His Little Lanie

Fairy Tales In A Small Town, Book 2

May 2017

Available From: Amazon | B&N | iBookstore | GooglePlay | Kobo | Scribd | Inktera

Just a girl in love with a guy who doesn’t know she exists. The story of Lanie Lange’s life. She rescued Eriksen from drowning when they were teenagers, but she wasn’t supposed to be there. He suffered a head injury in the accident, and he doesn’t remember her involvement. Another woman took credit for her rescue. Eriksen’s back in town now, and Lanie is dying to tell him the truth about that night. There’s just one problem. She has no proof.

Eriksen Sanders got caught up in the moment and found himself married to the wrong person. Divorced and moved home, he’s aiming to get focused and help bring about the new vibe to Happily. Only there’s something about Lanie he can’t figure out. An unexplainable pull and gut feeling that he’s met the woman before. Determined to find out, he does his best to corner her for the truth, but she constantly slips through his fingers.

In the waters of Maiden Lake, they find common ground. There the secrets about more than either of them expect begin to unravel.

His Little Lanie is a small town contemporary romance retelling of the classic fairy tale, The Little Mermaid.

Chapter One

Lanie Lange pushed through the back entrance and winced at the loud scraping of the metal door against the frame. She had to make time to fix that thing. It was an instant headache for it to squawk first off every morning. Maybe next week she’d squeeze it in. Or today. She could finish it today, but ever since their business had relocated to this building, she found herself welding constantly now that she had space to create bigger items. By the end of the day, working on a door that was functional was the farthest thing from her mind.
Not to mention summer was around the corner. Lanie’s workspace area was a large garage bay that was formerly the home of a loading and unloading section of a department store. No air conditioning. Heavy long sleeves and jeans to protect her skin from flying pieces of hot metal in the middle of ninety-plus temperature meant Lanie would get ahead on work and deal with the door later.

She twisted her hair to a low bun and tugged her welding cap down. Today she would complete their latest item to grace their Happily On Your Shelf store. A combination hat and umbrella stand that was all twisty turns and elegant arms formed from a pile of crap Lanie had discovered in her family’s junkyard.

All the main pieces had been cut and bent yesterday. After she poured over measurements and double-checked fittings, she’d have it built by the end of the day. She flipped through her notes on the project when the door leading to the storefront swished open.
Violet, one of the three Happily On Your Shelf owners, walked in with a pep in her step and all the glowing warmth of a newlywed. “Good morning.”
Lanie sucked in another mouthful of coffee to face her friend’s sing-song voice. “Morning.”

“I have some new ideas.” Violet pulled some sheets from the crook of her elbow and held them out. Violet designed. Lanie built. Cindy, the third partner to their endeavor, polished and finalized.

When Violet married over winter, Lanie half expected the designs to slow. If anything, Violet’s happy nuptials had filled her creative well. On the upside, Violet’s imagination pushed Lanie’s boundaries of what she could bring to life. It wasn’t always easy to take a sketch and create a 3D piece of art out of it. Poor Cindy though was left to figure out the rest. Be it working through details to wire a clock, add lighting, or just paint, Cindy managed to complete each idea Violet dreamed up.

Sure, it was challenging at times, but Lanie enjoyed the work. Not just because she got to be in business with her friends. Or that they were succeeding. Or that the work was fun. Okay, it was all those things. Life turned up sweet on occasion. She looked at the papers Violet brought and eyed the detailed sketch of a coffee table. Lanie turned to another sheet and found an end table. Violet had created a few pieces of furniture over the years, but before Lanie could officially begin them, Violet ran through and snatched the drawings back to make changes. They had plans to eventually branch into more prominent pieces of home décor instead of just knickknacks and souvenirs. It was all part of the long-term rollout of their business.
Looked like Violet stripped some of the ornate design off a previous version and went back to rustic with notations to use polished copper with dark-stained wood. As with every piece Violet drew, this one was just as beautiful as the last. “Are you going to let me build any of this before you take them away again?”

“Probably not.”

Lanie held the papers up. “You know, these would look good in my cabin with the patio doors and kitchen counters we already did.”

Violet beamed. “I know. That’s what I was thinking of last night and had this idea. I thought, why not use copper for a top instead of glass sunken in? I went back and forth on how much design. At one point I had wrapped the legs with a sort of vine-like element to echo the glass doors we hung there, but it looked busy. And you have that nice thick mantel there that I thought the bareness of these legs stained dark to match would complement well.”

“So maybe let me build these and we actually complete this project to see how it goes?”

“That’s the idea.” Violet sighed and crossed her arms under her chest. “But I don’t know if you can talk Cindy into polishing the copper.”

True point. They had crafted beautiful countertops in the kitchen at the cabin as a test run. They were completely stunning and a bit of a pain to bring out the pattern. Lanie tapped the pages against her palm. “I could swap the copper out for a similar coloring plate to the wrought iron around the glass doors. The deep flat black against the dark wood would be pretty.”

Violet winced. “I thought about that too, but with the thick legs of the wood to match the mantel and a black top, I got a mental image of a railroad theme and couldn’t get the look out of my head.”

And now that Violet put it there, Lanie was stuck with it too. “Maybe oil-rubbed bronze? That would be close to the copper. Close enough anyway, since the kitchen is around the corner and they won’t be put side by side. I’ll have to let Cindy have a look and get her opinion.”

“Perfect.”

Lanie held the sheets away. “But once Cindy puts her two cents in and we make a decision about a final look, you don’t get to swipe these back. Just make new ones. Or tweak off one of the other hundreds of furniture ideas you’ve given.”

“It hasn’t been hundreds.”

Lanie stared her down until Violet caved.

Her friend sighed. “Maybe if you count the ideas I had since the very beginning, before we ever got moved into the new building.”

“I am.”

“You know,” Violet moved to the work table and shifted through the other project ideas that had been piled up and she came out with the daisy sketchy. “You could do another of these.”

Not on her life. Lanie plucked the sheet out and buried it back to the bottom. “No way. Get out, you. I have work to do.”

Violet left with a chuckle. “Have fun. I’m getting the front opened.”

“I’ll have your hat stand finished today if you want to give Cindy the heads-up for this afternoon.”

Violet gave a nod and a wave and disappeared back to where Lanie would just about rather die than be: the storefront. No. Definitely not. All the people, their questions. The smiling in the face of their slow browsing. No way. Lanie settled her welding hood on, knocked it down, and it sealed her into quiet darkness where it was just her and her thoughts.

Under the hood she found the peaceful solace that was only outdone by her quiet swims at Maiden Lake. In the waters she cut through the lake with a constant stream of thoughts and ideas. Here Lanie crouched, twisted, ducked, and brought art to life with each spark and hot run of her tools. The wire gun lit on the metal and caught. Heat swarmed across the front of her as she melted metal together. First tacks and adjustments to get the angles correct. Then she laid down a long ripple of welds. The rhythmic pattern slipped out like a row of overlapping nickels that could compete with a mechanical arm. Moving constantly and working through lunch, she attached the final arm of their decorative umbrella-combo-hat stand and stood back for a look.

Lanie couldn’t wait to see what Cindy would do for this. Cindy usually arrived about now to look at what needed her attention. Lanie knocked the crusted flakes off a weld and stretched. A string of pops zipped up her spine, and a long moan slid out. One more project down meant time to start another.

She could take a break and go for a walk, but that was too risky for running into people. Anyone, really, and all their talking and questions. The chitchat was just exhausting. The weather was fine. Or it was raining. Who cared? Yes, work was great or hard or whatever. Same for everyone. While she could suffer through a long, useless chat, mostly skipping that break and walk meant less opportunity to run into their business neighbors. Or at least one of them specifically.

Not that he knew she really existed. Well, he knew she was alive and all, but that wasn’t the same thing. To save herself from spilling the truth about his past that would paint her a crazy person, she pushed her oxygen tank hoses to the side, hung up her hood, and consulted Violet’s drawings to figure out what to work on next. At some point Violet must have come through the warehouse, because that damn daisy sculpture was back on top. Never. That thing required tacking together about seventy-five nails to create the bloom. Lanie had built exactly one of those and had no plans to repeat the meticulous process again. She returned the design to its rightful place at the bottom of the stack.

The side door by the garage bay opened with a booming scrape against the frame, instantly dragging up guilt for not fixing it yet. She brushed the worries aside like always. The door creaked and grunted as it closed. Before Cindy could say anything, Lanie waved without looking up. “I know, I know. It needs to be fixed.”

“Probably nothing a little W-D can’t take care of.” A male voice echoed in the room.

She stilled as the rumbling baritone sounds rolled over her, and she slowly turned to see it wasn’t Cindy. It was the one man who didn’t know she existed in the way she knew he existed. In fairness, that may not be true. Maybe he did secretly watch her across a room, memorize every angle, muscular curve, and flick of hair only to turn away with a burning streak of shame before getting caught.

On that topic, heat smacked her around hotter than a rod bringing two pieces of metal plates together. She fumbled for her keys to call the day over and get out of there. “Hey. Um, Jacob isn’t here.”

“I know.” Eriksen Sanders swung open the metal door as he looked at it. It grinded against the frame and made that awful creaky sound. “Maybe it needs some grease and adjusted in the frame too. New hinges. Hell, might be easier to just get a whole new door.”

Door. Right. He was still on that. He didn’t know her thoughts were drowning in mild panic. Good grief, how was a girl supposed to even function with him in the room? Just look at his hands holding that door. Look. At. Them. Somehow the door hadn’t melted. Lanie sure would if he got ahold of her like that. She swallowed the knot in her throat that always seemed to appear when he was around. “I’ll try to take care of it tomorrow.”

He stood then. She was used to being the smallest person in the room. All her brothers got the tall and imposing genes out of the pool and left her with the petite and tiny hands. It shouldn’t be noticeable that she had to tip up her chin slightly to look at Eriksen, but she did. She noticed everything about his effect on her, especially how chills flaked across her skin because his side looked just right to tuck in against.

She didn’t know what the deal was. Her oldest brother was taller than Eriksen and her four other brothers were about his height. There was nothing special about Eriksen’s height, except there just was. Every last inch of him smacked all over her radar and, she’d give anything to unplug from it. Or maybe she wouldn’t. She liked the way he made her heart work overtime and lungs flutter. She just wished she could do something about the short-circuiting happening between her brain and mouth.

He gave the door a carefree swing, his long fingers caressed the barrier in a way he never would her. “Some might say the scratching noise is a perfect alarm to let you know when someone comes in.”

“True,” she managed to choke out. With that, he faced her full-on, and she all but fainted from the dizzying scramble of her thoughts. His gaze got her so light-headed. His eyes were endless dark opportunities to be explored. Not cold, but something exciting and unknown she craved to discover. She looked away and fidgeted with junk scattered over the main table of her workstation as she put effort into making a sentence.

Words, beginning, middle, end. She had to put an unreasonable amount of concentration into something that toddlers could do. “Were you looking for something?”

“Just killing time.” His voice seduced her all over again, and she couldn’t recall a single thing she was supposed to be doing in that moment. She was helpless but to glance his way. Annnnd… there was that smile.

The last of her neurons popped, sizzled, cracked, melted. Or something happened. Every last thought fell apart in her head and left her trapped like a fish floundering on the bank in need of the water. Water. She fetched her bottle from the table and sipped. The cooling liquid chilled her otherwise overheating insides. It shouldn’t be possible for a person to tangle her up so much. Maybe if he knew her shameful secret, it wouldn’t be this way?

She groaned, but if he knew the truth, then she could be privately ashamed and publicly humiliated. No thanks.

Not that he would believe her anyway. How could he? She had no proof to correct the lies he’d been told. Only her word would stand against what everyone else had assumed happened. Emotion clogged her throat, and she cleared it out along with the foolish notion of ever being able to tell him what really happened the night that boat sank.

His dark brows dipped. “You okay? Not choking on your water, are you?”

She quickly shook her head. “Fine.”

As fine as a girl could be standing this close to him. This was the closest she’d been to him since that awful night she couldn’t forget and the one he didn’t recall. Everyone talked about the screams, the horror. She remembered all that too and more. As the gas explosions had lit the night sky, she achingly pictured the blood from his gashed head, cradling him to her chest as she dragged him to shore, and talking to him because her voice for some reason had calmed him. Fourteen years had passed, and it all backed up on her at once. She moved across the room to seek oxygen that didn’t smell like him.

Like air and fresh breezes. Warm sunshine and long summer days. She sought the far end of the warehouse where it was darker and let the coolness swallow her where she pretended it was a dive to the bottom of Maiden Lake. Only she, for some reason, could find sanctuary by imagining herself sitting on the mucky floor of a lake. Not that she sought death. Just the quietness from the world above. With the water pressing on her in all directions and swallowing her in a watery hug for as long as she could hold her breath, it was like she found peace there.

“I talk to Cindy all the time at The Beanstalk. She said y’all are doing well. Better than expected?” His voice slipped inside her bubble.

It should have been like an invasion. Instead it was more like he eased in and intimately touched her all over. Only he hadn’t. “We are,” she pushed out and returned to the middle of the room before they stood together in the tight space of the corner. “Violet said Hank’s efforts were a big help to getting us going so fast.”

There, she could parrot what others said a lot easier than trying to form her own thoughts. If she started saying what came to mind, she might start yelling the truth about that night, and he’d think of her as a crazy lunatic.

“Not surprising. What Hank wants tends to happen.” He leaned against a support post in the middle of the room. So casual, so attractive. “He’s got a round of journalists, writers, and whatnot coming through in a few weeks. You’ll have lots of new people in and out of the store. Our helicopter tours will be officially starting too. So far I’ve been doing trial runs with locals for feedback of interesting places and deciding our dedicated routes.”

“That’s what Jacob said.” She fisted her hands until her nails bit into her palms. She’d heard all about the flights. Eriksen had been Hank Rault’s personal pilot for years and still was most of the time. Soon he would be tasked with flying tourists on helicopter rides through the Whiteside Mountains. He’d taken Violet and Jacob up. He also carried Violet’s twins for their thoughts. They’d all brought back stunning pictures. Cindy hadn’t made time to go yet, and Lanie had been dodging answering her invitation.

“Never hurts to have too much feedback. Let me know if you’d like to go.”

In his helicopter that was a tiny space. She’d self-implode. “Okay.”

The corner of his mouth pulled up with a grin that yanked on her. She could just walk over there, grab him by the cheeks and plant a kiss right there on his mouth. Her belly rolled over with the warm fantasy she’d envisioned a hundred different ways. She could do it. Just march over there. A sad little laugh echoed through her head. Who was she fooling? The guy made her so nervous she could barely speak to him. Besides, he just got a divorce. Doubtful he was up for tangling with a girl anytime in the near future.

He pushed off the post and walked over the room. His gaze glanced to her as he moved. It was like being circled by a shark. A mere look sent a string of tingles meshed with a bolt of anxiety along her spine. “I remember Violet and Cindy pretty well from high school, but not you.”

Funny, because in tenth grade, she could have recited off his class schedule. She supposed him not remembering her at all was the proof she needed to know he didn’t secretly desire her from across a room. Not that she really believed it was possible. Eriksen didn’t strike her as a man who would sit on the sidelines. No, if he saw something he wanted, he would go after it and just take it.

He pushed his hands in his pockets. “Cindy said you were a year younger than them?”

She nodded. In honesty, what senior star and heartthrob even noticed younger classmen? There he was, a senior in high school, and she a wall-hugging tenth grader a foot shorter than everyone around her. Still didn’t stop the wanting or desiring to have been seen.

He picked up a piece of scrap pipe she’d cut off and turned it over. “I saw your name on the paperwork when the three of you filled it out for the lease on the building. I thought you were a cousin to the Lange family and moved here or something. I didn’t realize you were their sister.” There was a large inhale of his that drew her attention.

She glanced in time to catch the slight widening of his eyes and somewhat nervous shifting of his weight between his feet as he put the piece back down. She was often swallowed in the shadow of her dad and brothers. Being the only female, she should have stood out. At least statistically speaking, but since she wore their hand-me-downs in high school and put effort into disappearing, she was often forgotten about.

It was survival skills. Hers and for the safety of others. Her Ken doll had flashed her a dashing smile, and her brother pretended to break his poor plastic legs. It had been the beginning of a long line of threats to boyfriends who never existed. Even if boys had been there, she never would have brought any of them home, not that anyone she went to school with would have the nerve to face her family anyway. Where her best friend, Violet, had a secret boyfriend for years who went above and beyond to see her behind their parents’ back, Lanie had been a little too good at never being seen while she banged her own drum.

Eriksen still studied her. “Did you play any sports?”

She couldn’t stop the loud laugh, which drew a raised brow and parted lips from him. She cleared her throat and glanced away. “No.”

“Join any school clubs? BETA, FBLA? What about student council?”

Not her, but he was in all those things. “No.” She wanted to ask why and was working up the courage for it. She counted all the way to two when a phone chime interrupted her.

He immediately pulled the phone from the clip on his belt.

She grabbed at her chance to leave and found herself full of words. “I’m heading out. Violet is in the front, and Cindy should be here in a minute. Have a nice night.”

He pressed a button, ending the chime, and put it back on his hip with a clip. “That’s all right. I’ll walk you out.”

“Oh. Um. Okay. I just need to round up my stuff first.”

“Anything I can do to help?”

“I’ve got it.”

“So no sports or clubs. What did you do in school?”

“Studied.” This felt a little like a third degree. What could he possibly want? And how was she supposed to think in front of him? She could barely think when he wasn’t around and on her mind.

His gaze hadn’t left hers and he just looked so good. His hair was windswept, a side effect, she supposed, to being a pilot. She’d seen their helicopters a month ago while helping Violet, and the things actually had windows on them that could be opened. His black hair looked like fingers had been raked through it, and she wanted to set hers on the path. He made parts of her feel alive and energized and also heavy and achy. Even if she wasn’t crazy ashamed for deserting him that night on the sandbar, just looking at him was enough to tie her tongue.

He walked around a scrap pile of junk. He squinted as he studied the mound of leftover parts. “What are you working on here? It’s big. Base to a table?”
She covered her mouth to hide her smile. She hated to tell him that was nothing but trash. Well, it could become something later, but that depended on Violet’s imagination. “That’s a pile of extra parts.”

She bit her lip, hoping she had not embarrassed him. Or maybe they were embarrassing themselves if he thought a pile of trash was their artwork.
He winced and cleared his throat. “It looks like it could be something neat.”

She couldn’t tell if he was just making crap up on the spot or if he was sincere. That was a problem with him. When he stood around, she could barely tell up from down.

His phone chimed again, saving her from further humiliation. He pulled his phone from his belt and made a face at it. “This is Hank. I have to answer when the boss man calls.”

“All right. I’ll see you around.”

She didn’t waste a single second and made a beeline for the door, pretending like she didn’t hear him when he called out a request for her to wait. The door closed him inside, and she sucked in the spring air, seeking mental clarity. She sent Violet a text letting her know she was off, Eriksen was in the bay, and Violet would know what to do about the rest. Not that she had to worry about leaving Eriksen inside. He was in business with Hank, who technically owned the building and by a nonofficial extension, Eriksen got a say in what happened in the building. So did Violet’s new husband, Jacob.

Lanie started to her truck, but a few trash bags at the back corner of the building stopped her. Now where did they come from? She grabbed the bags and headed for the Dumpster. She tossed them in the large bin but missed a small one. She bent to pick it up, and when she did, the soapstone used for marking on metal in her shirt pocket clattered to the pavement. In her hurry to escape the tongue-tying man inside, she had forgotten to unload her pockets. Squatted in front of the metal Dumpster with her writing utensil in hand, an old habit tickled in her fingertips.

Could she still even do it? Energy surged as she set the tip of the hard chalk to the metal Dumpster. The blunt edge made the task more challenging, but the curving lines came right back to her. She swished over the edges, turning at the top and curving around underneath. She adjusted her squat and applied the final swoops, then the waves to complete the fan of the mermaid tail diving back into the water. She eyed her work. It was rough, but not bad considering she hadn’t drawn that in, gosh, ten years?

The scraping thud of the back door opened and she hurried off, not wanting to be stopped by Eriksen again. She walked straight ahead instead of going the other way to the parking lot. She would have to circle around the block and walk by the storefronts to get to where her truck was, but to get away from him and the jumbling of her insides he caused was worth it.

He just messed her up. Even knowing he rattled her nerves like a bag of cats looking for an exit, his presence wasn’t enough to overshadow the warmth pooling in her chest over drawing her mermaid tail. She hadn’t done that, or the secret good deed to warrant the drawing, since she’d been on her own during her senior year of high school.

Maybe it was time to bring her old secret-good-deeds scheme out of retirement.

 

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