A fun and exciting snippet for the latest book from M.L. Bullock!
Have you checked out this latest book by M.L. Bullock? I just read the first chapter and I can't wait until this book goes live tomorrow! Check this out and get ready for a snarky heroine on the beachy town of Dauphine Island!
Dauphin Island had more than its share of weirdness, as illustrated by tomorrow’s Mullet Toss, but it was home to me. It wasn’t as popular as nearby Sand Island or Frenchman Bay, but we islanders clung to our small-town identity like it was a badge of honor. Almost unanimously, islanders refused to succumb to the pressure of beach developers and big-city politicians who occasionally visited our pristine stretches of sand with dollar signs in their eyes. No matter how they sweet-talked the town elders, they left unsatisfied time and time again, with the exception of a lone tower of condominiums that stood awkwardly in the center of the island. As someone said recently at our monthly town meeting, “We don’t need all that hoopla.”
That seemed to be the general sense of things, and although I valued what they were trying to preserve, I didn’t always agree with my fellow business owners and residents. Still, I was just Nike Augustine, a girl with a weird name and a love for French fries. Most notably, I was the granddaughter of the late Jack Augustine, respected one-time mayor of Dauphin Island. What did I know? I was too young to appreciate the importance of protecting our sheltered island, or so I had been told. Island folk such as I made the bulk of our money during Spring Break and the Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo in July. It was enough to make a girl nuts.
But despite this prime example of narrow-mindedness, I fit in here, along with all the oddities like the island clock that never worked properly, the abandoned lighthouse everyone believed was haunted, and the fake purple shark that hung outside my grandfather’s souvenir shop. I reminded myself of that when the overwhelming desire to wander overtook me, as it threatened to do today and had done most days recently. I had even begun to dream of diving into the ocean and swimming as far down as I could. Pretty crazy since I feared the water, or more specifically, what swam hidden in the darkness. Another Nike eccentricity. Only my grandfather understood my reluctance, but he was no longer here to tell me I wasn’t crazy. My fear of water separated me from my friends, who practically lived in or on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico or Mobile Bay most of the year.
Meandering down the aisles of the souvenir shop, I occasionally stopped to turn a glass dolphin and rearrange a few baskets of dusty shells. I halfheartedly slapped the shelves with my dust rag and glanced at the clock again and again until finally, the shark-tooth-tipped hands hit five o’clock. With a bored sigh, I walked to the door, turned the sign to Closed, and flicked off the neon sign that spelled out Shipwreck Souvenirs. I’d keep longer hours when spring break began, but for now, it was 9 to 5.
I walked to the storeroom to retrieve the straw broom. I had to pay homage to tradition and make a quick pass over the chipped floor. I’d had barely any traffic today, only a few landlubbers hoping to avoid the spring-breakers. As many early birds had discovered, the cold Gulf waters weren’t warm enough to frolic in yet. Probably fewer than a dozen people had darkened my door today, and only half of those’d had the courtesy to buy something. With another sigh, I remembered the annoying child who had rubbed his sticky hands all over the inflatables before announcing to the world that he had to pee. I thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t have kids, but then again, I would need a boyfriend or husband for that, right?
Oh, yeah. I get to clean the toilet, too.
I wondered what the little miscreant had left behind for me in the tiny bathroom. No sense in griping about it since it was me or no one. I wouldn’t be hiring help anytime soon. I grabbed the broom and turned to take care of the task at hand when I heard a suspicious sound that made me pause.
Someone was near the back door, rattling through the garbage cans. I heard the metal lid bang on the ground. Might be a cat or dog, but it might also be Dauphin Island’s latest homeless resident. We had a few, but this lost soul tugged at my heartstrings. I had never seen a woman without a place to live. So far, she had refused to tell me her name or speak to me. Perhaps she was hard of hearing too? Whatever the case, it sounded as if she weren’t above digging through my trash cans, which meant even more work for me. “Hey,” I called through the door, hoping to stop her before she made a mess.
I had remembered her today as I was eating my lunch and saved her half of my club sandwich. I had hoped I could tempt her to talk to me, but as if she knew what I had planned, she’d made herself scarce —until now.
I slung the door open, and the blinds crashed into the mauve-painted wall. Nobody was there, but a torn bag of trash lay on the ground. I yelled in the direction of the cans, “Hey! You don’t have to tear up the garbage! I have food for you. Are you hungry?”
I might as well have been talking to the dolphins that splashed offshore. Nobody answered me. “I know you’re there! I heard you in my trash. Come out, lady. I won’t hurt you.” Still, nobody answered. I heard a sound like a low growl coming from the side of my store.
What the heck was that?
Immediately I felt my adrenaline surge. Danger stalked close! I ran to the back wall of my shop and flattened myself against the rough wood. I heard the growl again. Was that a possum? Gator? Rabies-crazed homeless lady? I knew I shouldn’t have started binge-watching The Walking Dead this week. There was absolutely nothing wrong with my imagination. My mind reeled with the possibilities. After a few seconds, I quietly reasoned with myself. I didn’t have time for this. Time to face the beast, whatever it might be.
Gripping the broom as if it were a weapon, I tiptoed to the corner of the building and spun around the edge with it raised above my head. I shouted, “Ha!” as if that would help me seem more menacing, but to my surprise, there was nobody there. Not a scary possum, no alligators, and no sign of the zombie homeless lady. Nobody was there but Mr. Targetti, the man who owned the bike rental shop next door. He caught me and snorted in amusement.
“Oh, hi, Mr. Targetti. I thought I heard someone back here. Got into my garbage again.” He just stared at me as he always did. I don’t think he’d ever spoken to me. That bothered me. I was a likable gal. I gave up trying to explain why I’d been brandishing my broom like a katana and lowered it with a sheepish expression. He raised his shiny black eyebrows even higher, so they looked like they might slip up and over the top of his head. I let out a nervous laugh at the sight. With a grunt of disgust, he turned his broad back to me and headed inside, all the while shaking his overly large head as if he couldn’t believe what he’d seen.
“One day, your head’s going to fall off,” I whispered at his back.
I thought I saw him pause, but he didn’t turn around. He slammed the side door of his shop behind him, and I heard the lock snap into place. How could that giant of a man be afraid of little old me? He must have weighed three hundred pounds. Hardly the kind of guy you’d think would rent bicycles, but then again, who was I to judge? I’d just turned twenty-two and barely had a high school diploma.
But I had a bad-ass broom, I thought with a big grin. Proud of myself for at least aggravating Mr. Targetti, I swung the broom like a ninja one last time before heading back into the store. Then I screamed.
“Cruise! You scared the heck out of me. What are you doing sneaking up behind a person?”
He laughed as he removed his aviator glasses from his tanned face. “You didn’t hear me? I guess you were too busy practicing your Karate Kid moves?”
“Karate Kid? How old are you?”
“Hey, that movie is a classic.”
“Kind of like you, huh?” I was very much aware that Cruise was only twenty-five, but I liked reminding him of the age difference between us. It aggravated the crap out of him, and that made me extremely happy. Most days. I grinned up at him and cupped my free hand above my eyes to shield them from the sun. Unlike the one other island police officer, he did not wear shorts, although he had terrific legs. I liked seeing him in his blue uniform, but it would be a month of Sundays before I told him so.
“Wow. Way to wound a guy. Do you need help with something, or are you leading a raid on Mr. Targetti’s bike shop? If so, you might need a bigger broom.”
“That guy. Don’t get me started. No, I’m good. Unless you want to help me pick up trash. Something got in the cans again.”
“You’ll have to make sure you put the lids on good and tight next time.”
“Geesh, officer. I would never have thought of that.”
We strolled back to the mess and began picking up the empty boxes and paper. Thank goodness there was no food in the bags. That would have been totally disgusting.
“I’m trying to help, Nike.”
I tucked my hair behind my shoulder and glanced at him as he picked up trash with me. I was being a jerk, and he was picking up my garbage. Here he was doing something nice for me, and I was being, well, me.
“Sorry, but I could have sworn I put those lids on good. I made sure of it. I heard something out here, so I came out to see. Hey, have you heard any reports about a homeless lady?”
“Homeless lady? No, but there are quite a few interesting characters over at the Sunset RV Park. Quite a few drunks. I have a feeling I’ll have a few late nights this weekend.”
“Well, there’s this one lady. She’s about as big as a minute. I’ve seen her out here wandering around, along the shore there. Looks like she was scavenging. I was thinking she was looking for food, but maybe she was picking up cans or shells or something.”
“She bothering you?”
“No. What bothers me is that she might need something to eat. I can’t stand the idea of somebody going hungry.”
He tossed the last piece of garbage in the can and pressed the lid down, his toned arms flexing as he made a big show of it. I tried to pretend I hadn’t noticed. “You remind me of your grandfather. He couldn’t stand to eat by himself. I sure miss him.”
We walked back inside and washed our hands in the tiny bathroom. Thankfully, the child-criminal had not left any surprises like piles of paper towels or anything gross in the sink. I put the broom back and locked the back door. Cruise walked toward the front door, and I followed him so I could lock it behind him. I still had a handful of change to count. How would I ever keep this place going?
“You never did say why you came by.”
“Oh, yeah. It was nothing important. I wanted to see if you were going to eat tonight.” He tossed his hat in his hands and avoided my eyes.
“What? Of course. I eat every night.” Then it hit me. He was asking me out. Finally. What brought this on?
“Come on, Nik. You know what I mean.”
I leaned my back against the counter as he flipped the lock on the front door to open it. “I’m not sure I do know, Officer Castille. What could you mean?”
“Do I have to spell it out?”
Now I was getting ticked. How could he expect an answer if he hadn’t even asked me out? “What kind of half-assed question is that? Now ask me right.”
“Nike Augustine, will you…”
“Come on now, Cruise. Unless you’re asking me to marry you, you don’t have to use my last name. How long have we known one another?”
“Um, okay, Miss Bossy. You haven’t changed since the first time I met you.” I didn’t let him meander down Memory Lane. I raised my eyebrows.
He smiled pitifully. “If you haven’t got plans and you don’t have something in the oven, which I know you don’t because you don’t cook…” I tilted my head, giving him a warning. He tossed his hat again, smiled at me even bigger, and said, “I thought maybe we’d have a drink or share a meal.”
“You thought? Haven’t got plans? This isn’t getting any better.”
“Why are you making this so difficult?”
I walked to the door and opened it wide. Waving my hand to show him the way out, I gave him my answer. “Since you didn’t really ask me, I can’t really answer you.” His smile disappeared, and I quickly added, “Come by the house around seven, and I’ll give you my answer.”
He tossed his hat up, caught it, and plopped it on his head like he was about to climb on a horse. “And wear something nice!” I called after him as he drove off. I grinned like the possum I couldn’t find earlier. This felt right. I had all but given up on Cruise. Again I half-wondered what had happened to inspire him to ask me out.
“Calm down, Nike. He didn’t give you a ring,” I scolded myself. I went back inside, ready to lock it up, race home, and get ready for my long-awaited date. Then I came face to face with the homeless lady. I yelled in surprise, then everything went black.
Ok, I wanna know who that lady is! And I hope Nike gets her dinner date with the cute cop! LOL