Excerpt from Falling for Mr. Wrong
Book #3 of the Dunlin Shores Series
He's here. Even with the kitchen faucet running and the radio on, Fran Bishop heard the crunch of gravel as Mitch Matthews's car rolled up the driveway on the opposite side of the building. She'd opened the windows and sliding-glass door to listen for him.
As always he’d booked the best room in the Oceanside Bed and Breakfast, the third-floor Orca Suite. But this year the details were different. Instead of arriving at the height of the tourist season and staying for a few days with a beautiful woman to keep him company, he'd reserved the room for the tail end of the season, for five whole weeks. By himself.
It was late September, and by now the weather was supposed to be gray and cool. Most tourists were long gone. As of tomorrow, he was her only guest.
His car door closed and the remote lock beeped. With more anticipation than she had any right to feel, Fran dried her hands on her apron and then hung it on the hook behind the basement door. She barely had time to straighten her braid and tug her blouse over her hips before Mitch’s footsteps thudded across the planking of the ocean-view deck. The knocker hit the door twice—Mitch never used the buzzer—with crisp, staccato raps.
Already smiling and stifling the urge to hurry, she moved through the dining and great rooms and crossed to the entry. A little breathless, she opened the door. “Welcome, Mitch.”
His grin was as irresistible as ever. He moved past her, bringing the tang of the sea air with him. At five feet ten in her socks, she wasn’t small. Although standing next to Mitch, who stood a good five inches taller, she felt that way. He was a big, powerful man and handsome to boot.
While she silently admired his broad shoulders and strong jaw, he set two suitcases down.
“It’s good to see you,” he said, his gorgeous gray eyes mirroring the words.
Fran went warm with pleasure. “And you. You lucked out—we're having unseasonably warm weather. When you didn’t book a room during the summer, I thought sure you were tired of Dunlin Shores or the Oceanside.”
“Not possible. I’ll never get tired of you, the food and hospitality at the Oceanside, or the Oregon coast. This place is my oasis.”
“I like that. Can I quote you on my Web site?”
“Any time.” He sniffed the air. “Something smells good, but around here it usually does.”
His ability to see the best in a person and offer genuine compliments, combined with his looks and skills as a motivational speaker and writer were what drew people to him. He certainly made Fran feel special. Her smile widened.
“You're smelling my work in progress,” she said. “I’m developing a recipe for the Dunlin Shores cook-off. It’s the event that kicks off the Dunlin Shores Fall Festival about a month from now.”
“I read about that on the Dunlin Shores News Weekly website. Sounds interesting.”
“It always is. Especially this year. The Food Network will be here, filming the contest.”
Great publicity sure to bring attention to Dunlin Shores, where the locals depended heavily on tourism to survive. Fran hoped to be this year’s grand-champion, which meant placing first in her category and then beating out other category winners in a final round. The overall winner earned ten thousand dollars, among other prizes.
Running the bed-and-breakfast was expensive, and with little to no income November through January, keeping afloat was a struggle. Especially after a terrible storm last December had forced her to replace the entire roof. The cost had been staggering, and she'd been forced to take a second mortgage and all but drain her savings account.
The prize money would go a long way toward paying down the debt and replenishing her savings. The real carrot though, was the chance to interest the Food Network in a cookbook of her own, an otherwise near-to-impossible feat for an unknown cook.
“I really want to win the grand championship,” she admitted.
“With your culinary skills?” Mitch licked his lips. “You’re a shoo-in.”
She laughed. “Wait till you taste my entry before you say that. But you can’t tell a soul what I'm working on. I don’t want anyone stealing my idea.”
“Your secret will be safe with me. I noticed another car in the driveway. I didn’t realize anyone else would be here this late in the season.”
“The car belongs to the Hortons from Sacramento. They’re upstairs now, but they’ll be down for the wine-and-cheese social.” A daily, late-afternoon ritual Fran offered her guests. “They’ve read your books and attended one of your seminars at the hospital where they work. They’re eager to meet you.”
“Just what I wanted to do, make small talk with strangers,” he muttered.
He was usually outgoing and friendly, and this surprised her. “I shouldn’t have mentioned your name. But in the past, you’ve always enjoyed meeting new people and I thought… Never mind. They’re leaving tomorrow after breakfast. Then you’re my only guest until the Dunlin Shores Fall Festival.” During the popular festival, tourists had reserved the other six rooms at the Oceanside.
“That’s what I want—solitude. I have a book due the first of November and I plan to finish it while I’m here.”
“The book I read about, on finding your bliss?” As a reasonably contented but sometimes lonely person, Fran looked forward to gaining insight into living a happier life. “Such an important, interesting topic.”
Mitch's three previous books were filled with a wisdom and common sense she admired. She kept the autographed copies on the bookcase that divided the dining room from the great room, for guests looking for something to read during their stay.
“It’s interesting, all right.”
His smile didn't quite pan out. Fran sensed a great heaviness, as though he carried a huge weight on his shoulders. She wanted to reach out, brush the hair off his forehead and somehow ease his burdens, but she didn't know him that well.
“How are you?” she asked, studying him.
“Couldn’t be better.”
An automatic response. He’d always been upbeat, at least during his stays here. After all, he made his living motivating others. What in the world had caused this dark, somber mood?
She wasn’t about to ask—Mitch was her guest and deserved his privacy. She'd take care of him the best way she knew how, with hearty breakfasts and comfortable surroundings.
“I’ll explain to the Hortons that you need to finish the book. They’re nice people. They’ll understand.”
“Please don’t—I don’t want anyone to know it isn’t done.” His gaze sought hers. “Can I trust you to keep my situation private?”
She'd never seen the pleading look either, and was growing more curious by the minute. "Of course. I would never betray a confidence."
He let out a relieved breath. “Good.”
“I’ll tell them you’re tired.”
“Which happens to be the truth. No, if they’re expecting to meet me, I'll be there. After today, you can forget about the wine and cheese. Don’t plan on seeing much of me.”
Normally Fran set out cheese and crackers, opened the wine and then retreated to her two-bedroom, basement apartment. But with Mitch as the only guest, she’d been looking forward to joining him for the hour, just the two of them talking and getting to know each other better. Disappointed, she nodded. “All right, but if you change your mind, let me know. I assume you still want breakfast." Which was included in the price. "You have to eat, and starting the day with a good meal will give you the energy you need to work. Geez, I sound like a Wheaties commercial.”
“I wouldn't miss your breakfasts for anything.” The sorrow eased from the planes of his face, turning him into the Mitch she knew. “Before the socializing starts I'll take my things upstairs.”
“See you in a little while. If you need anything, you know where to find me.”
"That I do." His lips twitched and the sorrow eased from the planes of his face, turning him into the Mitch she knew.
Hefting one suitcase in each hand, he started up the spiral staircase. Moments later, he disappeared.
Fran was both worried and determined. She may not ever learn what'd taken the light from Mitch’s eyes, but she intended to give him the peace and solitude he needed.
*Mitch set his bags on the thick carpet in the bedroom of the Orca Suite, then quickly unpacked. In the sitting room, he set his laptop on the desk, which faced the ocean—his work space for the next five weeks. The top-floor suite, the best in the place, took up the entire third floor. The rooms were spacious, private, and comfortable, and the bathroom contained both a shower and a Jacuzzi tub for two. Great for a romantic vacation.
With no lover in tow this year, he doubted he'd use the Jacuzzi. He looked forward to enjoying the ocean from the balcony during daylight, and the gas fireplace at night. Exactly what he needed. He opened the sliding-glass door and stepped onto the balcony.
A brisk, salt-scented breeze ruffled the drapes, signaling a cool night ahead. The sun was about to set and the tide was coming in. Waves rushed and foamed over the beach, and the color slowly leached out of what had been a deep blue sky. Gulls and pelicans circled over the water in search of fish.
Mitch inhaled the air and felt better than he had in a long time. The town, the sea, this bed-and-breakfast, Fran's nurturing ways—all of it salved to his sorry soul. Her natural warmth always had drawn him.
He was looking forward to five weeks away from the energy-sucking people in his life, each with needs and demands. Especially his editor, agent, and publicist. After pushing back his deadline twice, he had no choice but to follow through and complete the book he owed them. Everyone thought he’d finished the work and had come here to revise and polish it. Little did they know it was only half written, and badly. One hundred and fifty pages of utter shit.
The motivation guru couldn’t motivate himself. Now, there was something to write a book about. He snorted.
What in hell had possessed him to think he could write a book about finding your bliss? Did bliss even exist? Hell if Mitch knew. Move He scrubbed his hand over his face. Since his father had died eight months ago, he was no longer certain of anything.
From the outside he was the picture of success. His books made all the lists, and businesses around the country wanted him for conferences and retreats. His agent and publicist were pressuring him to expand into the worldwide market and triple his business. The time was right, and he'd vastly increase his already impressive wealth.
Ten months ago he’d have grabbed on to the idea and run with it. Now, not so much. He no longer knew what he wanted, except to regain his zest for life.
Too bad there wasn’t a magical cure for that.
Two pelicans dive-bombed into the sea, an enjoyable sight Mitch barely registered. He and his father had never been close, but his death had ripped Mitch apart and affected him in ways he’d never imagined.
His creativity had all but dried up. The instant the thought formed, his gut clenched. Only the weak let emotions get in the way of work, his father always said.
Screw that. Mitch wasn't weak. He'd drive out the demons and forge ahead, or die trying. Setting his jaw, he willed the anxiety away.
Triumphant—for the moment—he relaxed. The one saving grace was, not a soul knew about his little problem, and no one ever would.
Like it or not, he was his father’s son. They both were workaholics, men who stifled their feelings and moved from woman to woman. True, there’d been a time when his dad had been faithful to his mother. But since her death when Mitch was ten, the old man had been with countless women. Nothing serious and never for long.
Mitch had followed in those footsteps. But since those last few weeks when he and his father had grown close, the dying man’s views had changed.
“Don’t end up like me,” he’d advised. “Find a good woman, settle down, and raise some kids. Put your career second, and you just might end up happy.”
Surprising advice, and ironic, considering that Mitch was supposed to be the expert on happiness. Sure, he intended to get married someday, but no big rush. He was only thirty-three and enjoying the hell out of being single. Or had before his father's death.
The wind gusted, this time hard enough to whip the cold air straight through him. He headed inside, pulling the sliding door closed. Time for the dreaded wine-and-cheese social. After half an hour he’d leave, drive someplace, and have dinner. Then turn in early and wake up refreshed and ready to work.
Come tomorrow, he’d hole up here and write the damn book—no excuses.