Tidal Patterns (Golden Shores Book 1) is available now! Check out the first chapter below (the second half coming next week). And Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read all of my books for free through the program.
“Shuffle, ball change, flap, step, shuffle, ball change, flap, step,” Marie’s demanding voice boomed from the front row of the St. Simon’s Island Senior-itas tap troop.
Lizzie Shaw focused on the feet of the lady two rows in front of her. Blocking out the clicks of the other dancers’ tap shoes required concentration; especially in a stuffy community center on a humid night in Georgia’s Golden Isles. And even more especially when Rose, her dearest friend and septuagenarian, insisted on standing next to her, dancing a half beat out of time.
“Shuffle, ball change, flap, step, shuffle, ball change, flap, step,” came the count again.
She mouthed the words along with the dance troop leader.
Rose missed the flap and stepped on the wrong foot. The rustle of Rose’s jewel-toned tracksuit warned Lizzie too late. Rose stepped in her direction, her elbow pushing into Lizzie’s ribcage. Lizzie’s worn tap slid across the polished maple floor and she landed on her back.
“Lizzie, are you okay?” Rose exclaimed, her soft gray curls hovering around her head like a halo.
Immediately the clacks and clatters stopped as everyone surrounded the youngest member of the St. Simons Senior-itas dance troop. Lizzie looked up at the concerned faces hovering over her. Being the same age as most of their granddaughters had earned her a special spot as the unofficial mascot. Rose bent down to offer her help and several other ladies joined in, lifting Lizzie up to a seated position. Another member ran over to offer a water bottle.
“I’m fine, thank you everyone. Really, I’m okay,” she assured them, sipping from the cool water.
“Then let’s finish this practice,” a steely voice replied.
The crowd in front of her parted and the wafting smell of White Diamonds perfume stilled Lizzie from further reply. Marie Smith-Thomson stood glowering down at her. Lizzie reached to Rose to help her stand up, averting her eyes from Marie’s unrelenting stare. As a Rockette, Marie had high-kicked her way into the best society in New York with not one but two glamorous marriages. Lizzie’s cheeks burned hot with embarrassment. From under her eyelashes, she watched Marie nod before turning on her heel and returning to the front of the room.
“Sorry,” Rose whispered, squeezing the hand she still held.
Lizzie nodded but didn’t otherwise reply, dropping her friend’s hand to form her own row a few feet behind Rose. After three more eight counts and a flourishing shuffle off to Buffalo, class ended.
“Ladies, let’s see if we can tighten up our spacing next week,” Marie announced.
Sweeping her eyes over the group, Marie finally settled on Lizzie in her rogue line. Don’t flinch, don’t move, don’t breathe. Lizzie remained perfectly still, not even exhaling. Marie suspended dancers from performances and rehearsals for even the slightest infraction. Drawing the woman’s eye twice in one night, was practically insubordination. Lizzie wouldn’t mind be kicked out of the group. But Rose would and Lizzie hated to let her down.
Finally, Marie nodded her head. “Until then, please keep practicing.”
Exhaling, Lizzie walked to the side of the room. She slid down the wall, stretched her legs out in front of her, sweat rolling down her back. Their practice space stood on the edge of the Pier Village overlooking a small park and the ocean. With only a few windows to catch the breeze and one overhead fan, the room quickly went from comfortable to suffocating when practice started.
“Are you coming out with us tonight?” Rose asked, ambling over and carefully lowering herself to the ground.
“I know you aren’t coming. I thought I’d offer all the same. One day you might actually take us up on it.”
“I think you’d approve of my reasons for missing out tonight.”
“Do you have a date?”
Lizzie shook her head. When did she have time to go out to dinner or a movie? And besides, where would she even meet someone?
“Rose, I don’t think I’m ready for dating. Besides, I work every weekend and who wants to go out on a weeknight?”
“Plenty of guys. But what’s your reason?”
“They’ve opened up a new position over on Jekyll. It would be a big deal for me. So I’ve decided. I’m going to get this job, I’m going to get Patrick off my back, and then my life will be perfect.”
“That’s the spirit. And then, when you do, I’ll set you up with my friend’s grandson.”
She sighed. Rose missed the entire point. Lizzie didn’t need a guy or a relationship. She needed to become financially stable so she could stay on the island. She wanted to put down roots.
“Are you trying to wear me down?” Lizzie asked. “If I wait long enough maybe, this friend you’ve been trying to set me up with for the past year will get married to someone else.”
“It’s okay honey. My grandsons have a lot of friends.”
Grabbing her giant carry-all off the ground, Lizzie stood and followed Rose and the rest of the ladies out of the building. The sun had set during class and the street lamps dotting the sidewalks illuminated the unofficial downtown. The other ladies made their way toward the bars and restaurants, their laughter and conversation filling the night. Maybe she should go out, even just once. But, she didn’t want to start talking about the accident again.
Questions, offers of help, kind words, she couldn’t handle any of it, no matter how well intentioned. Her shoulders tightened, a knot forming and she rolled her shoulders. No, she couldn’t go out with them. Not yet. First she had to fine tune her resume, nail the interview, and get that job. She needed to get on with her life, even if moving forward terrified her. She had to focus on this job and land it. Then everything would be perfect.
Walking back to her car, her phone vibrated in the giant purse flung over her shoulder. She peered into the cavernous bag and shook the contents, trying to find the phone. Work shouldn’t be calling on her day off.
“Of course,” she muttered, reading the number.
Strolling across the parking lot, she let the caller stew for a few minutes. She answered on the last ring before her voicemail picked up, as she reached the well-light cobble path winding through the park.
“Hi Patrick, how are you?”
“Lizzie, honestly, why do you always make me wait? Could you save me the ulcer and answer on the first ring?”
“But where would the fun be in that?”
After twenty-five years as his little sister, she’d learned exactly how to push his buttons. For the most part, she loved Patrick and tried to be a good sister. But sometimes annoying him proved to tempting to resist.
Continuing past empty benches, she settled herself on top of a picnic table under several mighty live oaks. During the day the trees beckoned to passersby, offering relief from the blazing sun. At night the friendly trees transformed into the gnarled caricatures of children’s nightmares.
“Okay Patrick. Now I’m ready for you to yell and lecture me like you do every night.”
“I don’t yell…every time.”
“No. Just most of the time.”
“Lizzie, come on. Give me a break,” he pleaded.
His voice sounded weary, making her pause. She hadn’t stopped to think about how the circumstances affected Patrick. Unlike her, he had more than himself to worry about. But that didn’t mean she wanted his constant haranguing.
“Patrick, please stop with the nagging.”
“Frizz, what am I supposed to do?”
She could picture him on the other end of the line. He’d have his head resting in one hand, massaging his temples.
“You’re my kid sister. You’re my responsibility.”
“You’re only five years older than me. I’m grown-up. I’m fine,” she massaged her clenched jaw.
No one could frustrate her as much as her brother, and vice versa. She’d often marveled that they had the same parents. They were two completely different people. Mom and Dad might have understood and accepted who they both were, but Lizzie didn’t know if either she or her brother would be able to do the same.
“I don’t think you’re fine,” he muttered. “Time is running out here, for both of us. I hate the position our parents put us in and you know I’m not pressuring you for myself. I just want to know what is going to happen, to prepare.”
“I know. I understand. I do.”
Her words wavered. She bit the inside of her cheek. Was it too early to tell him? Not if I already told Rose.
“I have news. I haven’t wanted to share anything yet, because I didn’t want to set any expectations. But there is a new position opening up. I’d be perfect for the job, there’s no competition at the resort, and this would be a huge promotion for me.”
“What is it?”
“Manager of Special Events for Jekyll Island. I’d be in charge of overseeing the corporate and special events.”
“So your hours would still be awful.”
She rolled her eyes even though he couldn’t see her.
“Patrick, I work events. It’s a different lifestyle from a boring desk job.”
“How much money?”
“Enough, more than enough. And to be completely honest, I love what I do. I’m good at it. And I don’t mind the hours. Having Monday and Tuesday off is actually nice when you live in a resort town.”
“Frizz, this isn’t what you’re supposed to be doing.”
“Well, nothing is how it’s supposed to be, right?” she asked, her voice bitter as the sour taste in her mouth from all the tears she’d shed. She hated the way things were. “Aren’t we both just trying figure out what to do next?”
Gazing out across the park to the ocean, the black water crashed against the rocky shoreline. The waves were rough, choppy, and unforgiving in the moonlight, just like her mood. She hated so many things about their situation, but none more than the impossible position Patrick had been put in. What had they been thinking? Why complicate an already tenuous relationship? What was the point?
“I guess so,” he relented.
“Just be happy for me. And promise you’ll come down to help me celebrate in a couple weeks.”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” Patrick warned. “But I will be in town next month. And you know why I’m coming.”
She opened her mouth to reply, but no words came out. Already time for the next meeting? She thought they had at least two more months. She needed the job and the paycheck now.
“Yes, yes, fine,” she recovered in quick, hasty assurances.
Her mind whirled liked the palm trees in the park during the heavy winds of a storm. Considering all the potential questions she’d be asked by the lawyers and how she’d propose to solve her quandary. Pressure built behind her eyes and she rubbed her temples. If she didn’t get the job and the raise then she’d have to leave and go to grad school. Otherwise, she and Patrick would be cut out of their inheritance.
“How long will be you here? Are the girls coming?”
“No, I think they’ll hang back. Jen isn’t feeling great with this pregnancy and Marcy is the busiest two year-old I know. She’s in dance, music, art, everything.”
“Another time then. Give them my love and I’ll let you know what happens.”
“Okay, I will. And yes, please let me know how your interview goes. But don’t forget, I’m coming,” Patrick cautioned. “Put it on that calendar of yours, it’s happening no matter what.”
“Fine, good night. I love you,” Lizzie replied and hung up before he could reply.
Anger and frustration boiled up inside her, thinking again about upcoming deadline. She slid off the table and stomped down the path towards the wooden pier, wanting to feel the breeze in her hair. The wind whipped on the pier even when the air stood still on the shore. She wanted to blow away the negative thoughts. She’d never needed something to happen. She’d always been in control of her life.
But now she needed this job and for all her assurances to her brother, she didn’t know if she’d get it. She couldn’t let herself think like that. She had to be in charge of her destiny again, on her terms. Barreling down the Pier, her footsteps echoed against the wooden planks as she passed a few couples out enjoying the beautiful spring evening.
Listening to the crashing waves below and the vague ambient noise of the bars and restaurants nearby, she didn’t hear the man’s approach. With her face raised to gaze at the moon, shining as bright as the noon sun, she didn’t see the raised board. Without warning, an arm grabbed her around the waist as her toe caught in a plank as she began to tumble forward.
“Are you okay?” a man asked her.
He held her upright against his solid ribcage. Her chest rose and fell rapidly with each shallow breath as his grip tightened against her waist, his palms warm through the gauzy material of her shirt. A stranger held her, and yet she felt no urge to extricate herself from his grasp. Or run. She slowed her breathing, hoping to steady her nerves and ignore the way her skin tingled at the contact.
Taking in one more deep, steadying breath, the salt air mixed with the smell of sweat and a faint hint of wood and citrus. Lizzie shook herself. What was she doing? Was she going to stand around in some guy’s arms all night? She broke out of his grip and took a few steps back.
Appraising her savior, her pulse raced anew. She guessed he stood somewhere over six feet, he had at least six inches on her own five six. Wearing a muscle tee and basketball shorts, he glistened in the moonlight like he’d been out for a run. Broad shoulders and muscular arms, browned by the sun, tapered into a trim torso and lean legs. His dark hair was neatly trimmed. As far as she could tell in the moonlight, he was in his early thirties.
“Are you okay?” he repeated.
Her cheeks burned. She’d been too busy appraising him to answer.
“I guess I shouldn’t be out here alone,” she said, finding her voice.
“Or maybe just not at night.”
“Are you okay? Did I hurt you?”
“I’m fine. But I’d feel better if you let me walk you home. I’d be doing my part for civic order. Getting one more dangerous female off the streets of St. Simons.”
Pursing her lips, she wrapped her arms around her chest. She hadn’t interacted with a man who wasn’t family or client in a long time. Was he flirting with her? I can’t even read the signs anymore.
“I’m teasing,” he replied. “But it’s not a great idea to be out here alone at night.”
“I know. I’m on my way home. Thank you.”
“No worries. But can I help you get home? Can I walk you there?”
“That’s not necessary. My car is in the lot over there.”
Lizzie clamped her lips shut to stop from rambling. He stared at her mouth and she pressed her lips together, tasting the cherry of her lip-gloss. Thank goodness I’d thought to put some on before practice.
“How about I walk you to your car then?”
Nodding, and careful to avoid the raised board, she retraced her steps down the pier. The man fell into step beside her. Despite their height difference, she noticed that they seemed to have the same gait. Her arm prickled from the heat rolling off him.
“Do you do this a lot? Hang out on the Pier at night to save unsuspecting women?”
“Only the once. But maybe I should.”
“He’s cute, give him a chance,” Rose’s voice filtered into her head.
“Mark, by the way,” he extended his hand.
“Lizzie,” she replied, shaking his hand.
“Nice to meet you, Lizzie. Are you a local?” he asked, dropping her hand.
Her reply stilled on her tongue. Was he? She clasped her hands together behind her back. Disappointment crashed over her. Of course she’d meet someone just passing through. An obvious hazard of living in a resort town, she’d never considered before. You’ve never been interested in anyone before…
“I’m a local,” he offered. She raised an eyebrow at his decidedly un-Southern drawl, very like hers. “Okay, transplant. But I’ve never seen you around.”
“I’ve been here for a couple of years. But I work on Jekyll so I spend most of my time there.”
“Small world. I do too. Where do you work?”
“In the historic district,” she offered. Not that you work around there. Another glance at his bronzed skin and well-developed muscles, she doubted he spent much time behind a desk. He had to work outside somewhere, maybe over by the beach or the waterpark.
They reached her car and she pulled her keys out of her purse. He held open the door for her. She hopped in, turned the keys in the ignition and rolled down the windows. He closed her door and leaned into the window.
“Thanks again for…” she began and quickly stopped, her cheeks heating again.
“Don’t mention it. Maybe I’ll see you around work?”
She smiled but didn’t immediately reply. Seeing him again seemed highly unlikely. But maybe one day he might wander over to the historic district and knock on her office door. Not likely.
“Sure, sounds great,” she replied. “Have a good night.”
He stepped back from the car and she pulled out of the spot and watched him shrink in her rearview mirror. Get the job, go on a date with him, and then my life will be perfect.