Warning: this excerpt is unedited, rough, and may not even look this way in the final book. But I love the story so much that I wanted to give you a peek at the newest characters, Jace and Pearl. Enjoy!
Jace walked down the hall, registering on the edge of his consciousness the black and white photos that lined it. Dolly’s Diner had been a fixture in this neighborhood since the early 1930s. Half the photos that hung on these walls had been autographed. Everyone from vice-presidents to movie stars to foreign princes had stepped foot in here over the years, which always struck Jace as kind of funny. Besides the name, stolen from its older, richer, and probably way cooler sister city in Italy, the only thing Venice, Florida, had going for it was its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico. He wasn’t sure what drew famous names in this direction, but for Dolly’s sake, he was glad something did.
He reached the men’s room and pushed on the door, but it only moved a few inches. What the hell? He tripped over his feet and bumped up against the wall. The bulb at this end of the hall had burned out, so he couldn’t see much. He tried again. This time the door shoved back.
“Hey!” came a female voice from inside.
Jace backpedaled as a body full of curves and smelling like the ocean emerged from the men’s room. Long hair fell over her shoulders. She wheeled a mop bucket ahead of her.
“Sorry,” she said. “Didn’t think there’d be anyone back here.”
He stuck his hands in his back pockets. “Hey, Pearl.”
She steered the bucket toward the exit door. “Hey yourself.”
“It’s Jace. Wilson.”
Dolly’s sixteen-year-old grandniece looked over her shoulder. “I know who it is.”
He licked his bottom lip. Two years behind them in school, Pearl DeVane had the reputation of being one of the smartest girls at Venice High. In Jace’s opinion, she was also hands-down the hottest. She wasn’t stacked, and she didn’t have a tramp stamp across her lower back or wear heavy makeup. She rarely partied. In fact, most of the time she was helping out here at the diner, mopping floors or cooking behind the grill or sometimes sitting with her nose in a book if it was slow. But she had brains and bright blue eyes and caramel-colored hair and a smile that lit up the room.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, not unkindly. She leaned against the wall beside him, and her perfume came to him again, a combination of sea water and flowers. “Didn’t you guys graduate tonight?”
“Mm hmm.” He couldn’t stop looking at her mouth. At her silhouette in the shadows. Without warning, he turned rock hard, and he hoped she wouldn’t glance down and see the way his shorts tented.
“So shouldn’t you be having an official graduation party somewhere?”
“Dolly asked us the same thing.”
She smiled, and a tiny gap appeared between her two front teeth. Had he ever noticed it before? Had he ever stood this close to her before? They’d had one class together last year, some kind of science. She’d sat in the front, and he’d spent most of the year wanting to scratch the itch in the middle of her shoulder blades whenever her fingers wandered back to reach for it.
“What?” He reached out for her, slipping an arm around her waist before he knew what it was doing. He pulled her into him, snug against his chest. Before she could say anything else, his other hand went to the back of her head. He tugged her hair the tiniest bit, enough that her chin lifted and her breath caught. This close, even in the shadows, he could see her eyes darken with pleasure.
Without all the beer he’d consumed earlier that night, and probably without the heady abandon of being a fresh high school graduate, with the goddamn fucking world ahead of him, he wouldn’t have had the balls to do what he did next. But in the shadows of a diner hallway at two in the morning, woozy from the booze and Pearl’s perfume, there wasn’t a thing stopping him. Jace ducked his chin and kissed her. His tongue teased open her lips, and his thumb stroked the underside of her chin. Soft, pliant, delicious under his touch. For a second, the small sober part of his brain wondered if she’d stop him.