Today it is my pleasure to welcome New York Times bestselling author Shirley Jump to HJ!
Hi Shirley, Welcome to HJ!
What would you say are the defining characteristic of your novels?
Funny, I was just thinking about this yesterday myself! I’d say it’s the emotional connection. As a reader, I need that in order to invest my time in reading a book, regardless of genre. I want to care, and I want to make my readers care about my characters.
Are you a plotter or a panster? Tell us a little bit about your writing process.
I’m a little of both! I write the first three chapters totally blind, with no idea what is going to happen. Then I sketch out a very rough idea of what might happen in the book, and then I just write, never looking back at that plan I had. Sometimes it turns out as planned, sometimes it doesn’t.
Let’s talk about your newest release: The Sweetheart Rules
If you had to summarize the book for the readers here…
It’s about two struggling single parents who both need a second chance in their lives. Diana thinks she has it all together, until her past comes back to haunt her. Mike is a Coast Guard mechanic who has struggled to be a good dad, but when his ex leaves his two little girls with him for the month, he realizes he has a lot of mistakes to make up for. When he sees Diana again, he wonders if maybe one of the mistakes he made was letting her go.
Please tell us about the characters in your book.
Diana Tuttle is the sister of Olivia (from THE SWEETHEART BARGAIN). She’s a single mom and a veterinarian, who gives off the image of perfection, but at a terrible personal cost. Mike Stark, the Coast Guard Lt. who had a one-night stand with Diana six months ago, has never believed in settling down or being a family man, until he begins to crave the life that Diana has.
In the background are the Sweetheart Sisters, some meddling grannies who do some matchmaking to bring together Diana and Mike.
What scene did you have the most fun writing? Why?
There are so many! Especially the scenes with the Sweetheart Sisters. They’re so much fun! But I really loved writing this scene with Diana and Mike:
“You are a great mother,” he said. The kind he wished he’d had. One who got involved, found a way to connect with her child, encourage his dreams, and let him know he was heard and noticed and loved.
“I wish everyone agreed with you about that.” Her mouth drew tight, and she let out a sigh, one that said whatever subject she was avoiding was a hard one, and not one she wanted to share. “Anyway, just find out what you have in common with the girls.”
He snorted. “They like Barbies and horsies. Not exactly my kind of thing.”
“Dig a little deeper, Mike,” Diana said, her hand on his arm again, so warm and right, he swore it had left an imprint. “The connection is there if you try hard enough to find it.”
“Is it still there?” he asked, his mind on the mesmerizing woman before him, who could make the worst of his worries and stresses disappear with one simple touch. He wanted more of that—no, craved it—and couldn’t let her go. Not yet. “The connection?”
“I think so. But to keep it there, you have to work hard. It’s like a line from a ship to a dock. If you don’t tend the line, it will fray and break, and you’ll be set adrift.”
He’d been adrift, it felt like, for a long, long time. And for the first time in years, Mike had no idea where he wanted to go, or how to get there. All those straight lines he lived his life by seemed to blur in his vision right now. If he could just get back to Alaska, to his job and his crew, maybe then he’d find those lines again.
But at what cost? He looked through the glass again and saw two little girls out there who needed a strong parental figure in their lives.
They needed a dad. They needed him. The problem was, he had no idea how to be what they needed, or if he was too late.
“What do you do if the line is already broken?” he asked Diana.
She cupped his cheek and gave him a small, soft smile. “You tie another one.”
If you get stuck/have writer’s block, is it normally when trying to write a certain scene? (For example, a harder moment between the protags, or opening chapter) (please share a snippet of that scene from this book)
There’s a couple scenes where Mike is really struggling to connect with his daughters. Those were hard to write, because I’ve always been a pretty hands-on parent, so I had to imagine what it would be like if I hadn’t been. This is a part of one of those scenes:
Mike thought of all the books he had read as a kid, the ones that he had escaped into after his father died, and on those dark and scary nights when his stepfather was drinking and his mother was crying. Stories of adventures and pirates, faraway lands and damsels in distress. He still kept a book or two in his locker, something to while away the downtime on the base. Now it was more likely to be a crime thriller or a story of espionage, but still the same themes of faraway lands and bigger-than-life heroes. “Tomorrow, we are going to the store and buying as many books as you two want. Okay?”
“As many as we want?” Jenny asked, one brow arched with suspicion. “You mean it?”
He nodded. “First thing tomorrow. I promise.”
Jenny gave him a tentative smile, the smile of a kid who had learned not to trust in promises. “Okay.”
Ellie danced Teddy on her belly. “We’re gonna get princess books and horsie books and kitty books and—”
“All kinds of books,” Mike said, then turned back to his eldest. Though only a few feet separated them, it felt as if she was on another continent. “What kind of books do you like, Jelly Bean?”
Jenny’s forehead wrinkled. “Who’s Jelly Bean?”
“You are. When you were born you were so tiny, just a little over five pounds, and all red and wrinkly. I told your mom I thought you looked like a jelly bean because you practically fit in the palm of my hand.” He held out his hand to show her. “So I started calling you Jelly Bean.”
“I don’t remember that.” Jenny gave him a doubtful look. “Jasmine never called me that, either.”
“What about me, Daddy? Was I a jelly bean, too?” Ellie pounced on his chest, and he let out an oomph.
“You weren’t a jelly bean at all,” he said, giving her nose a tap. “At least by the time I saw you. You were three months old then.”
Three months old. What had kept him from the birth of his second child? What mission could possibly have been more important? He couldn’t remember now, and that made him angry at himself for finding anything else in the entire world more important than these two girls. He’d probably end up buying stock in American Airlines, but somehow, he was going to be back for their school plays and high school graduations and everything else that mattered in the years that lay ahead.
“That’s why we call you Elephant,” Jenny said, climbing off her bed and coming to stand beside Ellie. “Cuz you were a big baby.”
Ellie pouted. “I was not. I was cute and wittle. Mommy said so.”
“And ornery, don’t forget that.” Jenny grinned.
Ellie stuck her tongue out at Jenny, then turned to Mike. “What’s ornery?”
“It’s what they call determined kids.” He gave her a grin. “And that describes you to a T, Ellie May.”
She cuddled closer to her father and rested her head on his shoulder, and something melted in Mike’s chest. This was what mattered in life. He glanced down at her dark brown head and thought, no, this was the only thing that mattered.
Who would you cast in the role of your characters if your book was optioned for a movie?
Viggo Mortenson and Diane Layne. Love both of those actors!
What are you currently working on? What other releases do you have planned in 2014?
I just finished up the next Sweetheart Sisters book, THE SWEETHEART SECRET, which is out in September of 2014. It’s Doc Harper’s story, and features an unexpected woman from his past, who exposes a secret about the good doctor.
Where can readers get in touch with you?
My website: www.ShirleyJump.com
Thank you for stopping by HJ!
GIVEAWAY: 2 print copies of THE SWEETHEART RULES
To enter Giveaway: Please complete the Rafflecopter form and post a comment to this Q: Have you ever been a matchmaker or had someone set you up on a blind date? (I was set up on a blind date once and it went TERRIBLE. It was the brother of my sister’s boyfriend and we didn’t get along at all).
One toddler meltdown in the middle of Walmart and Lieutenant Mike Stark, who had battled raging winter storms in the violent, mercurial Bering Sea to pluck stranded boaters from the ocean’s grip, had to admit he was in over his head. Mike stood between a display of “As Seen on TV” fruit dehydrators and a cardboard mock-up of a NASCAR driver hawking shaving lather, and watched his own child dissolve into a screaming, sobbing, fist-pounding puddle of tantrum.
“I want it now!” Ellie punched the scuffed tile floor and added a couple of kicks for good measure. “Now, Daddy. Now, now, now!”
Mike looked over at Jenny and gave her a help-me smile. “Do something. Please.”
Jenny shrugged and turned toward the shaving cream. “That’s your department, dude.”
When did his oldest daughter get so cold and distant? For God’s sake, she was eight, not eighteen. On the outside she was all kid, wearing a lime-green cartoon character tank top and ragged tan shorts, her dark brown hair in a long ponytail secured with a thick pink elastic. Ellie had opted for denim shorts and a Sesame Street tee that made her look cute and endearing.
Except when she was pitching a fit.
A mother at the other end of the aisle, whose blonde-haired, blue-eyed toddler son sat prim and polite in the child seat of her cart, shot him a look of disapproval. Then she whipped the cart around the corner. Fast. As if tantrums were contagious.
“Give it to me!” Ellie’s voice became a high-pitched siren, spiraling upward in range and earsplitting capabilities. “Now!”
“No, Ellie,” he said, aiming for patient, stern, confident. The kind of tone the parenting books recommended. Not that he’d read a parenting book. His education about how to be a father was mostly the drive-by kind—meaning once in a while he skimmed the forty-point headlines on the cover of Parenting magazine. “I told you—”
“I don’t care! I want it! I want it! Buy it, Daddy. Please!”
Across from him, Jenny shot a look of disdain over her shoulder, then went back to mulling men’s shaving lather. Clearly, she wasn’t going to be any help.
Not that Mike could blame her. On a good day, Ellie was an F5 hurricane. When she was tired and hungry and in desperate need of the third new stuffed animal of the week, she was a three-foot-tall nuclear explosion in Keds. One most people ran from, but Mike, being the dad, was supposed to step in and deal with.
The trouble? He had no idea how to handle his daughter. He could count on one hand the number of times he’d seen his kids since they started walking and talking. It wasn’t something he was proud of, and in the long list of regrets Mike Stark had for the way he had lived his life up till now, being a sucky father topped the list.
Now he had thirty days to change that, and if he was smart, he’d start by laying down the law, being the stern parental figure, who didn’t put up with this temper tantrum crap. Yeah, take a stand, be a man, set an exam—
“Daddy! Please!” Ellie’s raging fit ramped up another level—more fist-pounding, more kicking, and then she released the shriek that could be heard ’round the world. Several shoppers turned around and stared. “I neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed—”
“Here,” Mike said, yanking the stuffed animal off the endcap display and thrusting it at Ellie’s flying fists. Take it, please, and just stop that screaming before my head explodes. “But that’s the last time.”
Uh-huh. Just like the toy he bought this morning and the two he bought yesterday had been the last time, too. Not to mention the cookies before dinner and the pizza for breakfast he’d caved to. No more. He was going to have to take a stand before Ellie became a spoiled brat.
In an instant, Ellie turned off the screaming fit and scrambled to her feet, grinning and clutching the cream-colored bear to her chest like a prize. A toothy grin filled her face and brightened her big blue eyes. “Thank you, Daddy. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
When her little voice came out with the extra lilt on the end of Daddy, it was all Mike could do to keep from scooping Ellie up and handing her the world on a plate. “You’re welcome, Ellie.”
Jenny shot him a look of disgust, then marched over to the cart and plopped her hands on the bar. “Come on. We need peanut butter.”
She sounded so grown-up that, for a second, Mike had to remind himself he was the one in charge, the adult. Then he glanced at his triumphant preschooler, who had just reinforced her belief that tantrums brought results. Okay, the adult figurehead, at least.
Why was it that he could take apart a Sikorsky MH-60 helicopter, work his way through the complexities of the engines, rotary, and hydraulic systems, figure out the problem, and put it all back together again, but he couldn’t manage a three-year-old child?
“If you give her what she wants all the time, she’s just going to be a brat,” Jenny said as they rounded the corner and headed toward the market side of the store. “You do know that, don’t you?”
“Of course I do. Who do you think is the parent here?”
Her arched brow answered the question. “Peanut butter’s this way.” She shifted the cart to the left, one wheel flopping back and forth like a lazy seal.
He bit back a sigh. What did he expect? He’d come home on leave to see the kids, only to have his ex dump the girls in his lap and tell him she was going on an extended vacation and they were his problem for the next month. The welcome mat to Jasmine’s place didn’t include him, nor was he going to leave his kids in that dump Jasmine owned, so he’d packed up the girls and taken them to his friend Luke’s old house, vacant since Luke had moved in with his fiancée, Olivia, next door.
The kids hadn’t wanted to leave their house in Georgia, or their neighborhood, or their rooms, but Mike had taken one look at Jasmine’s house and decided there was no way his girls were spending another night in that run-down trailer masquerading as a home. Last time he’d been here—heck, six months ago—Jasmine had been living in a rental house on the south side of Atlanta, a rental house Mike was still sending his ex a monthly check to finance. At some point, she’d moved to that hellhole, and when he’d asked, she’d refused to say why.
No way in hell was he going to leave his kids in that tornado bait for one more second. But he’d underestimated what he needed to feed, clothe, and entertain two young girls, which had brought him here, to the fifth level of hell, also known as grocery shopping on senior citizen discount day. In Rescue Bay, Florida, with two kids who barely knew him and barely liked him, when he’d expected to pop in and visit Ellie and Jenny for a few days, then head for a secluded beach at St. Kitts with a buxom stewardess who had promised to “forget” her bikini top. The only thing that could make this worse was—
Diana Tuttle’s surprise raised her voice a couple octaves. He turned around, and when he did, his body reacted with the same flare of desire as it had every time he’d seen Diana, ignoring the memo from his brain that Diana was the exact opposite of the kind of woman he wanted.
He hadn’t seen, talked to, or e-mailed the veterinarian in six months. Not since the night he’d left her sleeping in her bed, taking the coward’s way out of ending things between them. Other than a scribbled note he’d left on her kitchen table, he’d had no other contact with her.
From the minute he had met Diana, it had been too easy, too quick, to pretend he was a stay-in-place, dinners-at-the-family-table kind of guy. She had a way of wrapping him in that world, like the mythological sirens that made sailors abandon their ships, and he’d forget reality for a little while.
The reality that he was a crappy father who lacked staying power, and was in no shape to be someone’s depend-on-anything. Especially right now.
“Daddy?” Ellie asked. “I’s hungry.”
“Okay,” he said, but his attention stayed on Diana’s wide green eyes, filled with a combination of surprise and anger.
He’d known, of course, that he would see her if he came back to Rescue Bay. In such a small town, they were bound to run into each other. Mike had convinced himself that if he saw her, he’d mumble a quick hello, then move on. Forget.
Yeah, not so much.
Diana still looked as beautiful as he’d remembered. No, even more so. Her shoulder-length blond hair, so often in a ponytail, hung loose around her shoulders, longer than he remembered, dancing above the bare skin with a tease that said, I can touch this and you can’t. The blue floral dress she wore scooped in an enticing V in the front, then hugged tight at her waist before spinning out in a bell that swirled around her knees and drew his attention to long, creamy legs accented by strappy black sandals and cardinal-red polish on her toes. In the few weeks he’d spent with her, he’d never seen Diana in a dress. Jeans, yes, shorts, yes, but never anything like this, and a flare of jealousy burst in his chest for whoever the lucky guy was who’d get to see her like this. Sweet, sexy, and feminine.
Then he reminded himself that this sweet, sexy, feminine woman also had a sharp side that could level a man in seconds.
“What are you doing here?” Diana asked.
He started to stutter out an answer, but Jenny beat him to it. “We’re bonding,” Jenny said with a touch of sarcasm most kids didn’t master till puberty kicked in.
“Bonding?” Diana asked with a little gust of disbelief. “You.”
It wasn’t a question. Still, the word made him wince a little. Maybe because the truth stung.
“We’re just grocery shopping. I’m staying out at Luke’s for a few weeks, with my daughters.” He gestured toward Jenny, who gave him another of her scowls, this one saying, Please don’t think I’m with him, and then toward Ellie, who still wore her look of tantrum triumph. His youngest daughter danced a circle in the aisle with her teddy partner.
“Oh. Well. Nice to see you again.” Diana gave him a thin-lipped smile, the kind people give to relatives they tolerate only because of the DNA connection, then turned away. The little basket on her arm was filled with a single package of chicken, a single loaf of bread and four of those frozen dinner things. It screamed alone on a Sunday night.
Something in his chest caught. The same thing that had caught inside him the first time he saw her, six months ago, when she’d been sitting on the floor of a run-down dog kennel, covered in soapy water, puppies, and smiles. By the time Olivia had brought her sister over to Luke’s for a barbecue that night, Mike realized that he was hooked but good. He couldn’t remember the menu or the weather that day, but he remembered every detail of Diana’s attire. The denim skirt that hugged her hips, the V-necked pale pink shirt that showed off her cleavage, and the way her dark pink toes drew his eyes to her incredible legs over and over again. He remembered everything she’d worn, but most of all, he remembered her smile and the way she laughed, like music in the air.
All those same memories returned with a whoosh when he looked at her, tightening his chest, making him crave all those things he knew he couldn’t have. The same things he’d ignored when he’d walked out of her house a few weeks later. And he ignored them now, because if there was one thing Mike sucked at, it was the whole settling-down-in-suburbia, being-in-a-responsible-adult-relationship thing.
Case in point: Thing One and Thing Two.
Ellie marched up to Diana and raised her chin. “Are you a friend of my daddy’s?”
Diana gave Ellie a smile and bent at the knees to match Ellie’s eye level. Diana’s skirt danced against the tile floor, like a garden bursting from the dingy gray tile. “Sort of a friend.”
Four words that didn’t even begin to encapsulate the hot fling they’d had a few months ago. But he wasn’t going to explain that to his preschool daughter.
“Do you fly big he-wa-coppers, too?” Ellie asked.
Diana laughed. “No, I’m a veterinarian. Do you know what that is?”
Ellie nodded, a proud, wide smile on her face. “A puppy doctor.”
“Exactly. Do you have a puppy or a kitty?”
“Nuh-uh.” Ellie shook her head and thrust a thumb into her mouth. She was still doing that? Mike thought Jasmine had said Ellie quit sucking her thumb a year ago. “I wanna see one. Can we go now?”
“Well . . .” Diana shifted her weight, and shot Mike a glance.
“I wanna see one now.” Ellie crossed her arms over her chest, strangling the bear.
“Ellie, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Mike said.
She ignored him and lifted her chin toward Diana. “How’s come I can’t go? Daddy? Don’t you wanna go see kitties?”
The question hung in the air for a moment. The Muzak shifted from a jazz version of a Beatles song to a peppy instrumental.
Diana flashed Mike a look he couldn’t read, then gave Ellie a patient smile. “Well, maybe someday you and your sister can visit the place where I work. We have a cat in the office that just had kittens. And they love to play and cuddle.”
The thumb popped out. “Can my Daddy come?”
The smile on Diana’s face became a grimace. “Sure.” Though she said the word with all the enthusiasm of someone volunteering for a colonoscopy.
“If I come ova there, can I have a kitty?”
Diana glanced at Mike, then back at Ellie. “Well, your mommy or daddy has to say yes first.”
“Neva mind. I don’t wanna see any stupid kitties.” Ellie’s face fell, and the thumb went back in her mouth.
Mike glanced at Jenny, but his eldest daughter had turned away. What was that about?
“It was nice to meet you, Ellie,” Diana said. “I—”
“I don’t wanna talk to you anymore.” Ellie spun toward her sister, and clutched the teddy bear tighter.
Mike cringed. “Sorry,” he said to Diana. “She’s . . . temperamental.”
A wry grin crossed Diana’s face and she straightened. “I have a fifteen-year-old, remember? He makes temperamental a sport.” She let out a little laugh, and for a second, the tension between them eased.
Mike remembered Diana’s son. Good kid, overall. “How is Jackson?”
“Fine. Thanks for asking.”
Just like that, the ice wall returned. Mike should be glad. He should get the hell out of here and put Diana out of his mind. He should do a lot of things, but didn’t do any of them. Because he couldn’t stop staring at Diana’s legs and wondering why she was so dressed up. “You, uh, headed to work?”
Lame, lame, lame. No, beyond lame. For God’s sake, it was Sunday. She wouldn’t be working on a Sunday, and especially not in a dress and heels. But there didn’t seem to be a good way to say, Hey, I know I have no right to know, but you going out on a date?
“Daddy? I’s hungry,” Ellie said.
“I better let you get back to your shopping,” Diana said. A polite but firm Stay out of my business.
Why the hell did her dismissal bother him so much? He had more than enough on his plate right now. An ex-wife who had run out of town, leaving him with kids who were more like strangers. A career that was hanging by a thread. And then there was his mother, who had left several messages, wanting to see him.
Talking to his mother encompassed a whole lot of topics Mike didn’t even want to think about, never mind deal with. Not now. Maybe not ever.
On top of that, the last thing he needed to add to that mix was a stubborn veterinarian who made his head spin and wanted things from him that he had no business giving. Diana Tuttle was a settle-down, make-a-family, live-in-traditional-lines woman. Mike was . . . not. At all. Mike was a soldier, end of story.
“Daddy! I want ice cream! Now!” Ellie stomped her feet and made her mad face. “I’s hungry and you promised!”
Case in point.
“We have to finish shopping first, El, then we can get—”
“Now!” The word exploded in one over-the-top Mount Vesuvius demand. Thirty days, he told himself, thirty days, and then Jasmine would be back and he’d be free to return to Alaska.
Yeah, that’s what he should be looking forward to. The problem was, he didn’t want his kids to go back to living with Jasmine. Mike might rank up there close to number one crappiest dad on the planet, but when he’d picked up the girls, he’d finally seen what he’d been blind to for so long. The dancer he’d married in Vegas was a distant, hands-off mother who had blown his monthly child support checks on parties and shoes, while his daughters went around in too-tight, too-short hand-me-downs and ate store-brand cereal three meals a day. That had pissed him off, and when he’d gone through the house to help the girls pack, it had taken every ounce of his strength to stop himself from exploding at Jasmine.
Because truth be told, it was his damned fault they lived this way, and if he’d been the kind of man and father he should have been from day one, then none of this would have happened. Yet another chalk mark in the failure column.
“Ice cream!” Ellie screamed. Several people turned around in the aisle, giving Mike the glare of disapproval.
Diana backed up a half step. “I’ll let you go. Have a good vacation with your daughters.”
He swore he heard a bit of sarcasm in the last few words. He told himself he should let her leave, but a part of Mike wondered about that dress. And wondered if she’d thought about him in the last six months. Plus, she seemed to have a way with Ellie, a calming presence, that he could sure as hell use right now. At least until he figured out what the heck he was doing. “Do you want to get some ice cream with us?”
What was he doing? He had a schedule to keep, a plan for the day. Eighteen minutes until he planned on being done shopping, then thirteen minutes to get home, stow the groceries and then eat lunch at 1300. Lunch done and cleaned up by 1345, and chores until 1500.
Chucking that schedule to the side made the muscles in his neck tighten like steel cables. Yet a part of him wanted to while away the rest of the day with Diana Tuttle in the quaint Rescue Bay ice-cream shop and find out if she was a chocolate or vanilla kind of girl.
His money was on chocolate. Definitely chocolate.
“Ice cream! Ice cream!” Ellie jumped up and down, the teddy bear flopping his head in agreement.
“Just what she needs—sugar,” Jenny muttered.
Diana began to back away. “Uh, it seems you have—”
“Come on, it’s ice cream,” Mike said. “Everyone deserves ice cream at the end of the day.” He nodded toward the basket in her hands. “Unless you have somewhere you need to go.”
Could he be more pathetic or obvious? Somewhere she needed to go?
“Please?” Ellie said. “Please go with us? I like you and Teddy likes you and Daddy is grumpy.”
Diana laughed, and seemed to consider for a moment. In the end, she was won over by Ellie’s pixie face. “Well, who can resist an invitation like that?”
Ellie jumped up and down again, then ran back and forth in the aisle, nearly colliding with other shoppers, singing, “We’re getting ice cream, we’re getting ice cream.”
“Ellie, quit,” Mike said.
Ellie kept going. Jenny studied a hangnail.
“Ice cream, ice cream, ice cream.” Ellie spun in a circle, almost crashing into an elderly woman in a wheelchair. “Teddy loves ice cream, Jenny loves ice cream, Ellie loves ice cream.”
“Ellie, quit it!” Mike said again, louder this time.
Ellie kept going, like a top on steroids. Her song rose in volume, her dancing feet sped up. She dashed to Mike, then over to Diana. “Ice cream, ice cream!”
Diana bent down and put a light touch on Ellie’s arm. “If you want ice cream, you have to be good for a little while, and help your daddy finish the shopping.”
“I don’t wanna be good. I wanna sing my ice-cream song!”
Diana gave her a patient smile. “I’m sure everyone wants to hear your ice-cream song”—an exaggeration, Mike was sure—“after the shopping is done. Because if we stop to listen now, it’s going to be a long time till anyone gets ice cream.” Diana picked up the teddy bear’s floppy paw. “And that might make Teddy sad.”
Ellie stopped spinning and whirring and singing, and stood still and obedient. “Okay.”
Mike stared at his Tasmanian devil child, who had morphed into an angel. She slipped into place beside Jenny, standing on her tiptoes to place the teddy bear in the child seat, and turned back to Mike. “Daddy, we need to do shopping. Jenny says we need peanut butter.”
Mike turned to Diana. His gaze connected with her deep green eyes and something dark and hot stirred in his gut. He remembered her looking at him with those eyes as the sun set and the last rays of the day lit her naked body like a halo. She’d slid down his body, taken him into her mouth—
Mike cleared his throat. “Thanks.”
Diana shrugged. “No problem.”
“Are we shopping or what?” Jenny said, with a gust of frustration.
“One sec, Jen.” He turned back to Diana. “I only need a few more things. Do you want to meet over at the Rescue Bay Ice Cream Shop in, say, fifteen minutes?”
“And then what?” she asked.
“Then nothing,” Mike said. “It’s just ice cream, not a date. No expectations.”
Her face tightened and he wanted to kick himself. God, he was an idiot. No expectations.
It was what he’d written in that stupid note back in January. We both said no expectations and no regrets. You’re amazing and I hope you have a wonderful life. Mike
Diana glanced at Ellie and Jenny, then back at Mike. The smile on her face seemed forged out of granite. “You know, I’m going to take a rain check after all. Ellie, I’m sorry.”
She met his gaze, and the warmth he had seen there six months ago had been replaced by an icy cold. “No expectations, remember?”
Then she was gone. Ellie started to cry. Jenny marched off with the cart. And a part of Mike wondered if it was too late to make his flight to St. Kitt.