In this story about awakening and the healing power of love, a woman who refuses to let go of her troubled past is united with an easygoing man who can show her the path to her own salvation.
Lucretia “Cree” Cabot spends her time saving everybody else to avoid facing her own haunted life. Between raising her younger brother and trying to open a women’s shelter, Cree has built an impenetrable wall around her heart. But when a tenant for Cliff Cottage appears at her door, he cracks her vigilantly controlled world, forcing her to look within to confront the emptiness inside.
Mike Sullivan, famous superhero artist, is searching for a peaceful summer break and a new perspective on life. A farm in sunny Santa Cruz seems like just the place. Looking to escape from his usual routine, he doesn’t count on falling for a woman who is as stubborn as the mule that lives in her barn. Yet beneath Cree’s prickly exterior, he finds a woman in pain—a woman with an immense capacity for love. Mike knows she is the only one for him, but will Cree find the courage to truly live and love before the best thing to walk into her life leaves her behind?
“Do you have any more sex wax?”
Behind the counter, Mike glanced up at the sound of the female voice, his first customer at his new job at Carmen’s Surf Shack, and just stared.
Everything seemed to slow. The tang of salt air dissipated, the bright colors and bikini-clad women on the boardwalk paled, and the new Mudhoney song blaring just a moment ago faded.
It was her eyes that got him all tangled inside.
Gray eyes like a November day in New England, reminding him of wild waves and wilder rain. Somewhere in the steel orbs flecks of warm light called him home. A deep ache tugged at his heart, and he knew, without a doubt, that she was the one to—
“Mr. Zog’s. There aren’t any more on the shelves.”
Her words jolted him. Colors, sounds and smells whooshed through his brain, and he swooped down and grabbed a can from the open carton near his feet, the shipment he’d planned to stock after lunch. Bless that open carton. He felt like one of his superheroes.
“Here you go,” he said, handing her the round tin as he studied the setting of those rocky coastline eyes. She took it, looked into her bag, and the spell broke.
He breathed a sigh of relief. Just a typical surfer girl, all blond and gold in frayed cut-offs and hot pink tank top. Beautiful, yes, but pure California. No danger of being bewitched here. There was nothing magical about California, which is why he came here, far from his haunts in Northampton.
Still, those eyes…
“Need anything else?” he asked, his voice cracking just a little.
She rested her forearms on the counter as she squinted at the shelves of surfing supplies behind it. Straightening, she reached into her knapsack for her wallet. “No, nothing else. Just the wax, thanks.”
Mike rang up the sale and tried to ignore the quake in his heart as he sensed those hurricane eyes focusing on him.
~ * ~
He was the last person she’d expect to be working in a sunny surf shop on the Boardwalk of Santa Cruz. He was all lean muscle in black jeans and a worn black tee shirt with the sleeves ripped off. That part fit the beach, yet with that black forelock that fell over one eye, short sideburns, and lips of Elvis quality, she would expect to see him on a stage at the local rock club, far away from daylight.
He stared at her, though, with those wide eyes the color of small miracles, and for a moment she felt as if she’d been sucked into a strange spell. She tossed her head to shake off the rare distraction. Too much sun today, Cree, she thought and said aloud, “You’re new here.”
When he smiled, blue lightning danced in his eyes, dizzying her all over again.
He nodded. “Just moved here two days ago from back East.” She handed him a twenty. “Figured I’d give California a chance,” he finished.
She watched as he rang her up. His hands fascinated her, the kind of hands all men should have but rarely did, hands that held unleashed power. She looked, then really looked at him, and was thrown off kilter.
He was stunning.
Cree realized he was saying something but her body reacted only to the low timbre of his voice. Somehow, she felt its rumble deep inside her bones. She felt drugged, unwilling to leave the circle of his presence, that old feeling of a first crush.
“Here you go.”
Ah, that’s what he’d said. She reached over for her change and forced herself to focus.
Something fleeting in his expression reminded Cree of a lost child. She’d seen too many of those in this town— kids running to the golden land to chase a dream only to end up on the streets owning nothing but backpacks of broken wishes.
He was no kid but she judged he was just another drifter in search of the elusive California dream. Nothing special here, she decided.
Just another one in need of saving and she had too many of those already.
She pressed her lips together and nodded curtly. “Well,” she clipped. “Take care.”
“Wait!” he called as she headed to the door. Cree stopped, wondering what she had forgotten. She turned as he vaulted over the counter in a ripple of athletic prowess and she was caught again by that easy smile.
~ * ~
Something about her, not only her New England eyes, tugged at him and he didn’t want her to walk out of the shop until he chewed over what that something was. “What, uh,” Mike stuttered and tried to ignore her impatient expression. “Why is it called sex wax, anyway?”
Her sudden laugh was a magic charm and he forgot his burning cheeks and grinned as he approached her.
“Not a surfer, huh?”
“Nope. Just working here for some pocket change.”
“I don’t have a clue. It’s catchy, though, isn’t it?” She lingered, her shadowy eyes kind, and peered at him. “I hope you find what you’re looking for here. This place can be… deceiving.”
Her warning tone intrigued him. Maybe there was more to California than he’d thought. Maybe there really were vampires prowling this little beach town just like in the movies. A burst of excitement sprinkled through him.
He tilted his head in question.
The tip of her tongue peeked from the corner of her mouth as she appeared to choose her words. “A lot of people come here looking to find the answers, the way, as if California was some magical land that hands you gold and fulfilled dreams, but it’s just a place, like any other.”
He laughed. “I’m nearing thirty. If I haven’t found my way by now then I think I’m in big trouble, but I appreciate the advice. I’m Mike, by the way.”
He held out his hand and she grasped it, shook it briskly. “Cree.”
Her smile was fleeting but it lit those eyes and he fell just a little bit in love with her, just for a second. “You know, I may not have found the way but I could use a little help finding my way around here. You want to show me around Santa Cruz sometime? Maybe check out the Mystery Spot?”
He cringed the moment he said it and Cree dropped his hand, arched a brow.
“I don’t think so.” With a look of cool disdain, she turned and marched out of the shop.
“Good one, Sullivan.” His manager, Carmen, slapped him on the shoulder with a shake of the head. “You have a way, all right, a way to chase hot babes right out the door.” He chortled and vanished into the back room.
Mike groaned. “You wanna check out the Mystery Spot?” he mimicked and felt his face flame. He recalled her scornful look and flushed once again. No doubt she thought he was a typical meathead.
The thing was that he really did want to visit the Mystery Spot he’d read so much about. He had no clue why he’d been suddenly inclined to ask her anyway. The words were out of his mouth before he had a chance to think. Cree was blond and light and everything that didn’t attract him. Not that he hadn’t pictured her naked the whole time they talked. He was, after all, a man.
But did he have to blurt and bungle? He’d always shake his head when a member of his gender sidled up to an unsuspecting female and attempted to seduce her with stupidity.
Now he felt a sorry kinship with his brethren.
Oh well, he thought as he hoisted the carton of sex wax onto the stool next to him, no doubt it’s for the best. With a long sigh, he started stocking. Still, he was bothered that she’d left the shop thinking he was a jerk.
~ * ~
Cree was annoyed as she drove out of the city and onto Highway 1 toward Davenport. Stupid men. Their porcine natures unfailingly blasted out sooner rather than later. The Mystery Spot, she thought with a grunt, now that was an especially see-through one.
She was taken by surprise, though, when he’d belted out a witless line so soon. She’d felt strangely drawn to him, a fact that bothered her but no longer concerned her. Not that she would have gone out with him if he’d asked her politely.
Too many responsibilities hampered her life and she had no time for romance. Ellen and Seth needed her, as would a whole world of women when Polly’s opened this winter. Besides, Cree knew too well where love brought you and she would never sacrifice herself on that altar.
She turned on to the dirt and gravel road of her property, her good mood restored. The Jeep tore up the long road that wound to her farm, past the small house on the bluffs just beyond the scrub, and through the copse of pines that bordered her front yard. She parked in front of the rambling, three-story farmhouse where Ellen rocked in the old wicker chair on the front porch.
“Hullo, hullo!” Ellen bellowed and finished with a cackle. She eased out of the old rocker and hugged Cree. “How’s my girl?”
“Is he here? Is he here?” Seth burst through the screen door, excitement etched on his thirteen-year-old face.
“Sethie! Hush!” Ellen hissed and gave Cree a wary glance.
Her brother skidded to a stop and his eyes widened when he saw her. “Uh oh,” he uttered.
“What’s going on, El? What’s Seth uh-ohing about?” She sniffed and let the wafting aroma of Ellen’s special tomato sauce fill her, but the stench of Ellen’s mind cooking another one of her schemes was stronger. “Who’s he?”
“Now, Lucretia,” Ellen placated, an innocent look on her face. “There ain’t nothing to get riled about. It’s, ah, it’s jes a little birthday present I have for you.”
She clenched her fists as small fissures erupted inside her. “That’s funny since my birthday was last month, El.”
“And I got you a gift to the spa which you gave to your teacher friend there.” Her large jaw jutted out. “So it don’t count.”
“Stop trying to sidetrack me.” Cree advanced. “I smell a rat.”
“You wouldn’t hurt a decrepit old woman, would you?” Ellen edged toward the screen door. “Murderin’ an old lady in front of yer innocent little brother…”
“Don’t you bring Seth into this, El.” She turned to him and narrowed her eyes. “Although he’s not off the hook. Besides, I’m not going to kill you yet. But if a man in a suit appears with flowers for another blind date so help me, I’ll—”
“Well.” Her bottom lip protruded, a telltale sign that Cree had guessed correctly.
“Unbelievable.” She threw up her hands. “Cancel it.”
Ellen sputtered a curse and pressed her palms together, pleading. “There is a man coming to dinner but it’s different, Lucretia, now hear me out,” she wheedled. “I told him he could stay at Cliff Cottage if’n—”
The fissures inside her tore wide open. “Ellen Reardon, enough!” Sucking in a great gulp of air, she took a few measured breaths to keep from strangling her adopted grandmother. “Enough. Bringing someone to live here? A stranger? Renting out Cliff Cottage—my Cliff Cottage, I’ll remind you, and—”
Ellen’s dark eyes flashed and her lips smacked apart, a tornado in her own anger, and Cree stilled. “Lucretia Cabot, I promised I would never match-make again and I ain’t. And I didn’t rent it. He’s gonna live there in exchange for helping you out around here.”
“I don’t need help!”
“Yes, you do. I ain’t watchin’ you spend your summer working like a dog to get this place done.” She took a wheezing breath. “If you want to finish Polly’s Place by opening day and move this family to the cottage then you’ll need help. I just skipped a step waiting for you to think of it that’s all.”
Her eyes grew mournful and her bottom lip pouted. “And that poor boy all the way from across the country. Not a soul to care for him and him needing all the help he can to get where he wants to be.”
Pity surged through Cree as she thought of all the homeless teens that lined the city’s streets, somehow blending in and forgotten amongst street musicians, aging hippies, and college kids. Her suspicion abated, just a little. She fingered her car keys. “You did this for Polly’s Place, then? No hidden agendas of candlelight and roses?”
Ellen straightened her wide shoulders. “No, ma’am. I learned my lesson trying to set you up.” Her lips twitched. “Clearly you are not meant for romancin’.”
Cree narrowed her eyes.
“I swear on my sweet Henry’s grave. I only want to help you start this place up and I’m too old to work and Seth don’t know how to fix fences and windows and…”
She held up her palm to Ellen. Pursing her lips as she measured her friend, she felt the fissures inside her begin to close. “Okay.” She inched toward the screen door, winked at her brother and started to enter the house when a new thought popped in her head. “But the cottage, Ellen! You know I was planning to move us in by end of summer.”
“Now don’t you worry a mite,” she clucked. “Your tenant knows that it’s temp’rary.”
“My tenant,” Cree repeated and blew her bangs from her eyes. Great. Another responsibility. Resigned, she sighed. “I don’t like it, El, not at all. But it’s not the boy’s fault that I have a meddling lunatic on my farm so I won’t send him away. But,” she warned, forefinger aimed at Ellen, “you make sure he knows it’s for the summer only, got it?”
Ellen smiled sweetly and Cree guessed she was sufficiently contrite so she grinned and gave her a quick kiss before opening the screen door. Seth hovered behind her.
“Don’t worry, Sethie. I won’t banish Ellen to the barn with Old Crumble, I promise.” She caressed his chin, gave it quick squeeze. “But you should have told me.”
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
She walked past him. As she stepped into the house, the smell of garlic and tomatoes assaulted her full force. “Yum. Smells great in here, El,” she called, as if she were never mad.
“Lasagna. My Henry’s recipe. Dinner’s in an hour!” she yelled, containing her mirth until Lucretia had drifted far into the cool shadows of the house. “We fooled her, Sethie, we did,” she crowed.
“She was pissed,” he warned, looking a little pale.
“Pshaw.” Ellen waved her hand and started down the steps and around the side of the house. “And don’t swear. Here, boy, give me a hand picking some greens for dinner.”
“Aw, do we have to?”
“Hush. You need some sort of vegetable in that scrawny body if you want to look like that Wolverine character yer always readin’ about.”
The garden gate squealed and she waddled through the narrow opening. “Shoulda brung my basket, dammit. Oh well, I s’pose that’s what you’re here for. She got over it quick enough, anyways, when I mentioned how alone he is.” She chuckled. “Like a knife in warm butter.”
Seth paused, a clump of lettuce in one hand, and peeked up at Ellen. “Pretty brilliant, El. But she’ll kill you once she finds out the truth.”
“She’ll do no such thing. She’ll just bray at me like that temperamental mule of hers.” Ellen smacked her toothless gums. “’Sides, I ain’t matchmaking. I simply hired a handyman for the place.”
Seth tossed her a sly look. “Yeah, right. Funny, ’cuz I don’t remember handyman as one of the things he does.”
“Some people have hidden talents, boy. And mebbe you just missed it.”
“Ellen, you made me go through all that hassle of reading every application that all those people sent to the Realtor, so I didn’t miss it. Plus, I know everything about him.”
“And you best be keeping that one to yourself, boy,” she hissed at him. “Once Cree finds out he’s not some poor lost boy, she’ll boot him right out of here. She’s gonna be none too happy when she sees that he’s a full grown man and not some runaway as ’tis.”
“She’ll find out anyway. He’ll tell her he’s famous and rich and she won’t ever notice him again. Besides, it might not work. Cree doesn’t like guys and she’s not his type.”
She peered at him down her nose. “And how would you know?”
“’Cuz I read his stuff. He doesn’t like strict blond ladies.”
Ellen stilled. She gazed over his head, toward the house.
“Naw. He’ll like her. And I gather that he’s the type who won’t run skeered from her like all them suits did and then she’ll spend more time makin’ babies and less time trying to fix people.”
Seth blushed when Ellen started talking about making babies. “That’s gross, Ellen, and it’s not going to work. Cree likes fixing people, it makes her happy, and it’s kinda cool ’cuz, um…” He turned a shade redder and looked at his feet.
“Well?” She stopped picking. “Spit it out, boy.”
“I wouldn’t have met you if she wasn’t like she is,” he said and gnawed his lip.
She squeezed his arm. “Now that’s mutual-like, Sethie. But your sister ain’t happy. No, she’s not. She’s just surviving and there’s a big difference. I know. Cree doesn’t know what happiness is but she sure made me happy.” She leaned in conspiratorially toward Seth. “It’s high time I paid her back for making me that way, don’t you think?”
As they sauntered past the pasture to the kitchen door, the mule lifted his head and brayed. Ellen jumped and clutched her heart. “Damn mule scared the bejesus outta me. Does it every time. Good for nothing bag of bones!” She cursed. “Alone and bitter.”
Her lips set in a grim line, she shook her head at the bristling mule. “No sirree, my Cree ain’t gonna end up locked in an old cottage while the farmhouse fills up with the walking wounded. Not while I’m still breathin’. We’ve hired ourselves an archangel to take care of that. If he can’t melt an ole’ mule’s heart, Sethie, no one can.”
Here’s what the critics are saying:
5 Hearts – “In Kicking Sideways, I found a delightful story that kept me turning pages. The story was realistic and sweet yet not clichéd. It was a ride that was well worth taking. It made me laugh, it made me cry and it left me examining my own reasons for hiding parts of myself. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to the next offering from Ms.Keratsis.” – (Ariana Blaine, The Romance Studio)
5 Angels – “Kicking Sideways is a tale of love enduring everything …Dina Keratsis did a fabulous job in this book with so much pain, love and heartache. There are times when you cry but then, through it all, you will not want to put it down and will regret finishing it so soon. This is definitely a recommended read for this is truly one of those books that is worth keeping.” – (Lena C, Fallen Angel Reviews)
5 Beacons – “Ms. Keratsis places her heart in the center of these young people and gives them life to reach out and touch the reader… Believability stirs within Kicking Sideways and blankets the reader with every turn of the page. Sweet, poignant, and well-crafted, this is one story that shouldn’t be missed.” – (Linda, Lighthouse Literary Reviews)
4 Cups – “Ms. Keratsis has written a sweet love story full of angst over the past, neglect of self, and the walls of protection we all build to protect our hearts. Cree is a determined young woman, saddled with too much responsibility too soon; while Mike is trying to be that soft place to fall when Cree needs to rest, but of course she resists the offer. Ms Keratsis’ ability to craft and express the emotions of a woman on the edge had me crying and fussing at Cree for being so stubborn. This book will tug at many a reader’s heart. Thanks Ms Keratsis for this journey.” – (Kathy, Coffee Time Romance)
4 Stars – “Anyone who has a hankering for a white knight on his courageous steed will enjoy getting to know Michael Sullivan, who was first introduced in Dina’s novel Charlesgate, This book is for the romantic in all of us who dream of happy endings…and even happier beginnings…” – (Alice Klein, simegen.com)
“Kicking Sideways is a romance that shows, how two people find love, and trust in each other. Together they make each other complete. With the help of secondary characters, they show what being a family is all about. Kicking Sideways shows, not everyone needs to be a superhero, and that we all need a little help now and then.” – (Gloria Gehres, Romance Readers Connection)
“It’s an amazing read…the author, Dina Keratsis, writes the kind of stories that parallel real life issues and situations. It’s a story that you will relate to and if you’re like I am, you will wish the book would never end.” – (Sandie Vega, MyShelf)
Music both created and runs through Kicking Sideways.
A song inspired the entire book. “Blue Lightning,” written by Bow Thayer, a mini-romance novel in verse-chorus-verse format, was the germ for this tale.
And music, to the characters, is simply a part of life. Only Lucretia, who has willfully tucked away all her passion, turns away from anything that might cause her to feel. Mike uses music to break down her walls.
Here are the songs that drift through Kicking Sideways.
“Blue Lightning” by Bow Thayer
“Lucretia, My Reflection” by The Sisters of Mercy
“What’ll I Do?” by Helen Gross
“Summertime” by Janis Joplin
“Vampira” by The Misfits
“Misty Mountain Hop” by Led Zeppelin
“Sisters of the Moon” by Fleetwood Mac
“The Way I Walk” by The Cramps
“Storms” by Fleetwood Mac
“Neck on the New Blade” by 16 Horsepower
“Fall on Me” by REM
“The Stable Song” by Gregory Alan Isakov
“To The Shock of Miss Louise” from The Lost Boys soundtrack
“Black-eyed Dog” by Nick Drake
“Stepside” by Jeremy Moses Curtis
“A Scar as Big as God” by The Reflecting Skin
“Indian Summer” by The Doors
“Turnover” by Fugazi
“Into Dust” by Mazzy Star
“State of Love and Trust” by Pearl Jam
“Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails
“Your Phone’s Off the Hook, but You’re Not” by X
“Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” by Led Zeppelin
“Today” by Jefferson Airplane
“In the Pines” by Leadbelly
“Patricia” The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
Sometimes a minor character isn’t content to give the spotlight to another. That character may whine and beg until a writer turns him loose in his own book, or he may flatter and cajole until he has his way. Occasionally, a character will bully his way to the forefront of a writer’s mind, spouting death threats in the form of nightmares until the last word is inked. Then there are the quiet ones that wait patiently in the dark, always there, demanding that they, too, have a chance to explore two-hundred empty white pages.
Michael Sullivan is such a character.
In Charlesgate, Mike served as a catalyst for the heroine to get a clue and get a life but receded quickly to the background, allowing the hero to get the girl. At the end of that book, Mike was a little lost in the shadows (The Lost Boys pun intended), not sure about who he was or what he wanted, but he knew he didn’t want to be forgotten.
And who could forget him, really? Quiet, certainly, but not shy, he’s gorgeous, intelligent, has a great sense of humor, and ready for adventure. So he packs his Harley and heads off to Santa Cruz, mainly because his vessel to the great white page – ahem, me – could not get enough of the Boardwalk from a previous visit to California.
That’s all well and good. We have a character and a setting but no story.
About the same time Mr. Sullivan took up constant residence in the far left corner of my mind, a catchy bluegrass song kept two-stepping over the front right corner of my brain. Over and over and over again.
It’s a great song. My husband and I used it for our first dance as a hitched pair and it is all the more special because our friend Bow Thayer wrote it. It’s called “Blue Lightning” and it was my muse for Kicking Sideways.
The song, my interpretation of it anyway, is a condensed romance novel about a man who travels all around the country only to wind up right back from where he started – right back into true love’s arms. There’s a great metaphor of a mule running up and down, kicking sideways at nothing. Or at fate. Or maybe even at a ghost. Who knows? The point is the mule gets nowhere, but the man luckily finds happiness by the end of the song.
Now Bow may heartily disagree with me about the meaning of his song, but this is how I interpreted the lyrics and for the purposes of Kicking Sideways, it’s my interpretation that counts. Anyway, decide for yourself. Here are The Benders performing Blue Lightning live.
Bow’s mule turned into a human character, the heroine in fact, for Kicking Sideways. Lucretia Cabot, our stubborn, brooding, brave heroine who wants to save the world so she doesn’t have to save herself. She has a mule, too. His name is Crumble. Like in Bow’s song, Crumble is her own personal metaphor. And although Mike will try to save her, like the hero in the song, Lucretia will have to figure out how to save herself.