Join five women connected only by their growing friendship
and the road that runs like a lifeline between their
cottages in a run-down Florida development called Happiness
Tracy Deloche finally gets a
chance to swap business for a romantic evening with Marsh
Egan, but dinner goes cold when she spots her ex-husband
prowling outside her cottage. CJ is supposed to be in prison
and out of her life for good. Exactly what is this
modern-day pirate seeking and what will it mean for Tracy's
Janya Kapur envies every
pregnant woman she sees, but Rishi, her husband, is suddenly
reluctant to talk about children. Is he disappointed in her
inability to conceive? Their marriage was a contract between
strangers. Can they ever hope for anything
Waitress Wanda Gray loses her
job after new owners turn the Dancing Shrimp into a tapas
bar. Wise neighbor Alice Brooks's
suggestion that Wanda start her own business seems like a
brilliant solution, until Wanda starts Pie War I with the
owners of the local bakery.
When the empty cottage at
Happiness Key is rented by single mother Dana
Turner, everything seems perfect. With Alice
volunteering to watch Dana's daughter while she works and
Wanda's offer of a job, this spit of Florida Gulf Coast land
should be a fortunate harbor for a mother and daughter who
have moved far too often. Except for Dana's shocking
As the women of Happiness Key struggle to
discover the truth in time to help their new neighbor, their
only weapon is friendship. But will friendship be enough?
So much time had passed since Tracy Deloche had gotten it on
with a man that last night she'd actually made a list of
things she needed to do, just so she wouldn't make an
"Shave everything that needs it." Now she paused
beside her dresser to check that one off. An hour ago she
had taken a long scented bath and made sure that not one
hair, one patch of stubble, remained where it shouldn't.
"Insert diaphragm." She wasn't fond of number
two. She'd been on the pill most of her adult life, but
at her last checkup, the doctor had asked a series of
questions, then recommended she take a break for at least a
year. The woman, who was even younger than Tracy's
thirty-five, had fitted her for a diaphragm, explained how
to use it, then given her the prescription to fill.
Sadly, Tracy hadn't needed it until now. She'd taken
care of those preparations, too. So what if thinking about
sex this far ahead of time lacked a certain spontaneity? She
was sure Marsh knew what she had in mind for their
rendezvous. He was the one who'd called to say that Bay,
his nine-year-old son, was staying overnight with a friend,
so he could come to her house as soon as he dropped Bay off.
Most likely her chicken Caesar salad, even if she had
learned to make a wicked delicious dressing last week,
was not the lure. In fact, she doubted they would actually
get to the salad.
"Change sheets. Uh-huh. Buy new underwear." Too late
for that, but she had a zebra-stripe push-up bra and thong
that would serve, although these days, most likely due to
frequent laundering, both were snugger than they should be.
"Sexier that way." The minute the words passed her
lips, she realized the excuse sounded like something Wanda,
her fifty-something neighbor, would say. The thought that
Florida Cracker Wanda might be rubbing off on her was sobering.
She crumpled the list and tossed it in the wastebasket. She
had cleaned her house, bought wine for herself and a six
pack of Dos Equis for Marsh. She'd selected the most
seductive music in her collection and loaded it to an iPod
playlist titled Seduction. She had turned on just the right
number of lamps to enhance the deepening twilight. A wheel
of Brie was baking in the oven, and hummus and chips sat on
the kitchen table under plastic to protect them from the
inevitable Florida bugs and humidity. Her skimpiest sundress
clung to her hips and thighs, and bared a significant
portion of her back, even though it was April and evenings
could still be cool.
She was threading a sandal strap through a buckle when the
telephone rang. Not her cell phone, the number Marsh and
most of her friends used, but the landline in her kitchen.
She considered abandoning the shoe, but she waited for her
new answering machine to pick up first. When it did, a woman
began to whine, then picked up steam and whined a little faster.
"Good ol' Mom." Tracy went back to the sandal
and tried not to listen. Her mother's phone calls were
rare, and one that didn't center on the past, most
notably Tracy's failed marriage to one CJ Craimer, was
as priceless as an invitation to a Brad Pitt wedding.
Unfortunately, Tracy could tell from her mother's tone
that nobody was going to pay good money for this.
"Mom, Mom," she said, shaking her head as her
mother's volume increased. She tried to drown out the
phone sermon with her own version. "'How are you,
Tracy? How's life in Florida? Are you still enjoying
your job? This place you're living sounds charming, if
primitive. But I can tell you've found good friends and
a purpose to your life.'"
She paused, her imagination having run its course, since she
had never experienced that kind of real-life conversation
with her mother.
In the kitchen, her mother's voice rose to hog-caller
levels. "You know, this is all your fault," Denise
Deloche screeched. "If you hadn't married CJ,
everything he's done, everything he is,
wouldn't matter to any of us!"
She must have been building to that, because the message
ended. Tracy heard a dial tone, then the machine stopped
After savoring the silence for a moment, Tracy filled it.
"And how are you, Mom? Are you finding a smaller house
easier to take care of, even if it's not in Bel-Air?
Have you thought about starting a book club or buying a
bike? Maybe saving to come and visit me?"
Even if her mother had been listening, Tracy had no qualms
about asking the last question. Denise Deloche was as likely
to come to Florida as she was to start a soup kitchen on her
Since CJ had metamorphosed from the duke of developers to
the king of convictstaking Tracy's parents'
substantial investments with himTracy had borne the
brunt of their fury. Her father, who billed himself as
"orthodontist to the stars," claimed that because of
her, he would be straightening teeth until he was eighty.
His second wife insisted Tracy was no longer welcome in
their home. Tracy's mother was the friendliest of the
three. At least she still spoke to her daughter, although
mostly to berate her. The fact that Tracy had been clueless
about CJ's business dealings and lost almost everything
herself, including her husband, mattered not at all.
She rose, sandals buckled in place, and smoothed her skirt
over her thighs. Tonight nobody was going to bring her down.
In the past year she had faced and accepted her own
stupidity and unwitting culpability. She'd been young
when she married CJ Craimer, blinded by the diamonds he
tossed in her direction, trained to find character in the
cut of a man's suit and the country clubs he frequented.
Besides, if CJ hadn't chosen real estate investment to
make his mark, he could have been a successful
televangelist. Her ex was charismatic and persuasive. CJ
could make a killing selling banana plantations in
Antarctica, and probably had. Sometimes, when she looked
back on the years of their marriage and all the things she
knew about his profound abilities and limitless charm, the
only thing that really surprised her was that he had gotten
Caught, tried, convicted, incarcerated.
"Great!" Now, thanks to good old Mom, instead of
thinking about Marsh Egan, the man she might be falling in
love with, the man she might be falling into bed
with in a few minutes, Tracy was thinking about her ex.
"Bloodsucking leech," she said. She waited a moment
to see if the description sent CJ's image fleeing.
She shrugged and marched into the living room to fluff the
sofa pillows and turn on one more lamp. As she fluffed, she
gave herself a pep talk. "Now I'm thinking about
Marsh. Goodbye old, hello new."
She ran out of pillows and chitchat. In the kitchen, she
opened the wine and checked on the Brie, which wasn't
quite finished, so she added a few minutes to the timer. The
wine hadn't been in the cheapest bin at Publix, but it
was a far cry from anything CJ would have ordered from one
of his favorite Napa Valley vineyards.
She thumped the heel of her hand against her forehead,
hoping to dislodge him. "Goodbye and good riddance, CJ.
Hope the beans and weenies are yummy at Victorville. Maybe
if you folded enough laundry today, they'll let you have
Why did she care if the wine had been on sale? Hadn't
she learned anything in the year since her life in Bel-Air
had been dismembered, buck by buck? Besides, she hoped the
wine, like the salad, was going to be an afterthought later
in the evening.
Much, much later.
She heard a vehicle slowing, and she leaned forward to see
if it was Marsh's pickup. Darkness was falling, but she
could see he had parked at the beginning of the short drive
that led up to her cottage, effectively blocking her in. If
she wanted to run, she was too late.
She sprinted to the bedroom mirror to make sure her hair was
still okay. She'd left it down, where it slid straight
and sleek past her shoulders, and she pushed one dark lock
behind an ear, studying the effect. As she turned to view
the side, she realized the pearl buttons that marched from
waist to neckline were gaping just the tiniest bit. She
shouldn't have washed the dress, despite what the label
claimed. She shouldn't have tried to save a few bucks.
She heard rapping on her front door, and she adjusted the
bodice and hoped it would stay. Then she crossed the living
room and flung the door open.
Marsh's gaze traveled up and down before it came back up
to rest on her face. "If I say you look like a million
dollars in that dress, you aren't going to keep it on
all night just to impress me, are you?"
She gave him the same smile she had practiced in front of a
mirror at sixteen, the one that had snagged CJ years later.
She tossed her head and tried to toss her mother's phone
call with it. "What makes you think I'd consider
taking it off?"
He leaned over and kissed her. Casually. No tongue, but warm
and sweet anyway. "Well, you might say I'm forever
hopeful. Those papers are all signed. Now we've got
nothing between us except whatever that dress is made of,
and a shirt and jeans I can be out of in ten seconds flat.
And my son is safely playing video games for the night."
She hooked the opening of his polo shirt with her index
finger and tugged him close for another kiss, far less
casual. He smelled faintly like lime and something
deliciously masculine. She didn't want to let him go.
"Ah, the papers," she said, when she'd finished
but hadn't released him. "Effective libido
dampeners, weren't they?"
He pulled her closer and trailed a chain of kisses to her
earlobe. "You think so? My libido's been straining
at the leash since pretty much the first time I saw you."
The papers were an agreement between Wild Florida, the
environmental organization for which Marsh was director, and
Tracy. She had agreed to put the land she owned here on
Palmetto Grove Key into a conservation easement. She and
Marsh had wrangled over terms for months, but in the end,
she thought they were both happy with the result.
They had put the physical side of their relationship on hold
for the duration. Now maybe they could find some happiness
on that score, too.
Reluctantly she stepped back, and he held out a bottle.
Tracy leaned over to check the label. "Wow, that's a
really good Zinfandel. Too bad I just opened another
"Save this for another time, then."
"Let's not stand in the doorway all night. We have
better places to be." She moved aside to let him in. She
thought he looked yummy. The most casual man she knew, Marsh
had still dressed up for her. The jeans were clean and
appropriately faded, the dark green polo shirt looked new.
He wore his sandy brown hair in its usual ponytail, but
pulled back neatly. His perpetual Florida tan set off eyes
the golden brown of his hair and a smile she could feel all
over her body.
She smiled, too, and against all possible odds, her smile
suddenly wobbled. She was nervous. She, Tracy
Deloche, who, from the day she purchased her first training
bra had been schooled in the fine art of leading men around
by their noses. By the time she was sixteen, braces gone and
ears flattened against her scalp, she'd graduated at the
head of her class. Since then, she'd been fully
confident she had a good shot at any heterosexual man in the
And now Marsh Egan, Florida good ol' boy, self-confessed
Cracker, tree hugger and environmental gadfly, was making
She tried to remember if she'd felt this way when she
set out to get CJ in bed.
Marsh crossed the room to put the wine on the counter
between her kitchen and living room. "Do you know you
have a message?" He reached up, and before she could
stop him, pushed the play button on her answering machine.
Tracy made a flying leap, but it was too late. Her
mother's high-pitched whine filled the little cottage again.
"Great, nothing like unleashing the demons of hell."
Tracy heard her ex-husband's name four times before she
managed to get to the phone. She hit Delete between another
C and aJ. She was sorry she hadn't
thought to do it before Marsh showed up.
"I gather that was your mother?" Marsh lifted a brow.
"Let's not talk about my mother."
"She sounded upset."
"She's been upset for a while now. She's stuck
"About your ex, I take it?"
"CJ would be the cause. But let's not"
"Isn't he in jail? What's he done now?"
"CJ doesn't have to do anything. If
they'd hung him instead"
"They don't hang people in California." Marsh
sounded like the lawyer he was. "New Hampshire and
Washington, maybe. I can check and get back to you."
"CJ probably had business dealings there, but hanging
wouldn't do any good. My mother's life changed, and,
in her view, not for the better. Even if he was six feet
under, she'd still be living in a two-bedroom bungalow
on the west side of LA. She can't get to CJ to rant and
rave, but she has my number."
"She's not the only one who's upset
He laid a hand against her cheek and lifted her chin with
his thumb. "You get a lot of these calls?"
"I've learned to ignore them."
"Maybe not as much as you think."
"I have some chips and hummus." She pulled away.
"And a nice cold six-pack."
He took the cue. The haze of desire was fading. They needed
space and some time away from talk of Tracy's ex to let
it build again.
He poured a beershe figured this must be a special
night, since he wasn't drinking straight from the
bottleand she unwrapped the hummus and checked the
timer for the Brie. She added three plump strawberries to
each small plate and handed him one. Then she poured herself
a glass of wine.
"Is it too hot to sit outside?" she asked as he
"It's okay out there, but it was heating up
even nicer inside."
"I vote we cuddle on my sofa and see what happens."
She turned on the music as she passed the counter. Vanessa
Williams began to sing "Save the Best for Last."
She settled beside him, and he put his arm around her
shoulders. She took a sip of wine, then another.
"So, okay," he said, "is the wine helping? Chug
it down, and I'll pour you another glass."
She rested her head against his arm and turned so she could
see him. "I was trying really hard not to let my mother
hook me. But it's kind of tough when I get the instant
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