I'm working on a new story. The working title is Kiss Me Again. Hopefully it will be the first in a series. It's a straight up contemporary romance. The story takes place over the course of the week of Spring Break and each chapter will cover one day of the week. I'll work on it as I continue to work on the next two installments of The Emerald Series. Yes, there's at least two more.
This story is a work in progress and subject to change. I'm just trying to get the first draft down.
“Mom, you made it,” Chloe squealed as she skipped down the driveway and up to the open car door.
Kenna James slowly crawled out of the front seat, working through the twinge in her back. Six hours in the car, making the drive from North Alabama to the Emerald Coast of Florida, and she felt sixty-eight and not forty-eight.
“Chlo?” Kenna pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head. “Are you sure about this?”
Her daughter’s arms squeezed her neck with infectious enthusiasm. Chloe was a nineteen-year-old college freshman on Spring Break. Her excitement was understandable. It didn’t keep Kenna from being a bit reluctant. Chloe had begged Kenna to join her and her new boyfriend, Tanner, for the week. Kenna, not wanting to intrude, had declined the first invitation but they’d kept rolling in a steady stream of texts and Snapchats until Kenna had caved and agreed a week at the beach sounded pretty darn good right now.
Chloe’s bright, sometimes gray, sometimes green eyes danced with merriment. “Yes, Mom. You’re gonna love it. This place is amazing.”
Kenna couldn’t argue with that. She’d checked the address in her GPS on her phone more than once to make sure she wasn’t in the wrong neighborhood. But the code at the security gate had worked, and Kenna had followed the directions and pulled into the driveway, checking her own excitement. She and Chloe’s father had often dreamed about buying a house in this same coastal resort town. But those plans had fizzled along with their marriage and now that Kenna was on her own, her bank account wouldn’t support such luxury.
The beach house she was prepared to love. Feeling like Chloe’s personal charity case? Not so much.
While she appreciated Chloe’s concern for her well-being since the divorce, Kenna felt a little misunderstood, hence one of the reasons she’d decided to come spend the week with her daughter. Chloe needed to see firsthand Kenna was not holed-up in the house, suffering from post-divorce depression. Maybe Kenna had resembled a flower wilting under the sun’s searing heat for the first few months after the divorce was finalized, but not anymore.
“Hi, Tanner,” Kenna said as Chloe’s boyfriend bounded down the front porch steps and jogged to meet them.
“Hey, Mrs. James.” Tanner reached out and Kenna took his hand. “Glad you could make it.”
Kenna doubted that was true, but she smiled appropriately. “Please, drop the Mrs., and since it’s Ms. now anyway, why don’t you drop that too and call me Kenna.”
“Oh, sorry. Sure.” He rubbed his hands over the tops of his board shorts, arms flexing in the muscle shirt he wore. She couldn’t fault her daughter’s taste in boys though it had been a surprise when they’d started dating. Chloe and Tanner had grown up together. They’d both been in Mrs. Jarvis’ kindergarten class. While they were in middle school, Kenna specifically remembered the words “gross” and “stinky” being applied to Tanner Frost on more than one occasion. He certainly wasn’t gross anymore, and as he leaned around her to grab her single suitcase out of the back seat, she also determined he was far from stinky.
“Is this it?” Tanner hefted the suitcase with ease.
“Yep.” Kenna grabbed her purse out of the front seat and closed the car door. “A bathing suit and sundresses don’t take up much room.”
Tanner smirked as Kenna followed Chloe up the driveway toward the house.
“Shut it, Tanner,” Chloe said, flipping him the finger over her shoulder.
“I like to have choices, and we’ll be here a week.”
Tanner leaned in behind Kenna and whispered loudly, “She has a suitcase just for shoes.”
Kenna followed Chloe through the front door of the house and into the lap of luxury, the promise of the outside of the monstrous house coalescing into reality. The foyer was open and airy, flowing into a living room dominated by the sky and sand through the generous windows. A granite topped bar separated the living room from the inviting kitchen made for gathering, the ceiling soaring to at least fourteen feet. In that instant, Kenna decided she didn’t care if she was imposing. She needed this vacation. She deserved this vacation. She would gladly suffer through third-wheel syndrome for the week if this was her reward. Besides, someone had to act as chaperone.
“Isn’t it great?” Chloe twirled in a circle, her arms outstretched.
Yes. It was great and as much as she deserved this vacation, she knew without asking she couldn’t afford it.
“Exactly who’s paying for this?” When she’d asked Chloe about pitching in and paying her share, Chloe had insisted it was covered, which meant Tanner’s dad had it covered. Kenna had been adamant about paying off her credit card bill every month and living within her new means. Chloe’s father paid his child support, but Jenna refused to take a dime of his money for herself, even though he’d been more than generous with his offer of alimony. The only thing she’d agreed to take from him was the house, and that was only because he hadn’t wanted it anyway. Kenna might have to concede to having a balance on her card for a few months in exchange for spending a week in this little piece of paradise. Some things were just worth it.
“My dad’s got it,” Tanner informed her, dropping her suitcase in the foyer at the bottom of the stairs.
Chloe grabbed her arm and dragged her to the windows on the other side of the living room. The Gulf of Mexico glittered like an emerald jewel, dazzling under the bright sun. The beach was practically empty with only a dozen or so chairs and umbrellas set up. Kenna’s butt itched to claim one of those chairs. The heaviest thing in her suitcase was her Kindle and a paperback book she'd picked up the grocery store. She already envisioned herself settled under one of the gently flapping umbrellas, relaxing to the tempo of the waves rolling on the shoreline. The beach looked quiet and peaceful, not at all the kind of place she would have expected Chloe to pick for a Spring Break destination. Kenna sighed, imaging all that warm sun on her under-exposed skin, the breeze whispering through her hair that spent too much time in a ponytail while she worked. No ponytails for the next seven days, she decided watching the flag on the patio next door flipping in the wind. It was past time to let her hair down and live a little.
“What? You don’t like?” Chloe asked.
“I love it,” she said. “But I’m surprised you do. Wouldn’t Panama City or even Destin have been a bit more exciting for you guys?”
“That’s exactly why we picked it. It’s in-between both, and we’ve got friends in both. Think of this as home base.”
“It’s certainly big. All this for the three of us?” Kenna asked. Not that she minded all the space. She planned on staying out of the kids way.
As if in answer to her question, the door on the other side of the kitchen opened and in walked Nick Frost, Tanner’s father. Kenna’s first thought was father and son must shop at the same store. Nick wore a similar sleeveless shirt, and it showed off the muscles straining under the weight of the grocery sacks Nick carried to full effect. Kenna had known Nick about as long as their kids had gone to school together.
“Got everything but the beer.” Nick dumped the sacks on the granite island countertop, grinning at his apparent efficiency.
Kenna pulled her jaw shut, irritated at the erratic cadence of her heart. The last time she’d bumped into Nick he’d been in a kitchen much like the one he was standing in now, only on a much smaller scale. They had been at a mutual friend’s New Year’s Eve party. They’d both been a little tipsy, and he’d been refilling her champagne glass when the house erupted in a chorus of, “Happy New Years.” And then they’d kissed. She hadn’t a clue who’d initiated it. It had just happened. One second she’d been staring at Nick Frost’s full lips and the next thing she knew they were touching hers in a sensual, soft press. Kenna had felt that kiss all the way to her toes and everywhere in between.
He’d lifted his head a fraction and stared down at her and said, “Happy New Year.” Then his date had walked in, a voluptuous blonde half his age, and she’d curled into his side, and then Nick was kissing her while Kenna still had the taste of him on her lips. Kenna had slinked away feeling inexplicable dejected, but she’d thought about that kiss for weeks. Probably because she hadn’t kissed another man that wasn’t her husband in more than twenty years. That had to be why it had been so memorable. So exciting. It was the novelty of kissing someone different, someone new. Nothing more. Granted, Nick Frost was like fine wine and had gotten better with age. He was the kind of man that would attract women half his age in droves. Blessed with a full head of dark hair with just a sprinkle of gray at the temples, he was tall and lean with a physique that would have suited someone a decade younger. He obviously took care of himself, and like fine wine he was aging well. His blue eyes descended on her, and it was obvious by the way they widened slightly he was as surprised to see her as she was him.
Kenna found herself once again enamored with the man’s mouth. She hadn’t allowed herself to think about that mouth since Chloe had come home from college the weekend after New Years with the flu and the happy news she had a new boyfriend. None other than Tanner Frost, Nick’s son. Kenna had promptly purged late-bloomer Nick Frost and his lips from her mind.
“Kenna,” that mouth said before curling into a wayward smile.
“How are you, Nick?” Kenna’s voice was oddly breathless and her pulse pounded in her neck.
“Surprised.” His smile deepened, releasing the shallow dimples in his slightly stubbled cheeks. “Pleasantly.”
“Tanner, you didn’t tell your dad she was coming?” Chloe asked with the slight thump of one sandaled foot.
“I forgot,” Tanner said sheepishly. “It’s no big deal anyway. My dad doesn’t care.”
“Listen, I can go…” Kenna said, though damn, she didn’t want to. Third wheel she was prepared to handle. She wasn’t so sure about sharing the space with Nick Frost. The house that had minutes before seemed so large and ostentatious had shrunk when Nick had walked in the door, looking wind-blown and devil-may-care.
“Don’t even think about leaving. Tanner’s right. I don’t care,” Nick said. “There’s plenty of room.” Abandoning the groceries, Nick walked over to where Kenna’s bag waited at the bottom of the stairs and dipped his chin. “Is this yours?”
“Yes,” she said, struggling to adjust to this new development. Kenna had been looking forward to a relaxing week. Nick Frost’s presence added an element of unexpected excitement. She frowned. She couldn’t let her hair down with Nick around.
“Let’s go pick out your room.” He bent over and picked up her suitcase.
“I can get that.” Kenna rushed forward, but Nick had already picked the bag off the floor and was climbing the stairs, his running shoes squeaking on the polished wood. Kenna was left with no choice but to follow, which gave her a fine view of his rather fine ass and allowed her to coast in his finely musky scent. The man shouldn’t smell so good after hauling groceries.
“I think you’ll like the room at the end of the hall. It’s on the corner and has an extra large balcony.” He took a left at the top of the stairs, padding down a wide landing with dark pine floors and walls the color of sea oats.
She was already shaking her head when she followed him over the threshold and into a room three times the size of her room at home, with vaulted ceilings and view of the Gulf that brought Jimmy Buffet and cheeseburgers to mind. It was too much. Nick being here was too much. Kenna wasn’t sure why Nick’s presence changed anything. She’d known he was fitting the bill for Chloe and Tanner’s week. And it wasn’t like he couldn’t afford it. Still, it would be different seeing him every day. And that was part of her growing reluctance. She would see him everyday and have to acknowledge she was mooching off of his generosity.
She’d spent the last year and half striving for total independence. For the first time in her life, she was taking care of herself financially. Paying her mortgage and other bills with money she worked hard for. She’d started a business with her first ever loan obtained in her name and only her name. Her business might only be making cookies, but they were damn good cookies, and in the last six months she’d shipped orders to over thirty states. She was making a name for herself, and she was proud of all she’d accomplished.
“I don’t know if I’m comfortable with this,” she heard herself say. Nick Frost and his mouth made her uncomfortable. Standing in this gorgeous room that smelled of fresh cut flowers with Nick in such close proximity made her uncomfortable in the way the para-boarder she’d glimpsed out the window downstairs was uncomfortable, which is to say she imagined he was flying high and absolutely exhilarated.
Nick set her bag on the king-sized bed and came up behind her. He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her toward the windows, easing her a few steps forward, the heat of his hands penetrating the thin fabric of her linen top. “Look. It’s Spring Break. Anything with a view is booked. You really want to give that up?”
Of course she didn’t, but that wasn’t the point. Not that she knew what the point was. All she knew was she’d relived that New Year’s Eve kiss about a half a dozen times since Nick had walked into the kitchen and smiled at her with that mouth that was more or less whispering in her ear.
“No, but Nick…”
“No buts. The house is rented. You going somewhere else won’t change that. If it will make you feel better, you can buy the next round of groceries. Hell, I’ll even let you take me to dinner.”
Kenna nearly choked. She knew just the restaurant she’d take him to. Outdoor seating, terrific wine list. She shook her head. The last time she’d seen Nick he’d had a girlfriend. A very young, runway-worthy girlfriend.
“Okay, fine. But are sure you don’t want this room?” This was obviously the master suite. Kenna couldn’t take the best room in the house then she really would feel like a leech.
“Kenna, I’m not being chivalrous. I took the best room. I might even let you see it.”
She couldn’t be sure since he was still standing behind her, and she couldn’t see his face, but she thought she heard him smile. Was he flirting with her? Men didn’t flirt with her, especially men that looked like Nick Frost.
“What about the kids?” Yes. What about the kids? Flirting was inappropriate because of the kids. He’d dropped his hands from her shoulders, but she could feel the heat of him behind her so she stepped away and was able to breathe easily again.
“Tanner and Chloe are on the end of the hall with me. You’ll have some privacy down here.”
“About that.” Kenna wasn’t a prude. She understood Chloe was at college, living in a co-ed dorm, allowing her every kind of freedom. And while she wasn’t so naive to think Chloe and Tanner weren’t probably spending nights together, that didn’t mean she was comfortable with them sharing a room while they were under the same roof. If that made her old-fashioned, so be it, but this wasn’t her roof.
“They’re in separate rooms,” Nick said as if she were telegraphing her misgivings. “They asked, but I didn’t figure you’d approve. And if Chloe were my daughter, I wouldn’t either.”
“Good. I mean…” She ran her hands up her bare arms and lifted her shoulders. “Thanks.”
“I’ll let you get settled in,” he said though he didn’t move for the door. The only thing that moved was his eyes as they dropped to her mouth. He lips parted as though he were about to say something.
Don’t, she thought. Don’t bring up that kiss. She knew she was being silly and possibly juvenile, but she didn’t want to talk about that kiss. That kiss had humiliated her. Not the kiss itself, but those seconds afterward as she’d watched him put those fine lips on someone else while her heart had still been thumping and her breaths had still been coming short.
“Thank you.” She set her back and reached for the zipper of her suitcase. She did want to hang the dresses she’d brought in the closet before they got too wrinkled.
Her name coming from his mouth caused a shiver to snake down her spine. Holding her dresses in front of her, she turned. He was standing in the doorway of her room, one hand poised to pull the door shut behind him. “I’m glad you’re here.”