This excerpt from California Homecoming appears after Hunter Evans has met Sarah Ladina, the woman who purchased his childhood home.
After he left his former home, Hunter drove aimlessly south on Highway One.
Future inn. Ugh.
The thought of the future innkeeper made him smile. Her wiry toughness was covered by a soft petite frame, luminescent eyes, and gleaming chestnut hair. Boy, would he like to wrap his hands in that hair and find out what kissing her would be like.
Eucalyptus trees whipping by the side of the road made him glance at the speedometer. Immediately, he eased off the gas. He wasn’t in the desert anymore; he actually had to obey the laws instead of enforcing them with the military might of the U.S. Marines.
He had no right to be attracted to another woman. He still hadn’t completed his penance for getting Lauren killed. No matter what the shrink said, Hunter knew his inattention was to blame for her death.
He pushed away all thoughts of women—past and present.
The day gleamed in a way his soul never would again. He should focus on the natural beauty of the bay. Ignoring the camouflaged paintball store at the curve of the road by the Bennet Slough, he concentrated on the egrets and herons stalking the wetlands.
His stomach grumbled. Moss Landing, the small town up ahead, was a good place to stop for something to eat and figure out his next moves. He needed a job and a place to live.
As he turned off the highway by The Whole Enchilada, he caught a glimpse of otters in the cove and pulled over to watch. The flop of their webbed feet as they rolled and dove in the water whispered boyhood memories of carefree afternoons on the Santa Cruz shores.
Before his father had uprooted them all and moved them to the chi-chi town of Sausalito. Before Hunter had gone to war.
Before Lauren had died.
Hunter scowled, got back into the Jeep and drove to the fish house. On a late Saturday, even in January, the place was awash with humanity, each person jostling for a place in line.
Panic crept his skin. He scanned the room for exits and examined faces for threats. His breath became shallower and he remembered why he was here. He focused on the mounted fish on the walls, the dinner choices before him, and edged as close to the glass cases as possible.
Why did he ever think he could resume a normal life?
He got a tray of fish and chips and found a table near an exit. He forced himself to eat deliberately, fighting the urge to bolt his food and rush back to the safety of the Jeep.
Good thing he no longer kept a gun in the glove box. Times like these made him unsure the struggle to live was worth it.
Practice, the shrink had told him. One day at a time—the mantra of all twelve-step groups.
Hunter wasn’t sure it was ever going to work.
If it didn’t, what would be become of him? Memories surfaced of his mentally ill grandfather reliving the Vietnam War on the streets of San Francisco.
Hunter shoved a fish stick in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed without tasting anything.
He forced his mind back to the present and the image of the innkeeper reappeared in his mind, making him smile. If the thought of her made him feel this good, what would a date feel like—or a kiss?
A bit of life stirred in his heart.
He shook his head. If she was smart she’d want nothing to do with a screwed-up, out-of-work, one-legged vet.
He stuck a French fry in his mouth, the greasy, salty potato soothing his mood. Taking a piece of paper from his pocket, he flattened it and clicked on a pen to write down his job qualifications.
The blank page mocked him.
He couldn’t put down a word. Everything he’d done in the war was classified. The past four years were a blank slate as far as prospective employers were concerned.
As far back as I can remember I was scribbling in notebooks. The best gift I could have was a package of three-holed lined paper and sharpened pencils. At first I’d riff off of my favorite TV shows--I was creating fan fiction before I even knew it existed!
I started writing my own material by the time I was around ten. I entered and came in third on a short story contest sponsored by the Boston Globe. Even my mom was impressed! I don’t really remember my dad’s reaction. He wasn’t overly enthused about the whole writing thing.
After college I tried to write, but there was too much drama going on in my own life to concentrate. Then kids came along, more drama along with a healthy dose of drama, and I could barely stay afloat. I did what needed doing, and loved my children desperately, but there was no time for frivolous writing. I did, however, keep my hand in by writing technical articles and even a book on software!
Around 1998 things started freeing up enough so I could go back to crafting a story and working with a writing group. I love writing groups!
My first attempt was a fantasy, but I found I really didn’t have the patience for world-building. Once I began with romance, however, I discovered my bliss.
With the help of a wonderful new writing group in Missoula, Montana, my first novel, California Sunset, was published on August 6, 2012, the day before my birthday.
Did I mention I love writing groups?
Giveaway: To celebrate writing groups, I’m offering a $5 Amazon gift certificate to one of the people who comment on this post. In your comment please put:
* A comment about a group of friends who’ve inspired you to do more
* Your email in the form name AT provider DOT com
Contest is open until July 15th.
To read more of Sarah’s story, buy a copy of California Homecoming is now available on Amazon.
Learn more about the California Romance series on my website
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