Read Carousel Nights Online

Authors: Amie Denman

Carousel Nights

Every first love deserves a second chance

June Hamilton left home to pursue her dream of dancing on Broadway. Seven years later, she has one regret: Mel Preston, her teenage crush and onetime summer love. Now a single dad and the head of maintenance at Starlight Point, her family's amusement park, Mel's easy smile still makes her heart beat in triple time. But June came home with a plan. She would spend the summer revitalizing the park's aging theaters, then make a graceful exit back to the big city. Until Mel and his young son start making a powerful claim on her emotions, and June faces an impossible decision...

“Can you help me?”

Mel didn't answer. He concentrated on the scuffed toe of his work boot. “Can this wait until next month or next year?”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “I won't be here next year.”

He shook his head. “None of my business if you want to keep running away from home.”

Her cheeks colored and he knew he'd struck a nerve. He'd had no intention of firing any weapons, but it had been a very long day.

June cocked her head and studied him. “You don't ever wonder if there's something else out there for you—something outside of Starlight Point?”

He shook his head again.

“You want to stay on this merry-go-round your whole life? Working all year getting ready for a summer of twelve-hour days?”

Mel glanced at the dusty wall clock. “Fifteen hours.”

June sighed, uncrossing her arms. “Some things in life you only get one solid chance at,” she said. “Apparently you don't get that. Nobody seems to.”

She flung the shop door open and disappeared into the night.

Dear Reader,

Thank you for visiting Starlight Point as you read
Carousel Nights
. Can you imagine inheriting a summer
resort and amusement park? It sounds like great fun and hard work to me. I love
an old-fashioned theme park with a carousel, cotton candy, roller coasters and
the sound of the waves on the shore.

This is the second book in the Starlight Point Stories
miniseries. The first book,
Under the Boardwalk
followed Jack Hamilton, the oldest of the Hamilton children, in the first summer
they inherit Starlight Point. In
Carousel Nights
middle child June Hamilton struggles with a tough choice: continue the Broadway
career she always wanted, or come home and devote herself to Starlight Point? A
summer romance she left behind years ago sweetens and complicates her decision.
The third book in the series will be available in December 2016 and follows
Evie, the youngest member of the family, as she finds her place at Starlight

This is my eighth published novel, and they all take place in
the summer and by the water. I love sunshine and waves because they are
fleeting, like the first rush of falling in love. For me, writing about July
days and the sparkle of the blue water makes them last all winter long. I hope
Carousel Nights
puts summer and love in your

Thank you for reading my book. I hope you'll visit me at
, follow me on Twitter,
, or send me an
email at
[email protected]

Happy summer, wherever you are!

Amie Denman

Carousel Nights

Amie Denman

Amie Denman
is the author of eight
contemporary romances full of humor and heart. Born with an overdeveloped sense
of curiosity, she's been known to chase fire trucks on her bicycle and eavesdrop
on lovers' conversations. Amie lives in Ohio with her husband, two sons, a big
yellow Labrador and two cats. She believes everything is fun: especially wedding
cake, show tunes, roller coasters and falling in love.

Books by Amie Denman

Harlequin Heartwarming

Under the Boardwalk

Carina Press

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Carousel Nights
is dedicated to my parents, who encouraged their four daughters to be anything they wanted to be. Thank you for your unwavering love and for taking us on all those vacations that sparked our curiosity and imagination.


far from Broadway. Right back where I started.

For June Hamilton, standing on the stage of the Midway Theater was pure nostalgia. She had danced her first semiprofessional steps here during the summers. But she had no intention of dancing her last ones on stage at her family's amusement park. Her legs were still good for six or seven seasons of New York City, and she still had a dream to chase.

“Thank you for spending your summer at Starlight Point,” she said. The performers gathered around her shifted even closer. “You'll dance your legs off doing five shows a day, but the experience you'll gain can take you anywhere.”

“You've been on Broadway for ages, right?” a girl with a tiny waist and a movie-star face asked.

“Hey,” June said, narrowing her eyes but smiling at the girl. “Only a few years, and I'm going back for the fall season. After I transform this theater and the Starlight Saloon into standing-room-only attractions.”

She had one month until the two theaters at Starlight Point opened for the summer.

Today she and her stage manager, Megan, would begin a marathon of rehearsals and performances. The new crop of college-aged performers gathered on stage at the Midway Theater, leggings and loose sweatshirts ready to come off so they could dance.

June handed a shop broom to one of the guys. “Do you mind knocking off some of the construction dust?”

The young man smiled, perfect white teeth giving him a showbiz gleam. “Didn't know I'd be dancing in a work zone,” he said, taking the broom and heading downstage.

“Life of the theater,” June said. “You never know what you're getting into.”

“It's all good. I'm happy to have a summer job.”

“Sorry I'm late,” Megan said, coming through a back door onto the rear of the stage. “I was battling my computer files and uploading practice music to my phone.” She headed for a small set of speakers propped on a cardboard box. “I love the show you've put together,” she continued, fumbling with a cord and searching the back of the speaker for a place to plug it in.

“Everyone loves Broadway, especially people who are willing to take a break from spinny rides and cotton candy,” June said, smiling at the six-months-pregnant stage manager, who still managed to look like a dancer despite her protruding belly. “At least I hope so.”

“You brought the glamour home,” Megan agreed. “I have no idea what we'll do next year when you're back to your day job.”

June walked to the front of the stage. The seats were all empty, but she felt the magic anyway. She always had. She faced the rows of seats and the midway wall of the theater where the marquee hung over glass doors.

June breathed deeply, raising her arms and stretching. She imagined the excitement, music, costumes and applause. More than anything, her feet wanted to spell out a routine on the floor that would have the audience wishing for three sets of eyes to take it all in.

But she had a lot of work to do before one patron filled a seat. When June had agreed to come home for the summer and take a hiatus from dancing on Broadway, she'd exacted an agreement from her brother, Jack, and sister, Evie. They had to let her update the old theaters. It was their second year running Starlight Point after the unexpected death of their father. They'd had bumps in the road, major and expensive ones, but ramping up the live shows would be a return on investment.

As she stood on the stage, breathing in theater air and listening to the clicking of tap shoes behind her, June wished she could fast-forward to opening day with a hundred people soaking up the great Broadway revue show she'd sketched out.

“You're smiling,” Mel said.

She hadn't heard him come in.
How long has he been there
? He stood near an exit door at the side of the house five rows back. Mel Preston. Tall. Blue work shirt with Starlight Point over one pocket and his name over the other.

She already knew his name. And plenty of other things about him.

June had left Starlight Point seven years ago, when she was eighteen, to attend college in Manhattan and begin her Broadway career. She didn't regret striking out on her own and leaving the family business to the rest of the family. But she did have one tiny regret.

Okay, one six-foot-three regret.

“Of course I'm smiling,” June said. “Theater is my life.” She spun on her good leg and tapped out a short rhythm with her foot.

“Even this dinky theater?” he asked, walking down the middle aisle.

Her heart rate sped up with each step he took.

“Careful,” she said. “I know the owners of this place and I could have you fired.”

Mel sat in one of the hundreds of empty seats. He leaned back, a travel mug of coffee in his hand.
He's staying?
June needed to concentrate on her rehearsal, and Mel divided her attention with his mere presence.

“How have you been, June?” He sat as if he were a ticket-holding patron waiting for his entertainment. Asked the question as if they were high school classmates bumping into each other at the bank or the grocery store.

June had been home just over a week and she'd somehow avoided a reunion with Mel. But Starlight Point only covered a few square miles. If she was planning to be home all summer, she had to find a way to tune out the way Mel made her feel, even after seven years.
Maybe I'll turn the music up very loud.

“I've been fine,” she said with a business-casual tone she hoped would convince at least one of them. “Busy. I'll tell you all about it when I get my shows open.”

“I heard you're staying all summer.”

June nodded, unsure if Mel considered it a good thing or a bad thing she was staying all summer. Her two goals of recharging herself and the theaters did not allow room for reviving a romance she'd left on the table. Not that Mel's tone or posture suggested a return to old feelings. He was busy, too, the head of maintenance at Starlight Point. If he'd already seen her plans for renovation on the Midway Theater and the Starlight Saloon Theater, he was probably ready to drive her to the airport.

“Why did you decide to come home?” he asked.

Why did he want to know? She could tell him to mind his own business...but it was a fair question.

A question she'd been dodging since she'd announced she was coming home. In the competitive world of Broadway, she'd only admitted the pain in her knee to her closest friends. And there was no reason to acknowledge it to Mel now. Especially since it already felt better after weeks off the stage.

“I came home to revitalize these theaters,” she said. “I do own a third of Starlight Point.”

Loud music poured from the small speakers behind her.

“Sorry about that,” Megan said, “trying to find the right track.”

June broke eye contact with Mel. He could stay and watch if he wanted to, but she had work to do. She could certainly keep her composure. After dancing in front of thousands of Broadway fans, keeping her heart and mind on her career should be as easy as learning to two-step. She turned to her waiting dancers.

“I made copies of the order of the numbers for you. I'll grab them.”

June crossed the stage and dug through her lucky duffel, a high school graduation present from her parents. She'd stuffed her shoes and dance clothes in it for years, hauling it along to her Broadway debut in
, her chorus role in
Hello, Dolly!
, her crazily costumed role in
, and her most recent performance in
. In all those shows, she'd been a background dancer. Her next ambition was to get a larger role where she could sing and dance. The front of the stage—that's where she wanted to be.

She handed out copies of the program and sat at the piano.

“Let's do a read and sing-through,” she said. “I'll play since it's easier than stopping and starting the sound track.”

The six male and six female performers sang through the pieces culled from a dozen or so Broadway shows. Typical audience members would recognize nearly all the songs, and June hoped the combination had just the right energy and appeal for the amusement park crowd.

“Ready to try the first dance number?” she asked, rising from the piano and stacking the music on top.

Her breath quickened just thinking about dancing and she pulled off her hoodie, tossing it toward the side of the stage and taking a quick look to see if Mel was still there.

He was. She should not care either way. Didn't he have work to do?

June waited, tapping her toe in anticipation while Megan fiddled with the music on her phone.

“Wish I could dance,” Megan said, “but I'm barely surviving morning sickness as it is. Slow movements are my friend right now.”

June smiled sympathetically. “I thought morning sickness was supposed to go away after the first few months?”

“Apparently not for everyone,” Megan said. She finished searching the playlist and looked up. “Ready?”

Spin, step, step, hold, dip. June moved with the dancers, letting the energy of the stage and the familiar music take her back to the time when she never thought about her knee, never took a cautious step waiting for the slice of pain. When she was happy just being a dancer.

She wanted to keep going, but the song ended. Megan thumbed a button on the player and the silence was broken by the dancers' quick breathing. A moment later, applause from the lone audience member reminded June
was still there.

June walked to the front of the stage, signaling the other dancers to join her. They held hands and did an elaborate stage bow. Mel stood, continuing his applause until the dancers dispersed to the rear of the stage where they'd stowed their water bottles and cell phones.

“Glad you liked it,” June said to Mel.

“What's not to like?”

She smiled. Despite the four rows of seats between them, he could probably hear her heart racing with adrenaline and endorphins. It was the dancing, her love of the theater. What else would it be?

She focused on the ramshackle catwalk and the back wall, which sported faded posters and a series of cables and spotlights older than she was. There was so much work to do in the weeks before her show opened. Too much.

“I'm glad you asked,” she said, “because I have a long list of jobs that have to be done before anyone lays eyes on this theater or my show.”

Mel nodded. He put his hat on and stepped into the aisle. The way he moved, tugged on his was as familiar as her mother's voice in the kitchen or the feel of her father's hand holding hers. The father she had lost while she was off dancing toward her dream. If she could go back, would she do anything differently?

“You're not leaving right now?” June asked.

“Work to do.”

“I was hoping to talk to you about some construction I need.”

“Out of time,” he said, his words matter-of-fact.

“You had time to watch us rehearse for half an hour.”

“And it was great. I always knew you'd be a success,” he said.

June crossed her arms. “What's that supposed to mean?”

Her voice, combined with surprisingly good acoustics, bounced off the back wall just as Evie and Jack entered the theater. They paused, probably trying to accustom their eyes to the dim lighting.

They had either the best or worst timing in the world.

“What's up, Mel? Is June ordering you to make this place look like Times Square?” Jack asked.

Evie elbowed Jack and Mel chuckled.

“She's trying. I interrupted their rehearsal and now I have to get back to work. The Kiddieland helicopters will be grounded unless someone troubleshoots the control panel. Opening day wouldn't be the same without them.”

He sent one long look at June and slid out the side door, opening a brief rectangle of bright sunshine.

“Still rehearsing? Want us to come back later?” Evie asked.

Behind her, June heard Megan rounding up the dancers and having a quiet conversation with them about blocking and potential props. There would be a million small decisions to make, but a big one was right in front of her.

“I'm glad you're here,” she said, carefully sitting on the edge of the stage and scooting off. “We should nail down our plans for final improvements here.”

Jack and Evie exchanged a look. “That's why we're here, but I'm not sure we're going to make your day.”

June shrugged. “I was having a great day until about five minutes ago. Unless you tell me we can't shape up these old theaters in the next month, I'll live.”

Jack sat in a theater seat, his long legs protruding into the aisle. He dug in his pocket and pulled out a sandwich bag full of cookies. He bit into a star-shaped sugar cookie and held out the bag.

“Want some?” he mumbled, mouth full.

“You're stress-eating, Jack. It's not even lunch and you're hitting the sweets.”

Evie sunk into a seat in the row in front of her brother. “Better than drinking before lunch.”

“That's next,” Jack said. “We're bleeding money and none is coming in.”

“The park's not even open yet,” June protested. “Stop panicking.”

“We have to be conservative with the little capital we have,” Evie said. “We're looking for places to cut.”

“Don't look here. This theater anchors the whole front midway. If it's closed or cheap-looking, guests will notice.” She rested her hand on a seat back. “Bankers and investors will notice.”

“Can we get away with closing the Starlight Saloon for the year?” Evie asked.

“Are you kidding? My steampunk Western show is going to put the Wonderful West on the map. I can guarantee it will bring people to that part of the park and make them stay. They'll get elephant ears and tacos while they wait for the train. You can't afford to make that area into a ghost town. Kids love the shooting range and parents can get a cold beer and catch a show.”

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