|Lena Clare Butler wanted to cry.|
Spring break. She'd looked forward to this week for months and now, because she was incapable of saying no, it was all ruined. He'd be here any momentDixon Edwards, the movie guy. Her ball and chain for the next seven days.
It had seemed like a good idea a month ago, when her neighbor and best friend Kelly Arnez had approached her about showing a visiting filmmaker around St. Augustine. The sizable charitable donation he'd offered for the assistance had been a motivating factor as well. But now that the time was here, she was regretting her impulsiveness and cursing her deep-seated sense of responsibility that wouldn't let her back out.
She sank deeper into her sofa and looked at her to-do list for the week.
Clean out refrigerator Organize office Divide and transplant cannas Try out new bread recipes Paint the kitchen
Lena tossed the list onto the end table and reached for her coffee cup, swallowing the sob lodged in her throat. She would not cry about this. Crying was pointless. But her heart ached with disappointment. None of the items on her list were exciting or necessary, but she'd eagerly anticipated tackling each one.
She'd earned her masters degree earlier this year, marking the end of a long, sporadic college career. Her sisters' educations had come first. Her elementary education degree had taken nearly six years. Her masters even longer. She had taken classes in her summers off from teaching. Every holiday break, every spare minute had been spent studying and attending classes. It had all been worth the sacrifice. With degree in hand, she'd applied for the position of vice principal at her school. If she got the job, she'd be secure for the rest of her life.
Lena took another sip of her coffee. This week had been a special gift to herself. The first sweet "me time" she'd had since her parents had died and she'd become guardian for her sisters, Jeanie and Suzanna.
Now it was all gone.
The phone rang, and Lena looked at the caller ID. Kellythe source of the upheaval in Lena's life.
"Are you ready for your adventure?" Kelly's voice was filled with excitement.
"I should never have agreed to this dumb idea." She stroked her Shih Tzu, Oreo, snuggled contentedly in her lap.
"It's not a dumb idea. You're the perfect person to show Dixon around. You were a tour guide. No one knows more about St. Augustine's history than you do."
"I'm not sure I want to spend the week showing some movie director the sights."
"He's not a director. He's here scouting locations for a movie his Christian film company is making. You're not backing out on me, are you? He's counting on you."
The pleading in Kelly's voice pricked Lena's over-active responsibility gene. "No, of course not. But I had plans for the week."
"Like what? Cleaning the top of the refrigerator?"
Lena took a second to consider her friend's sarcastic question. As long as she could remember, her life had been all about survival. Making sure everything was in order. Staying on top of the financial and emotional surprises and putting her sisters first. "Time to myself for one thing."
Kelly sighed loudly into the phone. "I know, but you'll have the entire summer for that once school is out. And if you ask me, you have more than enough time alone. You need to get a life."
Lena pursed her lips. Why didn't her friend understand? "I have a life, Kelly. I have a job I love, a ministry I enjoy, and good friends. I'm perfectly content, and if it wasn't for the donation this man made to Josh's therapy pets program, I would never have agreed at all."
Her friend, veterinarian Josh McDowell, started a ministry to bring animals to visit patients in nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. She and Oreo were regular participants, but a sluggish economy had caused a substantial drop in donations. The program was in danger of closing.
Edwards's contribution would ensure the ministry's survival awhile longer.
"You could have said no."
Lena gripped the phone. "And see the pet therapy program close? I couldn't let that happen."
"Then helping Dixon is a fair trade, right?"
Her friend had a valid point, but while she appreciated his donation, it didn't lessen her uneasy feeling about him. "Are you sure this guy is legitimate? Anyone can claim to have a Christian ministry."
"Of course he's legit. I told you, Dixon and Rick went to college together. That's the reason he's staying with us and not at a hotel. What's this about, Lena? It's not like you to be so suspicious of people."
Lena absently combed her fingers through Oreo's coat. "I'm merely being cautious."
She'd sized Edwards up at church yesterday when he'd addressed the congregation. Had she met him beforehand, she would never have agreed to help him. Ever. Dixon Edwards was charming, friendly, and magnetic, with a smile that could convince people to part with their money and their common sense for any so-called worthy cause.
The way her ex-fiance, Peter Cane, had bilked the small church in Tampa out of thousands with his phony mission scam. He'd stolen the money and stolen her heart and left them both shattered.
Lena jumped at the loud knock on her front door. "He's here."
"Oh. Yeah, that's why I was calling. To tell you he was on his way over."
"Thanks for the warning." She hung up the phone, her heart pounding. As much as she dreaded spending this week with Edwards, she was looking forward to revisiting all the sights of St. Augustine. Though she doubted a self-absorbed man like Edwards would appreciate her lovely hometown.
Her conscience stung, and she offered up a quick prayer for forgiveness. She shouldn't be pigeonholing Dixon Edwards before she actually met him. Her mistake with Peter was a long time ago, and God had healed her broken heart. But He'd also shown her a major flaw in her own charactera tendency to fall in love quickly with charming men. Like Edwards.
Her guard would be up.
The knock came again. Lena inhaled a fortifying breath, forced a smile, and opened the door. Oreo barked excitedly at her feet.
"Miss Butler, I'm Dixon Edwards." He glanced down at Oreo, who was sniffing at his boots.
Lena stared at the man on her doorstep. He looked different than she'd remembered him from yesterday. He seemed taller, leaner, and more imposing. The broad shoulders inside his burgundy button-up shirt tapered to narrow hips and long, jean-clad legs.
She hadn't noticed how his light brown hair fell roguishly across his broad forehead and softened his generous mouth and full lips.
He was more vital up close. The masculine energy emanating from him was disconcerting. She swallowed and struggled to find her voice. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Edwards." He smiled and grasped her hand. The contact sent a shiver up her spine and made her knees wobble strangely. She tugged loose and adjusted her glasses. She'd been right to keep her guard up. Edwards was already doing strange things to her nerves.
"I appreciate you helping me out this week." He stepped inside, placing a large case and notebook at his feet. He closed the front door behind him. "It'll go a lot faster with a local showing me around."
He smiled again, and Lena found herself searching for something to say. The dimple in his left cheek softened the angled planes of his face and brought a twinkle to his sky blue eyes. She forced herself to concentrate on the task at hand. "So what exactly will we be doing? Kelly said you needed help finding places in St. Augustine for a movie?"
"Right. I'm here scouting locations to use in a film we'll be shooting here next year. My location manager normally does this job, but she's out on maternity leave. Since there wasn't a local professional to work with, the job fell to you."
Lena frowned, still unclear of his purpose. "So you're here sightseeing?"
Edwards smiled and crossed his arms over his chest. "In a manner of speaking. I'm doing an overall look-see this trip. Tina, the location manager, will come back in a few months with the production team and do a more detailed scout." Oreo rose up and put his paws on Edwards's legs. "Is this your charity?" Edwards reached down and scratched the black-and-white dog's head. "Kelly said something about animal hospitals."
"No. Animals in hospitals."
Edwards frowned. "Isn't that unsanitary?"
"Therapy pets," Lena explained. "We bring animals to visit patients in hospitals, rest homes, and rehabilitation centers. Stroking pets is calming and reassuring when people are hurting." A sweet memory came to mind. "There was an elderly lady in the home we first visited. Mrs. Carter. She was so cranky, so sad, but when she held Oreo, all that faded away. She changed in front of my eyes. It was so rewarding."
He grunted under his breath. "Interesting."
Lena was more interested in her role in this agreement. "And what do we do when we find some of these locations?" Edwards smiled again. She wished he'd stop doing that. She couldn't think clearly. That dimple made him look like a mischievous little boy.
He spread his hands wide. "Lots of things. First I'll take pictures for overall aesthetic of the city. A few stills. A little video and some panoramic. Then we'll hunt down specific sites to match the script. I'll look into the logistics and feasibility of each sitehow far is it from the base of operations, is parking available, is the nearby electrical power sufficient, or will we need generators? Light sources and sound levels for each site need to be checked. Weather conditions have to be assessed. Then I'll have to obtain permission and cooperation from location owners of the sites and their neighbors. Also local governments and law enforcement."
Lena tried to digest all he'd told her. "I had no idea there was so much involved."
"Most people don't."
Edwards rested his hands on his hips, and she couldn't help but notice the strong forearms below the rolled-up sleeves of his shirt. His hands were broad with beautifully tapered fingers. She forced herself to concentrate. "So you really do own a movie company?"
He grinned. "Yes, I really do. Co-own, actually. Larry Austin is the majority partner."
Lena knew better than to take anyone at face value. "So would I know any of your movies?"
Edwards shook his head. "Probably not. Up until recently, we've only made small promotional films and corporate videos. We branched out a few years ago into feature films. The first one will be released this summer.
The one we're shooting here in St. Augustine is our second big-budget production."
Lena's guard rose a notch. Talk was cheap, and something about Dixon Edwards made her uneasy. "So could I see some of your work?" She gauged him closely, preparing to analyze his response.
"Sure, but I doubt you'd find them interesting. I can get you a copy of the upcoming release if you'd like."
She started to say yes, just to see if he could actually produce it, but then she reminded herself to dial down the doubt. Edwards was a good friend of Rick and Kelly's. She had no reason to question anything he saidexcept her own gullible history. "No thank you. I doubt if I'd have time to watch it."
He held her gaze a moment, and she realized he was waiting for her to make the next move. "Oh. I'm ready if you are." She grabbed her purse from the foyer table then opened the door. The sooner they got started, the sooner she'd be done with the man.
"Right." He picked up his gear and followed her outside to the car.
They climbed in, and Lena started the engine. "Where do you want to go first?"
Edwards shrugged then adjusted his seat backward several notches to better accommodate his large frame. "Wherever you like." He smiled, holding up a thick notebook. "I have a lot of ground to cover."
Lena was more certain than ever that she'd made a huge mistake in agreeing to show this guy around. His quick smile and even quicker tongue meant she'd have to be vigilant. God had revealed her vulnerabilities, but it was up to her to maintain control of her life.
"Surely you have a starting point?" She put the car in reverse then looked at her passenger. His expression was pleasant but unreadable.
"Not really. Pick a direction and go for it."
Lena frowned. "Which direction?"
Edwards chuckled. "You don't like being spontaneous, do you?"
She sighed audibly, hoping he'd get the hint. She was running out of patience. "Dix, I'm here to assist you, but I can't do that if you won't tell me where you want to go and what you want to see. We have to have a plan. We can't simply drive willy-nilly all over town."
Edwards stared at her, his blue eyes probing and intense. She looked away, uncomfortable with the scrutiny. "Do you want the beaches? The Castillo and all the other tourist traps? Or are you looking for a church, a house, a business?"
He smiled, his grin impish. "Yes."
Lena grunted, which only made him chuckle more. She'd given up her spring break for this guy?
"Sorry. I'm teasing you. You remind me of my sister. She couldn't make a decision either unless there was a road map laid out."
Lena bristled. "I am perfectly capable of making a decision, and your sister sounds like a very sensible woman."
"That she is."
He glanced out the window. She turned the car around and pulled to a stop at the end of her driveway. She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel while he made up his mind.
"Why don't you start with the usual tourist stuff? I'll let you know if I see something I think will work for specific scenes."
Lena pulled out onto Inlet Drive, heading toward the west side of Anastasia Island and the Bridge of Lions that joined it to historic St. Augustine. She tried to ignore the man beside her, but his energy seemed to suck the air out of the vehicle.
The silence between them grew uncomfortable as they waited for the light to change, but Lena was reluctant to start a conversation. She'd agreed to play tour guide. Bonding with the man was not on her agenda. Keeping a safe distance was.
"This bridge is amazing." Dix glanced at her briefly then turned back to the passenger-side window. "I crossed it on my way to Rick and Kelly's the night I arrived. Impressive."
Lena allowed herself a moment to appreciate the unique beauty of the recently restored landmark. She never tired of driving over the bridge to work every day, being suspended between the Matanzas River below and crystal blue sky above. There was something magical about passing between the four gothic towers at the center of the span and seeing the colorful buildings and red-tiled roofs of the city in the distance. "Yes it is. It was completely renovated a few years ago."
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