One of my favorite things to do this time of year is simply to find a good book, settle back in my chair with a hot cup of tea, and read the afternoon away… and along those lines, here’s the first chapter of my newest book. I hope that you enjoy reading about the beach as much as I enjoyed writing about it!
Tara woke up to the strains of an old, nearly forgotten 80’s song blaring from the clock radio on her nightstand, and she clumsily rolled over to turn off the second, louder alarm before it sounded. Whew, that was close, she thought, turning back over and pulling the blankets up over her head. Why did I ever decide that I needed to set an alarm this morning, anyway? Oh yeah…today’s the day I’m driving to Destin, I have got to get the new book started…need to be at least halfway there before dark…ugh…
Rolling back over, she slowly rose to a sitting position, dropping her legs over the side of the bed and rubbing her eyes. I am so not a morning person, she thought, gotta get moving. I hate driving at night here, definitely don’t want to have to drive at night in a strange place.
Padding barefoot into the master bath, she immediately turned on the shower to allow the water to heat while she undressed and used the bathroom. Standing under the steaming water a few minutes later, allowing it to run down her face and across her shoulders, she finally started to feel like she would make it through the day.
To think I used to get up early five days a week, she thought. How did I ever do that? Working all day, taking care of James, and then writing for hours every evening? Thank goodness my time is own now, because I’d never be able to do it again.
As she showered, she allowed her mind to wander back to those early years, back when she’d barely made enough money to get by…before her first book was published…before she had James…back to when she’d been a twenty-something kid, hell bent on making her name in the business world.
Graduating from business school a full year earlier than everyone else in her class, Tara had begun looking for a full time job the minute she’d finished final exams, but it hadn’t been easy. The entire country was in the midst of the worst recession in decades, and there were plenty of people with far more experience than she had also looking for work, and even applying for the same entry level jobs as she was. As a result, she hadn’t had much luck finding any kind of job at all, much less one that had anything to do with the business management degree she’d just earned.
Every single morning, she had studied the classified ads in the local newspaper, typed up the cover letters on her trusty IBM Selectric typewriter, and dropped them in the mail before the 3:45 deadline that was posted on the corner mailbox. And every day, the result was exactly the same as it was the day before…no response. Day after day after day.
Finally, in desperation, she began to reapply for some of the better jobs, she started revisiting the places she’d been to the month or even the week before, and she even began sending in multiple cover letters and resumes in response to the employment ads.
As it turned out, her persistence is what eventually got her the first real, grown up job she ever had. Even now, she remembered how nervous she’d been the morning of the interview, trying on one outfit after another, finally settling on a dark skirt and coordinating blouse…not that there had been a lot to choose from, especially since she’d lost eighty pounds over the course of the previous six months, and she couldn’t even begin to afford new clothes until she found a job. So, not only was she vying for a job that required far more experience that she had, but she was also debuting a new shape and size, as well…in short, she was a nervous wreck before she could even get out the door.
As if that weren’t enough, when she had gone out the door and into the garage the morning of the interview, she found three flat tires on her car….in desperation, she had borrowed her mother’s car at the last minute and had nearly been late for the interview.
Stepping out of the shower, Tara pulled her thoughts back to the present as she toweled dry.
Where is this coming from, she wondered. I haven’t thought that far back in years. It must have been that song on the radio when I woke up…what was it again? Of course, ‘All I Need is a Miracle.’ Mike and the Mechanics. How could I ever forget those old eighties songs…they do it to me every time.”
Plugging in the hair dryer, Tara quickly blew her tousled blond hair dry, applied a little makeup, and pulled on the tee shirt and jeans that she had laid out to wear for the day.
Glancing at the clock on the bathroom wall as she finished dressing, she was surprised to see she was still “on time,” at least according to the schedule that she’d planned out in her head in the days leading up to the trip…not that it mattered to anyone except to herself. Still, she always had been the one to plan things…and for the most part, her plans usually worked out. Usually.
Again, she felt the memories tugging at her from the dark recesses of her mind. Once again, she consciously yanked herself back to the present, refusing to allow her thoughts to return to either the near or the distant past.
No time for this, Tara, she reminded herself. Once you get there and get settled, you can indulge in a whole week’s worth of self-pity if you still feel you absolutely have to, but not now, not today. Today, you are going to get your ass in gear and get on the road.
Before she allowed herself to even think about anything else, she flipped off the lights, turned down the heat, grabbed her purse off the top of her desk, and hurriedly rechecked the doors on her way to the garage where she kept the charcoal gray Camaro that she had treated herself to on a whim the year before.
A moment later, as the garage door trundled slowly up the track, she turned the key, and listened as the big V-8 engine rumbled to life. Backing slowly out of the garage, she pushed the button on her visor and was careful to wait in the driveway until the door closed completely before backing the rest of the way down the drive and then continuing down the slushy street toward the main road.
Her housekeeper wouldn’t be in to clean until later in the week, and after that she would only drop by periodically to check the empty house, pick up any undiverted mail, advertising flyers, etc., and so on. Not that there was really any cause for concern. It wasn’t as if Tara’s house was a mansion, and it wasn’t as if it were full of valuable antiques, or even the latest and greatest electronics. In fact, other than her desktop computer, Tara knew that there was virtually nothing of any real value in her simple, comfortable house, and even the computer wasn’t brand new, or a top of the line model.
It doesn’t take much computing power to write books, she thought, chuckling to herself and glancing in the rearview mirror at the morning rush hour traffic behind her.
Michael always told me I should buy a new house, a bigger house, befitting my status as a ‘successful author.’ But every single time I said no, that we were perfectly happy where we were…besides, James had grown up in the neighborhood. All of his friends were there, and I didn’t want him to have to change schools… Even when people started recognizing his mother’s name, asking him if his mother was the Tara Cooper, even when we had more than enough money to move, we stayed exactly where we were. I just wanted him to have as normal a childhood as possible, especially since he didn’t have a father like most of his friends…Even though Michael tried, it just wasn’t the same, and it never could have been, even if she and Michael had actually married, especially since she’d never been one to keep the truth from her son – James had known that Michael wasn’t his father from the time he was old enough to understand, even though he couldn’t remember a time when Michael wasn’t a part of their lives.
Shaking her head, Tara admonished herself for continually allowing her thoughts to stray. Michael is dead and gone, she reminded herself again. And Tara Cooper has to go on. Period.
If the truth were told, that had been the deciding factor in the drastically different geographical location she had chosen for her next book…because she knew that it was time to move on, to get back to the business of living. But, until then, try as she might, she hadn’t been able to do it. Instead, she’d sat day after day, week after week, in the same converted spare bedroom that she had used as an office for years, trying to pound out another story in the series she had been working on before Michael got sick, before he was no longer able to edit her work, before he died and left her all alone again.
Ultimately, she’d been unable to get past it on her own, and so Tara had done the only thing that she could think of to do. She had prematurely cut the last series short, finishing only the book she had been working on, tying up as many of the loose ends as possible, but leaving the door open just far enough so that if she ever wanted to write another installment, it would be easy to reopen the door and pick up where she left off. Fortunately, it seemed to have worked… the book had been a success, and she’d left just enough of the ends untied that fans were already wondering if there would ever be a sequel. So far, she’d declined to answer the question.
Instead, she was starting something completely new and totally different, and even though she wouldn’t admit it even to herself, she secretly hoped a new start in her professional life would also facilitate a fresh start in her private life, as well. Strangely enough, it was not even that she and Michael had shared what anyone would ever call a once in a lifetime love…it had simply been the closest thing that she’d had, and losing him had been a great loss both in her personal life and in her professional life. A huge void that she eventually had to find a way to fill…even if only partially.
As she drove slowly across town and merged onto the interstate, her thoughts drifted back to the day she’d first laid eyes on Michael….it had been her first trip to New York…and she’d been absolutely terrified, standing in the darkened hallway at the publishing house for what seemed like an eternity before she gathered enough courage to step inside the partially opened door.
Finally, when she could put it off no more, she had hesitantly tiptoed into his cluttered office only to find the infamous Michael Miller casually leaning back in his worn leather chair, his feet resting on stacks of manuscripts covering the desk. He was noticeably sloppy, but wonderfully handsome in a sensual, literary sort of way. He was also clearly at least ten years older than she was, and even now, Tara had to admit that some of the attraction that eventually drew her to him was her sheer admiration of his extensive knowledge, experience, and understanding of the publishing world…she had seen his name mentioned before in a couple of the more popular trade magazines, and she was secretly thrilled to have him as her editor. She just hoped that she could ‘measure up’ to the other writers he had worked with in the past.
Naturally, what transpired after that meeting was essentially the classic, corny cliché… She was the young, inexperienced writer. He was the gruff, seasoned editor. At first, he was seemingly her harshest critic, but as it later turned out, he was also her biggest supporter. Blah, blah, blah, she thought to herself. Nothing really original about that story. I’m sure it’s happened hundreds of thousands of times to naive, newly published writers just like me…and I know for a fact that it is still happening today…I was just lucky enough not to end up as nothing more than a quick roll on the couch in Michael’s office.
Tara thought back to how naive she’d been in those days…It really had been her first completed manuscript, an original tale, yet based on an age old storyline. Her publisher had even gone so far as to refer to it as fresh, unique, and “a diamond in the rough.” It had needed just a little “polishing.” And then, they had set her up with their “best editor,” had even gone so far as to send him the first draft, etc., and before she could even catch her breath, she’d had to hurriedly pawn James off on her parents, so she could be flown to New York to work with him on the final edit.
In the beginning, she had resisted Michael’s suggestions, foolishly thinking that he was trying to change “her work” into something that she didn’t intend for it to be…there had been many tearful sessions before she had finally just thrown up her hands, given in, and allowed him to mold her little story, with all its rough edges, into something so carefully refined, so elegantly written, that even she had to agree the finished book was more than just a simple romance between a man and a woman. He had turned her work into a New York Times bestseller in just a few short weeks, and even more importantly, the first bestseller quickly turned into a dozen more bestsellers, and then, a Hallmark Hall of Fame miniseries, the sum of which had catapulted her into the realm of successful romance novelists that included names like Danielle Steele, Debbie Macomber, and Nicholas Sparks.
Predictably, as her professional success grew, so had her personal relationship with Michael…working lunches soon turned into dinners around the corner from his office…followed by somewhat fumbling, yet incredibly satisfying sex. And then eventually into lazy afternoons at the old fixer-upper of a house she’d bought soon after the royalties started rolling in, and even to the occasional weekend at Michael’s apartment in the city.
Normally, the complication of a child would have caused problems, but Tara brought James to New York as soon as she could afford to, and she had to admit that the two “men” in her life had both made an honest effort for her sake, and over the years, even a familial relationship of sorts had been forged. Together, they had taken James on outings to various local and regional state parks, professional baseball games, and even on both normal and exotic vacations…essentially everything that a child with two parents would have done, except that Michael wasn’t James’ father. Michael had simply always been his mother’s “friend,” nothing more and nothing less. Still, there were times, every now and then, when Tara wondered what it would have been like if James’ father were there, if he had been a part of their lives…
No, Tara thought, it hadn’t been what anyone would ever call a grand love affair, but it had been grand in its own way. Once the initial rush of a new relationship was past, they had settled into something that was comfortable, safe and secure, even as it was also equally predictable, routine, and at times, blissfully dull. Maybe there weren’t any real fireworks, but then, there were also no nasty surprises…no hellish arguments. No jealous misconceptions. And no commitments for the future, either…just an unspoken, mutual agreement to continue spending time together whenever it suited the two of them, for as long as it suited the both of them.
Physically shaking her head in an attempt to clear her mind, Tara glanced down at the digital clock taunting her from the dash.
Where had the last two hours gone?
As if emerging from a dream, Tara studied the snowy landscape around her as she drove. Based on the green exit signs along the sides of the road, she was nearly two hundred miles south of Somerset, barreling down Interstate 71 at nearly eighty miles per hour, headed towards Destin, Florida, still nearly a thousand miles to the southwest. Even though she had never been there, she could almost see it in her head, especially since she spent weeks looking at pictures, studying the demographics, and getting to know the little town that called itself “the World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” as well as the surrounding areas of the Florida panhandle before choosing it as the setting for her next book, or even setting foot on the sand at the beach.
In fact, before she had even researched the area, she had already planned out the storyline, right down to the two main characters running into each other on the beach. She had just needed the right beach, even though there were numerous beaches that were easily within a couple hours’ drive of her home in Somerset. But, the cold, wintery beaches in the Northeast just wouldn’t work for what she had in mind. No, for this particular story, she had needed Southern beaches, azure blue waters, and warm white sand. Somewhere for her heroine to escape from the bitter cold and also somewhere for Tara to escape from the emptiness that seemed to overshadow everything she did these days.
Even though she could honestly say that she hadn’t really been “in love” with Michael, she still missed his mere presence in her life…there were so many times, every single day, that she thought of him. So many times lately that she wondered if they should have done things differently…
Stop it, Tara, she reminded herself. You can’t go back and change the past, and even if you could, you know deep down that you wouldn’t change a thing! Neither would Michael. If he were here right now, he’d be the first one to tell you to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back to the business of writing.
Smiling sadly, she reached over and tuned the satellite radio to one of her favorite stations, allowing the old seventies songs to fill the car, hoping the music would help to chase away the shadows that still lingered in the darker recesses of her mind.
A few hours and many miles later, as she carried the overnight bag into her room at the Hilton Garden Inn just outside of Louisville, Kentucky, she felt the weariness of the road begin to overtake her.
She couldn’t wait to shower and fall into the big king sized bed…hopefully dropping right off to sleep without lying awake for hours, and without dwelling on either the recent or the distant past, even though her journey was taking her almost directly across the state of Kentucky…the only other place in the world that held memories that she would rather not delve into too deeply.
Unbelievably, thirty minutes later, she did just that.