Thank you Vicky and Sparkling Reviews for hosting release day for Chasing the Story, the second book in my Coastal Carolina series of gay romances set at the North and South Carolina coasts. Books in the series are standalones, so you can dive in with this book or, if you prefer, check out The First Step to read them in publication order. Please be sure to read to the bottom of the post for an excerpt from the new book!
My husband and I quit our day jobs this past December and have been living aboard our Admiral 38 catamaran, Prelude. If you’d like to check her out, you’ll find a video tour I filmed about 3 days after we purchased her and sailed on the open ocean to bring her home from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to Wilmington, North Carolina: https://www.facebook.com/shira.anthony/videos/vb.100002261894384/1727557950662918/?type=3
Over the years my husband and I have been sailing, we’ve spent the majority of time at the North and South Carolina coasts, so I guess it’s not at all surprising that I’ve been inspired to write about the area in the Coastal Carolina series. Like the first series book, Chasing the Story takes place in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Wilmington is one of my favorite coastal cities. Small enough that it feels more like a town, but large enough that there are fun and funky places to discover and lots of cool places to eat. The city is 35 miles or a five-hour boat ride (our boat is pretty slow) from the ocean and within an easy drive of great beaches. Built on the banks of the Cape Fear River, it’s rich in history, including pirates and rumrunners.
At the mouth of the Cape Fear River is Bald Head Island, which features in the Coastal Carolina books as well as Take Two, another book I wrote set in the Carolinas. On a day off from their work as reporters, the two main characters in Chasing the Story spend the day on the island. Without giving too much away, that day at the beach is a turning point in their relationship.
I’ll leave you with an excerpt from the book. I hope you have a chance to visit the Carolina coast at some point, but even if you don’t, hopefully you’ll be able to imagine the salty air and dipping your toes in the surf as you read this series! —Shira Anthony
A Coastal Carolina Novel
When TV reporter Brand Josephson attends an industry awards dinner in Charlotte, North Carolina, the last person he expects to bump into is the man he’s idolized since he was a high school student. Back then, Zach Caldwell was a New York City anchor riding terrific ratings to a prized spot on the national news. But when Zach disappeared before taking the job, he left many people, including Brand, wondering what happened.
Since leaving New York for North Carolina four years before, Zach’s kept to himself and avoided relationships. He tells himself he’s happy with his reclusive life as editor of the local Wilmington newspaper, but when he and Brand end up chasing the same story of industry corruption, Brand’s romantic charm and all-around good nature sneak past his defenses and into his heart. Brand’s discovery of the scandal behind Zach’s hasty exit from broadcast television puts their newly fledged relationship to the test, but the story they’re working on together puts their lives on the line….
BRAND YAWNED and rubbed his eyes before replaying his phone messages—twice—to be sure he’d written the numbers down correctly. So much for hoping a good sweat would help him focus on something other than Zach turning him down, or the possibility that Zach might reconsider.
He tapped his pen on the table and sipped his second cup of coffee. Most of the messages were from coworkers, including his director reminding him of a morning meeting. The last was from a woman named Tessa Gordon who wanted the station to look into the collapse of her Wrightsville Beach home during Hurricane Florence.
“Oh, hello. My name is Tessa Gordon. I don’t know if this is the right number to leave a message about a story… I mean a possible story… I don’t know what you’d call it, but it’s about my house. My husband and I have—had—a place in the Summer Shoals neighborhood near Wrightsville Beach. We’re retired, and we went to my daughter Caroline’s house during the storm. When we got back—” She sobbed openly now. “—it was gone. All of it. And it wasn’t even a year old. It’s not right. I know the storm was terrible, but—”
The recording cut off, but she called back. “This is Tessa Gordon again. I’m sorry I went on so long. Please tell me you’ll look into what happened.” She left a callback number.
He’d gotten at least a dozen calls like this asking him to look into why it was taking so long to get power restored, how cell phone service was still spotty in some areas, and how the debris piles around town were starting to smell. With a storm like Florence, houses crumbled, trees toppled, and utilities took forever to repair the damage, even with state and local officials putting in overtime. Still, the story might make a good addition to his hurricane follow-up series.
He jotted Tessa Gordon’s name and number in his notebook, refilled his coffee, then pulled up a map of Wrightsville Beach and located Summer Shoals. Close to the ocean, the development featured a mix of midrange and upper-range housing starting at $600,000. Typical raised construction to allow for flooding. Lots of bells and whistles, including hurricane upgrades. From what Brand could tell, the development was fully built.
He’d give her a call once he finished a few more things, then head out to Wrightsville.
“What’s up with you?” Brand’s director, Kendra, peered into his office ten minutes later.
“Nothing.” He scrolled through the copy for the story about reuniting lost pets with their owners he was supposed to be working on.
She shook her head and tapped her watch. “We were supposed to meet twenty minutes ago. My office?”
“Shit. I forgot.” Ever since Zach turned him down for dinner, he’d been spinning his wheels.
“No kidding.” She smiled. “Hot new story?”
“Could be.” And then there was Zach. But he wasn’t going to tell her about him. Not yet, at least. “Home in Wrightsville demolished in the storm.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. The hurricanes did a lot of damage, but we haven’t gotten a lot of reports of homes totally destroyed.” It might be a dud, but the story would give him something to keep his mind off Zach. “I’ll check it out this afternoon.”
“I’ll reschedule our weekly.” She tilted her head to one side and squinted at him. “You seem a little off. Need to talk?”
She knew him too well. “Maybe another time. Thanks.” Maybe he’d tell her over drinks at Craven’s Pub later in the week.
“Sure thing.” She smiled and added, “Let me know what you turn up on the home thing.”
He turned back to his computer screen and reread the pet story a few more times before picking up the phone and dialing Tessa Gordon’s number. She answered right away.
“Ms. Gordon? This is Brand Josephson from WCBN. I’m returning your call.”
“Oh. Oh, Mr. Josephson, thank you so much,” she answered, clearly flustered. “I wasn’t sure… I mean, I didn’t know if…. Well, you’ve called me back. Thank you.”
He smiled. Even if there was probably nothing he could do to help, he understood how upset she must be. “It’s fine. Really. Happy to do it.”
“Are you going to investigate?”
“How about you tell me a little more about the situation. What makes you think there’s something more to what happened to your home?” he asked.
“John—that’s my husband—he says I’m crazy,” she said with a nervous laugh. “I mean, it was a terrible storm, and there were a lot of houses damaged. And insurance will cover most of the cost to rebuild, but— Oh, I’m going on again, aren’t I?”
“It’s okay. Let’s start from the beginning. You said the house was pretty new?”
“That’s right. They finished construction around Christmas last year. My husband and I retired from our jobs in Charlotte and moved to Carolina Beach. This was our dream home.”
Brand scribbled a few notes. “Who was the builder? Is it part of a bigger development?”
“Euclid Builders,” she replied. “They do larger developments, but this was on a plot of land we’d bought a few years back. I don’t know if they built any of the other homes at Summer Shoals.”
“Thanks. That’s helpful.” But not much go on either. “So tell me what happened during the storm—Hurricane Florence? Or was it Michael?”
“Florence.” She sniffled. “Excuse me. It’s just so hard to talk about it….”
“It’s okay. Take your time.”
“John and I went to my daughter’s during the storm. She lives in Greenville, so we figured that was safer.”
“Sure.” More than half the county had left in the face of Hurricane Florence.
“When we finally made it back, we expected there’d be some damage.” Her voice broke as she continued. “But… oh, I can still see it now… there was… nothing. Absolutely nothing except a pile of wood and siding and…. It was horrible.”
Now that surprised him. He figured she might have exaggerated in the message, since very few homes sustained that kind of catastrophic damage in Hurricane Florence. “Was there flooding in the area?”
“Flooding? No. It’s a few rows back from the beach.”
“What about other houses in the area?” he asked.
“The other houses were fine… at least mostly. A few lost shingles, and there were some where the siding blew off. Some water damage where windows leaked. That sort of thing.”
That bit of information was also unusual. Other houses in the same neighborhood took only a little bit of damage, and her house was completely destroyed? “And you said your builder—Euclid, was it?—didn’t build any of the other homes in the development?”
“That’s right. Best I know, we’re the only one they built.”
Probably a coincidence. He scribbled a note to remind himself to double-check about the builder. Most developments in the area were single-builder projects.
“I know the storm was terrible,” she said when he didn’t immediately respond. “But we paid extra to have the house built to withstand hurricanes.”
“Yes. The man who spoke to us from the builder—Van was his name, I think—he told us that it would be worth the extra money to upgrade the construction. He guaranteed us it would still be standing, even if most of the homes in our area were damaged or worse. We… we believed… we thought… it’s probably stupid, but we thought the extra money would keep the house safe.”
A reputable builder wouldn’t guarantee a reinforced home would make it through a hurricane. No one could be absolutely sure. Brand had looked into it himself when he’d first moved to North Carolina.
“How much extra did you pay for this upgrade?”
“I don’t remember. Maybe an extra fifty thousand dollars or so? I could look through the paperwork, if you’d like.”
“No problem. Can you email me copies of the paperwork you have from the builder? Contracts, any communications, letters, that sort of thing?” Brand asked.
“Yes, of course. Does that mean you’ll take the case—I mean look into it?”
“Ms. Gordon,” he said gently, “I’m not a detective. Even if I look into this for you, it won’t necessarily help you the way you might want it to.”
“I know, I know,” she said. “But it’s not right. It shouldn’t have happened. They promised me….” She blew her nose, and Brand pulled the receiver away from his ear.
“Have you called the builder about the guarantee?” he asked.
“We tried, but the number’s been disconnected. The website’s still up, but I don’t think it’s been updated in a least a few months. We even sent them a letter, but it came back in the mail.”
Scammers didn’t tend to stick around. “I’d like to see the house,” he said. “When you have time, of course.”