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Excerpt for Moving to Seashell Island by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Moving to

Seashell Island



By Brenda Kennedy



A Seashell Island Novel

Book 4



DEDICATED TO MY GRANDSON:

MY BRAVE SOLDIER, DESMOND.

I hope you know how proud I am and how much I love you. Always be safe.

Copyright 2018 by Brenda Kennedy



SMASHWORDS EDITION



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No parts of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain noncommercial uses permitted by the author. For permission requests, email the author at brendakennedy48@gmail.com.

Sophia Moretti

I’ve been abused by my husband, Lazzaro, for nearly the entire time of our twenty-five years of marriage. When my eighteen-year-old daughter, Isabella, saw my most recent injuries, she suggested we both leave my abusive husband while I was still able. She feared I wouldn’t survive the next beating.

After deciding on a location that was nothing more than a speck on the map, we packed up as much as our car would hold and left Nebraska for Seashell Island. I knew starting over wouldn’t be easy, but maybe island life could offer some peace and tranquility we both desperately needed.

When we arrived on the island, it was everything I dreamed of and everything I needed. But I didn’t expect to meet a man who had the potential to change my life.

Tony Romano

Since my wife died of cancer several years ago, I’ve spent every day mourning her and the loss of the life we had. Since then I’ve focused my time and energy on my business, my son and his wife, and my two granddaughters. But there was still something missing. I was still missing my beloved Maria.

But when I saw a battered woman and her daughter at the church, I knew I wanted to help them. I didn’t know for sure what caused her injuries, but my age and wisdom told me someone was responsible.

The more I got to know Sophia, the more my attraction for her grew.

The only problems were that I couldn’t let go of my deceased wife and Sophia’s husband wasn’t ready to let go of her.

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Sophia Tarantino Moretti: Our candidate for a happily-after-ever

Tony Romano: Beau’s father

Isabella Moretti: Sophia and Lazzaro’s eighteen-year-old daughter

Lazzaro Moretti: Sophia’s husband

Marco Gallo: Lazzaro’s attorney

Beau Romano: Tony’s son/ Carly’s husband

Carly Stewart Romano: Grace’s daughter/ Beau’s wife

Myra: Beau’s daughter from a previous marriage

Baby Maria: Beau and Carly’s daughter

Parker Blake: The island’s M.D., James’ son/ Sarah’s husband

Sarah Stewart: Grace’s daughter and Parker’s wife

Larry, aka Pap: Sarah and Carly’s grandfather

Sylvia, aka Gram: Sarah and Carly’s grandmother

Grace: Sarah and Carly’s mother/James’ wife

James: Parker’s father/ Grace’s husband

PROLOGUE

My beautiful daughter is the only good thing that came from my twenty-five years of marriage to Lazzaro. He always drank heavily, but I’m not sure when he became a drunk. Maybe he always was. Maybe it’s because of my daughter that I turned a blind eye. When a woman becomes a mother, she always wants what’s best for her children, but what a woman thinks is best for her child isn’t always best.

For instance, I thought it would be best to stay with Lazzaro. I thought it would be best for Isabella to be raised with her mother and father. I also thought she could have the benefits of a mother and a father and a double-income family. But that wasn’t true.

Despite the way Lazzaro treated me, I knew he would never treat our daughter that way. He claimed to love us both. I wasn’t sure he loved me, but I knew without a doubt that he loved Isabella. Sadly, because of my decision to stay with Lazzaro for Isabella’s sake, she would also suffer from my husband’s abuse. Not because he ever hit her, but because he abused me. She saw my injuries, my pain, my fear.

I should have left Lazzaro at the first sign of abuse. Isabella and I would have struggled financially at times, but the emotional scars would never have existed.

If it weren’t for Isabella, I would still be there today. I never would have left him. Partly out of fear that he would find me and hurt me and partly out of fear that I couldn’t make it on my own. Where would I go? Would he find me? Would he kill me if he did? Lazzaro is a wealthy man, and he has the means of finding me if I did leave.

It isn’t until this morning that I summon up the courage to do something about the abuse. Well, it actually isn’t me with the courage, it’s Isabella. She has a plan. And from the looks of her plan, I can tell she’d put a lot of thought into it. This isn’t something she decided at the last moment.

After Lazzaro leaves for work this morning, I shower and dress as I do every day. I clean up the mess and broken glass from last night’s rage, then I plan to prepare a family dinner for Lazzaro, Isabella, and me, during which I would pretend last night’s fury didn’t exist.

But Isabella has other plans. “Oh, Momma. Why do you stay with him?” she asks with sad eyes.

What can I say? I stayed for you? I thought you would have a better life with him in it? I’ll never let her know that. I have no answer for my beloved daughter. I lick my swollen lip and place the sunglasses on to cover the bruised eye that makeup doesn’t conceal.

“Your father just gets upset,” I lie. Why do I make excuses for him? “It’s not so bad.”

My daughter spreads a paper map out on the kitchen table.

“If you could choose any place in the world to go, where would it be, Momma?”

I’m not a dreamer and never have been. Lazzaro has made sure of that. He’s destroyed all of my hopes and dreams for a brighter tomorrow. But Isabella is the dreamer in the family. She’s the one who thinks world peace is at our fingertips. Who am I to inhibit her fantasy?

Closing my eyes, I let my mind go to a happy place. Closing my eyes, I think about where my happy place would be. “Someplace warm.” I hear the paper map crinkle. Feeling the sun on my face I say, “Somewhere on the water. A beach perhaps, maybe an island.” I hear more crinkling. “Someplace secluded.” Just in case Lazzaro would try to find me.

When I open my eyes, Isabella has her finger pointed to a place on the map. “I have it.”

Smiling, I ask, “What do you have?”

“How’s Seashell Island sound?”

“It sounds lovely,” I admit. “Is that a real place?” I lean forward and raise my sunglasses to see the speck on the map. It sounds too good to be true.

“It sure is. It’s in the Carolinas. Have we ever been to the east coast?”

“No, I can’t say we have.” I look at my beautiful daughter, who has olive skin and black curly hair. “Is this where you want the family vacation to be this year?”

“Momma,” she says seriously. “That’s where I think we should go. Now. Today. I think it’s time you leave Poppa.”

My little dreamer. “And how would we get there? I’ll need money for us to live on. Where would we live?”

“What if you have everything you needed? Would you go then?”

“No, Isabella. It’s not that easy.” I try to explain to my daughter about adulting. “There’s things you have to take care of before making such a significant move as that.”

“Momma, please. I’m afraid for you. I’m scared what Poppa will do to you the next time. Every time is worse than the time before. “Leave him for me, Momma. Please.”

My daughter is in fear for my life. She’s pleading with me to save myself. How can I say no to that? How can I tell her no? The SUV is in my name. Lazzaro and I have joint bank accounts with a significant amount of money. I’m entitled to half, right? We can live on that for a while. We wouldn’t have the life we have now, but isn’t that the point?

“Isabella, go pack just the necessities. Quickly.”

CHAPTER 1

SOPHIA

I could tell my eighteen-year-old daughter had thought this through thoroughly. She insisted we leave our cell phones behind and get two off-plan phones from Walmart. She knew her father would be able to track us through our cell phones.

We left with just our clothes and important papers, including bank information, passports, birth certificates, and the title to the car. Everything else is just material things and it means nothing compared to the value of a life. To think that this is what people work for is crazy. In the end, it means nothing.

When I went into the bank to withdraw half of the money, I made some lame excuse that the money was for a surprise for Lazzaro, and I needed cash so he wouldn’t be able to track the spending and I also wanted him to be totally surprised. I was afraid the bank would call him about the withdrawal and I needed something believable. Lazzaro is a valued customer, and it would be a courtesy call even though the money is in both of our names. Like most people, they believe the man is the breadwinner and this is his money. That may be true, but I certainly have earned half of it. Me wanting him to be surprised wasn’t a total lie; he’ll be surprised all right when he comes home to find his wife and daughter have left him and his wife took half of his money.

I hadn’t thought this through completely, but when my daughter pleaded with me to do this to save my life, I knew I had to make this work. I’m scared Isabella is looking at this like a mini vacation instead of a life-changing event in our lives. She’s only eighteen. What does she know about life and living? She knows enough to know if I stay with her father, I may not live to see another day.

Isabella sits in the passenger seat as she searches through her wallet. “We can live in a small furnished apartment, and I can get a job as a server at a local diner to help pay the bills.”

My Isabella should be going off to college, not working in some diner for tips. This isn’t the life I had planned for her. This isn’t the life I had planned for us. I have enough money, and if I can get a job quickly, maybe I can afford to pay for her college. Living on an island might not be the best option for us right now. It’ll be expensive with a higher cost of living.

“Maybe we should reconsider this plan?” I suggest.

“Why? Beach life sounds like fun and Poppa would never think to look for us there.”

She does make a valid point. “Isabella, I know you’re young, but I’m not sure we can afford living in such a tropical place.”

“I understand, Momma.” She looks sad. “Let’s at least go and look around. Then we’ll make a decision.”

“Okay, but don’t get your hopes up too much.”

“Okay.”

It takes nearly two days of driving with one overnight hotel stay to get to Seashell Island. Just as the name sounds, it’s quaint and lovely and not much larger than the speck on the map. Isabella is excited as we drive down the quaint tree-lined street. Food and craft vendors line the busy street. Quaint shops are painted in tropical colors with white picket fences that line the other side of the street. The shops’ doors are opened, inviting passersby to come in to browse.

“Wow, Momma, look. Maybe we can open a shop.”

“Maybe,” I murmur. And do what? Neither of us has any real talent. My daughter can draw and she’s amazing at it, but will that sell? I can refurbish wooden furniture. I love doing that, but can I make enough to live on? Where would we set up a shop? Could we even afford a space on this little piece of paradise?

My daughter watches but says nothing as I reach into my purse for the bottle of Tylenol. My head has been hurting ever since my husband beat me. Then the stress of leaving isn’t helping. Maybe it was easier to stay.

We drive around the small quaint island with the windows down, feeling the sea breeze blowing through the windows. As we get off the main path, we drive through the more residential area. The homes aren’t as big as I thought they would be. Not as many mansion-sized homes as there are small cottages with flower window boxes, fruit trees, and picket fences.

We hear gospel music before we see the church. The windows and doors of the church are open as an invitation to anyone who wants to come in. When’s the last time I was at church? Has Isabella ever been to church? She knows about God, she prays, but has she ever listened to a sermon?

“Momma, it’s a sign. We should go inside.”

Remembering my black eye, I push my sunglasses up higher on my nose.

It’s Wednesday. Is this a sign? “Honey, we can’t stay. This is a very small community and we’ll never be accepted here. We’ll never fit in and I doubt we can afford to live here.”

“How do you know?”

“There’s no job industry here. No large companies to employ people with well-paying jobs.”

“I think we should go in and pray on it.”

Of course she does. I always told her if she has a problem she should pray on it. I look at the sign and it says choir practice seven-eight followed by Bible study. Welcoming God into our life never seems like a bad idea. I look at the clock on the dashboard and it’s nearly eight o’clock p.m.

“Okay, we’ll stay for church, but then we need to leave to get off the island and check into a hotel for the night.”

“Thanks, Momma.”

I park in the parking lot of the church and I’m worried that I’ll need to remove my glasses once inside. What will people think when they see my eye? They’ll know what happened. They’ll judge my daughter and me. Do I dare tell a lie in the house of the Lord if they ask me? Only if I want to chance imminent death by lightning.

“Come on, Momma. It’ll be all right.”

While walking up to the church, I inhale the salty sea air. I could get used to living here.

“It smells good here, doesn’t it?”

“It sure does, Isabella.”

The choir’s still singing so we browse the bulletin board to waste time. That’s when I see a sign for a two-bedroom furnished apartment. It says to contact the preacher for details. It sounds perfect, but it doesn’t list a price and I’m certain that’s no accident. On expensive items, the price is rarely listed and that’s because they don’t want to scare you away too quickly.

“Let’s ask him after church.”

“Okay, Isabella, but don’t get your hopes up.”

“I’m just saying it must be a sign.”

“Maybe.” My daughter the dreamer.

We each take a hymnal and a Bible from the table at the entrance of the church and have a seat toward the back of the room. The choir sings beautifully and although the sign outside said it was choir practice, I don’t think they need it. After a few songs, several kids come running down the hall to join their parents for Bible study. The church must offer child care to the children for the parents in the choir. I didn’t realize churches did that. Maybe because it’s a small island church. As small as the island is, it’s probably the only church on the island.

Just before Bible study begins, the congregation is directed to greet their neighbors. Isabella and I turn away from each other to greet the people sitting beside us. The people in front and in back of us also extend a warm welcome. When the Bible study begins, two preachers take turns reading verses from the Bible and elaborating on the meaning. I should be focusing my attention on the preachers and their message, but instead my mind is focused on getting a place for Isabella and me to live. I need someplace for my daughter and soon. Staying in hotels is no way of living for my eighteen-year-old daughter. I know staying with her father, my husband, isn’t the right thing to do, but she still needs a place to call home.

As the sun sets, it makes it difficult for me to see with my sunglasses on inside the church. I hate to remove them in fear of what people will think. What will they say? They’ll know I was beaten and abused. Will they judge me for it? Will they judge Isabella? I’ll soon find out.

While everyone is focused on the scripture reading, I remove my sunglasses. Isabella holds my hand tightly for support. I’m thankful when no one seems to notice. Of course, I’m sure at the end of the evening they will when we say our goodbyes. I’d like to slip out the back door now, but Isabella wants us to talk to the preacher about the apartment. Even if we can afford the apartment, maybe they won’t rent to us because of my eye. People are funny when it comes to abuse. They’re afraid to help. Afraid to get in the middle. Afraid the abuser will retaliate. In this case, maybe they’ll fear Lazzaro will destroy their rental property. Of course, they don’t know we’re on the run from him and he has no idea where we are.

After church, I get a few sympathetic glimpses. Isabella and I stay behind so we can talk to the preacher in private. I approach the older gentleman, thinking the property belongs to him.

“Hi,” I stammer. “I’m Sophia Moretti and this is my daughter, Isabella.”

“Hi, Sophia and Isabella. I’m Larry, one of the two preachers here on the island. Welcome to our church.”

He doesn’t seem to notice my eye or the swelling to my lip. It is the only church on the island? “Thank you. I was wondering if the apartment you posted for rent on the bulletin board is still available?”

“The apartment actually belongs to my granddaughter and her husband.” He motions with his hand to the other preacher. “Are you looking to make Seashell Island your home?”

It all depends on the price. “My daughter and I found the island on the map and would like to make it our home.”

He has a friendly smile. “Beau and Carly will be able to answer any of your questions about the apartment.” When the young couple walks over to us, he gives an informal introduction and then says, “I hope to see you both in church on Sunday.”

“Thank you. I hope so, too,” I say honestly. I watch as he walks away. I look at Beau and Carly. Neither of them is staring at me judgmentally. “I was asking Larry about the apartment posted on the bulletin board. Is it by chance still available?”

“It is,” Carly says with a smile. “It’s a small furnished apartment with two bedrooms and two baths. No office or family room though.”

Isabella and I aren’t looking for a lot of extra space. “May I ask how much it is?” She tells me that it’s available now and that it’s right over her bookstore on the main road. She explains that it’s not directly on the ocean, but there is an ocean view from across the busy street. Then she tells me the price of the apartment. I want to ask her if that’s the right amount. I look over at Isabella and I can see the excitement in her eyes. There must be something wrong with the apartment for it to be priced below what I would assume to be market value. I’m not sure what the market value is here, but this doesn’t sound right. “I know it’s getting late but would we be able to see it tonight?”

Carly looks at me with sympathetic eyes. “Are you running from someone?”

Once she learns the truth she won’t want to rent to us. She won’t want in the middle of my problems. But I’m in church and can’t lie to these people. I touch my eye then my still swollen lip gently. “My husband. He doesn’t know where we are.”

Carly says, “Beau, will you see if Gram and Pap will take the kids home with them while we show the apartment to Sophia and Isabella?”

“I’ll be right back,” he says, walking away.

I say to Carly, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. The apartment sat empty for a long while so if you decide to rent it, it’ll need a good cleaning, I’m afraid.”

“I can live with that.” I begin to get hopeful. She doesn’t look like the kind of person to live in a slum dwelling, so maybe the apartment is nicer than I’m expecting. I want to know why she isn’t renting it for more than she is. Maybe it’s because it’s all it’s worth. She and Beau have children so the apartment must have been vacant for a while. “You haven’t lived there for a while?”

“Beau and I have been married for three years and the apartment just sat empty. We started using it for storage but Beau can move the boxes down to the bookstore if you decide to take it.”

He comes back and says, “They’re taking the kids home with them now.”

“Good.” Carly takes his arm. “Do you want to ride with us or would you rather follow us there?”

“We’ll follow you there, if that’s okay?”

We park the car in back of the alley and walk up the steps of the pale-yellow building. It’s spacious for a two-bedroom apartment.

“Momma, look,” Isabella says as she steps out onto the balcony.

Beau says, “It’s not directly on the water, but the view is remarkable.”

I walk out the French doors to the balcony. Although it’s dark, you can smell the salty sea air and see the reflection of the moon on the ocean.

“Can we live here, Momma?” Isabella pleads.

“Let me talk to them for a minute.”

“Okay.”

I walk back inside and Beau and Carly are standing in the middle of the living room talking.

“Like I said before, if you decide to take it, it’ll need a good cleaning and some of the storage boxes we’ll need to move out.”

“May I ask why you’re asking so little for the apartment?” How do I ask if there’s a rodent problem, mildew problem, or other problems? That would be rude. Maybe it’s a high crime area? I doubt that. It’s too far out in the middle of nowhere.

“I’m not sure we’re asking a low price,” Beau says. “People who relocate to the island aren’t looking for an apartment.”

Carly says, “I bought the building when I moved here a few years ago. I remodeled the bookstore and the apartment where I lived until Beau and I married. We did have a few people look at it over the last few years but no one wanted it. Maybe they didn’t like the back entrance to the alley. Or the fact that it’s not directly on the water. Maybe it’s the hustle and bustle of the street below. Or the steps leading up to it. It could have been a number of reasons why they didn’t rent it, but I loved living here.”

They seem like honest people. “How long is the lease?”

Carly looks up at Beau. “Oh, we never discussed that.”

Beau says, “Are you looking for someplace to rent by the month or year?”

Isabella walks in from the balcony. I know I need her to be in a stable home. Can I make an apartment feel like her home? I think I can but a house would be a better option for long term. “Monthly, I think. Maybe we’ll decide to buy a house and live here permanently. Or maybe this will work out great and this is all we’ll need. Honestly, I’m not sure what the future holds for us.”

“Monthly’s fine. We’ll just be happy to have someone living here.”

“Great. We’ll take it,” I say.

Carly looks at my bruised eye. “Are you wanting to move in tonight?”

“It’s too late, isn’t it?” I look at Isabella. “We can stay in a hotel tonight.”

“It is getting late,” Carly says, looking at her watch. “How about you stay here tonight, and tomorrow you can sign the lease and pay the rent then?”

Isabella claps with excitement.

“It sounds great. Thank you.”

I hand Beau my driver’s license so he knows that I am who I say I am. He writes down my name, address, and my license number on a notebook he pulled from the kitchen drawer. Carly walks with me around the house and shows me the linen closet where the sheets and towels are stored. There’s even some cleaning supplies in there. In the laundry room are some lawn chairs, beach towels, and a fishing pole. She also shows me in the kitchen where the dishes and pots and pans are kept.

“Honestly,” she says, smiling. “All you need is your clothes, food, and some cleaning supplies.”

“Carly, thank you.”

“It’s okay.” She points to another door in the apartment. “This door opens to the bookstore. It locks on both sides so you won’t have to worry about someone coming in.” She pauses briefly. “I guess we could remove the door and add a wall using sheetrock if this bothers you.”

“No, please. Don’t make any changes on our account. The door doesn’t bother us, does it, Isabella?”

“I didn’t know it was there until you pointed it out.”

Carly lowers her voice as she asks, “Will you both be safe here?”

“I think so. We traveled two days to get here.”

“Sounds like this is a good place for you both.” She closes the laundry room door as Beau finishes up with my driver’s license. “Beau’s dad, Tony, owns the only market on the island. You’ll be able to find everything you need there. My brother-in-law has his medical practice a few doors down, and my mother owns the candle and craft shop nearby.”

Carly has a way of making you feel welcome. “A family affair, I see.”

“It is. We’re very close.”

“What time do the vendors open?” Isabella asks.

“Are you looking for anything specific?” Carly asks.

“No. I just want to see what they sell.”

“The vendors are awesome. They should be opened at ten o’clock for most of the shops. People on the island are a bit laid-back. They kind of do their own thing as you’ll see soon enough.”

Beau stands and hands me back my driver’s license. “If you need anything, I wrote down our phone number and address for you. Please feel free to call for any reason. We have a large family and someone can be here within a few minutes.”

I feel safer knowing this. I hope I won’t need their help. “Thank you. I appreciate that.”

“Before we leave, do you need help with anything from your car?” Beau asks.

“Thank you, but Isabella and I can manage.”

Before they leave. Beau starts carrying down a few of the storage boxes to the bookstore. When that’s done I walk them to the back door and we say our goodbyes. “We’ll talk more tomorrow,” Beau says, walking behind his wife down the stairs.

“Thank you again,” I say, closing the door behind them and securing both locks.

I turn around and my daughter hugs me. “We did it. I knew this place was a sign of greater things for us.”

“You were right.” I hug her tightly. There’s still no significant jobs here and the next big city is nearly an hour away. I won’t burden her any more with my problems.

Isabella and I quickly unload the car and begin unpacking. I’m happy to see when she sets up her drawing easel, sketch pencils, and paper. She carefully folds her clothes and places them in the drawers in her room.

“How about tomorrow we go shopping and buy you some things for your bedroom?”

“It has everything I need.”

“Wouldn’t you like something different on the walls?”

“No, not yet,” she says. “I think we need to get groceries and see what the vendors are selling.”

“Are you hungry?” I feel bad. We haven’t eaten since before church when we stopped in Charlotte for an early dinner. From the looks of it, the island closes down at dark. I hope it’s not every day of the week.

“No, I’m not hungry. But we will be in the morning.”

“You’re right. How about we change the bedding and call it a night?”

“Okay, sounds good,” Isabella says. “Mom, you’re not still worried, are you?”

“No, I’m not.” It’s mostly the truth. As a mother I’ll always worry, but I have a good feeling about this place.

“Good.” It’ll all work out, Momma, you’ll see.”

Once the beds have clean linens and blankets, we turn in for the night. My mind races with what I still need to do. I need to find a bank and deposit the money I withdrew from Lazzaro’s and my bank account and I’ll need a checking account. I’ll need to transfer the utilities into my name and find a job. Although I have enough to not worry for a while, I don’t want to deplete everything we have. A financial cushion will be nice to have. Isabella and I won’t be living the extravagant life we once had, but this will be a good lesson for us both to learn. Or maybe we already learned it. Money doesn’t buy happiness.

~~~

The next morning we’re both up early. Isabella’s cleaning the bathroom with cleaning supplies she found in the bathroom linen closet. I thought they might be expired but she thought it would be better than nothing since that’s all we had.

We both shower and begin the day with breakfast at a local diner. We walk the quiet street browsing as the vendors and shop owners prepare for a busy day. According to Carly, the businesses aren’t due to open for another hour.

Thankful for a sunny day, I’m able to wear my sunglasses without looking out of place.

After a leisurely breakfast, Isabella and I walk to the market to get much-needed groceries. We walk in and see a man and a young child stocking canned goods on the shelves.

“Hello, vacationers,” he says in a loud Italian accent.

We’re not vacationers, but I do like the way it sounds. “Hi, are you open?”

“Oh, yes, please come in. Cookie and I are just stocking the shelves.” I watch as the little girl wearing a pink tutu places the last of the cans on the bottom shelf.

The store is bright with natural light, so I decide to leave my sunglasses on.

Cookie? Cute nickname. At least I hope it’s a nickname. To my surprise, the market is bigger than I expected. It also sells hot meals for breakfast and lunch, and even sells picnic lunches with wine. There’s even a few tables and chairs inside the market to eat or I guess for people to sit and wait while their significant others do the shopping. Smart idea putting those tables and chairs inside the store.

“All done, grandpa,” she says before taking off running behind the counter.

He stands and wipes his hands off on his white apron. “That was my granddaughter Myra. I’m Tony Romano, owner and operator of this fine establishment.” He extends his hand with a smile.

“It’s nice to meet you.” I shake his hand. “I’m Sophia and this is my daughter, Isabella.” I vaguely remember him from church last night. I also remember that Beau said his father owned the market. “Does your daughter-in-law own the book store across the street?”

“Yes, that’s my Shorty.”

Shorty? Does he give everyone a nickname? “We’re renting the apartment over the shop.”

“Oh, yes. Beauregard called me last night to give me a heads-up that someone was living there.”

I’m confused. Why would Beau need to call his dad?

“I also live upstairs,” he says with a movement of his head, “and I guess he didn’t want me to be alarmed when I saw someone in the apartment.”

I understand now.

“Looks like we’re neighbors.” He looks around the market before focusing his attention on the little girl in the room behind the register. “I’ve kept you both long enough, I should let you get to your grocery shopping. If you need directions or recommendations, you know where to find me.”

“Thank you. We appreciate that.”

We walk away from him and Isabella says, “He seems nice.”

“He does.” I agree.

“I like it here.”

I look at my daughter and smile. The island does have a good feel to it and everyone is so nice here. “I do, too.”

Isabella and I shop for groceries, drinks, cleaning supplies, and hygiene items. The cart is already nearly full and we’re not even finished yet.

“Momma, I think we should have driven over here.”

I look at the overflowing grocery cart. “I think you’re right. We’ll just have to make several trips back to the apartment.”

“Momma, maybe we can get a grill and cook out.”

“That would be nice, but I doubt that’ll be allowed on the small balcony.”

“I wonder if they have grills on the beach?”

“Maybe. We can look today.”

“I have a good feeling about this place,” Isabella says, dreamily.

I hope she’s right.

At the checkout counter, I see the little girl in a small room behind the register. She’s dancing and singing to the child’s song on the television. “Is that Carly and Beau’s daughter?” I ask.

“It is. Her little sister, Maria, is back there, too,” Tony laughs, popping his head into the room. “She’s still sleeping in the baby bed.” I find it strange that he has his grandchildren in a back room while he works. I guess island life is more laid-back and relaxed than I thought. “Have you ever heard the saying that it takes a village to raise a child?”

“Yes, I sure have.”

“Welcome to our village.” We both laugh and even Isabella got the joke. He takes a few steps closer to the register. “Do you want to set up a house credit account today?”

House credit? “What’s that?”

“Where are you from?” he asks.

I decide to not tell him exactly. “From the Upper Midwest region,” I offer.

“Ah, I see. Well, to answer your question, store credit is credit you can use only at this market. It’s a courtesy I offer to the locals.” Is he considering us locals? “I don’t charge interest, but payment is due in full on the first of every month.”

“I think I’ll just pay cash, but that’s nice of you to offer store credit to the locals.” I like the way that sounds. Isabella and I are locals. I actually feel like maybe we’ll fit in here.

His laugh is as strong as his voice. “It wasn’t exactly my idea. When the locals started shopping for their weekly groceries and leaving their money at home, I was left with two choices. Either restock their groceries, which I didn’t want to do, or let them have it on credit. The credit was the best option for everyone.”

I can definitely see his point. “You seem like a smart man, Mr. Romano.”

“Call me Tony. Mr. Romano was my… kind of think of it, I can’t recall a time when any man in my family was called Mr.”

“Tony.”

After the groceries are paid for, Tony asks, “Are you finding everything okay?” When I look at the cart full of groceries, he says, “I mean on the island.”

“Everything but a bank,” I admit.

“Like the church, we have only one. It’s on the corner of Pelican Way and Sea Glass Drive.”

“And that would be?”

He laughs again. He sure is carefree and relaxed. “On the next street over. If you turn left, it’ll take you to the beach. You’ll want to make a right at the street sign.”

“Gotcha,” I say with a genuine smile.

After the groceries are paid for, Isabella and I use the grocery cart to haul the groceries to the apartment. Once inside, we walk around the apartment opening windows and the French doors leading to the balcony. I watch as my beautiful daughter inhales the salty sea air.

“I think we should ride around the island today and get familiar with it,” Isabella says.

Of course she does. “I think we should scrub down the apartment, make pasta for dinner, and sightsee tomorrow.” I still need to get to the bank, and we also need to sign the lease and pay for the apartment.

“First things first,” she says as she starts to remove the food from the grocery bags. As we start putting the groceries away, the apartment begins to feel more like home. “Momma, we need some candles. You always had candles burning at the house.”

She’s right, we did. Will candles help make the transition easier for her? Will it make it feel more like home to her? “Carly said her mom owns the candle and craft store a few buildings down. Why don’t you run down there and get us some?”

“Okay. It there any scent you want?” she asks.

“Buy whatever you like the best.”

I hand her the money and watch as she walks out the door.

I have the groceries put away before she gets back to the apartment. The sea breeze is blowing through the French doors, making the sheer curtains wave in the wind. Deciding the cleaning can wait, I walk over and sit in one of the white chairs on the balcony. The small island is bustling with beachgoers, locals, and tourists. I laugh to myself as I can already tell the locals from the tourists. The tourists are mostly sunburnt and toting too many items to the beach for a day of fun in the sun. I scan the vendors and that’s when I see my Isabella talking to one of the jewelry makers. She sees me and waves as she holds up a shopping bag. Waving back, I decide the cleaning can wait and join Isabella.

We walk down the street stopping at each vendor and browsing their unique crafts. Seeing the excitement on my daughter’s face has made me aware that leaving Lazzaro was the right decision. Isabella asks questions about a vendor license and how much it costs to rent a space. Is she thinking that maybe we can start making and selling jewelry? Sadly, we’ll need more income than that to live on.

“Are you thinking of setting up shop under a tent?” I ask.

“No. I was just making polite conversation.”

“Polite conversation would be, ‘I love this. How do you make it? What it is made of?’ Not how do you obtain a vendor’s license. How much is your monthly rent?’“ I say with a laugh.

“I’m a young girl who’s curious. Can’t fault me for that.”

“No, I sure can’t.” I have a feeling there’s more to it than that.

CHAPTER 2

SOPHIA

On the way back to the apartment, I send Isabella up to the apartment so I can go into the bookstore to talk to Carly and Beau, if he’s there. We didn’t set up a time to sign the lease, and I just want them to know anytime is good for me.

“Hi, Sophia,” Carly says from behind the counter as she waits on a customer.

“Hi, Carly.”

The bookstore is very nice. It’s bright with natural lighting and there’s a seating area for adults, a few children’s tables and chairs, and even a self-service coffee bar. The aroma of coffee alone is enough for me to want to grab a book and a coffee and just relax.

I browse the quaint shop while Carly finishes up with her customers. This might not have been the best time to stop in, but I’m glad I did. Quickly, I see some books from a romance author I love. I didn’t know her books were being sold in bookstores, I’ve only ever found them online. I pick the two newest books and gather a couple of art books for Isabella. I wish I had had Isabella come in with me. She would like it here. I walk through the children’s book area and see a tutu set out on a display that looks just like the one her daughter was wearing at Tony’s market this morning. The tutu is being used as a prop for children’s ballet/dance books being sold.

When the last customer leaves, I walk to the register with my purchases. “I’m sorry. With summer just around the corner, business has been incredibly busy.”

I place the books on the counter. “No need to apologize. I’ll take these books, but I also wanted to see when you wanted me to sign the lease and pay the rent.”

“What time is good for you? I’ll be done here around 5 o’clock.”

“Anytime is good. Isabella and I will be home the rest of the evening.”

A smile forms on her face. Is it because I called her apartment home? She starts to ring up the books. “Is the apartment working out for you and Isabella?”

“It is. Thank you so much.”

She laughs. “I should thank you. It sat empty for a long time. I’m glad someone’s living in it now. In my opinion, the apartment’s too nice to sit empty.”

“We love it. The décor, the location, and well, everything about it is wonderful.”

“Good. That’s what I like to hear.” She tells me the total of the books and I pay her with cash. “Do you want me to sign these for you?” she asks, holding up the two romance books written by Autumn Storm.

Why would I want Carly Romano to sign Autumn Storm’s books? Only the author of the book signs the books. The author and maybe the cover model would at a book signing. Oh. My. God. That’s when it hits me. She’s Autumn Storm. I try to calm my excitement down before speaking. “You wrote these books?”

“These and a few others.”

“You’re Autumn Storm?” If she wrote the books, she must be Autumn Storm.

She laughs. She must not get this reaction very often. “I am.”

“I am a huge fan. I fell in love with your billionaire series. Yes, yes. Please sign them.”

She smiles as she signs the books. “It’s always great meeting a reader.”

I watch as she stuffs the books into the sack. I’m more than a reader, but I don’t say that. I don’t want her to think I’m some nut job who’ll be stalking her. But now, I’m even more excited than ever to be living in my favorite author’s rental apartment. Even I know how strange this sounds, so I’ll be sure to keep my excitement hidden from everyone. I do find it strange that a preacher’s wife is writing romance books. Am I stereotyping her? I guess I am, but I still would have thought the wife of a preacher would write inspirational books or poetry, although the romance books are clean for the most part.

She hands me the bag and thanks me again. “Beau will be here when I close. How about we plan on meeting at 5:30? You can come down here or we can meet you upstairs.”

“Five-thirty’s perfect. I still need to get to the bank to open an account. Will starter checks be okay? If not, I have cash now.”

“Either is fine with me.”

“Great. I would like for Isabella to see your shop but maybe after hours isn’t the best time for that?”

“Are you kidding? It’s the perfect time. She’ll have the entire place to herself.”

“Thank you, for everything.” If I didn’t see it for myself, I would never believe anyone could be this kind. I take my purchase and walk out the front door.

~~~

That night, Isabella and I cook dinner together and then meet Carly and Beau to sign the lease. I wanted to clean the apartment, but that didn’t happen. I did make it to the bank to open up a savings and a checking account.

Later that night when Isabella’s asleep, I lie in bed and make a list of things I need to do. I need to call Lazzaro, and I need to move forward with this divorce. He won’t be happy with me; in fact, I’m afraid to even call him. He’s a violent man with a short temper. He’ll be upset that I left and took our daughter with me, and he’ll be upset that I took half of our money. He got the house and everything in it, so he should be thankful for that. I guess I could still get half of that in a divorce settlement.

Instead of calling him tonight, I decide to wait. I’m becoming a strong woman, but I don’t feel strong enough to deal with Lazzaro. Not tonight. I’ll give it another day or two. Maybe I should consult an attorney first. That might be a good idea. But the only attorneys I know are our family and business attorneys back home. It won’t do me any good to contact them; they’re working for Lazzaro now.

On Friday, Isabella and I have breakfast outside on the balcony. “Do we have plans for today?” she asks.

What kind of plans would we have? We don’t know anyone. I do want to give the apartment a good cleaning. “No plans. Why?”

“I thought I might take my easel and pencils over to the beach, if that’s okay?”

My girl seems to be adjusting very well here on Seashell Island. “Yes, that’s a great idea.”

“Good.”

“Are you planning on sketching anything in particular?”

“No. But you never know what I’ll find.”

After breakfast she heads out the door wearing a swimsuit, a cover-up and sandals, and carrying her easel and art supplies.

“Have fun,” I say as I watch her walk down the stairs.

“You, too,” she says, waving as she walks out of sight.

I spend the next few hours cleaning. It doesn’t take me long to scrub the small apartment, so I shower and head out looking for Isabella. Maybe we can have dinner at one of the local restaurants. When I don’t see her anywhere on the beach or on the main street, I head back to the apartment. As I walk past the bookstore, I look in the window and see Isabella inside with her easel set up. She’s sitting down and there’s a child sitting in front of her. She’s sketching someone’s child inside our landlord’s place of business. This can’t be good. She would have asked Carly for permission first, wouldn’t she? Would Carly allow my daughter to sketch kids in her bookstore? What would she gain from that? I stand there and watch through the window as my daughter laughs and smiles while she does what she loves. She’s now drawing a small crowd inside the bookstore. My daughter has this special talent of sketching a person and making him or her look like a cartoon character. I have no idea where that talent comes from.

A woman and a little boy walk out of the store holding a piece of sketch paper. “Jimmy, do you want Mommy to frame this?” she asks the small child. When he doesn’t answer, she says, “I like it. Let’s go and buy a frame for it.”

Another happy customer, I think to myself as I walk into the well-lit store. Carly greets me right away. “It just dawned on me this second that maybe I should have asked you first.” She looks nervous as she’s talking to me.

“I’m confused. Why would you have to ask me?”

Isabella looks up at me and smiles.

“Because when I saw Isabella walking to the beach with her easel, we started talking and I asked her to come in and sketch some of the kids. Of course, I’ll pay her and it looks like she’s doing pretty well with tips, too.”

“You invited Isabella to draw the kids?”

“Yes. Why?”

“I thought maybe she invited herself.”

“No, I asked her. I hope that’s all right?”

“It is. She looks happy, doesn’t she?”

“She does and she’s also a natural. Customers love her and her work.”

“How long has she been here?”

“I think this is her sixth or seventh sketch. I saw her leaving the apartment so she’s been here ever since.”

I know she’s a fast drawer especially when she’s drawing cartoon people. There’s lots of room for error, but since it’s a cartoon drawing, Isabella is able to make the errors features, not bugs.

I see a customer walking up to the counter. “I think I’ll just leave her to it and walk over to the market for a coffee. I’ll be back in a bit.”

“Okay, sounds good. Tony will like that. He gets lonely since his wife passed away,” she says, walking toward the counter. “If you’re not back when she’s done, I’ll tell her where you are.”

“Thank you.”

I have coffee while sitting inside the market. Thanks to the large picture windows, I can see across the street to the bookstore. As I sit there, I think back to everything I still need to do. I can’t sit and stay idle. This isn’t a vacation. Although moving here was the first step, it was only one step of many I still need to make. I need to talk to Lazzaro and I need to file for a divorce. I won’t be truly free until the divorce is final.

I feel anxiety set in just thinking about calling Lazzaro. He’ll be mad because I left him and because I took half of the money. He should be grateful I left the house and everything in it. Of course, I could still get half of that, too. I know that delaying the call to him isn’t helping. It’s not like the time I wait will give him time to cool off. Not with Lazzaro. The more time I stall in contacting him, the more time his anger has to brew. Maybe I should get an attorney now and let the attorney contact him on my behalf. It’s not like we have child support or visitation to discuss, after all, Isabella is eighteen.

Tony walks over with a towel wiping off the other tables. Should I ask him for assistance on locating an attorney? I decide to remove my sunglasses so I can see him eye to eye. There’s no judgment on his face, just a look of concern.

“Tony, do you have a minute?” I ask.

He looks around the empty store.

He sits down across from me. I guess he could hear the seriousness in my tone. “Sure, I have lots of time.” He rests his hands on the table and interlocks his fingers.

“I’m looking for an attorney.”

He studies my face. “Family law?”

“Yes.”

“Will it be complicated? With assets?”

“Some.” I don’t tell him I took the cash assets with me.

“I know some attorneys in Charlotte, but I should ask around for better attorneys on a larger scale. We have a few doctors on the island who may be more helpful.”

I ponder that for a minute. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I’m new here and …”

“I won’t mention any names. Both doctors have been around and are from Charlotte. If anyone can help you with finding the right attorney for your situation, it’s them.”

“Okay, thank you.”

“Just check back with me in a day or two.”

He stands from the table and folds the towel he used to wipe off the tables.

“Thank you. I will.”

I stand and walk over to throw away my coffee cup.

“Will I see you and Isabella at church on Sunday?”

I haven’t thought that far in advance. I guess since Beau’s the preacher and we are renting his apartment we should be there. That and we all need Jesus in our lives.

“Yes, we’ll be there.”

His smile is kind and infectious.

“Good. You both should plan on staying for the potluck afterwards. It’s something the congregation has every Sunday.”

Potluck? I’m glad he mentioned that. I’d hate to show up empty handed. “Okay. We will.”

~~~

Later that night during dinner, Isabella talks excitedly about her day of drawing in the book store.

“People here are so nice. You should have heard what they were saying about my drawings.” She sits up straighter with more excitement than I’ve seen in her in a long time. “They loved the cartoons I made of their kids. People were in line waiting for me to sketch their kids and they weren’t complaining about the long line or the wait time. They were happy just watching me work and waiting for their turn.”

“I’m glad you had a good day, Isabella.”

“I had a great day, Momma. You know, I was thinking maybe we could buy one of those tents, apply for a vendor’s license, and I could make some money for us by sketching people on the island. Carly paid me and I made more in tips.”

I don’t want my daughter worrying about money or our finances. “Isabella, let me worry about the money. I have enough from your poppa that we’ll be okay for a while.”

“I know, but I still want to do something to help. Besides, it was so much fun and I really want to do this.”

I can see the joy on her beautiful face. “Okay, I think it’s a good idea. But we need a vendor’s license first.”

“I know, Momma, and that could take some time.”

After dinner, Isabella turns in early. After I Google how to apply for a vendor’s license, I walk around the small apartment looking for something to do. There’s a fishing pole with a small tackle box that was left in the apartment. I’ve fished before as a child but it’s been awhile. Is ocean fishing different from lake or pond fishing? Surely the fish would be larger but how much different can it be?

I pick up the fishing pole and watch as the shiny, silver lure spins. If I were a fish, I’d bite this. But I remember asking a friend who ran a sports shop whether fish really bite the big fancy lures. He said, “Sophia, I don’t sell these to fish. I sell them to customers who like things that are big and shiny and fancy.” I decide this and a beach towel is all I’ll need. I tell Isabella where I’m going before locking up the apartment and walking across the street to the beach.

The sound of the rolling water slapping against the sand is relaxing. The beach is dark, but the streetlights give enough lighting for me to see. The beach is nearly empty with a few couples walking along the water’s edge hand in hand.

I hear music and see a few tiki torches lit behind the market. There’s a sign that reads, “Private Beach” so I walk away from the market. I didn’t see anyone, but it looks like maybe Tony and his wife are having a private moment. I don’t recall seeing his wife at the church with him and she wasn’t at the market either time I was there. Once I think about it, I didn’t see a wedding ring on his finger either. Then I remember Carly telling me earlier that Tony was widowed. He could be entertaining a lady friend and if that’s the case, I don’t want to interrupt.

As I walk further away from the market, a voice calls out, “Sophia?”

I turn around and see Tony standing there in shorts and a tee shirt. He’s older than I am and fit for a man of his age. His dark curly hair is graying, but it’s not completely gray. He reminds me of a military man. A soldier; maybe a Marine.

“Hi, Tony,” I say with a wave.

“Are you fishing?” he asks, walking closer to me in his bare feet.

“Not yet, but I plan to.”

“With that?” he asks, pointing to my fishing pole. His smile is always kind and friendly.

I look at my fishing rod. “Yes. Why? Is there something wrong with it?”

“Not if you want to catch guppies or bluegills.” He laughs and it makes me laugh. I know guppies and bluegills are small fish. Maybe the size of the pole or rod does matter.

“Is it that bad?” I ask. “I found it in the apartment so I assumed it was an ocean pole.”

“Come with me,” he says, taking the fishing pole from my hand. “I have one you can use.”

He turns around and walks toward the tiki torches. The back of the market looks like an island retreat.

“I don’t want to interrupt.”

He stops and looks at me. “Interrupt what?”

“Your evening,” I say with a nod of my head.

He looks back at the market. “Oh, that.” He looks back at me. “It’s just me. Beauregard and Shorty redid the outdoor space for me a few months ago. They thought I was spending too much time inside.”

“Are you the only one who calls him Beauregard?”

“I think I am. Old habits die hard.”

“And Shorty is Carly?”

“She is.”

I walk with him and admire his outdoor living area. “This is nice,” I admit.

“Even I have to admit it’s a nice place to unwind after a busy day.”

“It’s very relaxing.”

“I moved above the market after my wife passed away a few years ago.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Thank you. I couldn’t spend another day in the family home.” He shakes his head. “Too many memories of my beloved Maria.”

He obviously cared for her deeply. What do I say to that? I’m sorry doesn’t seem like enough.

“We already owned the market so I moved into the vacant apartment on a whim.”

I stand there unsure of what I should say. It’s very rarely that I’m speechless. “Looks like it worked out for you.”

“It did. Beauregard wasn’t happy at first. Enough about that,” he says. “Where’s Isabella?”


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