Since there is no practical way of posting these in any kind of order, you might want to take a look at Part I first just to see what I'm up to.
This is the second, revised, and romance-oriented version of the opening of my current WIP. I'm not an idiot, so I know both openings have their pluses and minuses. I'm just curious to see which version holds reader attention most and why. And I'm curious as to what kind of reader prefers which. Highly unscientific, but then, I'm creative and not precise, so I work with what I have!
Miss Know-it-all says, you can’t win if you don’t play the game.
“You’re on the news, Gwyn!”
Gwyneth Carlisle’s mocha grande went down the wrong way, and she nearly spewed coffee across her keyboard. Those were the last words she wanted to hear.
“Look, there’s the store, and Belle’s shop.” Crystal Bennet, Gwyn’s twenty-year-old clerk gestured at the television mounted above the Help Yourself Bookstore’s coffee counter.
Waiting for her heart to find its way back down her throat and into its niche in her chest, Gwyn grabbed a Kleenex and patted her mouth dry. Crystal didn’t expect an answer anyway.
“They’re running that bit about St. Lucia’s renovations—as if you haven’t been here for five years already. Why don’t they show Shorty’s nightclub? That’s news.”
Five years, enough to feel safe—until now. If she hadn’t been on edge already, she wouldn’t have reacted so badly to Crystal’s chatter. Absently threading her fingers through her white-blonde curls, Gwyn glared at the glossy photo on the book jacket of Surviving on Minimum Wage. A beard disguised the lower half of the author’s face—probably hiding a weak jaw, she decided. A low-crowned fedora shadowed his eyes, no doubt concealing a balding head.
She bet she’d recognize the nosy reporter if he showed up here, but why should he? The rumor from the book industry columnist had to be wrong. Mack Headley’s specialty was exposing rich corporations who took advantage of the poor. She’d admire the man’s intellect and character if she wasn’t so terrified he was about to dig up old dirt. She wasn’t rich any longer, and her father had gone to jail for what he’d done. Where was the story in that?
She really didn’t want to run away again.
“Come with me to Shorty’s tonight,” Crystal begged. “I just want to see the inside.”
“That’s so not going to happen.” As an educated and experienced counselor, Gwyn knew she ought to correct Crystal’s lack of responsibility and underage drinking. Instead, she regressed to her role of bookish introvert not accountable for anyone but herself and opened the store’s desktop computer to Google for any further gossip about Mack Headley’s next book.
Had she been smart enough to know she needed a real career instead of a husband, she would have taken her degree in library science rather than the self-indulgence of psychology. She was much happier today amid her stacks of books than she had been in the therapist’s office she’d occupied after the debacle of her non-wedding.
“If you won’t go to bars, how are you going to celebrate if you win the lottery?” Crystal demanded, topping off a customer’s cappuccino with whipped cream. “I’m gonna buy a big ol’ Jag and drive it past Nasty Nick’s house about a thousand times.”
Gwyn wanted to repeat, So not going to happen. As the daughter of an executive who’d gone down for the collapse of the mega-bucks Scanlon corporation, Gwyn could even correct her clerk’s naïve assumptions about wealth. Instead, she gave her usual sage advice: “Money won’t buy happiness.”
“Fat lot you know.” Crystal handed their last shopper his coffee cup and followed him to the front door.
“Read more, you’ll learn.” Of course, her lessons in money came from personal experience and not books, but Gwyn didn’t intend to explain that. The less people knew about her past, the safer she was. “The coffee is hot,” she warned their departing customer.
The commuter raised his hand in acknowledgement as he departed. Crystal flipped the CLOSED sign but didn’t lock up behind him.
“You sound like my granny,” Crystal complained, flouncing back to the coffee shop. “No one wants to be told to put their coat on or to drive carefully. You’re supposed to flirt with the customers, not irritate them.”
Gwyn rolled her eyes, perfectly aware that Crystal was right. A good bookstore/café owner would smile, meet a customer’s eyes, and make polite small talk. She knew what to do. She ought to be able to do it.
But her mouth formed cotton balls every time she tried. She was cut out to be a librarian, not a salesperson. Unfortunately, libraries didn’t hire psychologists.
Scratching behind Charlie Cat’s black and white ear for the reassurance of his contented purr, Gwyn gave up on the internet search. Instead, she opened her alter ego’s advice column file and typed to herself: Dear Miss Know-it-all, I’m losing business because I can’t talk to customers. How do I fix myself before I go broke?--Panicky
And the miracle of her subconscious typed back: Listen, stupid. People love to hear themselves talk. Who wants your advice anyway?
The common sense part of her split personality had a way with words.
“I’m boss, I get to be irritating,” she countered Crystal’s granny remark. “Close up the register over there, will you?” She was at least learning to delegate her duties.
The Taunting Sky
15 minutes ago