Sunshine Avenue Book Excerpt | Author Jan Moran
Owned & Operated by Sunny Palms Press, LLC.
Owned & Operated by Sunny Palms Press, LLC.
Owned & Operated by Sunny Palms Press, LLC.
Owned & Operated by Sunny Palms Press, LLC.

Sunshine Avenue Book Excerpt

Sunshine Avenue 400x600 1“That’s the house?” Junie’s heart sank as she eased her grandmother’s golf cart to the curb in front of a ramshackle cottage. Sun-bleached paint peeled from the wooden porch. She turned to her friend Jo, who owned Cuppa Jo’s, a local diner on Crown Island. “It looks pretty rough.”

“I told you it needs new paint,” Jo replied. “It’s fairly original. That’s my house over there. The lavender one with yellow shutters. This one could look like that, too.”

Other cottages on the street were splashed with sherbet colors of the rainbow, a Crown Island tradition. Junie wondered what color she might paint the old house. As she slid from the golf cart she used to run around the small island, her gaze fell on overgrown grass, tangled vines, and weed-infested gardens. As bad as it was, the empty lot next door was even worse. 

“I’d have to hack my way through this jungle.” Junie brushed tiny flying insects from her bare arms as she started up the broken pathway. “Think I could get the neighbors to clean up their place, too?”

“That’s the best part of this deal.” Jo gestured to the adjoining empty lot. “The land from here to that other house is included with this house. That house on the other side is for sale, too.”

Junie glanced at the neat home that abutted the overgrown lot. The beautiful structure had wrap-around porches, a small but well-tended garden, and swings that hung from an old tree. Splashed in ocean blue with white and navy trim, the larger home could have been featured in a magazine. Even the For Sale sign was fancy.

“I’m sure that’s much more than I want to spend,” Junie said. She liked this smaller cottage. “That house is too large for just me.” 

Having not lived alone for years, Junie thought the larger home was a bit intimidating. For now, she was better suited toward the cozy little nest. She tried to picture it with a fresh coat of paint. 

Peering beyond thickets that obscured her view of the adjoining land, she asked, “Is there anything back there?”

“Citrus trees line the rear.” Jo kicked a fallen branch to one side of the walk. “Old Mrs. Ashbury’s orchard produced the sweetest tangerines and orange, as well as lemon, lime, and grapefruit. She used to give me sacks of fruit, but after she died, the new tenants stopped tending to the trees. It was a real fairy tale of a garden, though. I’m sure you could bring it back.”

The idea of picking fresh grapefruit for breakfast appealed to Junie. “I like working outside, even though I have a lot to learn.” 

A frisson of excitement coursed through her as she took in the tired cottage. Sure, it needed work, but the size and location were ideal for her. The sound of the nearby ocean would be a pleasant lullaby. Plus, it would be a short bike ride to her grandmother Ella’s home, where her mother and sister Maileah were staying. Although she loved her family, with Maileah’s arrival from Seattle, the house was proving far too small for all of them. 

Her sister couldn’t afford to move because she’d lost her job, and their mother had committed to staying with Ella. If Junie wanted more room, she’d have to move. 

She just wasn’t sure if she was ready yet, even though living with Maileah and her moping around was difficult. Junie hadn’t forgotten that her sister had initially sided with their philandering father in their parent’s divorce.

“Watch your step,” Jo said as she approached the porch with her light, energetic gait. Her short, dark hair gleamed in the sunshine.

The scent of thick green vegetation rose around them, and bees flitted among scraggly lavender bushes.

Junie stepped gingerly onto the front porch, taking care to avoid unstable planks and the rickety railing. Still, the cottage had potential. 

While she didn’t need the adjoining lot, she began to imagine how she might turn it into a magical garden. Bucolic images of fruit-laden trees and a rippling pond filled her mind. She could probably manage. Watch a few videos and buy some gardening books. How hard could it be? 

Jo fished in her jeans pocket and produced a key. “I’ll see if this still works. Mrs. Ashbury liked me to check on the house when she was away visiting her children. They’re the heirs to her estate.”

“Will they mind if we go in?”

“I called and asked,” Jo replied. “Her son told me they might clean before listing it for sale, but he and his siblings don’t want to make any repairs. They plan to sell it as it is. Because of that, I think you could get it for a great price.” 

Jo turned the key, and the door swung open.

Immediately, a stench wafted from the darkened interior, and the two women backed up. Junie pulled her thin cotton scarf from her long hair and pressed it over her nose. “Did something die in there?”

“I hope not,” Jo said, suddenly looking doubtful. “The former tenants kept to themselves. I haven’t been inside since Mrs. Ashbury passed away. The place was always neat and tidy when she lived here. Let’s open some windows.”

The wooden floor creaked under their footsteps. Junie pushed aside smoke-laden drapes and flung open a window. A shaft of sunlight fell on a mountain of garbage bags. Flies feasted on rotting food scraps in partially open bags. 

“That’s the problem,” Junie said, holding her scarf to her nose again. “Looks like they had an aversion to taking out the garbage. Who lives like that?”

“People who don’t want to pay for trash pickup.” Jo shook her head. “They were a bunch of kids. There were a lot of them drifting in and out. I’ll tell the family so they can have someone clean this up. That’s the least they can do.”

In the kitchen, a doggie door hung open to the outside. “That smell is probably attracting other critters, too,” Junie said, shuddering at the thought of rats and raccoons traipsing through the house at night. “Let’s make this quick.”

They hurried through the house. Holding her breath, Junie quickly counted a nice primary bedroom and two smaller ones, two bathrooms, and living and dining rooms. Most opened onto more overgrown gardens. Everything was dated but mostly serviceable. She made a mental list of what she would need: a refrigerator, washer, and dryer. And buckets of bleach and paint.

Junie burst through the front door and exhaled, then gulped in fresh ocean air. “That needs to be fumigated.”

“But it could be charming,” Jo said. “My place wasn’t much better when I bought it.” When Junie raised her brow, Jo added, “Though it didn’t stink. Still, the heirs will take about half of what it would be worth if it were fixed up. I call that a stinkin’ good deal.”

Junie laughed at that. “Maybe that stench has some merit then.” She glanced back at the house. Given a good cleaning, paint, and gardening, it could be adorable. And the location was perfect.

What would Mark have thought of this?

It had been more than two years since he’d died, yet she often wondered what he would think or advise her to do. They’d confided everything to each other. They’d had a real partnership and love-filled marriage, and she still missed him every day. 

“I suppose I could work on it, but…” Junie paused and wagged her head. 

Could she really do this without Mark, or was she deluding herself? She barely knew the difference between a regular screwdriver and those with four points, whatever they were called. 

This wasn’t what her therapist would call a baby step. This was a giant leap into what could be an endless money pit. 

Junie could feel Jo’s gaze on her. Maybe her friend sensed she had other concerns. Was that a trace of pity in her eyes? Junie hated that, as if being a widow somehow made her a victim of circumstance. Even if, technically, she was. But that made people treat her differently, and she was tired of it.

“I’d help you,” Jo said. “Sailor and Blue and their buddies would probably pitch in, too.”

“I don’t know about that…”

Jo touched her shoulder with an empathetic gesture. “It’s how we do things on the island. Ask your grandmother. Blue and some of the other guys on the police force have helped paint her house and do minor repairs.”

“We’re all grateful for that.” Junie knew that Ella sometimes watched children or baked extra bread or cookies for people, especially Officer Blumenthal, or Blue, as he was known, and Sailor, a surfer who ran the bike concession at the Majestic Hotel. Sailor and Blue were among Ella’s favorites. 

A knot formed in Junie’s chest as she thought about the empty house. Would people visit her here?

“This is such a great deal.” Jo peered at her. “What’s really holding you back?”

“I’ve never lived alone,” Jo blurted out, fully aware of how infantile that sounded. She felt her face warm with embarrassment.

Jo arched an eyebrow. “How old are you again?”

“Thirty-two. But I went from my parents’ home to having college roommates, and then I married. After Mark’s accident, I moved home right away.” 

The quietness of the condominium she’d shared with her husband was more than she could bear. Sleeping alone was hard enough, but waking to the silent void only deepened her grief. 

Junie recalled that with one look at her sunken eyes, her mother had insisted she return home to her old room where she could look after her. 

Even then, Junie could hardly bring herself to change out of Mark’s old shirts that she wore day after day. Now, she barely remembered that dark period, but the horror of the solitude she experienced was still fresh in her mind, as was her waning desire to live without him. 

Fortunately, her mother had intervened and brought her to Crown Island to look after Ella, who’d been ill. If not for her family, Junie knew she might not have made it through. More than once, she’d thought of following Mark to the other side. 

Thank goodness she hadn’t.

Jo’s cheery voice broke into her thoughts. “You’re working at the hotel gift shop now and making friends there. And I saw you at Cuppa Jo’s. Blue introduced you to everyone. You don’t have to be alone if you don’t want to be.”

“I don’t know…”

Jo smiled with confidence. “Sunshine Avenue is a great street. We often pool our suppers for potluck on the spur of the moment or share a bottle of wine at sunset. You’d love it here.”

Junie stared back at the sad, decrepit house. She knew it was time she faced the last of her fears. Drawing a nervous breath, she said, “Maybe this old house and I are meant for each other.”

Jo’s eyes widened. “Does that mean you’ll buy it?”

At her friend’s stark words, Junie suddenly realized the magnitude of this step. She wasn’t just renting a place but taking full responsibility for it—repairs and all. Still, the price was right. So was the location. Doubts surged through her mind, and she held up her hand.

“Not yet.” Junie shook her head. “First, I need to talk to my mom about this. And my grandmother. She knows the island so well.”

“Okay, but please don’t wait too long,” Jo said, frowning. “I’m not the only person who knows this house is going up for sale—and probably for a higher price than the heirs would entertain right now. I really want you to be a part of Sunshine Avenue.”

“I appreciate that,” Junie said, smiling. She had only known Jo a few months, but they’d become good friends. “Thanks for showing me, and I promise I’ll think about it.” Junie swung into the golf cart. “Shall I drop you off at the diner?”

“Sure,” Jo replied. “And I won’t tell anyone else about this place until you decide. But I have a strong feeling it’s going to sell quickly. Houses like this don’t come along every day.”

“I know.” Neither did men like Mark. 

While Junie needed to move, especially given Maileah’s temperament, she wasn’t sure if she was truly ready to live on her own. More than being alone, she feared regressing into that dark place she’d been. What if she made a mistake?

After dropping off Jo at her restaurant, Junie wheeled the golf cart back to the Majestic Hotel, the old Victorian-era hotel that was the pride of Crown Island. She parked in the employee area before hurrying toward the gift shop. Her phone buzzed, and she glanced down as she walked. It was Jo, telling her she overheard someone at Cuppa Jo’s talking about the house on Sunshine Avenue. 

Don’t take too long to think about it.

Surprised at that, Junie rounded a corner in the shopping corridor with her head down, still focusing on the message. 

A tall, solid man cried out just as they made contact, and a sheaf of papers took flight, fluttering down around them. She stumbled back in surprise, her arms flailing.

“Got you,” he cried, catching her by the arm. His firm grip kept her from falling, but her phone lurched away.

He caught it with his free hand. “And your phone, too.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t see you,” she said, embarrassed at her clumsiness. 

“It’s okay. I’ve done the same thing.” He held out her phone like a prize. 

Only then did Junie look up at the man who’d caught her. His warm, greenish-hazel eyes were filled with amusement. His firm grip on her arm relaxed, though his hand lingered for a moment, magnetic in its touch. Dark auburn hair curled just beneath his earlobes. He was large and well-built, like some sort of legendary Scottish Highlander. 

Or maybe she’s been watching too many Outlander episodes in the dark of her room. She should have stepped back more quickly than she did, but she was strangely rooted to the spot—and to him.

“Uh, thanks,” Junie managed to say. His actions were impressively swift. “How did you catch that? My phone, I mean.” 

“I’m good with my hands.” The man gave her a nod, then continued on his way. He glanced back to give her a half-grin.

Junie smiled at him, feeling mildly embarrassed. Her friend Jo was right about people on Crown Island. She wondered if that guy was a local or a hotel guest.

Not that it mattered, she thought, recovering from the encounter. But wow, she’d never met anyone like him before. If Maileah were here, she’d be after him in a heartbeat.

As Junie unlocked the door, she flipped over the sign that read, Gone to the Beach, turning it to We’re Open, Sunshine. She waved to Faye, the neighboring owner of The Body Boutique, and went inside.

A hotel guest in shorts and sandals followed her and began browsing her selection of sea-inspired candles. “It smells wonderful in here,” the woman said.

“That’s the new Ocean Air candle,” Junie said, pointing toward a blue box. 

The woman brought it to her nose and inhaled. A smile warmed her face. “I’ll need several of these.”

“I have plenty.” While the woman shopped, Junie gathered several of the candles from her backstock before turning her attention to the bookkeeping.

Her shop sales were climbing, much to the hotel manager’s surprise. Like the house on Sunshine Avenue, this shop had been a disaster when she’d first seen it, although not nearly as bad. Whitley, who had managed the hotel for years, had given her a chance to show him what she could do with it. He was pleased with her efforts, as was the new hotel owner, Ryan Kingston. 

Ryan and her mother were seeing a lot of each other, and Junie was trying to adjust to the idea of her mother dating. Fortunately, Junie had landed this position on her own before her mother and Ryan started going out. 

This was the first job Junie had attempted since Mark died. She sold the online shop they’d built together. That had started with athletic shoes and expanded into athleisure fashion. Junie had done all the buying and created the assortment and visuals. She’d loved doing that, but she’d lost the heart to go on after her husband’s death.

Now, she was feeling better and enjoying the fresh challenge, thanks to this store.

While some people might have seen a tired old gift shop, Junie saw an opportunity. With her entrepreneurial inclination awakened, she dove in.

First, she made drastic markdowns on the old inventory. She sold it all and donated the rest. Next, she cleaned the space, repurposed vintage fixtures, and re-merchandised the entire store. She brought in luxurious Majestic-branded merchandise and unusual local crafts. Most of her new assortment sold well. 

Now, she wanted to expand the offerings with unique products of her own. And that would change her original plan.

Junie and her husband had owned a profitable online store, so she was confident in her merchandising and online marketing skills. While her husband’s life insurance and the sale of their online store left her without financial concerns, she didn’t want to make any mistakes. Not in buying an old house or in building another company. This time, she had to make those decisions on her own, which was slightly terrifying but also exciting. 

She was more confident about a new product line venture. In fact, she had an idea she wanted to discuss with Whitley and Ryan. If they would allow it, she would have exactly what she wanted. 

If not, she didn’t know how long she’d be satisfied working in a hotel gift shop. 

In that regard, her sister had been right. Maileah, who had worked in marketing for a technology company in Seattle before being laid off, insisted that Junie was working far beneath her pay grade. That was true, but Junie had needed this.

And now, her entrepreneurial curiosity was awakened, and she yearned for more.

A man in a police officer’s uniform stepped inside. He was attractive enough to have been included on this year’s Crown Island fundraising calendar featuring the men and women of the community’s police force and firefighting force—Serving the Crown, it was called. Blue was even featured on the cover of the calendar, which she’d seen in her friend Faye’s shop across the hall.

“Hi, Junie. Thought I’d stop by to see how you’re doing. I saw you drop off Jo a little earlier.”

Junie greeted him with an air kiss to the cheek. “Nothing gets past you, Blue.” She counted him as a new friend. They’d gone to an evening jam session at Cuppa Jo’s not long ago, where she’d met many locals. 

“That’s my job.”

She noticed tiny beads of perspiration on his broad forehead, though it was pleasantly cool inside. “Is there something I can help you with, Blue?”

Hesitating, Blue tucked a thumb into his belt loop and hitched his trousers before he spoke. “I was thinking, that is, if you’re available, maybe you’d like to see the Beach Festival fireworks show on Friday. It’s a local event that celebrates the founding of Crown Island.”

“Sure, who’s going?”

“Most everyone, I guess.” He rubbed his neck as if uncomfortable. “But I thought, well, maybe you’d like to have dinner with me before we go?”

He seemed nervous, and Junie’s senses went on alert. This sounded different from their casual evening at Cuppa Jo’s. He’d simply given her a ride and introduced her to others. She didn’t count that as a date. Or was it?

“By ourselves?” she managed to squeak out. She hadn’t been on a date since Mark died. Even the thought of dating seemed so far away.

Blue stroked his chin. “Sure, just us. If you want to, I mean.”

The hotel guest was standing behind Blue with several candles. With relief, Junie quickly motioned her to the register. “Excuse me, Officer Blumenthal. I need to ring up this guest.”

He stepped aside, and the woman placed the candles she’d selected on the vintage table that served as a checkout counter.

“These are our most popular candles, and the aroma is fabulous,” Junie said to the woman. “Be sure to trim the wick a little each time so that it doesn’t char the inside of the container. I visited the artisan creators recently, too. Why, you should see the care they take in making these by hand.” 

Junie chatted with the guest, rattling off more instructions and talking about the candlemakers. The woman was talkative, too. Junie was thankful for that because she had no idea how to respond to Blue. 

Had she misled him? He was very nice, but he wasn’t anything like Mark.

No one was, though,

Taking her time to calm her nerves, Junie carefully wrapped each candle individually. Using one of her special gift bags, she created a lovely presentation, even though the woman was only going back to her room. The woman seemed amused and kept glancing between Junie and Blue with a smile. 

Junie didn’t know what to do. She enjoyed Blue’s company when he stopped by the shop to chat, but she hadn’t thought of him beyond that. 

Still, if she wanted the chance to start a family someday, a father would likely be part of that equation unless she got creative. And she had no idea how to do that, either. Maybe she could adopt a child as a single woman, but she had always envisioned herself being happily married with children. To Mark, or even someone like that man she’d nearly knocked over, she mused. She shook her head. Wherever that thought came from. 

Maileah would surely laugh at her for that. 

But Blue was here now. And he was waiting for her. Each time she stole a glance at him, her chest tightened with trepidation.

When Junie finished affixing every embellishment she could think of to the woman’s package—bows and streamers, handfuls of fluffy pink tissue, clip-on mermaids and starfish, a sticker with the name of the shop, another one for the Majestic Hotel, even a little votive candle in another scent as a gift, plus her business card and coupon for another visit—she looked up. 

“Will there be anything else?” she asked hopefully. “Any other gifts you might need? Or something to pamper yourself? We have matching room sprays…”

The woman chuckled. “This is beautiful—and it’s quite enough.” She paused, whispering, “Besides, I think someone is expecting an answer.”

Junie’s face blazed, and she wanted to crawl under the table. She knew her face flushed bright red with embarrassment—she’d been teased about that all her life. She thanked the guest, and the woman strolled out, waggling her eyebrows.

With any luck, the fire alarm would go off, an earthquake would rattle the windows, or the Loch Ness creature’s seafaring cousin would spring to the beach and gobble them whole. She stared at the table, praying for disaster to strike, but fortune betrayed her.

Blue shifted from one foot to another. “Junie, what do you think about the fireworks? And dinner?”

“I think we’re both sort of nervous,” she replied, rubbing her cheek.

He let out a whoosh of relief. “I don’t do this very often. Ask out people, I mean. Women, that is.” He coughed and flushed as he stumbled over his words.

Blue was good-looking and capable—straight out of Central Casting, as her mother once said. Junie wouldn’t have expected him to be so awkward, so it was sort of endearing. 

She gave him a small, empathetic smile. “I understand. And if you’re wondering, I haven’t gone out with anyone since Mark.”

A horrified look crossed his face. “Oh, my gosh, I didn’t think about that. If you’re not ready…”

Junie blinked at a length of ribbon she’d twisted into knots, just like her stomach. If she never took a chance, she would never know what might develop in her future. She had to start somewhere. And yet— The ribbon snapped. “Can I let you know tomorrow?”

“Sure,” Blue said, sounding relieved. “You can text me.”

“I don’t have your number.”

“Oh, right. I can put it in your phone.” 

“Just write it down.” Junie fumbled for a pad of paper and slid it across the table.

Blue scribbled his number. “See you around. Or by text. Or maybe tomorrow.”

“I’ll be here,” she said, her voice squeaking again. Her chirpiness was grating even to her ears. “Or I’ll call you.”

“Or text, huh?”

Junie twisted the ribbon tighter. “Right. Or text.” 

“Sure. Okay. Sounds good.” He backed out of the door and hurried away.

Junie sank her face into her hands. What would her mother or Jo have to say about that tongue-twisted exchange? 

Or Maileah? She winced at the thought of that. Her sister had men panting after her.

The house on Sunshine Avenue and her idea for a new line were enough to think about. She certainly didn’t need a man in her life. 

She squeezed her eyes shut. Unless it were Mark.

But that was only wishful thinking.

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