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.
Chapter One (continued)
At his desk, Mark Edwards scanned over the numbers on his spreadsheet again before turning away to rifle through the top drawer for Advil. He hesitated when his search turned up empty. Had he used up the entire bottle already?
Walking over to the window, he looked out across the manicured lawn of the resort’s main building towards the river. Usually the view relaxed him. But instead, he caught a glimpse of his own glowering reflection. The deep frown line that had formed between his brows and the bags under his eyes made him look tired. He rolled his neck from side to side, eager to relieve the tension that had become a constant in the past year.
Last night had been interesting. Wrapping his arms around a beautiful girl to save her from herself. Mid twenties, he guessed, from the lack of wrinkles and the determination in her step as she’d raced toward certain doom. Not that falling was certain doom, but she’d been careening into the unknown. He’d been heading towards the unknown too, five or so years ago.
“Lizzie,” he said, testing the name on his tongue.
He liked how the name vibrated against his lips. He’d liked how he could wrap her slight waist in one arm. Brushing up against her, he’d breathed in the smell of fresh laundry and soap. He’d liked watching her walk away too, her pert behind accentuated with tight leggings.
Shaking his head, he settled in at his desk to review the spreadsheet again. Working in catering, he focused on the bottom line, constantly sifting through numbers in his mind. As far as he could tell, these numbers weren’t in their favor. With the economy bouncing back, the smaller events and weddings should be capitalizing on the surge of demand for their exclusive resort. But the prices hadn’t been raised or adjusted in at least three years. And what’s more, he’d gotten in a stack of contracts locking in another year’s weddings at government bailout era rates.
He shut down his computer, glad again for his insistence in turning down a laptop or tablet in favor of a boxy desktop. One of the few work-life balance choices he’d made. He turned off his light, locked up, and walked down the hall to his boss’ office.
“Hi Samantha, is he in?” Mark asked knocking on the outer door as he stepped into the room.
Samantha Andersen, the indomitable gatekeeper to Frank Cade’s office, nodded. She had the presence of an Eastern European wrestler during the iron curtain decades. Many people were put-off by her stiff demeanor, but not Mark. He appreciated her efficiency. Their boss was emotional and moody enough for both of them.
“Yes, he’s waiting on you. And I’m heading out for the night, so please text me if he suddenly needs me back,” she whispered, standing to put on her coat and hustle toward the door as she spoke.
Waving her off, he took in a deep breath. Frank expected him? He swallowed the lump in his throat. He rapped twice at the door in quick succession, and waited.
“Come in,” the deep voice beyond bellowed.
Cracking open the door, he slid in, careful not to betray that the secretary had snuck out a few minutes early. Tobacco permeated the air of the dark paneled room, resembling a private men’s only cigar club more than office. Frank Cade sat behind the desk, swirling a tumbler of bourbon in one hand as the other hand rested on his desk, the fingers tapping rapidly against the worn mahogany.
The man glanced up when Mark shut the door and gestured for him to sit down. Mark would prefer to stand. He’d prefer to get out of the stale, stagnant air as quickly as he could. He craved the sunshine and warm breezes outside his confines. After a day trapped inside, he longed to dive into the ocean and wash off the dried sweat. But he sat, as obliged.
“Ah, Mark Edwards, good, good. So what do you have to tell me?”
“Nothing that you’ll want to hear.”
Frank took a sip from his drink and nodded. “Tell me anyway.”
“They’ve got to raise the prices in events. We could easily be making more on our end for catering. I hate to even think about how little they’re probably charging for the locations.”
“I thought as much,” Frank agreed, he sighed. “I guess I’ll be getting involved, especially now that I’m overseeing this new Manager of Special Events job.”
Mark nodded, unsure how else to respond.
“Fine, I’ll take a look too and give them a call next week. But I wanted to bring up something else.”
Mark raised an eyebrow but didn’t respond otherwise. He’d learned Frank liked brevity.
“You haven’t applied for the Manager of Special Events job yet. Why?”
“I don’t have the experience. I deal with contracts and vendors, not with the public.”
Frank waved off his concern. “Please, I need you to do this job. I need someone rational, logical, and focused on the bottom line. This isn’t about just making brides happy. This will be dealing with corporate clients and foundations and tourists. And this will be about managing your team.”
Mark nodded. He’d initially considered applying for the job. The position would be a promotion and would be dealing with the bigger picture instead of counting each penny on every contract. But handling clients and the public? Mark primarily dealt with contracts and staff. He didn’t sell to potential customers and knew he lacked finesse in understanding others. At least, that’s what his ex had always said.
“What’s there to think about?” Frank interrupted his thoughts. “I want your resume on my desk by Monday morning. At the latest. You’re at the top of my list, Edwards, but they’re making me open the position up for interviews.”
What else was he going to do? Run off and live off your savings and figure out something you love. Maybe slow down and get outside and stop hiding.
“That’s all. Get out of here, it’s almost five and I want to get home. It makes me look bad, you staying later than me every night,” Frank said.
“Have a good night.”
Frank inclined his head and Mark showed himself out. Wasting no time, he jogged down the stairs, out of the hotel, and burst out onto the verandah. He needed to go for a run and he knew Scooter, his dog did too. He hopped in his car and sped off back across the river towards St. Simons Island.
The sun still shone brightly in the crystal blue sky, he loved how late days lasted in the clear heavens. Growing up in the Ohio River Valley, he’d spent his childhood in the gloom of overcast skies. He parked his car in his tiny, perfectly allotted spot in front of his cottage in East Beach.
The little tabby home sat nestled between palm trees on a sandy lot. Two bedrooms and a bathroom comprised the upstairs in the dormer and an eat-in kitchen, family room, office, and half bath downstairs. He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath, filling his nostrils with the salty air of the ocean. The smell of seaweed made him feel like he was home more than anything else.
Pushing open the gate on his tiny picket fence, he let himself in the front door. His roommate, best friend, and dog, Scooter, had been waiting and jumped up, nearly knocking Mark over, when the door opened. A Newfoundland and Black Lab mix that he’d saved ten years ago from a shelter years before, had the start of cataracts and spent most of his time asleep.
“Hi buddy, how was your day? Anything good happen?”
Scooter’s massive tail swung back and forth, pounding against the wall.
“Come tell me about what you did today.”
Climbing the stairs to his master bedroom, Scooter followed close behind. Mark took off his suit, inspected for paw prints or dog fur before handing it for one more wear and changing into workout clothes. He kept the cottage tidy and neat, valuing efficiency even at home.
“You ready for a walk?”
Scooter played along with their nightly routine, leading the way back downstairs. The dog walked over to the hall closet, pulled his leash off the handle, then sat patiently while Mark clipped the leash onto his collar.
“Okay, let’s go.”
Together, the pair of them set off for the beach, careful to walk against traffic and avoid trudging through yards and driveways whenever possible. Mark waved at a few faces as he passed by their houses, but only got blank stares in return. Maybe if I took this job, I’d actually get to know my neighbors.
After a few blocks, the thin road opened into a large parking lot. Crossing the wooden plank bridge that extended out over the dunes and tall grasses, they stepped on to the powdery sand and trudged through. At the hard packed sand at the water’s edge, Mark unhooked Scooter’s leash and put it in his pocket. During low tide, the beach seemed to extend all the way across the St. Simons Sound to Jekyll. The waves rippled the sand as it retreated, littering the ground with tide pools full of starfish and sea urchins, like perfect miniature aquariums. But tonight, the high tide didn’t leave much room for them to maneuver.
“Okay, remember, go at your pace and I’ll come back. Right?”
Scooter’s wagging tail was all the agreement Mark needed before he set off at a light jog. He needed to run off some steam and frustration. Neither medicating himself with sleeping pills nor drinking alcohol every night appealed to him for relaxation. He didn’t want to become weak or dependent. He wouldn’t let his ex walking out conquer him. She had made that choice, he hadn’t. She had been the liar, not him. Everything Mark had done had been true and honest. He refused to see it any other way or to let doubt enter his mind.
Running until his heart pounded in his ears and sweat poured down his face, he stopped and hunched over to stretch his back and catch his breath. He hung his head between his legs to lengthen the stretch and saw Scooter nearly half a mile behind. He smiled. Years ago, Scooter lapped him. He straightened and jogged back. When Mark reached him, he put out a hand to stop Scooter and sank into the sand.
Scooter sat down next to him, nudging Mark’s arm up with his nose. Mark leaned in for a hug and rubbed Scooter’s belly. The dog had always been a source of comfort, giving his affection freely as long as his needs were met.
“Scooter, what do you think about me taking a different job? I could be home more. We could go to the beach, take more walks, play fetch?”
The dog gave him a wet smack from chin to forehead.
“Okay,” Mark dried his face against his shoulder. “Understood. I guess I’m getting a new job.”