I’ve mentioned here and there that I’ve been working on a contemporary romance series. I’ll likely release this under a pen name to keep my paranormal stuff separate from my contemporary stuff so it’s easier for my readers to find what they want without having to hear about the stuff they’re less interested in. More details on that later. But, for now, here’s a little peek at the beginning of Paradise Bay #1, Between the Lines.
Olivia turned her Jeep off of the highway and onto the dirt road she remembered so well from her childhood. She looked further down the road, just able to see the front of the little white cottage peeking through the swaying branches of a row of weeping willows. A red pickup truck was parked in the driveway, and, as she got closer, she saw a logo that said “Paradise Bay Animal Care” emblazoned on the side. She grinned to herself. The only thing better than being here was being welcomed by her cousin, Jack.
She pulled into the driveway behind the truck and got out. As she was shutting the driver’s side door, she saw Jack coming down the stairs of the wide front porch of the cabin.
“Cuz!” he shouted, and he came to her, arms open. She laughed and folded him into a hug, and he gave her one of his usual bear hugs. “Good to see you, Livi,” he said as he released her.
“Good to see you, too,” she told him. She looked him over. “You still look the same. Shouldn’t you have aged in the last few years or something?” she teased, and he shook his head. It was true. Jack still had the same unruly dark brown hair, the same stubbled jawline, and she swore there were still no lines around his dark brown eyes.
“Forget me. You look great,” he said, and she smiled. She didn’t have any siblings, but she and Jack had been close as kids, and he was the closest thing she had to a big brother.
Jack walked to the back of the Jeep and opened the gate. “You didn’t bring a lot,” he said, glancing at her.
“Well, I knew Aunt Daisy and Uncle Rob had this place stocked with furniture and dishes and all that.” The cabin was one that she’d spent childhood and teenage summers in, but her aunt and uncle had built a new one in an even prettier location and rented this one out to tourists every summer. She’d lucked out and snagged a claim on it before tourist season started, and she was grateful she had.
“They wanted me to tell you they’re not taking any rent money from you,” Jack said, reaching into the back of the Jeep and pulling out one of the boxes.
“Oh, yes they are,” Olivia murmured. “Even if I have to force it into their hands myself.”
Jack paused and looked at her, and she glanced up at him. “I’m glad you left him, Livi. He never was good enough for you.”
Olivia felt the words wash over her. “It was time for a change. Many changes,” she added. “He just made it really easy for me to finally move forward.”
“You could see it, seeing you two together,” he said. “It was like watching Wonder Woman preparing to marry Mole Man or something.” They carried the boxes to the front porch and set them in the small, bright living room of the cottage, then went back to the Jeep for another load.
“You’re crossing your universes again,” Olivia said with a laugh.
“Still true,” he shot back, and she shook her head, still grinning.
She and Jack carried the rest of her boxes in, and she stood in the cabin, looking around. The cabin was just as she remembered. The oak floors on the main floor gleamed in the mid-morning sun that slanted through the kitchen windows, and the white walls made everything feel clean and fresh. The furniture was newer, a kind of casual, shabby chic look to it all, painted wood tables and bookcases. A sleeping nook was tucked into one corner of the living room, a daybed that could be used as an extra bed if there wasn’t enough space in the sleeping lofts upstairs. Out of the back of the house, through the kitchen window, Migisi Lake shimmered, the old gray wooden dock stretching out into it just as it always had.
“I can run into town with you if you want. I bought a few things for the kitchen. There’s tea and milk and some sandwich stuff in the fridge. I wasn’t sure what else you’d want,” Jack said.
Olivia smiled up at him. “You didn’t have to do that.”
He shrugged. “It wasn’t a big deal. I am glad you’re here.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulders, and she gave him a quick hug. Growing up, she and Jack had been inseparable during the summers she’d spent here at the cabin just outside the limits of the town of Paradise Bay, and they’d kept in touch all through their college years, though their contact became more sporadic once Olivia had gotten involved with Jon, mostly because being with Jon was, eventually, what she imagined it would be like to have a very loud, very needy toddler, except not nearly as cute and there was no hope of him ever growing up.
“i am too. I love this place so much. If I’m going to start over, it might as well be in my favorite place on Earth,” she said with a grin.
“Hell yeah. My mom and dad can’t wait to see you. They’re getting back from Austin later today.”
“Visiting Jason?” I asked, and he nodded. His younger brother, Jason, was going to college down in Texas. She liked Jason well enough, but he was kind of the opposite of Jack in every way: loud, brash, outgoing. Jack, on the other hand, was a sweet, quiet introvert. But like most introverts, once he was around his people, he could be as loud and gregarious as anyone else. He’d been a comic book nerd, too, and they’d never run out of things to talk about during all of those long, humid summers on the lake.
“I’m looking forward to seeing them, too. Can you tell them I’ll be by tomorrow evening?”
Jack nodded. He was about to say something when his phone rang. He glanced at the screen. “I need to take this,” he said apologetically, and she waved it off, indicating that he should do what he had to do. He stepped onto the porch, and a moment later, she heard him talking. She looked around at the cardboard boxes and suitcases in the living room, and grabbed one of the boxes labeled “books.” Honestly, most of the boxes were either books or art supplies. She’d donated or sold anything else she could before she’d left Detroit. She had a few boxes of knickknacks and collectibles, and several bags of clothes. Anything that had felt like it was weighing her down or taking up space had been sent off. Including her fiance.
She tore the box open and started lining the books up on the bookcase at the end of the living room. It was large, painted a soft, distressed white, just like most of the wooden furniture in the cottage. She liked it. It felt homey and relaxed, the way a lake house should. Whenever she bought a permanent place up here, she’d make it feel like this, she decided.
She continued putting her books on the shelves, and a couple of minutes later, Jack stepped back into the cottage. “Sorry, Livi. I have to go take care of this.”
She nodded. “It’s fine. Not too serious, I hope?”
He shook his head. “A horse with a sliced foreleg. But it’s the owner’s first horse and she’s freaked out.”
Olivia smiled. “Go do your thing, then. Thanks for all of the help.” She hugged Jack again, and he drew back.
“You’re going to need a job while you’re here, right?” he asked, and she nodded.
“I figured I was showing up at the right time for that. Every place will be looking for help in preparation for tourist season.”
“You did. You still like comics, right?“ he asked.
“Lauren is looking for full and part time help at the comic shop and bookstore she opened with Holly Fitzpatrick. You remember Holly, right? Her grandparents had a cottage here a few doors down.”
‘I remember,” Olivia said. “I read about the shop when it opened. How’s it doing?”
“Great. Business is steady, and they’re able to do a lot of events for the community. Holly and Lauren are actually thinking about expanding the shop soon, if they can manage it.” She walked Jack to his truck, glancing over at him.
“And… how is Lauren?” she asked. Her cousin looked down at her and smiled.
“She’s good. She’s looking forward to seeing you.”
“And you two…?”
Jack sighed and let his head drop forward. Olivia laughed.
“Same as we’ve always been. I don’t know why anyone expects that to change.”
Jack Weston and Lauren Bailey had been best friends since ninth grade, and just about everyone who knew them, including Olivia, expected them to take that next step toward something more. All Olivia knew was that her high school summer visits had been spent as much with Lauren as with Jack, but that she’d never seen the two of them do anything more than push or smack at one another while the three of them played video games at Jack’s house.
“Go see her about the job, okay? She already said it’s yours if you want it. You’ll have to have a sit-down with Holly first, but that’s mostly a formality.”
“I will. Thanks, cuz,” Olivia said. Jack climbed into his truck, gave her a wave, and pulled out onto the road, heading back toward the highway. She watched the truck until he turned off their quiet road, then she turned to look at the cottage.
Olivia took a deep breath. This was really happening. She’d really driven the over three hundred miles from Detroit. She’d really left all of the bullshit, including Jon, behind. She was giving herself until fall to figure something out. Hopefully, she’d be able to find a permanent place here, or at least nearby. Hopefully, she’d finally make some headway on getting hired for work at one of the big two comic book publishers.
She’d been supporting herself with her freelance illustration and design work for a few years, and her webcomic had a decent fanbase. All of which was great. What kind of jerk would complain about being able to work for themselves, from wherever they want, and make decent money at it? But it wasn’t her big dream. The big one was drawing the superhero comics she’d loved as a kid. She’d keep trying. She’d keep putting herself out there, and killing it on her webcomic. She’d keep improving. She knew it was a long shot. She knew there were a hell of a lot of talented artists out there. It didn’t make her want it any less.
She let her eyes wander toward the lake. She peeled off her sweater and kicked off her shoes and took a running leap off the end of the dock, clad in her shorts and t-shirt. She was here now, finally. She was going to make the most of it.
After Olvia pulled herself out of the lake and dressed in some dry clothes, she spent a little bit of time getting settled in. Unpacking the books and the few decorative items she’d brought took about an hour. Her clothing went in the armoire in the upstairs sleeping loft, and she spread the faded old quilt she’d inherited from her grandma over the double bed. She smiled as she did so. This one simple thing, using the blanket she wanted to, was indicative of just how real this life change was. Jon hated this quilt, and she hadn’t felt like he was worthy to sleep under it anyway.
Why she’d agreed to marry him still mystified her. Mostly, she supposed, the idea of not being alone for the rest of her life appealed to her. What she knew now was that being alone was better than being with someone who sucked the life out of you with their constant bitching and complaining. What had seemed like sarcasm and bad-boy cynicism at first had turned out to be nothing more than negativity from someone who couldn’t envision something bigger, something better. He’d had no imagination, in any area of his life, she thought with a wry grin.
Olivia ran her hand over the quilt, smoothing it. She fluffed the pillows on the bed and glanced out the small round window that looked out over the lake. Waking up here every morning would be a nice way to start the day.
She sat down on the freshly-made bed and pulled her phone out of her pocket. She looked up the number for Gutters Comics and Books and sat listening to the phone ringing. After a few rings, a female voice answered.
“Gutters Comics, this is Lauren.”
“Lauren! Hi, um. This is Olivia Marquis. I’m—“
“Jack’s cousin!” Lauren said, her normal quiet, slightly husky voice raised in excitement. “How the hell are you, Livi?”
Olivia laughed. “I’m great. You?”
“Cannot complain. You’re gonna come and work here, right? You better say yes because I need another girl for derby and you’d kick ass at it.”
“Do you want full time or part time, because we have both available right now?”
“Uh, it depends. How early would I have to work?”
“We need afternoons and evenings, so whether you pick full or part time, that’s when we’d need you.”
“Perfect. That’s what I was hoping for. I think part time, but if you guys need extra help at times, I can work a little more some weeks.”
“Great. When can you come in and talk to Holly? You remember her, right?”
“Yeah, I remember Holly.”
“Yeah, she’s still a bossy pain in the ass,” Lauren said with a laugh, and Olivia heard a female voice in the background. “Holly says hi,” she said.
“Well, tell her I said hi, too.”
Olivia waited as Lauren passed it along. “Okay, so when can you come in?”
“Whenever Holly wants me to. I’m all gross from the driving and getting settled here today, but anytime other than that is totally fine.”
“Good.” There was more discussion on the other end of the line, then Lauren came back on. “Tomorrow at like eleven, then? Is that okay?”
“I’ll be there. Thanks a lot for this,” Olivia said, plucking at the quilt a little bit as she talked.
“No, thank you. Seriously. I freaking hate having to interview people, so you just cut the interviews I’m gonna have to do by half. Plus it’s going to be awesome catching up with you.”
“It is!” Olivia said, smiling. “Um. What was that about derby, though?”
Lauren laughed. “See you tomorrow, Livi.” Then she hung up and Olivia was left looking at her phone in confusion. Then she laughed a little and shook her head and headed back downstairs to make a quick dinner and some tea. She was practically dead on her feet after the drive, and if it was still the way she remembered it, she’d sleep like a baby here.
Olivia woke, snuggled into her blankets, curled up at the edge of the bed the way she usually slept. The room had that soft purplish-gray color to it that told her it was just before sunrise. She’d slept with the window open, and she could hear birds in the trees outside, ducks quacking quietly as they glided on the water.
She realized how she was positioned, and rolled over onto her back, spreading her arms and legs out, covering as much of the bed as possible, and then she smiled.
After a while, she pulled herself out of bed, showered, and headed downstairs to get her computer and other art supplies set up. She’d already chosen a bright corner of the main room of the cottage, one that looked out over the lake. There was already a small desk there, painted chippy white just like the rest of the furniture, and she pulled a kitchen chair over to it. She’d have to find a better chair later, one that wouldn’t have her back in misery after a few hours working in it, but for now, that would do. Once that was set up, she went to work re-assembling her drawing table, then she moved it across from her desk. She glanced at the wall nearby. She’d have to buy some cork board or something. She did most of her work on the computer, of course, but she still liked to use pen and ink for warm up drawings and to work out how she wanted to handle a panel.
Speaking of which. She booted up the computer to check her website and make sure that that morning’s installment of her web comic, Welcome to Paradise, had posted. Everything looked good ,and she was happy to see that several of her regulars had already checked in and commented. She took a few minutes to answer questions or comment back, then she headed into the bathroom to dress and get ready for her meeting with Holly.
She slipped into a nubby vintage skirt she loved and a sleeveless white blouse, then put a gray sweater over that and cinched a narrow belt at her waist. She looked herself up and down, from her bubble-gum pink hair, to her rounded hips, to her vintage-style heels, and nodded.
She ran some serum through her thick mass of pink curls, then quickly did her makeup and put some earrings on. Then she went back out into the main room and jotted down a few things in the small sketchbook/notepad she always kept in her bag. She’d have to stop at the market after her meeting. Her cousin had done a fabulous job making sure she was okay for a day or two, but eh cabinets and fridge needed to be stocked, and she wanted to check out the one little resale shop she knew of near Gutters to see if maybe they had a decent office chair for her desk. She added that to the list, then glanced at her phone to double check the time.
She grabbed her bag, hunted for her car keys for a good five minutes before finding them in her hand, and then finally was able to leave and make the short drive into town.
She drove with the windows down, the cool, clean northern Michigan air tousling her curls as she drove down the highway. She tapped the steering wheel in time to the music on the stereo, driving past parks, beaches, and shops that held memories. Good ones.
Paradise Bay was a small town, but its gorgeous location amid the bays of Lake Michigan, as well as its rise as a center for Michigan’s burgeoning vineyards, orchards, and small farms had turned it into a tourist destination for both nature lovers and foodies. Dozens of trendy little eateries and shops lined the streets of downtown Paradise Bay, and Olivia promised herself that she’d take the time to check at least some of them out in between working and planning whatever it was that she was going to do next. She found the block where Gutters was located and snagged a parking spot near the corner. A quick glance told her that she was lucky to find it; the street-side parking was fairly packed. She got out and fed the meter, then she looked around. She knew from her quick check online that Gutters had a black awning and an old-fashioned red brick facade, which it shared with the three shops that neighbored it, a brewery, a tattoo parlor, and a small used book store. She spotted the brick buildings, the black awning, at the far end of the block and started walking that way. As she did, she glanced at the names and in the front windows of the businesses she was passing. Most of the cafes along the block were trendy looking and full, but she passed a little coffee and tea shop that didn’t look too bad and promised herself she’d check that out at some point. She neared the brick-fronted buildings at the end of the block, first passing the brewery with its large plate glass windows and generally unadorned entrance, a metal sign with the name “Daniels Brothers Brewing Co.” next to the front door. A quick glance inside showed that the place was pretty busy, definitely more so than she would have expected for a weekday afternoon. As she passed that, she came to the front of the little secondhand book store, glancing in to see shelves that looked like they would burst, overstuffed with books as they were. She would definitely be going in there. Probably right after her meeting with Holly, she thought.
Then she reached the front of Gutters Comics and Books. The front of the shop had a row of windows, their panes painted a glossy black that matched the awning. The entranceway was flanked by two planters, classic urn shapes that looked like they’d been decoupaged or painted with black and white comics pages, lush green ferns swaying gracefully in the breeze.
Details. That would be Lauren’s doing, from what Olivia remembered. She glanced at the front of the shop again. It definitely didn’t look like most of the comic shops she’d visited over the years. Very upscale, perfect for a trendy tourist town.
She opened the door and stepped inside, barely having a chance to appreciate the gleaming wood floors, streamlined shelving, and bare brick walls on the inside of the shop before her inspection was interrupted by the sound of raised voices . The shop was empty except for a man and woman in the far corner of the sales floor, clearly and loudly arguing.
The woman was Holly. Olivia knew that at once. Coppery hair, tall and preppy looking. She was gesturing toward the back of the shop.
“You knew I had a shipment coming in today. It’s Tuesday. I always have a shipment on Tuesdays, for like, what? Four years now?” she was saying as she gestured to the back of the shop.
“Yeah, well this was the one day I could finally get those new coolers delivered anytime soon. It was today or two weeks from now,” the man said in a calm voice. He was nice looking. Okay, better than nice looking. Dark hair with a bit of a wave to it, blue eyes, nice build. “Am I supposed to put my business on hold to accommodate you, Fitzpatrick?” he asked, a hint of a smile on his lips.
“You could have at least said something. Now I have to cart those freaking pallets all the way down the block because the truck couldn’t get back here—“
“I’ll help,” the man said.
“I don’t want your help,” Holly hissed, and the man just smiled, which only seemed to annoy Holly more.
“I think you have a customer,” the man said, just as Holly was opening her mouth to say something else.
Holly spun around as the man gave a low chuckle.
“Livi!” Holly said, coming toward her. “Oh my god you look great!” She reached Olivia and gave her a quick hug.
“You too. This place is amazing!” Olivia said. “Man, I wish I’d had a place like this to go when I was a teenager,” she added.
“Right? Remember that shop over in Avisport? I drove you and your cousin and Lauren there a few times before you all got your drivers licenses.”
“Ugh, that place. Only comic shop within like a hundred miles of here and it smelled like bologna and feet,” Olivia said, scrunching up her nose at disgust at the memory.
“And the guys who worked there,” Holly said, rolling her eyes.
“The worst,” Olivia agreed, remembering how annoying, how condescending the clerks had been toward her, Holly, and Lauren while talking to Jack like an actual person… despite the fact that all four of them had been absolute comics geeks.
“I am so happy you’re here. You wanted part time, right?” Holly asked, and Olivia nodded.
“So, I guess I’ll just go, then,” the man Holly had been arguing with called. Olivia and Holly turned around, and he was standing there, arms crossed over his chest, slight smile on his face.
“Are you still here?” Holly asked archly, and it only made him grin more.
“One of these days, Fitzpatrick, you’re actually going to hurt my feelings.”
Holly rolled her eyes and turned to Olivia. “Livi Marquis, this is Scott Daniels. He owns the brewery a couple of doors down.”
Scott came and shook Olivia’s hand.
“Nice to meet you,” Olivia said, and he smiled.
“He’s also an enormous asshole,” Holly added.
“Just admit that you love me,” Scott said, turning that smile completely on Holly.
“I’d rather run naked down Eighth in the middle of a snowstorm,” Holly said.
“That would be a sight,” Scott said dreamily.
“Out!” Holly said pointing at the door, and Scott went, chuckling.
“My guys’ll move your shipment down here,” he said as he walked out. “But only because you were so sweet and understanding about the whole thing.”
Before Holly could respond, he was out the door. She shook her head, then turned to Olivia.
“He is the worst.”
Olivia hid a grin. “Is he in here often?”
“Only when he’s being a pain in the ass. Which is always,” Holly said, rolling her eyes. “I was planning on doing this meeting back in my office, but Maggie was supposed to come in and work this morning and she’s out with a stomach bug. Okay if we talk out here?”
“Sure.” Olivia glanced around. “”Let me guess. You organized the place, but Lauren was in charge of decorating it.”
Holly nodded. “Pretty much.”
“It’s awesome that you two went into business together. How is that going?” she asked curiously. They’d all known each other growing up, but Holly was a couple of years older than Lauren and Jack, and Olivia was two years younger than them. Plus, as far as personalities went, Olivia couldn’t think of two people more different than Holly and Lauren. At least, that had been the case back when they’d all been teenagers, anyway.
Holly gave a small smile. “Mostly, it’s going great. We’re both stubborn, but we also both recognize that we each bring something different and necessary to the table. We love this place, so we make it work, even when we disagree about something.”
“It’s so great to see this place. Really, you both should be so proud,” Olivia said, looking around again.
“We are. And we are both looking forward to having you on board. By the way, I am a huge fan of ‘Welcome to Paradise,’” Holly said, and Olivia felt herself blush a little.
“Really? Thanks,” she said.
“I think pretty much everyone who works here reads it. Of course, I didn’t realize it was you until Lauren said that Jack told her it was you. So finding out that I knew the creator makes it just that much more awesome,” Holly said.
Olivia didn’t answer, just gave a small nod.
“So you want later hours, right? Afternoons and evenings?”
“Yes, please. I usually work at night, so mornings are a killer,” Olivia said.
“Which works perfectly for us. We’re both pretty much always here because we’re obsessed and we clearly have no lives,” Holly said wryly, and Olivia laughed. “Other than us, there’s a part timer, Maggie, and I’m hoping to bring in one more part timer soon, now that we have you here.”
“I’m only going to be here for the summer, probably. I just feel like I should let you know, so you’re not planning on a long-term thing,” Olivia said. “I need a few month of extra money so I can afford at least a down payment on something up here, and I’m short right now.”
“And that’s totally fine. You’ll help us get through tourist season, and if you decide not to stick around, we’ll look into hiring a replacement. I’m just happy to have you here.”
Olivia nodded. She was about to say something when the door opened, a small bell dinging to announce whoever had walked in.
She glanced toward the door, where a dark-haired man with a neat goatee had just entered the shop. He looked like he was maybe forty or so. She was about to turn her attention back to Holly when he caught her eye… and winked before walking toward the new releases.
“Hey, Andrew,” Holly called.
“Why do you always insist on saying hi to me?” the man, Andrew, answered as he glanced over the display. Olivia looked at Holly to gauge her response. Holly was smiling and shaking her head.
“It’s called customer service,” Holly said as if they’d had this discussion before.
“Totally unnecessary,” the man muttered.
“I’m setting a good example for our new girl here,” Holly said, and Olivia shook her head. The man turned back to them, studying Olivia for a moment. She met his gaze, and the corner of his mouth lifted, just a little.
“I never realized how much this place needed a touch of pink,” he told her, and then he turned away again and Olivia glanced at Holly.
“That was almost a compliment, Andrew. Careful,” Holly said, holding her hands out as if she was trying to hold him back.
Andrew let out a small snort of a laugh and turned back, heading toward the counter where Holly and Olivia were sitting. He stopped in front of Olivia.
“What’s your name, new girl?” he asked, meeting her eyes with his dark brown ones.
“Olivia. It was a compliment. You’re cute as hell and I happen to like pink. Can I have my comics now?”
Olivia smiled, and he gave her a small smile in return. She tore her eyes away from him to look at Holly, who was giving him a somewhat shocked look.
“Now that was almost charming, there,” Holly said. Andrew rolled his eyes and Olivia couldn’t help laughing.
“I’m wounded. Are you saying that I’m not normally charming, chivalrous, an absolute freaking delight to be around?”
“You’re normally kind of a dick, really,” Holly said, grabbing a stack of comics from one of the cubbies behind the counter. Olivia noticed that each one was labeled with a customer name. This one said “Andrew S.”
“Now what kind of an example is that for your new girl?” Andrew asked.
“The best kind. The sooner she realizes it, the better,” Holly said sweetly.
“And yet everyone loves me. Weird,” Andrew said. He drummed on the countertop while he studied Olivia again. She studied him right back, noticing the occasional silver strand in his hair and goatee, the long dark lashes framing his eyes. “Are you going to be on Lauren’s derby team?”
“Why does everyone keep asking me about derby?” Olivia asked.
“If she joins, I might actually come to a bout,” Andrew said to Holly, handing over some cash and taking his bag of comics from Holly. “Tell Lauren I said hey. And stop being mean to Scottie.”
“Scott is an asshole.”
“Scott is a damn saint.”
“Says you, an unapologetic dick,” Holly said with a grin. “What, did he tell you I yelled at him today?”
“He likes it when you yell at him. I’m just saying, maybe try being pleasant sometimes.”
“Like you, you mean?” Holly asked with a laugh.
Andrew turned back to Olivia. “Was I pleasant to you, Liv?” he asked, that corner of his mouth turned up again in a cocky smirk.
“Define pleasant,” Olivia said, and his smile widened. He turned back to Holly.
“She classes the place up. You should give her a raise,” he said. Then he glanced at Olivia again and turned, walking out the door without another word.
“So you’ll get to go through that every week. Andrew is one of our best customers,” Holly said with a laugh.
“He’s… different,” Olivia said, and Holly nodded.
–I’m still working on this one, so I’m not quite sure when it’ll be out. Sometime in early 2017 probably. I hope you enjoyed it!–