I thought I’d share an update that I hope to have this book out on Amazon in January. It will be called Shores of Mercy and I revealed the cover this week as well.
Here is Chapter 21 (for blog purposes anyhow. The chapters often change in the final version).
As always, this is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, after I edit and rewrite, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE. Let me know in the comments what you think.
“There is no way I would steal from you and you know it, Lonny!” Judi ignored Lonny’s attempt to quiet her with the way he was lowering his hands and placing a finger against his mouth. He stood and walked to the door of his office, shutting it.
Judi flinched at the door clicking closed and hugged her arms around herself briefly before letting out a breath and letting her arms fall to her side.
“Judi, all I know is that I have a guy who has worked 15 years for me telling me that you’ve been taking money from the till. I can’t have you working here if I can’t trust you, understand?”
“I didn’t take money from you. I’ve been working a second job.”
“Yeah, that’s what you say —”
“I’m working for a lawyer in Burkett. Ben Oliver.”
Lonny snorted a laugh. “You? Yeah right.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Lonny shook his head and laughed again. “What lawyer is going to hire someone like you?” He leaned forward in his chair and propped his large, hairy arms on the desk. “Come on, Judi. No need to lie anymore. Just leave your keys and apron, get out of here and I won’t press charges.”
Judi narrowed her eyes and pressed her lips together, wanting to fling a series of curse words across the desk at the heavyset man with hairy arms and black bushy eyebrows, but at the same time knowing it wasn’t worth it. It was over. She’d be leaving this job with a reputation as a thief, but at least it wouldn’t be going on a permanent record.
She flung the door open, slamming it back against the wall of the office, and started at the sight of Hannah standing in the doorway. The woman she thought had been her friend gasped and jumped back a step.
“Get an earful, Hannah?” Judi snapped, pushing past her.
“Judi, wait —”
Judi whirled around, hands at her waist. “I don’t want to hear a thing from you. We were supposed to be friends. How many shifts did I take for you when you had hangovers or had been out partying too late the night before? How many times did I cover for you when you were out back making out with your boyfriend instead of working? Now you stab me in the back? For what? More money? A fling with Lonny? What?”
Hannah’s mouth fell open but then closed again. Her gaze shifted to the floor as Lonny stepped into the doorway of his office and pointed at Judi. “Get out, Lambert. You’ve been nothing but trouble since you started here. Go be a pain in the butt somewhere else.”
Since the bar wasn’t open yet, it was only staff that watched as Judi left, tossing the restaurant front door keys and her money apron onto the front counter on her way out. She didn’t care who heard when she ripped her car out of the parking lot and headed back toward her apartment.
She ignored her cellphone ringing when she parked the car outside her apartment building and started to walk in. She didn’t care who it was. She wasn’t in the mood.
“Judi!” She turned at the sound of her name being called. “Hey!”
The tall, lean figure jogging down the street toward her transformed her scowl into a relaxed smile. Wearing a dark gray shirt and a pair of dark blue jeans, Evan looked even better than he had the day he’d looked at her car. She turned from where she’d been about to walk up the stairs to her apartment, folded her arms across her chest, and leaned a shoulder against the building to watch his progress. It was a nice view.
He winked as he reached her and propped his arm close to her, against the wall of the building, pushing the cowboy hat he was wearing back on his head so the sun hit his face when he smiled. “You’re a sight for sore eyes. Where you off to in such a hurry?”
She returned his smile. “Having a bad day so I’m headed up to my place to drown my sorrows in a pint of ice cream.”
Her gaze trailed across his unshaven jawline, drifting to a cleft chin before sliding back to his green eyes with flecks of brown and gold in the iris. “Want to join me?”
The words startled her. She’d just invited a guy she’d barely seen since high school — when she’d made out with him under the bleachers — up to her apartment. He was either going to run for the hills or —
“I’d be glad to. Got any chocolate?”
Her throat tightened as she smirked as an answer and turned to head up the stairs. She hoped he knew she was only offering ice cream and a chat and that he was as polite as his older brother. Then again, if he wanted another make-out session it would be a nice distraction from Lonny’s lies, Hannah’s betrayal, and that voicemail from Seline she knew was waiting on her phone.
Since she’d moved into the apartment, it had either smelled like apple cinnamon candles or all things feminine, thanks partially to Ellie and partially to her own likes. Dropping her keys on the table next to the door and catching a whiff of Evan’s masculine cologne caused her to suck in a quick and quiet breath. She gestured toward the small loveseat in the equally small living room as she headed toward the kitchen.
“Make yourself at home,” she said, walking to the refrigerator, and into a kitchen that was essentially part of the living room.
When the front door clicked closed behind him, a chill shivered through her, but she brushed it off and opened the freezer door.
“Can I get you a drink to go with your ice cream?” She smiled over her shoulder. “Non-alcoholic only.”
“Water is fine,” Evan said from the couch. “What was your bad day all about?”
She huffed out a sigh. “I got accused of stealing money at my job and got fired.”
Evan winced then laughed. “Ouch. That is a bad day.” She heard his footsteps behind her and the muscles in her entire body stiffened. “Can I give you a hand?”
“Sure,” she said with a quick smile as he stood next to her. She pushed the carton of ice cream across the counter. “You can dip out your own ice cream if you like. Bowls are in the cupboard toward your left.”
“No problem.” He opened the cupboard and took the spoon she handed him. “So, how did you even end up back in Spencer? I heard you were loving it in the city.”
“And who told you that?”
Evan shrugged. “Through the grapevine.” He grinned as he dipped the ice cream out into the bowl. “Jessie Landry is usually the source of the grapevine.”
Judi rolled her eyes. “Ugh. Jessie. Yeah.” She put her carton of ice cream back in the freezer, then took his carton as he handed it to her. “We used to hang out a lot. She wasn’t as interested in hanging out when I told her I wasn’t going to be drinking anymore.”
“What led to that decision?” he asked as they walked back to the couch. “The drinking one?”
Judi hadn’t expected that question and wasn’t sure she wanted to answer it. At this point, though, she also didn’t care who knew why she’d stopped drinking. “I got tired of waking up with major headaches. That and one day I woke up and realized I’d poured half of my life down the drain.”
She’d worried about how he’d respond to her openness, but she looked up to see him nodding in apparent understanding.
“Makes total sense. Alcohol has never been my vice, but then again, I’ve probably only had a couple beers my entire life.” He made a face. “Just never got used to the taste or the way it made me feel.”
She dug into her ice cream and curled her legs up under her, thinking about how this was the first time she’d ever sat next to a man on a couch, simply talking. She also wondered what Evan’s vices were. Or was he as put-together as his police officer older brother?
She watched him take a bite of his ice cream, her gaze drifting to his lips, which she’d once kissed but knew she needed a refresher course on at some point. That make out session had been a long time ago.
“How long are you home for?”
“Not sure yet. Couple weeks at least, but my boss offered me a full month.” He placed the bowl on her coffee table and laid an arm on the back of the couch. “Tell me about this job of yours? Was it what you really wanted to be doing?”
Judi laughed. “Yeah, sure. I wanted to spend my whole life waiting on tables and getting hit on by old drunk men.” She took another bite of ice cream. “I haven’t grown up yet, Evan McGee. I have no idea what I want to do with my life. Do you?”
He shrugged a shoulder, his gaze meeting hers. “Not really no. I like driving truck. It’s a lot of fun to see so many different places and not get stuck in the same old every day. I don’t have to be tied down to anything.”
Judi nodded. “Or anyone, which is good. Being tied to people can be very draining. I love my family but in the city, I didn’t have to deal with family issues as much. I was my own person, not Ellie Lambert’s crazy sister or Tom and Rena Lambert’s black sheep daughter.”
“You think you’ll ever go back to the city?”
The city held a lot of temptations, a lot of danger, but “Yeah. I think I will. Spencer really is too quiet for me. I feel stagnant here.”
He laughed softly, reaching up to push a strand of hair back from her face. “Yeah, I get that. I feel the same way.” The smile faded into a more serious expression. “It would be nice to be stagnant with someone else for a little while.”
Her breath caught in her throat as he leaned his head toward hers. She hadn’t expected him to move in for a kiss so soon, but she’d take it. She’d love to think about something other than everything else going on in her life right now. A warm mouth on hers might be just what she needed right now.
His lips were as soft as they looked. She was used to hard, urgent, sloppy, and drunken kisses. This one was nice, slow and easy and he was keeping his hands to himself other than eventually cupping her cheek as he continued to kiss her.
“Sorry,” he whispered leaning back a few inches, his mouth still hovering close to hers. “I’m probably moving a little too fast.”
A smile tugged at her mouth as her gaze fell to his lips. “Fast isn’t always bad.”
When he kissed her again, she slid her hands in his hair at the back of his head and felt softness between her fingers. Even as she moved closer, he kept his hands above her neck, in her hair, didn’t try what other guys had.
The kiss was tender, not full of wild need and it ended a few minutes later when his phone rang. He let his lips linger a few seconds longer before reaching for the phone in his back pocket.
He frowned as he looked at the screen. “Family is calling. I promised I’d be there for a family meeting of sorts this evening and I’m supposed to be helping my mom set up.” She sighed and slid the phone back in his pocket. “My sister and her kids are coming over and Matt’s coming with Liz and the baby.” He reached up and twirled a piece of her hair around his index finger. “Mom is cooking up a storm. I’d better not miss it.” He let the strand fall and trailed the same finger down her arm. “Hey, you wouldn’t want to come, would you? I can swing by and pick you up around 6.”
A family gathering with a loving, religious, and perfect family? Her stomach churned at the idea. Those were the types of places she didn’t fit in, but those green eyes were focused on hers and that finger was sliding across her skin, making tiny circles on the back of her hand. It didn’t hurt that his mouth was still looking insanely kissable too.
“Yeah, why not? I don’t have to work for Ben until tomorrow and all I was going to do tonight was drown my sorrows in the rest of that ice cream anyhow.”
He grinned and leaned in for another quick kiss. “Great. I’ll see you then.” She stood as he did. “Looking forward to it.”
He was looking forward to it, but she wasn’t sure she was. Quiet family gatherings weren’t really her thing. Time to sit and chat and talk about her life didn’t exactly appeal to her, especially since so much of her life wasn’t worth talking about.