Valerie: Hi, Jase! Welcome to Inspy Romance.
Jase: Hi. Whoa. Look at all those women. [He waves.] This is strange. I’m used to being behind the camera, not in front of it.
Valerie: Why don’t you tell our readers about your career?
Jase: I freelanced as a photographer for several high-end clothing companies, traveling to exotic locations with models.
Valerie: Interesting. I haven’t been anywhere particularly exotic myself, unless you consider the mountains of Bolivia exotic.
Jase: Most folks think of Milan and Paris when they think of fashion, though we’ve done some shoots near Rio de Janeiro.
Valerie: Does anything stand out from one of your photo shoots?
Jase: Mombasa, Kenya. One of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I’ve been there several times…
Valerie: Oh? Your voice kind of drifted off there.
Jase: Yeah, I was just remembering. I’d connected with this one model on a few previous shoots. Marisa Hiller. She was amazing. Could make any outfit look great. Beautiful brown hair, the truest smile I’d ever seen.
Valerie: I’ve heard of her. But didn’t she leave modeling?
Jase: Yes, she did. And I hate to admit it, but it was my fault.
Valerie: What happened?
Jase: See, we were in Kenya. She had friends there, in Nairobi, missionary folks who worked with street kids. She’d made up her mind to take vegetable seeds for the orphans and teach them how to grow some of their own food.
Valerie: That sounds wonderful.
Jase: She invited me to come with her and take some photos. We, uh, we’d been seeing each other for a few weeks by then. [He shifts uncomfortably on his seat.]
Valerie: I don’t get it.
Jase: Well, you have to understand. A lot of celebrities get their names emblazoned across the press with their charitable works to make themselves look better. Sure, people donate when they see it, but it’s always seemed wrong to me. Like they exploit the needy people and show how pious they are for wanting to help.
Valerie: So Marisa was looking for a bit more fame?
Jase: Yes. No. I don’t know. What was I supposed to think?
Valerie: How well did you know her by this point?
Jase: [He hangs his head.] Well enough that I should have known better, I guess. Should have trusted her. Instead, things got ugly. I yelled things at her that have haunted me every since. To be perfectly fair, she yelled back. That was nearly three years ago. She got fired and disappeared. I did a bit more freelancing, but my heart wasn’t in it.
Valerie: Would you like to see Marisa again? See if she might forgive you for not trusting her?
Jase: I’ve prayed every day for the opportunity.
Excerpt, Chapter 1 More Than a Tiara, Snowflake Tiara
Just ahead of her, a group of at least a dozen people drifted into The Parrot Confectionery, talking and laughing. Marisa Hiller growled in frustration. First a large delivery truck blocked the alley so she couldn’t drop her box of fresh rosemary at the back door, and now the front of the candy shop was clogged with customers. That’s what she got for agreeing to Brian’s late-afternoon request for the herb.
She shifted the large box to her other hip and peered in the wide windows. Yep. It would be a few minutes before she could edge her way through to the back of the business.
Her gaze caught on the wooden notice board nestled beside the door with dozens of posters in various degrees of tatter. Homemade ads with photos offered puppies, while tear-off strips provided the kennel’s phone number. Pampered Chef parties, the Helena Symphony, a new daycare in town. People could live their whole lives off a board like this.
A larger poster in the top corner begged attention. Miss Snowflake Pageant? She narrowed her gaze and stepped closer to see the details. Back in the day, she’d have been the first in line to sign up for that kind of competition. Now? Not so much. Not after…
“Marisa? Marisa Hiller?”
Had she slipped back in time? Was her memory playing tricks on her? But no. The voice had been real. She pivoted.
Her gut lurched. What was he doing in Montana? She hadn’t seen him since that day at the JFK airport. Since…
For a second he looked like the old Jase. The shock of red hair she’d once run her hands through. The blue-green eyes that once looked adoringly into her own. She’d kissed those freckles on his nose.
But then his eyebrows pulled together, and his gaze grew wary. “It is you. I thought I must have been imagining things.”
“Real and in the flesh.” Marisa did her best to tamp any feelings out of her voice. It’d been twenty-seven months and four days since they’d flung hostile words at each other beside the luggage carousel. She’d grabbed her bags and run for a taxi, blocking out not only Jase’s words but Terry’s. Yeah, that had gotten her fired. She was supposed to keep personal matters out of her work.
She yanked her gaze free of Jase’s and glanced through the confectionery door beside her. Maybe she could squeeze past the late-season tourists peering into the candy case if she lifted the box above her head. “Been nice seeing you.” Liar.
“You look good.”
In jeans with a ripped knee? A tank top with tomato stains? Not precisely the runway model apparel he’d last seen on her. Marisa’s gaze snapped back to his.
He looked surprised to have let the words out then his chin jerked toward the notice behind her. “Going to enter that pageant? It looks right up your alley.”
Images of Kenya from Wikipedia Commons