Sunshine and Starfish by Regina Walker
Jane Everly was born and raised in a small town along the coast of North Carolina, where she lives and runs her own small pet store. She walks the beach after work most days, wakes early to watch the sunrise from her porch, and feels content with her life. Widowed at a young age, she’s never been on the search for new love, she’s just thankful she found love once.
Hayden Moore drives a semi-truck around the country. He eats, sleeps, and works in his truck. Living on the road has never been conducive to forming lasting relationships. In fact, love is the furthest thing from his mind as he focuses on running as many miles as he can to financially support his ailing mother in Oklahoma.
Can two people who aren’t looking for love change their hearts and minds over a summer at the beach?
Targeted Age Group:: All Audiences
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 1 – G Rated Clean Read
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was invited to join a group of authors that were all writing a beach romance. I love trying new things, and I'd never written a contemporary romance or a beach romance before, so I jumped right in. It was a lot of fun creating this story, and I hope you enjoy reading it.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Hayden and Jane came to me pretty quickly. Once I pictured the beach in my head, and thought of the squishy sand between my toes, they popped up with a story to tell. Funny thing is, I've never actually been to the beach/ocean.
Standing on the wrong side of what she assumed was a loaded gun, Jane Everly silently thanked God for giving her a good life while pulling the cash from her register and putting it in the bag.
“Hurry up, lady,” the male voice demanded.
He sounded young, Jane thought, and she glanced up at him. The black mask pulled over his face concealed his identity, but she wondered whether he was a local or not.
“You can have it all. I’m getting it,” she said. Her voice was gentle, and she tried to sound reassuring. Tingling started in her toes and creeped over her foot and slowly up her legs. She felt the tension of fear in every fiber of her body. She started with the ones, then the fives, then the tens. Cramming the bills in the bag, she scooted each stack of cash over to make room for the next.
She thought the bag was so small he must have known he wasn’t robbing something as prolific as a bank. She wondered if he would rob another store after hers, or if he had robbed one beforehand. She took another glance at him.
The gun wobbled in his hand, and he raised the barrel higher, pointing it more at her chest than her stomach. “I said hurry up!”
“I am, I am,” Jane said. Her hands trembled and she fumbled as she pulled the twenties from the drawer and crammed them in the bag. She always thought she’d cry if she found herself in this situation, but no tears came to her eyes. The tingling reached her knees and she thought they might buckle and leave her in a heap on the floor.
Her front door alert, the sound of a dog barking three times, brought her gaze straight up toward the front door.
“I’m sorry, we’re closed. Come back tomorrow, please,” she said to the man that walked in. Unfamiliar, he stared over at her, a white boxer with brindle spots at his side.
“I just need a bag of dog food,” the man said.
The young male spun and pointed the gun at the man. “She said she’s closed!” The gunman shouted at the man who stood frozen in the doorway. His gun wielding hand trembled, and the gun shook back and forth.
“Whoa, whoa, it’s alright, I just needed some dog food.” The man lifted his hands, one held his dog’s leash, the other was empty and open.
“We’re good. You can go,” Jane called over.
“Under the till,” the robber spun on her, pointing the gun at her head. “Get it all!”
Jane nodded. “I’m getting it.” Her shaking hands yanked the upper part of the drawer out, revealing her two one-hundred-dollar bills and a fifty. She put them in his bag and then pushed the bag toward him. “It’s all in there.”
“Do you have a safe?” He waved the gun, still aimed at her head.
“No, no safe. This is just a small pet store and it’s been slow today,” Jane said.
The boxer started growling and the man tugged his leash. “Easy boy.”
“I’ll shoot him if he comes after me,” the masked man shouted. He spun, pointing the gun at the man and dog again. “Where’s the back door?” he asked Jane.
She pointed at the closed door behind her. “Straight through there. The deadbolt is locked. It’ll let you out in the alley.” She held her hands up so he could see them.
“Nobody moves for three minutes,” he ordered. He bolted through the door behind her, jogged to the exit door, and disappeared into the alley.
Jane looked over at the man and raised a brow. “Are you okay?”
“Am I okay?” His tone was a mix of shock and sympathy. He strode to the counter. “Are you okay?”
Jane nodded stoically and reassembled her cash register. “Your dog food is on me today. Just grab what you need and let me scan it so I can count it in my inventory, please.”
She turned her back to him and grabbed the cordless phone off its wall-mounted base. Punching in 9-1-1, she held the phone to her head and listened to it ring.
“Yes, this is Jane at the Granby Pet Store. I was just held up… I’m fine… No injuries… Yes, one customer came in during the robbery… He’s fine… No, the man is gone… Yes, okay… I’ll be here, thank you.”
When she turned, she jerked from surprise because the man was still standing at her counter.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked.
“I’m fine. Really. I think he was just a kid,” Jane said.
The boxer at the man’s side jumped up, placing his paws on the counter. One ear sported the brindle coloring, while his other ear and the rest of his head was white. Jane reached both hands forward and stroked the sides of his face and rubbed his ears.
“What’s his name?” she asked.
“This is L.T., he’s my road dog,” he said.
“Road dog?” Jane asked.
“Yep, he rides in my truck with me. Do you want me to stay until the police arrive?” he asked.
“Oh no, really. It’s fine. You can just grab your dog food and go,” she said.
He looked over his shoulder toward the front door, and then leaned to his right, looking through the door to the back. The door to the alley was open and sunlight streamed in.
“Want me to close that door?” He pointed.
Jane let her eyelids fall over her eyes for a long blink and she swallowed, fighting back the snappy tone that she felt coming. “Sir, I appreciate your kindness, but I’m fine. I’d like to just sweep up this mess back here,” she gestured toward the shattered remains of a ceramic pet bowl on the floor at her feet, “and get back to my day.”
She studied his expression and saw a firm, but quiet, resolve etched in the lines around his baby blue eyes. His short-cut strawberry blond hair matched his eyebrows and short beard. Their eyes met and he smiled at her, something peaceful and reassuring about his expression caused her shoulders to relax a little bit.
The tingling started to drain down her legs and normal feeling returned. As her heart rate slowed, exhaustion settled deep into her bones.
Thank you, God. Thank you for sparing my life and this man’s life. Please stop that kid and help him find a better way.
Her eyes closed for another long blink and when she opened them, the man had moved away from the counter toward the first aisle of dog food.
“I have a lot of those in bigger bags, if you want more than five or fifteen pounds,” Jane said.
“Thank you,” he said, peering over a shelf at her. “I’m Hayden, by the way.”
“Hayden?” she questioned.
“Yes?” he asked, his expression serious.
She laughed a little bit and shook her head. “Just making sure I heard you right, is all.”
A modest grin tugged his lips upward and he chuckled. “I know. Did that with a straight face, too.”
Her hand went to her mouth, and she laughed, shaking her head slightly. “Are you always this ornery?”
“Usually,” he confessed.
The barking dog door chime turned her attention toward the front door, while making L.T. bark twice in his loud, deep voice.
“We got a report of a robbery here?” Two female officers walked through the front door.
“I’m Officer Jackson,” the female officer with light brown skin stepped up to the counter. Arranged in neat braids, her dark hair hung half an inch above the collar of her shirt. She gestured toward her partner. “This is Officer Martin. Is everyone okay?”
“We’re fine. I’m fine,” Jane laid her hand on her chest to indicate herself. “Are you sure you’re okay, Hayden?”
“Right as rain,” he said. He walked out where the officers could see him and his dog.
“Did you know your door in the back is open?” Officer Martin asked, gesturing toward the door in the back that let out into the alley.
“That’s the way the man… boy, rather, ran out,” Jane said.
“How old do you think the suspect was?” Officer Jackson asked.
“Oh, I’m not sure. Maybe sixteen or seventeen,” Jane answered.
“Can you describe him for me?” Officer Jackson asked. She held a small notebook and pen in her hand, taking notes.
“Do you mind?” Officer Martin tipped her head toward the back room.
“Go ahead,” Jane said.
With her hand on her gun, Officer Martin disappeared into the back room, toward the open door.
“He was sixteen or seventeen. Scared. Had a gun. He kept shaking. He was pointing it low but the more agitated he got, he would raise it. Before he left, he was pointing it right at my head,” Jane said. She rubbed her hand across her forehead. Fatigue set deep into her muscles and bones. She was ready for bed, and it wasn’t even three in the afternoon yet.
“How tall was he?”
“My height. I’m five foot five. He wasn’t taller than me. He kept telling me to hurry. He brought a bag with him. Just a small, black bag. I was thinking he couldn’t rob more than one place at a time without emptying the bag. He knew he wasn’t getting thousands of dollars here.” Jane leaned against the counter.
Hayden watched her intently, reaching forward, he patted the back of her hand. “You did a good job staying calm when he was here.”
“What was he wearing?” Officer Jackson asked.
“A black mask,” Jane said.
“Did you see his other clothes?” Officer Jackson asked.
Jane thought for a minute and scrunched up her shoulders, holding them for a long beat, then lowering them. “I wasn’t paying attention to his clothes. I just wanted him to stay calm and not shoot.”
“Do you know what kind of gun he had?” Officer Jackson asked.
Jane laughed at that and pressed her hand against the counter to steady herself. “No idea. I don’t know anything about guns. It was black.”
“It was a Stoeger forty,” Hayden said.
“Did you get a good look at the guy?” Officer Jackson asked.
“She’s right, he was probably five-five. A hundred and fifteen pounds, if. White male, scared. Thin. He was wearing an orange t-shirt and blue jeans. His shoes were worn out. Gray. Generic. But I could see his socks on his toes on one foot. He was probably sixteen or seventeen, like she said.” Hayden lifted his hand toward Jane.
“And your name is?” Officer Jackson asked.
“Hayden Moore, Ma’am.”
“Are you from around here?” the officer asked.
“No, ma’am. I’m just in town overnight. Taking my ten-hour break, then I’ll be on my way. I drive a truck,” he said.
Officer Martin, fair skinned, freckled, and sporting fire red hair in a tight bun, appeared at the front door and strode over to her partner.
“Anything?” Officer Jackson asked.
“Back is clear. Do you have a description? I can ask around, see if anyone saw him before or after he came in here,” Officer Martin said.
The officers stepped off to the side to talk for a moment, so Officer Jackson could relay the suspect description.
“Did you find your dog food?” Jane asked Hayden.
“Oh, yeah. You’ve got it. The Earthborn Holistic in the blue bag. I’ll grab it in a minute. I need some flea and tick stuff and I thought I might use your self-wash bay and give L.T. here a bath. He hasn’t had one in a couple of weeks. I was looking for a shampoo for white coats when they got here,” he said, his head tipping slightly toward the officers.
“I don’t have any whitening shampoo, but I do have a probiotic shampoo in the wash bay. You are welcome to use that,” Jane said.
Officer Jackson stepped back to the counter, looking at her notes. “I just have a few more questions for you, Jane.”
“Absolutely, anything,” Jane said.
“Did this kid seem familiar to you?” Officer Jackson asked.
Hayden gestured toward the wash bay and pointed at L.T., trying not to interrupt as he excused himself to go wash his dog.
“How much do you think he got away with?” Officer Jackson looked up from her notes, her eyebrow raised at Jane.
“Oh gosh, let me think here, there were two one-hundred-dollar bills and a fifty, but the twenties…hmmm,” she tapped her fingers on the counter and then her eyes widened with recognition, “I can just run my report. I started my till with three hundred dollars this morning.” Jane turned to her sales screen and tapped a few buttons. “Looks like I had three twenty-seven in sales. So, he made off with six twenty-seven.”
“Do you have any security cameras inside or out?” Officer Jackson asked.
“No. I’ve never had anything like this happen before. Do you think it will happen again?” Jane asked.
“Hard to tell. Sometimes thieves will hit the same place a couple of times if it was easy enough and they got enough money. Some thieves never hit the same place twice. I think I have everything I need for my report.” Officer Jackson reached into her pocket and pulled a business card out. “Here’s my card, call me if you think of anything or need anything.”
“Wait, aren’t you going to dust for fingerprints or something?” Jane asked.
The chuckle from Hayden as he brought a cleaned and dried L.T. out of the self-wash center turned both Officer Jackson and Jane’s heads. Jane looked confused, but Officer Jackson’s expression was cross. She turned back to Jane.
“We don’t dust for prints. There are probably thousands of prints in this place, and we can’t put in the hours to identify all of those people as proper customers versus the robber. I’m sorry,” Officer Jackson said.
“So, what are you going to do?” Jane asked.
“Ask a few other businesses if they have cameras, if they saw anything in the alley, cross check with any calls of suspicious activity. That’s about all we can do,” Officer Jackson said.
“Am I safe?” Jane asked, her voice softer.
“I think you probably are. Sounds like a teen that got in a jam. Not that it’s okay and I know you probably feel violated, but I don’t think you’re in any imminent danger,” Officer Jackson said.
Hayden walked closer to the counter, waving as Officer Jackson excused herself.
“That’s it?” Jane turned to him, her eyebrows lifted, her expression somber.
“There isn’t much else they can do. You should put up some security cameras,” Hayden said.
“I don’t know how to do that,” Jane said.
“Do you have someone that could help you do it?” Hayden asked.
Jane’s mind drifted twenty years back, to the night of her third wedding anniversary. A night that most couples would have been celebrating with a fancy dinner, or a weekend getaway, she was crouched at the edge of a hospital bed, listening to the final breaths of her dying husband. She’d been alone ever since.
Cliff would have put up cameras for her, if he’d lived long enough. Looking at the stranger across the counter from her, she offered a faint smile in his direction, then she grabbed a tub of wipes and started cleaning off the counter.
“I could ask someone from church,” she said.
“Church?” He cocked a brow and scoffed. “No husband or brother you could ask?”
She thought of her brother-in-law, but it was a three-hour drive for him and her sister to reach Granby, North Carolina. They were both busy with an upcoming college graduation and a high school graduation for their two kids.
“I’m sure someone at church would be happy to help. Hopefully they can tell me where to buy security cameras,” she said.
“Amazon. Sam’s Club. Best Buy. There are plenty of places that sell them,” Hayden leaned his hip against the counter. “How much do I owe you for the dog wash and a bag of dog food?”
“It’s on me today. Sorry you’ve spent all afternoon tied up here. You didn’t have to—”
Hayden waved a hand in the air. “Stop that. Don’t tell me I didn’t have to. You were on the wrong end of a loaded firearm; I’m impressed that you’re still standing and haven’t closed up shop and gone home for the day.”
“I can’t do that; my customers are counting on me to be consistent. Consistency is important, you know.”
“Yeah, yeah it is.” Hayden nodded slowly. He tugged his wallet free from his back pocket and opened it. Pulling a hundred-dollar bill out, he set it on the counter, then turned, grabbed his dog food, and headed for the exit.
“Wait,” Jane called, “that’s too much. You can’t just leave that lying there.”
He didn’t turn or answer her.
“Hayden,” she said as he pushed the door open and let the salty sea breeze enter the store, but he still didn’t respond.
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