Talking is the absolute last thing I’m interested in right now. Not when I’ll only sound like I’m flying by the seat of my…dress. Which I am, but still. This woman might be a stranger, but I wouldn’t want her to remember me as a no-plan Nancy. I lift my head and smile, just as my never-ending stream of bodily fluids drips to a halt. “Actually, if you could just tell me how people go about hunting for jobs these days, I would truly appreciate it.”

My savior looks surprised. Probably because I’m wearing a wedding dress in a gas station and employment seems like a problem for another day. “You have a résumé?”

“Why, sure,” I lie.

*

Wanted: Pageant Coach for Temperamental Teen. Email Jason.

Not the most enticing advertisement I’ve ever read. It’s only eight words, and I swear I can already sense that Jason is blunt, frustrated and lacking in tact. I have no choice but to answer the no-frills call for employment, though. My gas station savior turned out to be a truck driver who must have been sent straight from the lord Jesus himself. She let me sit in the front seat of her truck while she ate a hoagie and I performed my cursory job hunt on her cell phone.

I had a moment of panic watching the blinking cursor in the job search engine. What to type. What to type. I can’t very well seek employment as a scrapbooker or gift-wrapper—it’s not even close to Christmas. I’m one heck of a party planner, but I have no professional experience or references to speak of. That left my oldest and strongest talent. Pageantry.

Until I left my fiancé at the altar, I was set to move into his extravagant mansion on the Battery as soon as we returned from our honeymoon. Prior to that, I’ve never lived anywhere but my parents’ home and the sorority house, both of which had display areas for my pageant crowns. Forty-eight of them, to be exact. I’ve been stuffed into more bathing suits, ball gowns and high heels than there are countries in the world.

Did I enjoy a single second of it, though? As I cross the street toward a single-story, red-shingled house with a giant detached garage and a boat out front, I admit I have no idea. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t being paraded around for someone’s approval—it always just seemed natural. The thing to do.

When I replied to the advertisement for a pageant coach, I had to do some quick thinking due to my lack of résumé. Instead of sending a list of credentials and work experience—um, car washes count, right?—I replied with a cheerful message and some links to pageant websites that listed my name as a past winner. Within five minutes, I received an abrupt reply, which sent me to this address in St. Augustine, Florida, an old-fashioned, palm-tree’d, narrow-streeted town on the water. Hopefully no one in the house saw me wrestling my way out of a wedding gown in the backseat and donning a white linen dress with nude, strappy sandals. That definitely wouldn’t do.

I raise my hand to knock on the door and pause when I realize I’m having a hard time swallowing. Buck up, Naomi. A job interview can’t be so different from the question round in a pageant, right? Simply smile and give the most diplomatic answer. Shine. Sparkle. Wave. Woo. The Battle of Waterloo was nothing compared to the backstage at a beauty competition. I should be able to handle a temperamental teen and a terse advertiser.

With a deep breath, I knock on the door and wait. Seconds pass before I hear a heavy tread approaching. Very heavy. Kind of ominous, really. Nonetheless, I put on my most dazzling smile as the door is jerked open.

My smile drops, but I yank it back up. Despite the thunderhead of a human being looking down at me from the height of the doorframe. Not a gentleman. Not a gentle anything. Tattoos peek out of the neckline and sleeves of his dirty gray T-shirt. His jaw is covered in coarse-looking black hair, as is his head, which has been the recipient of a ruthless buzz cut. The smell of motor oil and cigar smoke wafts toward me, nearly knocking me back a step, but there’s an underlying note of cinnamon that is oddly pleasing layered under the rest of it. And it’s the last pleasing thing about him, this man who looks suited to climbing out of a swamp with camouflage paint on his face to the soundtrack of chopper blades. That seems like an unusual thought, until I realize the tattoo on his right arm is the Army logo. Fitting. Although this man is so large and riddled with muscle, he could be his own army.

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