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CHOCOLATE BEACH
Julie Carobini
Bethany House Publishers
Fiction
ISBN-10: 0764202618
ISBN-13: 9780764202612

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Douglas knew what he was getting into when he married me. At least I think he did. Morning after foggy morning, he'd order the same two shots of Colombian roast coffee, room for cream, no sugar. He'd smile and thank me, always putting his change and then-some into the obnoxious tip jar on the counter, the one with the dancing dollar sign on one side and a Free Tibet sticker on the other.

He never flinched when I called his order.

"Dougie-poo, you're up!"

Nada. Zilch. Not a smidgen of faze on his face. No matter what I said or did, Douglas remained consistently unflustered. You might even say that Douglas was routinely predictable. Here was a meticulously well-dressed man who, red sky or blue, stepped through those squeaky-clean glass doors at precisely 6:35 a.m. every morning.

Every morning!

If it weren't for my tiresome need for sustenance, not to mention my secret delight over being known as a "barista" and the generous tips from the likes of one Douglas M. Stone, I would likely have been staring at the back of my eyelids at that hour.

My best friend at the coffeehouse, Gaby, likened those mornings to a zany unfolding play, like Tony n' Tina's Wedding. Only we were on the West Coast, far across the country from Broadway. We had two choices in those days. Either we were actors in some farce playing head games with the suits ordering a dime's worth of coffee for $2.50, or just poor college students who'd rather be on the beach. We chose the former. Kind of like having our own reality series, Extreme Farce.

Something about dreamy, much-older Douglas, though, made me want to push the proverbial envelope right to the edge of the counter.

"Doug-man, your iced caramel mocha double-whip is up!" I'd shout across the shop. Or "Your toffee-nut cream with a shot of vanilla syrup has legs on it!"

One particular morning, one seemingly like the others, will forever stick out in my mind like biscotti in a short cappuccino.

The rain was coming down in big California-king-sized sheets. As was my customary attire both then and now, I wore jeans, a cami, and flip-flops. Who cared that it was a little wet outside? I lived at the beach, where tees and tanks were the norm four seasons out of every year. Not so Douglas. He dressed with an air of precision, like he studied the weather report the night before and laid out just the right suit to match the color of the sky. So you can imagine my surprise when Douglas, quite out of character, had forgotten his umbrella on that gray day.

There he stood, his cinnamon-colored hair saturated by the sky's release, his London Fog overcoat several shades of granite darker from the drenching. Muy simpático, as Gaby would say.

My eyebrows did a little dance. "The usual, Dougie?"

He hesitated, as if considering whether to finally report me to someone higher up on the food chain, someone who could and would actually command me to stop taking liberties with his very proper given name. Instead, he winked, nodded, and turned to scan the headlines in the Ventura County Star.

"Dougers, your double espresso macchiato is up!"

I'd barely set the cup of plain coffee on the counter when I felt a large warm hand enveloping my own. Electricity shot through my fingers. I felt as if I should pull away but couldn't. His touch seared me and rendered my nineteen-year-old self speechless.

In my head, I heard Randy Travis crooning, "I'm gonna love you, forever and ever, forever and ever, Amen." (Three exclamation points on that final amen!)

Some people don't believe in love at first sight. Who knows? I do know that at the instant Douglas's strong hand held my own, I was hopelessly, wildly, madly in love. For the first morning in all those mornings, I had run out of pithy comments and cutesy names. My devil-may-care attitude, the one I'd so glibly unleashed on poor Douglas each morning, had vaporized with the first brush of his fingertips. In that instant, I barely had breath to breathe.

We married fourteen years ago, and I've been breathless ever since.

As for Douglas? I'm not so sure....

Excerpted from CHOCOLATE BEACH Copyright 2017 by Julie Carobini. Reprinted with permission by Bethany House Publishers. All rights reserved.

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