NOTE: THIS IS THE FIRST CHAPTER OF MY NEW SERIES. IT HITS ON JANUARY 2ND (NO PREORDERS) AND WILL ALLOW FOR A LOT OF CROSSOVERS
“Welcome to Moonstone Bay. We have eight hotels, fifteen bars and hundreds of shopping destinations. Where can I take you?”
I arched an eyebrow as I stared at the man standing next to what could loosely be described as a taxicab. He was handsome – in a work out four hours a day, five days a week sort of way – and his brown hair was a tad unkempt. Given the cut of his cheekbones and broad shoulders, the messy hair made him all the more appealing. Sure, the Hawaiian shirt and chinos tempered his sex appeal, but not by much.
Unfortunately for him I wasn’t in the mood for hot guys and flirty banter. All I really wanted was a bottle of Pepto-Bismol and a cold cloth for my forehead. The choppy ride to Moonstone Bay – my new island home – on the world’s smallest and most turbulence-prone airplane ever designed had been nothing short of vomit inducing.
“I’m going to the Moonstone Bay Lighthouse.” I shifted my bag so it rested on my larger suitcase, which thankfully rolled on wheels. If I had to lift it I knew I’d throw up … or maybe pass out due to the heat and humidity. That wasn’t the way I wanted to say “hello” to my new home.
“Really?” An eyebrow winged up on the taxi driver’s handsome face. “You’re Hadley Hunter, huh?”
I wasn’t sure if I should be surprised or impressed. “Am I your only recent transplant?”
The man shrugged. “We’re a tourist destination. That means we see a lot of new faces. Very few of those faces are permanent.”
I spared a glance for the sunny sky, sandy beach and lush foliage that filled the area surrounding Moonstone Bay’s small airport. It wasn’t an airport like the one I’d left from in Detroit. That had been a metropolitan airport, packed with stores, restaurants and terminals. No, the Moonstone Bay airport had only one terminal and two stores. You were either coming to or going from Moonstone Bay. There were no connecting flights.
“I see.” I forced a smile as I tucked a strand of my long black hair behind my ear. I could already tell the humidity was going to be murder on my tresses. It would soon become wider than it was long if I didn’t get a hand on decent hair care products. I didn’t give that due thought before rushing headlong into lunacy and uprooting my entire life to move to a place I’d never heard of and surrounding myself with people I’d never met.
Maybe I should go back. No one wants to deal with permanent summer hair, right?
“You seem a bit overwhelmed.” The man smiled as he grabbed my suitcase and loaded it into the back of the cab. The vehicle in question was actually a small bus, one of those you see in movies from the sixties and think are cute on first inspection – until you’re forced to sit on cracked vinyl seats and realize the air conditioning no longer works.
“I’m not overwhelmed.” Even though the words came easily to my lips I didn’t believe them. I hoped the man would be a different story. I was determined to meet this new adventure with a bold heart and open mind. I’m naturally snarky and prone to bouts of rampant complaining, so I wasn’t sure that was possible. I was going to give it my best shot, though. “I’m simply a bit sick to my stomach.”
“Ah.” The man nodded, recognition dawning. “You were on the morning flight, which means you were on the smallest plane that stops here. If I remember correctly, that plane makes the ride a bit … rocky.”
That was putting it mildly. “I think I’ll take the ferry next time.”
“If you have a weak stomach, that won’t help. The waters are choppy when you come in through the bay.”
“Well, great.” I meant the exact opposite. I’m the only person I know who’d pick a new home that promised continuous vomiting whenever I traveled to and from it. That was so … me.
“Yeah, you’re overwhelmed.” The man grinned as he extended his hand. “I’m Booker, by the way.”
I slowly accepted his hand. “Booker? Is that a first or last name?”
Booker bobbed his head and grinned. “Yes.”
Huh. Given the way he looked – half hot, half schlub – I guess I could expect nothing less. “It’s nice to meet you. I take it you’re the island taxi driver.”
“Among other things.” Booker ushered me to the passenger side of the small bus and opened the door. “Hop in. I’ll give you the ten-cent tour of our fine island on the way to the lighthouse.”
“I can’t wait.”
Booker was the chatty sort, which seemed to go with his outfit rather than his chiseled facial features. He didn’t bother looking both ways before pulling into non-existent traffic as he began his running commentary.
“You’ll find there’re very few vehicles on the island,” Booker explained, waving at an elderly woman on the sidewalk. “The island is only fifty square miles and the bulk of the population resides in the main city.”
“The island and the city are both named the same thing, right?”
Booker nodded. “Moonstone Bay.”
“It’s a unique name.”
“It’s a unique place.”
I’d landed only an hour before, so I could hardly argue with that. “So, I’m guessing the main industry is tourism.” I kept my eyes on the scenery flashing past the window. “Does that sustain the entire island?”
“Pretty much.” Booker’s smile was enigmatic. “There are farms on the far side of the island, so we have our own fresh produce and meat. Other than that, almost everything we do is in the name of tourism.”
“You don’t sound particularly happy about that.”
Booker pursed his lips. “I’m not unhappy with it. I’m merely … used to it. This is a new experience for you so it will probably take a bit of time to get used to island living. It’s not something most people embrace overnight.”
That was a strange statement. “Isn’t island living the same as living anyplace else … just on an island?”
Instead of agreeing, Booker barked out a laugh. “You’re cute.”
“Thanks … I think.”
“Island living isn’t like anything else you’ve ever experienced, I can promise you that.”
“You don’t even know me,” I pointed out. “I could be a wild person who jumps from island to island for all you know.”
Booker slid an appraising look in my direction. “I think you’re probably wild, but I doubt very much you’ve ever lived on an island.”
“Why is that?”
“Because you’re whiter than Maddie Park’s new bikini.”
“She owns a store on the main drag. That’s not important.”
“Then why did you say it?”
“Because I talk a lot and sometimes I simply say things to fill uncomfortable silences.”
“We’ve yet to have an uncomfortable silence.”
“Give it time. I always seem to find them.” Booker lifted his chin as we hit a busy part of town. “This is the main drag. It’s where you’ll find all the stores and restaurants. Even though we’re taking the scenic route, you’ll find that when we get to the lighthouse that you’re within walking distance of all of it.”
“I guess it’s good that I don’t have a car, huh?”
“You won’t need one. And they limit how many vehicles are allowed on the island,” Booker supplied. “I recommend getting a bicycle. It makes things easier. Maybe one with a little basket so you can transport groceries.”
That sounded nothing like me. “I’m pretty sure you’ll never see me on a bicycle with a basket.”
“Oh, come on,” Booker prodded. “I think you look exactly the type to have a basket, a pink bike helmet and one of those little horns to make sure people stay out of your way when you illegally ride on the sidewalks. By the way, that’s a big no-no. The Moonstone Bay Downtown Development Authority will fine you if you’re caught riding a bicycle on the sidewalks. That’s only allowed on the roads.”
“Good to know.”
“I can see you’re trying not to laugh, but I’m not exaggerating,” Booker said. “The fines are like five hundred bucks so … just keep it in mind.”
That sounded absolutely absurd given the state of the world today – you know, real crime and stuff – but he appeared serious enough that I filed away the tidbit for later. “I’ll remember what you said. I promise.”
“Good.” Booker was back to smiling. “So, this is the main drag, and pretty much everything you’ll need is here. That includes grocery and hardware stores. The bars are great and friendly to everyone. The same goes for the restaurants.”
“It looks so … colorful.” That was the only word I could think to describe it. From the kitschy T-shirt store with the pink awning to the tiki bar with colored surfboards dotting the walls, the entire main drag was a nuclear bomb of pastels. “Do you have regular seasons?”
“We’re an island in the Atlantic Ocean off the southern coast of Florida,” Booker noted. “We only have two seasons. Hot and hotter.”
“I guess that means your schedule is busy and busier.”
Booker nodded without hesitation. “That’s exactly right. Maybe you are geared toward island life after all.”
Somehow that sounded like an insult. “Give me the rundown,” I instructed, resting my hand on my stomach in an effort to settle it as I leaned forward. “Are there any crazy politicians? Eccentric residents? Overenthusiastic cops?”
Booker nodded. “Yes.”
“I didn’t realize I had to make a choice.”
“Good grief.” I heaved out a sigh. “I guess living on an island is like living in a fish bowl, huh? Everyone knows everyone’s business and all of those little things that drive you nuts about other people in big cities are magnified.”
“Or maybe people are the same everywhere – at least deep down – and you find those sorts of things wherever you go,” Booker suggested. “You, for example.”
My eyebrows flew up my forehead. “Me?”
“Word on the street is that you come to us from Detroit,” Booker explained. “I’m guessing you’ve seen your fair share of crime. That’s the stereotype, at least. Island folk deal with that all the time. People think we’re simple and quaint. People probably think you’ve witnessed a few murders and had your hubcaps stolen. How does that make you feel?”
“I’ve only seen one murder after a botched robbery outside of a casino and my hubcaps have been stolen three times.”
Booker merely shrugged. “Were they nice hubcaps?”
I ignored the question. “I think stereotypes are often wrong, but they exist for a reason.”
“Perhaps you’re right.” Booker flicked his turn signal and steered the bus toward the beach. “I knew your grandmother well. May was … interesting.”
I wasn’t sure what to make of the statement. “I never met her.”
Instead of being surprised, Booker merely pressed his lips together. “I know. She told me.”
“She told you?” I couldn’t contain my curiosity. “I’ve been trying to sort my way through this situation since I first got notification of her death three months ago. I had no idea she existed.”
“She knew about you.” Booker’s expression was hard to read as he remained focused on the road. “She told me about you before she died.”
“You were with her when she died?”
“Not at that exact moment,” Booker clarified. “May was a favorite daughter of the island. When she got sick – when we realized that she might not be able to fight off the cancer as easily as she did the old biddies at the senior center – we all made it a point to spend time with her.”
“Because you thought she needed help?”
“Because we didn’t want her to be alone,” Booker corrected. “No one should be alone at the end.”
“I guess.” I tugged a restless hand through my hair as I shifted on the seat. “I’m confused how she knew about me and yet I never knew about her.”
“Perhaps you should ask your mother.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.” Booker’s expression reflected remorse. “May mentioned that Emma died when she was close to crossing over, but I was hopeful that she was merely delirious. She didn’t talk about Emma much after she left the island.”
“I don’t know anything about her,” I said, licking my lips. It wasn’t in my nature to volunteer sensitive information to a guy I didn’t even know, but there was something about Booker’s quirky personality that appealed to me … and not in a Sex and the City way. More of a Friends way. I’m talking about Friends before they all started pairing off. Wait, what were we talking about again?
“You didn’t know your mother?” Booker furrowed his brow. “But … I don’t understand.”
That made two of us. “My mother died giving birth to me.”
“Oh.” Booker’s expressive face flooded with sympathy. “I didn’t know that. I always thought Emma ran off and lived happily ever after … or at least as much as was possible. It makes me sad to realize she’s been gone all these years and I didn’t even know it.”
I took a moment to give Booker another probing stare. He looked to be my age, maybe a few years older. He certainly wasn’t old enough to have hung around with my mother when she lived on Moonstone Bay. “Did you know my mother?”
“Of course not.” Booker answered almost immediately. He seemed sincere, yet there was something off about the response, something I couldn’t quite identify. “She and my mother were friends.”
“Really?” I forced myself to relax a bit. “Maybe I could talk to her once I’m settled. I don’t know anything about my mother except that she was married to my father and they were looking forward to having me. That’s what my father told me, anyway.”
“I wish that was possible, but my mother passed on some time ago.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“I was sorry, too.” Booker forced a smile for my benefit. “As for your mother, I’m sure I can come up with names of a few people who knew her. They’ll want to meet you because … well … just because.”
“Because of my grandmother?”
“She was beloved around here.”
“And my mother?”
Booker shrugged as he pulled into a long driveway. I saw the lighthouse, white brick walls with red accents and a fancy blue roof reaching into the sky offsetting the lovely beach tableau stretching out behind it. “Your mother was before my time, but I believe she was beloved, too.”
“Then why did she leave?”
“Island life isn’t for everyone.” Booker flashed a toothy grin. “But it’s the only way for some people. I have a feeling you might be one of them.”
Even though I found him a bit odd, I couldn’t help but return the smile. “What makes you say that?”
“Because you’re here.” Booker stopped the bus in front of the lighthouse. “This was your grandmother’s home for her entire life. It was your mother’s home for the first nineteen years of her life. Now it’s your home.”
“You seem to know a lot about my mother despite the fact that she was older than you.”
“It’s a small island. Gossip spreads like mustard on a ham sandwich.”
I tilted my head to the side, dumbfounded. “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that saying before.”
“Then you haven’t been hanging with the cool kids.” Booker put the bus into park and killed the engine, his eyes bright as they caressed the lighthouse’s bright façade. “I’m glad you’ll be staying here. It’s been sad to see the place so dark and quiet the past three months.”
“Yeah, well, I wasn’t sure I was going to come at all,” I admitted. “When I got the letter … well, let’s just say I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I had no idea I had a grandmother. For some reason I always thought my mother was alone in the world.”
“Why did you think that?”
“My father knew very little about her, and apparently she never volunteered information.”
“Maybe she thought she would have more time.”
“Maybe.” I pressed the heel of my hand to my forehead as I reached for the door handle. “Well, thanks for the ride. I appreciate the tour.”
Booker snorted. “You’re a poor actress, but I appreciate the effort.” Instead of waiting for me to collect my luggage and head toward the lighthouse, Booker pocketed his keys as he exited the vehicle. “Would you like some help?”
Of course I would. I didn’t want to get a reputation for being needy, though. “I’m sure I can manage.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“I … can figure it out.” I struggled with the answer, but managed to muster a smile. “It’s just a lighthouse, right?”
Booker snorted, legitimately amused. “Yeah. How about I give you a tour and we’ll see if you still feel the same way? How’s that sound?”
It sounded like the best offer I’d had all day. “It sounds like you can carry the big suitcase.”
“It would be my pleasure.”
12/20/2017 08:46:39 am
Wow! Can't wait too get this! Looks like an awesome beginning...!
12/20/2017 09:13:12 am
I enjoyed reading the first chapter, now I can't wait to read the rest. It already looks like Hadley is in for a few surprises about her family, the lighthouse and especially Booker. Looking forward to January 2nd.
12/20/2017 11:58:44 am
Well that was quite the Taxi ride, I can't wait to read more.
12/20/2017 04:23:32 pm
So excited!!! I love new series!
12/21/2017 03:47:12 pm
I love it. I can not wait to read it. It is going to be a great series.
1/12/2018 10:50:23 am
I really enjoyed Witchin USA! Fun new series, may be my new favorite.
5/9/2020 05:36:40 am
Does it mean that the next chapters wouldn't be free? I am so excited to see the first chapter of "Witchin USA" because I can feel that there are so many things to look forward right now. The story will soon unfold, and I am pretty sure that the upcoming parts of the story would be so exciting. This one makes me excited as I know that you tried to be as creative as possible to come up with this story! Though I don't want to set a higher expectation on this matter, I am sure that you can pull it off!
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When I was a kid, I was torn between whether or not I was going to grow up and be the Incredible Hulk or Wonder Woman. I flirted with being a Jedi Knight for awhile, but I wasn't up for the intense travel associated with the gig. In my teens, I settled on being a writer -- although I had no idea the effort that would entail.