Authors: DeAnna Kinney
Copyright © 2014 by DeAnna Kinney
Editing by Elaine Grice, Dandria Young and Maryan Handy
Cover design by
Cover models: Joe and Sarah Tucker
Cover Image by
Bridgette Williams Photography
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the owner.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination and are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, places, or actual events are purely coincidental.
Other books by DeAnna Kinney include
Charity Moon (Charity Series Book 1)
Charity Rising (Charity Series Book 2)
Raven’s Rose (Charity Series Book 3)
Charity’s Storm (Charity Series Book 4)
Exposing Kitty Langley
Loving Lily Lavender (Lavender Series Book 1)
Leaving a Lavender Legacy (Lavender Series Book 2)
Box of Gaza
hese titles are available online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and iTunes.
I want to extend a special thank you to my husband, Rob who gave me the idea for the title. Though it was purely accidental, I thank him nonetheless. Also, to my mother who spent many hours helping me iron out the details to bring you a wonderful story filled with passion, heartfelt tenderness, and genuinely loveable characters.
Thank you to the lovely couple, Joe and Sarah Tucker for allowing me use their image for the cover, and what an amazing cover it is.
Thank you also to my beta readers, Kellee, Samantha, Cassi, Emily, and Sydney.
Sweat beaded on my face and neck as I wh
ipped my head from side to side tossing and turning in my sleep. I was grief stricken, and I didn’t know why. I felt such an overwhelming sense of loss, but who, or what, was it that I had lost? Then I saw myself in a hospital waiting room. The double doors opened in slow motion as the doctor came through, his face glum as he pulled off his mask and cap. I felt anxiety well within me as he approached at an incredibly slow pace. Tears welled in my eyes as I gripped the chair with great intensity to the point of pain. I suddenly didn’t have the strength in my knees to stand to meet him. He stopped in front of me, and my eyes rose slowly to meet his gaze. He shook his head as compassion consumed his expression. “I’m sorry,” he was saying, but I couldn’t hear the rest, because the grief had invaded my soul and was at war with my senses. I shook my head in disbelief, still not comprehending what the doctor was saying. “No,” I whispered. “No.” I bolted straight up in my bed. “No, no, no!!!” I was screaming and couldn’t seem to stop.
I was hyperventilating as I tried to steady my heart-rate. It didn’t make sense. I didn’t even know the truth of what had happened in the dream, but I knew that I had just lost the most important thing in my life—something I would never have again—something irreplaceable. The loss was so intense I couldn’t seem to catch my breath. “But it was just a dream,” I repeated over and over to myself as I continued to struggle to breathe. I gripped the sheets tight in my fists as tears blinded my vision. “It was just a dream. Stupid June, you didn’t lose anyone. It was just a meaningless dream,” I continued to tell myself, but for some strange reason, I didn’t believe it…not one word of it.
I knew, by the way my morning had been going that I should probably just stay inside my home and let the rest of the day pass in peace. But with only one more painting to go in order to fill my exhibit wall at Eden Blair’s Art Gallery, I had work to do.
anted my last painting to be of my favorite place on earth, the lovely shore of Oak Island, North Carolina. The warm sandy beach had always held the power to inspire me.
My day had started off as a bad one, with a phone call from my mother, which always ended in an argument. Today was no exception. My mom thought I should have stayed back home in Charlotte, North Carolina and always pressured me to come home. She didn’t approve of me packing up and heading to the beach. She thought it was a reckless decision. But I disagreed. I had always been a free spirit, who followed my heart in everything I did. If I had a bad feeling about anything, I usually turned in the opposite direction. This had saved me countless times. And so, I knew moving to the beach was part of my destiny somehow.
I had spent many summer
s as a child at Oak Island. My Aunt Tess owned a cozy cottage that set just off of the beach, and she had never married or had children. She and I were very close. Aunt Tess would drive to Charlotte, pick me up, and bring me back to the beach to spend the entire summer with her. That’s where I learned to paint. Aunt Tess was a popular local painter, and she taught me all she knew about her craft, the galleries, and how to work them. I owed a lot to her.
My relationship with Tess had always been a sore subject between my mother and
me. It didn’t help when, a week after I graduated from college, I learned that my beloved Aunt Tess had passed away, leaving me the cozy cottage on the beach, along with a substantial amount of money. Without hesitation, I had packed up as many of my belongings as my mom would part with and headed for Oak Island to begin my future: a future without my jealous, controlling, and nagging mother.
recall that day so vividly in my mind. My mom wouldn’t even come out of the house to see me off. My dad was sweet as he helped me pack my luggage into the trunk of my little car. He was a big man, with a sweet and gentle spirit. In all my 22 years I had never heard him raise his voice…not once.
His eyes were moist
, and he took hold of my hand as he spoke. “I will miss you so much, my June bug. I know things have been hard for you here, and I’m very sorry for that. Your mother loves you very much, even if she has a hard time showing it. I hope you know that.”
I nodded, my eyes also filling with hot tears. “I know, Daddy.”
“This is a good move for you. I know it in my spirit. Now, go and spread your wings and fly like the beautiful butterfly you are. I love you.”
I remember shedding many tears as I watched him disappear in my rear-view mirror.
My first painting in my new home was not a beach scene or a sunset, but a beautiful butterfly painted in all my favorite pastel colors; yellow, pink, blue, lavender, and green. It gave me inspiration then and continues to do so today.
So back to my awful morning. To make it even worse, after the phone call from my mom had ended, in my clumsiness, I spilled my scalding coffee all over my favorite purple blouse. When I went in search of another one, I realized I hadn’t done my laundry, and thus most of my clothes were overflowing from the dirty clothes hamper. I settled for a bright blue tank top layered over a chocolate brown one. It was too casual for my early meeting with Eden at the gallery, so I added some of my chunky beads and a brown, long flowing skirt and cowboy boots. I pulled my long dark locks up into a messy but elegant bun, added big hoop earrings, some pink lipstick and headed for the door.
I ran into my neighbor, Chase, on my way to my car. He lived in the cottage next door. It wasn’t a surprise really because we bumped into each other at the same time every
Monday morning while heading for our cars. He had a crush on me and asked me out every time. And every time my reply would be the same ‘Not today I’m afraid’. He would smile and say, “Maybe next time then”. This was the routine, and I hated it. Not because I didn’t like him, but because I did, just not in that way. I actually wanted to like Chase. He was a nice guy and not too bad to look at either. His short, blonde hair was neat and swept to the left. He dressed clean and sharp, but there were no sparks on my part. I didn’t know how he afforded to live in the beach cottage when he only worked behind the counter of the Flavors Galore Coffee Shop in the nearby Wilmington. But that was none of my business. Again, I turned him down nicely as I climbed into my VW Jetta, yelling back to him that I was sorry but I was in a hurry. He waved, and I was off.
After my meeting with Eden, the owner of the art gallery and my dear friend, I went home briefly to collect my easel, canvass, and paints. I traded out my skirt for blue-jean shorts, stuck two paintbrushes into my bun, and headed out my
front door. I took off my boots and stepped from the porch of my two-bedroom cottage. I sighed the moment I felt the sand between my blue sparkling toenail-painted toes. As I strolled toward my favorite spot, I observed the runners, stroller-pushing moms, and seashell seekers, as I waited for my inspiration to reveal itself. I knew I would know it when I saw it. I always did my paintings this way. When I laid eyes on the image I was supposed to paint, I felt it in my core, as if I was born to paint it. I always followed that feeling.
It was a short walk from my cozy cottage to my favorite spot on top of the dune where I had a great view of the pier. I love
d to people watch and pick up my inspiration.
I had painted the pier before, many times actually, but this particular angle caught my eye. The sun was shining along the water and there was a shipping boat anchored just beyond the pier. Something about the scene struck me, and I stopped where I was on the beach and set up my easel. Within minutes, my paint brush was busy stroking the late summer scene before me.
“Look out!” I heard someone call. I glanced up and spotted three bicycles with teenage riders barreling toward me.
“No!” I yelled, waving my hands in the air to warn them away, but it was too late. They plowed past me, knocking me and my easel to the sandy ground. My paints and brushes scattered.
“Sorry!” one of them called as they sped past without a backward glance.
“No, no, no!” I squealed as I dusted off my bottom and knelt to pick up my easel. My eyes widened as I studied my lovely painting that was now fully covered in sand. Anger boiled inside me as I began to gather my other things.
“Are you all right?” I heard someone ask, but I was too angry to reply.
Maybe if I ignore them, they’ll just go away.
I thought to myself.
I reached for my paintbrush when a hand suddenly grabbed it and slightly grazed against mine. I felt a tingling in my hand at the simple, feathery touch. I gasped and gazed up at the face that belonged to the hand. My anger slipped away in a flash. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t even remember what I had been mad about to begin with. Actually, I couldn’t even remember my own name as I stared into the most amazing and gentle pair of eyes I had ever seen. They were gray with green streaking through them, but it wasn’t the color that surprised me, it was the fact that they were staring into mine as if they were memorizing them. They were gentle, compassionate, and—worried.
But how could that be? I didn’t even know this person.
We both stood, each of us still holding onto the end of the same paintbrush. He chuckled, seemingly nervous, and I returned the laugh. He was the cutest guy I had ever laid eyes on. Handsome wasn’t really the right word that described this man. He had his black hair swept haphazardly to one side, covering most of his forehead and accenting the sweetest squinty eyes, surrounded by long, dark lashes. He had subtle dimples on both sides of his chin, and the straightest, and whitest teeth I had ever seen on anyone in person. The word ‘adorable’ described him utterly and completely.
What am I doing, staring at this guy? I don’t have room in my life for a man, no matter how ‘adorable’ he is.
He glanced down at the paintbrush and quickly released it. “Oh, sorry,” he said, rubbing his hand through his raven hair. “Um, are you all right?”
I blinked rapidly a few times, coming to my senses. “Oh, uh, yeah,” I shrugged. “I’m fine.” Then I shook my head. “I mean, no! I’m not fine! Those careless kids knocked over my painting and ruined it!” I barked, my previous anger returning to me. “I’m sorry. I’m not mad at you, of course. Forgive me,” I said placing my hand to my chest and continuing to pick up my things.
“No need to apologize. I saw the whole thing. Kids nowadays are more into themselves than others it seems. Here, let me help you.” He knelt again and helped me collect all of my things.
“Thank you,” I said, taking the last of the items from his hands.
“Oh, my name is Tucker Mitchell,” he said, extending his hand in greeting.
I quickly shoved all of the things under my arm to free the other and took his hand in mine, smiling sweetly. “It’s nice to meet you, Tucker Mitchell. My name is June Russell. And thank you for your help.”
He smiled in return, a crooked grin that had me mesmerized. When he smiled, his eyes squinted and his nose scrunched in an adorable way. To my surprise, I actually found myself giggling
. But I never giggle like a silly school girl
. I covered my mouth once I realized what I had done, but the laughter was already bubbling through my chest and building.
“June?” he asked. “Let me guess, you were born in the month of June?”
I pointed my finger at him and winked. “Oh, you’re good,” I teased.
He shrugged. “Yeah, well, I work hard at it.”
I laughed at him again, which caused him to laugh and scrunch his nose, and that caused me to laugh again. He laughed at my laugh, and I laughed at his. Suddenly, we were both laughing hard and for no good reason. It felt good. I had had a crappy day and now it felt good to laugh, despite the fact that my painting was ruined and I would have to start completely over. At that moment, I didn’t really care about that as I gave in and continued to laugh. And every time I looked over at him, he was laughing too, with his crooked mouth and that scrunched up nose. At once, I dropped everything on the ground and bent over in heavy, silent laughter.
“I’m sorry,” I tried to say through the laughter, waving my hands about, but it sounded more like a mouse squealing. Now, I knew I was embarrassing myself, but I couldn’t seem to help it. Every time I tried to
rein it in, I would laugh even more. Tears were flowing from my eyes as I wiped at them.
“Oh my, oh my,” I gasped, grabbing my ribs as I tried to catch my breath.
“Um, are you gonna be okay, June?” he asked, with traces of laughter still in his voice.
I held up my finger to indicate I needed another minute as I forced the last of my laughter to submit, and the thought that I might wet my pants helped too. I straightened. “I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.” I slapped him on the arm like he was a buddy of mine. “I needed that. Thanks, Tucker.”
He scratched his head as if confused, “Okay, well I’m not sure what I did, but you are very welcome. I’m always glad to help.”
“Well, that you did.” I folded up my easel, grabbed my things and shoved them into my bag, and stood straight to face him again. “Thank you again, Tucker Mitchell. You are a wonderful human being.” With that, I strolled past him and back down the beach. Despite my attraction to this adorable young man, I didn’t have time for a relationship.
And trust me when I say that he is better off without me.
“Uh, hey! June Russell! Will I ever see you again?” he yelled.
I waved my hand in the air but didn’t turn. “Oh, let’s let fate decide.”
I plastered a huge smile on my face as I continued to walk toward home. Hmm, it was unfortunate that I was happy alone. This Tucker Mitchell looked to be a prize for any girl with an open heart. Too bad it wasn’t mine.