Contemporary Romance/ 14,526 words

Undertow Anthology

Undertow

Former Army Ranger, Max Harper didn’t know the young woman playing fetch on the beach with his therapy dog—but he wanted to. From his first meeting with Holiday Jones, her fresh beauty and soft heart swept him away. The wounded veteran knew he wanted forever with Holiday. There is just one small problem. She thinks he’s someone he’s not. When his down-to-earth Holiday learns who Max really is, love might not be enough—for no matter how generous a woman’s heart, it’s difficult to forgive deception.


Other Books by Patricia


Excerpt

Chapter One

I straighten my backpack on my shoulders, paste a smile on my face and march forward into the employees’ locker room. Fridays are usually great—the end of the workweek—the start of the weekend. This Friday has all the earmarks of major suckage. First, my van broke down, again, and now…

“Miss Jones. You are thirty minutes late for your shift.”

My boss at PublicMart stands by my locker, his scowl etching deeper lines in his tanned forehead. Beside him, Dave the daytime security guard shifts uncomfortably from foot to foot. The salmon pink of my cashier’s bib sticks out of the open door to my locker. Multiple cans of Chef Boyardee ravioli and Starkist tuna make a two-foot pyramid on the narrow wooden bench in front of it. My heart sinks. He’s found my stash for the homeless. They live just the other side of the inter-coastal bridge from where I work in Palm Beach. It always amazes me how much crossing a narrow span of water can affect your standard of living: Palm Beach, the “haves”—West Palm Beach, the “have-nots.” 

“Mr. Padhuwala, I’m sorry I’m late. The Wombat broke—”

He interrupts me. “Yes, yes, your van broke down. Again.” He shakes his head in irritation. “Under the circumstances, it doesn’t matter. Miss Jones, I told you what would happen if I caught you caching expired food again.”

“Mr. Padhuwala, the homeless don’t care if the ravioli or tuna is a day past expiration. This is probably the best meal, the only meal, they’ll have all week.”

It just hurts me to throw perfectly good food in the dumpster when a few hundred yards away, people starve. Unlike the Jamaican maids that shop for their hoity-toity multi-millionaire employers, Bennie-Under-the-Bridge and Crazy Kate won’t care if the cans are a day or two past the “best by” date. Benny and Kate definitely won’t sue PublicMart over out-of-date pasta. I’m not sure they know what year it is much less the day or the month.

“We have been over this before, Holiday. Our parent company is emphatic about disposing of anything past the ‘sell by’ date. The potential for litigation due to personal injury is too great. You leave me no choice, Ms. Jones. You’re fired. Dave will stay while you clean out your locker and escort you off the property. We’ll mail you your final check.”

He walks off shaking his head. I turn to Dave. My shoulders slump and my backpack slithers off and hits the ground. I make no move to stop it. My eyes hold his sorrowful ones. “I can’t believe he fired me.” All right, yes, I can. Mr. Padhuwala is as tough as a four-day-old bagel. My gaze falls on the pyramid. “Can I take these cans? Please?”

“Ms. Holiday.” He sighs. “What am I going to do with you, child? Put ‘em in a sack. I’ll leave them by the loading dock. Come by and pick them up on your way out. Just make sure the management doesn’t see you.”

I hug his neck. “Thank you, Dave. You’re such a nice man.” If you could see a black man blushing, Dave would probably be beet red…but he was a nice man.

“The world isn’t ready for you, Ms. Holiday.” He pauses and scratches his bald head. “Or maybe I got it bass-ackwards. You aren’t ready for the world. You better look out for your own interests first, child, or this world will gobble you up.”

 

I pull my key from the lock and open the door to the apartment I’ve shared for five years with my fiancé Carl. God bless air conditioning. The forty-five minute trek from PublicMart has left me soaked in perspiration.

I beam at Carl as I throw my backpack and two large sacks of canned goods on the sofa. “Hi, sweetie. What are you doing home this time of day? FedEx run out of boxes to deliver? I’d give you a hug but I’m all hot and sweaty. I really scored for Bennie and Crazy Kate, but man, my morning sucked. It’s so nice to come home and see my sweetie. Wait until I tell you…”

Allen, one of Carl’s good friends, walks out of the kitchen holding a cup of coffee. “Hey, Holiday.”

“Hey, Allen.” I greet him with a casual wave. Both men stand awkwardly side-by-side and exchange guilty glances. Allen takes Carl’s hand. I glance at Carl in question. “What’s up?”

“Ah…Hol…I need to tell you something.”