Welcome to Barefoot Bay, Roxanne St. Clair’s romantic (shared) kindle world centered around the fictional island of Mimosa Key, Florida, where the motto is “Kick off your shoes and fall in love.”
Roxanne has generously opened her world to other authors and her books are so much fun, I couldn’t resist spreading out a beach blanket and bringing my own brand of romantic comedy to the seashore.
Check out my novella and “Kick off your shoes and fall in love laughing!”
Barefoot Bay: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Master Sergeant Mike Evans knows what he wants when he gets out of the Air Force: to collect the vintage fishing boat he helped restore as a kid and cruise the world in honor of the great-uncle who left it to him.
Young widow Lane Talmadge knows what she wants, too: to restore the Mimosa Key Theater building, bring community theater to the island, and earn a living so she can support her small daughters.
Hearts collide when Mike finds out he’s inherited Lane’s theater building. Should he give up his boat to pay for repairs? Or sell the property and convince Lane and her girls to sail away with him? And can two lovers find happiness sharing a single midsummer night’s dream?
Begin Reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The last time Master Sergeant Mike Evans (USAF, retired) had been in Mimosa Key, it was as sleepy a town as ever sweltered along the Florida gulf coast. He nudged his Ford pickup out of the creeping line of vehicles along Pleasure Pointe’s open docks and into the Mimosa Theater parking lot, easing into a three-quarters spot marked Reserved for Owner in flaking yellow paint.
Of course, he hadn’t been here since he was a kid. Mike climbed out of the truck and squinted at the rap beating bumper-to-bumper traffic, the tourists dotting the jogging path despite oppressive Fourth of July weekend heat, the scudding sailboats alternating white and dark beneath changeable clouds. Nearly twenty-five years had passed since Mike had stood in this spot, looked out at the water, and learned his world was changing in ways he couldn’t possibly imagine.
A heavy gust of wind signaled approaching rain. Mike walked to the street, scanning the docks for the forty-four-foot Striker fishing boat he’d inherited from his Great-uncle Elias. There she was, Hermia, rocking restlessly on increasing swells. Mike’s fondest memories were of summers spent working on that boat, scraping, sanding, refinishing her teak interior in the homemade dry dock they’d carved out of the guts of the abandoned Mimosa Theater.
“Mom! Mommy!” a high-pitched voice trilled behind him. “Don’t lose Titania!”
He turned to see a woman and two tiny red-headed ballerinas wrestling an enormous kite through the parking lot. No, not a kite. An enormous garment bag—big enough to hold a Civil War ball gown—that snapped and billowed in the stiffening breeze. As he watched, the wind changed direction and whipped forward, jerking the bag from the girls, blowing their staggering mother across the pavement toward traffic.
“Woah.” Mike bounded forward and stopped the woman inches away from a honking van. The garment bag flapped against them. He stuffed it under one arm and helped her back onto the sidewalk.
“Mommeeeee!” The older girl—about eight, with a ruffled tutu and a long, thick red braid—grabbed her mother’s waist. Astonishingly, the smaller girl—in bright red pigtails—went for him, dropping onto Mike’s shoe, wrapping spaghetti arms and purple cowboy boots around his shin, all the while emitting the high-pitched shriek of a malfunctioning jet engine.
“Thank—” The mother’s words were lost in her daughters’ cries. “You-saved-us-you-almost-got-hit-by-a-car-the-wind-stole-my-sunglasses-what-if-Mama-got-blown-into-a-shark?” The older girl took a tighter grip on her mother. “If-we-get-dirt-on-Titania-Aunt-Gussie-will-spit-a-brick….”
At least, Mike was pretty sure she said spit. He folded the flapping garment bag double while the woman raised her voice over the racket. “Gemma, hush. Jemima!” She leaned over and tried to unwind the boa constrictor. “Let the nice gentleman go.”
Mike gazed at the woman. Late twenties, brown hair whipping impractically loose in the wind, her tidy figure was set off by skinny jeans and a nicely filled midriff tee that he could scarcely be blamed for looking down given their relative positions. Mike checked the parking lot for a jealous husband, wondering if he was about to get punched on the jaw. Then he decided he’d punch the guy first for leaving his family to struggle alone.
Fat drops of water began to smack the pavement. The woman tugged her ballerina-cowgirl, glancing at Mike. “Help?”
He tapped the girl’s shoulder. “This is a no-fly configuration.”
“What’s that?” She looked up with koala-bear eyes.
“Unless you move, your pretty tutu will get muddy, and poor Aunt Gussie will have to spit a brick.”
Raindrops pattered closer together. “C’mon, Mima,” the woman coaxed. This time the child allowed herself to be lifted free while Mike kept his gaze determinedly on the woman’s face. It was a pretty face, beautiful really, with large round eyes like her daughters’ and exotic high cheekbones. He had the feeling he’d seen her somewhere before.
“Thanks. Our car’s right here.” She led Mike unexpectedly to a 1965 MGB GT, unlocked the back hatch, and swung it upward. “In you go.”
The girls spilled through the cargo space onto booster chairs on the low bench seat and wriggled out of backpacks, extracting a stuffed plush monster truck from one and a library-bound copy of The Princess Bride from the other.
Their mother gestured at the garment bag. “You can put Titania here, thanks.”
A blast of wind rocked the car. Mike stowed his bundle and lowered the hatchback.
“I can’t thank you enough.” She stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. “Sorry, but I’ve gotta go. We’re running late.”
“No problem.” He followed her to the passenger door. She dived through as the light around them faded to gray. Thunder boomed, unleashing a torrent of rain.
Mike hardly noticed. The woman squirmed into the driver’s seat and hit the ignition, flooding the cabin with the smell of gas. “Damn.” She looked across at Mike. “Oh, dear. You’re wet.”
“I’m good.” He leaned in slightly, wondering for the first time if she even had a husband. He could almost swear the woman was checking him out. “Should you be driving in this weather?”
“It’ll clear up in a minute. And we’re only going to Casa Blanca, not over the causeway.” Her brow crinkled. “I hate to leave you in the rain, though. Do you need a ride?”
Sadly, this was where Mike belonged. “No, thanks.”
“OK.” She flashed a storm-banishing smile. “See you around.”
“Sure.” Unless she had a husband, in which case it would be a spectacularly bad idea.
“We’re getting wet!” the smaller girl—Mima—complained.
“I’m Mike.” He leaned one elbow on the car and tried a smile of his own. “Mike Evans. I just moved to Mimosa Key this afternoon.”
“That’s terrific. I’m—” An angry tune blasted from her pocket. “I’m late.” She ground the starter. This time the engine caught.
Mike shut the passenger door and stepped away from the car. The MG roared backward, sending an icy spray of water straight into his crotch.
The driver’s window inched downward. “I mean, I’m Lane,” she called over a clap of thunder. “Lane Talmadge.”
The older daughter appeared behind her. “We’re single.”
“I’m getting wet!” Her sister’s smaller face joined the lineup. “This is a no-fly configuration!”
“Sorry, gidget.” Lane glanced back. “Seatbelts!”
The window closed and the car surged forward. Mike winced, watching it hydroplane onto the road. At least they weren’t likely to get into an accident. In the last few minutes, Pleasure Pointe had emptied of traffic. The only activity in sight was a family in the docks, frantically tying down everything on their sailboat.
Lane Talmadge. Single.
Mike stood in the downpour while the MG fishtailed out of sight. Lane Talmadge, single, and on her way to Casa Blanca. Unless she was driving to Morocco, that meant the fancy resort in northern Barefoot Bay. It shouldn’t be too hard to track her down and ask her out on a date.
Over dinner, he’d find out more about her. How long had she been single? What did she look for in a guy? Did she have access to that all-important resource for dating parents, an overnight babysitter?
Perhaps by the end of the conversation, he’d work his way around to the big question. Why had Lane Talmadge just stolen his great-uncle’s vintage car?
The show must go on.
“Yes, Mom. Sorry we’re late.” Lane braced her cell phone between her ear and shoulder and whipped the MG around a slippery corner. “I had to tack down a few last beads on Titania.”
“You are aware,” her former mother-in-law said over the speaker, “the judge insists on supper precisely at five.”
“I thought he’s out for the night. I thought you and the gidgets are getting tacos from SOB.”
“Tacos!” Eight-year-old Gemma called from the back seat.
“SOB,” her younger sister shouted.
“Honestly, Lane, the things you let your daughters say.”
“As far as they’re concerned, it stands for South of the Border.” That was Mimosa Key’s Mexican hangout, famous for decent tacos and indecently good margaritas. “Don’t give them ideas.”
“Save our beaches,” Gemma suggested.
“Spit a brick,” six-year-old Mima tried.
There was a moment of giggling consultation and then, “Son of a breakwater!” rocked the car.
Lane took advantage of her mother-in-law’s stunned silence. “Gotta go, Mom. See you in sixty seconds.”
She pulled the car up to the Moroccan splendor of Casa Blanca’s main entrance just as the afternoon shower gasped its last breath. Yellow sunbeams swept the pavement like lasers, erasing moisture, sending plumes of steam into the air.
Lane hopped over the MG’s center stick-shift and out through the passenger door. “Sorry about the car, Javier.” She jogged around back and opened the hatch. “I’d self-park, but Gussie’s waiting.”
“Still haven’t fixed that driver’s lock, Ms. T?” Javier, a drop-dead handsome organic chemistry student, took out the heavy garment bag for her and hung it on a luggage cart. “You know,” he said, sending a Latin puppy-dog look of love her way, “I’m pretty good with my hands. If you want, some evening I can come over and give you a tune up.”
“No tune ups.” Ah, for the days when she might have considered his offer. Except who was she kidding? She’d never had those sorts of days. “My engine’s ticking over fine.” She patted Javier’s arm and dropped the keys into his hand. “But thanks. It’s nice to be asked.”
“Grammie! Grammie!” The girls poked their heads and shoulders out of the hatchback and Lane swung them to the ground. Ten feet ahead, in a space reserved for guest loading and unloading, the rear door of a silver Cadillac Escalade swung open like the hatchway of a mysterious child-devouring spaceship. “Grammie!”
Lane shoved Gemma’s books and Mima’s toys back into their packs and shepherded her daughters toward their grandmother. Janet Talmadge, wife of Judge Robert Lee Talmadge, mother of three-time Academy-Award-winning actor, the late Alexander Talmadge, had made her position as pillar of the Mimosa Key community a lifelong occupation. She served on school committees, coastline committees, holiday decoration committees, and the all-important Committee to Lock Daughters-in-Law into Straight Jackets, which had a small but dedicated membership of one.
“You’re wet,” Janet observed by way of greeting. “Do you need money?”
“No, thanks. I’ll dry.” In about thirty seconds, now that the sun was out. “Thanks for keeping the girls overnight. You’re sure you don’t mind delivering them back here tomorrow morning?”
“They’re going to miss the judge’s special Fourth of July barbeque.”
“Can’t be helped. They’re in the photo shoot.” Lane had spent months restoring vintage costumes from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for a cross-promotional photo shoot between the Barefoot Brides wedding planners at Casa Blanca and her own fledgling Mimosa Community Theater. “We’ll try to stop by afterword.”
“It’s hard to believe you make Alexander’s children work for a living.”
“I don’t make them.” The girls loved modeling. And all the money they earned was set aside for college. Almost all the money. In weeks it wasn’t desperately needed for groceries. Lane tried to ignore a twinge of maternal guilt. After this photo shoot, after the Mimosa Community Theater opened its doors in October, she’d have a regular salary, and borrowing pennies for mac-and-cheese would be a thing of the past. “Besides,” she added, perhaps a little unhelpfully, “they’re not getting paid for tomorrow.”
“We’re going to be fairies,” Gemma said, twirling her tutu.
“Cowboy fairies.” Mima kicked up a purple boot. “Flying on monster trucks.”
“Classical woodland fairies,” her older sister corrected. “And monster trucks can’t fly.”
“Can too. If they’ve got fairies in them.”
“Who wants a kiss goodbye?” Lane interrupted.
“Two kisses!” Little Mima launched herself upward.
“Two hundred!” Gemma clutched Lane’s waist.
Lane lifted the girls into the SUV, exchanging a moderate three hugs and six kisses apiece, and then she watched them drive away with a familiar wrenching ache in her heart.
Maybe I should go after them. Maybe family was more important than her nonexistent career as a theater director. Lane didn’t need a job. Her in-laws had made it perfectly clear they’d support her, provide rooms in their house, supply a functioning car. They’d pay for food, clothing, health care, and trips to Disney World with their grandchildren. All Lane would have to do was every single thing the judge or Janet suggested for the next fifteen years.
That’s not the lesson I want the gidgets to learn.
She sucked in hot air and blinked sadness away.
“Here at last.” Lacey Walker, Casa Blanca’s founder and Lane’s part-time employer, called from the door to the resort. “You better hurry. Gussie’s been prowling the halls like a tiger, scaring my guests.”
Lane couldn’t imagine big-hearted Gussie scaring anyone, although a neatly-bobbed orange-and-black tiger wig might fit her style.
Lacey zoomed in on the garment bag. “Is that Titania? Can I see?”
“Not a peek.” Lane shooed her back. “Until you put it on, no one touches this costume except me and Gussie.”
There were six vintage costumes for the photo shoot, all from a nineteen-thirties production of Midsummer Night’s Dream starring Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, all bequeathed to Lane when Esther Goldman, the owner of the Mimosa Theater building, passed away last winter. Lane had spent five months under the guidance of a costume conservator cleaning, mending, and reinforcing the delicate fabric to make it safe for this photo shoot. On Sunday, all six outfits were going to be sold at a special auction, with proceeds going to cover urgent theater repairs. Knock wood. Lane rapped her knuckles on a nearby door and rolled her cart after Lacey.
They found Gussie sorting stacks of paperwork in the office of Barefoot Brides, Casa Blanca’s destination wedding service. Despite the fact it was Friday before a big holiday—or maybe because of it—all three partners were hard at work. Willow, the frighteningly fit food and beverage manager, black-haired Ari sketching wedding altars and looking characteristically Zen, and Gussie, who appeared distinctly un-tigerly in a bobbed fluorescent pink wig and matching candy-floss lipstick.
“Let me at it.” Gussie pounced on the bag, lowering the zipper and unwrapping the protective layer of muslin. Inside was a glittering confection of white silk, lace, and flowing waterfalls fashioned out of glass beads. “My goodness,” she breathed, “this will suit Lacey perfectly. Here, take her hair down so we can see.”
Gussie slipped on gloves, removed the dress, and held it while Willow pulled Lacey’s hair out of its resort-owner bun and shook the strawberry blond curls loose on her shoulders. “You’re going to look just like Veronica Lake.”
“Veronica Lake with freckles,” Lacey laughed. “But the dress is beautiful. Seems almost criminal to wear it. Have you and Tom figured out where his photo essay will be published?”
“Vanity Fair,” a whiskey-smooth voice said from the door. “Just got off the phone. They’re putting together a fall issue on offbeat Florida destinations. We’ve got a ninety-percent shot at the cover.”
“Tommie!” Gussie rewrapped the dress and turned to throw her arms over her husband. “You’re a genius.”
“That’s what I keep telling people. They say it’s all due to my wife.” Tom DeMille, with his tall frame, blue eyes, and ropy tattooed arms, looked every inch the superstar photographer he was reputed to be. What he didn’t look like was one of the kindest men on earth. Lane had met him two years ago when he’d scouted the Mimosa Theater as a possible site for a photo shoot, and since then he and Gussie had taken her little family under their wings—arranging for Lane to teach theater workshops at Casa Blanca, offering the girls occasional modeling work to help keep the alligators away from the door.
“Vanity Fair.” Willow slipped Lane an enthusiastic high-five. “That ought to sell a few theater tickets.”
“Good for hotel reservations, too.” Lacey grinned.
“Not to mention wedding bookings.” Gussie glanced at the garment bag. “Too bad you’re selling those costumes. I bet there are a lot of brides who’d kill to get married as Titania.”
“And grooms,” Tom said dryly, “who’d kill not to get married in tights.”
“Can’t be helped,” Lane told them. “The costumes are too fragile to keep wearing. After tomorrow, they’ll only be exhibited in special climate-controlled cases.” Not at the Mimosa Community Theater, alas. “Besides, MCT needs money for new wiring and seats.”
“The auction’s going to be amazing.” Lacey twisted her pale hair into its former bun. “But I have to warn you. There’s a rumor Charity Grambling is trying to kill your town council grant.”
“I heard that.” Blast the woman. “But I refuse to worry until the last possible minute.” It was a technique that had gotten Lane through four years beside her late husband’s sick-bed. “Anyway.” She smiled broadly. “Ari assures me the Universe will provide.”
“She assured me you’d be on time with the costumes.” Gussie picked up a Dulce de Leche Dum Dum candy and twirled it on its stick. “That’s how I won dessert.”
“I said she’d be where she needed to be,” Ari objected. “It’s not the same thing.”
“The rain made me late,” Lane fibbed. “I can’t be held accountable for bad weather.” The image of the guy who’d magically appeared in the parking lot flashed through her mind. Mike Evans—tall, green-eyed, mid-thirties, with a clean jaw, well-filled tee-shirt, and short military haircut. Magic Mike, dripping wet, leaning into the car. The man had definitely looked interested. And he just moved to the island….
Lane’s phone-alarm rang. She jumped, surprised to find everyone staring at her. “Time for improv class.” She called up acting skills and forced down a blush. “I thought we’d meet on the beach tonight,” she told Lacey, “if that’s OK. My Friday group likes to be close to the bar.”
“Sure. Maybe Oberon and I” —Lacey grinned wickedly— “I mean Clay and I will stop by and watch.”
“Do you really think,” Ari asked, “we’ll get all three of our husbands dressed up like fairies for tomorrow’s photo shoot?”
“Oberon’s the only fairy,” Lane replied. “Demetrious and Lysander are citizens of Athens.” Although they still had to wear tights.
“I’m positive the guys will go through with it,” Gussie said. “Clay’s a good sport. Nick knows he’s got a sculpted rear-end” —she shot a teasing look at Willow— “and Luke wouldn’t dare double-cross both his wife and sister at the same time, right?”
Ari twirled a long, dark strand of hair. “I have my doubts.” She opened a drawer and took out a lollipop shaped like a ringed planet. “I’ll bet my Saturn-Pop against your Dum Dum that at least one of the guys weasels out.”
“Done.” Gussy placed her Dum Dum on Ari’s desk. “You know I can’t resist a sucker bet. Besides, I’ve got a secret weapon. If anyone weasels, Tom will hunt them down and make them pose for my fashion blog.”
“Don’t drag me into it,” Tom said. “You ladies are strictly in charge of blackmailing your own husbands.”
“And they do it so well.” Lane laughed, wondering if she’d ever find the kind of happiness these women had. I had it with Alex. And he gave me the gidgets. “Thanks everyone.” Oops. Late for class. “Gotta run.” She hugged Gussie and hustled out the door, thinking of fate. A lot of things, good and bad, had brought her to this amazing group of friends, and many of those things had been beyond her control. Come to think of it, Mike Evans had pulled her out of the street at exactly the moment she was supposed to arrive at Casa Blanca.
Perhaps she’d been in the right place, at the right time, after all.
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