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Here's what it's all about...
At a town fair on the coast of Oregon, handsome Native American carny, Vincent Youngblood, bestows an unforgettable kiss on shy, awkward teenager, Charlotte Davenport. Then disappears without another word, leaving her baffled and enamored.
Ten years later, Charlotte is still living in the small fishing town of Astoria, while being trained to--reluctantly--take over for her philandering hotelier father when he retires. After all, who else will do it? Her two perfect sisters are busy being married to their flawless husbands and having cookie cutter children, while Charlotte remains single, childless, and every bit as mousy as she was a decade ago.
As Charlotte struggles to climb out from underneath her judgmental parents thumb, the carnival rolls back into town, and Charlotte finds herself face to face with Vin again. He's back to run his father's carnival, walking away from a promising career in medicine he started in Chicago. Will her biased and judgmental family accept her relationship with a man who is not only a Native American, but works as a carny for a living? And what unsavory secrets bind the well-educated and seemingly superlative Vin to that ramshackle carnival? After all, you can t judge a carny by its cover.
We arrived at the Column just as the sun was laying low in sky above the Pacific Ocean, its rays painting pink and orange streaks across the sky. Conversation between Vin and I flowed naturally, and I was surprised to learn that I could make him laugh easily. I almost forgot that I was on a date and incredibly self-conscious by nature. Vin made all of my insecurities melt away.
Instead of shifting in my seat, and adjusting my belt to make sure my stomach looked flat, I just rested my arm out the window and let my hand dance on the wind. Instead of choosing my words carefully and making sure that I said the right thing at the right time in order to ensure that I appeared well spoken and smart…I actually laughed and joked around.
Since the Column closed in a half an hour, the parking lot was empty and the groundskeeper just waved to us as we exited the car. We walked the circumference of the lot, taking in the stunning views and swapping horror stories from our younger days. Vin told me about the time he burned himself so badly climbing the rope in gym that he had to wear shorts for two weeks until his crotch area healed. In January. In Chicago.
I told him about the time I sneezed right as the camera went off when my sophomore school portraits were being taken, forever freezing my crumpled, and snot covered face in the yearbook. He explained that his first kiss happened in a broom closet at a Sadie Hawkins dance and that his braces sliced his date’s lips to bits, and I recalled the morning when I tripped on my way into science lab and chipped my tooth on the desk that belonged to the quarterback of the football team.
It was safe to say that we’d found a connection in our painful pasts as high school geeks. Talking to Vin made me feel comfortable with myself, which was a rarity for me. And it felt so good.
“You know, I have a confession.” He said as we approached the stairs in the Column. I gestured for him to climb first, as I was wearing a skirt, and also because I was completely terrified of the height.
“What’s that?” I tried not to look down, as the iron steps inside of the Column opened from top to bottom, and every time I spiraled around the long post in the middle I felt my stomach threatening to protest.
“I didn’t have high expectations for our date.”
I took a few more steps. “I’m not sure how to take that.”
Vin laughed heartily. “Well when I saw you at the carnival yesterday, I decided to ask you out mainly because it was my night off, and I thought it’d be fun to learn something about you besides your name.”
“Uh huh,” I huffed. “And now you know that I had to have dental surgery my freshman year of high school, and will forever be known as ‘booger face’ because of my yearbook picture.”
“At least you won’t be forever known as ‘hot rocks’ at your high school.” Vin climbed the stairs with ease. “What I’m trying to say is, when I asked you out, I didn’t expect to really like you.”
I looked up at him, and tried to keep my breathing even. We were only about a third of the way up, and I was already starting to pant. “But you do like me?”
Vin nodded happily. “You’re smart and funny. You’re easy to talk to, not to mention nice to look at.”
Well, he obviously needed to get his eyes checked, but I could forgive him of that.
“I like you, too,” I told him as we started climbing again, one hand grasping the railing, the other holding a fistful of skirt in a bunch between my knees. Wearing a skirt in the Column was a horrible mistake. If the groundskeeper walked under the stairs just then, he was going to see way more than he bargained for.
Vin beamed down at me. “Good. Then tell me we can go out again.”
“Isn’t the carnival leaving Astoria tomorrow?” I wheezed.
“We’re headed to Seaside next. But we’re based in Tillamook. It’s not like a traveling circus.” His eyes shone, and he took a few steps two at a time. “How many steps are in this thing?”
I looked down at the brochure we’d plucked from the visitor center. Catching a glimpse of the ground below us, my stomach roiled. “Um…one hundred sixty four.”
“You hangin’ in there?”
“Sure. Never better.” Good Lord, who did this on a first date? Whatever happened to a candle lit dinner and a walk on the beach? My lungs were starting to burn.
“Well, at least we’re walking off those deep fried crab legs.” Vin’s feet echoed on the iron steps, the sound bouncing around loudly in the giant cement tube we were climbing.
“That’s one way of looking at it.” I heard the pace of his steps increase for a moment, and then stop.
“Made it. Come on, Charlotte, you don’t want to miss this view.”
Since he couldn’t see me, I gripped the railing with both hands, threw a little prayer in God’s direction asking him not to let me plummet to my death, and hoisted myself the rest of the way up. My heart was beating in my ears, and sweat was pricking at my hairline, so I stood at the top of the stairs for a beat before joining Vin out on the small observation deck.
He looked so majestic, standing with both hands on the railing, his long braid making a shock of black down the back of his light shirt. It made me feel so frumpy, looking at him from behind. He was fit, and handsome, and not at all what one would expect from a carny. I wondered why he was running Young’s Blood entertainment, instead of doing whatever he’d gone to school for.
Note to self: ask Vin what he went to college for.
Right as my heart was slowing down to a normal pace, he turned and smiled at me. “You alright?”
Unable to think of a witty response due to the affect his deep voice had on my brain, I just nodded.
“Have you ever been up here before?”
I shook my head numbly. “My fifth grade class came here for a field trip once. I only made it halfway up, then chickened out.”
“And you haven’t come here since?” He left the railing and came over to the doorway. “Not even on a hot date in high school?”
“I didn’t have a lot of hot dates in high school.” I glanced downward and swayed in place. “It’s really high.”
“Come here.” He held a hand out to me. “Don’t be afraid. The railing is very strong, and you don’t want to miss this view.”
“Aren’t you supposed to tell me that you’ll rescue me if I fall?” I forced a fake laugh, and ignored the stitch in my side. Taking hold of his hand, I felt a spark of electricity dance up my arm. “Isn’t that how you impress the girls?”
“Unfortunately, if you fall from up here, I don’t think there is much I can do for you, except call 911. But, I promise to be very careful.” He carefully eased me through the doorway, and brought me to the edge of the observation deck. His hand stayed wrapped around mine, making my heart skitter.
“Wow…” I released a rush of air, and took in the startling view.
Green. Green trees so thick it looked like the land below us was covered in lush carpeting. The land rolled down to the mouth of the river, where the waters of Young’s Bay fed into the Pacific Ocean, and barges that were ten times the size of the hotel glided slowly along the waves. The two-mile long, green Megler Bridge, rose up above the buildings of lower Astoria, then lowered to just above the water, closing the gap between Oregon and Washington State. Behind us, the peak of Mount Rainier rose above the vegetation like a cake topper, and Vin and I stood there taking in the view in awe. It was stunning.
“I can’t believe I’ve never been up here.” I breathed as Vin’s thumb traced a line along my knuckles over and over again. “You really can see forever.”
“I can see a few miles into Washington.” Vin used his free hand to point across the choppy waters of the Columbia. “It’s so beautiful here. So many mountains, trees, rivers, creeks, bays. It’s baffling, the natural beauty here.”
Though I in no way could take credit for the beauty of the Oregon coast, I found myself feeling proud that I’d grown up in such an amazing place. “Thank you. I think so, too.”
“Look down there.” He pointed to the south, where a couple of roofs were visible through the bountiful green foliage, about half a mile back down Coxcomb Hill. “What a stunning view those homes must have. That one with the widow’s walk must be amazing.”
The all too familiar self-consciousness I usually carried with me like a purse full of rocks returned. Did Vin realize who my family was? Everyone who lived between Astoria and Portland knew the Davenport family, and its prominence amongst the small towns dotting the coast. My grandfather had been mayor of Seaside for eight years, and my father had big plans to run for mayor of Astoria after his retirement. The very home Vin was gesturing at was the one I would go to bed in after the end of our date.
The way his thumb felt stroking my skin was sending shivers up the length of my arm. “I think they’re overrated.”
He looked at me through the corner of his eye. “That sounded bitter.”
“Well, it’s just that…” I hesitated, my mouth open. How exactly did I tell Vin that my family was wealthy, when he was working for a rag tag local carnival? In my meager experience with men up until now, men either glommed on to me because of the notoriety associated with my last name. Or they ran in the opposite direction under the assumption that I must be every bit as pretentious as my family. “That house, the one with the widow’s walk, is my house.”
He looked at the house and blinked a few times. “You own that house right there?”
“No. I mean, it’s my parent’s house.” I stared at the crisp white of the railing around the widow’s walk. “And I live there. With my parents. Now you know that I live at home, I can officially admit to being a loser.”
His white teeth shone in the dark when he grinned. “Charlotte, I live at my father’s place in Tillamook. If living with your parents makes you a loser, then I’m every bit as pathetic as you are.”
“I moved home after Lance and I broke up. I want to move to my own place, but…” My voice trailed off, and I looked down at Vin’s hands and mine. Our fingers laced together made such a pretty picture, with his bronzed fingers and my painfully white ones.
I frowned. “My mom is complex. And my dad is a big fish in a little pond. He’s sort of pompous, and he ignores my mom. A lot. She and my dad are dysfunctional, and she tends to depend on my sisters and me for support. I want to move out, but feel sort of responsible for my mom.”
The corners of his mouth turned downward. “I can relate more than you realize.”
We stood there for a spell, observing the view in silence. I wondered what he meant by that. Did he have a demanding mother, too? Or was he referring to his father, the man Adam had told me all about earlier? Was Vin responsible for his father?
Vin turned to me, resting his hip against the railing so that he was positioned between the one hundred twenty five foot drop off and me. He drew a breath, tucking a strand of my hair behind my ear with a mild expression.
“Charlotte?” He leaned close to me.
I swallowed. “What?”
“I want to kiss you.”
My heart leapt into my throat. “Then do it.”
“I think I’m out of practice.” His breath tickled my lips.
“So am I.”