Episode 2: "Beautiful Stranger"
Part One

Ember Ridge Apartments


Mae Jernigan awoke with a start. She sat up quickly, her eyes darting from one place to another. The bedsheet feel from her shoulders to rest at her waistline, causing a chill that sprung goose bumps up her arms. Mae crossed her arms, rubbing her skin to keep warm. Why is it so cold? Mae thought, confused. Inadvertently, she looked down and was perturbed to find herself topless. No shirt? A bewildered look crept upon her face as she casually lifted the bedsheet to peek underneath it. NO CLOTHES! Mae jerked the bedsheet against her. Slowly, she turned her head, allowing her gaze to fall upon a snoring Simon Pratt.

Mae was so startled she tried to leap from the bed, only to have her legs tangle themselves in the bedsheet and jerk her momentum back. Mae yelped as she hit the carpet hard. Simon moaned in his sleep and turned over.


Mae scrambled to her feet. Clothes! Where are my clothes? Her eyes spotted an oversized t-shirt and jeans draped over the bureau of drawers. She ran for the clothes, threw them on, and made a beeline for the front door. "Hold on a sec," Mae said as she unchained the lock and opened the door. "Simon's still..." Mae trailed off. She lost all feeling in her jaw as her big blue eyes beheld the breathtaking countenance of a tall, tanned, muscular stranger. Short chestnut brown hair brought out a deeper shade of dark olive green in his alluring eyes. A white, torso-hugging cotton t-shirt darkened his already perfect bronze skin and, with subtlety, defined the ripples in his chest and abs. Worn blue jeans and faded Doc Martens completed a seeming fantasy of a living, modern Adonis.

"Hello," Mae breathed.

Part Two

Cafe Bernice

"I'm sorry, sweetie, but next Thursday is just not a good night," Stacia Ross poured more cream into her coffee. "I'll be in New York for the wireless convention."

Adam Grier threw his linen napkin down on the table and sat back in his chair. "Mama's been looking forward to meeting you for weeks now. What am I supposed to tell her? When are you finally going to be free?" He peered at Stacia suspiciously. "You're not trying to avoid meeting my parents, are you?"

"Of course not!" Stacia assured him. "I'll meet them eventually. Besides, why should we be in any hurry?"

"This is important to me, baby," Adam reached across the table for Stacia's hand. She smiled and placed her hand in his. "I love you so much, and I want my family to meet the woman I love." He learned forward and kissed her softly.

"Hey, hey, get a room!" Simon Pratt tapped Adam on the shoulder. Adam and Stacia looked up to see Simon with a tall, muscular stranger.

"Hey, man, what's happening?" Adam greeted Simon, giving him a friendly handshake. "Saw you cozy love birds at the next table, thought I'd say hello to you." And gesturing toward the stranger next to him, he added "And I wanted to introduce you two to Palm Terrace's newest resident, my cousin Bryce McKeon."

"Oooh, hi!" Stacia greeted the handsome stranger with a friendly smile while Adam shook Bryce's hand. "Welcome to the neighborhood. I'm Stacia Ross. This is my boyfriend, Adam Grier."

"It's a pleasure to meet you two," Bryce returned the welcome smile.

"Would you like to join us?" Stacia motioned toward the two empty seats at their table.

"Are you sure? We wouldn't want to impose." Simon tried to decline the invitation.

"It's all good, man!" Adam assured him. "Have a seat." Without further protest, Simon and Bryce sat down at the table.

"So, Bryce," Adam took a sip of his coffee. "What brings you to sunny, snoozing Palm Terrace?"

"Awwww, Ads, it took so much to convince him to move here; don't make him think he'll regret the move!" Simon kidded.

Bryce laughed. "It's cool, cuz," Bryce said good-naturedly. "I'm moving my architectural firm here. More business here than Pensacola. I already have a couple of clients lined up. And, of course, there's my most favorite cousin in the whole wide world."

"I'm your only cousin," Simon reminded him. Adam and Stacia laughed.

"On my mother's side," Bryce added for him. "My father's side, well, they're like rabbits." They all laughed.

Bryce is really nice, Stacia thought to herself as she sipped her coffee. He's friendly, witty, and my goodness, Stacia paused her train of thought to give Bryce the once over, he's VERY easy on the eyes. In fact, he's someone I wouldn't mind seeing with Lana. A sly scheming smile slowly crept upon her face as she sat back to learn more about the beautiful stranger.

Part Three

In Field Fly Sports Pub

"You have to meet this guy, Lana," Stacia had already launched her plan to hook up Lana Whitmire with Bryce McKeon. "Mmmm, girl! I'll tell you what, if I didn't love Adam so much, I'd go after this guy myself." She nodded her head with enthusiasm. "You really lucked out, girl, with me being one of the first to meet this hottie. You can snag him before all these other hoochie hawks sink their claws into him."

Lana looked at Stacia in disbelief before bursting into laughter. "You're kidding me, right? Didn't you just tell me last night that you had a feeling Jake and I would find comfort in each other's romantic embrace?" She raised her eyebrows mockingly.

"Okay, so my romance radar was a little off," Stacia shrugged her shoulders. "But I'm serious, you should really meet him. You won't be disappointed."

"I'm sorry, Stacia, but you're wasting your time," Lana informed her. "You know how I feel about Jake. We have a history. Hopefully," She glanced across the room at Jake, who had just walked into the Pub, "we'll have a future together."

Jake Herrington scanned the crowd, recognizing the usual faces, until his gaze landed on Kendra Blake. The heated flush rushed to his face as the pace of his heart quickened. This is your chance, Herrington, Jake told himself encouragingly. The Tempests' charity dinner is in five days and you still don't have a date. It's now or never, give it all you got. He took a deep breath and approached the Backstop Bar.

"Hey Kendra," Jake nonchalantly learned against the bar, smiling his best high wattage smile. "Can I buy you a drink?"

To his surprise, Kendra smiled back. "All right, Jake," She consented. "I'll have a Jim Beam and coke."

"Right," Jake complied, motioning for the bartender. "Jim Beam and Coke, please, Paula. And a Heineken." Paula nodded and retrieved both drinks hastily.

"How's the world of sports turning for you?" Kendra fixed her intense, sapphire blue eyes on his. Jake was speechless. She must have read my work! He kept his cool. "Great!" he replied, over-enthused. "The Tempests, you know the local minor league baseball team, are on a six-game winning streak. They're keeping the good news churning for us."

Kendra seemed genuinely interested. This is good. Now! Ask her! Jake opened his mouth to speak when Kendra inadvertently glanced over Jake's shoulder. Kendra's stare zeroed in on a stately, mysterious male who had just entered the room. An overwhelming feeling of captivation washed over her as she watched him approach the bar. Perfectly styled dark hair, obscure green eyes, chiseled biceps, and an unbelievably confident aura composed the sexiest, most attractive man Kendra had ever seen. For Kendra, her whole world capsized into the moment he passed by her, the moment that followed when she breathed in an intoxicating whiff of his aftershave, and the moment after that when emotion deluged her will nearly to the point of tears.

Much to his chagrin, Jake also noticed the new face when the stranger walked past the bar. But there was no mistaking the enchanted glaze over Kendra's ocean blue eyes. The same look emanated from his own face whenever he saw Kendra. His spirits plummeted when he heard Kendra murmur, "I think I'm in love."

This cannot be happening, Jake thought, refusing to believe the words he had just overheard. He could feel chunks rising in his throat and an uneasy feeling throbbing in the pit of his stomach. I have to get away. Jake tore himself away from the bar and before he knew it, found himself face to face with Lana.

"Hey!" Jake cloaked his disappointment with a shroud of false cheer. "Wanna go to the charity dinner with me this weekend?"

The thrilled look on Lana's face relaxed his tension. "Absolutely!"

Jake glanced over his shoulder, back at Kendra, and finally breathed a sigh of relief.

* * * * *

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