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The ancient clock that came with the house chimed the hour. As I shinnied down the ladder, I ran through the to-do list in my head—shower at ten, hair appointment at eleven, then back to the grind of turning Mimosa House into a stellar bed-and-breakfast. My brain counted the bongs as they reverberated off of the walls of my new lease on life that came with a seven-figure mortgage. Nine. Ten. Eleven. “Eleven? Shit.”
I stepped into my good flip-flops by the front door, the ones with hardly any paint on them, grabbed my purse and keys, and sprinted toward the Jeep.
“Yankee.” The hiss came from my lovely neighbor, Mr. Hunsucker, who was somewhere between five and a hundred and five years old and wasn’t at all happy I was opening a B&B. He was watering the prize roses he’d accused me of pilfering on more than one occasion. Okay, so when I thought no one was looking, I’d pulled a spent blossom off, just to smell it, which made me a flower thief and a Yankee.
“Good morning, Mr. Hunsucker,” I called and then ducked into the Jeep before the spray drenched my windshield. Missed me.
Looking up at him in my rearview mirror, he only held up his middle finger a few seconds this time. A new record. Yep, I was definitely growing on him. I glanced at my hair and tucked a stray strand behind my ear. Thanks to the unusually hot Low-Country spring and all my DIY renovations, I’d been aching to have it chopped off. As a matter of fact, the day the air conditioning went out in the money pit I’d been trying to turn into Magnolia Bay’s finest bed-and-breakfast, I came close to taking the kitchen shears to my waist-length red hair.
That horrific thought sent me searching through the Welcome Wagon basket one of the friendly residents dropped off six months ago, just after I moved into the beautiful little South Carolina town. I found the business card for The Sassy Scissors, requested an appointment with Rosie Mauldin, and took the earliest one I could get.
Five after eleven, the Jeep came to a stop in front of the salon, and a jolt of adrenaline zinged through my body like a triple shot of espresso. Sure, I was a little buzzed from the fear of missing a hair appointment, but excited too about being around people for a change. I knew restoring Mimosa House to its former glory would be a lonely job, and when I ditched my corner office in the corporate world, I had actually looked forward to the solitude. But the first four months of renovations on Mimosa House, the Charlestonian mansion I’d sunk my life savings into, provided anything but. I’d hated having workers and contractors around all the time. Resented having to hire them to do the projects I couldn’t tackle myself.
For the last eight weeks, I’d been cooped up in the house alone with a twenty-two page to-do list, painting mostly, perfecting. I’d missed having someone around to talk to, but didn’t dare stop working long enough to make friends. Not when I had just a little over three weeks to get the house open for the Memorial Day weekend historic home tour.
Problem was, I couldn’t get anyone on the Magnolia Bay Historical Society board to return my phone calls to find out when or if Mimosa House would be added to the tour. The house met all the historical requirements. But the society liked to pick and choose the history it sells to tourists from all over the world, and, as a former brothel, Mimosa House just wasn’t their type.
Of course, I did my homework before I bought the property and knew there could be problems with the Bloom clan, the most prominent family in town. Magnolia Bay was founded in 1826 by Angus Crawford Bloom. Fast forward almost two centuries later, Violet Bloom and her two of her five daughters still ruled the town. They either weren’t interested in preserving the inn’s part of the town’s history or they were too embarrassed about Violet’s late husband Rembert’s connection to the former brothel to acknowledge my requests.
I’d even marched myself up to Violet’s daughters, Daisy and Camellia, at a Historical Society fundraiser a few weeks ago. Their tight smiles said they knew who I was and what I wanted, and that they had no intention of giving it to me. But I didn’t back down. When they politely excused themselves from my company, I asked for an appointment to discuss getting the house on the town’s historic registry.
Having the endorsement of the Magnolia Bay Preservation Society meant everything, especially to the tourists. It would put Mimosa House on the board’s website, in their brochures. And their advertisements, something I had hoped to have some budget left for, but thanks to the four shiny new HVAC units, I had no money to spend on ads.
The sisters smiled their charming southern smiles and then gave me an appointment all right—next January. And that was it from the Bloom bitches. No pity for my dire situation, no discussion, just a wave of the hand to dismiss me like a peasant. Which was another good reason I dropped what I was doing and ran out of the house five minutes ago. A long awaited audience with the eldest Bloom sister, Rosie.
I checked my look in the mirror. No paint spatters on my face or in my hair, although getting all of them out had taken a full hour and a quart of Duke’s mayonnaise. I looked decent. Hardworking. Sure I had no makeup on, but I wasn’t man hunting, not by a long shot. My outfit—outfit? Shit.
I’d been in such a rush, I’d forgotten to change out of my favorite paper-thin cutoffs that barely resembled denim anymore. Even worse, I was wearing my paint spattered Yenz is right. Y’all is Stupid T-shirt my brother sent me after he moved to Pittsburgh. I could turn it wrong side out, but then I’d look like I’d just stepped out of the back seat of a car. Or I could wear it as is and offend the entire southern half of the nation. I ducked down in the seat and flipped the shirt.
My knees gave a little as I pushed open the door and entered the sanctity of The Sassy Scissors. But it wasn’t from desperation over my home or my hair. It was the same feeling I got when I walked into one of the neighborhood pubs back home in Chicago, friendly, welcoming. Belonging.
The place was large with six stations, although only three of them seemed to be occupied. I signed in at the front desk and took my place in the reception area. Across the room, a pretty, older woman looked up from the head full of foils she was working on and grinned. “Hi, I’m Rosie, and you much be Darcy.”
Rosie Mauldin was the oldest of Violet Bloom’s daughters, and by most people’s standards, the least prominent. According to my research and bits and pieces of info from the workers who came and went from my house, Rosie owned the Sassy Scissors. She’d divorced Big Jack Mauldin ten years ago after he sold the family home so he could pay off his gambling debts. Not six months after the divorce was final, he hit the lottery, literally, and was set for life. Rosie wasn’t rich, but as a hair stylist, I was betting she had some influence over the townspeople and hopefully her stuck-up sisters.
“Yes ma’am, sorry I’m late.” Even after ten years south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the word ma’am sounded funny coming out of my mouth. Another custom I’d picked up when at Emory Law School in Atlanta.
Back home, whenever I slipped up and said yes ma’am to my mom, she’d quickly remind me that west of the Mississippi River, ma’am is for old ladies.
“I’ll be with you in about ten minutes, sugar,” Rosie said.
Two women under the dryer laughed and talked while their color processed. A younger stylist with white-blonde hair and eggplant purple streaks was chatting up her customer while she shaped her chestnut-colored bob. The laughter, the gossip, the estrogen-filled room were just what I needed, and for the first time in weeks, I didn’t feel so frazzled, so lonely.
“Thanks, Rosie. No rush.” I picked a People magazine off a stack, and started flipping through the pages. Whether I could talk Rosie Bloom into helping my cause or not, one thing was for sure, it was high time for a little pampering.
A woman under the dryer pointed at the magazine I was reading and raised the hood a little. “Good Lord, Rosie, you’ve still got the People with Kate’s baby bump on the cover? Honey, that shrimp boat’s done sailed.”
“Hush, Bernice, and put that hood back down or your color’s going to take forever to process,” Rosie snapped playfully. “Besides, I love that cover. Her and William look so happy, downright sweet, and Kate’s hair always looks fabulous.”
Bernice lowered the hood. “Well this girl’s obviously new to Magnolia Bay, and I don’t want her getting the idea that we’re old hat.”
I smiled and kept flipping the pages of the old magazine. One of the things I loved most about Magnolia Bay was its rich history. It was the reason I’d bought and renovated the stately old mansion on Bayshore Drive. I’d looked into homes in historic Charleston and Savannah, but couldn’t afford anything big enough to turn into a profitable bed–and-breakfast. As it was, the renovations had cost more than twice the amount I’d planned, and if things didn’t pan out—I couldn’t let myself think like that.
Funny thing about a house like Mimosa House, good sense would tell anyone else to cut their losses, go back to practicing law in the big corner office, and being miserable. At least I could afford food and shoes, really great shoes. But it turns out buying a house like mine makes you a gambler, willing to double down at every freaking opportunity until you’re on whatever is ten times smaller than a shoestring budget. But there wouldn’t be much point in even opening the doors if I couldn’t get the Historical Society’s stamp of approval.
“Well, I don’t give a hoot in hell about the royals.” The old woman under the dryer beside Bernice piped up. “But every time I see a picture of that baby, they have him in a dress. I think that’s fine for the christening, but a little boy, even a little king ought to dress like a boy.”
“Ida,” Bernice huffed. “For the hundredth time, putting your grandson in a dress didn’t make him gay. Folks either are or they aren’t; you got to let that one go, honey.”
“It confuses the hell out of those babies,” the old woman said. “I’m sure of it.”
“He’s a baaaaby, Ida. For God’s sake, just let the gay thing go.”
“Darcy, don’t pay them any mind,” Rosie said. “Ida and Bernice are sisters; they’re always like that.”
Before I could reply, the front door opened and my breath caught a little. Trouble walked into the salon. Tall, broad-shouldered, shirtless, and gorgeous, he pushed his dirty blond hair away from dangerous green eyes and plopped down in the chair of one of the vacant stations. I wanted to smack myself for gawking, but I wasn’t the only woman in the room staring at him, even Bernice and Ida’s faces were flushed like young girls’.
“Trenton James Mauldin, I raised you better,” Rosie fussed. “You better put your shirt on this minute.”
Please. Don’t. I shook the thought out of my head. I couldn’t afford such a pretty distraction, not even a little bit. But it doesn’t cost anything to look. Right? Wrong. It costs a lot to look, at least it did last time I let myself feel all fluttery at the sight of a pretty face. The pretty face, and the reason I’d sworn off men. For good.
“It’s hot outside.” Tiny beads of sweat trailed down the guy’s chest toward the narrow planes of his belly. Holy hell.
“This minute!” Rosie punctuated the order with her rattail comb.
“My hair won’t stay out of my face and it’s driving me nuts.” He pulled on his damp T-shirt that clung to abs that I was reasonably sure were airbrushed. “Can you buzz it for me? Now?”
Nooooooooooo. What the hell was wrong with me? What did I care what this guy did? My heart was taken; I was completely in love with a house. Mind, body, and bank account.
“I am not going to buzz your hair,” Rosie said. “And you know good and well that you have to wait for an appointment just like anybody else.”
He picked up a set of clippers and turned them on. “It can’t be that hard.” When Rosie jerked the clippers away, he glanced up in the mirror and caught me gaping at him. The hard blush felt like my face was on fire. He smiled and turned the chair to face me.
Well aware that the Huffington Post declared Charleston as America’s city with the most beautiful people, it was no surprise that platitude spilled over the Low Country into Magnolia Bay. And whoever handed out that honor, was obviously looking at this guy. The hem of his T-shirt ended just above his jeans to show a sliver of his tanned belly and a dusting of hair.
“I bet this pretty lady would give me her appointment.”
All I wanted was a little pampering, a new hairdo, and an audience with Rosie Mauldin. That’s it. I couldn’t afford a hot guy distracting me from my mission. But damn, what a distraction. “Dalton Prichard.” I whispered the snake’s name to remind me of the first and last time I felt this kind of toe curling attraction. Amazing how two little words always reined in my libido from a blinding gallop to a slow trot. Don’t get me wrong, the guy in the chair was still smoking hot, but I’d learned my lesson. Wasn’t interested. Not even a little bit.
“You can turn the charm off, Trent,” Rosie fussed. “You’re not taking anybody’s appointment, and you’re sure as heck not buzzing your own hair.”
Glancing up through my lashes, I saw him cock his head to the side and turn on his megawatt charm as he hauled himself out of the chair and sauntered toward me.
“Dalton Prichard. Dalton Prichard. Dalton Prichard.” Usually, just the thought of the snake was the Darcy equivalent of a guy willing himself soft by thinking of his ugly tenth-grade geometry teacher. But my words were powerless over Hot Guy’s smile. “Dalton Pri— Dalton. Dal—” I snapped my mouth shut and clamped my teeth down over my lips.
What was wrong with me? I’d spent the last eight years as the golden child of one of the biggest law firms in the southeast. Prosecutors called me, among other things, the Dragon Lady, and I’d perfected the look that had been known to have my opponents pee the front of their expensive tailor-made suits. Everyone except Dalton. Where was the Dragon Lady when I needed her?
Maybe I was a little crazy because I’d gone two hundred and sixty-five and a half days without sex. Not that Hot Guy was offering it up right here in the salon, but I was no stranger to that highly interested look in his insanely green eyes. I knew if I raised my head and looked at this gorgeous dirty man, I’d give him anything he wanted. So I stared hard at the magazine in my lap and flipped the pages.
“Your shirt’s on wrong side out,” he whispered.
“On purpose.” Thank you very much. You can move along now.
“It’s kind of hot.”
Great. So I did look like I’d just crawled out of the back seat of a car.
My long Katniss Everdeen braid hung over the front of my shoulder and stretched almost to my waist. I turned the last page of the magazine and stared down at the back cover at a Calvin Klein underwear model who looked woefully inadequate compared to this guy.
He lifted the braid so that it slid slowly across my breast. My belly tightened as he coiled the thick red lock around his hand and studied it. “You don’t need an appointment. Your hair is perfect the way it is.” He spoke loud enough for only me to hear.
“Trent, leave that poor girl alone,” Rosie hollered from across the salon.
It was bad enough I was wearing holey cutoffs, and the inside out shirt thing didn’t help. How would I look to Rosie if she saw me drooling over her son? I called on my inner Dragon Lady and steeled myself against his charms with my best haughty look. Normally my pulse would slow to a reptilian level, but I must have been a little rusty because my heart was beating out of my chest and my face was on fire from his hot comment. “Maybe I came in to get my hair buzzed.”
For a split second, his eyes went wide and that smirk left his face before he let the braid fall back over my breast. “Not a chance.”
“You should listen to your mother.” I flipped my hair over my shoulder. “Besides, I’m not interested in you.”
He had flecks of gold in those green eyes, and that smirk returned as a full grin that said his bullshit detector had gone off. Either that or my stupid nipples gave me away. “Let’s start over, Darcy.” He extended his hand. “I’m Trent Mauldin—”
“You left out the James. Trenton James Mauldin, sounds very southern.” Shit, I sounded sort of interested, which I wasn’t.
“And you’re not southern.” His smile would be my undoing. He sat down in the wicker chair across from me, stretched his long legs, and crossed his ankles. Ancient jeans hugged his obscenely delicious hips. “But you have an accent. Wisconsin?”
“I do not have an accent.” I picked up another magazine, the April edition of Southern Living. A good choice. Safe. No underwear models, just food, gardening, travel.
“Then you’re from Chicago because everybody in Chicago swears they don’t have an accent.”
I refused to dignify his lucky guess with a response.
“I already know you’re Darcy. You have a last name?”
“Vance.” Still not looking. Not gonna look at him. God, he’s hot.
“I haven’t been back for a while, but I know you weren’t in town when I came home last summer.”
“Because you know everyone here?”
“Pretty much. It’s a small town, but if we’d met I sure as hell wouldn’t forget your face.” I hated that I blushed again, hated even more when he laughed at my cheeks, which probably matched my hair. “So what are you doing after you get your hair done—not buzzed—Darcy?”
“Work.” Oh, those eyes that smiled even when he didn’t and that crooked grin. Stop. Please. Stop.
Was this what too many paint fumes and too much solitude did to a girl?
“Dalton Prichard,” I hissed under my breath, trying to make myself stop feeling all quivery inside.
“Nothing,” I bit out. “No one.”
“You’re not real forthcoming and I’m trying to know you, Darcy.” This guy turned flirting into an art form. “Help me out here. Where do you work?”
I caved for maybe five seconds and looked him over. So dirty. So gorgeous. So out of bounds.
“Bet you work in Charleston. Probably corporate. You in banking?” I shook my head and smiled at my broken nails, my hands that still had flecks of paint on them. I’d rather die than go back to the corporate world. “Law?”
Now that got my attention. “I’m just another B&B owner.”
“Really? Which one?”
“You should be proud. From what I’ve seen of the outside of the place, you’ve turned it into something special.” His flirty tone wasn’t gone, but he sounded interested. “It’ll be a nice addition to the home tours.”
Trent Mauldin was a pretty distraction from the reality that I was screwed if I couldn’t get his mother, Rosie, to help me get my house on that damn tour. She seemed nice, really nice, but if I stopped being desperate for five seconds and looked at the situation, she was probably no match for her sisters, and this guy was probably no match for the Bloom bitches either.
“The Historical Society Board is stonewalling my application.” I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, hating the self-pity in my voice. But, with tourist season just weeks away, I was officially between a rock and a hard place. “As it stands now, my house won’t be on the tour.” Maybe I could survive for a few months with the spillover from the other B&Bs in town, but not for long. Maybe I would break down and borrow some money from my parents or, God forbid, my brother. But that would be akin to admitting failure, admitting that maybe leaving the cushy law partnership was a mistake, and I’d rather stick a fork in my eye.
“I might be able to help you with the board.”
“Really?” My heart flipped over when he nodded. So much for being aloof. What if I had Rosie Mauldin and this guy in my corner?
But then I assessed Trenton James Mauldin like I would a potential witness. Sure he was serious eye candy, but was that enough to sway the Historical Society? The fact he was a blood relative, might count for something. But that mischievous look told me he probably wasn’t Daisy and Camellia Bloom’s favorite nephew. They were all about control and Trent Mauldin didn’t look like the type to submit to anybody’s control.
“Have dinner with me tonight, and I’ll help you figure out how to get Aunt Daisy on your side; you get her, you get Aunt Camellia’s vote. They’ve always been like that.” That mischievous look again. “And if that doesn’t work, my grandmother, Violet Bloom, trumps them all, but I’d look at her as a last resort if I were you.”
He stopped talking. Eyes never leaving mine, slight smile. For eight years, I worked my butt off using my instincts, building an impressive track record in class action law, and while my body was screaming yes to this man. Yes. Yes. Yes. My brain said Trent Mauldin was a very pretty waste of time.
“That’s very nice of you, but no. Thank you.”
“No?” Obviously a word he didn’t hear often. He smiled, almost laughed. “That’s a shame, Darcy. Well, good luck. Whatever happens with your house, I’m on your side.”
Rosie called me to her station. She didn’t say anything about the way I was dressed, and I’d never been so grateful to have a plastic cape snapped around my neck in my life. Trent said goodbye to his mom and kissed her on the cheek. She waited about five seconds after the door closed behind him.
“I’m sorry, Darcy. He came into the world that way. Even as a baby all he had to do is smile and he had women all over him, and it’s just gotten worse with age. And then with him being on the PGA tour with all those groupies.”
“I didn’t know golfers had groupies.”
She nodded, totally engrossed in my hair. Her long slender fingers undid my braid and fanned my hair out across my shoulders. “Absolutely gorgeous.” She looked at my reflection in the mirror, and suddenly remembered our conversation. “Oh, yeah, the groupies were awful. I got to where I didn’t go to the tournaments because it was kind of embarrassing. Not that he was encouraging them, but I’m smart enough to know he’s a man and if he can use what God gave him, he will.”
“Well, he ought to,” Ida chimed in. “Can you imagine how pretty that man’s babies would be? You match him up with my granddaughter Kelsey from Charleston, and Lord have mercy, that would be a pretty child.”
“Ida. Stop talking about Trent like he’s a prized bull,” Rosie huffed.
“Just one baby,” Ida shot back. “That’s all I’m asking.”
Rosie ignored her. “Now, back to you, Darcy. What do you want to do today? And before you say, I’m telling you straight up I’m not changing the color.”
I smiled. Having hated my hair color for half my life, I learned to embrace my inner as well as my outer ginger when I was in college. “I’m good with the color, but I want it cut. Maybe to here.” I held my hand just below my earlobes.
She ran her hands through my scalp and fluffed up the crown. Then she picked up handfuls of long strands and let them drop several times to see how my laid. “I don’t do drastic. Janelle,” she pointed to the woman with the eggplant streaks. “She does. But I’ve been fixing hair long enough to know that if I take the length of it off, you’ll go out of here in tears. If you don’t mind me asking, is this your first Low-Country summer?”
It was early May and hot and it wasn’t even summer yet. I nodded.
“Here’s what I’d do, and I’m not just saying this because I love Kate Middleton. I’d take six inches off, eight at the max so that you can wear it slightly layered and curled on the ends. It will be gorgeous, I guarandamntee it. Next month, if you want to go shorter, I’ll do it, but I won’t be happy about it.”
“I’ll cut you,” Janelle said, looking at my hair like she was dying to chop it off as I had been the day the air conditioning went out. She took her scissors out of their sheath and snapped them open and closed a couple of times to punctuate the thought. “If you want to wait an hour while my next color is processing. I’ll cut it as short as you want to go.”
Janelle was kind of scary. “That’s okay.”
Rosie nodded and got started. She didn’t talk much while she washed and combed out my hair. She reminded me to uncross my legs a couple of times while she was cutting it, but I felt like she wanted to say something else, she just didn’t know how to begin. Her silence, made me put off the real reason I’d asked for an appointment with her in the first place.
True to her word, my hair was gorgeous, and I was grateful she hadn’t cut it all off. I loved my hair, even when I hated being a redhead I loved my hair; it was thick and glossy, a gift from my mother.
Rosie took the cape off of me and smiled at my reflection. “You’re a beautiful woman, Darcy Vance, but you’ve got a tough row to hoe.”
She did know why I’d come. “I was hoping to talk to you about Mimosa House—about your sisters—but I guess my time is up.”
“Honey, if I could have saved you from buying that house, I would have. I’ve lived in Magnolia Bay my whole life, and I don’t like the history of the place any more than my sisters do. But you’ve worked hard, made it beautiful again, I believe you have as much of a right as anybody to be part of the historical community, but that won’t make it so.”
“If I had any idea the house was so upsetting to your family…” If I truly realized the stranglehold your sisters had on the historical community. “I wouldn’t have bought the place, but I did. I’ve sunk everything I have into it, so I’m here. Groveling for your support.”
“I’ll talk to Daisy and Camilla, but it probably won’t amount to anything. Mama’s the key, if she’d see you, although I can almost promise you she won’t. But if you could change her mind, she’d make Daisy and Camilla do the right thing. ”
“I’m so grateful for anything you can do to help, and I’m sorry if this is painful for you.”
“It’s not anymore, the history of your house is just that to me now.” She ran my credit card and gave me a little goodie bag with hair products. “I made my peace with that place a long time ago.”
“It’s been lovely to meet you, Rosie. Thank you for everything.”
“You’re a beautiful girl, Darcy Vance, inside and out. I’d love to see you stay in Magnolia Bay. From the looks of it, my son would too.”
End of Excerpt