Book Three: The Family Simon
The small town of Fisherman’s Landing wasn’t exactly what Maverick Simon envisioned when he’d decided to crash at his brother’s place, but that was a good thing. Off the beaten track and halfway between nowhere and the rest of the U-S-of-A, it was perfect for a guy looking to disappear for a few weeks.
Or, as he inhaled the unique scent of the best damn clam chowder he’d ever had, maybe a few months.
Tucked into the corner booth of A Charmed Life, a small family run diner in the heart of Fisherman’s Landing, Maverick was able to eat in peace and so far no one had paid him much attention. He was cool with that. Being a Simon wasn’t always easy, and at one time or another any one of them had been ripe pickings for the gossip rags.
As of late that particular Simon had been Maverick. Thanks to a nasty breakup with Elle Mason—Hollywood’s flavor of the month—and the damn woman’s need to tweet everything about their relationship (or according to her, their lack thereof) the press had been particularly aggressive. If he never saw his face online or in a magazine again, he’d die a happy man.
As if the endless photos of him and Elle hadn’t been bad enough, (did anyone really care that he liked an everything bagel with cream cheese? Or that he visited Starbucks only on the weekends?) Waking up to find pictures of his naked butt splashed all over the internet had just about done him in.
Sure the exposure (pun intended) had been rampant and that pissed him off, but what pissed him off even more, were the endless jabs from his buddies and family. The Simons could be a ruthless bunch and in this instance they’d been like rabid dogs. Hell, he’d even come home from the recording studio one day to find the damn pictures plastered all over his house.
Maverick knew what his ass looked like—he’d lived with it for thirty-one years—he didn’t need a reminder on the fridge or the toilet or his damn bed.
He’d had enough and his brother Cooper had offered him safe haven and even though safe haven was out in the middle of nowhere, he’d accepted without a second thought.
He’d arrived in town exactly four days earlier, along with a February Nor’easter that had buffeted the coast for nearly forty-eight hours. The roads had finally been cleared of snow, and more than a little sick of his own company he’d ventured out.
“Would you like another bowl of chowder?”
The waitress—Jessie, according to her nametag—gazed down at him with a smile. Her voice had warmth and an accent he couldn’t quite place. With snow-white hair pulled back into a ponytail, delicate features, and a sparkle in her eyes, she was a pretty lady. Maverick was going to take a guess that the woman had been one hell of a looker back in the day.
He leaned back and shook his head. “I’m good, but I’ll take a coffee if that’s all right.”
“Sure thing,” she said with a wink, taking a step back. She paused, a soft frown on her face. “You’re new to town, right?”
“You staying for a while, or just passing through?”
“Not sure, though the clam chowder might convince me to hang around longer than I’d first thought.”
“I’ve heard that more than once,” she replied with a chuckle. “Whereabouts are you laying your head?”
Some folks might be a put off by the waitress’s direct questions, but Maverick just smiled and shrugged. He knew small towns were tightknit and from what he could tell, A Charmed Life, was the only happening place in Fisherman’s Landing. Well, except for the lone bar at the end of the main drag, but that was only open Thursdays to Sundays.
“My brother’s got a place outside of town.”
“On the water?”
He nodded. “Yeah. It’s a bit of a mess right now. He’s in the middle of renovating and it’s going to be a long haul.”
“Ah. The old McLaren estate.”
Maverick didn’t see the need to answer because in fact, the woman seemed to know every bit of his business. Except for his name and he was hoping to keep that one on the down low. His brother Cooper had been staying out here, pretty much incognito, off and on for the last five years and damned if Maverick was going to blow his cover.
She tucked her note pad into the front pocket of her faded white apron. “You have the look of a west coast boy.”
Damn. She was good. “I’ve spent the last ten years in California.”
“I figured as much. Just a warning, this place, this town, has a habit of making permanent residents of the, ‘just passing through folks’. I should know. Nearly thirty years ago I was one of them.”
“Really,” Maverick answered. “What made you take up roots?”
“What else,” she said with a giggle. “A man.”
Maverick’s smile widened. “I appreciate the warning, but I’m only here to relax and recharge the batteries.”
“Uh huh,” Jessie replied.
“It’s the truth,” he said.
“Those were my words too.” She winked.
Jessie turned away just as the door to the place opened up, letting in a gust of wind and swirling snow that caught the sunlight, making diamonds in the air. A little boy, who looked to be about ten, ran into the diner and hopped up onto one of the stools at the counter. He was bundled in full-on winter gear and so was his companion.
Maverick watched the kid tug off his knitted hat letting loose a riot of chestnut curls. He folded his hands in front of him and sat there, as still and silent as a mouse. Huh. None of the Simon boys had ever been that well behaved.
“Guess school’s still closed?” he asked Jessie as she filled his mug with coffee. Maverick leaned back in the booth eyes still on the boy.
“Oh, yes. Along with the storm there was some kind of problem with pipes bursting and the school won’t be open until tomorrow.”
Jessie handed Maverick his bill. He grabbed it and reached for his wallet. “Do you recommend a local mechanic? One who can work on a sled? My brother’s got an old skidoo but it’s not running. I thought I might get it going for him and take it out for a ride.”
“Sure.” Jessie took his twenty and handed him his change. “Charlie Samuels can fix you up.”
“Great,” Maverick said with a grin. “Where can I find the shop? I’ll stop in on my way back.”
“You can talk to Charlie yourself.” The waitress pointed to the young man at the counter beside the little boy who was now digging into a plate of fries.
“Thanks,” Maverick replied. “I’ll do that.” He finished his coffee while scrolling through several text messages from Donovan James.
Haven’t heard from you. Hope all is well.
Okay it’s been three days, Rick. WTF?
Did you meet someone? Are you screwing some lucky woman’s brains out?
Okay. Not nice. I’m going to come out there if you don’t text me back soon.
Better yet I’ll tell Elle where to find you.
Donovan, a bona fide country music star, was his best friend and she also happened to be married to his cousin, Jack. She was tenacious, and like a dog with a bone she didn’t give up when she was after something. And over the last few months she’d been after him. She knew something was up. He couldn’t write worth shit. Couldn’t focus. Hell, he hadn’t played the piano or picked up his guitar in weeks.
Donovan was convinced he was having a mid life crisis at the age of thirty-one but Maverick knew better. There was no rhyme or reason. Sometimes things got screwed up. Sometimes you just needed a break from life.
“Whatever,” he muttered, shoving his cell back into his pocket. He had time to figure things out. In fact out here in the middle of nowhere he had nothing but time.
He left a twenty on the table and headed for the door, eyes on the kid at the counter but his companion was nowhere to be seen. Maverick glanced around with no luck.
“Hey,” he said to the boy. “You’re here with Charlie Samuels right?”
The kid froze, a forkful of French fries halfway between the plate and his mouth. Maverick waited but he didn’t budge.
“Bud?” Maverick tried again, watching him closely. The boy turned slightly but wouldn’t meet Rick’s gaze, the fries still held in mid-air.
His skin was pale and his eyes were a shade of blue so light it was almost colorless. Fringed with thick dark lashes and a smattering of freckles across his nose, the boy looked delicate. Fragile even.
Maverick waited a few more moments, unsure of how to proceed and then the boy shoved the fries in his mouth. He continued to ignore Maverick and dug into his plate, swooshing the remaining fries around in the gravy.
“Your dad, is he around?” Maverick tried again. The boy swirled his fries around faster and faster. If Maverick didn’t know better he’d think the kid was agitated or shy or just…odd.
The voice came from behind him, it wasn’t exactly cold, but it wasn’t exactly friendly either. Maverick glanced over his shoulder and was nailed by a pair of eyes paler than the kid’s at the counter. Framed by dark, delicate eyebrows and the same thick lashes he’d just seen on the boy, they narrowed.
For a few seconds Maverick stared into those pale eyes, at a face that was interesting, dramatic, and unsettling. He saw things randomly, like flash cards being tossed in front of him.
A full mouth.
Long wisps of dark auburn hair poking from beneath a black knit hat.
A smudge of dirt on said, high cheekbones.
A small nose, with a slight upturn.
And those eyes. They were the most unusual shade he’d ever seen, like looking into glass that was frosted with the barest hint of blue.
What the hell? He felt like he’d just been punched in the gut. His heart sped up and he took step back from the counter, off kilter and not liking it one bit.
“I’m looking for Charlie Samuels,” he managed to say without sounding like a complete idiot.
“You’re looking at Charlie.” She had a voice that was a little rough—the kind of voice a blues song would slide over and wrap itself in. She also had attitude and from the looks of it, she wasn’t too keen on him.
That was okay. Maverick liked a challenge.
“So Charlie’s a woman,” Maverick said with a slow smile.
“Like I haven’t heard that before.” The sarcasm was heavy but he ignored it.
“I’m sorry,” he replied. “I didn’t mean to offend.”
“I didn’t say that I was offended.”
For the life of him Maverick had no idea what he’d done to deserve such coldness. He didn’t answer her. He didn’t move. He just stared at her. Waiting for the right moment. It came. He saw it in the little tick beside that full mouth.
“Have I done something I shouldn’t have?” he asked.
She pointed toward the boy. “He doesn’t talk to strangers.”
Okay. He got that. She was protective of her kid, but still…
“And apparently you don’t either?”
“Talk to strangers.”
“No, not really.” There was no hesitation, though he noted a slight flair in her nostrils and maybe a bit of a blush in her cheeks.
Okay. What the hell? He frowned, trying to figure her out.
“What?” She glanced up at him.
“You don’t like me,” he said.
“I don’t know you.”
“True. Do you dislike everyone you don’t know?”
“I don’t dislike…” She licked the corner of her mouth and swore, eyes darting behind him. “You’re making him nervous. Can you please move away from Connor?” It wasn’t a question, but a command.
The boy was banging his fork against the counter, his timing perfect, yet there was something about the way his body was positioned. About the way his eyes were focused not on what he was doing, but off into space.
Maverick moved a step away.
“What do you want?” she asked sharply, eyes sliding from his to the boy again.
“I hear that you’re a mechanic.”
His gaze moved over her clothes, for the first time noting grease on the knees of her faded jeans. Heavy work boots adorned her feet and the pea green jacket she wore was big and bulky. It looked as if it had seen better days and was threadbare in the elbow.
Other than her striking eyes and delicate facial features, it was hard to know what she looked like underneath all that gear.
“And?” she asked, in what could only be described as a ‘duh’ moment.
Maverick’s mouth thinned a bit. He wasn’t used to such hostility coming from someone he’d barely met. Damn, but this woman was prickly.
She moved by him and he caught the faintest whisper of vanilla.
And motor oil.
The little boy turned to the side as she pulled his hat back on, eyes never wavering from hers. She yelled down at Jessie, “We’ve got to run.” And tossed a five dollar bill onto the counter.
“That’s it?” Maverick asked. “Don’t you want to know why I was enquiring after a mechanic?”
She sighed. A big old, you’re-annoying-me-but-what-can-I-do-for-you kind of sigh and turned back to him, tugging up her scarf so that the lower half of her face was covered.
Another time and place would have seen Maverick walking away. He didn’t normally tolerate rude people. Didn’t see the need to clog up his time with that kind of crap. But there was something about this woman that pissed him off just enough to stay in her face.
Probably because he knew she didn’t like it.
Probably because he wanted to know why.
Most because Maverick Simon hated losing and he sure as hell wasn’t going to let this cold, bitchy woman get the best of him.
“The name’s Rick.”
Her eyes widened a bit and for a second he caught a glimpse of something in their depths. He didn’t know what it was, but it sure as hell made her all the more intriguing. Just what the hell was her game?
“My garage is on Landing’s Lane, last place on the right. It’s just around the corner. If you’ve got something you need fixed bring it by and we’ll fit you in.”
She reached for the boy’s hand but the kid moved back a step. A heartbeat passed and then she pointed toward the door. “Come on, Connor.”
The kid slid the rest of the way off the stool and they turned from him without another word. Maverick stared after them, watching them disappear into the swirling snow just outside the diner.
Son-of-a-bitch. He’d been dismissed.
“Don’t mind Charlie. She’s a little rough around the edges,” Jessie said, running a cloth over the counter where the boy had just been.
“You think?” he said, more to himself than to anyone.
“But she’s the sweetest girl.”
“That something I find hard to believe.”
“She really is. She’s had a tough time of it, being alone with Connor and all.” Jessie’s eyebrows rose in question. “Are you going to take your sled over? Don’t let her attitude scare you off. Charlie can pretty much fix anything and if she can’t, Davis can.”
Maverick zipped up his North Face jacket and pulled a hat out of his pocket. “I might,” he replied. It’s not like he had anything else on his schedule. “Maybe I’ll catch a glimpse of that there sweet side you just mentioned.”
Not that he was interested.
He turned and headed out into the cold winter, not hearing Jessie’s reply from the wind in his ear.
“I hope so.”
If he had of, he might have decided to steer clear of Charlie Samuels because Jessie’s words carried not only a hint of sorrow but there was some weight there—a bit of expectation and hope.
And really, what did expectation and hope have to do with a man only passing through?