USA Today bestselling author Tina Wainscott has always loved the combination of romance and suspense, because nothing complements falling in love better than being hunted down. The author of more than thirty novels and novellas, Wainscott creates characters with baggage, past hurts, and vulnerabilities. They go through hell, find love, and, at the end, find peace in who they are and everything they’ve gone through. And isn’t that what everyone wants?
To celebrate the release of my new contemporary romance, I thought I’d interview the hero, Raleigh West. Born and raised in a small, seaside town in the Florida Panhandle, Raleigh’s had a rough life. He—
Raleigh: Yeah, you did give me a rough start. What’s the deal with that?
Tina: It builds character. Literally. And you know, the characters tell me their history. It sort of unfolds organically, as the root of certain behaviors, beliefs, and personality foibles.
Raleigh: So you’re saying that my good-for-nothing father who bailed on his two offspring built my character?
Tina: Certainly. You learned to stand up to an abuser, to live on your own, and to forge your way at a young age. It also made you protective of your half-brother, who needs you.
Raleigh: Yeah, well, I do love the little bugger. But it also made me unsuitable for Mia, the only girl I ever loved. Her parents were wealthy, and man did they look down their noses at me. And why not? I had no pedigree, no family to speak of, and I lived in a tin can. Even though they no doubt need a mechanic to keep their car running, they didn’t think my profession was good enough for their little girl.
Tina: You sell yourself short, love. You had your own home at eighteen, even if it was a travel trailer. You supported yourself with a good job, and you were the best mechanic in town. Still are. Sure, you were rough around the edges, but that’s what Mia loved about you. You were real. And you were a young man who needed love.
Raleigh: [Sighs] She was the first person who made me feel valuable. Like I mattered. I was even thinking of moving to Milwaukee, you know. Just to be near her when she went back home at summer’s end. Then you wrote in that crash.
Tina: It was an organic part of the story. You both had growing up to do. You weren’t ready for that kind of love at seventeen and eighteen. But remember, I gave you a second chance.
Raleigh: Yeah, you did. But you killed off her grandmother. Nancy was like the grandmother I never had.
Tina: I know, and I’m sorry about that. But sometimes a death is integral to the plot. At least I didn’t kill you off.
Raleigh: [Scoffs] You can’t do that in a romance. [Pause.] Right?
Tina: I would never kill off one of the main characters! Readers would hate me. Not good to piss off the readers.
Raleigh: Thank goodness for the readers.
Tina: Honestly, I don’t think I could kill off one of my leads. I love you guys.
Raleigh: Aw. Okay, maybe I’m not so peeved at you.
Tina: Are you going to go to her funeral? You know Mia will be there.
Raleigh: So will her parents, and they hate me more than ever. They blame me for the crash, and rightfully so. Seeing Mia at Nancy’s house jacked up my heart big-time. But all I could think about was how badly I’d hurt her, and how I didn’t deserve her. I took her virginity, and then I put her in a situation that caused her a lot of pain. Left her scarred. I think I should just stay away from her. I’ve caused her enough pain.
Tina: But you won’t. Can’t. [Winks]
Raleigh: Why? Because you wouldn’t have a book?
Tina: [Laughs] Well, there’s that. But that’s not why you’ll go to the funeral. You loved Nancy. You’d feel bad about missing the last chance to say goodbye, and Mia’s parents aren’t going to intimidate someone like you. The real reason, though, is Mia. You love her, even after all these years. There’s a hole in your heart that needs to be filled with the sound of her voice, the sight of her.
Raleigh: You’re right. Even my best intentions wouldn’t keep me away from her. I need to tell her how sorry I am. Just that. I can’t afford to say anything else. That’s all we need. Closure. A proper goodbye. Then maybe I can go on and not feel this gaping hole in my chest.
Tina: [Pats his shoulder] Yeah, you tell yourself that’s all you need. You do that.
What Raleigh doesn’t know yet is that Nancy left her seaside cottage to both him and Mia. To fix up and sell. Together. Because Nancy knew that, despite their youth, their love was something special. Something to bring back to life. She didn’t get her second chance, but she was darn well going to make sure Raleigh and Mia did.
Do you have a love that got away? Someone who you still think of from the past?
Fans of Jasinda Wilder and Colleen Hoover will adore this emotional new small-town romance—a smoldering tale of first love and long-awaited redemption from USA Today bestselling author Tina Wainscott.Raleigh West works in an auto shop day and night, trying to put his broken past out of mind. It’s been seven years since the fiery crash that landed his teenage sweetheart in the hospital . . . and him in jail. In an instant, he lost everything: his passion for racing, his hope of escaping his father’s shameful legacy, and the only girl he ever loved. Raleigh hasn’t seen her since that awful night. Never got a chance to apologize. And never forgave himself, either.When brave, beautiful Mia Wentworth returns to the Florida coast for the first time in what seems like forever, it’s not to see Raleigh. Even so, the moment she arrives she can feel his presence like a gust of wind that gives her goose bumps. Opening her heart to him again seems impossible. But staying away? That might be harder still. Lucky for them both, Mia’s never been the kind of woman to take the easy way out.
The director gestured for everyone to take a seat, and Mia settled onto the chair at the outside edge. She scanned each and every person.
He’s not coming. Get over it already.
The director, who knew Nancy from their volunteer work, welcomed everyone and said how touched she would be by the turnout. He introduced Mia and her parents, then spoke at length about the wonderful and sweet and feisty Nancy.
As Mia teared up over his sentimental words, she saw him. She blinked, just to make sure, but her heart knew immediately. The director’s voice faded into the roar of blood in her ears.
He stood behind the last row of chairs next to the thick trunk of an oak tree, in khakis and a maroon button-down dress shirt. His hair was trimmed, and he was clean-shaven. Not an ounce of fat on him judging by the way his shirt lay flat against his stomach. She gripped the edges of the chair as the ground tilted. Or was she tilting? God, don’t let me fall off the chair! No, you’re dizzy because you, uh, forgot to breathe!
Carefully, she pulled in a long, deep breath. Then another. The world was still blurry, and she wiped at her eyes to clear them—and found Raleigh in her sights. Which was even more startling, because she was pretty sure he was looking right at her.
She forced herself to breathe again, to shift her gaze to where it should be. The director invited people to come up and share a story or their thoughts. There was no hesitation as the first person stepped up to the microphone stand positioned in front of the chairs.
Several people spoke from their hearts over the next twenty minutes, and everyone dabbed at their eyes, including Mia. She wrestled with whether to go up, but to put herself on display was more than she could bear. Her father went up and sounded like a politician as he thanked everyone for coming. The director made one last call, and Mia’s eyes went to Raleigh again. He leaned forward, his hand clenched on the tree. He clearly wanted to go up, but he looked at her father. Then at her. Then he rocked back on his heels again, his face tight with the war inside him.
Come up. I want to hear what you have to say. About Grandma. About your friendship with her.
I just want to hear your voice.
He remained in the shade of the tree. Mia certainly couldn’t think him a coward, not when she, too, was afraid to go up and speak. Facing cancer and burns wasn’t as hard as facing people, she mused. Wasn’t that crazy?
But then she stood. Walked to the microphone and fumbled as she adjusted it to her height. Cleared her throat and tried hard not to look at Raleigh. Instead, her gaze skipped across the rows and the ribbons dancing in the breeze.
“Thank you all for being part of her life. I . . .” Her eyes betrayed her, zeroing right in on Raleigh. Her thoughts froze. Time was suspended, everyone—every single person—focused on her. She cleared her throat, heat rising up her neck. “I’m jealous that you all got to spend time with her. To know her as a friend.” Her gaze went to Raleigh again. “Thank you,” she said again, thrashing herself for the impulse as she took her seat.
She would have no regret, though. If all those weeks and months and years of hospital stays had taught her anything, it was to let no opportunity slip by. Especially the ones where you left words unsaid. Important, life-changing words.
She searched through the people all getting to their feet. Raleigh leaned against the trunk now, his head tilted back. As though it were all too much to bear. The impulse now was to go to him.
But the director asked everyone to form a line to pay their respects before the casket was lowered into the ground. Mia had to follow her parents to form a reception line, where everyone offered their condolences before stepping up to the casket. Mia’s heart squeezed so tight that she could hardly breathe. Would Raleigh shake her hand? Hug her? Say in a low, intimate voice how very sorry he was for their loss? Their loss, because it was as much his as hers. Maybe more so.
As she accepted handshakes and hugs, she realized that she was so wrapped up in where he was that she wasn’t worried about anyone seeing her up close. The line was dwindling, and she couldn’t see him anywhere.
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