foot.
The sole of her sandal tasted bitter. On a blink the memory of Nichole bloody and bruised stained the back of her lids. Her friend had indeed had a black circle under one eye. An eye that had been swollen shut.
Nichole’s gaze hit the floor. Her long lashes nearly caressed her cheeks.
“Hey, I’m sorry.” Madelyn groaned.
Inky, arrow-straight hair slipped off Nichole’s shoulder and curtained a high cheek bone. The waist-long mane grabbed the light, reflecting an ebony gleam. Madelyn reached across the table and covered her friend’s hand with her own. Her sun-kissed skin literally paled in comparison to Nichole’s toasted almond complexion.
“Hey, are things okay…at home?” She hated to ask, but she refused to shy away from the important things just to soothe her friend’s feelings.
Nichole’s amber gaze lifted and a wide smile spread across her face. Though, tension remained in the crease of her brow. “Things between Jim and I have been really great.”
“Then why the look?”
“Because…” Nichole gnawed her lower lip. “You’ll never forget that night.”
“You’re damn right I won’t. And you shouldn’t either.” Madelyn squeezed the cold hand beneath hers.
“It was one time. I’ll never forget. Of course I won’t. But I chose to stay. I chose to believe in him. And I won’t drive a wedge between us by holding on to the past, to a mistake he knows he made. Things are so good between us. He’s not drinking like he used to. He hasn’t missed a day of work this season.”
Madelyn bit her tongue so hard she expected the tang of copper to fill her mouth. The peak season for mahi-mahi had just begun. And she knew by the end of last season, Jim had missed more hours of work than the impressive number of fish he’d caught in the first half of the harvest.
“I have this look because,” Nichole lowered her voice to a whisper, “no matter what I say you’ll only see the bad in him. And that sucks because Jim and I have real love, Maddy. It’s messy sometimes and our disagreements are heated, but our passion is stronger.”
Madelyn released Nichole’s hand and grabbed the frosted glass. She pulled a long drink of the fresh glass of bitter-sweet nectar, needing fortification for this conversation.
“When he holds my hand my heart races. When he kisses me it steals my breath.”
“I feel the same way before I ride a roller coaster.” Madelyn’s words sounded as sharp in her ear as the salt tasted on her tongue, but she couldn’t stop them. “And it usually ends with me puking. It’s called fear.”
Nichole’s palms flew up as if she were calling on the Lord or summoning his angels to deal with her. “Oh, you’re an expert on fear. You use it like a force field to push people away. You keep everyone at a distance. Even me.”
Wow. Truth packed a punch. Madelyn folded her arms around her middle to ease the pain of the blow.
Nichole splayed her hands on the lacquer table and leaned forward. Her lips thinned and her eyes softened. “I understand you’ve been hurt, Maddie. But you shouldn’t give up on people because one wronged you. I refuse to give up on Jim because he made a mistake. Just like I won’t give up on you.”
“You always see the good in things. And people. I can’t decide whether it’s your gift or curse.”
“We’re human. Fallible. Completely imperfect. But the beauty of that is we can learn from our mistakes. We can change and grow, if someone loves us enough to put in the effort. To show us we’re not a lost cause.”
Madelyn gave a weak smile and then pulled her gaze from Nichole’s intense stare. She longed to be a lost cause, had moved to the middle of nowhere to be one. Darn her gorgeous, glass-half-full friend. Madelyn’s gaze danced across the far wall of glass that opened to the deck. Strands of bare bulbs illuminated the exterior. Beyond it the forest of lounge umbrellas stabbed into the sand and the last whips of color drained from the sky.
Paradise Bar and Grill hopped with locals from lunch through breakfast every day of the week, but tonight it boasted its fair share of tourists. A group of college kids, their Greek letter emblazoned like a Superman symbol on their T-shirts, lined the exterior bar mirroring the row of shots in front of them. She only had a handful of years on some of the collegiates, but their inhibitions subtracted time from their worldly ages.
Two of the students showed more interest in choking each other with their tongues than drinking. The guy’s wide hand plowed into the woman’s dark corkscrew curls. The coed’s greedy hands roved the man’s lean pecs, and then slipped south toward his crotch.
Madelyn’s gaze leaped back inside. Her cheeks flamed. Not yet ready to deal with her friend, she thought to study the band, but the headline on the flatscreen caught her attention. Inman Trial Begins on Anniversary of Field-Dresser Killings.
She nodded to the television. “You have to admit, some people are lost causes.”
Four pictures filled the screen. Each candid shot displayed a brunette beauty with a bright smile.
“You’re not a lost cause,” Nichole admonished while turning. Her breath caught. The tip of her pointed nose scrunched. A sneer curled her upper lip. “Why don’t they just slit his wrists, toss him overboard, and let those girls’ families watch the sharks tear him apart?”
“No, that monster is brutal.”
Madelyn blinked wide eyes and struggled to lift her jaw from the floor. “I’ve never heard you talk like that.”
“I don’t know how in the world a person could kill another, much less…” Nichole’s strong jaw jerked from the report and her gaze flew heavenward. “Much less do what he did to those poor women.”
And yet she defended Jim.
Love. What a damn fool thing.
“So,” Madelyn cleared her throat. “You admit not all people can be saved?”
“Of course.” Nichole’s honey gaze prodded Madelyn’s. “But you and Jim can. Despite your sketchy track records. I know you can.” Nichole grabbed her own drink and pushed the orange concoction toward Madelyn. “Now pick it up. We’re here to have a good time.”
She didn’t know which was more likely to give first—Jim’s drinking or her pledge to steer clear of men for the rest of her life. Her poor friend had her work cut out for her.
“To what are we toasting?” Madelyn asked.
A smile gradually stretched Nichole’s mouth. Her eyes skittered this way and rolled that, and then settled. “Okay.”
Madelyn lifted her glass.
“To the future. To living one little step at a time.”
“I can handle that.”
“Can you?” Nichole shimmied in her seat. “Because I was thinking Harvey Thompson would look so dashing on your arm.”
Madelyn cupped her mouth to keep the chilled liquor from spewing across the table. She swallowed and choked a laugh. “Yeah, right.”
“What could you possibly find wrong with him?” Nichole fanned herself. “He’s hot.”
“Yeah, in that been-around-the-island, knows-every-woman-intimately kind of way.”
“Just think how great he’d be in bed.” Nichole waggled her brows.
“Wish I could, but I’m too busy thinking about how quickly he could screw me over to think about how well he’d just plain screw me. Besides, the first time I met him didn’t go so well.”
Nichole’s whooping laugh drew several glances. “I almost forgot about that. Tell me again.”
“No. You laughed at me for a week after. It’s all your fault anyway.”
Her friend steeled her face. “I’ve matured since then.”
“It was three months ago.”
Nichole drained the last of her ’rita and flagged the waitress for another round. “It’s not like you threw the drink in
“No. But I threw it in his fancy restaurant.” She tipped the last of her drink down her throat and winced at the sharp pain gathering behind her eyes.
“I can’t believe you chunked your wine in Evan Whitman’s face,” Nichole howled.
Her fingers pressed against her forehead.
She grunted and rubbed her tongue onto the roof of her mouth. When the stabbing ceased, she eyed Nichole. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into going out with him. What a pompous ass.”
“He’s the most eligible bachelor in all the Virgin Islands.”
“And I’m sure some bimbo with more fashion than common sense would be happy to land him.”
“He just wanted to get you naked,” Nichole shrugged. “I don’t know a man in this place who wouldn’t want to do the same.”
“Wanting to get my clothes off is one thing. Lack of tact is another. Telling me I’m a prude because I refused to go back to his yacht before we’d even finished appetizers earned him a thousand drinks in the face, if you ask me.”
“Sad thing is…” Nichole clutched her side and panted between giggles. “That wasn’t the worst date you’ve let me talk you into.”
Yep, Tommy Templeton had been the grandest of dating disasters.
Whether it was the liquor warming her from the inside or her friend’s gleeful expression at her failed matchmaking, Madelyn cracked a smile. Then the bottom dropped out. They hooted and howled in a free-for-all of delight.
“It was so bad,” Madelyn cackled.
She shouldn’t laugh at Nichole’s attempts to set her up. The last thing on earth she wanted was another man. In the bedroom B.O.B. worked just fine. Out of the bedroom, Deacon and Nichole filled her need for companionship.
That Nichole tried so tenaciously showed her friend’s love. Post-date reports also provided hours of entertainment and an abdominal workout. Madelyn clutched her side. “Stop. You have to stop. You’re making my guts hurt.”
Tears slipped from Nichole’s eyes and ran down her rose-hued cheeks.
“Blot,” she ordered, handing her friend a napkin.
“No. You have to stop. He’s here.” Nichole blotted the mascara running below her eyes. She dragged in a steadying breath.
Madelyn’s body flash-fired with a shot of adrenaline. Fight or flight were the only options and she’d trained in both. The smile died on her lips. Her head snapped toward the door. Relief calmed the erratic beat of her heart.
“Relax,” Nichole snickered. “It’s just Tommy. Not the devil himself. The date wasn’t that bad.”
She laughed at her overreaction. “You try getting yelled at by Jeannie Lou in front of a crowd of people because I,” she added air quotes, “stole her man. I didn’t want him. And certainly didn’t after he tried to explain that there was more than enough of him to go around.”
“A bald-faced lie,” Nichole shook her head. “Senior year a bunch of us went to the beach to skinny-dip. He’d be hard pressed to have enough for one.”
“And you set me up with him?”
“Hey, it’d be more penis than you’ve had in the last two years. I figured some was better than none.” She shrugged.
Madelyn’s shoulders shook in uproarious laughter, dissipating the tension knotting her nape. Nichole’s hair pooled on the table as she rested her forehead on the lacquered top and heaved her laughs.
“Oh,” Madelyn gasped, “I needed this.”
“What’s so funny?” a male voice asked.
“Tommy,” Nichole snickered her greeting.
Madelyn bit her lower lip between her teeth to keep from embarrassing them all.
“Glad to see you ladies having such a good time.” He planted his hands on the table and leaned over them. His fingers hardly competed with their drinks’ straws for width. The white Panama-Jack style button-down he wore billowed around his narrow frame.
“We’re just having a girls’ night,” Nichole explained.
“No boys allowed?” A smirk pulled one side of his cute face.
“Two more,” the waitress said in creole. She shooed Tommy Templeton to the side with a string of words Madelyn didn’t understand and deposited the drinks.
Nichole laughed silently, picking up the native language since she’d lived in the West Indies all her life. Her ancestors had come to the islands from Spain in the late 1700’s. So, her roots ran down to the bedrock.