Bungalow by the Bay
Courtney Davis is perfectly content with the new life she’s found for herself and her son on Belle Island. They are finally safe from her past.
AJ Hamilton can’t shake his past. He finished trying to prove to his family, the media, or anyone else that he’s anything more than the black sheep of the wealthy Hamilton family.
When AJ arrives to hide out at the island, the oh-so-responsible Courtney falls for the footloose playboy. And AJ might just have found the one woman he wants to convince he’s not really the person everyone believes he is.
But when AJ’s choices accidentally put Courtney’s son in danger, there’s no escaping the past for either AJ or Courtney.
Maybe everyone is right about AJ.
Maybe Courtney will never truly be safe.
Or maybe, just maybe, one last wish at Lighthouse Point will change everything…
Release date: August 15, 2018
Publisher: Rose Quartz Press
Print pages: 274
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Bungalow by the Bay
Courtney Davis slowly closed the door to the storage building by Magic Cafe. Her son, Bobby, had named it Happy House, and they had been very happy living there. A wave of sadness swept over her.
She locked the door, patted it affectionately, and slipped the key in her pocket. She was going to miss this place. It had been the first place she and Bobby had ever called home. Their little apartment in the front of the building had suited her just fine, but Tally and Eddie had insisted she and Bobby find a more suitable place to live.
Tally walked up and grabbed a bag sitting outside the door. “Let me help.”
“You don’t need to do that. I’ll get it. I only have these last few loads.”
“I want to help.” Tally gathered up a laundry basket filled with odds and ends, plopped the bag into the basket, and perched the basket on her hip.
They walked to Courtney’s car parked in a shady spot next to Happy House. She took the basket from Tally and swung it and the bags into the trunk.
Tally turned to her. “I wish you’d change your mind and come live with Eddie and me. We’d love to have you.”
“I appreciate the offer, but I think Bobby and I should live on our own.”
“But we’re family now.”
Courtney smiled. They were family now. Family. It seemed like such a foreign concept to her. She’d found out Tally and Eddie were her grandparents all from one antique ladies pocket watch and a single coded note. She reached up and wrapped her hand around the watch hanging from a gold chain around her neck.
Tally saw the movement, and a sad look briefly flashed across her face. She quickly replaced it with a genuine smile. “Well, if you’re sure that’s what you want.”
The last thing Courtney wanted was to be a burden to Tally and Eddie. Her whole life she’d learned to take care of herself. She couldn’t see changing that now. Besides, the four of them living in Tally’s small cottage would be pure chaos. Well, anywhere her son was usually resulted in chaos, but she wouldn’t change a thing. He was her whole life.
Courtney closed the trunk. “I’m sure. We’ll still see you all the time, of course. You know, as long as you keep giving me shifts at Magic Cafe.”
Tally’s warm eyes twinkled with amusement. “I’m sure that could be arranged. We might need to hire another waitress though. I’m planning on teaching you even more about the business side of things.”
Tally had been showing her some of the inner workings of running the cafe. She’d worked on inventory and closing the books each night so far.
“I don’t know why you think I can learn all this. I didn’t even finish high school. I just passed my high school equivalency test. What would I know about running the cafe?”
“Well, you’ll know everything I teach you.” Tally’s voice was matter-of-fact.
“You’re sure you want to teach me?”
“Of course, I want to teach you everything about the business.” Tally reached out and touched her arm. “One day, Magic Cafe will be yours if you want it.”
Courtney stared at her grandmother in amazement. “Tally, I don’t even know what to say.”
* * *
AJ pulled his sports car into the crushed shell parking lot of a place called Magic Cafe. He knew he shouldn’t be stalling, but he was. A nice lunch and a couple of beers might fortify him for what he had to face later this afternoon.
He fit in nicely with the vacation crowd on Belle Island. Shorts, flip-flops, and a t-shirt from his favorite casino in Vegas. His father wouldn’t approve of his dress, but then, when did his father approve of much of anything about him? Never had that been made more clear to him than his last lecture from his father, which had resulted in him having to make this trip.
“Hi. Table for one?” A pretty woman with blonde hair smiled at him, menus in hand. Her blue eyes sparkled as she efficiently juggled the menus as well as a tray full of water glasses.
“Yep, just me.”
“Would you like to sit out by the beach?”
AJ followed the woman through the restaurant and back outside to the deck on the ocean side. She stopped and handed the tray to another waitress. He glanced at the other woman’s name tag. Tereza. He tucked the name away. Never hurt to remember the names of pretty women. He hadn’t gotten a chance to read the name tag of the cute blonde waitress he was dutifully following through the cafe. A mistake he planned on remedying at once.
Ceiling fans stirred the warm air, and tables were placed under a large wooden canopy. A row of tables lined the edge of the deck, right by the sand. Quite different than the trendy restaurants he usually frequented, but this one seemed to suit his mood now. Easy, friendly, no-frills. And no one knew him, so hopefully he wouldn’t get into any trouble.
If he didn’t bore himself to death.
“I’m Courtney, by the way.” She handed him a menu.
Ah, she’d beaten him to the punch. Courtney smiled at him, and he returned it in kind with what he hoped was his famous dazzle-all-the-women smile.
She didn’t look dazzled.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes to take your order. Could I bring you a drink in the meantime?”
He figured it would be bad form to order two beers at once. “I’ll have a beer. Corona. In a bottle if you have it, no glass.”
“Coming right up.” She smiled as she turned away. The same smile she gave to every other customer she spoke to as she threaded her way through the tables. She stopped and said something to the other waitress. Tereza was tall and pretty with dark, almost-black hair and a quick smile. Maybe his smile would work on her…
Maybe he would be able to survive this banishment.
* * *
Courtney and Tereza sat at a table rolling silverware in napkins, enjoying a bit of a break after the lunch rush.
“I saw that good-looking guy you had at table six.” Tereza grabbed another napkin.
“The one with brown hair and the well-practiced smile?”
Tereza laughed. “Yep, that’s the one. Pretty sure I saw him checking out most of the women here at the cafe.”
“Well, at least he’s a good tipper.” She shrugged. He’d been good-looking with chestnut brown eyes and dark brown hair in need of a cut. But he had an air about him as if he should have been wearing a business suit and eating at an expensive restaurant. Though, he certainly had enjoyed his grouper and hushpuppies. But then, who didn’t love Tally’s grouper and hushpuppies?
“Did you get moved?” Tereza efficiently rolled another napkin.
“I did. Well, everything is just dumped off at the apartment. I have to unpack everything, not that we have much.” She frowned. “I really did love Happy House. I would have liked to just stay there. Tally and Eddie thought we should live somewhere nicer than the storage building, but I didn’t mind. It was mine.”
“Your new apartment complex looks nice. It has a great view of the bay from the courtyard.”
“Yes, it’s nice. I like that each unit is a cute little bungalow. There’s a pool for Bobby to swim in and a playground. I hope he gets to meet some other kids to play with. Stevie, one of the boys he’s in daycare with, lives there.”
“Well, that sounds like it will work out great. Plus, it’s only about a five-minute walk from here. You’ll still be close. But wow, Tally sure wanted you and Bobby to move in with her and Eddie.” Tereza grinned a knowing smile. “But I think Bobby might have been a little too much for that cottage.”
“That’s what I thought. Plus, Tally and Eddie just got married a few months ago. They need their privacy. Eddie even offered to buy us a cottage of our own, but I didn’t want to take handouts like that. I pay my own way.”
“But he’s family. He just wanted to help you.”
“I know, but… well, I want to make it on my own.” She still didn’t know how to trust all this luck she’d had wouldn’t just disappear in an instant. “But now Tally says she wants to start training me—me—on the business side of Magic Cafe.”
“I’m not surprised. She’ll probably want you to run it one day.”
“I can’t run a place like this.” She shook her head.
“Of course you can. Tally will teach you. You learn fast, I’ve seen it.”
“I don’t know… everything has changed so quickly.”
Tereza reached over and squeezed her hand, a friendly gesture of support. “And you deserve every bit of good luck that’s come your way.”
* * *
AJ pulled his sports car in front of a decent-sized beach home. The house had large, expansive steps leading up to an oversized wooden door. After his father had texted him the address, he’d looked it up online. He knew it had a nice-sized swimming pool on the ocean side. The listing had said it had five bedrooms, a well-equipped kitchen, an overabundance of TVs and stereo systems, and a huge back deck with a great view of the sea.
He reached into the backseat, slung out his suitcase, and bounded up the front stairs. Might as well get it over with…
He knocked on the door and waited patiently. The door swung open, and Miss Chelsea gave him a welcoming smile. “Mr. Ashton, so nice to see you.”
He walked in and kissed the woman on her cheek. “So I guess you got exiled, too.”
“Now, Mr. Ashton, you know I wouldn’t leave Miss Alice to fend for herself.”
“I don’t know what my grandmother would do without you.”
“She won’t ever have to find out.”
AJ followed Miss Chelsea into the house. The woman never changed. She was his grandmother’s housekeeper, cook, and companion. She’d worked for Granice—a name bestowed by her first grandchild, a mixture of Gran and Alice—for as long as AJ could remember.
He entered the main room and looked around in appreciation. Sunshine poured through the windows. The main floor was open with the kitchen at one side and comfortable-looking sofas and chairs scattered around the generously sized great room.
“There you are.” Granice approached him and gave him a quick hug. “I’m so glad you decided to come stay with me for a while.”
“It’s not like I had much choice whatsoever, now did I?”
“Now, Ashton, you know your father only wants what’s best for you.”
“I’m pretty much old enough to know what’s best for me all by myself.”
“I could see that by your last escapade that got picked up in the papers.” His grandmother pinned him with what he referred to as her trademarked I’m-on-to-you look. The one she’d used on him when his baseball had smashed through the window of her house when he was a boy. The one she’d used on him when he’d almost flunked out of college.
“It was just a minor skirmish. The media blew it all out of proportion.” He shifted uneasily on his feet. That look of hers always made him squirm.
“That’s the third time this year you’ve been in the paper for one of your so-called blown-out-of-proportion misadventures.”
“I’m pretty old to be grounded.” He was still annoyed with his father.
“Then act like it.” She didn’t pull any punches. Ever. “You know I love you, but you sure try my patience at times. It’s time for you to settle down. Your father wants you to come back and work for his company, you know.”
“I’m well aware of that fact. Have been since I was about five. I tried it, remember? How well did that work out?”
His grandmother stared at him for a moment. “Well, we’ll talk about this later. Anyway, I’ll enjoy your company while I’m here on vacation. It’s a lovely island. Delbert was right. I’m glad he recommended it.”
Delbert, AJ’s older cousin, had followed in his own father’s footsteps and now worked at Hamilton Hotels, the company AJ’s uncle founded. Both his father and his uncle were powerful, competent businessmen.
Too bad only his uncle had gotten a son with the same characteristics.
“I’ve given you the master suite on the top floor. It’s on the ocean side. I hope that’s okay. I sure don’t want to be going up that many flights of stairs. My room and Chelsea’s are above this main floor. You’re one up from that.”
“Whatever works for you.”
“Why don’t you take your things on up and get settled?”
“Sounds good.” He walked over to the stairway and climbed his way up to the top floor. The door to his room opened smoothly when nudged, and he stood on the threshold for a moment. A nice, king-sized bed was placed against one wall. An entire bank of windows ran across the side facing the sea, and daylight streamed into the room. He dropped his suitcase and walked over to the French door nestled between the long row of windows.
He pushed the door open and stepped out onto a large balcony. Stairs angled down on one end, all the way to the ground level. Perfect, he could come and go as he pleased, using these stairs instead of going through the main part of the house.
A few steps took him to the railing, and he leaned against the well-worn wood. A warm breeze blew in from the ocean. He ran his hands through his hair. He needed a haircut, but he’d purposely kept it long because it irritated his father. Not the most mature way to handle things, but he was tired of his father’s interference in his life.
He turned from watching the waves roll in to check out the rest of the balcony. Two bar-height chairs and a table sat at one end. A couple of Adirondack chairs were grouped at the other end.
Nice. At least he’d have a place to escape to.
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