Serafina Noland has a good life, a son she adores, a supportive family, and a successful career. The one thing she doesn’t have is a significant other, a partner to help her raise her son, Petey, someone to love her through thick and thin. Loneliness is often her companion, but she’s resigned herself to that and learned to be thankful for the life she and Petey have carved out in their little corner of the Appalachian foothills.
While on vacation, she walks onto a Carolina beach and meets sinfully sexy businessman Levi Ewart. He’s thoughtful and kind and one of the most handsome men she’s ever met. The problem is he’s also entirely too young for her, and so far above her in every way possible, her head spins. What can a man like that possibly see in little ol’ her? How can she ever trust him not to walk out on her, the way Petey’s father did nearly nine years before?
Sera’s age is never a problem for Levi. His own mother is centuries older than his father, and he’s witnessed dozens of couples in similar situations find their happily ever afters. He opens his heart to the reserved Sera and falls hard and fast for her and her son, but his secrets aren’t the only things standing in the way of true love. Sera’s past is a giant blight on their relationship, eating away at the core of their happiness, and Levi’s love may not be enough to overcome her doubts. Getting her to say yes to the future he wants to build with her may be the hardest task he’s ever undertaken, and the riskiest venture of his life.
Released April 2015. Published by Bone Diggers Press, copyright 2015.
Excerpt from Say Yes
The way Serafina Noland figured it, a woman deserved a vacation every once in a while, especially a woman whose biggest obligation outside of work was, at that moment, being spoiled rotten by his grandparents in Orlando.
At seven, Petey had declared himself too old to be chaperoned by his mother. Sera’s parents had agreed. “He’ll be fine,” her mom had said, and her dad had added, “Man’s gotta grow up sometime.”
Sera had let that one pass without comment.
So off the lot of them had gone, Mom and Dad, Petey, and Sera’s two nephews, for a glorious, fun-filled week at Walt Disney World followed by another week at Daytona Beach.
Sera had decided to do something different. As soon as her parents had approached her about taking their grandkids on vacation without their parents, she’d started looking for her own getaway. Her books were doing well and she had plenty of money in the bank, so she’d picked a spot on the map and decided that there was where she’d be while Petey enjoyed the thrills of Orlando with his cousins. To justify the expense, she’d called a local bookstore and arranged a mid-week signing, and brought along her latest work in progress so she’d have no excuse to deviate from her writing schedule.
And now here she was, on her way to Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, ready for her own fun-filled week in the Outer Banks. If the weight of loneliness pressed against her, she ignored it. So what if she was twenty-nine and had never been married? So what if most of the women she’d graduated from high school with already had their two point seven children and were working on husband number two? Big deal. She and Petey were doing just fine on their own. They had a good life and, more importantly, they had each other.
Sera sighed as she pulled off Highway 158 onto a side street, following it until it dead-ended onto Highway 12 where her rental apartment was located. Maybe it would’ve been nice to share her vacation with somebody, a friend from her old job, if she’d made any real friends there, or a nice older man with a stable life and not a lot of baggage. Probably an impossibility, but a girl could dream.
Such was not her lot in life, though, so she determined to make the most of what she had. She’d already planned sight-seeing trips to the area’s attractions, and when her schedule was clear, the beach was a quick walk from her apartment. Her Kindle was packed with unread books and her skin called out for a nice tan to wash away its indoor pallor. What more could a woman want?
She rolled into the parking lot with a careful eye on the pedestrians darting here and there, automatically playing Petey’s car tag game as she did. Massachusetts. Texas. Three tags in a row from Georgia. Ohio.
She did a double take on the Georgia tags and sighed out a laugh. Two were from Rabun County and the other was from Towns County. The joke back home was that no matter where you went, you’d see somebody from Rabun County while you were there. Unfortunately, she probably knew whoever it was. The county just wasn’t that big and her family was fairly well known. As Wendell and Barbara Noland’s daughter, she’d be expected to socialize, leaving less time for sight-seeing and reading.
Oh, well. At least she wouldn’t be lonely.
Sera located her building and parked several spaces away from the folks from home. The roar of waves breaking against the beach called to her from behind a line of sand dunes. Through a path winding between two mounds of sand, she caught a glimpse of the Atlantic’s vast, blue-gray waters. She glanced between her car, the building, and the dunes. Screw it. The drive out had been long and tiring, even with an overnight stop midway. A short walk on the beach followed by a nice, relaxing hour reading would go a long way toward helping her unwind.
She grabbed her beach bag out of the car, glad she’d had the foresight to pack it with a clean beach towel, a bottle of water, and sunscreen, and tucked her Kindle in it before heading out. Humid heat rolled off the pavement in waves, coating her with each step. After a short walk, Sera hit sand, and smiled when it shifted under her feet. She hadn’t been to the beach in years, not since she was a little girl. Petey would love the sand crunching between his toes and the seagulls flying down to peck at detritus. She inhaled the salty air and turned her face into the light breeze blowing off the ocean, and the tension slid from her shoulders like butter melting off a steaming cob of corn.
As soon as she passed through the barrier dunes, she mentally marked her spot on the beach, a reminder of where her car was parked. To her left, four buff young men in their early twenties were playing volleyball. They were tall and handsome and fit, and looked like they hadn’t a care in the world between them.
Sera bit back an appreciative sigh. What hunkdillyiciousness, and on her first day, too. They were too young for her, but no harm in looking. And they made a great landmark, or a memorable one, at least. Lifeguard chairs and sunbathing families all looked alike after a while, but those four would be hard to forget.
The line of water beckoned. She pulled off her Chuck Taylors and dipped her toes into the ocean, hissed in a breath. Lordy, the water was cold, and it July. A wave rolled ashore, higher than she’d anticipated, and soaked the lower hem of her capris. She laughed and danced out of the way, and since they were already wet, she skirted the edge of the ocean as she walked, stepping hastily away when waves washed in too high.
The late-afternoon sun beat down and the clear azure sky floated above her, a fairy tale blanket protecting the landscape under its weight. In the distance, two boats cruised across the choppy water, one hauling a water skier. The other was a larger pleasure craft with tiny people moving across its deck. The noise of the engines drifted in, mingling with the sounds of children playing in the surf and the crash of waves against the shore.
What a great day.
She shrugged her bag onto her shoulder and stuffed her free hand into her pocket as she turned and headed back. Sand scuffed out from her toes as she trudged through it and, without conscious thought, her mind picked up the thread of her latest work in progress. A scene played out in her head, rewound to the beginning, and spooled out again. She studied it from every angle, reworking and refining it until she was satisfied with its flow.
By the time she finished, she’d lost track of her walk. She glanced around and shook her head, pursing her lips around a rueful smile. She’d passed the volleyball game by at least a hundred yards. After a quick backtrack, she picked out a spot not far from the volleyball game and laid down on her towel facing away from the ocean, propped up on her elbows with her Kindle open to the latest Patricia Briggs novel.
As she delved into the story, the real world faded away. Gone were a mother’s worries over her son and the knot that had developed in the plot of her own manuscript. Gone were the sounds of other people gathering their things together in readiness for an early supper and a night out on the town. The roar of the ocean, the squawk of birds flitting from sky to sand, the sounds of the four young men and their game, all disappeared, overshadowed by the story unwinding on her Kindle.
A gentle tap against her hip broke her concentration. She glanced around and saw a volleyball, and automatically reached out, stopping its sluggish roll across the churned up sand. One of the young men, a handsome redhead with close-cropped hair and a square chin, jogged lightly toward her, his mouth twisted into a smirk below sunglasses and a straight nose.
As he came near, she looked up and up, taking in the hard muscles of his legs below baggy swimming trunks, the flat abdomen, the faint line of ginger hair disappearing into the low-slung waistband of his trunks, and the broad expanse of his chest and shoulders. He bent, retrieved the ball, and unfolded to his full height of really tall.
“Hey.” He stared down at her and flipped the ball back and forth between strong, capable hands. “Sorry about that.”
She smiled, couldn’t help it. It wasn’t every day a sun god spoke to her, especially one with a hint of an exotic accent underlying his Southern drawl. “No problem.”
“Quit flirting, Levi,” one of his friends called. “Time’s a-wasting.”
Levi smirked and walked backward a few steps. “See you around.”
“Sure,” she said. What else could she say? It was a pleasure seeing all six-foot something of you, or Hey, thanks for the heat, you shining star, you. She grinned as she watched him jog back to the game, admiring his easy stride and the muscles bunching and flexing with each step. If that was the view she’d have all week, then she was glad she’d picked this particular beach to vacation on. Too bad Levi was half a decade too young for her.
She turned back to her book and fell into the story, letting it block out the heat of his gaze where it lingered on her from across the narrow beach.