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A mistake. A blessing. A tragedy.
And now, Mandi Evans has made it her goal to fade into anonymity. Once a straight-A student with her choice of colleges, she’s withdrawn into a life that consists of two jobs, an online class, and memories. Crippled by the past, she feels unworthy of a better life – until Lane Whitmore walks into the diner where she works six nights a week.
An urban planner, Lane is looking to revitalize the rundown part of town where Mandi’s hidden herself away. He can’t help but notice this diamond in the rough as well, and what starts as simple good times grows to . . . something more.
With Lane, Mandi feels alive again, and she makes a bold decision – one that could chart her course on a path to redemption. But will keeping her plan a secret from Lane turn out to be the biggest mistake of all?
Something Good, award-winning contemporary romance. Something Good was first runner-up for the 2015 RONE Award in the contemporary romance sweet category. It also received a 2015 Maple Leaf award for Best Ending from Still Moments Magazine and TransCanada Romance Writers. InD’Tale Magazine calls Something Good’s hero a “McDreamy-worthy” main male character.
BY DARLENE DELUCA
As they started up the walkway, Lane grabbed Mandi’s hand, sending her pulse jumping again.
He shot her an easy smile as he opened the door and ushered her inside. They squeezed into the waiting area, and Mandi was suddenly self-conscious. They looked like a couple – as if they lived together, had gotten out of the bed they’d shared the night before and were going about their day together. As heat rose to her face, she took the small complimentary cup of coffee he offered her, thinking an ice-cold glass of water might be a better choice.
It was too noisy to talk, thank God, and Lane sifted through the many sections of newspapers spread around the seating area. Mandi stole a sideways glance at him while he sipped his coffee. He hadn’t shaved before they left his place, and the shadow of new growth gave him a roguish look. She kind of liked it. When he looked over and caught her staring at him, a quick smile spread across his face, He shifted, and draped an arm around her shoulder. For a moment she envied his ability to smile so naturally. She’d forgotten how to smile spontaneously. These days, she had to have a reason. Had to make a conscious effort. Most of the time, she just couldn’t muster one.
Mandi straightened and shook off those thoughts. Any time she was tempted to feel sorry for herself, she remembered how it all began in the first place. Whose fault was that? She blew out her breath, thankful when the girl at the desk called Lane’s name.
“What can I get ya’ll to drink?” a waitress asked as soon as they were seated.
Mandi checked her watch. Almost eleven. This would probably be her only real meal of the day. She ordered a tall orange juice, and couldn’t help but notice that the waitress, all the wait staff, was neatly put together in bright-colored collared shirts and khaki slacks. While it wasn’t fancy, the restaurant had a sophisticated feel, with modern light fixtures and wooden tables with fabric-padded chairs. A far cry from Jimmy’s, for sure. The diner was nicked and torn and outdated – shabby without the chic.
Lane requested more coffee, then closed his menu and raised his brows. “Ah, the healthy choice. Showing me up.”
“I’ll probably switch back to caffeine later before I go to work,” Mandi told him.
When the waitress returned, Mandi ordered a basic egg breakfast with bacon and hash browns. Lane ordered an omelet loaded with just about everything.
“You’ll have to let me know how it compares to the omelets at Jimmy’s, so I can tell Carl.”
Lane took a sip of his coffee. “You can tell Carl the omelet I had there was delicious.”
Mandi had to laugh. This guy was too nice. She swallowed the lump in her throat. She was in over her head. In over her status, anyway. Lane Whitmore was too good to be true. Of course, she’d known it the first time she’d seen him. He was temporary. Like an over-the-counter medication, he provided temporary relief from common aches and pains.
“I’ll tell him,” she said softly. She gulped down the cold water, trying to pull her thoughts away from dwelling on what she couldn’t have. “So, what are you doing today?” she asked, attempting to offer some kind of conversation.
“I figure since it’s Saturday, more people will be home, outside doing yard work, things like that. Thought I’d do some canvassing, talk to folks in the neighborhoods.”
“You’re just going to walk the streets?”
Lane grinned. “Something like that.”
“I’ll loan you a can of pepper spray.” And she wasn’t joking. But she knew it was different for a man. A man might get hassled, maybe roughed up in the worst areas. A woman could disappear.
He sat back and tapped his fingers against his coffee mug. “I know this place doesn’t have a great reputation, but I’ve been here a few days, and haven’t seen anything that scares me too much yet. As far as I can tell there are a lot of hard-working people just trying to live their lives. Obviously not making a ton of money, but plugging along.”
“That’s true. But there are also gangs and drug dealers and basic stupid low-life.”
Lane leaned forward again, his smoky eyes intense on hers. “Which brings me to the question I asked you the other night. What the hell are you doing working at Jimmy’s? You could work someplace like this.”
Mandi glanced around the restaurant. Someplace like this. She knew what he meant. Cleaner. More upscale clientele. “Maybe. But Jimmy’s is close to home. When I get off work at eleven or twelve, I want to get home. Besides, Jimmy’s been good to me.”
Her throat constricted. A sense of loyalty kept her at Jimmy’s. She’d stay there until she had enough money to blast out of Texas for good. The people there had helped her through the worst days of her life. She owed them. They’d covered for her through the times when she froze up, threw up or didn’t even show up.
“You live close to Jimmy’s? By yourself?”
“I’m by myself now. But when we first–” Whatever thought she’d had, whatever she was about to say completely escaped her brain. Her eyes locked onto the elegant woman coming toward her.
Panicked, she looked at Lane, who immediately slid out of the booth.
“Miranda, honey. My goodness! What a surprise.”
“What are you doing here?” What the hell is what she really meant. Why were they out of their own zone? Now. Here.
“We were meeting the Martinsons for brunch.”
Another woman stopped at the table. “Why, hello there, Miss Miranda. How are you?”
Mandi’s father and Mr. Martinson stopped behind the women, and with reluctance, Mandi stood. She let Mrs. Martinson pull her into a brief hug. “I’m fine, thank you,” Mandi murmured. But her eyes were on her father. Even on a Saturday morning, her dad wore dress slacks, polished loafers and a collared shirt. She watched him take in the scene, looking from Mandi to Lane, knowing how he’d interpret the situation. His unmarried daughter, the slut, having breakfast with the man she’d spent the night with.
“We’ll wait up front,” Mrs. Martinson told them. “No rush.”
When they moved on, Lane looked at Mandi expectantly, probably waiting for her to come to life and introduce him to her parents. Hmmm, how to introduce him? What was he? Friend, casual acquaintance, sex partner?
Before she could decide, Lane took charge. With a confident smile, he extended his hand to her father. “Lane Whitmore. Pleased to meet you.”
The men shook hands, and then Lane and her mother did the same.
“So nice to meet you, Lane. I’m Beth,” her mother said, hitching her boxy Kate Spade bag over her shoulder.
Mandi wondered if Lane was the kind of guy who’d notice designer labels. Would he notice her dad’s Rolex? The diamond flashing on her mother’s hand? Probably. Those were hard to miss.
Her mother gave a nervous laugh. “Well, we better get out of the way. Are you coming by tomorrow?”
Mandi thought of the mountain of laundry piling up in her closet. She sometimes went to her parents’ house on Sundays for dinner, and tossed in a load rather than going to the sketch Laundromat at The Meadows.
“I’m not sure yet.”
“All right. Let us know.” She glanced at Lane. “Bring your friend. We’d love it.” She gave Mandi a hug, then in a loud whisper asked if she needed any money.
Mandi wanted to sink through the floor as her dutiful father pulled out his wallet. She waved it away, her face burning. “No. Dad, really. I’m fine.”
He replaced the wallet. “All right then. We’ll see you later.” He leaned in and planted a quick kiss on Mandi’s cheek then he gave Lane a curt nod, and nudged her mother along.
Please. Go already. Mandi sank back into the booth, knowing Lane’s eyes were fixed on her. Thankfully, the waitress appeared with their food. And Mandi nearly did a face-plant into her plate.
Darlene Deluca writes contemporary novels that are about people and their relationships – what brings them together or keeps them apart. Her characters are well-rounded women (with some classy heroes sprinkled in) who juggle careers and personal life, and find fulfillment whether it’s through romance or solid I’ve-got-your-back girlfriends.
Darlene is a Kansas native with a degree in journalism. A life-long reader, books have always been important to her, and she’s spent many years as a classroom and library volunteer at her kids’ schools, and somehow always managed to run the book fair.
She enjoys books, dark chocolate, and tea – preferably combined with a sunny day by the pool or at the beach!
Links to Darlene’s website, blog, books, etc.
**SPECIAL GIVEAWAY**: Darlene is giving away an e-copy (Amazon or Smashwords) of SOMETHING GOOD to one lucky reader who comments on her Karen’s Book Bench blog. Thank you, Darlene, for sharing your story with us.
Don’t miss the chance to read this book!