Dockside (Lakeshore Chronicles #3)
Mira (July 2010)
Published in 2007
After Shane Gilmore kissed her, Nina Romano kept her eyes shut. All right, she thought, so he wasn’t the world’s best kisser. Not every man was born a great kisser. Some had to be trained. Surely, Shane Gilmore was trainable.
She opened her eyes and smiled up at him. He certainly looked like a good kisser, with nicely sculpted lips and a strong jaw, broad shoulders and thick black hair. Maybe he was just having an off day.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to do that,” he said. “Your term in office couldn’t end soon enough for me.”
He didn’t mean it as a dig. Did he? The fact that her term as mayor of Avalon, New York, had concluded in scandal still stung; maybe she was just being paranoid. She decided to laugh it off. “All right, now you sound like one of my political enemies.”
“My reasons are romantic,” he insisted. “I was waiting for the right time. It wouldn’t have looked right for us to be together when you were mayor, not with me being president of the only bank in town.”
You look like such a hunk, she thought. Don’t act like a dork. And yes, she was being paranoid about the scandal, which was odd, because given her background, Nina was no stranger to scandal. As a young single mother, she’d held her head up and gone to work for the town of Avalon, eventually serving as deputy mayor. The salary was almost nonexistent, and hadn’t improved much when Mayor McKittrick fell ill and she became the de facto mayor, the youngest and lowest-paid in the state, as far as she knew. She’d inherited a city-finance nightmare. The town was on the verge of bankruptcy. She’d cut spending, which included her own salary, to the bone and eventually found the source of the leakâ€”a corrupt city administrator.
Enough, she thought. This was a new chapter of her life in so many ways. She’d just returned from three weeks away. She and Shane were on their first date, and quibbling with a first date was a no-no. And aside from that kissâ€”awkward and way tooâ€¦slobberyâ€”things were going all right. They had shared a Sunday afternoon picnic at Blanchard Park, on the shores of Willow Lake, the town’s best asset. Afterward they had taken a leisurely stroll along the lakeshore, and that was where Shane made his move. He’d stopped right in the middle of the path, cast a furtive glance left and right and then pressed his mouth in full lockdown mode upon hers.
Snap out of it, Nina scolded herself. This was supposed to be a new beginning for her. While she was raising her daughter, she’d never had the time or energy to date. Now that she was making her belated entry into the world of dating, she really shouldn’t ruin it by being hypercritical. She had ruined more first dates by being hypercritical thanâ€¦come to think of it, she’d ruined all of them. First dates were the only kind Nina Romano ever had, because there was never a second. Except that one, years ago. The one that had resulted in her getting pregnant at the age of fifteen. After that, she’d concluded that second dates were bad luck.
Everything was different now. It was timeâ€”past timeâ€”to see if a date could actually turn into something besides a disaster. Nina’s daughter Sonnet was grown; she had finished high school early, at sixteen, and had been accepted at American University, neatly avoiding every youthful mistake Nina had made.
Don’t, she thought, feeling herself starting to drown in thoughts of Sonnet. In a moment of insane self-deception, Nina had convinced herself that it would be easy to let go of her daughter. To let go of the child who had been Nina’s whole world until high school graduation a few weeks ago.
Trying to pull herself back into the moment with Shane, she quickened her pace and felt a fiery sting along the length of her leg. Too late, she saw that she had strayed too close to a clump of thigh-high nettles.
Even when she gave a soft hiss of pain, he didn’t seem to notice as he strode along beside her, filling her in on his latest round of golf.
Golf, thought Nina, gritting her teeth against the stinging sensation. Now, there was something she’d always wanted to try. There were so many things she’d put off learning and doing. Now that Sonnet was gone, it was Nina’s turn to take her shot.
The thought put a spring in her step despite the nettles. It was a gorgeous Saturday afternoon and people were out in droves, like creatures awakened from hibernation. She loved the sight of couples strolling along the lakeshore, families picnicking in the park, catboats and canoes plying the clear blue waters of the lake. Nina loved everything about her hometown. It was the perfect place to launch the next phase of her life.
Though not financially rewarding, serving as mayor had brought her friends and allies who far outnumbered her enemies even after the finance scandal. These connections, and Shane’s bank, were the key to her new endeavor. Now that Sonnet was gone, Nina was about to resurrect a long-buried dream.
“So you’ve been waiting for me to free myself of the mayor’s office,” she remarked to Shane. “That’s good to know. How are things at the bank?”
“Actually, there’ve been a few changes,” he said. “I was going to talk to you about that later.”
She frowned at the way his gaze shifted as he spoke. “What sort of changes?”
“We’ve got some new personnel who came on board while you were away. And can we not talk about business?” He touched her arm, sent her a meaningful look. “On the path back thereâ€”” he gestured “â€”it felt like we really clicked. I missed you. Three weeks is a long time.”
“Uh-huh.” She reminded herself to be fair, to give this date a chance. “Three weeks isn’t that long, not to me. I’ve waited for years to get going. This is it. My new life. I’m finally starting a future I’ve dreamed about ever since I was a little girl.”
“Um, yeah. That’s great.” He seemed uneasy, and she remembered that he didn’t want to talk about work, so she dropped the subject.
“I’m glad I got to make the trip with Sonnet,” she told him. “I can’t remember the last time we had an actual vacation.”