Dancing in the Dark: The 80s Mixtape Series Chapter One Sneak Peek!

Nash had a huge crush on Peyton when they were in high school, but back then, she had a steady boyfriend–and a secret. When the two meet again at their high school reunion, the sparks they ignored all those years ago can’t be denied. But can they get beyond the past to build a forever together?

Enjoy this sneak peek of Chapter One now!

Chapter One


“Peyton, I need your help. I’m desperate!”

I glanced up at the woman approaching me where I stood near the back wall of my small shop, reading email on my phone. Pasting on my professional smile of welcome, I clicked off my phone and slipped it into the pocket of my dress without even looking down.

“Maisie, hello! What’s going on?”

“Well.” Maisie Rollins dropped her heavy Kate Spade bag onto the antique dresser that served as the sales counter. “Phillip surprised me. He’s taking me on a cruise.”

“Oh, wow! Exciting.” I nodded. “But why does that make you desperate? I’d be thrilled if my husband surprised me with a cruise.”

Or if I had a husband, especially one with whom I’d want to spend a week being pampered on the high seas . . .

“I know, I know.” Maisie shrugged. “I should be so happy right now. Phillip said he’d planned this to take my mind off Natalie leaving for college. Our last baby is flying the nest, you know, and Philip told me he was worried that I’d be a little blue.”

“That’s very sweet of him.” Unbidden, I felt a pang of unreasonable envy and pushed it down, annoyed at myself. “What a wonderful way to distract both of you from what must be just a little bittersweet.”

“Exactly.” Maisie leaned forward. “I mean, we’re so proud of Natalie. She’s been accepted to every single school she applied to. She’s won scholarships, even though we don’t really need them.”

I held back my eyeroll. I loved Maisie Rollins. She’d been one of my very first loyal customers even before I opened Savannah’s Scents of Serenity as a physical store; once upon a time, when her daughter Natalie was still in grade school, Maisie used to show up at my booths at the farmers’ markets and pop-ups around the area. We became friendly to the point that she would come by my house to pick up the specialty products that I made for her.

But even so, I always knew that while we were friendly, we were not friends. Maisie lived a life that existed on a plane I couldn’t dream of inhabiting. She’d been raised the only child of doting parents on a sprawling estate outside Savannah, attended an exclusive private girls’ school before spending four years at the University of Georgia where she’d majored in English literature, and married Philip Rollins in a flower bedecked wedding that was on the society pages in multiple Southern city newspapers. She and Philip had produced four stellar children, all of whom were making their respective marks on the world.

It would have been easy for a woman like me to be eaten up with envy for someone like Maisie Rollins. But despite her life of privilege, or maybe because of it, Maisie was kind and friendly, encouraging me when she learned that I wanted to open my own store. She’d even offered to invest in the business, something which I’d dismissed out of hand. I liked Maisie and wanted to keep her as a good customer, not as an investor whom I needed to please.

So instead, Maisie had become my unofficial PR rep and cheerleader, insisting that all of her friends just had to check out this sweet little store she’d discovered. Her advocacy was a big reason that my business was so successful.

That was why I routinely ignored her sometimes-thoughtless references to a sort of privileged that I’d never know. It was why I now steered the conversation gently back to the matter at hand.

“Well, Maisie, this is all such wonderful news that I can’t imagine why you’re desperate, as you said.”

She set her lips in a line, glancing down as her face pinkened. “The truth is, Peyton, I’ve been so busy with my children and the house and my charity work that I’m afraid I’ve neglected Philip slightly. And—” She slapped her hands against her hips. “I’ve definitely let myself go more than I even realized. I pulled out some clothes this morning to pack for the cruise, and—” Maisie lowered her voice. “None of them fit me. Not well, anyway. And I realized that I haven’t really paid any attention to my skin care routine, either—I buy goodies from you, but always the same stuff.” She tossed up her hands. “I want to shake things up, and I need your help.”

I smiled, feeling that familiar tingle of excitement that rose from tackling a challenge. “You’ve come to the right place. Let’s start brainstorming.”

* * *

An hour later, Maisie handed over her platinum credit card as I rang up the largest sale I’d made in a long time. She seemed happier and more relaxed than she had earlier, and I counted that as a win.

“Now this is just step one.” I passed back her card and receipt. “Do you have anything planned for the rest of the afternoon?”

She shook her head. “No. Why?”

“Because I want you to walk around the corner to Broughton. A new place just opened there last month—it’s called Savannah Lace. The owner is a real sweetheart. She sells lingerie—”

“Oh, Peyton.” Doubt clouded Maisie’s pretty face. “I don’t know that I want to even think about my body in teddies or corsets. Not the way it is now.” She sighed. “Turning fifty didn’t feel like such a big deal until now.”

“Hey.” I tapped the back of her hand where it rested on the edge of the dresser. “Listen. I know what you mean. Remember, I’m three years older than you.” I cocked my head. “Peg always says that aging is a gift, that it beats the alternative, and I happen to agree with her. But I’m also aware that what happens to our figures after menopause is no joke, either. No matter how hard we work out or how diligently we diet.”

“I know!” Maisie glanced around as though the lotions and oils on my shelves might hear her. “My plan was to eat nothing and drink only water until we set sail, but honestly, it doesn’t seem to make any difference whether I gorge myself on ice cream or stick to salads all day, every day.”

“I understand,” I consoled her. “That’s why I suggested Lindsay’s shop. She has a special section called Over Fifty and Fabulous.” I grinned. “She told me that she wanted to call it Over Fifty and Fucking Fabulous, but her business partner wouldn’t let her do it.”

“Oh, she sounds like our kind of people.” Maisie nibbled her bottom lip. “All right, I’ll go check it out. Do you have any suggestions for where I might some flattering outfits for outside the bedroom? Regardless of how flattering her lingerie might be, I don’t think I can wear it to dinner on the ship.”

I considered her question for a moment. “The Bohemian Boutique on the corner of Whitaker and Congress. They have some lovely resort wear in their window display just now. I saw it on my way to work this morning.”

Maisie blinked at me, her eyes swimming as she grabbed my hand and held it tight.  “Peyton, I just don’t know what I would do without you. I came in here this morning filled with panic and despair, and now I’m actually a little excited about this trip. Thank you so much.”

“No, thank you for trusting me and for being such a fabulous customer.” I squeezed her hand. “Now get moving, girlfriend. You have suitcases to fill!”

She smiled and waved at me over her shoulder. I called after her before the door closed. “And don’t forget to come in and tell me all about what an amazing time you had when you get home!”

She blew me a kiss and was gone, the small bell tinkling on the door in the wake of her departure. I sighed, wondering idly what it was like to live a life where money was never a problem and college sweethearts remained devoted husbands, even thirty years later. Not that I’d ever had a college sweetheart, since I’d never gone to college. I’d been too busy giving birth and then raising a baby on my own because my high school boyfriend, the guy I’d thought would be my forever love, had skipped out on me—on us.

I heard the floor squeak behind me moments before Peg emerged from the stockroom. As always, she looked cool and perfectly put together, despite the fact that I knew she’d been working on inventory in the back all morning.

“Was that Maisie Rollins I heard?” she inquired, taking a sip of water from her blue Yeti. “I was going to come out and say hello, but it seemed as though you had the situation handled.”

I chuckled. “Sure, sure,” I teased. “I know how much you love to chat with her.”

“It’s not that I don’t like her,” Peg protested. “It’s just that she goes on and on about—well, everything! And after a while, I have trouble holding onto my game face.”

“I know. But actually, she wasn’t too bad today, aside from telling me that her daughter got into all the colleges she applied to, complete with scholarships that she doesn’t even need.”

Peg gave that the eye roll I’d resisted. “I know she’s a good customer, and I know she’s brought you lots of business, but Jesus. Doesn’t she hear herself ever?”

“Probably not.” In my pocket, my phone vibrated, reminding me of what I’d been reading when Maisie had made her dramatic entrance earlier. Pulling it out, I glanced at the screen and smiled. “Oh, Charlie’s stopping by. She’s bringing lunch from the deli—do you want egg salad?”

“Sure.” Peg stretched, rolling her shoulders. “On rye, please.”

I tapped the reply and hit send. “Got it. She’ll be here shortly.” Almost involuntarily, I flicked my thumb over the mail icon, summoning the message I’d been reading. “Do you remember Sheri Wilson? From the Cove?”

Peg frowned, her brow wrinkling. “Cute blonde girl? Cheerleader?”

“Yeah, that’s her.” I read her email again, still not quite comprehending the words. “I heard from her this morning. She’s got cancer. It’s . . . she says that there’s no hope. The doctors have told her that it’s a matter of months.”

“Oh, my God.” Peg wandered over to me, her eyes filled with concern. “That’s terrible. I’m so sorry to hear it.” She paused for a beat. “I wasn’t aware that you kept in touch with her.”

The underlying message of surprise had more to do with the notion that I’d been in contact with anyone from Crystal Cove, not just Sheri. I understood exactly what Peg meant.

“No, I haven’t been. She reached out to me—actually, to a bunch of us who were all friends back in high school—to ask us to come to the class reunion next month.”

Peg gazed at me, one eyebrow lifted. “Really?”

“Yeah.” I sighed, clicking off the phone and replacing it in my pocket. “She said it’s her dying wish to have all of her girlfriends together again for one last hoorah.”

“Wow. That’s . . .” Peg trailed off. “That’s a tough decision for you. Are you considering going back?”

“Of course not.” My answer was knee-jerk. “I’m not going back to the Cove. There’s nothing for me there.”

“What’s that about the Cove?”

Peg and I swiveled our heads in unison as my daughter came in through the back, carrying a paper bag in one hand and a leather briefcase in the other.

“Hey, baby girl.” I grabbed Charlie for a quick hug and kissed her cheek. “Mmmm, that food smells good.”

“Yeah.” She set the bag on the dresser before kissing her grandmother. “But don’t change the subject. You were saying something about Crystal Cove when I came in.”

“Oh, it’s nothing.” I waved my hand. “Nothing at all.”

“Well, not nothing,” Peg corrected me. “Your mom got an email from one of her old high school friends who’s dying of cancer and asked all of her crowd to come to the reunion so they can say goodbye.”

“Mom.” Charlie wheeled around to face me. “Why would you ignore a request like that?”

“It’s really not that big a deal.” I reached into the bag to take out the sandwiches, giving myself an excuse not to meet my daughter’s eyes. “Sheri and I were friends, but we weren’t best friends or anything. We all just hung out together. We were in the same . . . I don’t know, social group, I guess.”

“But still. You must have meant something to her if she emailed to ask you to come to the reunion.” Charlie cocked her head. “When is this reunion, anyway? I haven’t heard you say anything about it.”

“Sometime next month,” I replied vaguely. “And I haven’t said anything because I’m not going.” I passed out the sandwiches to my daughter and her grandmother. “Thanks, honey. This is such a treat.”

“You’re welcome, but stop trying to distract us.” Charlie pointed at me. “You should go to your class reunion.”

“No, I shouldn’t. I have zero desire to see anyone from my high school, let alone my class.” I took a bite of my deviled ham sandwich.

“Is this because of me?” Charlie demanded. “Because you’re still embarrassed about getting pregnant with me, and you’re afraid that everyone will figure it out if you go back to the Cove?”

“Charlotte Rivers.” Dropping my sandwich, I glared at my daughter. “I am not nor have I ever been embarrassed by you. So please don’t ever accuse me of that.”

“She’s right, sweetie,” Peg said softly, her hand resting lightly on my shoulder. “Your mom isn’t ashamed of you. She never has been.”

“Okay, well, sorry.” Apologies didn’t come easy for Charlie, so I accepted her gruff, halting words as the heartfelt mea culpa that they were. “I should have said, are you still embarrassed about getting pregnant in high school?”

“No one really knew about it. Or at least, they didn’t when I left.” A memory flashed unbidden across my mind, an image of Nash Sampson standing before me on a sunny beach, looking pained as he’d told me that he’d overheard the news of my condition. “It’s possible that some people knew, and in town like the Cove? It would have spread like wildfire, so I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone was aware of why I skipped out on graduation—and then left town.”

“But that was thirty-five years ago,” Peg reminded me. “No one cares anymore. No one is going to give you grief about it. I agree with Charlie. I think you should go.”

I shot her a wide-eyed expression of disbelief at her betrayal. “Et tu, Brute?”

“Oh, don’t be so dramatic.” Peg’s mouth twisted. “Peyton, you’ve been punishing yourself for three decades for something that wasn’t your fault. You’ve cut yourself off from friends you used to love. But it’s time to end your self-imposed exile, my dear. There’s absolutely no reason that you shouldn’t go to this reunion.”

“Oh, I can think of lots of reasons why I shouldn’t go. Why I won’t go.” Savagely, I bit into my sandwich again.

“Are you worried about who else might be there?” Charlie persisted. “Do you think the sperm donor might show up?”

Peg snorted. “Not likely. Last I heard, Ryan was in Mexico, trying to get out of his latest bout of trouble.” A shadow of pain flickered over her face; despite the fact that she’d long ago washed her hands of her son and his string of misadventures, I knew that as his mother, his failures and misadventures would always hurt her deeply. It was just one more reason that I would never forgive Ryan for the sins he’d committed.

“That’s comforting, but I wasn’t really concerned about him. I just don’t feel the need to haul my cookies down to Florida to see people I haven’t spoken to in thirty-five years. I haven’t missed them, and they sure as hell haven’t missed me.”

“Momma.” Charlie’s tone softened as she laid a tentative hand on my arm. “It must have taken a lot of courage for your friend to reach out to you after all these years. How did she even find you?”

I snorted. “The stupid internet. I guess she looked up my name and found the shop’s website, and then once she knew I was in Savannah, she was able to nail down my email address.” Picking up a napkin, I wiped my lips. “Life was a lot less complicated back in the days when we didn’t have Big Brother looking over our shoulders all the time. When I was in high school, if you wanted to disappear, no one was tracking you electronically.”

“This from the woman who started her business with a virtual storefront,” Peg pointed out helpfully. “Remember when I was so worried about you losing everything if some troll online took advantage of you, and you told me that I had to get used to this brave new world?”

I shot her a withering glance. “And now you’re using my own words against me.”

“I’m just saying that you’re not exactly being reasonable.” Peg toyed with the corner of her sandwich’s paper wrapper. “Peyton, you know I love you. So does Charlie. You not only an incredible mother and beloved surrogate daughter, we also think you’re an excellent business woman, and you make us proud every day with your determination and strength. You always have time to listen to us, to cheer us on. You give your all to your customers, too, and you support other small businesses here in town.”

“Uh-huh.” I wasn’t comfortable with accolades on the best of days, but at the moment, I had a distinct sense that Peg was using these compliments to head somewhere I didn’t want to go. “Thank you?”

She ignored my tone. “But we’ve been worried about you lately.” Peg and Charlie exchanged a quick glance that I had a hunch I wasn’t meant to see. “To be honest, the reason Charlie brought lunch today was that we were planning an intervention. Sort of.”

“An intervention?” It was my turn to shoot my eyebrows skyward. “What the hell does that mean?”

“We wanted you to consider, maybe, online dating.” Charlie pasted on a bright smile. “Or you could think about joining a club or something. We feel like you need to meet people. Make friends, you know?”

“I have friends, thank you very much.” I drew myself up, glaring indignantly at my daughter. “I have—associates. People from the Savannah Women’s Business Council. Customers. I’m not some anti-social recluse.”

“Do you notice the common denominator? Those are all people you know from work, Mom. You don’t have a personal relationship with them. You don’t share yourself with them.”

“Being a private person is not a character flaw, Charlotte,” I shot back.

“No, but it doesn’t make your life any easier, either,” Peg responded gently. “Peyton, remember, I’ve known you since you were fourteen years old. You used to have lots of friends. You were a popular, outgoing girl. I understand that we all went through some turbulent years when forming relationships wasn’t exactly at the top of our priority lists, but you’re in a good place now.” She waved her hand around to indicate the store. “You have a thriving business. You own a beautiful home. Your daughter is lovely and successful—”

“Thanks, Gram.” Charlie beamed at her grandmother.

“There’s no reason you shouldn’t have an active social life. You should be going out to dinner with friends. Attending plays and parties. Taking trips—”

“Like, say, to Crystal Cove, where you can catch up with your old friends and make some new ones!” Charlie clapped her hands together once. “Let’s make it happen, Mom. Is there a form to fill out, or—”

“There is, but I’m not going. There’s no one left in the Cove I want to see.” I crossed my arms and glared at both women.

“What about Jude?” inquired Peg. “You were always so close to your cousin. In these years since you’ve been away, she’s had two children, lost her husband to cancer, fell in love and remarried—and now she owns several businesses around the Cove. Don’t you want to catch up with her?”

“I’ve been in touch with Jude, thanks very much. You know that we’ve met for lunch a few times when she comes up to visit her daughter in that little town, the one that’s just about half an hour away—what’s it called again? Braxton? Barton?”

“Burton,” Charlie supplied. “I know because we had a case last year where one of the clients lived there. I visited to take depositions. Cute little place.”

“Well, Jude’s daughter is married to a farmer who lives there, apparently. So it’s not as though I haven’t seen my cousin in thirty-five years.”

“Maybe not, but Jude’s not your only connection in Crystal Cove.” Peg’s gaze rested steadily on my face. “Don’t you think it’s time you go back and make your peace, Peyton?”

My lip trembled just slightly, and I bit down, hard. “I don’t think I’m ready to go back.”

“If not now, when?” Peg leaned over and patted my arm. “She’s not getting any younger, you know.”

“She won’t want to see me,” I protested. “You know that she told me when I didn’t go back for my father’s funeral that I might as well stay away forever. Which was the second time she cast me out of her life.” I could still hear my mother’s hard tone on the day I’d told her I was pregnant, telling me that she didn’t have a daughter anymore.

“People say things they don’t mean in the heat of the moment.” Peg sighed. “And if she refuses to see you, then at least you’ll know that you’ve done everything in your power to make things right. If she passes before you do that, you’ll have to live with the regret, and trust me, sweetheart, you don’t want to do that.”

I thought of the last time I’d seen my parents, of the words we’d said to each other in anger, and I shuddered. “I don’t know if I can do it.”

“Of course, you can.” Peg smiled at me encouragingly. “I’ve seen you do much tougher things than going back to the Cove. Besides, you’ll have fun with your old friends at the reunion. And you’ll be doing such a good deed for your friend Sheri.”

“Seriously, Mom. You need to go.” Charlie crumpled her sandwich wrapper and stood up. “I have to get back to the office, but I’m going to check in with you after work. I want to hear about your plans for driving down to Florida. Unless you want to take the train? Or fly?”

I snorted. “I’m not getting on a plane for a three-hour drive down the coast. That would be ridiculous.” Plus, I thought to myself, if I had my own car, I could always leave whenever I wanted. I wouldn’t have to worry about rearranging flights or trains.

“Good. Then it’s settled.” Peg stood up, too, and hugged me from behind. “Don’t worry about the shop, you know I can take care of everything while you’re gone.” She tapped her finger on the table, her brow furrowing. “But you should do some shopping—get some fun new outfits for your trip. You don’t spoil yourself often enough.”

“Gram’s right,” Charlie agreed once more. “Let’s plan to go out together this weekend, Mom. It’ll be so much fun!”

“Sure. Fun.” I tried to muster a smile, but it wasn’t easy when my insides were churning with dread. “I’m sure it’s all going to be big fun.”

Don’t forget to preorder Dancing in the Dark!


Tawdra Kandle is the author of over 140 contemporary and paranormal romances. Her engaging characters and realistic worlds lure return readers to devour the steamy love stories she spins.

Tawdra writes stories just like real life . . . only spicier!

Fan favorites include The Anti-Cinderella Chronicles, Love in a Small Town, and The Sexy Soldiers Military Romances.

Tawdra lives in central Florida with her husband, a sweet pup, and a snarky cat. Assorted grown children and two perfect granddaughters live nearby.


Peace, love and romance~

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