Home > The Boardwalk Bookshop

The Boardwalk Bookshop
Author: Susan Mallery

 


ONE


   “I thought there’d be more sex.”

   Bree Larton stared at her seventy-something-year-old customer, not sure how to respond. Bursting out laughing would be inappropriate and Ruth would take offense. “You need to tell me what you want so I can get you the right book,” Bree said with a gentle smile. “You wanted a political thriller. Most of them aren’t sexy.”

   Ruth, barely five feet tall but feisty as a badger, pursed her lips. “Not true. James Bond has sex all the time and he spends his day saving the world. I want a book like that. Ticking bombs, financial collapse, kidnappings and then everyone jumps into bed.” She winked. “That would be a good book.”

   “I can do a sexy thriller. Maybe international?” Bree started walking toward that section of the bookstore. “A couple of options come to mind. Now, on the sexy part—do you want monogamy or can the partners play around?”

   Ruth’s eyes brightened. “I’d like them to play around, but nothing too kinky. And no groups. That’s just too hard to keep track of.”

   Bree held in a chuckle. “All right. We’ll limit the body parts, add a little European flair.” She held out a book with a hunky guy on the cover. “If you like this one, the author has five more stories waiting for you.”

   Ruth, an unnaturally yellow blonde wearing cherry-red lipstick, clutched the book to her narrow chest. “I’ll take it.”

   Bree suggested several additional authors. Ruth browsed for a few more minutes, then carried a stack of books to the register.

   “I think I would have been a good sidekick for James Bond.” Ruth passed over her credit card. “Back in the day, I was quite the looker.”

   “You still are,” Bree told her.

   Ruth waved away the comment. “I’m too old for espionage, but I wouldn’t say no to dinner with a charming man.” Her smile turned sly. “I’ll just have to keep living vicariously through you.”

   “Sadly, I’m lacking a man these days.”

   Ruth leaned close. “What I admire about you, Bree, is that you’re not holding out for love. You go after what you want. When I was your age, that wasn’t an option. Not in polite society anyway. I was born in the wrong time.”

   Bree honest to God had no idea what to say. “I guess we have to work with what we have.” She tucked a flyer into the shopping bag. “Harding Burton is signing here in a couple of weeks.”

   Ruth looked at the poster next to the counter. Her bright red lips curved into a smile. “He’s a good-looking man.”

   Bree mentally shrugged. “I suppose.”

   “You don’t think he’s exceptionally handsome? Those eyes, that smile. Isn’t he the one who was hit by a car and left for dead on the side of the road when he was just a teenager?” Ruth clucked her tongue. “So tragic. But he pulled through and walked again and now look at him.” Her gaze darted to Bree. “You should have your way with him and then tell me all about it.”

   Bree held in a wince. “First, I’d never tell you about it and second, I don’t date authors.”

   Between her late husband and her parents, she knew enough about the type to want to avoid them forever. At least on a personal basis. Work-wise, she was stuck. What with owning a bookstore and all.

   “Harding seems exception-worthy,” Ruth told her. “He might have some interesting scars you could trace and—”

   Bree held up her hands in the shape of a T. “Stop right there. If you’re interested in Harding’s scars, go for him. How could he resist you?”

   “I’m old enough to be his mother.”

   Grandmother, Bree mentally corrected, but kept silent. She had a soft spot for the ever-outspoken Ruth.

   “Maybe he’s into older women,” she said instead.

   “Wouldn’t that be nice.”

   Ruth was still laughing when Bree walked her out of the store. Anson, Ruth’s driver, was waiting in the no-parking fire lane. Anson helped Ruth into the Mercedes. Bree stayed outside until the car drove away.

   Early evening on the beach in Los Angeles was nearly always magical but in June, if the skies cleared, it was the stuff of dreams. Warm air, palm trees, sand and surf. Honestly, she shouldn’t admit to having any real problems in her life. Even Ruth’s impossible book requests were insignificant when compared with the view outside the front door of her store.

   Until six months ago, Driftaway Books had been located about two miles north and a good three blocks inland from the actual beach. Last fall, when the current space had come up on the market, Bree had stopped in to drool and dream. But beachfront came at a premium, and the square footage had been nearly double what she’d needed.

   In one of those rare moments when fate stepped in and offered an unexpected opportunity, that very day two other women business owners had also been swooning over the same retail space. They’d agreed it was an unbelievable location, right there on the sand, but it had also been too big and expensive for each of them.

   Impulsively, Bree had suggested they go get coffee together. Over the next hour they’d discussed the possibility of sharing the lease. Bree generally didn’t trust people until she got to know them, but there had been something about Mikki and Ashley that had made her want to take a chance. By the end of the week Driftaway Books, The Gift Shop and Muffins to the Max had signed a ten-year lease and hired a contractor to remodel. Bree had changed the name of Driftaway Books to The Boardwalk Bookshop, the final step in fully claiming the business as her own. The first Monday after the holidays, they’d moved in together.

   Bree looked at the long, low building. Huge display windows were shaded by blue-and-white-striped awnings. The large glass doors could slide completely open, blurring the line between retail and sand. She and Mikki, the gift-store owner, had their stores on either side, with Ashley’s muffin selection taking up the middle space.

   Big, bright displays showcased books, gifts and muffins, grouped together in seasonal themes. An array of beach books, sunscreen, flip-flops and wide-brimmed hats enticed tourists who had shown up to the beach unprepared.

   Bree headed back inside, aware of the approaching sunset. She collected blankets and champagne glasses, then paused to straighten the poster announcing a book signing by Jairus Sterenberg, author of the popular Brad the Dragon children’s books. Jairus lived in next-door Mischief Bay and was always a pleasure at signings. He was one of the few authors Bree liked. He arrived early, stayed late and asked only for a desk and a glass of water. The man even brought his own pens.

   At the other end of the spectrum was a not-to-be-named famous mystery author who was a total nightmare. Demanding, slightly drunk and very handsy, he’d patted her butt one too many times at his last signing and had been banned from the store. Despite pleas from his publicist and a written apology from the author himself, Bree had stood firm. She owned The Boardwalk Bookshop and she made the rules. No literary books, no existential anything and no guys touching women without their permission. Not exactly earth-shattering, but she could only control her little corner of the world.

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