Summer Hearts: A Compilation of Six Clean Romances by Debby Lee, Lisa Watson, and Sarah Daley by Debby Lee, Lisa Watson, and Sarah Daley - Read Online

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Every Summer Has a Love Story...Six Summer Tales of Sweet Romance that bring you the very best in Historical, Contemporary and Fantasy Romance. Sarah Daley, Carol Malone, Kathy Bosman, Debby Lee, Robyn Echols, and Lisa Watson weave stories of long days, sultry nights, sun-kissed beaches and sweet romance 

Dreaming in California: 
In the summer of 1967, Hollywood actress, Lucinda Baker, appears to have it all-- fame, money, and an all too doting fiancé. Dark traits begin to emerge from the man she's pledged to marry, and he threatens her. Lucinda must now lean on her best friend, celebrity photographer, George Creston to escape the clutches of the dangerous relationship. Together they are forced to summon courage, and trust each other in desperate circumstances. Will they find love in the process or lose everything they hold dear, including their lives. 

A Summer of Stars: 
McKinley Graham has escaped to her summer getaway to regain her perspective and her health. Zane Davidson has taken refuge in the lovely seaside community, welcoming the healing balm of the salty sea air and his childhood home to mend his wounds. They aren’t looking for love, but their attraction is too explosive to ignore. Against the backdrop of starry nights and sultry kisses, they come to realize that even love may not be enough to save them from the angry storm of his past that threatens to destroy their dreams! 

Drowning Sandy: 
The water is calling... 
and Sandy can no longer resist the urge to unleash her mermaid form. But a simple swim in Lake Ontario ends when she discovers the truth of her own banishment. When long time crush, Alardo, seems to shift in a direction she never dreamed possible, Sandy must make a choice — mermaid or human? Once she chooses, she can never go back. 

Summer Holiday: 
In the summer of 1905, Lizzy Gordon’s father dismisses her desires to be a doctor, demanding she become a teacher—a profession which does not allow women to marry. 
Teacher Brent Pierce is dedicated to expanding young minds, but circumstances are forcing him to take over the family farm. 
Before the summer is over Lizzy and Brent will be forced to make hard decisions. Can they find the courage to each stand up for themselves and still be together? 

Shark Boss: 
When Tara takes up a job at the local aquarium, her colleagues warn her about their harsh boss, Mr. Carter Jones. She soon discovers how impatient he can be, but she also can’t deny her fascination and attraction to him. Carter can’t stop watching Tara as she works but holds back from her because of his secrets. If she knew what he was, she would never want him. Could the reason for Carter’s moods be related to something more troubling than what’s on the surface? Tara soon discovers Carter’s secret, and it only bonds them closer. But the curse starts to take over Carter’s life, and he won’t give his heart to a beautiful woman when he can only cause her pain. 

The Best Place to Meet a Man: 
Jeff goes to the beach to run and clear his head. Meredith goes to the beach intent on burying her nose in her book. In this contemporary romantic comedy, these two collide when Meredith’s two young nephews come up with other plans.  
Published: RM Alexander on
ISBN: 9781513062259
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Summer Hearts - Debby Lee

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Man

DREAMING IN CALIFORNIA

by Debby Lee

Copyright 2015 Debby Lee

In the summer of 1967, Hollywood actress, Lucinda Baker, appears to have it all—fame, money, and an all too doting fiancé. Dark traits begin to emerge from the man she's pledged to marry, and he threatens her. Lucinda must now lean on her best friend, celebrity photographer, George Creston to escape the clutches of the dangerous relationship. Together they are forced to summon courage, and trust each other in desperate circumstances. Will they find love in the process or lose everything they hold dear, including their lives.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:

My sincerest thanks to by critique partners, Desiree Irvine and Carol Olson Malone; and my beta readers. Your assistance has been invaluable in the making of this story. I’d also like to thank those who spent countless hours creating the amazing cover of this book. I’d also like to extend a special thank you to Robin Alexander for brainstorming and compiling this anthology. Without her, this book would not have come to fruition.

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Los Angeles, Early Summer, 1967

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Lucinda Baker aimed her sassiest smile at the camera even though her heart churned like the waves of the nearby Pacific Ocean. The photo shoot for her latest movie should have wrapped two days ago, and then she would have been off to New York to see her fiancé, Anzario. Delay after delay had pushed the end of the session back by more than a week, leaving a painful knot in her gut. She missed Anzario. His strong arms made her feel so safe ... at least they used to. 

Can you turn to the left a bit, sweetheart? I’m coming in for a close up. The photographer, George Creston said. He shifted the camera sideways, and snapped another few shots. That’s beautiful, thank you.

Lucinda’s stomach did a flip when George winked at her. She had felt an attraction between the two for quite some time now. George had worked with her for more than a year, and had even taken her to a few parties. He possessed a kindness not commonly seen in the cutthroat world of entertainment in Hollywood. She really admired him for that. With straight hair, bleached blond by the California sun, Lucinda had often thought he’d make a perfect leading man. She’d even shared her ideas with him during their many lunch breaks together, but George shook his head and dismissed the notion. 

Can you spin one last time for me? I need one more shot and then we’re done.

George’s smooth voice drew Lucinda’s thoughts to the present. She spun around. Her long hair flew about her. She smiled until her cheeks ached.

Thank you, sweetheart, George said. 

That’s a wrap. The photography session director called.

Thank Heavens, Lucinda said. Now I can pack and get to New York. She hoped Anzario wouldn’t be too upset with her for arriving at his penthouse apartment later than expected. His behavior could be so erratic. He claimed to love her and want the best for her, but he always wanted to know where she was, and recently he had become more and more upset if she was late.

Am I free to go now? Lucinda asked. The director and the rest of the crew nodded and waved her off. But a longing she saw in George’s eyes made her halt and take notice. It was a look she’d noticed often the past few months. She recalled the party where George and Anzario had met. The two seemed to get along on the surface, but Lucinda detected underlying tension by the way they glared at each other. Did George suspect trouble between her and Anzario?

I don’t have time to worry about it now.

Lucinda bolted to her car and dropped into the seat of her new Fiat. It was a quick little car, and had been an engagement gift from Anzario, courtesy of his Italian connections. 

She loved zipping around town in it. As she sped down Sunset Boulevard, her thoughts raced as well. When he’d last visited LA, she’d overheard him talking on the phone with his father, regarding the family business. During the heated discussion, he switched to speaking in Italian. An odd prickly feeling crept over her body. Rumors circulated about his father being involved in the mafia. Had Anzario joined forces with the vicious crooks?

That’s ridiculous! Lucinda shook her head. She wouldn’t let herself believe that. Even if his father rubbed elbows with the organized criminals, Anzario would never get involved with them. She’d lost count of the times he’d complimented her on her down-to-earth, peace-loving ideals. He loved her. Evidence of his love encircled her finger, a two carat diamond heart ring with tiny garnets surrounding it. The way he held her, and the memory of dancing with him under the moonlight, caused her anxiety to ease a bit. These things calmed any uneasiness she felt about him. He would never risk her safety by getting involved with organized crime. So, why did she have a niggling doubt about the guy? She was just being paranoid. Lucinda sighed and vowed to quit watching so many soap operas on her days off. 

The Chateau Mairmont came into view and Lucinda pulled her car into the space near her bungalow. She loved L.A., but New York beckoned her. Perhaps she could meet with a producer or two while she was there, if Anzario allowed it. He was always so mindful of their social engagements. So much excitement filled her she could hardly keep from bouncing up and down as she got out of her car, locked it, and hurried inside. 

The telephone rang when Lucinda stepped through the front door. She rushed to answer it.

Hello, Lucinda. It’s about time you picked up. What took you so long? I’ve called ten times already today. Where have you been? Living it up, I suppose. Anzario’s voice came across loud, rushed and filled with tension, like he couldn’t get the words out quick enough.

Lucinda thought carefully before answering. My photo shoot took longer than the director said it would. I had to stay, but don’t worry, we finished. I’m packing right now, and I’ll be in New York in a few hours. She prayed the words would sooth his anger.

Don’t bother coming to New York. I’m on my way to LA. I’ll be at your bungalow by morning, Anzario growled.

I couldn’t leave in the middle of the shoot. I’m sorry. Please don’t be angry, Lucinda continued. She heard him take a few deep breaths.

I just love you so much, I couldn’t wait to be with you, and so I booked a flight to LA to be with you that much sooner.

An odd thought twisted in Lucinda’s head. He wanted to be with her so much he was willing to interrupt his plans and fly across the country to see her. Shouldn’t that make her feel more cherished? For some reason, it didn’t. Confusion lay over her like a blanket of summer heat.

I’ll be here, Lucinda said. Anzario said his goodbyes and Lucinda hung up. Disappointment threatened to swallow her whole. She had looked forward to going to New York. Why would he want to come here all of a sudden? It didn’t make sense. Anzario didn’t make sense! One minute he snapped at her, and gave her the fifth degree regarding her whereabouts, and with the next breath, he professed to love and miss her. The hot and cold extremes of his personality made her head spin.

Nonetheless, Anzario was on his way. With any luck, he would leave his bodyguard, Bruno, at home. The hoodlum frightened her.

Lucinda tossed the disconcerting thoughts aside. She sat down at her table and began to read through a script her agent had sent over. No matter how hard she tried to focus on her lines, anxiety nipped at her as she fidgeted around in her seat. Time and again she blew out a deep sigh and told herself she was being silly. 

An image of George bubbled to the surface of her mind. What was she doing thinking of her photographer? Still, she couldn’t help but compare the two men in her life. George was fun, loving took an interest in what she had to say. He listened to her, and spoke to her, not at her. It was a sharp contrast to what she was used to with Anzario. 

As soon as Anzario arrived she would talk to him. He would hold her, and calm any fears she had about marrying him. Of that she was certain.

***

A banging on her door awakened Lucinda. Disoriented, she rolled off the couch and traipsed over to answer it. When she had rubbed the sleep from her eyes, she saw Anzario standing there with a suitcase in hand and a yellow rose between his teeth.

Without waiting for an invitation, he breezed into her living room and dropped his luggage. He then grabbed her, spun her around and took the rose from his mouth before laying a deep hard kiss on her lips.

Lucinda gasped, partly from the display of affection, and partly because he squeezed her so tight. Anzario, please, I can’t breathe.

He released his grip and smiled down at her. I feel so much better with you in my grasp, knowing you’re all right.

Of course, I’m all right. I know how to take care of myself. Lucinda appreciated how he wanted her to be safe, the seedy underside of Hollywood could be scary, but for the last two months she had felt uneasy about her fiancé and his overpowering ways. The way he perpetually worried about her seemed paranoid. The thought of him having a mental disorder had crossed her mind more than once. 

Anzario released his grip. Nausea whirled in Lucinda’s gut when he scowled down at her. He got so upset whenever she voiced her independence. This had grated on her nerves for months now and she made a mental note to broach the subject with him when the time was right. 

Let’s sit down, Lucinda said. Why don’t you tell me about your trip? Did you have a nice flight?

Yes, but I have other things I want to talk to you about. Anzario knelt down and took her hand in his. You know how stubborn my father is sometimes. He’s demanding we marry right away, and move to Italy.

The air whooshed out of Lucinda’s lungs with powerful force. She couldn’t move to Italy! What about her acting career?

Anzario, Lucinda stared deep into his dark eyes. We’ve discussed this before. I’m not moving to Italy. I live here in Los Angeles. Living arrangements had been a source of contention, the reason they hadn’t yet agreed on a date.

Lucinda, I need you to do this for me. We need to be married, and soon, or I fear my father will make things difficult for us.

We can be married but I need to live in L.A. at least half of the year. We can live in New York part of the time, and visit Italy a few times a year. This suggestion had been made more than once but he didn’t seem to listen. She hoped that with time, her insistence would get through to him, but his brooding expression said otherwise.

Anzario shook his head. No, Father needs us to move to Italy. He said it has, eh, something to do with the family business. 

Anzario proceeded to look at the ceiling, the floor, and then the door leading to her bedroom. Everywhere but into Lucinda’s eyes. Apprehension crawled up her spine and told her something wasn’t quite right.

What are you hiding? What are you not telling me? Lucinda demanded.

A slow, weasel-like smile crept over Anzario’s face. Why would you think I’m hiding something? Let’s go to Las Vegas first thing tomorrow and get married. Everything will be just fine, you’ll see. 

Anger heated her skin by several degrees. What right did Anzario’s father have to force her to marry immediately and, worse yet, move to Italy? She yanked her hand from her fiancé’s grip and glared at him.

I’m not going to Italy, Anzario. You can’t force me. I’m not sure I even want to marry you if those are going to be the conditions. Lucinda toyed with the ring on her finger. Maybe it would be best to break off our engagement.

Anzario stood and raked his fingers through his black hair. He paced the room then turned to face her, fists clenched at his sides.

If you don’t marry me, my father will be very angry with the both of us. If you refuse, he’ll take away your car, demand the ring back, and make things problematic for you, and your agent, too.

The last straw in Lucinda’s heart abruptly snapped in two! She loved her agent and wasn’t about to let this goon make things difficult for the poor woman. Besides, Lucinda had worked too hard for too many years to make it this far. She was weary of accommodating him, and refused to go one step further.

With resolve, Lucinda stood and clenched her fists at her sides. Anzario, we’re through. I’m not going to marry you so you can take back the stupid ring. Lucinda pulled it from her finger and threw it at him. She had put up with his domineering tyranny for far too long, and she’d had enough. Anger made her breathe in rasping gasps.

In a second Anzario stormed over to her and clenched her wrists in his powerful hands.

Aaaahh! Lucinda winced in pain. His face grew darker than she thought possible. The fine hairs on her neck tingled as she watched the muscles in his jaw harden. Unable to wrench herself loose, she stared into the thunderous eyes of the man she thought she knew. Through clenched teeth he spat the words.

Look, I’ve tried to be nice about this, but I’m out of time. I’m in a bind and I can’t afford to get on my father’s bad side. He breathes down my neck as it is. He says if we don’t get married, he’s cutting me out of the will without a cent. You best believe we’re getting married, even if I have to drag you down the aisle to do it. Trust me, I’m not bluffing. Father has friends who’d marry us, even without you being fully coherent, so don’t test me ...

Lucinda’s stomach dropped. She trembled. This was a side to Anzario she hadn’t seen before, or had she merely chosen not to see it? Before she knew what happened, he dragged her across the floor by her hair, and tossed her into her tiny hallway closet. He then slammed the door and she heard him place a chair against it so she couldn’t get out.

Stay there and shut up! He bellowed through the door.

Lucinda began to cry and mentally kicked herself for doing so. Anzario’s erratic behavior should have served as a warning but she had dismissed it. Now she sat trapped in her closet like a caged animal. He was going to kill her.

The sound of his hushed voice received her attention. She forced herself to be calm down when she heard him make a phone call.

Hello Father.

In a desperate effort to hear more, Lucinda swiped her tears with her sleeve and pressed her ear to the door.

She won’t cooperate. We’ll have to take drastic measures and force her to marry me, but as soon as the ink is dry on the license we’ll put the Houdini accounts in her name.

Houdini accounts? Lucinda wondered what that meant, but had a nagging suspicion it couldn’t be good. 

There was no way she’d go along with any illegal activity. He had to know she’d go straight to the police. If only she could find a way out of the closet. In the semi-darkness she fumbled around for something she could use to pry the door open. Besides an assortment of floppy sun hats, all she could find was an umbrella. 

She heard Anzario say goodbye and hang up the phone. His heavy footsteps resounded as he stomped to her bedroom. She listened as he rummaged through her bedroom closet and dresser drawers.

Where do you keep your passport? he yelled.

Lucinda wasn’t about to answer, but what would his reaction be to her silence? Seconds passed. She held her breath. The seconds felt like hours. Waiting, wondering what he might do. Kidnap her? Beat her to a bloody pulp? Both?

A scream sprung from her throat when Anzario yanked the closet door open and stood there with a baseball bat in hand.

Tell me where your passport is and I’ll let you out. Don’t look so frightened, Lucinda dear. My father has come up with a simple plan to make us even richer, but we need your help. If you cooperate, I can promise to keep you safe, forever.

A measure of righteous indignation, and inner strength flowed through Lucinda. She folded her arms over her chest and demanded. What are the Houdini accounts all about?

A chuckle spilled from Anzario’s lips. He waved his hand at her which only served to infuriate her. How dare he try and placate her after acting like a jerk.

The Houdini accounts are nothing for you to worry your pretty little head over.

My pretty little head? You’ve threatened me with violence.

"My father and I want to make sure the money is um, shall we say squeaky clean where the US government is concerned."

Another sinister chuckle stroked Lucinda’s ears. She shivered. So that was it. He wanted to marry her and use her fortunes as a cover to launder the mob’s dirty money. Additional cringes swept through her body. She huffed. That wouldn’t happen if she had anything to say in the matter. 

Let me out of here, she insisted.

Very well. Anzario stepped back and dropped the baseball bat.

Lucinda stood and stepped out of the closet. She took a moment to stretch her cramped muscles before leading him to the bedroom. With any luck, she could lock him in there while she ran for the police.

A sudden knock at the door represented an opportunity to get help.

HEL—

She had tried to scream but Anzario slapped a hand over her mouth. He dragged her to the bed, tossed her down on it. He then rolled her onto her stomach while she did her best to fight him, but he proceeded to sit on her.

The person at the front door banged harder. 

I’ll be there in just a moment, Anzario yelled.

Lucinda kicked and screamed, but he pushed her face into a pillow. A pile of her best scarves sat on nightstand by her bed. Anzario used one to tie her hands together. While Lucinda focused on getting air into her lungs, he bound her ankles together with another scarf. The last one, he used to gag her mouth.

Be still, and be quiet, or you won’t see dawn tomorrow, Anzario seethed. He then shut her bedroom door. 

Lucinda heard him answer her front door. George’s voice floated in to her and brought a sweet sensation of relief. He wouldn’t be pushed around by her former fiancé. Lucinda’s taut muscles began to relax, and then, to her horror, Anzario told George she was at the store.

Then why is her car parked right over there? Lucinda heard George ask.

She walked, said she needed to get some air, and do some thinking.

Lucinda’s stomach curled at Anzario’s lie.

I’ll have her call you when she gets home. 

The door banged shut and Lucinda’s hopes plummeted. She shut her eyes and tried to think of what to do next.

Several long minutes elapsed before a scraping sound rasped through the air. Her bedroom window slowly grated open. She flinched. Sobs threatened to overcome her but that made breathing difficult, so she choked back her tears. Turning over proved to be an arduous chore while tied up but she had to see who was climbing through her bedroom window. 

George!

Relief flooded through her. Thank heavens he hadn’t given up on her.

Quietly, he climbed down from the window sill. Utilizing stealth, he tiptoed over to her bed and untied her. He jerked the gag from her mouth. Lucinda sucked in deep gulps of air, and rubbed her aching wrists, attempting to work the circulation back into her hands. 

I peeked in your front window and saw him rummaging through your stuff. I’m locking your bedroom door. Grab your purse and let’s get out of here, George whispered, and then held a finger to his lips, indicating for her to be quiet. 

Lucinda heard Anzario making quite a racket in the dining room, going through her files, probably still searching for her passport amongst her belongings.

I hope he doesn’t find anything that would get me into trouble.

Hush, do you want him to hear you and come barreling in here with a gun? George asked.

Lucinda shut her mouth and threw a few items into her small travel bag. 

I didn’t buy the bologna about you being at the store. Let’s sneak you out of here and go to the police. George said as he winked at her.

A tantalizing image of escape danced before her. George had come to her rescue. Emotion coursed through her. Adrenaline, desire? Whatever it was, it unfurled in the pit of her stomach and engulfed her, completely.

Lucinda shivered, but it had nothing to do with the breeze blowing in through the open window.

That’s enough stuff, c’mon, let’s go, George said.

Lucinda wished she could take more items but didn’t care to risk her life by taking the extra time to do so. George dropped her travel bag out the window and then proceeded to climb out himself. He was partway through when the window slid down. Lucinda had to help him wiggle the rest of the way out.

Her turn came next. It was a tight fit. She bit back a cry of pain as the window sill scraped the tender skin on her forearms, belly, and knees. George pulled her out of the confines of her bedroom, through the tiny opening, and into blessed freedom.

***

Quick, get on the back of my bike and I’ll take you to the police station. George threw her travel case into the saddle bag on his motorcycle.

Lucinda clutched her purse to her side, praying that George would hurry. Panic surged when he leapt onto the vehicle and started the throttle. Anzario bolted from her bungalow. In terror driven madness, Lucinda jumped on. George put it in gear and burned rubber as he drove off.

George barreled along Sunset Drive toward the police station. Lucinda’s life hinged on her ability to hang on to George with every bit of strength she possessed.

Soon, they arrived at the station. A number of police officers milled about but strangely enough, that didn’t make her feel free from danger. George gripped her hand and hurried her inside.

Lucinda explained everything she knew to George and the lead detective, but she had never heard of the Houdini accounts, nor could she elaborate on any details of Anzario’s plans.

We’ll do everything we can to keep you safe, Miss Lucinda. The detective nodded as he scribbled in a small notebook. These guys have been on our radar for awhile now. We suspect they’re involved in the mafia, so if you chose to testify against them, you might have to go into the witness protection program.

The thought caused her blood to run cold. She stifled a gasp but George wound his arm around her waist before she could faint.

Would a marriage be legal if it took place against a person’s will? George asked.

To Lucinda, he sounded incredulous, much like the echo in her heart. Anzario had probably located her passport by now, and if he got his hands on her, he would whisk her away to Italy and her movie career would be over, but that was the least of her worries. She’d never see her family again either. What am I going to do? Lucinda threw her hands in the air with frustration. 

Come with me, George said as he led her outside.

Lucinda followed as he parked her on a bench and got down on one knee.

What are you doing? Lucinda asked.

Marry me, George replied.

What? Now her heart really pounded in her chest.

Marry me, He said, again. I know it’s not the most romantic proposal, especially for a star like you, 

Was he serious? Judging by the embers of passion burning in his eyes, he had to be, but how could that help her?

Do you mind explaining? Lucinda placed her hands on her hips, feeling perplexed.

Anzario can’t drag you out of the country with a passport that has your old name on it.

Go on, Lucinda nodded and began to see his reasoning. 

If you have a new last name, and are already married to me, any marriage he tried to force on you won’t be legal. A cunning smile lifted the corners of her friend’s lips.

Lucinda’s heart swelled. George, I can’t marry you just for convenience. It wouldn’t be right, and besides, I’d never forgive myself if anything ever happened to you.

Fine, he responded. Marry me because I love you, because we love each other.

The words struck Lucinda like a jolt of electricity, but then again, deep down inside, she had known that all along. How could she have allowed Anzario to manipulate her into agreeing to marry him? The answer was lost on her at the moment. All she could do now was focus on what was before her. George.

That sounds like a wonderful idea, Lucinda felt some light at the end of the tunnel. There was hope that she’d be able to escape Anzario’s clutches after all. How could she have been so blind, to have not seen how rotten he was? Or that her knight in shining armor, George, had been right in front of her all along?

I didn’t pack a dress but I guess I can buy one. Okay, let’s go, Lucinda said as butterflies wiggled in her middle.

Great. George jumped up and escorted her to his motorcycle. We can get you some clothes when we get to Las Vegas.

While George took a moment to start the bike, Lucinda thought she spied Anzario’s bodyguard, Bruno, storming toward the entrance of the police station. Lucinda’s heart tried to stop beating when Bruno glanced back and locked eyes with hers. The ominous glare he aimed at her could have wilted fresh cut roses.

George, it’s Bruno, Lucinda gasped. We need to get out of here, now! With any luck, Anzario wouldn’t become wise to their plans. 

In almost no time they cruised down the highway on George’s motorcycle, on a mad trek to sin city. Every so often she glanced back to see if Bruno, Anzario, or both were in pursuit. Bare roads were the only thing she saw, but in her fear, pain and misery lurked just a short distance behind her. What if one of those goons got their paws on her before she tied the knot with George? They must hurry!

Hours passed and soon bright lights rose above a canopy of heat, dust, and cactus plants. Soon George pulled into the parking lot of a small obscure hotel.

If that creep is looking for you, he’ll probably be looking in all the big fancy hotels. Let’s stay here and I’ll check in under an assumed name.

Lucinda hurried next door to a clothing store as George acquired a room for the night. For a moment, Lucinda wondered if he’d think to ask for two twin beds. After purchasing a new summer sun dress, she hurried back to the hotel.

I asked the clerk for an out of the way marriage chapel, George said. He recommended a great one.

Wonderful, Lucinda said. Just give me a few minutes to shower and put my dress on.

Lucinda hurried to get ready. After fixing her hair, with minimal fuss, she reached for her purse and announced she was ready. George reached for her hand as they walked out of their motel room.

Hop on, let’s go. He motioned Lucinda to get on his bike and hang on, and soon they made their way down the alleys and through a maze of streets.

George rolled his Harley to a stop. The breath went out of her in a whoosh when she looked over at the Lucky Legs Wedding Chapel. 

***

George shut the bike’s motor off as Lucinda climbed down from the seat. With a hint of trepidation, her eyes took in the all night wedding chapel and tattoo parlor housed side by side, but in the same building. Bars covered the windows of both businesses. Rock music reverberated from the open doors and pink neon lights, in the shape of a pair of legs, flashed over the wedding chapel.

It doesn’t look too classy, but it’ll get the job done. George smiled down at her. You look beautiful, by the way. 

Lucinda didn’t care. She was marrying a wonderful man who cared a great deal for her. To her delight, there would be no paparazzi invading the ceremony. What the ceremony lacked in class it made up for with the offer of privacy. George clasped her hand in his and together they walked into the establishment.

A clerk from the wedding chapels’ gift shop pointed them toward the preacher.

While the preacher prepared the sanctuary for the ceremony, George explained to him that they needed to marry in a hurry.

And we need to get the license filed as quickly as possible. George added. The preacher nodded his head, more than happy to oblige.

Then, with the cue from the organist, the wedding began.

Tears of happiness slid down Lucinda’s cheeks as she walked up the short aisle. George loved her and she was elated to be marrying him. George beamed at her, and then sent a wink her direction. Lucinda had to catch herself to keep from stumbling. They were married without an overabundance of pomp and circumstance, but the organist took a multitude of pictures. The ceremony was an affair that Lucinda would be proud to tell her kids about. As soon as she received copies of the pictures, she planned on sending them out to friends along with the wedding announcements. 

When the paperwork was signed, the preacher handed George and Lucinda their copy.

I’ll file these papers with the county clerk first thing in the morning. The minister said.

Thank you, Lucinda replied.

George grabbed her hand and led her outside. Happiness enveloped her, but a sliver of apprehension wiggled its way into her heart.

Terror replaced apprehension when Bruno bounded out of the bushes, and punched George in the mouth.

Help! Lucinda screamed, but Anzario clutched her arm, and dragged her behind the bushes. A waiting limousine waited just a few feet away. The open back door yawned before her and somehow, she knew if she got into the vehicle, she’d never see America again.

Lucinda kicked as hard as she could.

Stop it Lucinda, he growled in her ear. It’s a good thing I had Bruno follow you. Now, get in the limo.

Not about to surrender, Lucinda continued to fight back. She squirmed from side to side in a desperate attempt to wrench herself free from his painful grasp. She could hear George and Bruno fighting on the other side of the bushes. Fear for her husband’s safety caused her to fight harder, but this only infuriated Anzario. 

Get in the car, or I will make you wish you had.

Anzario shook her as the words spewed from his mouth. He produced a club that she was sure he’d use to beat her if she didn’t obey.

"Don’t fight this Lucinda, it’s not like I’m going to kill you. I need you alive so we can transfer the money into your bank accounts, but I’m not against making you get in the car."

The limo driver stepped from the vehicle. He pulled out another club that matched the one in Anzario’s hand. Every muscle in Lucinda’s body went limp. Defeat tried desperately to claim her.

The crack of a gunshot, from the other side of the bushes, pierced her ears.

George!

Had George been shot? She had to get to him.

Lucinda sank her teeth into Anzario’s fingers. A yelp of agony filled the night air. When he released his grip on her, she shrieked for help and slapped him so hard bolts of pain shot through her hand and wrist.

Run! 

The word skimmed through her mind like a bullet through crepe paper. Her gut twisted. Her hands trembled. Her breath stuck in her throat, but she propelled her body in the direction of the chapel, toward George.

Dear God, please let him be alive.

Lucinda crashed through the bushes. Her ears caught the sound of Anzario’s curses behind her, mixed with the wailing of patrol car sirens. Her breath and heartbeat lurched to a stop at the sight before her.

Blood oozed from George’s shoulder as he lay sprawled on the ground in front of the chapel. She raced to him and dropped to his side.

George, she cried.

Flashing red and blue lights lit darkness around her. Lucinda was only vaguely