Home > The Sunshine Strategy (Coble Coffee #3)

The Sunshine Strategy (Coble Coffee #3)
Author: Noelle Adams

 

One

 


BRITTANY PEARSON, CALLED Britt by everyone since she was four, was speed-walking back to her car on a Saturday night after yet another bad date.

She rarely had anything but bad dates anymore.

Tonight, she was almost in tears. Not because anything traumatic had happened but because her search for a decent, interesting, kind-hearted guy whom she was even remotely attracted to was becoming increasingly futile.

Maybe she shouldn’t care so much that the guy tonight was one of those who faked all the right interests and sentiments for no other reason than to get her into bed.

Like he was on a hunt, and she was the prey.

She’d believed his act because she was in the habit of taking other people at face value. She’d always been the person she showed to the world, and so her instinct was to assume other people were the same.

The way this faith kept getting crushed—over and over again—made her feel cheap. Immature. Gullible.

Maybe it shouldn’t matter so much to her, but it did. Not because she was desperate for a man. She wasn’t. She was almost twenty-six. She had a loving family and a lot of friends. She was well on her way to achieving her career goals by earning her PhD in educational administration. She could easily see herself in a happy future by focusing on the things she had right now.

Sure, she wanted children one day, but she didn’t need them at this moment.

She was doing fine.

It shouldn’t matter so much to her that every date she’d had recently left her feeling worthless and defeated.

On top of everything else, her lips were dry and cracked and had been bothering her all night.

Mentally reminding herself of everything she knew to be true—including the fact that she could put on some lip balm—she reached her car, which she’d parked in a small lot behind one of the downtown blocks. She lived in a small university town, so parking was sometimes a pain but wasn’t impossible or expensive, and she nearly always parked her car right here. It was directly behind Coble Coffee, her favorite coffee shop, and she invariably ended up there at some point during the day.

She waved her bag in front of her car door until the lock triggered remotely. Then she flopped into the driver’s seat and left the door open as she dug into the small inner pocket of her bag where she kept her Chapstick.

Because of the university, this town had a more developed downtown than most places this size, but it still maintained a small-town feel. The parking lot was well-lit, and Britt was rarely nervous walking the streets after dark.

She didn’t even think about closing her car door before she dug for her lip balm.

As she found it and pulled it out, the ring to her large car key (which she always kept in that pocket because her car had a push-button start) got hooked on the edge of the small tube. She jerked it out of the pocket in an impatient attempt to free it, and in the process flung her car key several feet away.

Britt gasped as she watched the key fly through the air with remarkable height.

She saw where it was going to land before it happened.

The parking lot had a history of flooding from even moderate rain, so the town had added a large drain in the middle, covered by a thick, heavy grill.

She shouldn’t be surprised—given the way her evening was progressing—that the key flew unerringly to land on the grate.

What did shock her was that it didn’t fall through. It was poised there on the metal, but it didn’t slip.

It was the first good thing to happen to her all night.

She ran over, holding her breath as she got close, since it felt like even a stray breeze might push the key into the dark, disgusting abyss of the drain.

Her hand was shaking just slightly as she reached for her key.

Before she’d even managed to touch it, the inevitable occurred.

Her key slipped off its precarious perch to fall right into the drain.

She heard a wet plunk as it hit the bottom.

She froze over the drain, her hand still outstretched. Fought a wave of both panic and despair as she stared down at the grill.

Her car key was gone.

The grate was bolted down, and it was way too heavy for her to lift anyway. She couldn’t reach through the small gaps, and she had no idea how far the key had fallen anyway.

For all she knew, it had washed into the sewer.

She lived on the outskirts of town, and she couldn’t get home without her car. She couldn’t do anything.

She was stranded here in this parking lot for all of eternity now.

Part of her mind knew this wasn’t true. She had a phone and a family who lived locally and plenty of friends. Vivian’s place was a few blocks away. Britt could walk over and knock on her apartment door, hoping she didn’t interrupt any wild sexual escapades between Vivian and her boyfriend. Or she could call her dad. Since it was late, he’d already be in bed, but he’d jump up, throw on his clothes, and drive over to help her without any questions or hesitations.

But the part of her mind that realized all these facts was temporarily silenced by the flood of dismay.

She bent at the waist, hugging her arms to her stomach and trying to peer into the dark drain to see her key.

There was a noise behind her. It sounded like hard footsteps on the pavement. Someone must be running because the steps were moving fast.

She didn’t even turn around to look until she realized the person was approaching her.

“Britt? Britt? What’s wrong? Are you okay?” The voice was breathless. Urgent. Familiar.

She straightened up, blinking as she realized the man was Nash Coble. Bearded, unsocial, perpetually grumpy owner of her favorite coffee shop.

It was a little past eleven. He must have closed up a few minutes ago. And now he was standing in front of her, panting because he’d sprinted over, thinking she was sick or injured. When, in reality, she’d had a bad date and flung her key into an unfortunately located drain.

Britt burst into ridiculous tears.

“Shit,” he muttered, reaching out to clamp his big hands on her shoulders and turning her around so he could peer into her face. “What the hell is going on? Tell me right now!”

“I’m okay,” she managed to choke out. For some reason, she liked the feel of his strong hands on her shoulders. He wasn’t being gentle. He was holding on tight, and it seemed like he was on the verge of shaking an answer out of her. But it still felt like his strong grip was the only thing keeping her from crumpling. “I’m not hurt. It’s not a crisis.”

“It sure as hell is something.”

She really, really wished she could stop crying. She’d always tried to be as nice as possible to Nash, since she was nice to everyone and he seemed like an interesting guy, but he’d never reciprocated. Not in even the smallest of ways. He probably already thought she was silly and shallow and immature and unsubstantial—which a lot of guys assumed about her because she was tiny, blond, outgoing, and openly emotional.

As soon as he learned how small her problem was, he’d conclude she was a silly crybaby.

“Damn it, tell me what’s wrong right now,” he bit out.

She gasped in indignation and yanked herself out of his grip. “You don’t have to be so mean about it. I’m already having a bad night.”

He scowled at her, but that was his normal expression, so she didn’t read too much into it. “I know you’re having a bad night. Why the hell do you think I’m even asking? If you’ll tell me what’s wrong, I might be able to help.”

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