Monday, April 27, 2015

CASH IS BACK! Starting May 1st...

OMG I just love typing those words-- CASH. IS. BACK.

Wow!  It's like going home:)  Eeeeeeeeeep

Anyway, I digress.  So, back at Christmas, I did a Cash-and-Olivia short story that left you with the promise of more.  Well, in just a few more days on May 1st, you'll get more.  Their last story, Always with You, won't be published as a single title, but let me tell you why so that you don't get discouraged:)

As many of you know, my personal life has been in a certain amount of upheaval since we got some bad family news in January.  Knowing that things will not be settled again for some time to come, I was concerned that trying to concentrate enough to sit and write an entire novel at once might be a bit more of an undertaking than my scattered brain could handle.  So, I decided to do this in parts.  Trying to figure out how best to get you these parts was something of a challenge, as it seemed there was a big down side to everything I considered.  In the end, I found what I think is a great way, though.  I'm going to publish each installment for FREE on my website weekly.

I decided on weekly ones simply for the length, as it'll be easier for you to read them online if they're shorter.  Another benefit is that short bursts of writing seem to work best with my pitiful attention span of late.  I consider that win-win. LOL  At the end of each month, I'll publish that month's installments (4-5 depending on the month) in one novella (approximately 20,000 words) and put it on Amazon for 99 cents.  That way it'll be available widely for those who would rather read it in one sitting on their kindle or kindle app rather than weekly on my website.

Now, because of the content and the frequency of posts, my website is the best place to host these installments.  The page will be password protected so that no pretty little young things can stumble upon it by accident, because let's face it--sometimes Cash and Olivia get a little hot:)  You'll get all this information in the newsletter that I'll be sending out on May 1st.  I'll send out a new newsletter on the first of each month with the new password for that month's installments.  I've tried to think of everything, but you know how the best laid plans work, right?

If you have questions, feel free to ask.  If you haven't signed up for my newsletter, you can do so here.  And if you have and don't get updates, check your spam.  Many email providers see these newsletters as spam.

Last but not least, here's the blurb for this final story.  It's a true testament to my addled brain that I haven't even posted it and didn't even think of it until a reader asked me about it. LOL  #MajorBrainFart

I hope you love spending more time with Cash and Olivia as much as I already am:)  For now, I give you what's to come in Always with You:


Love didn’t come easy for Cash and Olivia.  Forever will come even harder.  But true love doesn’t give up, not even when dreams are crushed and reality isn’t quite the fairy tale you expected it to be.

When Olivia married Cash Davenport, it was her dream come true.  Cash was everything she wanted and everything she needed, all wrapped up in jet-black eyes and an irresistible smile.  She thought since she’d finally found the ideal man, their life would play out like a fairy tale.  And, for a while, it did.

Until she found out that another woman, a woman from Cash’s past, has given him the one thing that Olivia can’t—a child.

For Cash, seeing their baby growing inside his wife would only make a perfect marriage more perfect, but all he really needs for true happiness is the love of his life—Olivia.  She wants to give him a child, though, and when she can’t conceive, it puts a strain on her that Cash can’t seem to alleviate.  That strain explodes when Sophie Marks, Cash’s old flame, shows up at their door with a little girl in tow.  A little girl she claims belongs to Cash.


After all this time, can Sophie be trusted?  Or has she returned with the sole intent of destroying the only real happiness Cash has ever known?


Monday, March 23, 2015

Back in the saddle and catching up

HAPPY MONDAY!  If there is such a thing. I think it's about as likely to encounter as a unicorn or a bad picture of Channing Tatum.  <----in other words NEVER!  :) hehe

Okay, so I know there has been a lot going on in the last two weeks, before Pocketful of Sand released.  I've had a ton of giveaways and contests and comments and posts and all sorts of fun stuff.  I'm sorry that I have yet to respond to a lot of things, but rest assured that I will be catching up with ALL OF IT this week.

When I scheduled the release of Pocketful of Sand, I didn't realize that it would collide with so many other important things.  It was set to come out on March 15th, which was a good date it seemed.  As it turned out, there was a signing on March 14th, but I thought to myself that I could probably work around that, so I didn't panic.  But then I had a small change in a deadline with Berkley, which put my third Tall, Dark and Dangerous book DUE on March 15th as well.  Sooooo, I had to finish that book by March 11th so that I could leave for the beach for a signing on March 14th and then focus on Pocketful's release on March 15th.  Although a bit crazy and hectic, that didn't sound completely out of the realm of possibility, so I was hanging in there.

Then all hell broke loose. LOL

My mom found out on the 12th that her first chemo appointment would be on March 19th, we had an unfriendly neighbor at the condo at the beach, my book went live on some sites a day early and the parking garage ceiling collapsed on my car release day morning.  When we got back home, I had a half day to recover when my editor called and said she had edits for me that she needed by Wednesday, on the day when I was supposed to leave to travel to Virginia to be with my mom during chemo.  So, I spent the following two days holed up in my office doing edits and then left for Virginia by the skin of my teeth on Wednesday afternoon.  I spent Thursday at the hospital with Mom, which was traumatic for her because, among other things, they thought she was having a reaction to the chemo.  I stayed with her until yesterday (Sunday) to make sure she wasn't going to have any problems, as the first three days are critical.

And now I'm back.

I say allllll that to say this:  I'm so sorry I've been so sporadic in my posting and responding.  The only thing I could really do was schedule posts to Facebook so that no one would think I'd fallen off the face of the earth.  But THANK YOU SO MUCH for your patience, because now I'm back in the saddle and ready to tackle EVERYTHING!

So...

If you've been notified of winning something, I'll be mailing out all swag packs, paperbacks and other goodies early next week. I'm going to sort through everything and get packages ready this week.  If you haven't heard back from me after you've submitted something, I'll be doing that today, too.  In other words, expect to hear from me this week and to get your package(s) in about two weeks.

Thank you for being awesome and understanding.  2015 is trying to whip my butt, but I'm determined to stand my ground:)  hehe  *pulls self up by bootstraps*  I'm going in, y'all! Wish me luck!

p.s.  I know I've said it before, but I think it bears repeating.  Often.  THANK YOU A MILLION TIMES FROM THE VERY, VERY BOTTOM OF MY HEART to everyone who read and loved and left a review and told a friend about Pocketful of Sand.  Your love has been incredible and overwhelming and AMAZING.  Just like y'all.  I'm grateful right down to my very bones.  <3 <3

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Pocketful of Sand Ma-HOO-ssive giveaway!

The last few days have been CAA-RA-ZAY!  I traveled to Myrtle Beach for a signing on Saturday, my book went live early and then Sunday the parking garage ceiling collapsed on our car and we had to drive home much later than expected.  Yesterday, I got edits back from my editor and she needs them by Wednesday.  O_O  Can you see my head spinning off?  hehe  That's why I'm a little late in posting about this giveaway.  

To celebrate the release of Pocketful of Sand, I'm doing a bagful of giveaways:)  Whoop!  It includes:



  • 2 $50 Amazon gift cards 

  • 10 Pocketful t-shirts

  • 10 Pocketful swag packs plus hourglass necklaces! 


What do you have to do?  Nothing difficult at all!  In fact, there are many ways you can enter.  You can purchase your copy, leave a review, share a meme, or just share your favorite quote.  See? Easy peasy.  The giveaway will extend through Friday then winners will be chosen and posted on the Rafflecopter, which is visible on every participating blog, including this one.  Sooooooo, hop on and get your entries now! 



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Pocketful of Sand IS HERE!!!!

Y'all, I am so incredibly happy to be typing this post because that means the wait is over!  It's heeeeeeeere!  Cole and Eden are finally live!  Wahooooooooooo!

In addition to all the release information below, you'll find a short video from me that explains why this book is important to me, something that I've alluded to several times.  I didn't want to tape it earlier because it's a tiny bit spoilery, but now that the first few chapters have posted, you already know, so it no longer matters:)

And now, without further ado, POCKETFUL OF SAND.

Pocketful of Sand M. Leighton
A story of heartbreak, loss, redemption and second chances: Pocketful of Sand from New York Times bestselling author M. Leighton
Get it on Amazon | iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Google Play
Add it on Goodreads


                                         




“She’s beauty for my ashes. And I’m hope for her heartache.”—Cole Danzer

Pocketful-of-Sand250I don’t know what makes a great love story. Is it that instant attraction when boy meets girl? The passionate kisses and the fairy-tale ending? Or is it a lifetime of tragedy, paid in advance, for a few stolen moments of pure bliss? The pain and the suffering that, in the end, you can say are worth it for having found the missing piece of your soul?

The answer is: I don’t know. I don’t know what makes a great love story. I only know what makes my love story. I only know that finding Cole when I did, when Emmy and I were running from a nightmare, was the only thing that saved me. That saved us. He was more broken than I was, but somehow we took each other’s shattered pieces and made a whole. If that is what makes a great love story, if that is what makes an epic romance, then mine…ours is the greatest of them all.

Contains material that some may find disturbing. Not intended for readers under the age of 18.

PoS-MLeighton-LaunchMeme3
Get it on Amazon | iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Google Play
Add it on Goodreads


This is the sandcastle I was telling you about. I met the man who built it. I saw his raw red hands.  It's as though, even then, Cole was trying to get my attention.  He did.  And I don't think he's left my heart since he dug in:)



mleightonNew York Times and USA Today bestselling author M. Leighton is a native of Ohio. She relocated to the warmer climates of the South, where she can be near the water all summer and miss the snow all winter. Possessed of an overactive imagination from early in her childhood, Michelle finally found an acceptable outlet for her fantastical visions: literary fiction. Having written over a dozen novels, these days Michelle enjoys letting her mind wander to more romantic settings with sexy Southern guys, much like the one she married and the ones you'll find in her latest books. When her thoughts aren't roaming in that direction, she'll be riding horses, swimming in ponds and experiencing life on a ranch, all without leaving the cozy comfort of her office.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Pocketful of Sand, Chapter Four

FOUR

Eden

Thirteen days later

OUR LITTLE COTTAGE is quiet when I get up.  I pull Emmy’s door shut on my way to the bathroom. She sleeps like a rock unless she has a nightmare, but I like to keep her cocoon as peaceful as I can until she wakes.
The hardwood floors are chilly under my feet as I pad silently to the stove and grab the hot water kettle. I love our place.  For whatever reason, be it the charming wraparound porch or the big oak in the front yard, or the soothing beige walls and cozy old fireplace, this feels like home.  Already.  And we haven’t even been here two full weeks yet.
I glance up as I pour water into the kettle.  My stomach flutters when I see him.  He’s there. I hoped he would be.
Every morning since we moved in thirteen days ago, the man we saw building the sandcastle has been working across the street at the cottage diagonal from mine.  Rain or shine, he’s there.  I don’t know who he is or why he draws me to my window each day, but he does. 
I find myself peeking out at him often.  More often than I should, probably.  But as hokey as it sounds, something about him speaks to me. Calls to me almost. And I can’t shake it.
I mean, he’s a pleasure to watch, of course. And that’s saying a lot coming from someone like me.  Physically, he’s all that a woman could ask for–tall, fit, ripped in all the right places.  Most days he wears nothing but faded jeans, work boots and a tool belt.  Sometimes a baseball hat.  Rarely a shirt.  And if ever there was a body made to go around shirtless, it’s his.  But that’s not what pulls me to the window time after time, day after day.  It’s not even the tattoos scrawled up his ribs–the one on the left reading “always”, the one on the right reading “never”.  No, there’s something else that brings me here to watch him.  Something…more. 
I’ve noticed that whether he’s hammering or scraping or carrying something through the door, he has this intense solitude about him.  It’s as though the world has abandoned him.  Or maybe that he’s abandoned the world. I can’t put my finger on it. I only know that it’s decidedly incongruous with a man who looks like he does.
I think about him being on the beach that day. Building a sandcastle like it was the most important thing in the world.  It was strangely haunting for a man who looks like he does to be so…alone. 
Maybe that’s what draws me–his isolation. I can’t be sure of course, but something tells me that he doesn’t have much of a life outside his job.  He arrives sometime before I get up, which is early, and stays to work late, long after I give Emmy her bath. He eats lunch on the lawn by himself and I’ve never seen him talking on a cell phone or engaging the few people who pass by.  He just appears to be alone. All alone.
We’ve fallen into a strange rhythm of sorts.  It’s just one small thing, but it seems significant somehow.  Every day, at some point, he will catch me watching him.  Every day, he has.  And every day he holds my gaze, even from so far away.  It gives me chills, the way he stares back at me.  But then he frowns, just like he did at the beach that day, before he turns away. It’s like I make him think of something he doesn’t want to think about.  And my need to know what that is increases with every day that passes.  Need, not want.
I’m not sure if brokenness is discernible with nothing more than our casual contact (if you can even call what we have “contact”) or if this is all in my head, but for some reason that’s the word that comes to mind when I see him–brokenness.  Someone who’s broken.
From the outside, he’s practically perfect.  Well not even practically perfect.  He is perfect.  Flawless.  Breathtaking.  But he’s too quiet, too withdrawn, too…solitary for someone as handsome as he is.  Maybe that’s why I think he’s broken.  Surely in a town this size, every single woman within ten miles would be banging on his front door, offering to help with whatever he might need.  Or want.
And yet, he doesn’t seem to have anyone.  I’ve noticed that his ring finger is empty, too.  As empty as his life appears to be.
Maybe he’s got dark secrets that keep the town at bay.  A scary skeleton in his closet, a maniacal monster under his bed.  That’s probably reason number one, the only one I should need, to stay far, far away from him.  And that’s exactly what I’m doing.  Mostly because he stays away from me, never offering to come over or speak when we go outside. He just keeps to himself and I do the same.
But still, he pulls me.
So here I am. Watching.  Waiting, it seems.  On what, I don’t know.  But I often get the feeling that something is about to happen. Only it never does.
A loud banging at my front door startles me and I spill coffee down the front of my shirt.  I grab a napkin and wipe at it as I run, rushing to the door before whoever it is can wake up Emmy.  She’s a late sleeper.  Sometimes I think God made her that way to protect her. 
I peek through the square of glass at the top of the plain wood door and find Jordan smiling up at me.  She looks surprisingly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning, considering how she most likely spent her night. 
I snap open the dead bolt and unlock the knob.  “Hi, Jordan.”
“Hiya, sweetie,” she says, pushing past me and carrying a brown cardboard box into the living room.  From that first morning when I met her, she’s taken to me like her long lost best friend.
She’s never come to my house before, but evidently she’s been inside it at some point prior to my arrival.  She plops the box down on the coffee table and then perches on the end of the sofa like we do this every day.
“I always loved this material,” she says, rubbing her hand over the velvety cinnamon-colored upholstery.
“You’ve been here before?”
“A time or two.  I dated the guy who lived here before you.”
“Dated?” Jason says from behind me as he walks in carrying another box.  “You don’t date.”
“Why the hell don’t I date?”
“You’re like the town bicycle. You give rides. You don’t date.”
“Uh!” Jordan squeaks, insulted.  “Are you hearing this?”  She seems incensed, but then, just as quickly as she got riled, she waves him off and her smile returns, feathers no longer ruffled.  I can’t decide if their mean banter is all teasing or if they have a love/hate relationship. “So, your landlord had some things ordered.  Wanted us to bring them over when they arrived.”
“Landlord?” I ask in confusion.  “I thought Jason was the landlord.”
“Nah, he’s just a lackey.”
“I’m a property manager, not a lackey,” Jason replies sharply.  Then he turns to me. “The owner was going to replace a few things before you moved in, but there was no time.  Better late than never, though, right?”
I nod, a little uncomfortable with my space being so abruptly and unexpectedly invaded.  “What kinds of things are we talking about?”
“New microwave,” he says, indicating the heavier box he was carrying, “new blinds for the kitchen and a new coffee maker.”
I perk up at the mention of the coffee maker.  “That’s nice. I’ve been boiling water every morning.”
“Well, not anymore,” Jason says with a smile.
Jordan gets up and wanders to the kitchen, stopping to stare out the window as I so often do. I wonder if she sees the sandcastle guy. Then I wonder if she knows him.
“Damn,” she says on a sigh. “It’s a shame to cover that view with new blinds,” she says.  That’s how I know she sees him.  There’s nothing spectacular about the view except him.  She turns her big smile back toward me.  “Unless that’s why he sent the new blinds.”
“Why who sent the new blinds?”
“The owner,” she answers emphatically.  “Cole Danzer.  He must’ve noticed they were missing.”
I join her in the kitchen, glancing out to where the gorgeous handyman is measuring a piece of wood.
“How would he know?”
“Well, I guess Cole’s not blind and can see from a hundred feet away,” she declares with a laugh, tipping her head toward the window.
“Wait, so he is the owner?” I ask, admiring the way the muscles in his shoulders shift as he works.
“Yep. Cole Danzer.”  There’s a dreamy sigh in her voice that matches her expression.
“Crazy Cole is what we call him,” Jason says as he reaches between us to lay the blinds across the sink.
Jordan gasps.  “We?”
“Yes we,” Jason confirms with a frown.  “You’re the one who started it.”
“No, I call him Crazy Hot Cole.  But you’ve never called him crazy at all.”
“That’s because I work for him.”
“So what, you don’t work for him today?”  To this, Jason says nothing, but I can see his nostrils flare.  “Ohhh, or is it because you like our lovely little miss Eden?  And you don’t want her getting any ideas about the beautiful hunk o’ man across the street?”
“Jordan, just shut up. You don’t even make any sense,” her brother replies petulantly.
When Jason bends slightly to apply himself to removing the blinds from their box, Jordan points down at him and mouths behind his back “He likes you!”
“Jordan, go open the store. Come back for me in an hour,” Jason snaps.
“Fine,” she huffs. “Walk me out, Edie.”
Edie?  That’s a new one, I think.
Jordan reaches for my arm and loops hers through it, practically dragging me to the front door.  She pulls me out onto the small wraparound porch, but doesn’t stop there.  When she keeps walking, I start to resist.
“This is far enough, Jordan.  I’m a mess!”
I think about my straight black hair in a ponytail, my oval face and hazel-gray eyes devoid of makeup, my coffee-stained T-shirt and pink shorts that say “Juicy” on the butt. I feel my face heat with embarrassment.
She stops and stares at me.  “You’re gorgeous.  Now come with me.”
Before I can argue, she tugs me into the yard.  Automatically, my eyes find their way to Cole the instant he comes into view. He’s still in the yard, but now he’s moving his ladder.
“Hi, Cole,” Jordan bellows, causing my stomach to drop to my bare toes.  The grass is covered in a chilly, early fall dew that coats my feet.  I catch my breath when Cole glances up at us, his brow drawing immediately into a frown.  He doesn’t respond. He just holds perfectly still, his long fingers curled around the ladder, forearms straining and biceps bulging.  “Have you met Eden yet?”
As Jordan drags me across the pseudo-cul-de-sac, I can feel his eyes on me, the startling blue penetrating all the way through my clothes to my skin underneath.  Goosebumps break out on my legs and arms and, to my utter humiliation, my nipples pucker.  The heat of his gaze and the cool of the morning is too stark a contrast for my body not to notice.
When we stop within a foot of him, I see his hooded eyes rake me from head to toe.  My nipples strain against my T-shirt, catching his attention on the way back up. I cross my arms over my chest, praying for this moment to just be over.
He’s silent for a long time.  Long enough to be rude, but I don’t get the impression that he is.  I get the impression that he’s just thinking.  His frown deepens and for a second it appears he’s going to just turn away, but he doesn’t. Instead, he props the ladder against one shoulder and sticks out his hand.
“Cole Danzer.” 
His voice.  God!  It makes me want to groan.  It’s like a silk sheet draped over jagged gravel.  It belongs in a bedroom.  A dark, warm bedroom.  Where pleasure and pain peacefully coexist, heightening the senses and curling the toes.  It would be sexy in any circumstance, even if he were reading the encyclopedia aloud or explaining an insurance plan.
Reluctantly, I straighten my right arm and slip my hand into his. His palm is calloused, his fingers rough, just like I knew they would be. From the moment I saw them expertly crafting a sandcastle almost two weeks ago, I suspected they’d feel this way.  They rasp against my sensitive skin, setting the walls of my stomach into a flurry of rippling activity.
“Eden Taylor,” I reply.
Despite his cool exterior and his less-than-friendly expression, his touch is warm and somehow reassuring, like he could fix or heal or bring back to life whatever he set these hands to. 
Which is ridiculous and the first indication that I’m probably losing my mind.
I’m not this girl. I’m not the kind of woman who melts over a man. Any man.  But this one does something to me.  I get the feeling that, if the circumstances were right, I’d melt for him.  Or with him.
He nods once and quickly releases me.  I wonder if he felt something, too.
“Jordan,” he says abruptly, nodding once before adjusting his grip on the ladder and resuming his work as if we weren’t standing in the yard.
Jordan, still smiling, takes my arm again and leads me back the way we came, as if that was a perfectly normal greeting from this mysterious man.  When we pass ear-shot distance, Jordan saves me the trouble of having to bring up Cole.
“Why do all the hot ones have to be so damn crazy?” she asks, sounding exasperated.
“Why do you say that? I mean that he’s crazy?”
Without looking at me, she answers.  “Because he definitely is.  He’s, like, talks-to-dead-people crazy.  One-flew-over-the-cuckoo’s-nest crazy.  Twelve-monkeys crazy.”  She stops in the middle of the road and looks me in the eye.  “Not that it makes him any less attractive.  I mean, God, what I wouldn’t give to get that man naked. I’d do him six ways from Sunday.”
She smiles wistfully and continues walking, half-dragging me along behind her.  My mind is spinning with a million questions.
“Does he really talk to dead people?”
“Yep,” she replies. “Well, supposedly. I’ve never heard him, but it’s pretty common knowledge.”
Holy shit!  That’s pretty crazy!
“Who does he talk to?”
She doesn’t answer me until we are back in my yard, and even then she lowers her voice.  “His daughter.  At least that’s the only one I know of.” 
His daughter is dead?
I close my eyes, resisting the urge to bend over and put my head between my knees.  Oh sweet God!  I feel like someone punched me in the chest, all the air whizzing out of my lungs in a harsh hiss. 
“Hi-his daughter?”
Jordan nods.  “Yep. I think she might’ve died in a car accident.  Nobody seems to know much about it, though.  That or they just don’t talk about it.  You know, out of respect.”
I want to ask more questions, but I can’t.  The words won’t come past my lips.  All I can think about is my Emmy and what I would do…how I would feel if she…
No. I can’t think that way.  I couldn’t live without her.  I just couldn’t.
 “I guess in a lot of ways, his life ended that day. Had the world in the palm of his hand.  Rich, hot, successful football player, beautiful wife, adorable daughter and then bam!  Gone.  Everything.”
“How did it–”
My question is interrupted by Jason.  “Jordan, I told you to go open the store.  Strom Tuggle just called.  He’s been waiting in the parking lot for fifteen minutes.”
“Oh screw Strom!  He’s just there for his daily glance at my ass. He can wait.”  Jordan gives me an apologetic look and twirls her keys on her finger.  “Stop by the grill sometime. I’ll buy you a drink and a chicken sandwich.”
“I can’t really…not with Emmy…” I hike my thumb back toward the cottage, my heart aching as I think of my little girl, my whole world, sleeping peacefully inside. Alive and well.
“Oh, right right.  Well, I’ll come to you then.  I need a new girlfriend.  This town’s in dire need of some not bitches,” she declares with a grin.
“Jordaaan,” Jason prompts warningly.
“I’m going, I’m going.”
As Jordan saunters to the truck, I stand staring after her, wishing she’d come back and answer my million questions.


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Friday, March 13, 2015

Pocketful of Sand, Chapter Three

THREE

Eden

A CLUSTER OF bells jingles overhead when I push through the door of Bailey’s Quick Stop, which is the address that the landlord gave me when he told me where to pick up the keys to our cottage.  A quick glance around shows me the place is empty.  I take a tentative step forward, practically dragging Emmy along. She’s hugging my left leg so tightly I can hardly walk.
“Hello?” I call quietly.
“Hiya!”
I jump when a woman with wildly teased brown hair pops up from behind the counter where the cash register sits.  She’s smiling broadly and holding a frosted glass in one hand. I’d estimate her to be in her early thirties, maybe ten years older than my twenty-three.  With her button nose and big brown eyes, she’s pretty despite the trouble she seems to be having remaining upright.
“Hi, I’m looking for Jason Bailey.  Am I at the wrong place? This is the address–”
“No, sweetie, you’re at the right place.  Come ooon in,” she says, laughing as she throws up an arm and enthusiastically urges me forward.  I hobble toward her, Emmy clinging to my leg as I do.  The woman notices her, brown eyes lighting up when she sees my daughter.  “And who is this?” she asks in a gentle voice.
I reach down to smooth Emmy’s hair, not at all surprised when I see her sucking her thumb.  She’s just staring at the woman like she’s a frightening alien.
“This is Emmy.  She’s very shy,” I explain.  That’s what I tell everyone. It’s much simpler than the truth.
“All the princesses are,” the woman says, unfazed.  “I’m Jordan.  What can I help you two lovely ladies with today? We’ve got everything from paint to wine and bait to bread.  We’ve got a grill if you’re hungry and a bar if you’re thirsty.”
“Just Jason Bailey please,” I repeat, watching as she tries to collect herself, tugging at her disheveled shirt and smoothing her disheveled hair.
“Oh, right right.”  She turns her face partly to the side and yells, “Jasonnn!  Get out here,” the smile never leaving her face. 
As is the case with most small towns, new people stick out like sore thumbs, and Miller’s Pond, Maine is no exception.  It had a population explosion in 2001, bringing the town tally up to a whopping three thousand four hundred people.  And, now, three thousand four hundred and two.  I guess that’s why this store has a little bit of everything. No big chain supermarkets or stores have found their way here yet.  From what I could see on the map, the closest super center is at least thirty miles away.
“So, what brings you to Miller’s Pond?” she asks.
I smile and clear my throat, uncomfortable with her questioning.  But I have a carefully composed history rehearsed for just such an occasion.  “Uh, I was born up in Bangor. Just getting back closer to home.”
“Close, but not too close, eh?  Smart girl.”
I smile at her observation and add, “Plus we love lighthouses and Miller’s Pond has one of the oldest ones in the country, or so I hear.”  It’s a pat enough answer, hopefully pat enough to stop her or anyone else from asking more questions.  It’s all fiction, of course. 100% untrue, but that’s the way it has to be.
“That’s right, sweetie. You’ve come to the right place.  Annnd, you’ve just made friends with the one person who can tell you anything you need to know about this town and the people in it.  Besides that, I make a kickass rum and Coke,” she says with a wink, her voice dropping down to a loud whisper.  I assume that was in deference to Emmy.
“The village idiot can make a rum and Coke, Jordan,” a man says as he appears in the doorway behind the counter.  He looks to be about the same age as Jordan and, based on his light brown hair and same color eyes, I’d say they’re related.  “Or, in this case, the town lush.”
Although his words are biting, he smiles at Jordan and she laughs, playfully punching his arm.  Her fist slips off and she nearly falls, but the guy grabs her by the shoulders and more or less props her back up.  He’s shaking his head when he finally looks up to me.
“Jason Bailey, Jordan’s brother. You must be Eden.”
“I am. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Is that a bit of the south I’m hearing?”
My lips curve nervously. I’ve tried very hard to drop any hint of accent from my voice, so his observation flusters me. I don’t have a lie ready for that.  “It is.  I wasn’t there long, but it must’ve rubbed off.”
He nods, seemingly satisfied with that. 
“And this is her daughter, Emmy.  She’s a shy princess,” Jordan provides.
I can’t help noticing the appreciative way Jason’s eyes sweep from my chest to my feet and back again on his way to see Emmy. He simply smiles at her, doesn’t try to engage, which is best.  When his warm eyes lock onto mine again, I think to myself that he’s handsome and pretty obviously interested.  At least superficially.  Only I’m not. A normal woman probably would be.  But I’m not normal. I’d like to be, but I’m not sure I ever will be.
“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you both. I look forward to getting to know you.”
While his smile is as polite as his words, something tells me his insinuation is anything but innocent.
I just nod, thinking to myself that he won’t ever get to know me that well.  “It’s been a long day for us.  If I could just get the keys…”
I figure offering up an excuse for my lack of interest is the best way to avoid bruising his ego, and I’m okay with that. Anything to keep out of trouble.
“Of course.  Come on back to my office,” he says, walking to the end of the counter and indicating yet another door.  Once inside, I dig in my purse for the form I filled out.  It’s a single page, nothing too invasive or complicated.  In fact, the…loose requirements for the rental of this cottage were big factors in choosing Miller’s Pond.  Jason let me secure the lease via a faxed agreement that didn’t ask for my social security number and he allowed me to pay six months in advance via a cashier’s check that I mailed in.  Now I just have to pick up the keys.
Jason grabs an envelope from his top desk drawer.  It has Eden Taylor and the cottage’s address scribbled across the front. He opens it and dumps keys out into his hand, makes a few notes on a paper or two and then hands them over.
“You know the address?”
“Yes, we drove by on the way in.”
“Then welcome to Miller’s Pond.”
And just like that, I exhale.  Maybe this will finally be a place we can call home.  Home safe home.


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