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First pages

Chapter One

Signing papers for a loan takes as much courage as trying on bathing suits. With an audience. In February. When you haven’t shaved your legs since Thanksgiving. I didn’t have to show my legs to get a business loan at the Bluegill Savings Bank, but I did have to convince a very skeptical loan officer that I was a good risk with a great plan.

On a spring day after only a week being open for business, I was beginning to doubt my risk-worthiness. And my plan.

Three fishermen stood inside the door of my shop by the river. I could tell they were fishermen because the pre-teen one had fishhooks on his ball cap, the tall one held an empty minnow bucket, and the bald one wore an I Love Walleye t-shirt. With a picture of a walleye grilled and served on a plate. I’d seen their kind six times a day for the past seven days.

All three of them cast confused glances around my store as if they’d just walked into their favorite hardware store and found it changed overnight into a lingerie shop.

“Good morning,” I said. “I’m Shasta. Can I help you with a clothing selection?”

“This was always a bait shop,” the tall one said. He didn’t look happy.

I smiled. This was not the first time I’d gotten this comment in the week I’d been open. “It was a bait shop for many years, but I took it over this spring. As you can see,” I said, sweeping my arm to draw attention to my carefully organized displays of outdoor apparel, “I have a fresh selection of items every outdoorsman needs.”

“Sign out front still says bait shop,” six-foot-tall-single-track-mind said.

“I haven’t changed it yet,” I said, still smiling. “Can I help you try on a fishing vest? I have several to choose from. They’re waterproof and have a pocket for everything.”

“Sure you don’t have bait?” the pre-teen said.

“Perhaps you’d like a new fishing jacket. It’s sunny, but the breeze is quite chilly way out on the pier,” I suggested. The way these men were dressed, they clearly needed my fashion advice.

“Got a jacket in the truck,” he said.

I turned to Baldy. “I have hats. You might want something to keep the sun off.” Before he could say no, I took a fishing hat off my display and handed it to him.

“I could try on a hat I guess,” he said.

“You have one in the truck,” the tall one said. He took the hat from his friend and handed it to me.

“Then you might like to try on a jacket,” I said.

The bald one laughed and slapped his big belly. “Got plenty of insulation right here.”

I held up a canvas jacket with flannel lining and a dozen pockets. It was one of the items I’d anticipated being a best seller when I re-imagined my Great Aunt Flora’s bait shop as an upscale outdoor apparel store. He shrugged and slipped his arms into it. Went to the mirror. Turned side to side and considered his reflection. I think he liked what he saw.

“That’s a good fit for you,” I said. “Keeps you comfortable in three seasons, since you and I both know how changeable Michigan weather is.”

I thought my sales pitch was going pretty well.

The tall one approached and took a look at the price tag. “You go home with an expensive coat like that, your wife’ll have a cow.” He turned to me. “Last year she put his fishing boat on EBay without telling him. Damn near sold it, too.”

“Let’s use the john and get out of here,” the kid said. “Gotta drive to the bait shop across the bridge now.”

I helped Baldy out of the jacket. “Can I ring up some beer and snacks for you before you go?” What fisherman would turn down those items? They were the only part of my aunt’s business plan I’d retained, and so far beer and chips were the single source of sales for the week.

“Nope,” the tall one said. “We’ll get it all at the bait shop. One stop shopping.”

I was really glad the loan officer who grilled me about reinventing my Great Aunt Flora’s established bait shop was not there to hear that. He’d be flashing the I-told-you-so smile he probably practiced in the bathroom mirror.

“Next time,” I said cheerfully. They left, the door closed, and I counted to five.

The door swung open again. “Where’s the porta-john?” Baldy asked.

I knew that was coming. I held out both hands, palms up. “Gone,” I said.

Right along with my sales for the day.

Crippling self-doubt stared back at me from the steel-gray walls of my shop. I hadn’t repainted yet, instead putting my time and money into the artful displays of gloves, jackets, boots, shirts, vests, and hats. My merchandise was top-shelf. Cashmere, wool, space-age nylon. Exactly what fishermen should want. They just didn’t know it yet.

When my childless Great Aunt Flora made a deathbed request that someone in the family should take over her bait shop, my dad and his cousin inherited a problem. A full-service shop with a loyal following of fishermen. But my dad is an architect. And his cousin runs a bed and breakfast.

That’s where I swept in with my marketing experience, retail savvy, and—let’s face it—no one waiting up for me in Dallas. This was my opportunity to be useful to my family. It was also my excuse for moving back home to Michigan while saving face. Texas did not turn out to be the land of opportunity for me. Not that I’d admitted that to anyone.

Things were going to be fine. I just needed a walk to clear my head. And chocolate. The Dairy Slide in downtown Bluegill had been there all my life with homemade chocolate shakes whenever I needed encouragement.

I could stand being bolstered by calories right about now.

It was a warm day in April. I followed the river boardwalk past a restaurant, hotel, and the boat basin where only a few intrepid spring fishermen had their boats tied. I passed the bank and a church and continued to the bridge that spanned the river. Right at the entrance of the bridge, a Bluegill police cruiser sat behind a car, lights flashing. It’s a law of human nature that you can’t pass by a scene like that and not look.

I looked.

A tall dark-haired officer was out of his car schooling a gray-haired lady as they both looked at her taillight. The woman drove a classic old lady car. Nondescript tan color, a sedan of some kind. Unfortunately for her, she had a burned out bulb.

The cop seemed to be showing no mercy. He gestured. He pulled a notepad from his pocket. I couldn’t hear him over the bridge noise of cars passing, but I could guess. Somebody’s grandma was getting a ticket.

Mental note to self: check the taillights and turn signals on my car when I get home. That cop was merciless enough to pull over a senior citizen on a beautiful day. I doubt he’d be impressed by my Texas license plates and “Fashion Police” bumper sticker. The sticker was funny when my co-workers stuck in on there. It even had a realistic shiny reflective badge. But cops like Mr. You’re-getting-a-ticket-old-lady might not be amused.

I continued walking across the bridge until I got to the halfway point where I leaned on the railing and watched the Bluegill River rushing beneath me. I imagined it washing away my debts and doubts and bringing me fishermen and outdoorsmen who were itching to look great. They’d swing by my shop, load up on snacks and beer, and walk out with a new multi-pocketed fishing vest. A field jacket. Peruvian cotton shirt.

They’d tell all their friends.

The river passed my outdoor apparel shop on its way out to Lake Huron. The lake was a shimmering mass of blue on this beautiful day. It was relaxing, enchanting. Until an air horn blasted on the bridge behind me and I jumped like I was about to be murdered in broad daylight.

I knew who it was before I even turned around. My brother Mason, a cocky but lovable firefighter on the Bluegill force, leaned out the open passenger window of a huge red fire truck. He flipped me off and yelled “Shasta-baiter.” In an affectionate brotherly way. He’d concocted the nickname recently when he heard I was taking over Great Aunt Flora’s bait shop. I explained that I was not selling bait, but he wasn’t listening.

I walked the rest of the way across the bridge to the Dairy Slide and got a chocolate milkshake to go. When I headed back across the bridge, blue police lights still flashed at the other end.

This time the old lady car was gone. Instead, the dark-haired cop had three little kids on bikes pulled over. What was their infraction? Speeding? Having too much fun on a spring day? He had a notepad in hand, head bowed in serious conversation with the three boys who looked like they were between eight and ten years old. Seriously? They were getting a ticket?

Although everyone I’d run into since coming home to Bluegill had been friendly and welcoming, I decided I’d better keep on the sunny side of the law if I intended to ride a bike or drive my car in this town. At least while dark-haired ticket man was out in force. Maybe I’d stick to walking.

The cold shake put my brain on overdrive, and I walked along planning exactly how I’d make my as-yet-nameless shop a success. I would advertise. I would move a display outside where anyone passing by on the pier would stop to look. Have a grand opening sale. I only had a one-year-lease to prove myself, and I was already three months into that year.

I could do this. With each step, my confidence swelled. Maybe it was the chocolate, the weather, the happy hormones of coming home. I was building a new life!

In my enthusiasm, I didn’t notice I dropped the napkin that was wrapped around my shake so my hand wouldn’t freeze. A Bluegill police cruiser pulled up alongside me and the passenger window slid down.

Great.

“You dropped something back there,” the dark-haired man said, gesturing behind me on the sidewalk. Now that I saw his face, a memory registered. Roger Shelton. Only about four years ahead of me in school, I don’t remember ever exchanging a word with him.

And now I was in the same boat as the old lady and the kids on bikes.

I tried not to act guilty as I turned around and looked. There it was. A colorful Dairy Slide napkin decorating the concrete sidewalk about twenty steps behind me.

The window rolled up and the cruiser started forward, but I just knew that grumpy cop was watching me in his rearview mirror to make sure I went back and cleaned up my act.

Chapter Two

“Desert Island,” my sister said. “You’re stuck on a little patch of sand in the Pacific with either a sexy axe murderer or a priest.”

“I don’t think anyone uses an axe to murder people anymore,” I said. “That went out with the rotary telephone.”

“Pick one.”

This desert island game was my sister’s favorite. Ever since we were little, she’d enjoyed the fine art of making people choose between two impossible things. And she wouldn’t give up until she got an answer. This game was not my favorite. I preferred just telling people what they ought to do. If you give people a choice, they’ll screw up.

“Well?” Sheri pressed.

I glanced out the back window of the bait shop and pretended I was seriously considering the question. You have to humor someone who is normally a lovable petite blonde but who is currently a prisoner of her third pregnancy.

“Priest,” I answered. “I’d sleep better at night, and there’s always a chance I could win him over if we’re stuck there long enough.”

Sheri put her feet on a low shelf behind the counter and stretched her back. “I’m never letting a man touch me again.”

As I watched the fishing boats motor by on the broad river that flowed past the back door of my new clothing shop, I wondered if I could lure any of those handsome sportsmen to a deserted island. Dozens had gone by in the last five minutes, but I’m not greedy. I only need one.

On the third day of the fishing tournament in Bluegill, I’d only managed to bait in a few of the anglers. And they were looking for an available restroom. I couldn’t let them use the tiny bathroom in the apartment I’d carved out in the back of the shop. I didn’t want them discreetly averting their eyes at my stash of feminine products or trying out the department store moisturizer I’d overspent on. I should know better than to hit the makeup counter at Macy’s when I’m not feeling very good about myself. I had easy target written all over my face when I’d gone retail-therapy-shopping last week.

“I think I’d be better off being stuck with a highly-qualified psychic. She could give me great advice on what not to do just in case we ever got rescued. Starting with not pouring all my inventory money into this.” I pointed at the multiple racks of expensive outdoor clothing taking up most of the shop.

“Don’t give up, Shasta. It’s only been a few weeks, and you’ve sold some things. Right?”

“Five things. All under a hundred bucks,” I said.

“Someday a fisherman is going to walk through your doors looking for a two hundred dollar fishing vest. Then you can accessorize him with the waterproof jacket, all-weather boots, super-technical-fabric hat, genuine leather belt, and yarn-dyed flannel that every man wants.”

Sheri was an excellent cheerleader. She inherited the skill from my mother who was a cheerleader in high school and never gave it up. As a nurse, my mother cheered on her patients to cast off their catheters and crutches. As a mom, she thought her four children couldn’t possibly fail. I hoped she was right.

“I could make an outdoorsman look like he just walked out of a catalog,” I said hopefully.

“Especially if he has a good looking lab by his side,” Sheri said. “You should get a shop dog.”

I nodded. “Men like dogs. You’re on to something.”

“They also like beer, sandwiches, and bait. This shop was built on that business foundation, and you might want to embrace it while you wait for the local fashion sense to kick in. You don’t have much bait, but you’ve got other things a man wants. You should stand on the back deck, toss your hair, and advertise your goods.”

All little sisters hate it when their older sister is right, but it wasn’t a bad idea. I could roll a cooler of beer, a rack of chips, and maybe a few of the performance fabric fishing shirts outside where the passing anglers would be tempted to stop and look. It would be an easy way to get some cash in the register. And I needed cash.

“I’d go out there myself, but someone’s got to stay inside in case L.L.Bean calls and begs you to stop stealing their business.”

It was mid-April, and the weather prophets smiled on Bluegill, Michigan, for the early season fishing tournament. Shiny boats sat low in the water. They had sponsor stickers and oversized outboard motors. Their equally pimped-out pickup trucks dominated the boat ramp and outshone the locals all week. In the evenings, restaurants and bars were cleaning up with the extra take from happy guys who’d been lucky on the water.

I could use some of that luck.

The sun was shining, but a brisk wind combined with early season temperatures in the fifties made me think twice when I swung open the glass door. I closed it again and looked to my sister for sympathy.

“Poor Shasta,” she said. “I’ll hold the door for you while you roll stuff out.”

I couldn’t afford to be choosy or wimpy, so I muscled a small cooler, a flimsy rack, and a rolling cart of apparel across the warped lumber. I tied the corner of my sign securely so the wind wouldn’t prevent customers from seeing that I had plenty to offer.

My long blond hair stung my face, but I hoped it might catch someone’s attention. I was a desperate woman. I’d sunk my money and my pride into reinventing Aunt Flora’s former bait shop. She’d gone off to the great chain-smoking lounge in the sky, but her last words to me were a suggestion that mixed business with pleasure. “Catch yourself a good man while you’re at it,” she breathed out in a voice flavored by a million smokes, “if you can’t find a man in a bait shop, you just ain’t trying.”

I had no doubt Aunt Flora and the rest of the family knew I’d tried pretty hard to find a good man over the years. I began with a notable failure in high school when I thought a cute senior was asking me out but it turned out he was confused and actually wanted to go out with my sister. In his defense, we look a lot alike when she’s not six months pregnant.

After that high school mix-up, I scared away three boys in a row by asking them if they were sure they didn’t want my sister instead. Okay, one of them actually scared me away with his answer. After that, I stopped asking that question.

In college, I thought it would be a great idea to date men who were way outside my comfort zone. I was a small town girl looking for true love in three wrong places whose names are redacted blots in my memory. Those failures have been expunged from my record by time and their replacement by something much more embarrassing.

Moving to Dallas and staying there three years did not alter my odds in the romance department. The first breakup ranked high on the humiliation scale. Somewhere between redfaced and mortified. I had called my mother, gushing, to tell her that Avery was going to propose. I’d seen him go in the jewelry shop and he’d been acting very mysterious lately. Putting an announcement on her facebook page and changing her status to mother-of-the-bride-to-be was a mistake on my mother’s part, but it wasn’t her fault Avery was buying a necklace for the girl he’d been secretly seeing for three months.

The most recent failure still stung my pride when Aunt Flora signed her will and breathed her last. Even on her deathbed, I had no doubt she’d heard about the man who dumped me because he said he wanted a girlfriend who wouldn’t boss him around.

I told him where he could go. And that was the last piece of advice he got out of me.

So here I was, hawking overpriced outdoorsman apparel and state-minimum beer on the freezing deck of a bait shop in Michigan. I considered this my big chance to make an honest living, use my degree in merchandising, and find true love before I plunked down on the great fishing pier in the sky next to Aunt Flora.

I had to make a go of the outdoor apparel business because—and this I was almost afraid to admit even to myself—I didn’t know the first thing about fishing.

A parade of glitter-painted boats continued by, completely uninterested and nonplussed by my display of wares lining the aged dock. Maybe they didn’t need fishing apparel, but geez. You’d figure at least one guy on the boat might’ve forgotten his hat. Or his waterproof gloves. Or a cashmere-lined fishing jacket with a pocket for everything.

They observed the no-wake zone while totally ignoring me.

A glimmer of hope rolled out of the docks just upriver. Shiny and red, the Bluegill rescue boat had no fishing quota today. But I might see some action out of it anyway. If I flagged it down, I could convince whoever was on the boat to pull one of the sparkly out-of-town boats over to my dock and write them a ticket for a fashion violation. A handsome man who never realized how much a fish might appreciate genuine wool socks on its conqueror could be my catch of the day.

Of course I’d see that they let the guy off with a warning. I may be a capitalist, but I’m no robber-baron.

Sheri edged the door open a crack, just enough to talk to me without freezing her baby-bundle.

“If Mason’s on the rescue boat today, he’ll probably pull some jet-skier move and try to splash you.”

In a cost-saving measure, the Bluegill police and fire departments shared a large brick building and a boat. The boat had a red and blue police light on top and a water cannon on the front. Cops and firefighters alternated duty on the boat.

“He’d be aiming for you,” I said. “I’m the preferred sister. Not as bossy.”

Sheri slitted her eyes at me and I saw it coming. “Desert Island,” she began—

“Don’t. Do not make me choose between you and Mason. I promised Mom I’d be nice to both of you since your lives are so sad and lonely and all.”

Sheri tossed me a hat and pulled the door shut. I’d already succumbed to my-sister-is-right, so I jammed the hat on my head and stared down the fishing boats, willing one of them to pull over.

“You got a john in there?” The boat’s driver, wearing a red hat with CAPTAIN in stark white letters, did not appear to be a man interested in subtlety.

“He’s out to lunch,” I said. “But we’ve got cold beer.”

“I’ll just go in the lake.”

I tried not to imagine him cascading his relief over the side of the boat and fouling lovely Lake Huron, but it was too late.

“I swim in that lake,” I said.

“Not today. It’s colder than an ice fisherman’s ass.” He paused and stared at me. “Sure you ain’t got a john?”

I shook my head. “No john.”

He turned his Captain’s hat toward the giant gleaming toilet at the end of the channel.

Sheri nudged the door open again. “Maybe you need to put in a restroom.”

I leaned against the rough wooden siding and crossed my arms. “Don’t know what you’re talking about. That guy was looking for somebody named John. Haven’t noticed him in the crowd in my shop.”

Wind buffeted the door, but Sheri held it open enough to dispense advice. “Aunt Flora always had a porta-john. Think about it. Guys get lured in by the promise of a clean bathroom, and they walk out of here with a new wardrobe. Maybe that hat with the LED lights for night-time fishing.”

I sighed. “Or they just crap on me and leave.”

“Your luck could change,” Sheri said. I know she was trying to be encouraging, but my skills involving getting a man to stick around were less developed than a housecat’s ambition level.

Wind whipped around the back corner of the bait shop, flipped my hair into my eyes, and sent my hat flying across the deck. I chased it over ten planks and thought I had it when it got momentarily stuck under the picnic table. I leaned in and made a spectacular grab, whacking my knee and eyebrow at the same time, but it was too late. The breeze freed it from under the table, blew it off the edge, and gave it flight. It was a bucket-style waterproof hat with a broad canvas rim.

Very aerodynamic.

It sailed over the water and landed right on the open bow of the passing rescue boat. I didn’t look to see who was driving and didn’t wait for a response.

“Shit sandwich,” I said.

I headed for the door, sick of the cold and wind, and in no mood for putting up with my baby brother’s sense of humor. If I hurried, I’d get inside before the captain of the rescue boat would even notice the hat. I could live without the hat.

“I think this is yours.” The deep voice stopped me as I put one hand on the aluminum door-pull. It was not my brother, but it sounded familiar. I turned around slowly. Maybe I would be lucky and he would be the man Aunt Flora advised me to catch. An attractive man who would appreciate my assertiveness.

I held my breath. He was tall, dark, and…cranky. And I knew him.

Roger Shelton had one hand on the wheel, a police badge pinned neatly to his life jacket, and my hat swinging from his free hand. If he weren’t an officer of the law and technically above such things, he could’ve played keep-away with my hat and defeated me before we even started. His dark eyes drilled a hole through me and I pictured the trajectory going right through Sheri who stood helpfully on the other side of the door. Holding it shut against the wind and trapping me outside.

“Just toss it back here,” I said.

From his expression, it was obvious he’d watched me try to catch the stupid hat once. I don’t know if cops believe in second chances in general, but Roger Shelton sure didn’t show any outward signs of confidence in me.

He motored over and threw a line over one of my mooring posts. I tried not to back up, but it felt personal. Maybe everything tall, dark, and cranky did seemed personal. As if he personally wished you’d get the heck out of his patch of the planet.

The post creaked and rocked as Roger secured a line at the back of the boat and stepped onto the dock. Officially in my space. He held out the hat, but his look did not say, I rescued this for you, pretty lady, because I’m a happy servant of the people of Bluegill and fair damsels in particular. Instead, his face conveyed, I grabbed this damned thing before it littered the river and I had to take my gloves off to write you a big fat ticket.

At least I wasn’t getting a ticket. It bolstered my courage.

“Would you like a cold beer?” I asked, fully aware of my capacity to be asinine in the face of awkwardness. It seldom makes an improvement, but it does change the subject.

The vertical line between his eyes deepened. I remembered that perma-scowl now. It discouraged me and every other female I knew from considering the young officer dating material. I wondered briefly if he had ever married or dated in the almost seven years I’d been away. Maybe there was some woman somewhere who’d appreciate the caveman-esque simplicity of his hard face.

I shivered and realized he was still holding out my hat. Either he noticed my shiver, or he was just tired of holding the hat, because he reached over me and jammed it on my head. He had me by a foot, and I felt like a child being suited up for playing in the snow.

Not that playing in the snow would be any fun with Sergeant Scary.

“Thanks, Sergeant,” I said.

“Captain.”

Make that Captain Cranky.

There was nothing preventing him from turning on his cop-boots and boarding the cop-boat. But he continued to stare me down.

“I could use a hat,” he said.

Why didn’t he just steal mine when he had the chance? He could have sailed away with it five minutes ago and made a clean getaway in the overpowered rescue boat.

“Something that stays on in this wind,” he clarified. “And isn’t so…” he gestured at my hat with both hands.

“Girly?”

“Gilligan.”

“Gilligan was a survivor,” I said. “He toughed out a shipwreck. Proved himself in the face of adversity. Was a faithful buddy to the skipper.” I loved the re-runs of that show when I was a kid. Don’t ruin it for me, I thought.

“A black hat,” Roger said. Captain Cranky had a one-track mind.

The glass door bumped me in the butt as my sister pushed it open. “Come in here, Roger,” she said. She used her scolding-little-kids voice and gave me a you’ve-disappointed-me look.

Maybe she was right. We had a live paying customer in our clutches. But I doubted he’d be looking in the upscale outdoorsman section of the store. He had all the appearance of a public-payroll clearance rack shopper.

As my sister chatted up Captain Cranky—she did all the chatting—I tried to remember my impressions of him from my pre-college days. There wasn’t much. I was a senior when he slapped a few of my friends with under-age violations. I was lucky to be working at my Aunt Flora’s bait shop that night. Staying out of trouble on a summer’s night by selling worms to fishermen brave enough to take on the dark, buggy pier. It was during the annual Fish Frolic and the perch were in high season. I was no angel in high school, so it was a lucky escape for me. Roger had shown no mercy then and didn’t look like he would now.

Roger had probably been twenty-two, fresh out of the police academy, and looking to prove himself by going by the big book of violations. I snuck a look at his unrelenting profile as he weighed two black knit caps in his hands. The hats were identical, but maybe he thought one of them was more regulation.

“You should get safety orange,” I said. “Or yellow. Yellow is better. Makes it easier to find you on the lake in case you fall off your boat.”

The vertical between-the-eyes line was like a channel dividing his face. He didn’t appreciate my advice. I could just tell.

I left him to my sister and stepped out on the back deck, still hoping to catch a fisherman. Maybe someone would decide to tie up his big-investment boat and shop for some eye-catching fishing apparel. Maybe the man who would rescue me from dating disaster number twenty-three was baiting his hooks on one of the passing boats right now. I leaned on the railing and breathed in Bluegill, Michigan. A few months ago, I would never have believed I’d be back home working in Aunt Flora’s bait shop. If she could send me a message from the clouds, she’d probably tell me to go inside and put clearance stickers on my fancy-pants dreams.

Men wanted beer, bait, and a john. But I wasn’t giving up yet. I knew the upscale clothing market, even if my customers didn’t know they needed any, but I didn’t know a damn thing about bait.

A deck board creaked and Roger strode silently past me. He got on his boat without a word or a look, but he wore a safety yellow stocking cap pulled down over the deep creases of his forehead.

Chapter Three

When I was in high school, I had three best friends. My sister Sheri, a gangly girl down the street named Jenn, and Owen. Sheri has stuck to me like glue. Jenn now worked at the Supercuts at the Bluegill Plaza and was nagging me to come in and do something about my split ends. And Owen? He was coming home to Bluegill, too. The only man I know who can pull off gushing via text message, Owen had sent me the message over a month ago to say he was accepting the job as a pharmacist at the drugstore in Bluegill. We’d be together again.

Tall and blond, Owen was every girl’s crush in high school. He was attractive, smart, sensitive, and funny. Teachers loved him, he went to church, and he’d help you with your math homework. Although all the girls wanted him, he was mine. Not in the boyfriend sense. We didn’t see each other that way. He’d take me for a burger and listen to my problems but he never crossed the line into awkward. In my heart, I knew I could have him any time I wanted. I got plenty of mileage out of that knowledge any time another girl made me mad or jealous or teased me for being short.

We’d even made one of those foolish friendship pacts. If neither of us married by the time we were thirty, we’d go to the courthouse and stop by the humane society on the way home. We’d settle in with cats and crocheted afghans. Of course, we thought we’d be old at thirty when we made that deal. Now that we were closer to the cut-date…would he even remember our teenage deal?

Owen and I had kept in close contact since high school, and I was sure he understood me better than anyone except maybe my sister. He was coming by this morning, and he would understand my re-imagined shop and validate my dream of upscale merchandise. We’d reconnect and he’d encourage me. I knew it. And I’d have a friend in town now that we were both back to stay.

Of course we were coming home on slightly different terms. He was back because it was a lucrative job offer, and I was back for reasons I didn’t care to admit to anyone--a sagging career and a sadsack string of romances.

“Can’t believe he never married,” Sheri said.

“I never married, and we’re the same age,” I reminded her. I was feeling tender about my general lack of success.

“That’s different,” my sister said. “He’s a real catch. And making big bucks as a pharmacist now.”

It’s a law of the universe that you can’t fight with a pregnant woman and you sure won’t win a fight with your older sister, so I fluffed up the sale rack of fishing-themed t-shirts made of high-tech fabric. And still four times the price of a t-shirt at Walmart, even on sale.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Amie Denman lives in a small town in Ohio with her husband, sons, dog and cats. Known for her beach reads, Amie has published nine novels. She loves the outdoors, especially beaches, lakes, and oceans. Paddling her kayak or walking along the shore inspires her imagination. Curious by nature, Amie's been known to chase fire trucks on her bicycle and eavesdrop on conversations. She believes everything is fun, especially wedding cake, roller coasters, and falling in love.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
There is a vacant bait shop along the river on my morning walking route. It's for sale, and I've spent quality time imagining what I would do with it if I bought it! Shasta's shop is the product of my ramblings. I must confess that I do not fish--I just dream about people who do!
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
I love fiction in general, and romance in particular. If it's funny, even better. So, this book is a novel with plenty of humor and a satisfying romance. There's also a yummy cop. I love a man in uniform.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
I think dogs go with fishing, even though my family's Labrador is a poor swimmer and does not enjoy going out on our boat. He may be defective, but we love him. I knew I wanted a dog on this book cover because two lovable dogs are part of the story.

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