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Book 5: The Tropical Ticket (Hilton Head Island Romance)

Book 5: The Tropical Ticket (Hilton Head Island Romance)

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Escape to the beaches of South Carolina with this Supper Club of ladies, each of whom is starting over in some way in their 40s. New loves, new lives, new businesses - and they're waiting for YOU, their new best friend!

About THE TROPICAL TICKET: Bessie Clifton adores baking. With her daughter Wynona by her side, she's turned her passion for the perfect loaf of bread into a dream for a bakery. They move to Hilton Head Island and work to get their shop open with the help of Bessie's five best friends. Will Bessie's journey to self-discovery lead her to the love she's always craved? Can Oliver let go of his past and embrace the warmth that Bessie brings to his life?

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Read Chapter 1 Now!

Bessie Clifton shook her head as one of her best friends held the blow dryer over it. She scrubbed her fingers along her scalp, because she’d been sitting with the bleach and dye on it for what felt like a long time now, and she needed relief.

Behind her, Sage laughed, the sound barely registering over the blowing of the dryer. Bessie had been getting her hair cut and colored by Sage for several years now, since they’d met and started attending Supper Club together.

That life felt like it belonged to someone else. Certainly not Bessie, who’d been married and raising a teenager when she’d first gone to the initial meeting for a Supper Club in Sweet Water Falls, a small town along the Coastal Bend of Texas.

She was currently divorced and lived with her adult daughter on Hilton Head Island, in South Carolina, and the only thing that even remotely resembled the life she’d had a decade ago was the Supper Club.

Not even the women who belonged to and attended the Club. Just the fact that the Supper Club still existed. And to Bessie, that was significant, because for a year or so there, she’d thought they’d disband and go their separate ways.

A new kind of relief filled her when she thought about how they’d saved their Supper Club. Her and Sage. Because they’d realized that if they didn’t make the move to Hilton Head, the monthly dinners would have to end. 

Bessie usually held her tongue and didn’t make close friendships with very many people. Those she did tended to be very close—like her Supper Club ladies—but she wasn’t very confrontational. She knew a lot of people on the surface, and she recognized people who came into the bread shop where she worked.

People had come and gone in her lifetime. Friends for a season. There, then gone. She knew that once common interests were lost or too many miles separated two people that it became harder to stay friends. Harder to stay in touch. Easier to focus on those closer, or those who shared new common interests.

And, as she’d watched her friends lose husbands, go through divorces, become empty nesters and widows and reinvent themselves, she hadn’t wanted to lose her connection to them. She hadn’t wanted to watch Bea, Cass, Lauren, or Joy walk out of her life, never to be heard from again. 

Or, if she did hear from them, it was a lame social media message after a few years, stating how they’d “lost touch,” and wanted to catch up. 

No, that wasn’t good enough for Bessie, and it hadn’t been good enough for Sage either. They’d gotten together, and they’d made plans to move to Hilton Head too, each with a loved one, so they could keep and continue their relationships.

Bessie lived with her adult daughter, and Wynona made dinner almost every night. Bessie didn’t much care to spend time in the kitchen if it wasn’t to bake something golden and delicious, and Wyn could put together something simple in a matter of minutes. Sage lived with her sister, Thelma, and the two of them got into so much trouble together, even now that Sage was in her early fifties.

Sage switched off the hair dryer and asked, “Well? How do you like it?” Her hair bore the same color as freshly churned earth, but it looked a little washed out to Bessie today. Sage insisted that she never dyed it, but Bessie wasn’t always sure she believed her. 

Bessie reached up, shaking her hands loose of the drape she wore buttoned tightly around her neck, and ran her fingers through her hair. “It’s really blonde,” she said.

“The dark smudge offsets it,” Sage said, fingering a lock of hair. “I think that turned out great. It might be my new favorite thing to do.” She smiled at Bessie in the mirror, and she really was the best colorist Bessie had ever met. 

“I love it too.” She grinned back at her friend. “Thank you, Sage.”

“You’re gonna be the talk of the island, what with your sexy new ‘do and your new bread bakery opening up.” She switched on the blow dryer again and blew it over Bessie’s shoulders and down her back to dislodge any errant hairs. Then she silenced it, holstered it in the compartment at her station, and unsnapped the drape.

Bessie sighed as she got to her feet, the chemically smell of the salon one of her very favorite things. It meant she was taking time for herself, doing something that made her feel good, and spending time with a friend. She stepped into Sage’s arms and hugged her. “You’ll be at the grand opening on Saturday, right?”

“I’m not even going to answer that,” Sage said. All of her friends had promised and re-promised to be there. Bessie wasn’t sure why she was asking. Probably because her guts writhed at the thought of truly doing what she’d been dreaming of doing for the past four years: Opening her own bakery.

Not just any bakery. She wasn’t making double-fudge brownies or eclairs, raspberry pistachio tarts or birthday cakes. All Bessie wanted to make was bread. Loaves of bread in all shapes and sizes. Rolls and croissants for parties, family functions, and the holidays. 

She and Wynona had been back and forth about the name of their joint-venture bread bakery since the moment they’d started discussing it. They’d narrowed it down to two—Flour Power or Bread & Butter—and Bessie still hadn’t told her friends what the name of the shop would be.

“See you Saturday,” Bessie said after she’d checked out and booked her next appointment, and she left the high-end salon that seemed to be made of glass, metal, and light in a strip mall near the beach. She loved the beaches here in Hilton Head, as she visited them far more often than she had in Sweet Water Falls.

When she pulled up to the shop, she smiled fondly at her daughter’s sedan parked out front. She took a moment to imagine a line of eager bread lovers extending out the double-glass doors. They currently hid behind a painter’s cloth that covered the name of the bakery. 

Wynona had bought into the business as the businesswoman working behind Bessie’s beautiful bread. She’d come up with the idea to reveal the name of the shop at the grand opening, and she’d put out all of the press releases to the local papers, online forums, and social media groups. She’d passed out flyers and visited with other small businesses and managers of local interest around the island, including the various Country Clubs, the public library, and other non-competitive businesses who might be able to simply put a stack of flyers about their grand opening on the checkout counter.

Bessie had stopped keeping track after the library, the restaurants, the historical lighthouse, the quilting and yarn shops, and the bigger outdoor malls had agreed to shelve their event flyers. Even the owner of Gourmet Goods—a direct competitor for croissants had gushed over the fact that there’d be a new bread bakery in town, and grumpy Oliver Blackhurst had also agreed to put some on the counters of The Mad Mango. Bessie had sent Wyn to do all of that community outreach and education alone. 

She ducked under the drape and into the shop to find Wyn sitting at one of the front tables. She’d wanted to go in the French direction, as so many people equated good bread with France. But she didn’t want to be kitschy or outdated too fast. She didn’t want people to assume she only made baguettes or that they wouldn’t find their favorite regional bread in her store. Because they would. They absolutely would, as Bessie had handmade bagels on her menu every day of the week, along with a German pretzel recipe that wowed every person who’d ever tried it. 

She’d recently perfected arepas from Venezuela. She usually made hers straight up to be savored with coffee, but she’d been known to stuff them with meat and cheese too. She adored pitas from the Middle East—if someone had never tried a homemade pita, the way she scored it into a grid and then baked it… They hadn’t lived yet—in Bessie’s opinion.

Her mouth watered every time she thought of her Egyptian bread recipes, as well as the naan she’d been working on for a while too. 

“Hey, sissy,” she said to her daughter. They could’ve decorated the shop in any number of styles, from French or European to Moroccan or Middle Eastern. In the end, they’d gone with classic, beautiful tables with a muted metal frame and pure wood tops made from planks—almost mirroring some of the seasoned wood planks Bessie had been cooking on for years. 

The tables held two or four and had chairs that matched in frame and wood. They’d bought restaurant-standard napkin holders and equipped each table with a container of plastic knives for butter and jam spreading.

At her old job at the Bread Boy in Texas, a friend had made jams and brought them into the shop. Wyn had been working on a partnership with a local farm to provide and feature their jams instead, and Bessie only bought the best butter from an Amish community in Pennsylvania she’d gotten to know through her connections in Texas.

The quality of a loaf of bread came partly from the ingredients, so Bessie paid close attention to those. The rest came as the dough got worked with the hands of a master, and Bessie went by her daughter and into the kitchen. “When is the final staff meeting?” she called.

“Two hours,” Wyn answered.

Bessie whipped an apron from the hook by the back door that led into the narrow parking lot behind the shop. Her new bakery sat second-down in a row of little shops, and she loved the location. Only a couple of blocks from the beach, she shared the row with a kite shop, a bistro that only served dinner on weekdays and lunch and dinner on weekends, and a wig shop down on the other end. 

It sat about six blocks from the place she’d looked at beside The Mad Mango a few months ago, and only one and a half miles from the house she and Wyn were renting together. She’d wanted to be close to her commercial space and feel like it was in a safe spot, because she’d arrive early in the morning and probably work for hours in the strip shop alone, before any other employee showed up, including her daughter.

Two hours was enough to get something going that would be ready by the end of the final staff meeting. They’d hired eight people to help them run the shop, and that included one custodian, an assistant baker, and six people to man the cash register from the hours of six-thirty am. to three p.m. 

Bessie’s adrenaline kicked in, and by the time the meeting started, she had a batch of quick-yeast dinner rolls ready to go into the oven. She slid the tray with all the dough balls pressed together into the waiting oven, set a timer in her phone, and went to join her daughter in the front of the shop.

Everyone else had arrived, and someone had brought coffee. Bessie took the last remaining cup—the one with her name on it—and sat down at the table with Wyn and all of her papers.

She leaned over and said something to a man named Winslow, who would be their custodian in the shop. He’d come in close to noon and work for several hours, staying after the storefront closed to get the trashcans emptied, the floors and counters cleaned and ready for the next day, and any maintenance on her ovens and mixers that might arise.

“How’s Darla?” she asked.

His face lit up. “She’s doing so much better,” he said. “Claire is thrilled with the progress, and she’s eating more.” Their Pomeranian had just had puppies, and the fourth one had been born late. His wife had thought they might lose it, especially when the little pup wouldn’t eat. 

“I’m seriously considering taking one of them,” she said. 

“She’s only sold two, so we have a couple more,” he said.

“All right, everyone,” Wyn said. “Let’s get started. I’ve got a game plan for the grand opening in a couple of days, and I want to go through it and make sure there are no questions.” She stood in the middle of the grouping of tables but moved over to where Bessie sat and collected a thin stack of papers.

Bessie knew the game plan already, and she pulled Wyn’s yellow lined notepad closer and started making a list of the breads she needed to make tomorrow for the following day’s grand opening. 

Four hours of a grand opening. A name reveal. One ribbon-cutting ceremony. A tiny, short speech. Coupons. Samples. An email list. Special orders. And any sales they could rustle up. 

Bessie had decided to start with what most people loved—sourdough, whole wheat, classic French white, croissants, dinner rolls, and her signature salted honey whole wheat. 

She couldn’t wait to come in at three a.m. tomorrow morning and start baking.

What Readers are Saying

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “This series is soo good, it’s beachy, it’s a second chance for this 40-something group, and its best friends determined to stay close amid all of life’s challenges. ” ~Wren

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “Loved loved the do-over wishes they share with each other. Bessie and Oliver have a rocky start with sparks flying. I love reading about older couples - those not in their teens, twenties or even thirties - shows we all desire love no matter our age. Seeing them navigate their past relationship issues, family, friends and their own businesses was one great read. We all still need to grow and mature. I always love going back to Hilton Head Island and catching up with the ladies and their men. Looking forward to Sage's book.” ~Renee

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Indulge in a delightful journey to the Lowcountry and visit Hilton Head Island to fall in love!

For fans of heartwarming women’s fiction, beach romance, and feel-good stories, immerse yourself in these later-in-life romances and found family friendships of the Hilton Head Island Romance series!

  • Book 1: The Love List

    Beatrice Callahan loves lists. Sometimes she even makes a to-do list of things she’s already done, just to go check, check, check and feel accomplished. So it’s easy to understand why, when her divorce is finally final and her ex is all moved out, Bea takes a cool, close look at her life…and makes a list. But when things get confusing and her life morphs once again… Can she add fall in love at age 45 to the list and check it off?

  • Book 2: The Paradise Plan

    Cassandra Haslam loves plans. Lunch plans, wedding plans, and floor plans—they all bring her joy. But then her husband dies suddenly, right when she’s about to enjoy the fruits of all of her hard work and planning, leaving Cass reeling and…well, without a plan. So, with one of her best friends now living in Hilton Head, Cass makes a move and purchases a piece of waterfront property on the island. Can she find her new life and a new love, all without any plans at all?

  • Book 3: The Seaside Strategy

    Lauren Keller understands strategies. She adores them and never enters a marketing meeting without Strategy A, B, and C tucked away in the back of her mind. She’s one of the top executives at her firm…until it all comes crashing down with the news that her boss has been stealing money from their clients for almost a decade. So she strategically decides she’s had enough of the high-profile, corporate life, and she makes the move to Hilton Head Island – and the man who’s asked her out before. Can she strategically insert herself into Blake’s life without compromising her seaside strategy and finally get what she really wants…love and a lasting relationship?

  • Book 4: The Beach Blueprint

    Joy Bartlett needs a blueprint before she takes a single step in any direction. She loves seeing what she's getting into before committing, and just because half of her Supper Club has moved 1200 miles away doesn't mean she's going to start packing boxes. Can she figure out how to arrange all of the pieces in her life in a way that makes sense? Or will she find herself cut off from everyone who's ever been important to her?

  • Book 5: The Tropical Ticket

    Bessie Clifton adores baking. With her daughter Wynona by her side, she's turned her passion for the perfect loaf of bread into a dream for a bakery. They move to Hilton Head Island and work to get their shop open with the help of Bessie's five best friends. Enter Oliver Blackhurst, the grumpy owner of The Mad Mango smoothie shop. Bessie's sunshine and warmth seem to clash with his prickly exterior. Will Bessie's journey to self-discovery lead her to the love she's always craved? Can Oliver let go of his past and embrace the warmth that Bessie brings to his life?

  • Book 6: The Waterfront Way

    Sage Grady is a master of transformation. She's a seasoned hairstylist who's perfected the art of change, one cut and color at a time. Ty's made a fortune flipping properties and developing luxury resorts. Yet beneath his polished exterior is a man who's been burned by love, and he's built walls higher than any of his skyscrapers. As Sage snips, styles, and sashays her way into Ty's heart, she discovers that her way of life isn't the only transformation happening. Can Sage and Ty navigate their contrasting worlds to create a happily-ever-after? Will they find that the path to true love doesn't always follow the path most trod, but might just be discovered through...the waterfront way?

Fall in love with the hometown heroes of Hawthorne Harbor!

Escape to the beach today with single moms, single dads, and that one old lady that knows everyone in town... This sweet and clean romance series is sure to have the heartfelt love stories and heartwarming women's fiction you're looking for. Travel to Hawthorne Harbor for these hometown heroes without leaving your house!

Read this series if you like: 

✔ Second chance romance

✔ Sweet Beach Reads

✔ Contemporary romance

✔ Later in life romance

✔ Friends to lovers romance

✔ Enemies to lovers romance

✔ Small-town romance

✔ Military romance

✔ Single-dad romance