Savvy Thorpe needs a vacation. Finally finished with college, she heads to her favorite shabby motel on Florida’s Gulf Coast where her aunt and uncle always save her room twenty-four. She quickly finds out, though, that The Gull Motel is not just her home away from home. It’s hers to manage while her aunt and uncle take an extended trip.
Skip McComber, The Gull’s former maintenance man, has been working on Savvy’s nuts and bolts for years. Now the new owner of the bar next door, his mission is to renovate a pirate bar while being a walking temptation for the girl he can’t get off his mind.
For Savvy, keeping her cool running a motel in Florida heat is one thing, but navigating the steamy waters of a former fling takes a whole other kind of savvy. In addition to the motel and the man next door, Savvy stumbles on a plot to swindle land from the residents of Barefoot Key. Devalued properties tumble like dominoes until Savvy musters her colorful crew from The Gull Motel to make the pillagers walk the plank.
Excerpt: Chapter One
Vacation. Despite my brainy reputation, this was one of the smartest things I’d done in a long time. When my middle school math teacher shortened my name from Savannah to Savvy, I took on a persona that drove me all the way through college at the top of my class. But now, I planned to put my brain on ice and my butt in the hot sand at my aunt and uncle’s lovably shabby beachside Florida motel. It was the most savvy thing I could do while I played an endless waiting game with the job market.
It was a hot September morning when I rolled into the steaming lot at the Gull Motel. Everything about it said Old Florida. A miniature palm tree grew in a concrete planter in front of the Office sign. The few cars nosed up to numbered doors looked hot enough to combust. It wasn’t a hotel, it didn’t have the cachet. But it looked like a four-diamond resort to me as my burly Uncle Mike swung open the frosted glass office door and grinned at me like Santa had just landed on his roof.
“Your aunt’s got the margarita machine going already,” he said, crushing me in a massive hug. The musty smell of hotel air conditioning permeated his aqua blue polo shirt. The whole range of my vision was aqua—the signature color of The Gull Motel. Its roof had aqua trim, the windows were edged in the same paint, and the sign squatting on top of a twenty foot pole in the parking lot boasted a white seagull outlined against an aqua sky.
“Before lunch?” I questioned, the vacationer in me at war with my responsible side.
Uncle Mike opened the back hatch and manhandled my suitcase. He nodded toward his beloved motel. “You’re a special occasion,” he said. “Vacation is important. Trust me. I’ve built a business on it.”
For the long drive from Michigan—where autumn had started to show its colors—I wore old comfortable knee-length shorts and a t-shirt, but I was overdressed now. The clientele here was more short-shorts and spaghetti straps than college dorm casual. I could adjust. This was not my first trip to the Gulf Coast.
I followed Uncle Mike through the office—dingy but familiar—and paused as he deposited my suitcase behind the desk. Rita, the receptionist, had a phone hooked between her ear and shoulder as she simultaneously checked in a guest. Somehow she managed to wave to me and give me a raised eyebrow smile. An experienced multi-tasker, Rita could probably smoke a cigarette, do her nails, and handle three guest complaints at the same time. She pointed toward the patio.
Movement—blurred by condensation—grabbed my attention. When my uncle slid the door open, a blonde tornado hit me. I’d been coming to The Gull several times a year all my life. One fact I could still count on was that Aunt Carol got smaller with age but her hair got bigger. Compensation comes in many forms.
She pulled me into a tight hug. “You need a nice cold drink.”
Carol hauled me over to a concrete table surrounded by old metal chairs. The patio was large enough for several tables and chairs, all shaded by aqua umbrellas. The cracked concrete floor surrounded by a knee-high concrete wall didn’t necessarily invite guests to linger, but the view did.
The wide white Florida beach ending in a sparkling blue Gulf of Mexico said resort even if the stacked two story building with parking right outside the rooms said 1950s beach motel.
Carol raised the pitcher—also filled with aqua liquid continuing the theme of The Gull—and started to fill three glasses. She didn’t get to the third before Rita shoved the glass door open and leaned out with the cordless phone.
“Better take this one, Carol,” she said, holding out the phone.
Mike parked himself across from me while his wife went inside. “Your aunt’s all excited to have you down here for a few weeks. I think she wants to pick your brain about making a few updates around here, figuring you got some great ideas with your degree.”
Fresh from college and an internship to polish off my hotel and hospitality management degree, I wouldn’t be bragging to say I had some ideas. But telling my aunt and uncle they’d have to spiff up The Gull for a new generation that didn’t remember the moon landing was going to be a tough sell. They loved the old place just as it was. Truth is, so did I. I also loved my ancient slippers, but I wouldn’t wear them on a date.
“I think she wants someone to go shopping with, too,” he said, his broad smile highlighting deep wrinkles around his eyes and stretching out his age spots.
“I could shop,” I agreed. “My college clothes won’t work if I can land a spot in the management trainee program I applied to.”
“The Grand Chicago. Heck of a fancy place,” Uncle Mike said, raising his glass and clinking mine. “I’ll drink to that.”
Thinking about the gleaming floors, modern luxury, and five-star everything at the place where I hoped to start in January gave me a little feeling of disloyalty. I would always love The Gull. So what that it was a used Chevy and the Grand Chicago was a Rolls Royce? I’d put in a lot of miles in a Chevrolet.
Carol left the sliding door gaping behind her, striding quickly to our sunny table on the patio.
“My mother got arrested again,” she said, picking up one of the margarita glasses and slamming half of it.
Mike pulled Carol onto his lap and shook his head sympathetically. “What was it this time?”
“Trespassing again. One of her card buddies bailed her out, but the police chief thinks she needs a babysitter. That was him on the phone.”
“He’s a nice enough guy. But we’re starting to know him better than we should,” Mike said. “Does this mean someone’s headed for Michigan?”
Carol’s mother, Aunt Gwen to me, was pushing eighty and still did water aerobics, played cards, and hosted wine-making classes at her lakeside cabin. Located next to a vineyard, the owners used to look the other way when Aunt Gwen gathered grapes near her property line for her little hobby. I’d heard she sent them a bottle every Christmas as a neighborly gesture. However, the vineyard changed hands a few years ago and the new owners see her actions as more theft than eccentricity.
“Maybe just for a week until we can talk some sense into her or build a big enough fence,” Carol said. “Too bad she refuses to move down here. Says Florida is for old people.”
“Sounds like you’ll need reinforcements this time.” Uncle Mike blew out a long breath. “We haven’t had a vacation in a long time, and Michigan’s nice in the fall. Guess we’ll figure out someone to watch over the place while we’re gone.”
They exchanged a glance and turned a laser-beam look on me, making me feel like the one guy who knew the combination in a bank that was being robbed. They glanced away quickly like a search light moving on to its next target.
The loyal niece in me wanted to say sure, coach, send me in. I have a degree in hotel management, am nice to children and animals, and always flush the toilet.
The vacationer in me wanted to say…uh…I’m on vacation.
Carol sucked both lips into her mouth and watched a seagull fly over. Mike scratched the short whiskers on his chin and toed a chip in the concrete.
I tried drinking for distraction and effect. Not that I could sustain that tactic for long. I can’t hold my booze and I tend to crack under pressure faster than chapped lips in a Michigan winter.
“Maybe I could—”
Yelling and barking exploded next door and a half-naked man chased a huge yellow dog out of Harvey’s Pirate Emporium and toward The Gull.
I jumped up. “Tulip!” Tulip was a three-year-old yellow Lab who did not know she wasn’t a puppy anymore. She stole things, slept in inappropriate locations, ate stray cigarette butts, and was probably going to come home with a tattoo one of these days.
“Not again,” Carol said.
Tulip skidded to a stop, dropped something shapeless and slobbery on the patio at my feet, and put her front paws on my shoulders. I sat down hard in my metal chair, off balance and getting licked like a tootsie pop. I was afraid she’d actually find out how many licks it took to get to my center.
The man sweating and breathing hard as he finished the race behind the dog already knew how many licks it took to get to my center. Skip McComber had circled me for years, a bonus temptation every time I visited my aunt and uncle’s motel where he’d been the maintenance man since we were both sixteen. Last spring, the circle tightened considerably, aided by a reckless spring break attitude and fueled by tequila.
I stood up and tried to compose myself discretely. He looked as tempting as always. Tall, shirtless, eyes and hair the color of caramel splashed with sunshine. In contrast, I looked like a refugee from a pajama party. Shorts twisted, t-shirt violated, ponytail askew. Given the heat burning my cheeks, it was safe to assume I was flushed like an eighty-year-old jogger.
“This must be yours,” I said, picking up the leather toolbelt Tulip had dropped at my feet. Covered in dog slime and violated with teethmarks in several places, it was the dog’s latest indiscretion. I could sympathize. Skip was my most recent fling, too.
He took the toolbelt and made a slow show of slinging it around his hips. He kept eye contact with me the whole time, like he was daring me to watch his seductive buckling up. I only let my eyes slide south once. I was on vacation. And he looked that good.
“Sorry about that,” my aunt said. “Tulip thinks it’s a chew toy. At least your tools are still in it this time and not scattered all over the sand. Most of them anyway.”
He broke his focus on me and smiled at my aunt. “It’s my fault for encouraging her to visit me.” He dug a treat out of his pocket and flipped it to the dog. She caught it in midair and tossed him a look of slutty affection.
“Savvy just rolled in a few minutes ago,” Carol said.
“I can see that,” Skip said.
“She was supposed to be enjoying a vacation after all her hard work in college,” Mike added, “but something has come up back home in Michigan with Carol’s mother.”
“Hope Aunt Gwen’s okay,” Skip said. “She’s a hoot.”
Carol rolled her eyes. “She’s a crazy old lady. Arrested again for liberating grapes from the neighboring vineyard.”
“Probably only stole what she was going to eat.”
“Or make into wine,” Mike said. “We were just talking to Savvy here about taking care of The Gull for us while we make a quick trip North.”
Mike, Carol, Skip, and even Tulip stood in a line, looking at me like I had a stash of free tickets to Disney World. Except Tulip maybe. She probably hoped I had bacon in my pockets.
“I believe I was just about to say yes,” I said with as much cheerful enthusiasm as possible. Of course I wanted to help my aunt and uncle. Hospitality is my business. And how hard could it be to manage a twenty-four room beach motel with an established clientele and a dedicated staff?
“Forgot to tell you we lost our maintenance man last month,” Mike said, nodding at Skip. “He bought the bar next door and he’s fixing it up.”
“Harvey’s Pirate Emporium?” I asked.
“Yep,” Skip said. “But I got rid of Harvey already.”
Harvey was a larger-than-life pirate statue who stood, shading his eyes like a tobacco store Indian, outside the bar entrance. After a few drinks, he looked either friendlier or more sinister, depending on the drunk.
“Gave me the willies,” Skip said, shrugging one shoulder. “Got him in cold storage in an old walk-in freezer.”
“Won’t be the same without him,” I said. What I was really thinking was that The Gull wouldn’t be the same without Skip and his extraordinary ability with his hands. “Who’s our new maintenance man?”
“Don’t have one. Muddling through for now, calling Skip over for emergencies,” Uncle Mike said.
“I can change light bulbs, but I draw the line at using a plunger.”
“That’ll work,” Carol said.
“Any other surprises I should know about?” I asked.
I thought a trace of tension transmitted from Carol to Mike to Skip, but Tulip didn’t seem to notice and I thought I was just seeing mirages in the heat.
“Gotta go,” Skip said. He ruffled Tulip’s ears, flicked me a look, and strode across the ten yards of sand separating his bar from my—temporary—motel. I had extension cords longer than the space between our buildings, and it was going to be one tough job keeping my focus on The Gull while my aunt and uncle were away.
About the Author
Amie Denman lives in a small town in her native Ohio with her husband and sons. Her two cats and large yellow labrador are kind enough to share a sunny office where she lets her imagination run wild. Reading books was her favorite escape as a child, and growing up four houses away from the community library encouraged her addiction. When she’s not reading or writing, she enjoys walking and running outside. The helpless victim of a lifetime of curiosity, she’s been known to chase fire trucks on her bicycle just to see what’s going on. Amie believes that everything is fun: especially roller coasters, wedding cake, and falling in love.
Amie is the author of five contemporary romance novels:
The Gull Motel
Blue Bottle Beach
Her Lucky Catch
Her Lucky Prize
Will Work for Love
He’s on Her Trail
Please visit her at: http://www.amiedenman.com
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On Twitter: @amiedenman
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