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Smitten in Savannah: Ch. 1-3




CHAPTER 1


The storm darkened the streets and scared off tourists, but for Fiona Newton, it was her favorite kind of day. It was January in Savannah, and Fiona welcomed the downpour. Four years as a Savannah resident and she still couldn’t handle the summer heat. She relished these Georgia winters.


She spun around in her styling chair. It was slow at Norm’s today. Lynn was working on a highlight and Percy was finishing up a blowout. Fiona’s last minute haircut was a couple minutes late.


She got up and looked in the mirror. The rain hadn’t mussed her up too much on her way in from lunch. Her gray sweater was dotted with raindrops and her long, dark hair was starting to frizz. But her characteristic winged eyeliner was pristine, thanks to years of practice and a good waterproof liner. Her robin’s egg blue eyes looked a little less tired today. She’d had the rare opportunity to sleep in that morning.


She glanced at the clock. The booking came in online just an hour before, so Fiona assumed he’d show up eventually. Just then, the door swung open and a tall man ducked in, protected from the rain by a black hoodie.

Fiona got up and turned the chair to face the mirror.


“Porter?” She asked.


He nodded, dark blonde hair falling into his eyes. “Yes. Sorry I’m late.”


Fiona motioned to the chair. “Can I take your sweatshirt?”


“Sure,” he said, handing it to her. She placed it on the hook at her station and turned to him. He looked serious, hurried. Glasses over a furrowed brow, stormy gray eyes that matched the clouds outside. 


“I’m Fiona,” she said. “What can I do for you today?”


“Just a trim today, I think,” he said, glancing down at his phone. “It’s getting to the point now where it’s in my eyes. I just don’t want to bother with it.” 


“Sure,” Fiona said, grabbing a towel. “We’ll go to the sink first.”


He slipped his phone in his pocket and got up to follow her. 


She turned on the water at the sink, checked the temperature and leaned the seat back.


“So, are you from Savannah?” she asked, beginning the bank of questions she had in her mind for new clients. She picked up on the slight southern accent in his voice. She ran a hand through his hair. He had great hair. Thick, a bit wavy.  It almost made her sad to cut it. It would look amazing styled. If he used a little pomade-


“No, I moved here a year ago,” he said, bringing her back to the task at hand. “I’m opening the restaurant next door.”


Fiona frowned. “There’s a restaurant next door?”


Norm’s Salon was in an old building off of Broughton Street. The space next door had been vacant for a while, until about a month prior. They’d heard the faint whir of power tools and voices next door, but the windows had been covered in paper so no one knew what was moving in.


“The sign’s coming in tomorrow,” he answered. As she shampooed, rinsed and added conditioner, Fiona felt him unwind, just a little.


“Wow. You must be busy.”


“We have been. David - my cousin - he’s starting it up with me.”


“What’s it called?” She asked. She reached for a towel to dry his hair.


“Hearth. We wanted it to feel like upscale home cooking, so that name stuck.”


“I like it,” Fiona said. “I’ll be sure to try it out when it opens.”


She dried his hair with a towel and led him back to her chair. It would be a crime, she thought again, to cut his hair. But she couldn’t turn away business, so she got out her shears. 


“Is there anything specific you want? Do you like to keep it longer on top?”


“I’m not sure,” he said, running a hand through his hair. “With getting everything set up, I just don’t want it to be a hassle.”


Fiona nodded. “I’ll keep the shape and just do a trim, then.”


She picked up the clipper, tucked a pair of scissors into her apron, and got started. He seemed distracted now, lost in his thoughts. She usually preferred the talkers, the ones who did all the small talk for her. But the salon felt cozy today with its low jazz - Norm’s favorite - and the rain outside. Today she was enjoying the peace. 


Feeling the silence had gone on a beat too long, she asked, “So what made you want to open a restaurant in Savannah?”


Porter glanced up at her, looking a little dazed.

“My mom,” he said. “We’re from Montgomery originally. She decided to retire here, and since I’d been thinking about moving back south, I decided to join her.”


“Back south?” Fiona asked. “Where were you before?”


“New York,” Porter answered, smiling. “Very different experience. Fun, but not for me.”


“Really? That had to be exciting,” Fiona said. She had to block out her own experience of New York as he spoke.


“I actually went for the restaurants,” he said. “I went to school to learn how to run a business and worked the whole time in some of the best restaurants in the country, learning the ropes.”


“So you always knew you wanted to start a restaurant?” she asked.


“Yes,” he answered. “Hearth may or may not be my end goal, but food has always been my passion.”


She looked at him in the mirror, making sure all sides were even.


“Are you from Savannah originally?” he asked. She never liked when the conversation turned to her.


“No, I moved here four years ago after beauty school. I moved in with a friend.”

Moved in wasn’t exactly accurate. More like “crashed on any couch she could find until she could afford her own place.” Even now, she could just barely pay rent on her apartment.


She finished up the trim and decided to use a little product in his hair. As she assumed, his hair held a style beautifully. 


“Looks great,” he said, handing her his money, adding in a generous tip. “Thank you for getting me in at the last minute. I have to get back to accept a delivery.”


“Of course,” she said. “Good luck with everything.”


With a nod and a wave, he was gone.



CHAPTER 2


Fiona had barely finished sweeping up her station when Norm stepped out of his office.


“Can I talk to you for a second, Fi?”


Fiona took off her apron and walked to his office.


She adored Norm. He was a heavyset, 52-year-old redhead who was an absolute genius with hair. He’d given her a chance four years ago when she had almost no experience. His salon was popular with all kinds of people, and Fiona loved that about Norm’s.


“Sit,” he said, motioning to an empty chair. Fiona melted down into the black leather chair. Norm also had a flair for luxe decor.


He could be a bit intimidating, she thought. But he was always kind. Today, though, he looked...sullen.


Norm sighed.


“Jesus, Norm, you’re freaking me out.” She suddenly thought Norm was about to fire her, and her heart rate shot up several notches.


“I have some news,” he told her. “Good and bad.”


She nodded for him to continue, squeezing her hands tightly together.

Norm sighed again. “Marc and I are moving.”


After a second, Fiona smiled. “That’s great news! You’ve been talking about moving in with him forever.”


Norm smiled.

“No, he’s been trying to convince me to move in with him, and I finally agreed.”


“Either way, it’s about time,” Fiona said, genuinely thrilled for him. He was a lone wolf, like she was. But cheerful, sunny Marc was his perfect match.


“The bad news…” Norm said, crossing his arms on his desk. “I have to sell Norm’s.”


Stunned, Fiona stared at him. “Where...where are you moving?”


“L.A.,” Norm told her. “With Marc’s daughter about to have the baby, he wants to be near family. And I want to be near him.”


Fiona could immediately feel the tears sting her eyes, but she willed them away. 

“Norm.”


“Listen, I’m going to make sure you’re all taken care of. Except Percy, obviously,” he said, glancing sideways at Percy’s chair. “Percy’s on his own.”


She took a shaky breath, steadying herself by gripping the arms of the chair.

“We will figure it out,” Fiona told him, though she wasn’t so sure.


“I talked to Linda down the street, she has room for another stylist or two,” he told her. “Or there are the salon suites. You could always get a room there and go it alone."


Fiona’s head was spinning. She realized only then she’d never had a backup plan. She just assumed she’d work at Norm’s for the foreseeable future.


“How long do we have?”


“Marc and I are moving in three weeks. It’s sudden, but I had to make sure everything would go through before I did anything final here.”


Panic rose in her belly.

“Three...weeks?”

Fiona straightened in her seat, trying to feel more stable.


“I’ll be able to pay you all for a little bit and I’m working with everyone I can to make this transition okay for you all,” he said. He was being as gentle as possible, she knew. 


Usually Norm was all tough love, hurling insults that stung if you didn’t get his humor. But this was different. This, he knew, would hurt her.


“I’ll be honest, Fi. Lynn, Percy, Danielle, Crystal, Marguerite...I’m not worried about them. I think Crystal and Danielle were on the outs anyway.”


Fiona looked down at her lap, knowing she couldn’t stop the tears now.

“But I am worried about you.”


“I’ll be fine,” she said, brushing at her cheek. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll probably rent a room and see my clients there.”


She forced a smile.


Norm nodded, concern on his face.

“Are we okay?”


“Of course,” she said, but she could feel herself pulling away. “I just have to go, I’ve got a color coming in ten.”


Norm said nothing, but she could feel him watching her as she walked away.


CHAPTER 3


The color client was exactly what Fiona needed. A woman in her forties who was very high-maintenance about her hair. There were a zillion steps involved in getting the precise shade of blonde she wanted, and it would take forever. It was the perfect distraction. It didn’t hurt that this client was a major talker.


But Fiona’s mind wandered. She was going to be out of a job. It wasn’t that she couldn’t find another job. It was that she loved this job. And Norm was one of her closest friends here. It was two major blows at once.


But still, there was an idea, one she was almost too scared to think about. It was a long shot. A massive long shot.


She’d made some friends here through the salon. Stella, the esthetician and makeup artist she often referred her clients to. And Cassie, Stella’s stylist and designer friend.


One night, after too much wine at Stella’s, the three of them hatched a plan to create their own one-stop-shop glam service. Fiona would do the hair, Stella would do skincare and makeup and Cassie would take care of the clothes. Perfect for brides or someone attending a lot of social events. It could be incredible for tourists wanting to look their best for an anniversary or special date night on the town. It was a rough idea, and she doubted they’d go for it, but the potential excited her.


She thought they could find a cute little storefront somewhere, with just enough space for them to have all of their services under one roof. It was fun, the idea of starting something all her own. But she’d need flexible work to get it off the ground. And of course, Stella and Cassie would have to be on board. 


Fiona shook her head. Not the time for dreams. For now, she had to pay the bills.

By the time her client’s hair had been trimmed, dyed and styled, Fiona was the last one at the salon. She swept the floor, cleaned up her bowls and brushes, and threw her towels in the wash. 


She locked the front door, turned off the lights and took the garbage out to the dumpster in the alley behind the salon. It was still raining, but finally calming down.

She sprinted back to the alleyway door, turned the knob, and shoved against the door. It didn’t budge. 


Fiona shivered in the rain. Deep breath, she told herself. Don’t panic. 


She fumbled through her pockets, knowing very well the key wouldn’t be there. She must have accidentally turned the lock out of habit before she went outside.

Fiona ducked under an awning in the dark. She’d already locked the front door. She’d locked the back door. All of her things were inside. 


Taking a breath, she searched for her phone in her pockets. She’d have to call Norm or Lynn to come let her back in. 


She paused, suddenly remembering her phone still sitting on the table at her station. Fiona groaned. This back alley always creeped her out, especially late at night. She took another shaky deep breath, mentally preparing herself for a long walk at night - in the rain - to get some help.


One door down, she saw lights on behind the papered windows. The restaurant.

Before she had a chance to change her mind, Fiona ran through the rain to the back door and started knocking. Almost immediately, Porter opened it.


“Hello?” he asked, bewildered. Fiona’s clothes were soaked. Her hair was sticking to her face, and when she wiped at her cheek, she could tell her makeup was running.


“Can I come in?” she asked, shivering.


“Of course,” Porter said, stepping aside.


It was warm in the restaurant. She had walked in through a meticulously organized stainless kitchen, already prepared with pots and pans hanging from hooks on the ceiling. Through a hallway, she could see tables stacked in the corner, gleaming hardwood floors and a spectacular antique chandelier over the front door.


To her right was a small bathroom, and she caught a glimpse of the mascara running down her face in the mirror.


“I’m sorry,” she told Porter. “I’m the last one at the salon and I locked myself out. I was hoping I could use your phone.”


“Sure,” he said, and turned to head down the hallway. Fiona took the opportunity to step into the bathroom and clean up her face as best as she could. When she walked back out, Porter was waiting with his phone.


“I’m just going to try my boss really quick,” she said, taking it from him. She dialed the number, and two rings in, she remembered it was Marc’s birthday and they’d be out for the night. She left him a message and sent a text, but knew he might not respond right away since he didn’t recognize the number.


Porter was talking to someone in the kitchen. Fiona slumped down onto a stool in the corner.


She could call a cab, but her purse was in the salon.


She had no money, no phone and no house keys.


She couldn’t remember Stella’s or Cassie’s numbers offhand, and they would be home from work by now.


And she didn’t know if or when Norm would get back to her. She got up and handed Porter his phone.


“Any luck?” he asked. She shook her head.


“I’m sorry to barge in like this,” she said. “I locked myself out once before but Norm – the owner – was there. He’s almost always there.”


Another man stepped out into the hallway. He was shorter than Porter, but his eyes were similar. He smiled brightly at her.


“David,” he said, shaking her hand. “I heard you say you work at the salon?”


“Yep,” she said. “I just cut Porter’s hair this afternoon, actually.”


“I’ll have to get in soon,” David said, ruffling his hair. “My wife has been begging me to go get it cut for weeks.”


“We can get you in,” Fiona said, smiling. But then she remembered the salon was closing. Her heart sank.


“I’m going to unpack more. Nice to meet you.” With a wave, David walked off toward the kitchen.


“So...are you hungry?” Porter asked. He was in a plain black t-shirt now, his hands tucked into his jeans pockets.


Fiona shook her head, already embarrassed. “No, I’ve already come in and disturbed you and used your phone, you don’t need to feed me, too.”


“Are you sure?” he asked, then turned toward the dining area. “I tried out a mac n’ cheese recipe tonight, I wouldn’t mind some feedback.”


Fiona followed him, now painfully aware of how hungry she was.


“Um...okay,” she said. “While I wait for my boss to call back.”


Porter pulled a table from the corner and got down two chairs.

“Have a seat, I’ll be right back.”


Fiona sat at the table - a gorgeous, heavy wooden table with matching chairs. The walls were a stunning blend of ornate floral wallpaper and exposed brick, showcasing the character of the building.


The floors had been restored to their former glory, complete with charming imperfections. It was a small space, but Fiona could imagine how welcoming the place would be after it was complete.

Porter returned with two plates piled with mac n’ cheese.


Fiona gaped at him. Her idea of mac n’ cheese came in a box. This was almost a work of art.


Spiral noodles were covered in a sinful amount of cheese, with a breadcrumb layer on top. It was served on a delicate china plate with pale blue and gold flowers decorating the border.


“I’m trying out a different cheese blend for this one,” he told her. “Let me know what you think. You can’t serve subpar mac n’ cheese in the South, so any criticism is welcomed.”


Fiona didn’t wait before digging in. It was absolutely divine. She didn’t know what the cheese blend was, but it was perfection. She could feel him watching her, which would usually make her self-conscious. But right now, she was too hungry to care.


“He does this to everyone,” she heard David yell from the kitchen. “If you stay here too long, you’ll get a five course meal.”


She looked at Porter, who was watching her expectantly. She was momentarily distracted by him, admiring the cut and style she’d given him.

“So…”


Remembering he wanted feedback, Fiona put down her fork and took a sip of water from the glass he’d given her. “Considering I ate it all in under five minutes, yes, it’s fantastic.”


Porter smiled. “I think so too. I’ve been messing with that recipe for months. It was driving me crazy.”


Porter’s phone started ringing in his pocket. 


“Is this your friend?” he asked, handing her the phone. She took the phone and nodded, relieved. 


“Norm?”


“Fiona, what’s wrong? Whose phone is this?” She could hear a crowd of people and loud music in the background.  


“I’m okay, I just got locked out of the salon. I went to the restaurant next door.”

The background noise went silent as Norm stepped outside.


“What restaurant?” he asked, sounding a little frantic.


“It’s new,” she said, glancing at Porter. “I’m okay, but I can’t call anyone to let me back in.”


Norm took a deep breath. “Remember when I said I was concerned about you the most?”


Fiona laughed, but the pain of remembering he was leaving came rushing back.

“I promise I’ll be able to function without you, Norm,” she said, rolling her eyes, not totally confident in that promise.


“Good. Lynn lives the closest, I’ll give her a call. You’ll owe her.”


“Thanks. Just text this number after you talk to her, so I know she’s coming.”


She hung up with Norm and handed the phone back to Porter, who had busied himself sorting through paperwork.


“Thanks again,” she said. “My coworker should be on her way soon. She lives a few blocks away. I’m sorry if I’m holding you guys up.”


She didn’t know what to do now. They were busy working, and she was just there, taking up space. She hoped Lynn would be on her way soon.


“So, when are you opening?”


Porter stepped out from an office area, a pen and notebook in hand.

“Within six weeks, hopefully,” he said. 


David snorted. “Not at the rate we’ve been going.”


Porter pulled a chair aside and sat, glancing down at his notebook. “Have a little faith, David. We’ll figure it out.”


“We’re too short handed,” he said, shrugging. He looked to Fiona. “Know any amazing servers looking for a job?”


Fiona thought for a minute, no one coming to mind. “I’m not sure, what positions are you looking to fill?”


“We’ve got most positions filled or are interviewing for them,” Porter told her. “We just need a few more servers.”


The phone dinged on the table, making Fiona jump. “Lynn is on her way,” the text said, and Fiona breathed a sigh of relief.


“My coworker should be here any minute,” she said, standing. “Thanks again, I really appreciate it.”


She handed the phone back to Porter, who just said “No problem,” and walked to a back room.


Fiona peeked out from behind the paper on the windows until she saw Lynn pull up in her electric blue Toyota.


“She’s here,” Fiona yelled to David. “Good luck getting everything ready.”


“Thanks, don’t forget to send us some servers!” David yelled back from the kitchen. “You can go out that front door.”


Fiona unlocked the door and stepped out into the rain, feeling an odd mix of relief and disappointment.


***


Find out what happens when Fiona runs into Porter again in Smitten in Savannah.

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