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About the Author
Pike Road, Alabama, with her husband; they have two grown children and four grandchildren. This is Cooper's debut novel.
Read an Excerpt
Designs In The Sand
By J. Cooper
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 J. Cooper
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe road to paradise stretched out flat in front of her like a long straight gray ironed ribbon. This is paradise, she thought. She rode with the top down and didn't care what happened to her hair. Blond strands danced and tangled around her face in the convertible wind that roared over the windshield then dived like a back curling undertow, thrashing her with turbulence from every direction.
Joy Carlisle reveled in the feel of it. Her golden locks became entangled on the sides of her sunglasses covering her blue eyes, almost blocking her eyesight. She didn't even care if the sun exposed more tiny freckles on her nose, and made her sweat. She just drove a little faster so the moisture evaporated and cooled on her face and ran in streaks down her neck and between her breasts into her pale green sundress. Her shoulders were artificially tan and bare except for the sundress straps, which were just wide enough to catch the wind and flap against her skin ... This is where I belong, Joy sighed.
In the middle of the summer in the south, any air not freshened by a sea breeze smells and breathes like it has been burnt in an oven. The stone and brick baked air of Atlanta smelled that way when she left it earlier that morning. It had been way too long since she felt the wind and sun in her hair, and it had grown limp and dull from nothing but the fluorescent office lights and office air, boxed on all sides by walls.
Of course, she knew, deep down, she was thrilled with this job because it meant she was getting away from Alan, her fiancé. She had tried to break it off with him several times, but Alan would not hear of it. He was proud, and she was his. At least, that's the way Alan saw it. It had taken years to learn how abusive and spiteful he could be. Finding out he was having an affair with his legal assistant was the last straw. Joy had had enough of his two-faced jealousy. That's it, Joy thought, he's always accusing me of having an affair, when all the while it has been him. I wonder just how long this has been going on. No, it doesn't matter, I don't care, she thought."
Joy had left the office a little early that afternoon, because it was her birthday, and she had gotten the promotion to project manager. She decided to give herself a little gift and surprise Alan. They were scheduled to meet at 5:30 pm at the Blue Moon, between their places of work, and have drinks and dinner, as they did several nights a week.
Instead of going out to eat at the same old place, and saying the same old things, she would stop by the little bistro on her street, pick up supplies for the two of them, then go by Alan's office. She felt as giddy as a school girl, just planning her little caper. She would kidnap Alan a little early, and they could walk to the park and have a relaxed and romantic picnic.
It had been years, since they had had a romantic, spur of the moment date. She also stopped by the corner bottle shop and bought a bottle of Champaign to go with the cheese, crackers, fruit and sandwiches she had purchased. I will just have my own celebration, with Champaign no less, she thought.
Alan had not called her all day to wish her Happy Birthday and that's just not the proper thing to do in the south. The 'Birthday Gift Phone Race' had always been a tradition in her family and all the other families she knew growing up. Each member of the family would race to call the birthday person early in the morning to see who could be the first with the birthday wishes. The caller would exclaim "Birthday Gift", when the phone was answered, entitling the well-wisher a gift from the birthday recipient. Not only was it a tradition, they kept score!
She had told Alan about this tradition, over and over, and how much it meant to her, especially now, with her Dad gone. She missed his calls the most of all. But, Alan never remembered. He would always say, "Sorry Babe", when he would see how disappointed she was.
They had such a fight over this last year; she thought surely he will remember this year. At the very least, he would call her during the day and wish her Happy Birthday, even though he wouldn't be the first to call. But, as usual, he didn't call at all. Oh well, she would say every year, maybe next year. She always accepted his excuses for being so absent minded and forgetful.
After all, he had such an important job, and was under so much stress all of the time, he didn't have time to think about personal things. She had heard that, over and over. One thing about Alan, he was not romantic, leaving Joy to feel like she was missing a big part of a relationship.
When she walked into Alan's office suites, his secretary was not at her desk. In fact, no one was in sight. The lights had been turned off and it looked like they had left for the day. In Atlanta in the concrete jungle, lights are a must in every office because of the tall shadows cast across the landscape causing the look of dawn or dusk in broad daylight.
She turned to leave when she heard Alan's voice. It was muffled, but she was sure it was Alan. She walked towards his office and could see the light coming through the bottom of the door. She heard the voice again, and Joy was certain it was Alan, but the voice sounded strained and breathless. It scared her. The first thought on her mind was that he had been left alone in the offices and was having a heart attack. She had been worried about that since Alan had put on a few pounds.
Joy rushed to his door and turned the handle. It wasn't locked. She eased the door open and softly called, "Alan?" He was not at his desk. She didn't see him anyplace, so she walked through his office towards his 'break room' as he called it. Each manager on Alan's level had their own suite of offices that included an adjoining large bathroom with steam shower, and of course a mirrored dressing room with a couch.
The door to the room was ajar, and she could still hear sounds, so she eased the door all the way open. She stood in the doorway facing the sofa in Alan's dressing room.
There on the couch was Alan and Jennifer, sweet Jennifer. She had been so gracious so many nights to work overtime with Alan. He had bragged about her numerous times - how efficient she was, and sweet and kind.
Towels and clothes were strewn on the floor. Both Alan and Jennifer were nude, and so involved with their activity, they didn't even know Joy was standing there, watching, seeing the faulty dreams of her future with Alan going down the drain. She felt sick to her stomach. She just backed out of the office and left in so much shock, she wondered if she was dreaming.
She was so glad she had the Florida project, which would get her out of town for at least a week, and this time away from Alan. Maybe with a little time he would believe her and realize they were just not meant to be together, today proved that for sure. One of his cruel jokes to her was that he would keep her until something better came alone. Of course, at first she thought he was kidding. "Well, she said, I guess he thinks he has something better now, because he certainly does not have me."
In her apartment, she left her ring on the dresser with a note: "Alan, I'm leaving for the job in Florida, and will be gone a week or so. Please take your belongings and do not be here when I return. I'm sorry, but it is never going to work between us. Joy."
She kept thinking she should have done more. She should have walked in and screamed at him, thrown something, hit him, done something. But, her parents had always taught her to walk away and rise above it. Her Dad once told her to 'show her class, not her ass.' She thought about that many times, and how this advice had come in handy over the years. Her father's voice kept her out of trouble and this was the greatest test of her self control. "Self-control is what I will have, from this day forwards - no one will ever take that from me again!"
This new assignment was going to be good for her health, not to mention the financial benefits. Joy was one of the few female architects in the Atlanta firm, and to be awarded the job of remodeling a beach house was beyond her wildest expectations. She had been looking forward to this trip for weeks.
The pure physical pleasures of the drive kept her mind at bay long enough that she lost track of where she was. She was somewhere between where she started and where she was going, far enough from the beginning and the end to have temporarily lost sight of them both. Suspended in sun- drenched timeless in-between, she was temporarily disconnected from schedule or location.
She knew she was in Florida, somewhere between Tallahassee and the Gulf of Mexico, headed roughly southwest toward the early afternoon sun. Glancing down at the sketch of a map lying on the seat beside her, anchored against the wind by her purse, she realized she had not even looked at her directions. Not that the map told her much, anyway. She remembered she was to go south on hwy 319 from Tallahassee, then east on 98, and she should end up in Alligator Point somewhere along the way. That shouldn't be hard to find. She pretty much knew her way around here, but things did look a little different than she remembered. Oh well, if she ran into the gulf, she would know she had gone too far.
The road was uninterrupted by turns or notable landmarks. It wouldn't hurt to stay lost for a while, she thought. There aren't that many roads in this area.
Growing up in Tallahassee, she had probably ridden every road that led into the panhandle with her father when she was a young girl. That was almost twenty years ago, when she would accompany him on his business trips, most of which usually lasted no more than a warm sunny afternoon.
Inhaling the fresh salt air, Joy remembered how much she loved this part of Florida. It was still what she considered an undiscovered country, mostly uninhabited except for those born to it, who hadn't moved away. It was the old Florida, silent and tranquil, tree dense with magnolias and pines, bathed in a high gentle bright light and cleaned with breezes that came fresh from the west across the gulf. The thick hanging moss waved over the lush wild tropical undergrowth peeking through dappled sunlight.
Its inhabitants were quiet solitary folks who were intent on their own errands and purposes. Like their Scottish-Irish ancestors, they carried their rural silence and unbending independence with them. They were people who worked hard, cherished the land and needed no other man to survive. A neighbor closer than a mile was too close.
There are those who go and those who stay, she had once been told. She had always known which one she was, but it occurred to her that the last time she answered that question was a very long time ago. It was funny, she thought, how you can answer important questions so easily when you are young and sure of yourself at the time. You answer them and go on, maybe never to ask them again. She suddenly realized how dangerous that could be. She imagined herself waking up at fifty and realizing that most of her major decisions of her life had been made by a twenty-four year old.
Joy was a true Southern Belle and a part of her felt at home here, a part she had almost forgotten. For a long time, this yielded to the other part of her, the part that moved away for brighter lights and better opportunities. For the first time since she could remember, she wondered which was really better.
She had been blessed with notable physical attributes-a pretty face, and long thick hair that glowed with platinum streaks when she spent time in the sun. Her body was well endowed with curves in the right places and was the envy of most of the woman she met. That often presented her a cold shoulder from the insecure ones. She had always had more than her share of male suitors. She also knew her physical assets were one of the reasons she was hired by her firm. Although she was smart, she knew she could get ahead on her own merit, but was not above taking advantage of physical assets. She could play the blond role as easily as the next one, but longed for the opportunity to prove herself intellectually, and knew this assignment was a good chance to do that.
Joy suddenly was catapulted back to reality with a loud thump, and she felt the car begin to shake. Oh no, a flat tire, she thought. The steering wheel felt like it had a mind of its own as she struggled to pull the car off the road in the edge of a palmetto thicket. Lordy, she thought, I hope there are no snakes out here. She knew if there were any in the world, they would surely be in the plants. Rattlesnakes and water moccasins grow healthy and large in the south and are certainly not shy.
There was not a vehicle in sight, she had not seen one for the past twenty minutes. As she got out of the car, she looked down at her sun dress, and stacked sandals and realized changing a tire in these clothes is not the ideal situation, but it had to be done. She popped the trunk open and was struggling to remove the spare tire. "My it's hot!" She exclaimed. Sweat was beginning to roll down her neck as she fought with the tire. Obviously it was winning. The heat and the heavy rubber had conspired against her today. She was intent on not letting it get the best of her when she heard a voice behind her.
"Ma'am, let me help you with that." Joy almost jumped out of her skin. She had not heard a vehicle drive up, and here she was on this deserted stretch of road, with a disabled vehicle and a strange man standing beside her.
Joy stepped back, and a tall lanky man, probably in his early forties, dressed in a red and blue plaid shirt with jeans and boots, reached in the trunk with a muscled arm, grabbed the tire and swung it out on the ground in one motion. He was certainly strong, she thought. He can probably strangle me just as quickly. She took another step back.
"Shore is hot out here, ain't it?" With that he reached back in and pulled out her jack and tire tool, rolled the tire around to the passenger's side of the car in the palmettos and proceeded to release the flat from its hold. Had there been a snake in there, it would have been afraid of this man, she was sure of that.
Joy stepped aside, trying to stay at least an arm's length from him, just in case he decided to do more with the tire tool than change the tire. She looked back at the truck he had pulled up behind her. It was an old beat up green International, probably early seventies model with a camper cover over the bed. It had several beer cans lying across the dash with one sitting upright, she was sure it was the current selection.
She could see a gun rack through the window, and it was filled with at least three rifles and a shotgun, with a rebel flag hung on the antenna. She could hear Willie Nelson belting out Whiskey River through the open windows.
As she watched him change the tire, she remembered she still had her little 9mm pistol under the seat. She walked nonchalantly around to the driver's side, opened the door and sat down under the steering wheel. As casually as she could, she bent over, and ran her hand under the seat as far as she could reach, but felt no gun. Darn! She thought. It must have slid back further than I can reach. She sat up, opened the door, all the while keeping one eye on the stranger. She stepped out of the car, slowly bent over, trying not to look obvious, and ran her left hand a little further under the seat, hoping to retrieve some kind of protection, just in case she needed it. She was still struggling to locate it when she caught a glimpse of him walking around the back of the car towards her, wiping his hands on an old handkerchief he must have had in his pocket.
"Are you alright, Miss?" The man looked her up and down.
I'm fine. Thank you," She could tell her voice was a little shaken. She smiled at him, trying to relate her sincere gratitude, hoping he would not sense her fear.
"How much do I owe you for changing my tire?" She asked, trapped between the driver's door and the steering wheel. She had backed away from him as far as she could go. He had a distinct odor of fish about him.
He walked a little closer to her, invading her space just a bit, and smiled a beautiful snaggled tooth grin, and said, "Awe shucks, Mam, you don't owe me nothin. Changen that there tare fur you was my pleasure. We don't get meny perty women thru these here parts often, and it's a real treat for me, just to look at you."
Excerpted from Designs In The Sand by J. Cooper Copyright © 2010 by J. Cooper. Excerpted by permission.
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