The Keys to His Heart, 1
Over Christmas break, a sweet but shy copywriter must fight off her aggressive boss to win the heart of the CEO's son.
Love on Longboat Key is a sweet holiday tale about finding romance on the beach.
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Julie Joseph dreads spending Christmas in Florida with her cranky elderly parents. Yet that changes when she arrives at Sun Tower on Longboat Key and meets the eligible bachelor whose equally quarrelsome parents have just moved into the penthouse.
Thomas Briggs IV is hardly the type she has dated in the past: he's tall, handsome, and out-of-this-world wealthy. He's also the son of the CEO of Pilgrim Mutual Insurance, where she works as a copywriter.
Julie has just a few days to date Thomas before they both have to return to the ice and snow blanketing the Northeast. But there's one big problem: Julie's rival for Thomas's attention happens to be her gorgeous, but mean-spirited boss at Pilgrim Mutual.
Can Julie overcome the odds and beat out Amanda Ford to win Thomas's heart?
Only six days remained until Christmas and most people were finishing their last minute shopping at the mall. But Julie Joseph sat on a worn wooden bench at the Selby Botanical Gardens, watching sailboats glide by on the still water of Sarasota Bay. Late afternoon light glistened on the bridge that connected the mainland to the keys. Overhead the heart-shaped leaves of the garden’s fig tree rustled in the gentle wind.
Julie stretched out her long, pale legs and flexed her even paler bare toes. She could hardly believe her good luck. Just yesterday she’d been bundled in a down coat and fur-lined boots, yet now she wore white cargo pants, a thin cotton T-shirt, and red rubber flip-flops. Basking in the warmth of the Florida sun took some of the sting off spending the holidays with her quarrelsome mother and father.
Here, watching the crisp white sails of catamarans pass by, she could rejoice that she had escaped the frigid Connecticut winter. Forget about the stress of her copywriting job at Pilgrim Mutual Insurance. Forget she was pushing thirty and still single. Even forget, if only for a moment, how Mom and Dad had bickered about the crispness of the English muffins at breakfast and squabbled over how much mayonnaise should go into the tuna melts at lunch. By the time her parents’ mid-afternoon snack rolled around, Julie could no longer bear to listen to them butt heads about whether or not graham crackers should be split in half or in quarters. She had grabbed her purse and told them she was going out for a walk. Instead, she had gotten into her rental car and driven over the high bridge into downtown Sarasota, turning at the green sign that read MARIE SELBY BOTANICAL GARDENS.
Whenever Julie walked through the front gates of the garden, she felt as if she could leave all her troubles behind. She loved to linger in the hothouse full of orchids and bromeliads, stroll the manicured paths that wound past the banyan trees, and wander along the wooden boardwalk that wove through the mangrove swamp. She liked to stand in the wooden wedding pavilion and imagine she was the lucky bride about to exchange vows with the imaginary handsome groom who stood beside her.
Sitting under the bodhi fig tree on the outermost edge of the park was her favorite thing to do. Years ago, the tree had been toppled in a hurricane, but thanks to conservation efforts, it had been replanted, taken root again, and thrived. Julie loved the idea of sitting beneath a tree that had overcome the odds. She thought of this bench under the bodhi as her personal refuge, the spot where she always found all the peace and quiet she craved.
A louder-than-necessary male voice interrupted the silence. Julie turned and glared at the tall, sandy-haired guy crunching down the shell-lined path. He was so busy half-shouting on his cell phone he didn’t even give her a glance as he walked to the edge of the railing that hemmed the water.
For all Julie knew, he was yet another self-absorbed thirty-something guy, the kind she often saw in the hallways at work, who gathered his sense of self-importance from how tightly he was tethered to his iPhone. He sure was dressed the part of an insurance executive on casual Friday, in a crisp blue Oxford shirt, khaki pants, and leather deck shoes. He only lacked the socks. And he was taller than normal. In the halls of Pilgrim Mutual, his head would have grazed the tiles of the low ceiling.
In any case, he was disturbing the peace. Julie felt annoyance surge within her until she heard him say, “No, Mom, I don’t think that’s what Dad meant…it doesn’t matter, so give it a rest…come on, it’s Christmas, I’m here for all of a week, is it too much to ask for you to just get along with each other?”
His conversation came to an abrupt end. He pressed his thumb on the phone and cussed the F-word under his breath. When he turned back, his forehead wrinkled and his jaw clenched, Julie recognized all too well his look of frustration, since she felt her own face tighten in the same way whenever she had to deal with her mom and dad.
He let out an exasperated breath when he saw her. “Sorry.”
“For what?” she said.
“Swearing. Arguing. And otherwise interrupting your Zen.” He gazed over his shoulder at the calm water of the bay. “I’ve been here less than twenty-four hours and already my parents are driving me crazy.”
“Join the club,” Julie said.
“You here for the holidays too?”
Julie nodded. “It’s like being a teenager all over again.”
“Exactly. Only they’re the ones who crack up the car and need to be grounded for misbehaving.” He looked down the shell-lined path. “Are your parents here with you?”
“No, they’re home arguing about graham crackers.”
“Don’t ask and I won’t tell.”
“Fair enough.” He smiled. “Mind if I sit for a sec?”
Julie scooted over on the bench. Ordinarily she wasn’t drawn to guys who looked like they could have been college basketball players. She wasn’t overly fond of the preppy look, but there was something endearing about the rolled sleeves on his pressed Oxford shirt, his creased khaki pants, and his boat shoes. He needed only to put on a navy blazer, a striped tie, and a pair of socks to look like an overgrown schoolboy.