It’s that time again. Time to try out something new. Julie Ortolon is another Loopie. She writes contemporary romance and is directly responsible for dragging me into the brave new world of self publishing. The sample today is from her book, Falling For You, book one of the Pearl Island Trilogy.
The enthusiasm that had kept Rory up half the night faltered when she reached the Liberty Union National Bank. Stepping through the glass doors framed in polished brass, she tried not to gape at the opulent lobby. Mahogany paneling rose twenty feet to the coffered ceiling. To one side of the entrance, leather sofas bracketed Oriental rugs, and financial magazines lay in regimented order on antique coffee tables.
A low hum of voices drew her attention in the opposite direction, where tellers sat behind a long counter, waiting on customers. Two of the tellers she recognized as classmates from high school, girls who’d gone on to college and now worked at a job she couldn’t even fathom. The thought of all those numbers they dealt with so effortlessly made her stomach clench.
Between customers, they bent their heads together and laughed over some bit of gossip, then glanced toward an older woman with mocha skin and jet-black hair smoothed into a French twist. When the older woman looked up, the tellers instantly sobered, like schoolgirls spotting their teacher.
Rory noticed the older woman’s desk guarded a hallway lined with closed doors. Chance’s office would probably lie behind one of those doors. Never one to let intimidation hold her back for long, she took a deep breath and crossed the lobby. Her rubber-soled deck shoes squeaked on the marble floor, making her cringe. She’d worn her tour guide uniform since she planned to go straight to work afterward. Galveston was a casual community and she’d never felt out of place wearing shorts—until now.
“Excuse me,” she said in a subdued voice when she reached the desk. “I’m here to see Oliver Chancellor.”
The older woman looked up and took in Rory’s attire over the tops of reading glasses. “Is he expecting you?”
“Yes, of course, I’m Rory, I mean—” She took a breath and slowed down. “I’m Aurora St. Claire.”
The woman ran a finger down a list of names. “I don’t see you. What time was your appointment?”
Rory squirmed. “I didn’t exactly make an appointment. But I did tell him I’d be coming in today.”
“Regarding?” The woman arched a black brow.
“He’ll know,” Rory said, hoping he remembered.
“Hmm.” The woman’s lips compressed. “I’ll see if he’s available.”
“Thank you.” Rory offered a smile that seemed to go unnoticed.
As the woman picked up the phone and spoke in a hushed voice, Rory tucked her hair behind her ears and wondered if she should have pulled it back. People who worked at real jobs always seemed to have a secret set of standards she could never quite grasp. Looking about the lobby, at the framed portraits of men with dark suits and serious expressions, she suddenly felt like a bit of flotsam that had been tossed by a storm onto a manicured lawn.
She turned to see Chance striding toward her and her heart skipped a beat in surprise. He looked quite fashionable—and intimidating—in an olive-colored suit. Yet something in his welcoming smile made her nervous stomach relax.
“You came,” he said. “I wondered if you would.”
“Yes, of course. I said I would, and here I am.” She spread her arms to either side.
“So I see.” His gaze swept downward, toward her legs, then darted away. “Perhaps you’d, um—” He cleared his throat. “Care to step into my office.”
“Certainly.” Her enthusiasm returned and tangled with her nerves as she followed him down the hall. She caught her breath when she passed through the door, for the room was every bit as grand as the lobby, but on a smaller scale. “Wow,” she said. “What a great office.”
“Thanks,” he said from behind her. She turned and saw him smile as he pushed his wire-rimmed glasses higher on his nose. He really was cute, in a scholarly sort of way. Except for his mouth. His mouth wasn’t cute at all. It was well defined, full, and… sensual. The kind of mouth that put thoughts into a girl’s head.
Glancing about, she took in the massive desk, the wet bar set discreetly within the custom-built cabinets, and an oil painting of the beach at sunset. “You must love working here.”
“Why do you say that?”
“You know, the office, the bank, everything.” Her gesture took in the whole room. “God, it must have been wonderful to grow up knowing you had all this waiting for you. You know”—she laughed and waved her hand—“instead of being like me and wondering what the heck you would do with your life.” When he just frowned as if confused, she clasped her hands to keep them still.
“Can I get you anything?” He nodded toward the coffeepot on the bar.
“No, nothing. I’m fine.”
“Well, then, have a seat.” He gestured toward a pair of chairs that sat on either side of an end table and lamp that gave the room a homey feel. “I assume you’re here to talk about Pearl Island?”
“Yes!” Trying to contain her excitement, she took a seat in the closest chair and waited for Chance to sit in the other. “I, we, what I mean is, Adrian, Allison, and I talked about it and they agreed with my idea. Well, actually, they didn’t agree, but they didn’t object to me looking into it.”
“ ‘It’ being… ?” Chance prompted, smothering a smile.
“What?” She blinked at him. “Oh! Sorry,” she laughed. “I got ahead of myself.”
He watched, enthralled, as energy sparkled in her blue eyes. How could one person contain so much joy for life?
“We want to turn the house on Pearl Island into a bed-and-breakfast.”
With her face distracting him, the words took a second to sink in. But when they did, the enormity of such a project—the complications, cost, possible solutions, potential income—clicked through his mind. “I assume you’ve looked into the logistics behind something like this?”
“Not yet,” she admitted. “I mean, I’ve thought about it off and on over the years, but more as a dream, not something that could actually come true. Then, when I saw you putting up that sign, I just knew it was meant to be!” She gestured with her hands and hit the lamp on the table between them.
“Oh!” She gasped as they both grabbed the lamp. When it was settled, she folded her hands in her lap. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay.” He chuckled. “At least it wasn’t me knocking something over.”
His smile faded, though, as he absorbed her lack of business expertise and weighed it against her obvious passion. Passion, he knew, could make the difference between a new business succeeding or failing. But it was an uncertain element, and best left out of the equation.
“Aurora,” he said, leaning forward to brace his forearms on his thighs. “You do realize that what you’re proposing will be impossible to pull off without a great deal of financial backing and research.”
“Yes, of course.” Her expression showed the first signs of doubt. “But I figured you could help me out with the money part. As for the research…” She glanced away. “I’ll think of something.”
He cocked his head. “What do you mean, you’ll ‘think of something’?”
She shrugged. “It’s just that I’ve never been very good at that sort of thing. Researching, I mean. I guess I could get Adrian and Alli to help me some. Maybe.”
He watched her shoulders slump. “I don’t understand.”
“I’m not good at analytical stuff.” She leaned forward and a scent, like exotic flowers washed by the rain, drifted to him. Subtly, he breathed it in as she lowered her voice. “You know, reading up on things, filling out paperwork.” Her gaze met his and the anxiety he saw in her eyes confused him. “I’m not stupid or anything. I’m just… a bit slow… at certain things.”
“I see,” he said, even though he didn’t see at all. There didn’t seem to be a single thing “slow” about Aurora St. Claire. She’d always struck him as being very bright, from her quick wit to her shining personality. “Unfortunately, research is the first step in forming a business plan. You’ll need to do that before you even think of applying for a loan.”
“Oh.” Her shoulders slumped a bit more and her eyes beseeched him. “I don’t suppose you’d know someone who could help me.”
The longing he sensed reached right inside him and grabbed hold. Logically, he knew he should discourage her from this wild idea, but logic had nothing to do with the way he felt when he looked into her hopeful blue eyes. “I could probably help you some. Point you in the right direction, at least.”
“You could?” Her whole face brightened. “Oh, Chance, that would be great.” She laid a hand on his arm and the contact sent a streak of awareness through his system.
“I, um…” He struggled to think straight, but every breath filled him with her fragrance. “What I mean is, Ron and Betsy McMillan, who own the Laughing Mermaid Inn, do their banking here. Maybe I could give them a call and ask for advice on where you should start.”
“Do you really think they’d help?”
“I don’t see why not.” His gaze moved to her smile and he wondered if her lips tasted as good as she smelled. “Is there a number where I can reach you?”
“Oh, yes, of course.” Leaning back, she fumbled through the mesh bag she carried as a purse. “Do you have something I can write on?”
He rose and retrieved a notepad from his desk, then took a breath to clear his head. “Here.” He turned to hand it to her and found that she’d followed him. Taking the pad, she bent over his desk and began to write. He tried not to notice how the shorts rose up to show the backs of her thighs. God, she had great legs.
“Here you go.” She straightened and handed him the pad. “That’s the mobile number for the tour-boat office. We usually turn it off when we’re out on the water but you can leave a message and I’ll call you back.”
“Sure.” He frowned as he remembered the muscle-bound boat driver and wondered if they did more than work together. “Why don’t you take my card, so you’ll know how to reach me?”
Taking the card he offered, she ran her thumb over the gold print and cream linen paper. “Nice card,” she said quietly.
“Thanks. I’ll, um”—he swallowed hard as she caressed the raised type that spelled out his name—“be in touch with you as soon as I’ve talked to Ron and Betsy.”
When she glanced up, the space between them seemed to shrink. “I can’t thank you enough. You have no idea what this means to me.”
“You’re welcome,” he said, as heat hummed through his veins. “Although maybe you should wait until you’ve talked to the McMillans to thank me.” Needing some space to cool off, he moved to the door to show her out. “You may not like what they have to say. Starting a business is a huge undertaking.”
“I know. Whatever they say, though, I appreciate your help.”
He opened the door, bumping it against the back of his shoe.
She extended her hand. “And thanks for not laughing at me, even though I know you probably wanted to.” She wrinkled her nose, and he noticed she had freckles, a light dusting of them on the bridge of her nose.
“Not at all.” He took her hand, intending to shake it, but wound up standing there, simply holding it.
“Well,” she said, seeming perfectly comfortable with her hand in his, their bodies almost touching in the confines of the doorway.
“Yes.” He admired the lively blue color that danced in her eyes. “Well.”
“I guess I should be going.” She took a step back, bumped into the doorjamb, and laughed.
“Careful!” He laughed also, and reached toward her head. “Don’t hurt yourself.”
“I’m fine.” A pink blush stained her cheeks. “Just clumsy.”
“That’s probably my fault. I didn’t realize it was contagious.”
“If it is, you’re in trouble.” She wrinkled her nose again, and he had the wild impulse to kiss those fascinating freckles. Or maybe her mouth. Definitely her mouth. Man, it was gorgeous, so ripe and full-lipped. The red color appeared natural, not from cosmetics. In fact, she wasn’t wearing any cosmetics. “I really do have to go.”
“Okay,” he said.
“I guess I’ll hear from you later?” She stepped safely into the hall this time. “As soon as I talk to the McMillans.”
“Okay, then.” She waved and took a few steps backward before she turned and headed across the lobby. His gaze followed her all the way to the door, mesmerized by the spring in her stride and those long, bare legs.
The moment she disappeared, though, doubt raised its head. He hoped his father wouldn’t take offense at his offering to help a descendant of Marguerite Bouchard buy Pearl Island. He knew his father wanted to give John first right to buy the place back, but so far the man had showed no interest in doing so. Rumor had it John LeRoche had fallen into some serious financial difficulties since he’d put the house up as collateral.
Those rumors were almost enough to make Chance wonder if Pearl Island really was a good-luck charm—that is, if he was the type to believe in magic and ghosts.
I was going to post two samples today but I’m spilling one over to tomorrow in order to take a moment here to ask a favor. I’m sure all of us have had the ugliness of cancer touch our families and loved ones. I lost my father to that horrid disease 18 yrs ago and not a day goes by that I don’t miss him terribly. I used to sit with him through long days and nights in the hospital, marvelling at the fact that he never gave up hope, never stopped fighting until the very end.
There’s a little guy putting up a brave fight now and he apparently checks his facebook page every day, thrilled to find new posts from strangers all over the country/world giving him support and hope. Please take a few moments to follow this link: http://www.facebook.com/FightOnJackson and just say hello. Tell him where you’re from and let him know there are people out there cheering him on.
And Phoebe, I promise I’ll put you up tomorrow *s*