Release day: Sweet Summer

About the book

Shelby Marano is the youngest of three sisters and was always Daddy’s baby girl—until her father was murdered when she was only eight years old. Ever since, she’s been running from anyone or anything that could truly hurt her. Instead, she seeks calculated thrills that leave her exhilarated, but when she’s caught outside during a summer storm, she quickly realizes not all adventures are within her control.

Tyler Burgess struggles with the responsibility of caring for a mother suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Forced to take a leave of absence from work and put his life on hold, his only reprieve is the volunteer work he does at the local museum. When a soaking-wet Shelby barges in, he offers her both refuge from the rain and a safe place to land. She’s the breath of fresh air he didn’t know he needed.

Tyler proves to be much more than just a nerd in a history museum, but what she finds out about him is a dealbreaker for her. As family health issues and an unknown stalker threaten Shelby’s perfect little world, she learns a hard lesson: no one can hide from the dangers of life. Can Shelby let her sisters, Tyler, and even more importantly, God, show her in one Sweet Summer that love is worth taking the risk?

Read Chapter 1 here!

Water sluiced down Shelby Marano’s back, and she ran faster, as if it were possible to outrace a tropical downpour that wanted to be a hurricane when it grew up. Her feet pounded on the sidewalk next to the Charleston harbor sea wall, agony streaking up her calf. The orthopedist had advised her to take a break, but she could no re stop running than she could give up coffee or taking risks.

She slowed and searched for shelter. A black pickup approached, and she did a quick glance-over. The vehicle looked a lot like Thomas’s car, and aggravation ripped through her like a leg cramp. Then, the vehicle picked up speed, passing by. She tripped over a cobblestone, her heart slowed down in relief, and she could take in oxygen again.

Shelby focused back on her surroundings and not her paranoia. The Battery sat at the tip of the peninsula of Charleston, a beautiful green expanse with statues and cannons and a gazebo. The gazebo offered a roof, but this rain slanted sideways, and she needed walls. The ancient live oaks offered a bit of protection, but no public place for blocks. She sighed, then squealed when lightning struck in the harbor.

She picked up her pace, weaving to avoid rain puddles down East Bay Street, and took a left at the first side street that came her way. The roof overhangs helped her predicament some, but several more intersections went by before she saw an open door to a museum. If she’d gone straight down East Bay Street, she’d have located shelter faster, but she’d have walked into a tourist trap full of people while she looked like a soaked Labradoodle with her corkscrew blonde curls half soaked and half sprung.

The sign read “Open,” and she headed for refuge. The wrought iron gate scraped the sidewalk as she shoved it open, and she danced a quickstep as thunder rolled. Up a dozen worn concrete steps and she stood on the columned porch, looking back out at the street.

“Hello?” The man’s voice came from behind her, inside the museum foyer. “You can come in and get out of the weather. We’re free.”

She whipped her head around, startled at the intrusion. The place showed signs of being in disrepair, paint peeling off the closest column and the grass more weeds than manicured. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”

“The Manuscript Museum. It doesn’t cost anything.” The man looked to be in his late twenties, with the square glasses and rumpled clothes seemingly assigned to people who appreciated history. She wasn’t one of those people. “It’s warm inside, you could dry off.”

She narrowed her eyes, suspicious of free and friendly for no reason, even if they were in the most polite city in the world, according to a recent hospitality magazine.

“Thank you, but I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?” His lips twitched with the suspicion of a smile that started to thaw her insides. “You’re soaking wet, and I won’t bite. We don’t get a lot of visitors, but enough you don’t have to worry.”

She hugged herself against the cold, still not buying. “I’m sorry if I disturbed you, but—”

He held open one of the massive doors. “You didn’t disturb me. I like the rain, and the fresh air, so I poked my head out. Sitting in here for hours gets a little monotonous.”

She shivered, putting the lie to her claim that she was absolutely fine. If he was going to be such a gentleman and hold the door, she’d be silly to stand outside getting wetter with every syllable of her protest.

“Thank you.”

He moved out of the way to allow her to enter first with him following behind. She stepped into the vestibule of what used to be a large downtown church. Several rows of pews remained in front of an ancient altar, but a semi-circle of display cases interfered between here and there. Two hymns of the day were still listed on a board high up on the wall to the right.

“There’s a restroom down those stairs,” he said from near her elbow, but not too near. For the first time, she looked past the glasses to see crystal blue, friendly eyes. “You’re dripping.”

So she was. When she glanced down at herself, she not only dripped, but her cotton tank top had gone almost transparent. With the cool air conditioning, her body bordered on embarrassment.

She rushed down the stairs and almost slipped on the worn stone. She grabbed the rail and moved more cautiously, for some reason listening to see if he followed. He didn’t, and she exhaled.

“Thank you,” she stammered. Heat from a blush burned her throat. “I’ll just… thank you.”

The downstairs showed every sign of attracting even less traffic than the upstairs. One measly light fixture lit the corridor, and a cobweb danced in the far corner. Excusing her nosiness by justifying her need to leave without seeing the nice man upstairs again as long as she lived, she poked her head in the first door to her right, even though a hand-lettered sign clearly marked the women’s bathroom on her left.

The room was pitch black, an office. The next door held cleaning supplies and storage. The light’s reflection revealed her wet footprints up and down the hall. She closed her eyes, blocking out the evidence of her sticking her nose where it wasn’t supposed to be, having had more than enough embarrassment for one day.

She went to the restroom and clicked the paper towel holder several times. The woman in the mirror looked like the proverbial drowned rat, except for the fact that her blonde curls were so thick that the bottom layer seemed unfazed by being caught in a downpour. So, her hair lay flat on the top and the curls poked out in humid distraction underneath, every which way but loose.

She snorted a half-laugh and concentrated on the rest of her where there might be hope but found none. She wrung out her shirt, but the state of her upper body wouldn’t improve as long as she wore a wet shirt in air conditioning. After a few minutes of attempting to take care of business, she shrugged and went in search of a back door.

No such luck. Instead, a padlocked door blocked the other two thirds of the downstairs—not a basement since the Lowcountry couldn’t house basements with its water table.

She crept back upstairs.

The foyer seemed empty when she poked her head around the heavy door, and she was tempted to tiptoe to the front door and leave. She had taken two steps forward when lightning hit the street outside and a tree branch cracked. Jumping back, she failed to stifle a scream.

“Hey, it’s okay. It would take some strange horizontal lightning to make its way across that portico and inside.” The man’s voice came from a few feet behind her, again not too close. When she pivoted on one squishing heel, he held out a jacket. “I found this in the lost and found box. It’s been there awhile so you can keep it if you’d like.”

She crossed her arms in front of her in a very vain attempt to pretend she didn’t need a jacket. The goose bumps on top of her chills called her a liar.

“Um, thanks. It is cold in here.”

The man’s dark eyebrows came down over a Roman nose that made an otherwise perfect face more interesting. Without saying a word, he tossed the jacket. She caught it before the sleeves hit her face.

“Thank you,” she said and lifted her chin in his direction. “That’s very kind of you.”

She didn’t know if he’d thrown her the jacket because he sensed her discomfort, but him keeping his distance was as much the reason behind her thank you as the jacket itself.

“Aren’t you going to put it on?” He nodded back and leaned up against the doorframe leading to the main part of the church building. He must have wanted her covered as much as she did. “You may be stuck here for a while.”

Thunder rolled outside, and she had to agree. She shoved her arms into the garnet red and black fleece sleeves, then zipped the light jacket closed.

“Why is it so cold in here anyway?”

He pushed off from the door and waved a hand toward the sanctuary. “Manuscripts.”

She felt stupid that he’d had to state the obvious, but she preceded him into the larger room anyway. She didn’t even have her phone with her to be able to call a cab so she might as well browse for a few minutes. Staying almost felt like doing the young man a favor.

“Okay, what kind of manuscripts?”

He rubbed his hands together. She made a mental note to sign the guest book before she left and take notice of when the last visitor had dropped by.

“Most of the time, people just look around, read what they want to read, and leave. I might get a couple questions a day, but no one asks for a tour.”

If he rubbed his hands together again, he might start a fire. She tried to remember asking for a tour and gave up. The warmth of the jacket must be going to her head.

“So, where do we start?”

His face fell for a minute, the smile disappearing behind a suspicious narrowing of the eyes. His glasses slid down his nose, but not far because of the slight hook. “There’s not really an order. You can start anywhere. I like to go clockwise.”

She tucked her hands in her sleeves and followed him obediently. He had to be over six feet since her eyes tended to meet his chest rather than his face. His dark brown hair was curly, but a milder curl than hers with the beginnings of a widow’s peak in the middle of his forehead. He indicated one of the display cases, and she hadn’t heard a word he said.

“I’ll admit some, okay, most of our manuscripts are replicas so those are not that exciting.” He pointed at a copy of an original script for a Broadway musical, written by a man who’d lived on nearby James Island, that had been performed first in Charleston. “But we do have some originals. That letter is from the Charleston blockade runner that ended the siege when pirates blocked Charleston harbor.”

Shelby leaned forward and read through the first few lines of the manuscript. “Cool. Pirates I can appreciate. They were adventurers, exciting.”

His pale finger pointed at the next to last paragraph, and she compared his pale, thin hands to her short tan fingers with bright pink manicured nails. This was a man who spent his hours and days inside a museum with the past, set back from the hustle and bustle of downtown and the modern world. He oozed safe.

She almost gave into temptation and reached for his hand. But she didn’t. “Wait, I just realized. We never even introduced ourselves.”

“Oh.” He flushed scarlet. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think there was a need. You’ll leave when the storm ends.”

She held out her hand and realized her subconscious had found a way to make her wish to touch him happen. The guilt almost had her jerking her hand back where it belonged, but she couldn’t imagine insulting him that way and stood firm.

“Shelby Marano, at your service. And you are?”

“Tyler Burgess. Nice to meet you.” He took her hand and held on for a few seconds too long before letting go and shoving both of his hands into his pockets. “Well, the next one is a replica, but it’s still interesting with local ties. Did you know John Fishbourne was stationed here in the early 1800s, at Ft. Moultrie?”

Shelby shook her head and tried to focus on the manuscript and not the man.

“No, I can’t say that I did. I remember liking his stories, though, except the one about the wall. I had nightmares about that one for days.”

“The Nightmare Crypt,” Tyler murmured. When she stared at him, he gave a one shoulder shrug. “I remember stuff. The one that gave me the creeps was the one about the villain’s heart beating even after he died. Anyway, he wrote his story ‘Ant Queen’ while he was here. This manuscript tells a little about that.”

She skimmed the page and shivered, not a fan of terror, and the jacket was not helping with the condition of her bare legs. The storm outside pummeled the old windows’ thick glass.

“I’m just curious, but why is the museum free? How does that work?”

He’d moved a couple of cases down, absorbed in the display. “Oh, the family that owns the place is wealthy, and this place is a tax write-off. Dr. Kirby runs the place, and I’m just a tour guide or a docent, if you will, since most people don’t ask for tours.”

“Makes sense.” She glanced around the big room and found the clock. “Oh, wow, it’s almost five. I have dinner plans with some friends. Can I borrow your phone?”

Tyler returned to his tense posture, but now he shoved his hands into his pockets, to the wrist. “Sure.”

He walked over to a desk whose existence Shelby hadn’t really registered before. The desk and some bookshelves took up the right side of the semi-circle where the display cases fanned out for the rest. When he handed her a flip phone, she forced down laughter. The man could be a walking, talking stereotype.

“Here you go.” He held out the phone at arm’s length, and she tried not to feel insulted. He backed away. “I’ll just give you some privacy. I need to lock up downstairs. I’ll be right back.”

He fled, as if she scared him. His long legs ate up the length of the room. At the door, though, he jerked his right hand out of his pocket and flexed his fingers several times. Turning only halfway, he said, “I could drive you home, or somewhere close by, so you wouldn’t have to let a stranger know where you live.”

Shelby blinked several times. Tyler was more than awkward. She could hear her mother’s voice, nagging, but still right. This was a nice boy who would treat her right.

“Thank you, but I couldn’t impose. You’ve already helped me so much.” Now, she sounded like her timid mother. Everything she’d ever done had been to make herself into the woman’s opposite and now a little rain threatened her track record. “On the other hand, I’d greatly appreciate a ride. And don’t worry about being a stranger, I trust you.”

Tyler’s shoulders bunched up as if warding off a blow. “You probably shouldn’t.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Not that I’m not trustworthy, but it’s safer that way.”

She laughed and tried not to pay attention to just how broad those shoulders were. “I ran out of my apartment without my phone or even my keys. I don’t always do safe.”

Tyler finally turned around to face her. “Okay,” he drew the word out into several syllables. “I’ll just lock up downstairs. Be back in a minute, grab my keys, and we’ll be off.”

She fingered the jacket and watched him go. Keeping the jacket seemed a little wrong, but if no one had claimed it in months, maybe keeping the jacket was better than letting it go to waste. Her father had been the one to drill into his daughters’ heads that it wasn’t right to take what they hadn’t earned.

Of course, the lessons had come before some monster shot him. Her father had been a security guard at the local community college who just stumbled on some punk stealing a car. According to the police reports, her father hadn’t even been armed since the security guards weren’t actual police. His being unarmed hadn’t mattered. Her father yelled at the kid and the kid fired. End of story. End of a loving husband and end of a father of three little girls who’d overslept and missed school the next morning because he hadn’t been there to wake them.

The hurt was part of her skin, cold and shivering like an abandoned child.

Tyler returned and skidded a bit in his leather shoes on the stone floor, maybe in the puddle she’d created when she’d stood there dripping rather than taking his advice and toweling off. He caught himself, but not before he caught her watching him.

His pale cheeks reddened again. His gaze went everywhere but on her face. “Hey, would you mind signing the guest book? That’s how my boss justifies my existence.”

Shelby searched in the direction he faced. The old-fashioned guest book lay open on his desk. “Sure.”

She crossed the floor, freezing, but mostly dry by now. Two earlier visitors at noon and those were the only entries for the day. Only three the day before. The poor man must go out of his mind with boredom. She grabbed the pen to cover her curiosity and scrawled her name, but not before taking in the open book on the Battle of Agincourt the size of a brick. She couldn’t recall volunteering to read a book of a comparable length, and that included the textbooks she should have read in college.

Tyler went around the back of the desk, opened a drawer, and pulled out his wallet and keys. He shoved the former in his pants pocket and patted another pocket before glancing up at her. “If you’re not going to call your friends…”

Shelby still held his phone in her right hand. Her ambidextrous nature confused even her sometimes. She’d hold the phone in her right hand while writing with her left hand one day, then switch if she got distracted.

“Here you go.” She handed him his phone. “Thank you, again, for the ride and for everything. I’d have been in bad shape if you hadn’t let me in.”

“Well, it’s not my place,” he said, giving her a quirky grin. “But you’re welcome. Ladies first.” He motioned to the door, and she headed for the exit. He ran to intercept her before she could open the door. “Hey, my mama would skin me if I let you open your own door. My car is in the parking lot to the right.”

One step outside and lightning flashed off in the distance. She danced a few steps anyway. She might jump out of a perfectly good airplane for fun, but storms freaked her out. The rain had subsided to a heavy mist, so she kept her rushing to a fast walk and made her way to a side gate.

The lights on the sole vehicle in the lot blinked, and she ran for the passenger door. Mindful of his manners, she hesitated and let him open the door, even if he got more drenched than necessary. She scooted into the faux leather seat and shoved fast food napkins onto the floor along with some receipts.

Tyler ran around the hood of the car and flung himself into his seat. Shivering, he reached for the heat. “This is crazy. It’s May in the South, but the rain after the air conditioning chills like winter.”

“Tell me about it.” She pulled her knees up and tucked her feet under her thighs, shoes on the seat. Unlike most of the guys she knew, he didn’t blink at her misuse of his vehicle. Bonus points for him since cars in her mind were meant to be used, not treated like gold.

“So, where to?” He plopped an old-fashioned GPS on his dashboard.

Shelby couldn’t help herself. She laughed. “Sorry,” she choked. “How oldfashioned are you?”

“You have no idea.” He winked. “Look in the glove compartment.”

She covered her mouth with one hand, as if the movement would hush the noise. She made a fluttering motion and then pushed open the compartment in front of her. Maps fell out on to her lap, and she roared. After a few seconds, she controlled herself and picked up one for downtown Charleston. “Oh, wait, I never gave you my address. I live in a converted mansion on Wentworth. I have the bottom floor back right.”

“Too much information.” His scared look returned. “Just the street address.”

“Okay.” She gave him the number. “Why? Why don’t you want to know more about me?”

He backed the jeep out of the parking spot and made his way across the parking lot to the turn off on Queen Street. Traffic poured down the popular one-way street past restaurants with double porches.

“It’s not about you. It’s about the way the world is now. Something happens to you or if you decide I did something wrong, I’m destroyed.”

“Paranoid much?” Shelby dismissed his words, even if she could tell there was more to the story. She’d find out all the details later. Right now, she wanted to be cheerful and get to know this eccentric guy. “So, why do you have these maps?”

He eased out into the road, cautious. “I like maps. You see a map and there is all this possibility. You could go here, or there, and who knows what that town would be like or who you might meet.”

“Yeah.” She flattened out the paper map on her lap. His response made him seem more interesting somehow. “But you live here in Charleston. Or are you a transplant? You’re not from up north, are you?”

His laughter was a cross between a bark and pure humor. “Oh, wow. No, I’m from Summer Creek. But that’s just far enough away that my family didn’t come down here very often. I’m like a tourist in my hometown, or at least the city next to my hometown. Where are you from?”

“Summer Creek, too. I’m surprised we never met. Did you go to Summer Creek High?”

He shook his head. “No, I went to the Christian Academy. Didn’t go to football games, stayed home a lot. So, our paths wouldn’t have crossed much.”

“But you work down here? How long have you worked in that museum?” She traced her finger down a small side street. “I’ve never seen that one before.”

“I don’t even know which street you’re referring to, but that’s what I’m talking about. Maps are keys to the world.” He slowed for a yellow light. “I’ve only been working at the museum for a few months, seasonal. And only on weekends.”

She started to ask what he did the rest of the week when he pulled into her driveway. He parked right behind her fluorescent green electric hybrid. He whistled.

“What?” Shelby bristled. “You’re not insulting my baby, are you?”

“Your baby?” He laughed, loud and deep. “That’s your car? Of course, that’s your car.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” she asked, ready to be insulted.

He gave her the side eye, but his face was void of deception. “Bright and cheerful. That’s what that means.”

“Thank you, I think,” she said, but ended up talking to his broad back. He’d jumped from the car and headed around the hood.

She watched, amazed, when he jerked open her door. She blinked at him for a minute, with the now sunny sky for a backdrop.

“You didn’t have to.”

“Yes, I did.” He pulled the door open wider, hinting. “It was nice to meet you.”

She shook her head, and he stopped talking. The grin that had been hinting at the corner of his mouth disappeared.

Shelby didn’t know why, but his dejected face made her stomach squirm. Somebody had hurt him, and her blood boiled to think of someone hurting this sweet guy. She jumped out of the car and put a hand on his chest. He almost impaled himself against the door handle, backing away from her touch.

“I don’t know who did what to you, Tyler, and I mean to find out the answer someday, but it wasn’t me. Today, I want to know why you’re not asking for my number.”

The dejection evaporated, only to be replaced by wide-eyed panic. “I’m sorry. It’s not that I don’t find you attractive. I do. It’s just that, well, I’m me.”

Shelby tapped his chest with her forefinger. “Better yet. Are you free tomorrow night? Saturday?”

“What?” His mouth opened and shut like a fish on the dock, deprived of water and oxygen. “Free? Me?”

Shelby hadn’t enjoyed herself this much since last weekend when she’d gone parasailing with her old college roommate. She reached up to tilt his chin down.

“You know where I live now. So, what do you say, six, for an early dinner? I’ll pay since I owe you for the shelter and the drive home.”

“Six.” He nodded slowly. “I’ll be here at six.”

She walked toward the driver’s side of her car with its coded entry.

“Are you sure?” His voice came after her, low and unsteady.

She pivoted and narrowed her eyes. “Of course. It’s just a date, Tyler.”

“Maybe for you.”

He got in his car and drove away, and she hadn’t moved another inch. She might have gotten herself in over her head this time.

About the author

A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Christina Sinisi writes stories about families, both the broken and blessed. Her works include a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and the American Title IV Contest where she appeared in the top ten in the Romantic Times magazine. By day, she is a psychology professor and lives in the Low Country of South Carolina with her husband and two children and loves a good cooking challenge. Please visit her at Christina Sinisi-Author on Facebook and christinasinisi.com.

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