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Picture Perfect

By Lisa Moreau

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2017 Lisa Moreau

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Picture Perfect

Two rivals. One competition. Winner takes all.

Olive spends her days taking awkward family photos. Her dreams of being a travel photographer are thwarted by a debilitating phobia. Ready to face her fears, Olive enters the Catalina Isle of Love contest where the winner will tour the world as staff photographer for a popular travel magazine. Olive’s biggest opponent is Gabby, who wins the competition every year and has a reputation for doing anything to succeed. Gabby manages her Italian family’s chain of pizza restaurants. She’s ready to break free from her large, overbearing family and live her secret dream of being a photographer.

For Gabby and Olive, nothing will stand in their way of winning…except maybe love.

What Reviewers Say About Lisa Moreau’s Work

Butterfly Whisperer

The Butterfly Whisperer by Lisa Moreau is a lovely romance with a bunch of my favourite themes all in one book. It has friends becoming lovers, an ice queen gets thawed, and it’s a second chance love story. It even has the right amount of delicious angst to keep the pages turning.”—The Lesbian Review


Love on the Red Rocks

“This was a lovely read, immersive and beautiful. Thoroughly recommended!”—Inked Rainbow Reads

Picture Perfect

© 2017 By Lisa Moreau. All Rights Reserved.


ISBN 13:978-1-62639-976-1


This Electronic Original is published by

Bold Strokes Books, Inc.

P.O. Box 249

Valley Falls, NY 12185


First Edition: November 2017


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.


Credits

Editor: Shelley Thrasher

Production Design: Susan Ramundo

Cover Design By Melody Pond

By the Author

Love On The Red Rocks


The Butterfly Whisperer


Picture Perfect

Acknowledgments

This book wouldn’t exist without the hard work of so many people at Bold Strokes Books: Radclyffe, Sandy Lowe, Cindy Cresap, and so many more. A big thank you to my editor, Shelley Thrasher, for your invaluable input, suggestions, patience, and superb copy editing. Also, thanks to Carsen Taite for the awesome marketing job you do for BSB.

This is the first book in which I used beta readers. Ana B. Good and Dena Blake (aka Blondie), your feedback was invaluable. You’re both writers with busy schedules so I’m appreciative of the time and effort you took to make this an improved story. You’re both super cool chicks.

Speaking of cool chicks, thanks to my BSB writer friends who have given me so much support, advice, and laughs: Kris, Holly, Kim, Jeanie, MJ, Laydin, and so many more.

Judi, I saved the best for last…in more ways than one. You’re the most thoughtful, romantic woman I’ve ever known. Thank you for your support in regards to my writing. It takes away from my time with you so I appreciate your understanding and encouragement. And most of all, thank you for the sweetness and joy you bring into my life. My heart is yours.

Dedication

For Sasha


My niece, most favorite person in the universe, and someone who has taken her fair share of awkward photographs.


Thanks for unintentionally giving me the idea of writing a book about photographers.

Chapter One

Mamma Pacelli’s Pizza

The pungent scent of scorched tomato sauce and blackened peperoni assaulted Gabby Pacelli’s nostrils and made her stomach roll. “Did Kevin burn another one?” she asked Tony, who had just opened her office door.

“More like caught it on fire.”

Gabby groaned. Maybe hiring the “interloper”―as her mamma called Kevin since he wasn’t Italian―had been a mistake after all. He’d worked at Pizza Planet for five years, but they didn’t make authentic Italian cuisine, not like Mamma Pacelli’s Pizza.

“Give him time. He’ll learn,” Gabby said, hoping that was true.

“Aren’t you supposed to be on a boat right now?” Tony glanced at the pizza-shaped clock above her desk, which had sausages in the place of numbers.

“I missed the boat. Story of my life.” Gabby chuckled. “I’ll grab the one tomorrow.”

“Gina will blow a gasket if you’re late.”

Why mild-mannered Tony was marrying her Tyrannosaurs Rex of a sister was beyond Gabby. Third born of the six Pacelli sisters, Gina was the most difficult of them all―aside from their mamma, of course. As much as Gabby wanted to go Judas on Gina and tell Tony to catch the next bus to Escapesville, she resisted. The Pacellis were a quarrelsome lot, but they never backstabbed. Families are supposed to protect and care for each other, no matter what.

“I don’t know why you’re going to Catalina Island so early,” Tony said. “The wedding’s still a month away.”

“Mamma’s got it in her head that we need bonding time. Like we don’t see each other enough already. Plus, she wants to take pre-wedding photos to give the false impression that we’re having a blast and all love each other.”

Tony chuckled. “Good thing I love the Pacellis, because when you marry one, you marry them all.”

Personally, Gabby was going to Catalina for one reason only, and it had nothing to do with Gina’s wedding. If all went as planned, she wouldn’t be coming back to Mamma Pacelli’s Pizza ever again. Gabby pushed down the guilt that bubbled in the pit of her stomach. If her mamma knew what she was planning, she’d be hotter than the 450-degree oven in the kitchen, and her papa would rise from the grave and bop her over the head with a rolling pin.

Gabby popped an antacid into her mouth and eyed the Pacelli family motto framed on her desk: You can’t make everyone happy. You’re not pizza. To them, pizza was a demigod and the sole source of their livelihood. To Gabby…well, she was lactose intolerant, which was equivalent to having the plague. An Italian who couldn’t stomach mozzarella was a disgrace. Despite Mamma Pacelli’s novenas to, maybe the saint of cheese—Lord knows there’s a saint for everything—nothing helped. Finally, Gabby’s parents accepted the fact that their youngest child was defective, the first of many of her flaws.

“Will you and Dante be okay covering here until mid-February?” Gabby asked.

Tony scrunched his eyebrows together into a uni-brow, his ebony eyes filled with concern. “That’s a month and a half away. You’re not coming back after the wedding?”

“We talked about this. I’m staying in Catalina through Valentine’s Day. You’re handling things before the ceremony, and Dante will take over when you leave for the honeymoon.”

“I can do it, but…Dante…”

As though on cue, her eldest sister’s husband, who wasn’t the sharpest tack in the box, entered the office.

“Oh good, you’re still here,” Dante said, looking relieved. “Where did you say we keep the time cards?”

Seriously? Was the man blind? They were next to the humongous time clock, where they’d been for umpteen years. If her lazy, loser brother-in-law couldn’t handle things while she was gone, then that wasn’t her problem. Well, actually it was. When her papa passed away a year ago, Gabby had taken over as general manager. According to the family, she was the only reasonable choice since all her sisters, except Gina, were married with kids. Plus, Gabby had worked at the pizza parlor since she was sixteen and was the only one who’d gone to college, a fact that her mamma frequently reminded her about, along with how expensive it’d been. So, she reluctantly accepted the position, not out of desire, but out of familial duty…and maybe a little guilt.

“Tony, can you show him where the time cards are?” Gabby said. “And remember. You need to collect them on Friday to run the payroll.”

The place would probably burn down without her, but Gabby wasn’t changing her plans. She took a deep breath and eyed a photograph hanging across from her desk. It was a picture of a hummingbird she’d taken years ago. What she wouldn’t give to be that buzzing little bird right now. Free to go anywhere she pleased, no responsibilities, nothing holding her back.

“Oh, I forgot to give you this.” Tony handed her a package.

Gabby beamed when she saw the label. It had arrived just in time for her trip. Without thinking, she ripped open the box and pulled out a brand-new Nikon DSLR camera.

“Whoa, that’s some fancy equipment. That must have set you back at least a thousand,” Tony said.

Gabby stuffed the camera back into the box. “It wasn’t that much.” Actually, it was more like two grand, but Tony didn’t need to know that.

“I thought you said you were giving up photography,” Dante said.

“I figured I’d take some pictures on the island.”

Tony raised an eyebrow. “That’s a professional-looking camera for snapshots.”

Gabby shrugged, looked at the caller ID when the phone rang, and groaned. Normally, she wouldn’t have answered, but maybe it’d stop Tony from asking any more questions. Reluctantly, she picked up the receiver.

“Where are you?” Gina asked before Gabby could even say hello.

“Uhh, you called the office, sooo take a wild guess.”

“You’re not on the boat?!”

“Again…office.” Gabby looked at Tony and whispered, “It’s your blushing bride.” He flashed a starry-eyed, lovesick grin. Poor sap. He didn’t know what he was in for.

“You’re supposed to be here. We’re having breakfast with the photographer tomorrow, and the first photo shoot is in the afternoon.” Gina huffed and puffed, which probably meant she was walking at warp speed. Gabby could picture people and dogs scattering left and right to clear a path for the tornado.

Gabby heard a commotion of voices in the background, which she recognized all too well as her sisters deliberating at fast-talking, ear-splitting volumes. Gabby hadn’t realized how quiet it’d been the past twenty-four hours without her family around.

“Gabriella Maria, where are you?” Ugh. Gina must have given the phone to her mamma.

“At the office. Where I always am.”

“Did you miss the boat?”

Gabby sighed. “Yes, but I’ll be there tomorrow. Jesus Christ. Can’t you’ll leave me alone for even one day?”

“Watch your language, young lady! When was the last time you went to confession?”

Gabby rolled her eyes. “I gotta go. Bye.” She hung up the phone while her mamma was still yapping. She’d pay for that later, but right now all Gabby wanted to do was get as far away from the stench of burning pizza as she could. Without another word to Tony and Dante, Gabby grabbed her new, professional camera and headed out the door…not looking back.

Chapter Two

Say Cheeze

The last thing Olive Hayes wanted to see was Mr. Sanchez in a Speedo. He was a super nice guy who frequently gave her extra relish at his boardwalk hot-dog stand, but that didn’t mean she wanted to take a gander at his almost three-hundred-pound physique stuffed into an itty bitty piece of cloth.

“What was that?” Olive hoped—no, prayed—she’d heard incorrectly since Mr. Sanchez’s English left a lot to be desired.

“How you say…bar-door?”

“Do you mean boudoir? As in…um…sexy bedroom photos?”

Mr. Sanchez nodded enthusiastically. Damn.

Olive sat back in her chair at Say Cheeze photography studio on Catalina Island and inwardly sighed. Mr. Finkelmeier, Olive’s boss, cleared his throat and pointed at a sign: The Customer is Never Wrong. He thought it was a cute play on words from the customer is always right. It wasn’t. Mr. Finkelmeier sneered at Olive and disappeared into his office, leaving her alone with the Spanish Casanova.

“Of course, we’d be happy to do that.” Olive said “we” knowing it’d be her, not that she’d ever complain.

Mr. Finkelmeier wasn’t a horrible boss, except that he consistently stuck her with the undesirable photo shoots while he took the good ones. Even so, Olive was thankful for her job, especially since it was the only photography position on the island. She could’ve struck out on her own, but Avalon—the minuscule town on Catalina—didn’t need more than one portrait studio. And anyway, inside work wasn’t really her thing. She loved photographing landscapes, trees, sunsets, anything nature-related.

“Sooo, when would you like to do the shoot?” Olive opened the appointment book and scanned available dates.

“Before Valentine’s Day,” Mr. Sanchez said, still smiling and nodding.

Oh, that was kinda sweet. It must be a present for his wife. Not many men would have the nerve to do a sexy photo shoot. Mr. Sanchez had balls—and hopefully ones Olive wouldn’t see up close and personal. Yep, he was pretty cool, but that still didn’t mean she wanted to see him in a Speedo.

With Mr. Sanchez’s photo shoot scheduled and him back to serving hot dogs, Olive reclined in her chair and admired the walls. She’d convinced Mr. Finkelmeier to let her paint the place yellow to brighten things up. Olive often felt claustrophobic in the small office. It consisted of two rooms in a red and white building sandwiched between an ice cream parlor and souvenir shop on Crescent Avenue, the busiest street on the island. One room was Mr. Finkelmeier’s office, and the other housed Olive’s desk and an array of cameras, tripods, lights, and various backdrops. Now if Olive could just convince Mr. Finkelmeier to change his cheesy—no pun intended—sign, the place wouldn’t look half bad. Why he insisted on having a mouse cut-out sitting on the C of Say Cheeze, Olive would never understand. This wasn’t the Mickey Mouse Club. Mice had nothing to do with serious photography.

Olive looked at her watch. Since she had thirty minutes to kill before lunch, she thumbed through a Catalina Island continuing-education flyer. There were classes in basket weaving, yoga, first-aid training. Last year, she took a course in how to perform the Heimlich maneuver to save a choking victim but luckily hadn’t had to use that skill yet.

As Olive flipped through the pages, she halted on the Make Your Phobia Your Friend seminar. Now that was a class she could use. She stared into space and visualized the scene. Her nerves vibrated like the tail of an angry rattlesnake as she sat on a hard, yellow plastic chair. On wobbly legs she stood and said, “Hello, my name is Olive, and I’m a lily-liver scaredy cat.” Or maybe, “Hello, my name is Olive, and I’m a yellow-bellied chicken.”

Screw it. No one likes a wuss. Olive tossed the flyer into the trash and grabbed the newest copy of her favorite travel magazine, Journeys. Her heart leapt as she turned the pages, completely absorbed in vibrant, crisp photos of the Taj Mahal, Hawaiian volcanoes, the Venice Grand Canal, all places she dreamed about seeing in person. Most of the photos were taken by her favorite photographer, Robert Klein. Olive would love to live his life for just one day. She gazed at a photo of Niagara Falls and lightly ran a finger down the plunging waterfall. She closed her eyes and could practically feel the cool rush of water spray on her skin. Catalina was beautiful, but let’s face it. Anyone would get tired of photographing the same scenery over and over. She’d give anything to pack up her camera and travel the world. Well, almost anything.

Olive sighed, closed the magazine, and stuffed it into a drawer. Maybe someday. She sat upright and attempted a smile. The last thing she needed to do was to get depressed before having lunch with Nicki. She was an incessantly cheerful person who wasn’t satisfied unless Olive sported a ginormous, happy clown face. Speaking of faces, Olive took off her red glasses and slathered SPF 70 sunscreen over her pale complexion. Without it, she’d get redder than a genetically modified tomato, not to mention freckled. Olive hated freckles. They were cute on seven-year-olds but not a woman in her late twenties.

When Olive reached Tito’s Taco Stand, Nicki was already seated. She was wearing an ever-present Dodgers baseball cap, Nike tank top, and had a bigger-than-normal smile plastered across her face. They’d met several years ago when Nicki moved to Avalon to start a snorkeling business and had actually gone out on three dates, which in retrospect was hilarious. They fit together girlfriend-wise about as well as Superglue and fingers. Nicki was an over-the-top, obsessive sports fanatic…and that was putting it nicely. Olive, on the other hand, didn’t know a field goal from a homerun.

Their first date had consisted of a twenty-mile mountain-bike ride followed by a four-mile hike. Olive was so sore the next day she could barely lift a finger to press the shutter button. Date number two was less physical but no less sporty. They’d had lunch at Frank’s Sports Bar, where Olive had spent the entire night staring at Nicki’s profile since she couldn’t keep her eyes off the LA Lakers’ basketball game on the big screen. She’d had high hopes for their third date when Nicki invited her to dinner at her apartment. Her optimism plummeted, though, when she opened the door. Nicki had donned a gold and purple jersey with a number-one foam finger perched on her hand. The real kicker, though, was the “LA” tattooed on one cheek, “Lakers” on the other, and about ten purple stars scattered on her forehead. That might be fine for a stadium getup but not in one’s living room. They’d agreed that night, while watching the NBA playoffs, to just be friends and had been ever since. Too bad they hadn’t hit it off romantically, since Nicki was the only woman Olive dated who’d stayed on the island.

Olive sat across from Nicki and said, “I’m starving, so don’t look at me weird when I order ten fish tacos.”

“Guess what I just found out!” Nicki’s eyes lit up like two fireflies as she bounced in her chair.

Olive grunted. She hated the guessing game. “That’s impossible to know. How am I supposed to—”

“I know you said you weren’t entering the Catalina photography contest this year, but when you find out the grand prize and who’s sponsoring it, you’ll just die. Just die!”

This was coming from a woman who screamed uncontrollably at winning five dollars on a scratch-off lotto ticket. Olive wasn’t falling for it. So what if they upped the prize from one thousand dollars to two? Or even three? Olive seriously doubted she’d keel over with excitement. And anyway, she was done with that competition.

“The Italian Stallion wins every year by seducing the judges, so what’s the point? I’m skipping it this year. Now where’s our waitress?” Olive glanced around the restaurant.

“You won last year!”

“That was by default because she got disqualified.” In fact, Olive was the one who’d reported the Highness of Hotness when she saw the judge slip into her hotel room at two a.m. Contestants were dissuaded from speaking with the judges, much less giving them orgasms. Not that Olive knew there’d been orgasms, but in her private tell-no-one fantasies, the Italian Stallion always produced mind-numbing, ecstasy-rippled, euphoric releases.

“She is sexy.” Nicki sighed and stared dreamily into space.

Actually, the woman was beyond sexy. Like sexy to the millionth power. Olive would trade her Nikon for even a fraction of charisma the Italian Stallion oozed. She could cast a spell over lesbians and straight women alike with just one wink. Admittedly, Olive had done her fair share of swooning when they’d first met, but that was before she found out what a deceiving, do-anything-to-win woman she was.

Olive snapped her fingers in front of Nicki’s face. “Focus, please. Other than last year, I’ve come in second three years in a row to the She-Devil Temptress.” Even though Olive could pick the woman out of a lineup, she preferred to block out her real name and refer to her in creatively invented nicknames.

“She-Devil? That’s a new one.” Nicki chuckled.

“Just popped into my head. Now where’s our freakin’ waitress?”

“I never took you for a quitter.” Nicki’s smile dropped and she shook her head, which made Olive feel slightly ashamed, but not enough to change her mind. “Don’t you at least want to know about the contest?”

“Fine. What’s the theme this year?” Olive faked interest, hoping it’d take the focus off her being a defeatist.

“The Isle of Love.” Nicki swept her arms out in a grand gesture. “The contest takes place on Valentine’s Day.”

“How original,” Olive said sarcastically.

Nicki playfully slapped her arm. “All the entries have to reflect the romance of the island.”

“Great. Hundreds of photos with couples holding hands gazing at a sunset.”

“You can be more creative than that.”

Could she be? The Italian Stallion was creative. In fact, she was known as an unconventional, badass, avant-garde photographer. No one would ever refer to Olive as cutting edge. Olive didn’t know why the woman resorted to flirting with the female judges when her work was so good. She didn’t need to cheat to win.

Nicki bounced in her seat, so much so that Olive almost looked down to see if she was sitting on a basketball.

“All right, let’s have it,” Olive said. “What’s the grand prize this year?”

Nicki removed her baseball cap and carefully placed it on the table. A shiver ran down Olive’s spine. Maybe this was big after all. Nicki had only done that move once. Years ago, Olive had told Nicki about a life-altering event she rarely shared with anyone. At the time, they were in Olive’s condo, and Nicki had taken off her cap and placed it on the coffee table. Other than that, Nicki was never seen without a Dodgers hat. Olive wondered if she even slept with it.

“The sponsor is…” Nicki pulled out a flyer and held it against her chest so Olive couldn’t see. Talk about overly dramatic. “Journeys magazine!”

An electrical impulse sparked in Olive’s brain.

“And the winner will be offered a position as staff travel photographer!”

A trillion volts shot through Olive, from head to toe.

Had she heard correctly? Nicki slapped the flyer down on the table. With mouth agape, Olive scanned the text. Slowly, she lifted her head and silently mouthed, “Wow.”

“You bet your ass, wow!” Nicki shoved a piece of paper into Olive’s hand. “Here’s the entry form. The deadline is tomorrow. This is your opportunity to be a real photographer, just like that Klein guy you love so much, and travel the world like you’ve always dreamed. And with your favorite magazine, no less!”

Olive nodded, her heart pounding wildly. Nicki was right. This was the chance of a lifetime.

“You can get off this island once and for all.”

Olive stopped nodding. Oh, right. She’d have to actually leave Catalina, wouldn’t she? Her pulse raced, but for a different reason than before. Olive folded the papers and stuffed them into her bag. “I’ll…uhh…think about it.”

Nicki gawked at her like she’d just said, “Thanks, but no thanks” to Ed McMahon standing in the doorway with a giant multi-million-dollar check. “What’s there to think about?” When Olive didn’t respond, Nicki’s eyes softened and she laid a hand on her arm. “You can do this, Ollie. I know you can. Remember that workshop you dragged me to? What was that woman’s name? Happy Sunspot?”

Olive rolled her eyes. “Harmony Moondrop.” Okay, so that was a totally made-up, airy-fairy name, but her books and seminars were insightful and enlightening. They’d gotten Olive through several difficult times, but this…this was seemingly insurmountable. Even Harmony hadn’t been able to help.

“Right. And remember what she said? ‘What you’re most afraid of doing is what will set you free.’ You even made it into a plaque and hung it on your wall.”

“I know…but―”

“No buts. Now let’s see that smile I love so much.”

Olive attempted a grin, which probably resembled an evil killer clown.

I can do this…I can get off the island…I can…except for the fact that I’m a lily-livered scaredy cat.

Chapter Three

The Italian Invasion

Mr. Finkelmeier burst into the office like his pants were on fire. He stood in front of Olive’s desk practically shaking, whether in excitement or fear she wasn’t sure. His pasty, albino complexion was brick red, and the fuzz on his head was standing upright like he’d just been electrocuted. Before Olive could ask if he was okay, he tore into a breathless rampage.

“I just had breakfast with a celebrity who hired us to photograph her daughter’s wedding. I’m beside myself.” Mr. Finkelmeier paced back and forth. “Do you know what this means?” He stopped and faced Olive, who absentmindedly shook her head. “This could be the beginning of a whole new breed of clientele.”

Olive was all for that. They needed some new blood. “Who’s the celebrity?”

“Brace yourself.”

Instinctively, Olive gripped the arm of her chair.

Mr. Finkelmeier took a deep breath and said, “Mamma Pacelli!”

Who? The name sounded vaguely familiar, but…who?

When Olive undoubtedly looked mystified, he continued. “Of Mamma Pacelli’s Pizza. The chain of famous West Coast restaurants. You know, from the commercials.” Mr. Finkelmeier attempted to sing a sad rendition of their jingle. “Don’t be a clown, for the best pizza in town, it’s Mamma Pacelli’s…”

That’s a celebrity? Olive was thinking more like Angelina Jolie. Now there was a boudoir session she wouldn’t mind doing.

“Oh, right. I know who you’re talking about.” And she did know, because the large Italian screaming through the TV always made her want to change the channel. Mamma Pacelli wasn’t exactly the warm, cozy type. “So I’ll get to photograph her daughter’s wedding?” Tingles rippled down Olive’s spine. Maybe she’d have a chance to do real photography for a change.

“I’ll be doing that, of course.” Mr. Finkelmeier said it in a way that made Olive feel stupid for even asking.

“Of course.” She sank into her chair.

“But you’ll be in charge of the pre-wedding events for Mamma Pacelli and her daughters.”

Olive raised an eyebrow. “What exactly does that entail?”

“You’ll capture whatever they want. And I do mean whatever.” Mr. Finkelmeier leaned over the desk, nose-to-nose with Olive, so close she knew he’d had garlic for breakfast. “It’s imperative that Mamma Pacelli be happy, Olive. The future of the company is counting on you.”

Olive felt like she were about to go into battle to save the world from alien forces. “I’ll do my best,” she said and resisted the urge to salute.

“No. You’ll do better than that.” Mr. Finkelmeier’s beady eyes glared.

“Right. You can count on me.”

“Good. Mamma Pacelli and her daughters will be here any minute to go over the schedule.” Mr. Finkelmeier broke out in a wide smile and skipped into his office, giddy as a schoolgirl.

Olive was about to Google the new clients when she heard voices. Loud voices. And lots of them. The door swung open, and a barrage of hair, legs, and boobs piled in. The pack was ushered by Mamma Pacelli, who looked exactly like she did on TV: two hundred pounds of feisty, pure Italian pride packed into a five-foot frame. Following close behind were five identical women, who were probably her daughters, although that was difficult to fathom considering they looked like super models. They wore clinging black shirts that accentuated their upper assets, and snug black miniskirts that accentuated their lower assets, along with wide, looping silver belts. They had dark-brown eyes, long, shiny, voluminous hair, unblemished olive complexions, and each stood over six feet tall in heels. Even their stance was identical, with one hand on a jutted right hip. Sex appeal radiated off them like steam from a hot iron.

Suddenly, everyone stopped yapping when Olive stood, and six pairs of dark eyes appraised her critically, like she’d just intruded on a personal conversation. Tentatively, Olive steadied herself with a hand on her desk, glad to have a shield between her and the gang.

“Who are you?” Mamma Pacelli asked in a thick Italian accent.

“I’m Olive. Your…uhh…photographer.”

Mamma Pacelli’s eyes narrowed. “Sei troppo giovane.”

“Excuse me?”

“She said you’re too young,” one of the goddesses said and smacked her gum.

Mr. Finkelmeier came out of his office and practically bowed at Mamma Pacelli’s feet like she was the pope or something. “Welcome! These must be your beautiful daughters.”

“Bianca Adele, Gina Luciana, Rose Marie, Isabella Elena, Bella Francesca. And this is Nonna.” Mamma Pacelli frantically scanned the office. “Where’s Nonna?”

A shriveled-up raisin of a woman peeked from behind a pair of legs. She had sunken eyes, hair as white and fluffy as a cloud, and protectively clutched an over-sized shiny black purse like it was the Hope Diamond.

“Ah, that is Nonna, Mamma to my dearly departed Alberto.” Mamma Pacelli made the sign of the cross and nudged the woman next to her, which prompted everyone to cross themselves at warp speed.

Mr. Finkelmeier bowed down to be eye level with the elderly woman. “How are you today?”

“She no speak.” Mamma Pacelli waved her hand.

Mr. Finkelmeier straightened and looked the herd over. “Are we missing someone? I thought you had six daughters.”

Six!? Five wasn’t enough? As it was, Olive would never remember all those names.

Mamma Pacelli turned to one of the women. “Gina, did you call her again?”

Suddenly, the woman burst into tears…except there were no actual tears, just a lot of wailing, contorted expressions, and shoulder-shaking. “Gabby is going to ruin my wedding! She’s late for everything and refuses to wear a dress.”

The supermodels circled the fake crier, hugging her like she’d just been crowned Ms. America. Only one of the sisters stood aside and dramatically rolled her eyes.

Gina, the distressed bride-to-be, pulled out a phone, punched in a number, and said through a sob, “Mamma wants to talk to you.”

Mamma Pacelli grabbed the phone. “Gabriella Maria, vieni immediatamente!” Pause. “Don’t oh-Mamma me.” An even longer pause. “Vieni qui!” Mamma Pacelli jabbed the phone at the eye-roller. “Isabella, talk some sense into your sister. You’re the only one she listens to.”

Isabella scurried into a corner and spoke in hushed tones.

Scusi. My youngest daughter, Gabriella, can be…difficult.”

Mr. Finkelmeier nodded like he understood what it was like to have a problem child, even though he was childless.

Gabriella Pacelli. Something about that name sounded familiar, something that sent a shiver down Olive’s spine. Where had she heard the name Pacelli before, aside from the pizza commercials?

* * *

Gabby considered throwing her phone into the ocean. She saw her mamma and sisters every single day. Couldn’t they leave her alone for even an hour? She loved her family, but they were downright smothering sometimes…all right, all the time. Gabby held her cell away from her ear as her mamma screamed something in Italian. She stayed in that position for several long seconds until she heard Isabella’s voice. Out of all her sisters, Gabby was closest to Isabella, probably because they were only a year apart. They told each other everything.

“Izzy, is that you?”

“Mamma told me to talk some sense into you. Like that’s possible.” Isabella snorted. “You better get here soon before Gina has a meltdown.”

Gabby growled. “I told her I was on my way.”

“As a little incentive to get here faster, our photographer is adorable. Just your type.”

Gabby perked up. “Oh yeah? Does she play for my team?”

“Not sure, but when has that stopped you?”

“True. What’s the name of this place again?”

“Say Cheeze.”

“Say what?”

“Cheeze, as in…you know…cheese.”

Gabby knew cheese. She was surrounded by it every single day, along with tomato sauce, onions, anchovies, spices, and on and on.

“Gina had us all dress alike in black skirts and shirts. We look like gothic quintuplets. She has your outfit here.”

“I’m not wearing a skirt.”

Gabby was not looking forward to the inevitable fights in the coming weeks over her attire, particularly the bridesmaid dress. No way in hell was she wearing that God-awful hot-pink, chiffon nightmare. Gabby didn’t do dresses and she didn’t do hideous.

“What’s all that noise? Where are you?” Isabella asked.

“I’m on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.” Gabby sat upright and craned her neck. “I can see the island so I’m not too far away. Probably fifteen minutes or so, but I have to go to the Chamber of Commerce to register for the photography contest. The deadline is today.”

“I don’t know why you’d want to enter, after what happened last year.”

Heat rose to Gabby’s cheeks. She’d never been so humiliated. She’d love to get her hands on the person who turned her in for fraternizing with a judge. Probably a jealous, third-rate photographer.

“When are you going to tell Mamma?” Isabella asked. “You promised to give up photography.”

“I know. I’ll figure that out later if I win.”

“You’ll win.”

Gabby grinned. Isabella had always been her biggest supporter. At least her only supporter when it came to family.

“I’ll get there as soon as I can, and don’t breathe a word about the competition.”

“I know. Listen. I gotta go. Mamma’s giving the photographer a hard time.”

“Okay. Go protect my future girlfriend.”

Isabella chuckled, probably at Gabby’s choice of words. Gabby didn’t have girlfriends. She had flings, lovers, affairs, one-night stands, but never girlfriends.

Gabby’s heart pounded when her eye caught a pod of dolphins jumping and swimming through the water like a torpedo, as though they were racing the boat. She grabbed her Nikon and snapped photos. There had to be at least twenty-five of them. Their contagious energy and joy made Gabby’s lips curl into a smile. This was why she loved photographing wild creatures. They were so free, uninhibited. Gabby lowered her camera as the dolphins increased speed and whizzed past the boat. She watched until they disappeared into the horizon. Why couldn’t the Catalina contest be called Isle of Wildlife instead of Isle of Love? She didn’t know much about that particular emotion.

Gabby stretched out her legs and raised her face to the sun. This was the perfect place to be, with the wind in her hair, a cool mist of salt water on her skin, and as far away from work as possible. Maybe the boat would speed past Catalina and go all the way to Hawaii. She could live out her days in a secluded hut, making love to hula girls and taking photographs. She’d never have to look at another pizza again. Or better yet, Gabby could take the grand prize and travel the world as Journeys’ top photographer. Even though she’d said “if I win” to Isabella, Gabby knew she was a shoo-in.

Her stomach soured as the exhilaration quickly turned to panic. When Gabby’s papa died, she’d promised to give up her “silly” (as her mamma put it) dream of being a photographer and take over the family business. She’d regretted the promise the moment it was out of her mouth. At the time, though, her mamma had been hysterical about losing her husband and the possibility of their livelihood going down the drain. Gabby had not only picked up where her papa left off, but had made Mamma Pacelli’s Pizza even more of a success than he had. How could she tell them she was quitting? How could she disappoint her mamma, Nonna, her sisters, and, most of all, her papa?

Gabby pulled a tin can of Spezzatina out of her bag and squinted as the sun glared off the box. She opened it, grabbed a miniature black licorice, tossed it high into the air, and caught it in her mouth.

“Impressive.”

Gabby looked up to find a towering, gorgeous woman standing beside her. She had long blond hair, eyes the color of the Pacific Ocean, and shapely tan legs. Just the type of woman Gabby would date, if she actually dated, so more like the type she’d sleep with.

“Quite a talented mouth you have.” The woman cocked her head and smirked.

Gabby lowered her voice an octave and flashed a sexy grin. “You don’t know the half of it.”

“Maybe you can show me sometime.” The woman sat beside Gabby, so close that a sliver of paper wouldn’t have fit between them. “When we’re alone, that is.”

This woman was definitely flirting, which happened often with Gabby, but not quite so overtly.

“Do you plan to get me alone?”

“If I’m lucky.” The woman crossed her legs, Gabby’s eyes glued to smooth, toned thighs.

“Oh, I think you could get lucky.” Gabby held out her hand. “Hi, I’m Gabby.”

The woman pumped her arm twice in a firm handshake. Even though the flirty woman was dressed casually, she carried a briefcase and computer bag, and exuded the self-assurance of a highly paid executive.

When the woman didn’t respond, Gabby asked, “And you are?”

“Do we really need names?”

“I suppose not, but I usually don’t allow anyone to get me alone unless I at least know her name first.”

The woman stared into space until she finally said, “You can call me Carmen.”

Was that her real name? It sounded made-up in an opera sort of way. But then again, did it really matter?

The woman leaned closer and inhaled deeply. “Is that oregano and…maybe red pepper?”

Gabby inwardly groaned. One of the many drawbacks of working in a pizza joint was consistently reeking of spices. “Yeah. I manage a chain of pizza restaurants. What do you do for a living?”

“That’s not important, is it?”

“No, I suppose not, but why so secretive?”

“I like to keep things simple. I find that the less that’s shared the better.”

Gabby couldn’t have agreed more. It made it so much easier to part ways in the end…and there was always an end.

Carmen smiled and placed a hand on Gabby’s leg. “Trust me. I won’t hold back on the important things.”

Sex. The woman was most certainly referring to sex.

“What’s that?” Carmen motioned toward the tin can in Gabby’s hand.

“Spezzatina. Would you like one?” Gabby popped open the lid.

“I believe I’ve had those in Italy. Are you Italian?”

“One-hundred percent.”

“So is it true what they say? Are Italians passionate between the sheets?”

Gabby smirked. “I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve never had any complaints.”

“I bet you haven’t.” Carmen laid an arm across the back of Gabby’s chair. “How long will you be in Catalina?”

“A month.” Carmen didn’t need to know about her sister’s wedding, the photography contest, or anything else. Like she’d said, keep it simple.

“Perfect. We should get together. What’s your number?” As Gabby rattled off her cell, Carmen entered it into her contacts.

Maybe this trip wouldn’t be so bad after all. Gabby had no trouble getting hot women, but they usually didn’t fall out of the sky and land in her lap. This was almost too good to be true.

* * *

With the missing sixth Pacelli, the photo shoot was delayed a day, which was fine by Olive. It’d give her some time to look over Mamma Pacelli’s elaborate schedule. Olive glanced at the clock when her stomach grumbled. She hadn’t eaten in almost six hours.

She stuck her head in Mr. Finkelmeier’s office. “I’m off to lunch.”

He peered over his spectacles. “Be back by two. Remember you have a PSP.”

“PSP?” Olive wracked her brain trying to remember what that stood for. Mr. Finkelmeier’s insistence on speaking in acronyms annoyed the hell out of her.

“Photoshoot with pets.”

Ugh. She’d mentally blocked the Johnson’s appointment. Photographing rambunctious kids was bad enough, but toss in a dog or cat, and that spelled chaos. Once, she’d spent an hour attempting to take a reasonably good shot of a boy and his German shepherd. That pooch wouldn’t sit still for anything, not to mention the issue of his weak bladder.

When Olive returned from lunch, she wondered if she’d walked into Say Cheeze or a zoo. It took a moment to comprehend what she was seeing. A boy held a leash with a large, angry-looking iguana on the other end, a parakeet continuously squawking “you suck” as he sat on another boy’s shoulder, and…Olive did a double take…a monkey was sitting in her chair. A real-life, living, breathing primate, which for a second, she thought was funny since she’d often said that a monkey could do her job. Apparently, the Johnson kids were too exotic for a dog.

“Oh, good. You’re here.” Mr. Finkelmeier grabbed Olive’s arm and pulled her into the office. She gazed from the monkey to the iguana to Mr. Finkelmeier’s bald head as he retreated into his office and slammed the door.

“Uh, hi?” Olive said to Mrs. Johnson, but she kept the monkey in her peripheral vision when he jumped on her desk and scratched his belly. He looked like he could pounce on her at any moment.

“I believe our appointment was for two.” Mrs. Johnson tapped her watch.

“Sorry I’m a little late.” Olive flinched when the iguana hissed. Just how sturdy was that leash? Seems like the kid could have a better hold on the thing. Did iguanas have sharp teeth? Olive really should have paid more attention when they covered reptiles in school.

“Wow, so these are some interesting pets,” Olive said.

“We like to encourage our kids to be unique.” Mrs. Johnson puffed out her chest.

No kidding.

Olive approached the boy and parakeet, since they seemed the most harmless, and guided them in front of the forest backdrop.

“Fat-ass,” the parakeet screeched as the kid giggled. Olive shot the bird a dirty look and resisted the urge to spout a retort. She was far too mature to argue with a winged creature.

Olive positioned the boy and iguana―making sure to stay clear of the reptilian creature―next to the foul-mouthed parakeet. Now for the monkey. Olive glanced around, but he was nowhere in sight. She looked at Mrs. Johnson, who pointed upward. The damn ape was sitting by the mouse on the Say Cheeze sign. Great. How in the world was she supposed to coax a monkey down? This was worse than trying to get a cat out of a tree.

Olive looked at Mrs. Johnson and sighed. “Guess you don’t have a banana on you?”

The woman leered, her mouth set in a hard, thin line. She’d be no help.

“Here, monkey,” Olive said as she repeatedly snapped her fingers.

“Dingbat,” the ornery parakeet squawked.

“Birdbrain!” Okay, maybe she wasn’t so mature after all, but that blooming bird wasn’t helping an already tense situation.

“The monkey’s name is Chuckles,” one boy said. “Hold out your arms and he’ll jump down.”

That sounded like it could be painful…for Olive. But since the finger-snapping was going nowhere, she did as suggested. The beast immediately leapt off the sign, wrapped his prickly, hairy arms around Olive’s neck, and yelped in her ear. She really needed to ask for a raise.

After an hour of fighting with the monkey, dodging iguana bites, and having her self-esteem bashed by a parakeet, Olive collapsed into her chair.

Mr. Finkelmeier peeked his head out of the office. “Are they gone?”

“Yes. It’s safe to come out now.” You deadbeat sloth. But Olive didn’t say that. Instead, she bit her tongue, as always.

Mr. Finkelmeier strolled out of his office. “I have to take off early today, so be sure and lock up when you leave.” He slammed the door on his way out.

Olive propped her feet on the desk and rubbed her tired, itchy eyes. That was one photo shoot that would go down in the books, and unfortunately, she’d done many others like it. Olive couldn’t believe she’d been at Say Cheeze for ten years. Ten years of snapping photos that took little to no creativity, ten years of doing Mr. Finkelmeier’s dirty work, ten years of daydreaming about being a travel photographer. She was twenty-eight, for Christ’s sake. Would she still be here when she was thirty? Forty?

Olive grabbed the Catalina Isle of Love entry form and began filling it out. It was time. Past time. She was determined to win the contest, and nothing would stand in her way. Not her job. Not the Italian Stallion. And not even the fact that she’d never been off the island…ever.

Chapter Four

The Sixth Sister

When the clock struck six, Olive grabbed her camera, locked up Say Cheeze, and headed to the marina. She didn’t lead the most exciting life, but there was something to be said for routine. She got up at seven, went to work, and took random photos until quitting time, when she’d hang out by the beach until the sun set. She found comfort and safety in knowing what to expect in a day. Not that she was a control freak, but surprises weren’t high on her list. She’d had enough of those from ex-girlfriends. Just when she’d get close to someone they’d suddenly announce that they were moving. They’d all recite the same customary speech: we’ll keep in touch, long-distance relationships work, I’ll visit, blah, blah…none of which would ever happen. How would she ever have a meaningful, long-term relationship like that?

Olive stepped onto the cobblestone street and lifted her face to the sun. Catalina was a picture-postcard island in the Pacific Ocean twenty-six miles from Southern California. The only way to reach it was by boat or helicopter. It consisted of rugged hills, a craggy coastline, brightly painted quaint shops, and crystal-clear waters. It was considered one of the top ten romantic islands in the world. It did, though, have a few peculiarities. The post office didn’t deliver, but the grocery store did, and everyone drove golf carts instead of cars. Considering the small size of Avalon, it was easier to maneuver and park on the narrow streets in miniature transportation. But Olive lived in a condo in the hills. As her golf cart trudged up the steep incline, she always felt like the little engine who could, often reciting to herself, “I think I can, I think I can.”

Olive smiled when she approached Mr. Piccolo’s SnoCone Zone. She’d known him since she was a kid, and he always reminded her of the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz: tall, lanky, and gangly armed. Once, when she was six, she’d asked him if he had a brain, which had provoked a boisterous belly laugh. He was one of the nicest residents on the island and someone Olive owed a heck of a lot to.

“Hey, Mr. P. How’s business?” Olive stepped up to the rainbow-colored kiosk and rested her elbows on the bar.

“Olive! So good to see you. It’s chillin’, but I expect things to pick up soon.” Mr. Piccolo winked and vigorously shook a pink, syrupy concoction in a clear jug. “I could still use some help if you’re interested.”

For years, he’d tried to convince Olive to ditch her job and work for him. Although he was much nicer than her current boss, frozen fun wasn’t exactly her passion. There was a travel photography job with her name on it. Somewhere. Someday.

“I formulated a new flavor. Here. Take a taste.” Mr. Piccolo handed Olive a shot glass of shaved ice. “You can help me come up with a name.”

As Olive chugged down the snow cone, her lips immediately puckered, and the glands in her neck twisted like a pretzel. Could it have been any tarter?

“What do you think?” Mr. Piccolo asked, seeming anxious.

“Well,” Olive said, not wanting to hurt his feelings. “It has a hint of apple, so maybe you could call it apple pie or…sour apple or…I’ve got it! Tongue twister.” That was exactly what had happened when she’d tasted the bitter concoction.

“That’s it! Olive, you’re a genius.”

“Glad I could help, but I better get going. Tell the missus hi for me.”

Olive waved as she walked away. She was thankful for the few long-standing Avalon citizens, since the island could be a revolving door. Just when she’d get to know someone they’d move to the mainland. That went for friends as well as lovers.

Olive gazed at hundreds of sailboats in the sparkling turquoise water. She took out her camera and snapped a few photos. Olive loved photography more than anything. When she was eight, her parents had given her a camera for Christmas, and she was instantly hooked. One of the first photos she took was of her grandmother hand-stitching a shirt while sitting on a worn-out green couch. The elderly woman was gazing over bifocals with a slight grin on her tired, weathered face. Not three hours after the photo was taken, Olive’s grandmother had a stroke and died. Olive had stared at the picture for days afterward, marveling at the power one image could hold. That photograph was the only tangible icon of her grandmother. In a constantly moving, revolving world, a picture was permanent. It didn’t change and it never disappeared.

As dusk set, the sky streaked in vibrant red and orange. Olive took images of the ocean, sailboats, and the setting sun. Every shot looked amazing. Some of these might even be good enough for the Isle of Love contest. But then again, she needed something more original than a sunset to win.

Lost in a world of brilliant colors, Olive flinched when she heard a loud voice. It sounded like someone said “turn around.” She kept snapping pictures, sure the comment wasn’t directed at her. Suddenly, a pair of big brown eyes filled Olive’s camera lens, causing her to stumble backward. A woman had stepped right in front of her.

“Turn around,” the voice repeated.

Olive lowered the camera and fumbled it in her hands. If it hadn’t been hanging from her neck it surely would’ve crashed to the ground. Olive stared at the woman and blinked several times. It wasn’t just any woman. It was the Italian Stallion! Olive had never been this close to her, at least not enough to see her reflection in quite possibly the most beautiful eyes ever. They were the color of toffee with swirls of chocolate and tiny mahogany flecks. No, maybe more like honey sprinkled with cinnamon. What was Olive thinking? They were just eyes, an apparatus used to utilize the sense of sight. She’d never put this much thought into the color of someone’s eyes before…chocolate, honey…she must be hungry. It was almost dinnertime.

Olive took a gigantic step backward, the Italian Stallion’s face coming into full view. Could her bone structure be any more perfect? And her skin looked so soft and smooth, Olive was tempted to stroke her cheek. Luckily, though, she had the sense to know that would be highly inappropriate, not to mention embarrassing.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you,” the Italian Stallion said.

Surprisingly, her voice was soft, almost musical. Olive waited for her to say something else, sure that the sound of her first words was just a fluke.

“If you don’t hurry, you’re going to miss it.”

Nope. Not a fluke. Her tone was as refreshing as a tall, cold glass of sweet tea in the middle of a sweltering July. Apparently, Olive was not only hungry but thirsty, too.

The Italian Stallion raised a perfectly manicured eyebrow and gawked at Olive. On a scale of one to ten, her irritation looked close to a nine, and understandably so, since it’d been several seconds, or maybe even minutes, and Olive still hadn’t uttered a word.

Finally, sounds tumbled out of her mouth. “Umm…miss what?” It wasn’t the most eloquent response, but at least it was something.

“The ultimate photo op.”

Olive wrinkled her brow. “Aren’t you pointing in the wrong direction? The sunset is over there. Not behind me.” Was the woman blind?

The Italian Stallion sighed dramatically, grabbed Olive’s shoulders, and whirled her around. Just as Olive was about to protest at being manhandled, she was struck by a breathtaking sight. The lighting couldn’t have been more perfect. Everything was illuminated in a warm pink glow, the brightly colored buildings more vibrant than she’d ever seen. Even the touristy T-shirt shops took on an iridescent, otherworldly feel. None of that, though, compared to the people. Many had stopped on Crescent Avenue to admire the sunset, the look of awe on their faces priceless.

“This light isn’t going to last forever,” the woman warned her.

Even though Olive was irked that she’d been right, she snapped several photographs anyway. The scene was too good to pass up.

Olive peered at the Italian Stallion out of the corner of her eye. Catalina wasn’t the only thing that looked beautiful in the lighting. The woman’s toffee, chocolaty, cinnamon eyes sparkled, and her complexion glowed in the soft rays. She looked so breathtaking Olive was tempted to take a picture. Instead, she mentally conked herself over the head. What was she thinking? This was the Italian Stallion she was swooning over. Beauty did not trump honorability. Not in Olive’s world, anyway.

“Never forget what’s behind you,” the Italian Stallion said. “Most people only look at the obvious, which is usually what’s in front of them.”

“Right. Got it.” Olive didn’t particularly want a speech, so she squatted and began packing up her camera.

“Also, when taking a sunset, the key is to slightly underexpose by using a fast shutter speed. That makes the colors look more rich and defined.”

What was this? Photography 101? Olive lived on an island. If anyone knew how to photograph a sunset, it was her. In fact, she’d taught a continuing-education class on that one topic alone.

“Got it,” Olive said sternly.

“Just trying to give you some tips to be a better photographer.”

Olive stood and stared the Italian Stallion dead in the eye…well, almost in the eye since the goddess was a few inches taller, not to mention built like an Olympic swimmer. “What makes you think I’m not already a good photographer? Or for that matter a fabulous one?”

The Italian Stallion held up her hands in defense. “Don’t get your feathers ruffled. Just trying to help.”

Olive slung her camera bag over her shoulder. “I gotta get going.”

“What’s your rush? You live around here?”

“Not interested, thanks.”

Olive started to walk away, but the Italian Stallion grabbed her arm. “Hey, that wasn’t a come-on. Although, if you want to get together we could…” The way her voice trailed off was probably due to Olive’s no-way-in-hell expression. “Actually, I was asking because I wondered if you knew where the photography studio Say Cheeze is located.”

Olive eyed her suspiciously. Why would she want to know that? “It’s a few blocks down this street, but they’re closed.”

The Italian Stallion looked at her watch and mumbled something about being late. She grinned, held out her hand, and said, “I’m Gabby Pacelli, by the way.”

Olive’s heart skipped a beat. Pacelli. She was the missing sister from the photo shoot! Olive limply shook her hand.

Gabby squinted, studied Olive closely, and wagged a finger. “Hey, don’t I know you? And that’s not a come-on, either. You look familiar.”

Seriously? She doesn’t recognize me? We’ve been in the same photography contest the last three years. Obviously, Gabby didn’t notice anything more than her winning trophy and wad of cash.

“Don’t think so,” Olive said.

“I’m sure I’ve seen you before.”

“Yeah. Well. I have to get going. See ya around.” Olive practically sprinted away. The quicker she got away from those beautiful brown eyes the better.

Olive trudged up the mountain in her little red golf cart to her condo, cursing her unbelievable luck. Out of all the people in the world, why would the Italian Stallion have to be the sixth Pacelli sister?

The front door had barely closed when Olive stripped down, looking forward to pouring herself into a comfy pair of gray sweats. She paused before unhooking her bra, possible errands running through her mind. Did she need groceries? No. Should she work out? Yes, but no. Olive unhooked. Once the bra was off, she was in for the night. After changing and nuking some dinner, she sat on her balcony with a glass of red wine and mac and cheese. Olive stared at the sparkling lights of Avalon below as she ate. It was beautiful, but even more so in the daylight, when she had a glorious view of turquoise water as far as she could see and green, rolling hills.

The single life wasn’t so bad. If she had a girlfriend she’d probably be in a loud restaurant right now, wearing that prickly knit shirt, which was itchy as hell but complemented her shape, while enduring mind-numbingly boring conversation. Olive hadn’t met anyone who captured her attention in…well, ever. Granted, it was slim lesbian pickings on the island, but it wasn’t like she didn’t date. Maybe she was just meant to be alone, which, at twenty-eight, was terribly depressing. Olive made a mental note to reread Harmony Moondrop’s latest book: Expect Love in Unexpected Places. She needed to get out of this negative thinking. As Harmony said, “We often find love with the most unexpected person and at the most unexpected time.”

Olive grabbed her cell phone as it rang. “Hey, Nic. What’s up?”

“Where are you?”

“On my balcony. Where are you? What’s all that noise?”

“I’m at Frank’s. You were supposed to meet me here.”

“Oh, my gosh, I’m so sorry. I completely forgot.” Actually, she’d probably blocked it out since the sports bar wasn’t her scene. With some coaxing, though, she had promised Nicki that she’d accompany her on occasion.

“It’s not too late. Bra, off or on?”

“Off.”

Nicki growled. “You need to get out more, Ollie. How are you going to ever meet anyone?”

“I don’t think my future girlfriend would be at a sports bar. No offense.”

“None taken. I know it’s not your thing.”

“Besides, there aren’t even any lesbians there.”

“Uhhh…I’m looking at three right now.”

“They’re probably here on vacation and will be gone in a few days.”

Nicki sighed loudly. “I know you want forever, but you have to actually take a chance on someone first for that to happen.”

“You of all people know how many girlfriends I’ve had that moved back to the mainland. No one stays on Catalina.”

“All right. Whatever you say. I’ll let you get back to your mac and cheese.” Nicki knew her so well.

“Wait. I was going to call you later. Guess who I just ran into.”

“I thought you hated the guessing game.”


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