Finding Sunshine (A Pinetree Romance, #1)
Aspiring photographer, Nina King, is searching for a place to belong.
Ex-con, Aaron Masters, is searching for redemption.
It’s time for the Valentine’s Day Date Auction at the exclusive Boston nightclub St. Andrews, and Aaron would rather be anywhere else. That all changes when he catches a glimpse of Nina, the woman he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about since their recent chance encounter. When they met her smile—for a precious moment—warmed the darkness inside. Now he’ll stop at nothing to make her his woman, keep her, and protect her from the truth of his rough past.
Nina hasn’t been able to get a certain handsome man, with long hair and gorgeous blue eyes, out of her thoughts—or her dreams. As her professional internship has recently ended, she’s now out of work and trying to find herself while struggling to build a viable career.
Aaron and Nina’s relationship soon heats up, but not everyone in their lives is excited about this new development.
Will Aaron’s dark past derail the couple’s bright future?
~ Aaron ~
Mid February – Boston
The booming voice of the harried Starbucks employee shakes me out of my zombie-like stupor. My body is protesting being awake this early, but I have a shift at the animal shelter in thirty minutes. We’re beginning our six-week puppy obedience training workshop, and I oversee all of the shelter’s training programs.
All I really want to do is collapse in a warm bed with something soft and cuddly—preferably a woman and not Russell, my three-year old chocolate brown English Labrador.
God, I hate Mondays.
Sadly, the reason I’m dead on my feet has nothing to do with being up all night enjoying myself. I wasn’t exhausting myself hitting some hot piece, or getting into any other kind of trouble. I don’t even want to think about how long it’s been since I’ve gotten laid, it’s just too fucking depressing. My sex life—my social life—has been pretty pathetic lately.
As in, I don’t have much of either.
I haven’t sought out any sort of relationship for nine months. Nine long months of self-imposed abstinence. I’d grown bored of meaningless relationships with woman who I only mildly tolerated. The truth is, I probably don’t deserve any woman who I would want to form a long-term and meaningful relationship with.
The real reason I’m a Walking Dead extra this morning is because I covered someone else's shift last night at The Pint, where I bartend. It has a pretty rough clientele. Pimps, drug dealers, and local bosses are all frequent patrons.
Why am I working there? I have a degree in Business Management from BC, for fuck’s sake!
In this economy, a man with a past as rough as mine can’t be too proud when looking for a job. I’m lucky enough to be able to do what I love and work with the animals at the shelter. I usually spend my mornings there, and then I bring Russell back home to our studio apartment above The Pint for his afternoon nap.
Dealing with the more rowdy, disgusting animals at the bar in the afternoon and evening seems like a fair tradeoff. Not to mention, I make pretty decent tips—mainly because the patrons know I keep my fucking trap shut. They reward me in a roundabout way for my discretion.
I was hired by Troy, the manager, under the bar’s legitimate business heading, and every two weeks, I’m given a paycheck, where I see my taxes and social security have eaten up all my hard work. I do my best to ignore the disreputable clientele, though. I keep my head down and do my job. Pouring drinks, filling bowls with pretzels, wiping down the bar, and decontaminating the johns.
Fuck, I hate my job!
Life never seems to go the way you imagine it will.
“Hi, how are you today?” asks the sweetest voice in front of me, pulling me from my depressing thoughts and waking me to my surroundings.
I’m standing in line at a small-overcrowded Starbucks with a dozen other Bostonians, waiting for my morning fix of caffeine. I usually go to the Dunkin Donuts across the street from my apartment, but this morning, for some reason, I felt like trying one of those ridiculously expensive, specially brewed coffees that my younger sister, Sarah, is always going on about.
“What’s ya’ orda’?” is the curt response from the haggard and clearly overworked employee.
“Could I please have a grande, no-whip mocha, with an extra pump of mocha? Thank you,” the voice says pleasantly, undeterred by the cashier’s borderline rudeness.
I smile. I love a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to ask for it. Flighty, air-headed, and indecisive woman drive me bat-shit crazy. I may like control—mostly during sex—but it’s sexy as hell when a woman knows what she wants, and that I’m the only one that can give it to her.
Especially, when it comes in such a sweet, polite package as the woman standing in front of me seemingly is. She’s young, probably early twenties, and has a mass of light brown ringlets falling haphazardly down her back. My hand itches to reach out and touch one of her glossy curls. To see if they are as soft and springy as they look.
Quickly scanning her body from the back, I can’t make out much of her figure. Most of it is hiding underneath a long, black down jacket, and the wildly bright purple bag hanging off her shoulder. The sight of her black, slightly heeled boots peeking out from the bottom of her coat make me grin.
Sexy. Classy. Fucking hot.
The boots give her a little more height. My guess is that in bare feet, she’d come up slightly above my chin. She’d fit perfectly in my arms. I shake my head, attempting to clear my daydream.
What the fuck is wrong with me?
Here’s hoping this mystery woman has a double-bagger face, or else I’m fucked. Which would honestly make for a nice change.
“Nina,” answers the sweet, friendly voice.
“That’ll be three sixty-nine.”
After Nina pays, by scanning the app on her phone, she says cheerfully, “Have a great day.”
“Next!” The barista says loudly, ignoring her friendliness once again.
As she moves off, I step forward and go through the motions of ordering. My thoughts, however, are on the woman standing by the counter across the room, currently waiting for her drink.
What is it about her?
After spending a small fortune for a grande specially brewed Clover coffee, I make my way through the crowd toward the counter to wait for my order. I soon find myself standing next to the mystery woman, Nina.
“Good mornin’,” she says, turning and flashing me the brightest, most beautiful smile I have ever seen.
Fuck! There goes the hope of her being fugly.
It’s not that her perfectly shaped mouth turns up, showing just the right amount of teeth, or that her green eyes sparkle and crinkle warmly. It’s the fact that her whole being seems to shine, like I’m staring at the sun, and it’s momentarily stunning me. It’s like I’ve suddenly come out of some bizarre sexual hibernation. I can breathe again.
“Hello,” I answer brightly, maybe a little bit too brightly. I’ve probably come off sounding like an overeager puppy.
Midway through what I’ve been told is a nervous habit of mine, I realize I’m tucking my long hair behind my ears. I know I’m staring. Grinning like a manic, and probably frightening her, I’m looking at her like I’m suddenly—awake.
Maybe for the first time in years.
I jump, when my cellphone begins vibrating in my pocket.
“Excuse me,” I say, pulling it out and quickly glancing at several new text messages, coming in quick, annoyed secession.
Richard: Where r u asshole?
Richard: If ur dead, I’m going to kill u!
Richard: Don’t make me call Sarah!
The persistent texter is my best friend, Richard. We met in college nearly ten years ago, and our friendship has withstood some of the best and some of the worst moments in each other’s lives.
I’ve been out of contact with Richard for several weeks now, and I’m not even sure why. Aside from Sarah, my sister, he’s one person who I’ve always been able to count on. He stuck with me when my life was going ass over tits. He may be my closest friend and confidant, but over the last year, I’ve been feeing lost and adrift. When I first got out of prison everything seemed to go back to normal, but now I feel disconnected from everything. Most of all, from myself.
“Do you like dogs?” I find myself looking up from my phone and blurting out stupidly.
‘Do you like dogs?’
What the fuck?
Where did that come from?
In my defense, the last woman I dated—and I use the term loosely—Lisa. She didn’t get along with Russell, and he didn’t like her much, either. At first I had thought it was mutual jealousy, but really, my dog has better taste in women than his master. Lisa wasn’t a fan of kittens, or Bao Bao, the new adorable baby panda at the National Zoo, either.
Why did I ever fuck her?
“Doesn’t everyone?” Nina asks, smiling and looking at me curiously.
“They should,” I reply, tucking my phone back into my pocket so I can give the woman in front of me my full attention. The annoyed messages don’t warrant an immediate response. I’d much rather soak up the sunshine in front of me.
“Do you have a dog?” Nina asks curiously, no doubt wondering why I blurted out such an inane question to a complete stranger.
“Yes.” I reply simply, and she looks at me expectantly, as if she’s waiting for more.
“Russell. He’s a chocolate English Lab.”
“How old is he?”
“He’s three,” I reply. Then, since she seems interested, I ask tentatively, “Would you like to see a picture?”
“Of course,” she says, smiling enthusiastically.
I dig out my phone and find several of the pictures Sarah had uploaded onto it. Picking the one where he’s standing by Harry who’s in his playpen, laughing and patting Russell while being licked, I hand her the phone.
“Is that your son?” she asks softly.
“My nephew. Harry,” I reply quickly. For some reason, I don’t want her thinking that I’m married, or have children.
“They’re both adorable. Totally photogenic. I’d love to shoot them,” she smiles again.
Then, realizing how what she said must have sounded, adds quickly, “I’m a photographer.”
After handing me back my phone, she lifts the camera up from where it’s hanging around her neck, as if to prove her point.
I hadn’t noticed before that along with a purple knitted scarf, Nina also has an expensive-looking camera strapped around her neck. I briefly wonder if she’s one of the millions of tourists who visit the city each year.
“You a tourist?” I ask, shoving the phone back into my pocket.
“No, Sunshine,” I say, grinning down at her. I’m staring again, unable to tear my eyes off of her face.
“A grande no-whip mocha with an extra pump of mocha, for Nina,” comes a voice, breaking through our grinning-like-idiots-and-staring contest.
“That’s me. It was nice meeting you. Have a great day,” she says sweetly.
“Yeah, you too.” I reply, as she turns to move through the crowd and collect her coffee, taking a bit of sunshine with her.
Text Copyright © 2015 Rene Webb, All Rights Reserved