Authors: J.N Johnson
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Martinsburg, West Virginia
Copyright ©2013, J.N Johnson
Edited by Laura Pink
Cover artist: Marissa Dobson
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of Sunshine Press.
To NDJ, the love of my life, thank you for putting up with me always having my nose stuck in a book and for being my biggest supporter even when I’m being stubborn, and for giving me the opportunity to complete my bucket list. To my girls RRJ & JTJ, thank you for letting mommy play with her imaginary friends and for being my cheerleaders. I love you all very much.
After catching her husband in the arms of another woman, Paisley feels like nothing can help her climb out of the depressing hole that had become her life. With the divorce pending, her home up for sale, and her career on hold, she hopes the opportunity to house sit in the coastal town of Topsail Island will bring on the inspiration she is searching for.
After leaving his home in Tennessee for the white beaches of North Carolina, Jake finds more than the fresh start he was looking for. His new upstairs neighbor has sparked more than his interest, but their pasts keep threatening to dampen their futures.
It had been nearly two months since the papers officially ending Paisley’s marriage of ten years were dropped off at her door. Two months she had spent hiding from the truth that she was now alone. Her husband Vince had already moved on, on top of his secretary Elise, that is. Paisley sat alone at her kitchen table, one of the only things left in her empty home after he took all of his belongings to her place.
“What in the world am I supposed to do now?” she asked her cat Major, as he rubbed against her legs. She had met Vince when they were in the tenth grade. They had been high school sweethearts and then college roomies. On graduation night, he popped the big question, going down on one knee, asking her to spend the rest of her life with him. She said yes, of course. He was everything a girl could wish for, sweet and charming, and had always treated her like a princess.
But when he started staying late at the office and coming home smelling like perfume that wasn’t hers, she knew something was up. She regretted spending so much time in front of her computer, pursuing her career as a writer, and not living out the romantic scenes that she wrote about. Maybe this is my fault, if I’d only spent more time with Vince and not my imaginary friends, I would still have my husband.
The shrill ring of her phone woke her out of a self-induced coma. She rushed to answer it, hoping that the person on the other end would help ease her lonesome torment. “Hello.”
“Hey girl, I just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing.” It was her best friend, Tiffany. Pretty, blonde, Tiffany, with her perfect husband, perfect kids, and perfect little beach house. Until Vince had left Paisley high and dry with no one to talk to and up to her neck in debt, she never once begrudged her friend for any of her achievements. Their parents had been friends, so they had grown up together, spending every weekend on family adventures or summer vacations. She had watched Tiffany fall in love and marry the man of her dreams, then start the family she had always wanted. Tiffany was living the life that she had always dreamed of having, and, no matter how shitty her life had turned out, she was happy that her friend had found true happiness.
Now the perky voice on the line made her cringe; her failures seemed worst somehow around happy people. The echo of Vince’s voice rang loud and clear in her mind
“Why do you keep doing this to yourself Paisley, you will never make it as a writer, just like you failed at being a wife. I can’t do this anymore; I need a woman who is full of excitement, not someone who just sits on her ass staring at a blank screen all day.”
“I’m doing the best I can, how about you? How are the kids?” She never liked being the center of attention. She felt more comfortable hiding out in front of her computer screen with her imaginary friends than being in the public eye, so she changed the subject.
She heard Tiffany take a deep breath and let it out on a long sigh. Her friend had always tried to fix things her way and she knew a speech was coming, but there weren’t any words that would erase what she was feeling inside. Determined that she wasn’t going to let her preach to her about moving on, she let Tiffany continue.
“The kids are doing great. Katie’s starting kindergarten in the fall. She’s so excited. Todd’s going into the fourth grade this year. His baseball team made it to the playoffs.”
Staring wide eyed, Paisley tried to hold back the tears that were threatening to fall. She tried to be happy for Tiffany and her family, but her heart was breaking with every bit of good news that her friend relayed about her life. She began to wonder what her life would have been like if she had married a man like Tiffany’s husband, and had became the soccer mom instead of putting her plans for a family on hold until she had a book published. Her rambling thoughts caused her to miss part of the conversation. “…so we wondered if you wanted to go and check on it for us? You could stay as long as you like. It’s really pretty there this time of the year.”
Shaking her head to clear the fog, she admitted to her friend that she wasn’t fully listening. “I’m sorry Tiffany my mind was wandering, what did you say again?”
“Our house on Topsail Beach, we need someone to go and check on it after the storm rolled in the other night. Our renter called and said there was some minor damage and James has made arrangements for the repairs, but we would feel better if someone we knew was there to watch over everything. This could be a good chance for you to get out of that house and stop thinking of the jerk that broke your heart.”
Paisley had to laugh at that. Tiffany never had liked Vince and always told her that she could have done better. Now it was hard to argue with her friends’ logic. Vince and Tiff had fought like cats and dogs every time they were around each other. The animosity between them had driven a wedge between Paisley and Tiff, causing them to grow apart, but she would have never survived these last few months without her friendship. “I’m not sure I should leave right now, what if…”
Tiffany interrupted her with a huff. “Don’t say his name to me! This could be the vacation you need. Get away from that house, with all of its bad memories. Leave his sorry ass in the lurch, waiting on you for once. He can deal with the closing of the house and the bills that he and his hooker ran up. It’s time you do something for you. Go sit on the deck, drink margaritas, and watch hunky, tanned, half naked men work. You never know, you may just find Mr. Right or at least Mr. Right Now.”
Paisley laughed again at Tiffany’s rant and conceded that her friend just might be right. “When are they supposed to start working?”
* * *
The seven hour drive from West Virginia to the beach house had given Paisley too much time for her mind to wander. Most of the drive was spent thinking of all the things she should have done to save her marriage, how she could have kept Vince happy.
She had never considered herself to be ugly. She had the red hair and freckles of her Irish heritage, and standing at five foot four, her body held the curves of the average woman, but that wasn’t something that bothered her. No, she liked her curves. Being stick thin, unable to hold up a strapless dress and having a bony ass wasn’t her idea of beauty. She wasn’t stupid either. She had two degrees and was working on getting her first book published. The problem with writing romance novels is that you need inspiration to make the words flow onto the pages and right now she was lacking any romantic inspiration. Maybe she should try her hand at murder mysteries?
Driving down the long stretch of 210, she could see the high rise bridge that connected the main land from the island. As her car started the long drive up, she looked over the edge at the peaceful sound. She could see hundreds of tracks left on the sandbars from the little ghost crabs that scampered around looking for food and the birds that wanted to make them lunch. The water looked so calm, but she knew the dangers of the sound and always kept any eye open for gators hiding in the tall grasses.
When she reached the highest point, she could see the ocean crest over the dunes. The white sand looked like home and when she passed the ever present Shrimp Lady, who sold her daily catch from the back of her red truck, it brought a smile to her face. She knew that this trip had to be the promise of good things to come because she had had her fair share of bad times to last a lifetime.
Things always seemed to move slower at the beach. The people here appeared more laid back, leaving their worries for another day. She hoped that this trip would help her forget all of the troubles that her ex-husband had caused her.
Turning onto Ocean Drive, she headed to the house that would be her hideout for the next three months. She passed a new community of ocean front homes that looked like overgrown dollhouses and headed toward the south end of the island. Her eyes scanned the horizon as she passed the swinging bridge, bringing back a flood of memories from all of the good times she had spent with Tiffany’s family on the island. When the radio started playing an old Beach Boys tune, she couldn’t help but let the music and memories erase the tension she had been feeling. She allowed the peaceful surrounding of the island to wash away the stress that had built up over the last two months and tried to let the comfort of island living coat her soul.
Spending the end of summer and beginnings of fall at the beach wasn’t a fate worse than death and doing it on someone else’s dime was even better. Tiffany’s husband James had insisted that he would reimburse her for any money she spent while staying at their house, and gave her a nice bit of cash to cover her gas and food. But all she was really looking forward to was some peace and quiet and a little spark of inspiration to finish her novel.
Topsail was so peaceful this time of year as most of the tourist had fled north after their brief vacations on the island, heading back to work or school. The locals were always friendly and welcoming of any visitors who happened their way. The island was like a retreat from the demands of her everyday life. Here there were no self imposed deadlines for work, or nosey neighbors wanting to know all the dirty details of her divorce. She knew the area well, having spent most her summers as a child playing on the beach with Tiffany and her family. How she missed those innocent days, when a pail and a bucket were all she needed to be entertained and happy. As they had gotten older, scouting cute boys took place of making sandcastles and searching for that one perfect shell to take home.