The thud of her shoes hitting the pavement became hypnotic as Mia worked hard to control her breathing. Birds chirped, and the mist began to clear. The rising sun coated her surroundings in an orange glow. This was the best time of day—when everything was mostly quiet, and she could push her body and expel her fears through her sweat.
Her shoulders ached as she pumped her arms a little harder, a little faster. Perhaps she shouldn’t have unpacked all those boxes yesterday. But there was no one else to help her do it. After the movers kindly placed her furniture where she needed it, she’d gotten straight to work unpacking. Busyness helped to keep her from thinking too much. Because thinking leads to remembering.
Her legs burned as she rounded the corner onto the street where she now lived. Heavy footfalls echoed behind her.
Dios mío. She was alert, as always—every muscle aware that someone was approaching fast from behind. She turned her face quickly, catching a glimpse of a man getting closer. Her shoulders dropped, tension fading. She recognized him. How could she not? He was at least six feet, and muscled to perfection. She’d watched as he exited his truck all sexy and focused the night before. He’d pulled off his shirt, his dark skin glinting from the sun and sweat.
Her handsome new neighbor spoke. “Passing on your right.”
“Good morning.” She smiled, but he only increased his speed and sprinted ahead of her. Maybe he hadn’t heard her? He had earbuds in. Oh well, at least now she had a better view of that tight backside.
Mia pushed herself the remaining several hundred yards to her new home, then trudged up the stairs and into the house, forcing her lead limbs. She grabbed a glass and pushed it into the door of the fridge dispenser. The icy liquid eased down her throat, cooling her body from the inside out. Her muscles were tired, but endorphins were taking over as she gulped fresh oxygen. Time to stretch.
She picked a yoga mat from one of the packing boxes, and opened the French doors leading to the backyard. Whoever had lived here before had kept the landscaping simple. A few flower bushes and trees created a natural line around the bungalow property. A large rectangular pool was the focal point. Maybe she’d go for a swim after her yoga.
Mia started with some simple moves, bending to her knees as she reached her hands out, and stretching her back in extended puppy pose. Breathing deeply, she inhaled light and exhaled her worries. She was intentional, planning her day, giving herself goals and a to-do list.
As she glided through her poses, the hair on the back of her neck stood up. She was being watched. After one more sun salutation, she glanced around, catching a glimpse of him on the second-floor balcony of his house.
His lips flattened and his brow furrowed. He seemed downright angry and snarling. A flurry of confused butterflies swirled in her belly. She waved, breaking their awkward staring contest, hoping her smile would set him at ease.
He turned quickly, entering his house, seemingly ignoring her. Well, okay then. Who pissed in his cornflakes?
“Sometimes it’s the people who deserve kindness the least who need it the most.” Her mother’s words echoed in her mind. Maybe she should properly introduce herself. Her mamá’s recipe for polvorones was irresistible, and something told her she could use the sweet gift as the perfect icebreaker for her grumpy new neighbor.
After a shower and a quick change into some cutoffs and a faded T-shirt, she pulled her dark brown hair into a ponytail. First on her agenda was coffee, and then groceries.
As she drove along the road of the quiet neighborhood, a feeling of calm settled over her. Kids were laughing and throwing Frisbees or playing catch with their dogs. The houses were all well-kept and lawns neatly manicured. How long had she wished she could live in a place like this? Too bad her mother wasn’t there to see she’d actually made it happen.
Mia switched on the radio. A few of the latest hits blasted out as she headed towards town. The woods on her right opened up, and the beautiful coastline was breathtaking. Green-blue waves crashed onto the rocky shore. Mia rolled down the window, inhaling the salty air. The urge to pull over and dip her toes in the cool water was overwhelming. She slowed as she rounded the corner. A blue car was parked at the edge of the road with smoke billowing out of the propped-open hood. A woman with black hair held a baby and was staring off towards the waves.
Mia pulled behind the car and parked before getting out. “Are you alright?”
The woman turned, wiping away fresh tears as her cheeks blushed. “Oh, sorry. Uh . . .” The baby she held started to cry. Her mother shifted to bounce and rock the child.
“Are you alright?” Mia repeated, stepping closer.
“No. I’m sorry. I’m not usually a crier. It’s just been a really tough . . . year,” she said as if she was trying to remember a time when life wasn’t hard. Mia could relate. The baby drifted off to sleep, seemingly calmed by her mother’s voice.
“We all have bad days. Can I help? I can give you a ride. I was just on my way into town anyways,” Mia offered.
A spark of hope lit the woman’s almond-shaped eyes. “Would you mind? I don’t want to sit around waiting for my brother to find a tow. You can drop me off at my sister-in-law’s café. It’s right on Main Street.”
“Absolutely. I needed some coffee anyways. I’m Mia.” She reached out her hand.
“Jasmine, and this is Zoey.” The woman shook her hand.
“She’s beautiful. How old?” Mia asked as they walked towards their vehicles.
“Almost seven months.”
Mia helped secure the car seat, following Jasmine’s detailed directions. After Jasmine laid the sleeping baby down and buckled her in, they headed towards town.
“Do you live around here?” Jasmine tucked a black tendril of hair behind her ear.
“Yes, just moved in yesterday.”
“Oh, where are you from?”
“California. I needed a change of pace but I wanted to be by the ocean, so New Hampshire it was.” Mia gave her the carefully practiced answer that stayed as close to the truth as possible while omitting the important details.
“That’s a long way from home. What do you do for work?” Jasmine asked.
“I’m opening a yoga studio.”
“Yoga? Sounds interesting, but I don’t think it’s really my thing.”
“Well, when the studio opens, you’ll have to come check it out. I’d be happy to teach you. I’d love to have company in the meantime. Free sessions until the studio opens. It’s a great way to ground yourself. It’s helped me deal with stressful life moments.” She hoped she wasn’t giving too much of herself away, but this was the reason she taught yoga in the first place.
Jasmine seemed thoughtful. “Maybe.”
Mia smiled. She felt a pull towards this woman for some reason. Maybe she and Jasmine had something in common.
“Do you have any family in the area?” Jasmine asked.
“No. It’s uh . . . just me.”
“Mine are gone too,” Jasmine said as their gazes met.
“You said you had a brother?” Mia asked, turning onto Main Street.
Jasmine nodded. “Yeah, two actually. Mikel is married to Remy. She owns the Stardust Café—right here on the left. You can park anywhere. And Bently is the oldest.”
Mia did as she directed.
“What about you? Any siblings?” Jasmine asked, unbuckling herself and gathering the diaper bag.
“Nope. Just me.”
“I don’t know what I’d do without my brothers. Especially Bently, the oldest. He basically raised me, and then he jumped in to help me when I found out I was pregnant.”
“Oh. Zoey’s dad isn’t in the picture?” Mia asked.
Jasmine hesitated and drew in a breath. “No.”
There was a story there. Mia reached out her hand instinctively to comfort her. “I was raised by a single mom, and though I always missed my dad, she gave me enough love for the both of them.” Mia smiled, trying to lighten the mood. “I liked hearing about you and your family. I’d be happy to be a listening ear if you ever need to talk.”
“Let’s exchange numbers.” Jasmine offered, pulling out her phone.
Mia helped Jasmine carry the car seat into the Stardust Café. The smell of fresh coffee and sugary treats instantly enveloped her. A sign in bold lettering made it clear that all of the offerings were gluten-free. She hoped they didn’t taste it.
“Hey, Jasmine. What happened?” a beautiful woman in a flowery sundress asked from behind the counter.
Jasmine nodded for Mia to follow her through the back to the kitchen.
“Long story. Mia here was kind enough to be my heroine. Mia, this is Remy, my sister-in-law.”
Remy took baby Zoey from Jasmine and gave her cheek a kiss before she reached out to shake Mia’s hand. Mia set the car seat on the floor.
“Mia, it’s nice to meet you. Are you new in town?” Remy asked as Zoey wrapped her chubby fist around and pulled one of her braids.
“Yes, I just moved from California.”
“Wow. That’s quite the change of pace, I’m sure. You couldn’t have picked a better town. What do you do for work?” Remy asked.
“She’s not going to work at your café, Rem. She’s a business owner herself,” Jasmine interjected, taking a cookie off the cooling rack.
“Oh, you are? What kind of business?” Remy asked, adjusting Zoey on her other hip.
“I’m opening a yoga studio.”
“Good. We need more women in business in this town.” Remy smiled.
“Are there many?” Mia asked.
“Besides my café, and Jasmine’s bed-and-breakfast, there’s the book store, but I can’t think of any other businesses owned solely by a woman.”
“You own a bed-and-breakfast?” Mia asked Jasmine.
“Yes, The Lighthouse Inn. About two miles down the coast from where you found me stranded.” Jasmine turned to Remy. “Doesn’t Charli own the bar?”
Remy shook her head. “No, her husband’s parents still do, but she basically runs the whole place. I never see Zeke or Claire there anymore.”
Zoey reached for the remaining cookie in her mother’s hand.
“She’s just like her mommy—a sugar addict.” Remy smiled.
“Let’s hope that’s all she gets from me,” Jasmine said, seemingly hiding behind a smile as she handed over a large cookie crumb to her daughter.
Remy’s expression morphed into concern. “You’re doing an amazing job. She’s loved and fed and clothed. What more could a baby want?”
“Mia needs some caffeine,” Jasmine said, quickly changing the subject, taking Zoey back in her arms.
“What can I get you?” Remy asked.
“Just a black coffee, with one of your lavender scones,” Mia answered.
“Coming right up.” Remy walked back out into the main part of the café and started making the coffee.
Jasmine spoke. “I just wanted to thank you again for helping me out today and letting me vent. I’d really love to pay you back in some way. I’m having a barbecue at The Lighthouse Inn this evening. Remy will be there, and my brothers—just a few friends and fellow local business owners getting together to have a drink and some great food. Remy is making dinner. I’d love if you came as my guest.”
Mia smiled as her chest tightened. She liked Jasmine, and the woman seemed genuine and friendly. She could use a friend right now—hers were thousands of miles away on the other side of the country.
You have to put yourself out there.
“Sure. That sounds fun. Let me know if I can bring anything.”
Remy came back into the kitchen, handing her the coffee and a wax paper bag. Mia wrapped her fingers around the warm paper cup, breathing in the delicious aroma. “Thank you. How much do I owe you?”
Remy shook her head, her braids swaying with the motion. “It’s on the house.”
“I appreciate it.”
“Do you have any family out here?” Remy asked.
Mia sipped the coffee before shaking her head. “No. My mother died last year and my father passed when I was a child.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Remy said.
Mia gave her a polite smile.
“I really hope you’ll come tonight,” Jasmine said.
Remy glanced at her sister-in-law. “Oh, yes! Please come. I’d love to hear more about your plans for the studio.”
“I’ll text you the address,” Jasmine added.
“Alright. Sure.” Mia agreed before saying goodbye and thanking Remy one more time for the coffee. She got into her car and took a bite of the lavender scone. An explosion of flavor filled her mouth. The floral essence of lavender mixed with the flaky sweetness of the scone. Seemed like the gluten-free pastries might just be better than she’d thought, much like the locals in this new town. She smiled and headed towards the grocery store.
Hours later, Mia placed the last polvorones on the plate and licked her finger clean of the powdered sugar. They were still warm—just the way she liked them. She slipped on a pair of flip-flops and walked over to her neighbor’s door and knocked. She waited patiently, nerves filling her belly as she carefully balanced the plate of cookies in her hands. It was important to have a good relationship with your new neighbors—and food was the way to everyone’s heart.
The pounding of footsteps came closer. A dark shadow passed behind the thick glass of the door just before it flew open. Her neighbor’s confused expression quickly morphed into one of anger.
What the fuck is his problem?
“H-hi. I’m Mia, your new neighbor. I thought I’d introduce myself.”
He towered over her, jaw clenched. His hands fisted at his sides as his eyes raked over her body. She was sure that was lust in his dark gaze, but the man also seemed livid just with her presence.
“I brought you some polvorones. You might have heard them called Mexican wedding cookies here.”
He stared at the plate, his jaw ticcing. More awkward silence.
“Um . . . did I do something to upset you?” she asked, her patience wearing thin.
Something hesitant flashed in his eyes, but then it was gone. “Stay the fuck away from me,” he growled just before slamming the door in her face.
She was too stunned to speak. What a complete asshole. The nerve of this guy. She’d tried to be friendly. No one turned down her mother’s recipe.
Oh well, at least now she’d have something to bring to the barbecue. She needed a reminder that there were some people in this town who were decent human beings.
One thing was for sure—her neighbor wasn’t one of them. And she’d be damned if she ever tried to be nice to him again. She’d just have to avoid him like the plague, neighbor or not.
That’s it for this romance novel excerpt.
To read the full standalone novel, order your copy of Glass Secrets today.