08/31/2018

EXCERPT: Timid

Timid is the second standalone in the Lark Cove series. If you’ve read Tattered, you met Jackson, the easy-going yet closed-off bartender. And you were also introduced to Willa, one of my favorite heroines (if not THE favorite heroine) that I’ve ever written. Want a sneak peek? Read the Prologue now!

Prologue

“Dad, is it okay if I get two—”

The Snickers bar in my hand slipped out of my grasp and dropped to the floor. My jaw was down there too, thanks to one glimpse at the man walking through the gas station door.

He was, without contest, the most beautiful man in the world. No, the universe. He’d stepped straight out of my Seventeen magazine and into the Lark Cove Gas ’N’ Go.

His golden-blond hair was buzzed short to his scalp, a cut seen regularly in the hallways of my high school because most boys in Lark Cove had their moms whip out the bathroom clippers once a month. Except nothing about this man’s haircut was boyish. On him, it was rugged. A little dangerous even. This guy couldn’t be bothered to style his hair. He had more important things to do, like bench-press cars or battle zombies or rescue kittens from treetops.

Hidden in the candy aisle, I peered around a display of Doritos as he grabbed a bottle of water from the cooler by the register. He set it on the counter and dug out a wallet from his back jeans pocket.

“Just the water?” the clerk asked.

The man nodded. “And the gas on pump two.”

A shiver ran down my spine at his low, rumbling voice. He made the words gas and pump sound hot.

The clerk punched in some numbers on the till. “Anything else?”

The man leaned back from the counter, eyeing the row of candy bars placed below for impulse buys, then grabbed a Snickers.

We liked the same candy. That had to mean something. Like . . . fate.

He handed the bar to the clerk before casually leaning an elbow on the counter. His shoulders pivoted my way, enough so I could get a better look at his face but not enough he could see me spying. With a smile, he nodded to the lottery ticket machine. “I’ll take a Powerball too. Maybe it’s my lucky day.”

My knees wobbled at that smile. Wowzah. His soft lips stretched over straight, white teeth. His sky-blue eyes brightened. The smile softened his square jaw just enough that he became a whole different kind of dangerous. It was the kind that made me want to do stupid, embarrassing things just to get a fraction of his attention. It was a smile that vaporized the two-year crush I’d had on Brendon Jacoby, my lab partner in biology.

I couldn’t like a boy now that I’d seen this man.

Who was he? He had to be a tourist passing through town. I’d lived in Lark Cove my entire life and never seen this guy before, which meant I’d probably never see him again.

My stomach dropped. Doing the only thing I could think of, I closed my eyes and said a prayer that we’d get a freak July snowstorm and the man would be trapped here for at least a week, preferably without a place to stay other than my house.

“Hey there, Jackson.” My eyes popped open as Dad walked up to the register with his hand extended. “Nice to see you again.”

“You too.” A frenzy of excitement shot through my veins as the two shook hands. “It’s Nate, right?”

“That’s right.” Dad smiled. “My wife, Betty, and I were down at the bar last week.”

“For your anniversary.” Jackson snapped his fingers as he put it together.

“Right again. Are you getting all settled into town?”

“I am. I didn’t have much to move so it made unpacking easy.”

Jackson said something else to Dad, but my heart was beating so hard I couldn’t focus on their conversation.

Jackson. His name was Jackson. And he lived in Lark Cove.

“Willa.”

Jackson and Willa. Willa and Jackson. Our names went together like peanut butter and jelly.

“Willa.”

Maybe people in town would merge us into a nickname. Will-son. Jack-illa. Both were terrible, but I’d think of something better tonight.

“Earth to Willa!”

I flinched, my eyes whipping up. “Huh?”

Dad shook his head and laughed. “Lost in outer space again?”

“Yeah.” Heat crept up my cheeks as I bent to pick up my fallen Snickers. With it in hand, I came out from behind the aisle.

“Jackson, meet my daughter.” Before Dad could finish his introduction, the clerk stole his attention, asking if he wanted his weekly scratch ticket too.

“Hey.” Jackson waved. “I’m Jackson.”

“I’m Willa,” I mumbled. Articulating words was impossible standing in front of him.

“Nice to meet you, Willow.”

“It’s, um . . . Willa.”

But Jackson had already turned away. The clerk had his attention again, joking with both Jackson and Dad that if either won the lottery, he wanted a kickback.

With his purchases in hand, Jackson said good-bye to Dad and went right for the door and pushed outside.

“Ready to go?” Dad asked.

I nodded and handed him my Snickers.

As the clerk rang up my candy bar, Dad’s ticket, a bag of M&M’s and two cans of Coke, I peered outside, hoping to get one last glimpse of Jackson. But with the front windows stacked full of beer boxes and a rotating rack of maps blocking the only other free space, I couldn’t see anything past our car parked right outside the door.

I drummed my fingers on the counter, willing the clerk to make change faster. Finally, he handed Dad a dollar and some coins, and I bolted for the door, stepping into the bright, summer sunshine just in time to see Jackson slide into an old Chevy truck.

“Did you forget something, honey?” Dad appeared at my side, handing me my Snickers and Coke.

“Whoopsie. Sorry, Dad.”

He just laughed. “It’s okay.”

I took my things, then slowly walked toward our car, keeping one eye on Jackson’s truck as it pulled onto the highway. When it disappeared behind a patch of trees, I sighed and resumed normal speed, opening the passenger door and sliding inside.

Luckily for me, Dad didn’t comment on my strange behavior. He just popped the top on his Coke, took a sip and backed us out of the parking lot to go home.

“Um, Dad? Who was that?”

He pulled onto the highway, going the opposite direction of where Jackson had turned. “Who was who?”

“That guy you introduced me to in the gas station. I haven’t seen him around before.” I added that last part hoping I sounded more curious than desperate for information.

“That’s Jackson Page. He just moved to town to work with Hazel down at the bar. I think he’s from New York or New Jersey. I can’t remember.”

“That’s good.” More like freaking fantastic.

Dad gave me a sideways glance. “Is it?”

Uh-oh. Maybe I hadn’t hidden my crush as well as I’d hoped. “Totally!” It came out too loud as I scrambled for a recovery. “It’s, um, good that Hazel has some help. Don’t you think she’s kind of old to be working at the bar all by herself?”

Dad frowned as he turned down the street toward our house. “Old? Hazel isn’t all that much older than me and your mom. But I guess teenagers think anyone past thirty is old.”

I giggled. “Ancient. You’re practically fossils.”

“Ouch.” He clutched his heart, pretending to be hurt as he pulled into our driveway.

“Just kidding.”

Dad smiled. “Try to save part of your candy bar until after dinner.”

“Deal.” I hopped out of the car, escaping inside while Dad went to check on Mom’s progress in her vegetable garden.

I yanked my diary out from underneath my mattress and got comfortable on my bed. Then I tore into my Snickers bar, chewing as I opened to a blank page. My pen flew across the paper, leaving a trail of purple ink as I recounted every second at the gas station. When I was done, I closed the book and clutched it to my chest, smiling at the last line I’d written.

One day, I am going to marry Jackson Page.

I just had to get him to notice me first.

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