Authors: Jillian Neal
By Jillian Neal
Written by Jillian Neal
Cover Design by Hang Lee
Edited by Chasity Jenkins-Patrick
Copyright © 2015 Jillian Neal
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincident
Published by Realm Press
36 South Court Square
Newnan GA 30263
Library of Congress Control Number: 2015937393
First Printing – June 2015
Other works by Jillian Neal
Gypsy Heat (August 2015)
Gypsy Hope (September 2015)
The Gifted Realm Series
Within The Realm
An Angel All His Own
All But Lost
The Quelling Tide
To Torie – When writing a lawyer,
it’s so helpful to have a person that doubles
as both a friend and legal guru.
“All men should strive to learn
before they die,
what they are running from,
and to, and why.”
“What kind of stupid town doesn’t even have a stupid Starbucks?” Arley Copeland muttered to herself as her ancient Corolla protested the rate of her escape from Tilldale, Alabama. She smirked as she sped past the ancient Motel 6 near the one road in and out of the town that had raised her. The top portion of the six was no longer lit, making it appear that it was called the Motel O. Served the whole stupid town right. She was quite certain if the majority of the ultraconservative women’s church groups—that served to make food right along with hefty portions of gossip for any event—had ever had an O, they wouldn’t think she was such a slut.
She’d be in Birmingham in an hour. She tried to let that information soothe her, but it fell short of the mark. At least there would be coffee.
It was weak of her to have even tried to go home. She’d thought she could plead her case to her mother, but she knew better. She was doomed from the moment she’d crossed the county line. Her family would never understand her, and she had to admit that was partly her fault. She’d tried so hard to please her mother and the whole stupid town growing up, and now they were simply incapable of understanding her.
Sighing, she saw the gas light blink on her dash. Several choice words pulsed in her mind. She was going to have to stop short of her escape, long enough to fill the car up, anyway.
Praying that she had had some credit left on her gas card she begrudgingly pulled into Aamaco station attached to Chappy’s Chicken and the post office.
She drew a deep breath before she exited the car and attempted to get the nozzle into the fuel receptacle before she had to take another breath. Rolling her eyes, she let the air trapped in her lungs escape. Of course, the metal tag that should have set the pump to supply her car with gas without her assistance was broken. She was stuck.
Her body shuddered as the breeze picked up and assaulted her nasal cavities with the odor of ancient chicken grease from Chappy’s, mixed with the smell of burnt oil, and gasoline. Her stomach churned. A smoky cloud of red dirt from some idiot’s four-wheeler on the dirt track beside the post office barraged the air around her.
“Arley? Arley Copeland? Well, I hardly recognized you. We never see you anymore, except in the papers. I know your mother worries, dear. Why must you put her through all of this? None so blind as those who refuse to see.” Karen Barrage, queen bee of the Lady’s Auxiliary, stumbled slightly as she left the gas station shop and shot her best castigating glare Arley’s direction. She just couldn’t withhold the dig about the papers.
Thankful that she’d splurged on the expensive pair of Ray Ban’s before her life had fallen completely apart, Arley didn’t hesitate to roll her eyes dramatically. Karen couldn’t see her eyes. Arley could, however, see the cartons of Camel lights and six-packs of bitch beer in Karen’s bags.
Deciding that ten dollars’ worth of gas would get her home, she quickly offered Karen a half-wave. She might’ve let her middle finger do most of the waving if the truth were told, but she was fairly certain she’d been discreet.
“Sorry, Karen. I’m running late to a meeting with another publisher, a big one. Have to go. Give Mitch my hellos.” She quickly returned to the safety of her car.
Another mile into her getaway, her cell phone buzzed from the worn leather laptop bag in the seat beside her. Instinctively, she ran her right hand over the soft, pliant leather and traced her index finger over the fading imprint of an elephant and a palm tree. The bag had been her father’s. He always carried his journal, his current manuscript, his favorite pens, his thesaurus, and a deck of playing cards in his bag. Arley did the same. She just happened to carry all of her manuscripts inside her beloved laptop that was crammed in the bag along with a few of her favorite novels.
She had no intention of answering her sister’s call. There was no question as to who was calling. Charlotte could not fix this, and no amount of her sister’s pleas for her to come back to Tilldale and try again were going to work. As if she hadn’t been told by enough people from her hometown that she was a tremendous disappointment.
Charlotte, ever the peacemaker, had presented her plan for Arley to mend family fences the evening before. She wanted Arley to give up her writing career, the one thing that had ever made her feel truly alive. The phrase, “Well, you’ve already lost your books,” kept spewing from both of her sisters. Giving up wasn’t happening, no matter how big of a disaster it had become as of late. The words weren’t even in Arley’s expansive vocabulary. According to Charlotte, Arley’s writing was just a little hard to take. No one in the tiny town of Tilldale knew what to make of it, especially their mother and their vexing aunts. She’d been such a good girl growing up. It was just a little shocking, and then there were the things Chase mentioned.
Arley rolled her eyes as she sped across three lanes of traffic to get to the lane for the Galleria in Birmingham. Horns blared all around her. Her fingers twitched on her steering wheel, but she didn’t quite have enough spite left in her to flip anyone else off. Her family, the entire town of Tilldale, and Chase Masters could all go choke on their righteous indignation for all she cared.
Escape felt awfully good just then. Maybe she should just keep driving. Arley’s best decisions and her best writing always happened over her favorite brew. She needed to be able to think, and the heady smell of air infused with roasting coffee beans always did the trick.
Lugging her beloved bag over her shoulder, she stomped into Starbucks and ordered a Venti bold black with extra room for cream.
Settling into a tiny table in the back corner, she inhaled deeply and finally smiled. Her shoulders slumped in relief and her eyes made methodical study of the other patrons. A mom with two toddlers pulling on her in the line. She looked like she needed more than a cup of joe to help with her day. Arley imagined her husband coming home from work, whisking her away from the kids and the stove, and spending an entire night spoiling his wife thoroughly. There was a large diamond band on her left hand. It could happen.
Her stomach gave a little flutter of joy when she spied a woman in one of the faux leather chairs reading a massive novel. Leaning to the side slightly, Arley tried to see the title but couldn’t quite make it out. Readers were her favorite. Kindred spirits that knew the power of printed words on a page that wove fantastic tales and adventures. The potency of fiction was awe-inspiring. Why couldn’t her family understand that? Her mind quickly decided that the woman was a quiet, thoughtful librarian that occasionally got a little naughty in the stacks when her lover stopped by after the library had closed.
She sighed and moved onto the well-dressed man, checking his expensive watch as he awaited his latte. Always a sucker for a hunk in a suit, Arley tried not to let her gaze linger too long. He was attractive, but she’d sworn off men after Chase’s little stunt with the press a few weeks before. Ordering herself not to make up a backstory for him as that would probably have involved her helping him remove his suit. She sighed and opened her laptop.
She needed to get away from Tilldale, away from her family, away from members of the First Baptist Church, away from Chase, away from the disaster with her publishing contract, somewhere much further than her apartment on the outskirts of Birmingham. Her mind danced around the idea of heading towards Gulf Shores, but that didn’t seem far enough away. She needed somewhere quiet to think, but sinking her toes into warm sand, letting the sun melt away just a little of her woes, and maybe even donning a bikini sounded downright heavenly. Getting in bed with some guy that knew what he was doing when it came to taking her all of the best places sounded heavenly as well, but that wasn’t going to be happening anytime soon.
She didn’t have the money to fly anywhere. This would have to be a road trip. Truthfully, she didn’t have the money for a trip at all, but she just couldn’t face her family, her failing career, and Chase’s idiotic stunt with the press any longer.
After a few Google searches, she stumbled upon a recently renovated Bed and Breakfast that looked perfect. She could afford several nights there, and breakfast and Sunday dinner was included in the price. Set in a tiny beach town in North Carolina that she’d never heard of, Gypsy Beach was eclectic in its charm, and every room in the Inn had a desk and a bookshelf. Definitely her kind of place.
She narrowed her eyes and tried to read the books on the shelf in the online photo. She made out an old collection of Austen’s works, and her smile continued to expand the width of her face. If she’d never heard of Gypsy Beach, she doubted her mother, her aunts, or her sisters had either. This place was perfect. She phoned the number on her screen and wondered how the beach had earned its name.
“Gypsy Inn, this is Sienna speaking.” The woman on the phone sounded so kind, Arley instantly liked her. “Ryan, stop that!” The command was half-whispered and half-giggled.
Whomever Ryan was, Sienna liked what he was doing and didn’t actually want him to stop. Arley’s heart flew. She was a love addict, and she needed to get it together. She told herself this, but continued listening intently like some kind of auditory voyeur.
Shaking herself, she felt her pale face flush. “You’re probably all booked up, but I was wondering if you might have a room for the next week or two.”
“We’re not booked. I have three rooms open, actually. We’d love to have you.” She sounded quite sincere but was still giggling. Arley heard the muffled echo of someone’s—she assumed Sienna’s—ass being lovingly smacked through clothes. Her mouth watered and her heart sped. Desperate envy threatened to pervade. Arley! You cannot be that hard up! She ordered her mind out of her panties.
“Oh, great! Thank you! Uh, are you sure?” Something akin to hope actually permeated her weary frame, but she didn’t want to interrupt anything. It sounded like Ryan and Sienna might like to be alone.
“I’m sure. We’d love to have you. Just let me get a little information.”
Maybe a vacation was a good idea. Maybe that plaguing sense of dread that haunted her would take a vacation as well.
The words made her shudder. They scraped against the recesses of her mind like fingernails on an internal chalkboard. Maybe she could actually get a few words worthy of another manuscript onto the screen after she got away from Alabama and all of the problems it seemed to hold.