Weekend Excerpt–A Halloween Surprise

They say desperate times call for desperate measures.
Charley Weatherly is about to realize that it’s true.

Life isn’t working out exactly the way Charley Weatherly imagined it might when she walked away from her steady paycheck as a copywriter to start her own business. But as it turns out, not everyone in town is knocking down the door of her tiny independent bookshop. She has lost money every quarter since she opened.

Now, with her grandmother in need of more care than Charley can provide, some difficult decisions have to be made. The rest of her 401k plus the proceeds from selling the bookstore might keep Nana in Pacifico Manor for about a year. That would give Charley time to figure out her next move.

But when that money is irretrievably lost, Charley is faced with an impossible decision. Being a gestational surrogate for a couple who can’t have a baby on their own will bring in the kind of cash she needs. Can she really follow through?

Between trying to keep her small business afloat and caring for her grandmother, Charley’s personal life has been nonexistent. But when she moves to the city for a few months, she finds she enjoys the freedom of her part-time gig at Bravo Java. She especially enjoys chatting up the handsome local artist who spends his mornings there. Now that her life is taking an unexpected turn, has she finally met the right man at the wrong time?

Artist Ben Campbell has had his fair share of romantic disasters. For the time being, he’s content to follow his self-imposed schedule: gym, coffee, work, repeat.

But the new barista at his favorite coffee shop piques his interest. In fact, if he’s honest with himself, she looks a lot like the elusive redhead who haunts his dreams.

She seems to be attracted to him, too. So why does Charley insist on keeping him at arm’s length?

Prefer your romance with plenty of heat and tons of heart?
You’ll love The Girl in the Guesthouse!

Read a Halloween scene from THE GIRL IN THE GUESTHOUSE.

The late-model Camry eased to a stop in front of the historic mansion at 2219 Prescott, and Ben swung open the rear passenger-side door.

“Thanks, man,” he nodded to the Uber driver as he grabbed the black tricorn hat on the seat beside him and stepped out onto the sidewalk. Straightening his deep-red brocade pirate coat, he slid the hat over the red scarf covering his head and glanced up at the house. The place was lit up like Christmas, but knowing the party would be out back, Ben headed toward the narrow driveway around the end of the house.

Gravel crunched beneath his black leather thigh-high boots as he made his way around the house. He had opted to take an Uber to the party to avoid having to scramble for a place to park his beloved VW van, something he was sure other party guests had done as well. And he had considered walking the dozen or so blocks between his loft and the Shepherd-Wang’s but Halloween or not, he’d decided that he’d rather not traipse through Pacific Heights dressed as a buccaneer of the high seas.

As he made his way down the driveway, the sound of happy conversation mixed with music grew clearer, though it was certainly not loud enough to cause the neighbors to complain.

Besides, he smiled softly to himself, if I know Drew and Alex, they’ve invited the closest neighbors, so nobody is home to complain.

He came around the corner of the house and stopped to take in the view. By his estimate, the party had been going for about an hour, and by now, costumed party guests had taken advantage of the open bar and the trays of appetizers being circulated by professionally attired servers.

The atmosphere was festive and pausing to listen, Ben realized the current song was Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London. He shook his head and grinned. Leave it to Alex and Drew, and his money was on Alex specifically, to create an entire Halloween playlist.

Charley would have enjoyed this. He sighed to himself. Ah, well.

Scanning the crowd, he spotted the hosts themselves holding court on the far side of the patio, all decked out as characters from Hamilton, complete with wigs and all. Deciding that he’d say hello to them later, he made his way to the bar and ordered a shot of Captain Morgan, smugly pleased to match his drink to his costume.

Drink in hand, he headed back the way he’d come, pausing to say hello to a few familiar faces before claiming a spot at the edge of the crowd.

The better to people-watch, he considered. Maybe it was just him, or maybe it was artists in general, but Ben had always been more of an introvert, preferring to observe most of the action rather than be the center of it.

Between where he stood and the guesthouse at the back of the courtyard, Ben wasn’t surprised to spot Roxane, the manager of the coffee shop beneath his apartment. Instead of her usual Bravo Java attire, she shimmered in a long purple and silver sequined gown complimented by a fluffy purple feather boa, bringing to mind Donna Summer from back in the day.

Ben knew that many of tonight’s guests were in some way affiliated with Drew’s businesses or Alex’s real estate business. With their genuine kindness and generosity, the couple made friends wherever they went. It was something Ben could attest to as he flicked a nostalgic glance toward the tiny guesthouse.

As he did, the door opened, and a woman in white emerged. Her long red curls were pulled away from her face and as she turned to close the door, he saw that her hair nearly reached her waist. His fingers instinctively flexed, itching to sketch those long curls.

When she turned to face the crowd, she paused, lightly swiping both hands down her skirt before taking a few tentative steps toward the party. Suddenly, a smile broke across her face and her pace quickened.

Holy shit, it’s Charley. How had he not recognized her immediately? He sipped his rum again, privately acknowledging that he didn’t look much like himself tonight, either.

He watched as Charley approached Roxane. The pair greeted each other with a hug and Roxane gestured toward a tall man with a large afro and dressed as if he’d stepped straight out of the 70s. Charley smiled, shaking the man’s hand and saying something in greeting.

Unable to resist any longer, Ben began to make his way toward the trio.

As Charley and the other man made small talk, Roxane glanced his way and she laughed out loud. “I figured we’d see you here! How are you, Ben?”

Mid-sentence, Charley stopped, her jaw dropping as she recognized him.

He gave her a warm smile. “Hi, Charley,” he offered softly.

Mouth agape, she merely blinked.

“Hey, Ben! Long time, no see.” Roxane’s husband reached to shake his hand.

Ben grinned. “It was probably about this time last year. How are you, Daymon?”

“Can’t complain. Or I could, I suppose, but who would listen?” Both men laughed congenially.

“Listen, I’m off the clock and at a party, so I’m going to head over to that bar and find myself an adult beverage.” Roxane grasped Daymon by the elbow. “Come on, husband, buy me a drink.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he grinned. “See you all later. Charley, it was nice to meet you.”

Ben watched them for a moment, then turned back to Charley. “Hi, Charley,” he repeated, grinning.

“Um…Hi! I just…I mean…” She leaned closer peering up at him. “That’s some kind of guy-liner you’ve got going there.”

Surprised, he frowned. “Is it too much?”

She giggled nervously. “Not if you’re going for a real pirate-of-the-Caribbean kind of vibe.”

Scanning him up and down, she giggled again. “Seriously, you look like a real pirate. It’s…”

Pursing his lips in amusement, he waited to see what she would say.

“Well, it’s creepy and sexy, all at the same time.”

Ben laughed out loud. “I’m sexy?”

“And creepy. Don’t forget creepy,” she said, fidgeting with the sash around her waist.

“Well, you look amazing. This is a great costume. I’m loving all the red curls.”

“Yeah, most of them aren’t mine, though. A team of professionals put all this together.” Blushing again, Charley looked across the yard. “I’m supposed to be Christine from Phantom of the Opera. It wasn’t my idea, but I didn’t know what to choose.”

“It was Alex, am I right?” Ben nodded knowingly.

Her mouth popped open again, her eyes wide. “How did you guess?”

Ben had to laugh. “He always knows exactly what he wants. I’m going to be in big trouble tonight. Wait till he sees me in the same costume for the second year in a row. I was a pirate of the Caribbean last year. This year, I’m from Pirates of Penzance. Ten bucks says he won’t be able to resist calling me out before the night’s over.”

Charley chuckled, too. “Do you really think so?”

He nodded confidently. “One hundred percent. Wait and see.”

Remembering the drink in his hand, he gestured toward Charley. “Hey, can we get you a drink?”

She shook her head. “Thanks, I’m good right now.”

Just then, the music changed to Thriller and a happy gasp went up from the crowd. Guests scurried to the large open area in front of the stage to form a line dance.

Ben leaned closer to Charley. “You know, this is the party I invited you to.”

“I kind of wondered when I realized you were here. It makes sense. Your ‘good friends’. A Halloween party.”

“And here you are anyway. It’s kind of an interesting turn of events, isn’t it?”

Charley nodded, looking vaguely uncomfortable. “It kind of is,” she agreed.

“So how do you know Drew and Alex?”

She glanced around. “I, uh…well–“

“Oh, yay! If it isn’t two of my most favorite people on the planet! And they’re chatting together!” In his white knee-breeches and blue revolutionary-era coat, Alex looked like he’d stepped off the Broadway stage. His brown wig was immaculate. He gave Ben an affectionate hug.

“And don’t think I didn’t notice your recycled costume,” he fussed, raising an eyebrow. “Do you know Charley?”

Ben laughed and nodded. “We’ve met. I’m pretty much a regular at Bravo Java every morning.”

“What?” Alex asked in exaggerated surprise, pressing his fingertips to his chest. “I had no idea. It must be kismet, the two of you kids meeting like that.”

Suddenly certain that meeting Charley at the coffee shop had been no accident at all, Ben suppressed a smile.

“Listen, doll,” Alex said to Ben, “I need to borrow Charley for just a sec or two, okay?”

Stepping back, Ben nodded. “Sure, no problem.” His eyes met Charley’s. “See you later?”

He was sure he saw her gulp. “Yeah, see you later.”

Frowning slightly, he watched as Alex led Charley toward the stage.

THE GIRL IN THE GUESTHOUSE by Pandora Spocks

THE GIRL IN THE GUESTHOUSE
is available at your favorite online bookseller.

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