Excerpt from A Season to Love
If looks could kill Kristen McKay’s glare would be a lethal weapon.
As Tyler Kincaide entered the conference room looking for an open seat at the conference table, he grimaced when the first open seat his gaze landed on happened to be next to her.
Not that he had anything against her. He liked her. A lot. Well, in the way a man who wouldn’t mind getting inside a woman’s pants likes her.
But for some reason, she felt about him the way he felt about Brussels sprouts and kale. Bone-deep hate.
Just as he’d made up his mind to take the seat anyway, she lifted her startled gaze to his again, then turned the glare up a notch to death ray.
Well, okay then.
Another seat cross the table next to Tabitha Gillespie, owner of Pints & Paints, appeared to be available.
The Town Hall conference room served as the monthly meeting venue for the Northridge Economic Development Council, or EDC for short.
Turning his footsteps in that direction, he felt the heat of Kristen’s glare burning holes in the spot between his shoulder blades, like a laser blast from Cyclops.
Resisting the urge to twitch his shoulders, he set his iPad on the table and pulled out the chair, nodding to Tabitha, just as Carter Watson, the council chair, called the meeting to order.
The little town of Northridge, population six thousand twenty three, had an active economic development council which advised the Town Council on economic development matters, including business retention and expansion, new development (within strict zoning ordinances in order to maintain Northridge’s historic charm), marketing opportunities, and tourism.
As the owner of Firehouse Brews, a local craft brewery, and its sister business The Firehouse Taproom, Tyler had a vested interest in Northridge’s economic success. So, despite the unwelcome chill from Kristen’s side of the table, here he sat, making a concerted effort not to fidget in his seat.
He’d noticed today she had her long red hair plaited down her back, stray bits coming loose to curl around her face. The olive-green sweater she wore deepened the color of her bottle-green eyes, and played up the peach of her cheeks.
The chill of fall had yet to show its face, but Kristen was bundled up as if there were a blizzard coming.
She had this rolled-out-of-bed quality that intrigued him. Hair just this side of messy, clothes that seemed an afterthought but that hugged her curves, little to-no accessories. It suited her devil-take-it attitude.
After working with women in his former profession on Wall Street, buttoned up and suited in dark colors, sleek skirts, and red-soled, sky high shoes, Kristen’s fuck-it appearance was refreshing. And sexy as hell.
Ooh boy. He needed to get a grip before he did something stupid. Like compliment her appearance. Such actions could start World War III.
Sliding his iPad open, he tapped on the notes app, ready to jot down his thoughts during his second meeting since joining the Council in July.
After approving the minutes of the August meeting, Carter brought up the first item of business. As he spoke, Tyler scanned the agenda, stopping when he came to the item titled ‘Film Location.’
Intrigued, he drummed his fingers on his lap, wondering what that could be about.
Kristen McKay tapped her pen on the table as Mason Porter, owner of Forget Me Not’s Florist droned on about the latest sales tax increase, and averted her eyes from the man directly across the table from her.
Why, she asked herself for the thousandth time, did he have to join the EDC too?
Whenever she was in his presence she felt the familiar push-pull. The shame of that night so many years ago, coupled with the confounding and unwelcome desire to be with him despite it.
Damn him and his dirty-blond hair and crazy chameleon eyes in that melange of blue-green-brown. Every time she looked at him, the color changed. What color would they appear now?
Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look, she repeated to herself.
Okay. She looked. And beneath the jarring fluorescent lights, they were a deep olive green with flecks of blue and gold. He gave her a flicker of a smile, and she rolled her own eyes, more at her own weakness, than at his impertinence.
Enough. Stifling a groan, she studied September’s agenda for topics of direct interest to her.
She’d only recently become a business owner in Northridge, having purchased what had been the bookstore two years ago when Patti Cotton had decided to retire and move to Florida.
Kristen had put every dime she could spare into the business, converting a section of the bookstore into a cafe where she served fresh-baked goods and coffee, renaming it Beans N’ Books. She’d also taken out a small business loan and applied for small business grants from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
As one of the newest member of the EDC, she’d joined determined to make herself heard and have a hand in Northridge’s economic success. She also wanted to prove to everyone that she wasn’t her mother’s daughter (or, even worse, her father’s). That she could be a success, be independent, and unlike her mother, not fall back on a string of questionable relationships, and the occasional hook to make ends meet.
And unlike her father, stay out of prison.
She knew she had a good business model, but in addition to regular patronage from Northridge’s local citizens, its survival depended on the tourists from neighboring Atlanta who craved a day away from the big city where they could walk the quaint historic downtown area, visit the trendy shops, and sample the excellent food and beverages Northridge’s businesses were proud to offer.
Gliding a finger down the agenda, she passed an item, then backed up. ‘Film Location.’ She sat up, intrigued.
The State of Georgia had invested a great deal to become the ‘Hollywood of the South,’ and they’d succeeded. Some of her favorite binge-worthy TV shows were filmed in Georgia, including The Walking Dead and Stranger Things.
And those productions had boosted the economy in both filming locations.
Was a production company looking at Northridge for a TV show or feature film?
Salivating at the possibility of a regular catering gig for a production crew, she anxiously waited for the meeting to move along. This could help her little business turn the corner.
Finally, Carter cleared his throat. “The next item on the agenda involves the proposal from the Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Division of the Georgia Economic Development Council for Northridge to serve as the location for the feature film adaptation of the best-selling novel Battle of the Heart by Jordan Raven.”
Kristen sucked in a breath. She squeezed in time to read books–crucial to a bookstore owner–and had read that book. And loved it! I mean, who hadn’t read the book? she wondered. It’d been promoted on news programs, talk shows, and magazines all over the country.
She’d even featured it in her Georgia authors section.
Set in the Post-Civil-War-South in the 1870’s, the story focused on a couple, Samuel and Eleanor Wesley, who are trying to put their lives back together after the Civil War, but his past still haunts him and threatens to destroy everything they’ve worked so hard to accomplish.
Northridge was the perfect location with its railroad history, original post-antebellum buildings and nineteenth century charm.
Excitement surged through her.
This excitement waned when she returned her attention to the meeting discussion.
“I don’t think we want to subject our town to this invasion,” Mason said, brow furrowed.
“Yeah,” Tabitha seconded. “It will disrupt our lives.”
“It will also be a shot of adrenaline for Northridge’s economy,” Kristen interjected, surprised by her own temerity, especially when all eyes turned to her, including Tyler’s.
Screwing up her courage she continued, raising her voice to be heard over the base drum of her heart.
“Tony,” she pointed at Dominick Mancini’s son, who now ran Dominick’s Pizza & Pasta, “what about catering for the film crew? Or Meghan?” She jutted her chin toward Meghan Redmond, owner and chef of The Whistle Stop Pub.
She then turned her gaze on Mason, “You might be called on to provide flowers for scenes. And, Tabitha, the crew will be looking for things to do during their time off—they could come to Pints & Paints.”
She leaned on the table to make her point, “Carter, you and Anita did such a beautiful job renovating the 1885 Bed & Breakfast, you could make a mint serving as the setting for the boarding house in the book. After filming, fans of the book will want to stay at the ‘Magnolia Boarding House.’”
Her heart expanded in her chest with both nerves and excitement, and with being the current center of attention for all the right reasons, rather than for pity or disdain.
She lifted her hand then let it drop to the table. “It’s a no-brainer.”
Tyler’s head had swiveled in Kristen’s direction at her first words.
He didn’t know why, but he never expected to be on the same side of an issue with her. Maybe because whenever he was around her she was so . . . contrary, almost for contrariness’ sake. If he said the grass was green and the sky was blue, she’d say the opposite, despite the evidence to the contrary.
“Kristen’s right. The economic boost to Northridge is incalculable. Everything from job creation to attracting tourists, this opportunity will bring nothing but good to our businesses.”
This set off another round of arguments from the naysayers. Feeling Kristen’s green eyes on him he tilted his head and returned her gaze. The angry voices receded, and in his mind anyway, it was just the two of them, alone.
She lifted a brow in challenge, but her eyes remained calm.
This was the first time since he’d returned to Northridge that she’d looked at him without hostility. Maybe they were making progress. He liked it.
“Well, Tyler and Kristen, since you two are currently the only ones in favor of this, the council requests a full report from you on the economic impact, good and bad, this could have on Northridge.”
He slid the proposal down the table where it stopped in front of Tyler.
“We’ll expect the report at the November meeting.”
Wait. What? Kristen’s gaze bounced between Carter at the head of the table, and Tyler, seated across from her.
Surely Tyler wouldn’t agree. She’d certainly given him enough reason to steer clear of her. Clenching her fist under the table, she held her breath hoping for his refusal. As one of the newbies on the council, she didn’t want to be the one to turn down an opportunity to show the council how vested she was in the community and that she deserved their respect. But this? No way.
She couldn’t spend time with Tyler working on a report, meeting to discuss the pros and cons of the proposal, possibly over lunch, or worse . . . dinner. For one, she couldn’t afford it, and for two, she couldn’t handle it.
Since his return, keeping her distance and her secret had been difficult enough. Spending time with him would make it impossible.
But just as she’d opened her mouth to protest, Tyler said with a nod at her, “We’ll be happy to.”