They, along with the deaths of her family, hold her prisoner from being able to trust and love in the ways her heart so greatly desires. Then there is Chase Hartford. The arrival of this hot, young movie star to the Charleston and Folly Beach area has everyone in an uproar. A late night cup of coffee brings Jo and Chase together. What forms between them is a bond and love that neither of them ever imagined. Because of him, Jo is able to find faith in trusting and loving again. He makes all her dreams come true. He is the only one that can reach her.
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By Stephanie Costley
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2015 Stephanie Costley
All rights reserved.
It is a warm late-July evening. Aimee and I are on the couch flipping through the channels on the television. It has been a challenge so far finding anything that catches our attention. An empty pizza box from Jack's Pizza Palace sits on the coffee table as does a bottle of Barefoot Moscato. It is the sweet, delicious wine flavor of the South and a favorite among college girls.
I take another sip from my wine glass.
"So are you seeing Kevin tonight?" I ask Aimee as she glances over at me.
She shrugs her shoulders. "I'm not sure. I think he and some of his fraternity brothers were going out."
"Oh," I murmur.
I don't mind it being Aimee and me for a change. She always has something planned with Kevin. I can't actually believe they are taking a breather from each other. I really don't have time for a guy. Boyfriend. Significant other. Whatever you prefer to call it. To be honest, I really couldn't care less to make time for one. All I think about is school and work. Majoring in biochemistry and aiming to be an oncologist takes up so much of my time. My grandmother always said I had my head in the right place. There are times when I wish I did have a guy to hang out with, but then I remind myself that, deep down, I know I'm still not completely ready to trust yet.
Aimee sighs as she continues to press the channel button on the remote control. "It would be lovely if they could have a good movie on tonight. Something erotic like Basic Instinct. It's boring sitting around here."
I giggle at her as I push a small piece of hair behind my ear. "Geez, thanks, Aimee. I enjoy spending time with you too."
"Well, you know how I am. I'm not used to sitting still for too long."
I roll my eyes at her. "Maybe you should do it more often. Then it wouldn't be so hard."
She shoots me a smile. "Hey, you wanna get out for a little while? Maybe go to Triangles Char Bar or something?"
I shake my head. "Nah, I'm good. I really just want to sit back and relax. I'm still tired from work."
"Oh, come on, Jo. It couldn't have been that busy today. It's Tuesday, for crying out loud."
"Maybe this weekend. I'm just not in the mood."
Here it comes. The third degree. I can always tell when Aimee is going to start with me about getting out more.
"You always say that. Jo, you really need to do something besides school and work. You need to get out and have fun. Meet someone. Go on a date. You are too fun and beautiful to be sitting around here every weeknight and weekend."
I sigh. "Okay, let's change the subject. Turn it to Channel 3 so we can watch the news."
She hits the number three and puts the remote down. "See? That's exactly what I'm talking about. It's like you're my mother or something. I mean who really cares about the news at twenty years old? You should be caring about shopping, dancing, guys, and getting shit-faced."
"Well, I just so happen to care about what's going on in our world. And yes, I do have an interest in all those things, minus getting shit-faced, but it's just hard for me to find the time."
She gives me another one of her notorious eye rolls. She's a veteran at that. "Yeah, you look real busy right now, Jo. I'd say it's about time that you make time."
The six o'clock news begins with the lovely news anchor Samantha Stone. Long blonde hair, big blue eyes, and a body to die for. Yep that's her. I'm sure she holds the full attention of hundreds of male viewers. After news coverage regarding gas prices, a robbery, and the hopes of a future addition to James Island Elementary School, a box depicting a picture of Chase Hartford pops up in the right hand corner of the TV screen. I feel my body sit straight up with 100 percent interest. No ADD moment happening here.
Samantha Stone says, "We have some interesting news for you from the world of Hollywood. Chase Hartford, the popular actor from numerous award-winning movies, is coming to Folly Beach and Charleston to begin working on a new TV series, The Crane Files. He will play the character of Foss Crane, a newbie cop to the Charleston County Police Department, who works on solving murder cases that have been deemed unsolvable. The shooting of the series will begin next week and will last for about ten months."
My heart moves to my throat and swells. I feel like I'm suffocating. Chase Hartford! The Chase Hartford! Oh my God! I can't believe it!
Aimee turns to look at me with surprise in her eyes. "I take it you care a lot about that! Holy crap, Jo! Chase Hartford! Chase Hartford is coming to Folly Beach! This is unbelievable! You know how long you've had a crush on him!"
I'm finding it hard to talk. "Since ... since high school."
"Yes! This is awesome! Oh my God! What if you meet him?"
I am in a daze. The image of him from the screen is still floating around in my head. His dark, messy-styled hair, his sleek tan build, and most important, his smoky blue-gray eyes.
Aimee brings me back down to planet Earth with a shout. "Jo?"
I quickly turn toward her. "What?"
She grins and cocks her head to the side.
I smile shyly, a bit embarrassed. "Oh. Sorry."
"So like I was saying, what if you were to meet him?"
I get up to clear our mess from the coffee table and head to the kitchen. "Oh, whatever, Aimee. Do you know how many girls are going to be following his every move when he's here? The number that will try to go after him? It's insane. I'm not going to think like that. That was a dream back when I was in ninth and tenth grade."
"So," she says with a shrug of her shoulders.
I continue, "Well, it's different now. I'm mature. That was a silly teen dream. It's no different from millions of other girls around the world. Besides what would someone like him possibly see in someone like me, even if I were to meet him? I mean look at all those gorgeous actresses and singers out there. I'm sure he would much rather be with someone in his own league. Maybe Samantha Stone will interview him when he comes to town. She would be perfect for him."
I stand in the doorway to the kitchen with my eyebrows raised and an amused twist on my lips as I look over at Aimee, still seated on the couch.
Her eyes are as big as golf balls, and her mouth is wide open. "You're kidding me, right? Are you listening to yourself? This is ridiculous."
"No, I'm not kidding, and yes, I can hear myself perfectly. I am no different from any other girl. Like I said, it was just a ridiculous teen dream."
With that, I turn and walk into the kitchen, hoping to end the pointless conversation.
My alarm clock buzzes in my left ear. I reach over and hit the snooze button. It's become an early morning habit. Just a few more minutes. I do not want to have to leave the comfort of my bed to get ready for work. It's Wednesday. In the middle of the week is when we start to get really busy at the cafe.
Nine minutes pass, and the alarm is telling me again that it is time to get going. I turn it off and head for the shower.
Aimee is in the kitchen, making a bowl of oatmeal. As I come through the doorway, she asks, "What are your hours today?"
I grab a mug out of the cabinet and pour myself a cup of coffee. "Ten to five. It's going to be a long day."
She takes a seat at our small kitchen table. Steam from her bowl caresses the air. She takes a sip of orange juice. "That sounds dreadful."
I sit in the chair across from her, coffee mug in hand. "Yeah, but I don't mind. I enjoy trying to make all the money I can before fall semester starts. Senior year is going to exhaust me. I can already see it."
"Yeah, I know. I have methods two this fall and then student teaching in spring. I can't believe that we are going to be college graduates next May."
I smile at the thought, but my expression is erased when I remember that I will have another four-to-six years of school before I finally become a doctor. Well, at least I will have the first four years behind me. My smile returns.
"So what are you thinking about doing when we graduate, Aimee? Where do you want to be?"
"I wish I knew for sure, but I guess if it were totally up to me, Kevin and I would be engaged, and I would have a job in Charleston. We'd get married in a year and then start having kids within five years." She smiles.
I shake my head with a silly smirk on my face. "Sounds like you have it all figured out. Are you sure he's the one?"
She nods while eating her oatmeal. "Definitely."
I find it amusing yet scary that she can be so sure.
I arrive at work on time as always. I clock in and tie my apron around my waist. Ramona, the owner, and my fellow employees, Amanda and Zach, are busy with customers. I go over to the counter and relieve Zach so he can clear some dirty tables. The bells over the cafe doors give a continuous ring as people enter and exit. The sound of music pours from the cafe jukebox. We are steady for the next several hours. Coffee. Lattes. Sandwiches. Soup. Salad. It seems that we are making and serving nearly everything on the menu.
Several of my friends walk in and have a seat at one of the booths near the large front window of the cafe.
"Hi, Kelly. Alex. Vivi. How are y'all?"
They throw me a smile and answer in a chorus of "Good."
"So what have y'all been up to?"
Kelly rests her elbows on the table. "Oh, you know, the usual. Beach. Shopping. Sleeping. Pretty much everything you do during summer break. What about you? You never get out. We never see you anymore."
I push a strand of hair behind my ear and start to drum my pencil on my waitress pad. "Just work."
Vivi says, "Well, we're planning on spending the day at the beach this Saturday. You want to come with us? It'll be fun."
I smile and nod. "Sure. I'm actually off this Saturday, so yeah, I'll go with y'all."
Alex gives me a big smile. "Awesome. You need to get out and do something. Have fun. Meet people. Meet guys."
I sigh, looking down at the pad. "Yeah, I know. I'm trying. It's getting a little better day by day."
I quickly take their orders and head over to the counter to put it in. The cafe has calmed down since the lunch rush has passed.
Ramona walks over to me while I am preparing drinks. "Hey, Jo, I need to see if you could do me a favor."
I turn to face her. "Sure what is it?"
"Do you think you could close with Zach Sunday night?"
I nod. "Of course. I'd be glad to help."
She smiles at me and continues, "Thanks so much. I know that Sunday night isn't our busiest time, but you know how I don't like leaving one of you up here to close alone."
"No, I understand. It's not like I have anything planned."
She cocks her head to the side. I know what's coming. I know what she's about to say. "Jo, are you okay? I mean I know that it hasn't been that long since the incident, but you know that if you ever need to talk, I'm here for you."
I give her another nod and sigh. "I'm fine, and thanks."CHAPTER 2
I'm so cold. Why am I so cold? I struggle to open my eyes. It's a blur. I can't see anything. My head is pounding. Where am I? I'm able to focus. There are trees. Pine trees above me that seem to touch the night sky. I realize that I am cold from the moist ground beneath me. I hear music nearby.
A sharp pain runs through my body. I reach up and rub my head, trying to soothe the ache that seems to bounce from one side of my temple to the other. I notice blood on my hand when I pull it away. Oh my God! What has happened to me? Why am I here?
It takes a minute for me to lift myself to a sitting position. I examine my surroundings. The woods. Why am I in the woods? It's dark. I'm cold. I'm hurting. The pain is unrecognizable. I look down and notice that my jeans are around my ankles, and I am stained with blood. I fight for air. I can no longer breathe. Then I scream.
"No!" I sit up. I am covered in sweat. I look around. I'm okay. I'm in the comfort of my bedroom. It was a dream. A dream of a real-life nightmare that I can't get out of my head. I begin to cry uncontrollably.
My bedroom door swings open, and Aimee runs in.
"Oh my God, Jo! Are you okay?"
She sits on the bed and grabs me in her arms. She gently rocks back and forth, running her hand through my hair.
"Shhh. It's okay. I'm here. You're all right. Shhh."
She knows. She knows it happened again. She knows it's hard for me to escape it.
It's Thursday. Mrs. Sanders, my advisor at the College of Charleston, finishes filling in the remaining boxes on my fall-semester form. She hands it over for me to sign.
"Well, you're all set, Miss Dawson. Two more semesters, and you'll be out of here and on your way. Are you excited?"
I smile at her, giving a brief nod. "Yeah, I am. Not thrilled about more college, but I will be glad to get these years behind me."
She smiles in return. "Oh, no doubt. And you said that you are planning to attend MUSC after you graduate with your bachelors?"
She sits back in her chair.
"Great choice. I know you will do great, Joanna. You have all the requirements to continue your education there. A perfect SAT score, 4.0 GPA, and you've earned all As in your courses here. That takes a lot of hard work and dedication on your part."
"Yes ma'am. Thanks."
"Well, I don't need to see you again until it's time to schedule spring semester. You can take care of all your graduation fees then. Of course if you need anything before then, please don't hesitate to call or stop by."
"Thanks, Mrs. Sanders. I really appreciate it."
We stand and give each other a quick handshake. I grab my bag and head out the door.
The sun is extremely hot, and there isn't a cloud in the sky. It's Saturday. I'm relaxing on Folly Beach with Aimee, Alex, Vivi, and Kelly. A girl's day out. A much-needed girl's day out. Aimee's right. I should take time for things besides just school and work.
Aimee applies a little more sunscreen and turns to us.
"So, Jo and I were watching the news earlier this week and saw that Chase Hartford is coming to town to film a TV series. Did y'all hear about it?"
Kelly, Vivi, and Alex give simultaneous nods with big smiles on their faces.
Kelly sits up in her lounge chair. "Can you imagine the chaos that's going to break out? It's going to be insane. The girls around here are going to clobber him."
Alex cocks her eyebrows with a mischievous grin. "I'd like to do a lot more than clobber him."
We all break out into laughter.
Aimee looks over at me.
"Yeah. Jo has had one of those teen-star crushes on him since high school, but then again, I don't know many girls who haven't."
I roll my eyes at her. "Right. Like I said before, who doesn't have a crush on him? He's amazing to look at."
Vivi speaks up. "I wonder where he is going to be staying while he's here."
Alex replies, "Well, you know it's going to be somewhere luxurious. Out of all the luxury hotels in downtown Charleston, I'd have to guess Planters Inn."
"I'm just still trying to get over that out of all the places to shoot a TV series, they chose Folly Beach. Weird," Kelly says.
I take a sip of my water. "Well, one thing's for sure, the girls around here will definitely find out where he's staying, and he won't get any peace."
Aimee agrees. "True story. Nonfiction. Being famous and coming to a town this small has its disadvantages."
Ah, her famous "true-story, nonfiction" line. I crack a smile at her.
"Hey girls, why don't we all go to Trio Club tonight? I've noticed a lot of new faces in town since fall semester is starting soon, and there's no better way to meet hot guys than dancing," Vivi says excitedly.
I turn my attention to the waves coming closer to shore. I just don't have the excitement in me about meeting anyone. Not like they do. Not right now. It's getting better. Just like I said, it's getting a little better every day, but today is not the day. It's going to take one small step at a time. Baby steps.
Vivi calls my name to awaken me from my trance.
"Sorry," I murmur.
"So, do you want to come with us tonight?" Aimee asks.
I always hate saying no when they ask me to go out with them. I make up some lame excuse about being tired or having the early shift at work. But this time, I really do have a reason to say no.
I shake my head. "No, actually, I am supposed to have dinner with Grandpa Dawson tonight. I haven't seen him in a few weeks, and he's cooking baked spaghetti — my favorite."
Excerpted from Star Struck by Stephanie Costley. Copyright © 2015 Stephanie Costley. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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