The summer of 1928 is shaping up to be Gwendolyn Ross’s best yet.
She just graduated from college (the first woman in her family to do so) and now she’s ready to take the world by storm, starting with her internship at the new bird park on Catalina Island. But rather than conducting the research she’s interested in, Gwen finds herself tasked by her supervisor with using her “feminine wiles” to choose the tile for the park’s aviary. Chauvinism is alive and well—even for a college graduate.
But Gwen’s ready to prove herself, so she takes on the assignment and heads to the local tile factory, where she meets Michael Cathner, an artisan with an easygoing charm…and a reputation as a ladies’ man. She’s anything but just another conquest, yet Gwen can’t deny a powerful attraction. Will her feelings for Michael derail her grand plans for her life? Or do they both still have a lot to learn?
Still nursing a bit of a headache from being at the party last night, I enjoyed the peace and quiet. For a moment I walked around the aviary and remembered it as a dance hall when it was still back in Avalon. When Simon and I were kids we would sneak into town and peek in the side windows, hoping to catch a glimpse of the coolest new dance or some couple holding each other too close. I was never much of a dancer; it always seemed like a passive, typical girl thing to do. Besides, why did the man always lead? But a good slow dance was admittedly, at least to myself, a joy. There’s something so elegant about holding another person in your arms and moving in unison. The perfect slow dance should be synchronized, not one leading the other, but leading together. I closed my eyes and swayed with the broom in my hands, drifting for a moment into my own world and that kiss from last night…the moonlight glistening in their hair, that kiss was…
“Uh-um.” A person behind me cleared his throat. Even with that slight sound, the voice was familiar. Please don’t let it be him, I thought, please anyone but him.
“Can I cut in?” Michael said. I could hear the smile, more of a snicker, in his voice.
“Sorry, my dance card is full,” I turned toward him, refusing to be embarrassed in his presence one more time. He was smiling and I steadied myself with the broom.
“This place is lookin’ good,” he said, walking around the aviary.
“We’re getting there. Why are you here?” I said curtly.
“Ah, I came to say hello and to drop off the proofs for the signs,” he said, surprised by the chill in my voice.
“Charlie and Milt are at lunch. You may be able to catch them in town.” I began sweeping again.
“I came to say hello to you, Gwen. I only saw you for a minute last night when you and Simon were leaving.” He was being generous. I wanted to scream, “You mean when I was gawking at you kissing that woman?” But I contained myself.
“Oh,” palms sweating now, “yeah, I thought that was you, but we were in such a hurry and you looked…well, occupied,” I said. “Frequent that place quite a bit, do you? Different girl every weekend?”
“Not exactly. What’s that supposed to mean?” Michael seemed taken aback.
“Well, the first night I saw you at Antonio’s I thought you were with a blonde, and then last night—wasn’t she a brunette? Different woman, right?”
Michael smiled that smile again, “Are you keeping score?”
“Look, Michael, I know what kind of guy you are. Women are…trophies, collectables. Tourists, lonely women, no commitments, no hard work, I get it. I appreciate your help with the tile for the aviary and I’m sure you’re quite a charmer, but I’m not interested. I’m not the kind of woman you’re used to dealing with.” My heart was racing by now, clearly betraying my harsh words. “I see right through the sexy artist guy with the beautiful eyes.” I was rambling again and he was looking down at the floor, so I stopped. There was a long silence while I put the brooms and brushes away.
“So you think I’m sexy?” he asked, smiling an even more delicious smile.
“Yes!” I wanted to shout, but I wouldn’t be another notch on that belt. I looked down and I kept myself busy. I wasn’t winning this game. He clearly had the upper hand.
“You know, we could go somewhere and really dance, if you wanted to…no brooms.” Michael turned up the corner of his mouth and winked at me. Clearly my words had not deterred him. Where did he learn this stuff?
“I…don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“What are you so afraid of?” Michael said with a hint of sympathy that really annoyed me.
“Afraid? Oh please, I’m not afraid,” I said rolling my eyes. “What, because I don’t want to be paraded around a dance floor like the flavor of the month? No, make that flavor of the night for you.” I looked right into his eyes. “I don’t dance. Dancing is for…well, it’s not for me.”
“Gwen, dancing’s for everyone. You seemed to be enjoying yourself with the broom there and Simon last night. I’m sure your parents sent you to those fancy finishing schools to learn to dance.” He knew he was getting under my skin. He was watching me last night. How else would he have known I danced with Simon?
“Oh, I can dance. I said I don’t dance. There’s a difference. I’m choosing not to…”
“Have fun? Lighten up? Let your hair down?” Michael interrupted.
“That’s right…all of that. I’m not that way,” I said, trying to sound convincing. None of this made sense, but I stood tall.
“Hmm. That’s a shame. Sad, actually.”
“Sad? Believe me, there’s nothing sad about me.” Now I was angry. “You can’t deal with the fact that I’m not fawning all over you and dying to put on the war paint and attach myself to your arm. Two different women in a few weeks and Lord knows how many there’ve been in between.” I was on a roll. Keep breathing Gwen, you have him on the ropes. “Is that how it works, Michael? Do you take these women dancing first and then prance around town telling the guys what ‘good girls’ they were? No, thank you.” I turned to leave, make my dramatic exit.
“Wow, what happened to you? I’m talking about a dance; a night out, and you’re acting like I want to enslave you. Gwen, I’m not looking to own you, or any of the women I spend time with for that matter. I want to get to know you. There’s a difference. I think you’re interesting. You don’t need the war paint, no uncomfortable dull conversation, and believe me…no one would ever call you a ‘good girl’.”