Sunsets at Seaside - Jamie

Release Date: August 23, 2017
(Early release for Nook readers – August 8!)


Chapter One

JESSICA AYERS COULD hold a note on her cello for thirty-eight seconds without ever breaking a sweat, but staring at the eBay auction on her iPhone as the last forty seconds ticked away had her hands sweating and her heart racing. She never knew seconds could pass so slowly. She’d been pacing the deck of her rented apartment in the Seaside cottage community in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, for forty-five minutes. This was her first time—and she was certain her last time—using the online auction site. She was the high bidder on a baseball that she was fairly certain was her father’s from when he was a boy.

“Come on. Come on. Come on.” Fifteen seconds. She clenched her eyes shut and squeezed the phone, as if she could will the win. It was only seven thirty in the morning, and already the sun had blazed a path through the trees. She was hot and frustrated, and after fighting with her orchestra manager for two weeks about taking a hiatus, and her mother for even longer about everything under the sun, she was ready to blow. She’d come to the Cape for a respite from playing in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, hoping to figure out if she was living her life to the fullest, or missing out on it altogether. Finding her father’s baseball autographed by Mickey Mantle was her self-imposed distraction to keep her mind off picking up the cello. She’d never imagined she’d find it a week into her vacation.

She opened her eyes and stared at the phone.

Five seconds. Four. Three.

A message flashed on the screen. You have been outbid by another bidder.

“What? No. No, no, no.” She pressed the bid icon, and nothing happened. She pressed it again, and again, her muscles tightening with each attempt. Another message flashed on the screen. Bidding for this item has ended.


She stared at the phone, unable to believe she’d been seconds away from winning what she was sure was her father’s baseball and had lost it. She hated phones. She hated eBay. She hated bidding against nonexistent people in tiny little stupid phones. She hated the whole thing so much she turned and hurled the phone over the deck.


That felt really, really good.

“Ouch! What the…” A deep male voice rose up to her.

Jessica crouched and peered between the balusters. Standing on the gravel road just a few feet from her building, in a pair of black running shorts and no shirt, was the nicest butt she’d ever seen, attached to a tanned back that was glistening with sweat and rippled with muscles. Holy moly, they didn’t make orchestra musicians with bodies like that. Not that she’d know, considering that they were always properly covered in black suits and white shirts, but could a body like that even be hidden?

He turned, one hand rubbing his unruly black hair as he looked up at the pitch pine trees.

Yeah, you won’t find the culprit there.

His eyes passed by her deck, and she cringed. At least he hadn’t seen her phone, which she spotted a few feet away, where it must have fallen after conking him on the head. His eyes dropped to the ground…and traveled directly to it.

Jessica ducked lower, watching his brows knit together, giving him a brooding, sexy look.

Please don’t see me. Please don’t see me.

He looked at the cottages to his left, then to the pool off to his right, and just as Jessica sighed with relief, he crossed the road toward the steps to her apartment. His eyes locked on her. He shaded them with his hand and looked down at the phone, then back up at her, and lifted the phone in the air.

“Is this yours?”

She debated staying there, crouched and peering between the railings like a child playing hide-and-seek, hoping he really couldn’t see her.

I’ve been seeked.

Darn it! She rose slowly to her feet. “My what?” She had no idea what she was going to say or do as the words flew from her mouth.

He laughed. He had a deep, sexy laugh. “Your phone?”

He stood there looking amused and so darn sexy that Jessica couldn’t take her eyes off of him. “Why would that be mine? I don’t even have a phone.” Great. Now I’m a phone assaulter and a liar. She had no idea that being incredibly attracted to a man could couple with embarrassment and make her spew lies, as if she lied every day.

He looked back down at the phone and scratched his head. She wondered what he was thinking. That it fell from the sky? No one was that stupid, but she couldn’t own up to it now. She was in too deep. As he mounted the stairs, she got a good look at his chest, covered with a light dusting of hair, over muscles that bunched and rippled down his stomach, forming a V between his hips.

He stepped onto the deck and raked his hazel eyes down her body with the kind of smile that should have made her feel at ease and instead made her feel very exposed. And hot. Definitely hot. Oh wait, he was hot. She was just bothered. Hot and bothered. Up close he was even more handsome than she imagined, with at least three days’ scruff peppering his strong chin and eyes that played hues of green and brown like a melody.

“Hi. I’m Jamie Reed.”

“Hi. Jessica…Ayers.”

“How long are you renting?” He used his forearm to wipe his brow. She never knew sweating could look so sexy.

“For the summer.” She shifted her eyes to her phone. “What will you do with that phone?”

He looked down at it. “I guess that depends, doesn’t it?” The side of his mouth quirked up, making his handsome, rugged face look playful and sending her stomach into a tailspin.

Jessica needed and wanted playful in her too prim and proper life, but she needed her phone even more, in case her orchestra manager called.

“Let’s say it was my phone. Let’s say it slipped from my hand and fell over the deck, purely by accident.”

He stepped closer, and suddenly playful turned serious. His eyes went dark and seductive, in a way that bored right through her, both turning her on and calling her on her fib. He placed one big hand on the railing beside her and peered over the side. His brows lifted, and he stepped closer again. She inched backward until her back met the wooden rail. He smelled of power and sweat and something musky that made her insides quiver.

“That’s quite an accident.” His voice whispered over her skin.

Jessica could barely breathe, barely think with his eyes looking through her, and his crazy, sexy body so close made her sweat even more. The truth poured out like water from a faucet.

“Okay. I’m sorry. I did throw it, but it’s not my fault. Not really. It’s that stupid eBay site.” Her voice rose, and her frustration bubbled forth. “I don’t know how I could lose an auction in the last ten seconds. My bid held strong for forty-five minutes, and then out of the blue I lost it for five lousy dollars? And it was all because the stupid bid button was broken.” She sank down to a chair. “I’m sorry. I’m just upset.”

“So, let me get this straight. You lost a bid on eBay, so you threw your phone?” He lowered himself to the chair beside her, brow wrinkled in confusion, or maybe amusement. She couldn’t tell which.

“Yeah, I know. I know. I threw my phone. But it must be broken. I hate technology.”

“Technology is awesome. It’s not the phone’s fault you lost your bid. It’s called sniping, and lots of people do it.”

“Sniping?” She sighed. “I’m sorry. I know I sound whiny and not so nice, but I’m really not like this normally.”

He arched a brow and smiled, which made her smile, because of course he didn’t believe her. Who would? He didn’t know she was usually Miss Prim and Proper. He couldn’t know she never used words like stupid or even visited the eBay website until today.

“I swear I’m not. I’m just frustrated. I’ve been trying to find the baseball my father had as a kid. It was signed by Mickey Mantle, and somewhere along the line, his parents lost it. His sister had colored in the autograph with red ink, and I think I finally found it…and then lost it.”

“That’s a bummer. I can see why you’re upset. I’m sorry.”

“How can you be so nice after I beaned you with my phone?”

He shrugged. “I’ve been hit by worse. Here, let me show you some eBay tricks.” He scrolled through her apps, of which she had none other than what came with the phone. He drew his brows together. “Do you want me to download the eBay app?”

“The eBay app? I guess.”

He fiddled with her phone, then moved his chair closer to hers. “When you’re bidding on eBay and other people are bidding at the same time, you need to refresh your screen because bids don’t refresh quickly on all phones.” He continued explaining and showing her how to refresh her screen.

She only half listened. She simply didn’t get technology, and she was used to sitting next to men in suits and tuxedos, not half-naked men with Adonis-like bodies wearing nothing but a pair of shorts with all their masculinity on display. She could barely concentrate.


JAMIE COULD TELL by the look in Jessica’s eyes that she wasn’t paying attention. As the developer of OneClick, the world’s second-largest search engine, rivaling Google, he’d been in his fair share of meetings with foggy-eyed people who zoned out when he started with technical talk. But refreshing a screen was hardly technical, which meant that either beautiful Jessica was really a novice and had lived in a cave for the past ten years or she was playing him like a cheap guitar. She sure didn’t look like she’d been living in a cave. She was about the hottest chick he’d seen in forever, sitting beside him in a canary-yellow bikini like it was the most comfortable thing in the world. Maybe she was a fashion model with handlers that did these kinds of things for her.

Her light brown hair brushed her thighs when she leaned forward, and her bright blue eyes, although looking a little lost at the moment, were strikingly sexy. She had a hot bod, with perfect, perky breasts, a trim waist, curvaceous hips, and legs that went on forever, but that didn’t change the fact that she’d tried to avoid admitting that the phone was hers. The last thing Jamie needed this summer was to be played, even by a beautiful woman like Jessica. This was his first summer off in eight years, and he intended to relax and spend time with his grandmother, Vera, who was in her mid-eighties and wasn’t getting any younger. If the right woman came along, and he had the time and interest, he’d enjoy her company, but he had no patience for games.

“Either your phone is new, or you don’t use many apps.”

“No. To be honest, I don’t even text very often. I’ve been kind of out of the swing of things in that arena for a while. And after this I’m not sure that I really want to dive in.”

He handed her the phone. “You can do this on your computer. Some people find that easier.”

She closed her eyes for a beat and cringed. “I get along with my computer even worse than I get along with my phone.”

He still couldn’t decide if she was playing him or not. She sounded sincere, and the look in her beautiful baby blues was as honest as he’d ever seen. He might as well offer to help.

“Then you’ve met just the right guy. I can give you a crash course in computers and phones.”

“I’ve taken up so much of your time already. I would feel guilty taking up any more on a beautiful day like today. But I really appreciate your offer.”

Are you blowing me off?

Jamie rose to his feet. “Okay, well, if you need any help, I’m in the cottage on the end with the deck out front and back. Stop by anytime.” He hesitated, knowing he should leave but wanting to stay and get to know her a little better. If she was playing him, she would’ve taken him up on his offer for sure.

Jessica rose to her feet, grabbed a towel from the back of her chair, and picked up a tote bag from beneath the table. “I’m heading to the pool, so I’ll walk down with you.”

They walked down to the pool together in silence, giving Jamie a chance to notice how nice she smelled. It took all of his focus not to run his eyes down her backside—he was dying to see her butt, but why rush things and make her uncomfortable? She’d walk into the pool and he’d have his chance.

Jessica dug through her tote bag. She placed a slender hand on her hip and sighed. “I forgot my key. Why do they keep the pool locked, anyway?”

He had no idea why, but she looked so curious that he made up a reason. “To keep the derelicts out.”

“Derelicts? Really? My friend suggested that I rent here. He said there was almost no crime on the Cape.”

Jamie wondered who her friend was. “We had some trouble with teenagers two summers ago, but other than that, your friend was right. There are no derelicts lurking about.”

“Oh, thank goodness. I didn’t think my coworker would lead me astray. I guess I’ll go get my key.”

She turned to leave and—holy cow—her bikini bottom was a thong. A thin piece of floss between two perfect butt cheeks. How had he missed that?

It was all he could do not to drool. “Nice suit,” he mumbled.

She looked over her shoulder. “Thanks! I saw the Thong Thursday flyer and thought, why not? I bought this suit when we were overseas and wore it there once. I brought it with me, but I never would have had the guts to wear it here, until I saw that you guys had an actual day for one.” She waved and disappeared up the steps to her apartment.

Jamie spun around and scanned the bulletin board where the pool rules were posted. A blue flyer had been tacked front and center: JOIN US FOR THONG THURSDAY!

Thank you, Bella.

Jamie jogged up to Bella’s cottage. The screen door was open.

“Bella?” Bella Abbascia owned the cottage across from the apartment Jessica was renting. Bella was the resident prankster. Her favorite person to play tricks on was Theresa Ottoline, the Seaside property manager. Theresa oversaw the homeowner association guidelines for the community—including the pool rules, which included a rule that clearly stated, No thongs on women or Speedos on men.

Her fiancé, Caden Grant, walked out of the bedroom in his police officer uniform. “Hey, Jamie. Come on in.”

Jamie stepped inside. “Hi. I wanted to thank your fiancée for Thong Thursday.”

Caden shook his head. “She did it, huh?”

“Yes, she did it, and…” Jamie looked out the window at the big house where Jessica was renting. The house was owned by Theresa. The apartment Jessica rented had a separate entrance on the second floor.

“Did you see the new tenant? Jessica Ayers?” He whistled. “Hotter than lava.”

“I saw her sitting on her deck the other night when I pulled in, but I haven’t met her. Bella’s over at Amy’s with the girls.”

Evan, Caden’s mini-me teenage son, walked out of his bedroom. Evan was almost seventeen, and this year he’d cropped his chestnut hair short, like his father’s. Over the year he’d grown to six two. His square jaw and cleft chin, also like Caden’s, had lost all but the faintest trace of the boy he’d been two years earlier.

“Dude. You went running without me?” Evan, Caden, and their other buddy, Kurt Remington, whose fiancée, Leanna Bray, owned the cottage behind Bella and Caden, sometimes ran with Jamie in the mornings.

“Sorry, Ev. Vera wanted to get a jump on the day, so I went early.”

“That’s okay.” Evan glanced out the window in the kitchen and looked down by the pool, where Jessica was spreading a towel out on a lounge chair. “I was gonna go for a run, but if it’s Thong Thursday, I think I’ll go for a swim instead, then head over to TGG for the afternoon.” Evan had worked with Jamie for one summer, learning how to program computers, and he’d been working part-time at TGG, The Geeky Guys, ever since.

Jamie set a narrow-eyed stare on Evan.

“What?” Evan laughed.

“Behave,” Jamie said, before walking out the door. Now I’m jealous of a kid? He glanced at the pool, tempted to put on his own suit and head down for a gawk and a swim. Instead, he headed across the gravel road to Amy Maples’s cottage.

“Hi, Jamie. Just in time for coffee.” Amy handed him a mug over the railing of her deck.


Jenna Ward, a big-busted brunette, and Bella, a tall, mouthy blonde, followed Amy out of her cottage. They wore sundresses over their bathing suits, their typical Cape attire. The Seaside cottages had been in their families for years, and Jamie had grown up spending summers with the girls and Leanna Bray, who owned the cottage beside Vera’s, and Tony Black, who owned the cottage on the other side of Leanna’s.

“Come on up here, big boy.” Bella waved him onto the deck and pulled out a chair.

“I owe you big-time, Bella.” He sat beside her and placed his coffee on the glass table.

“Most people do,” she teased.

“I know I do.” Jenna had recently gotten engaged to Pete Lacroux, a local boat craftsman, who also handled maintenance for Seaside—and had been the object of Jenna’s secret crush for years. Bella and Amy had secretly broken things in Jenna’s cottage for several summers without Jenna knowing, to ensure that she and Pete would have reasons to be thrown together.

“Thong Thursday?” Jamie shook his head. “You are a goddess, Bella.”

She patted her thick blond hair. “Thank you for noticing.”

“Leanna is going to be so mad at you for doing that,” Jenna said. “She doesn’t think our men need to see butt floss on any of us.” Leanna ran a jam-making business out of Kurt’s bay-side property.

Bella swatted the air. “She’s staying at their bay house for a few days. She’ll miss it completely.” The lower Cape was a narrow peninsula that sprawled between Cape Cod Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The cottages were located between the two bodies of water, and both Kurt and Pete owned property on the bay. Caden and Bella had a house on a street around the corner from the bay, and all three couples spent most of their summers at Seaside and the rest of the year at their other homes.

Luscious Leanna’s Sweet Treats had really taken off in the last two years, and since her business was run from a cottage on their bay property, she was spending more and more time there.

“I’m sure Tony won’t complain,” Amy said with an eye roll that could have rocked the deck. Tony Black was a professional surfer and a motivational speaker, and Amy had been hot for him for about as long as Jenna had been lusting after Pete, but Tony had never made a move toward taking their relationship to the next level. Jamie didn’t get it. He’d seen Tony eyeing Amy, and Tony took care of her like she was his girlfriend. Amy was hot, smart, and obviously interested—Tony was a big, burly guy with a good head on his shoulders. They’d make a great pair.

“Speaking of Tony, I saw him leave early this morning. He’s spending the day at the ocean.” Jamie sipped his coffee.

“Good, then maybe he’ll miss the thong show, too.” Amy leaned over the table and lowered her voice. “Did you guys see the chick renting Theresa’s condo?”

“All I know is that she’s smokin’ hot and she doesn’t talk much.” Jenna was busy resituating the top of her sundress, pulled tightly across her enormous breasts.

“I don’t know what her deal is,” Bella said. “But she was yelling at her phone the other day.”

“You mean yelling on her phone,” Jenna corrected her.

“No, I mean at. She was staring at it, smacking it, and yelling at it.” Bella made a cuckoo motion with her finger beside her head.

Nothing new here from the girls. A little jealousy over the new hot chick. Jamie picked up his coffee mug. “Mind if I bring this back later? I have to get going. I’m running into Hyannis to pick up a few things. You guys need anything?”

The girls shook their heads.

“You’re willingly going to miss Thong Thursday?” Bella put her hand to his forehead. “You must be ill.”

No kidding. “One look at my butt in a thong and she’ll be chasing me around the complex. I wouldn’t want to subject you three ladies to that. It could get ugly.” He smiled with the tease.

“Ha! Yeah, right. Like you’d ever wear a thong.” Jenna threw her head back with a loud laugh. “Are you guys coming to Vera’s concert tonight?” Vera had played the violin professionally when she was younger, and this summer a group of older Wellfleet residents had put together a string quartet and invited Vera to play. They never saw much of a crowd, but it got her out of the house and playing for an audience again, which she enjoyed.

“I wouldn’t miss Vera’s concert,” Amy said.

“Bella and I are going over together because Caden’s taking someone’s shift and Pete’s hanging with his father tonight, working on a boat. I’ll ask Sky if she wants to come, too.” Sky was Pete’s sister. She’d come to the Cape last summer to run their father’s hardware store while he was in rehab, and she’d never gone back to New York other than to pack up her things. Now sober for almost a year, their father helped Pete with his boat-refinishing business.

“Vera will be glad to hear it, and she loves Pete’s sister.” He glanced down at the pool, then headed for his cottage.

“Wanna bet who’s gonna bang the new chick? Tony or Jamie?” Jenna’s voice trailed behind him.

Jamie slowed to hear the answer.

A crack of hand on skin told him that Amy had shut Jenna up with a friendly swat.

Chapter Two

JESSICA OPENED HER eyes at the sound of her cell phone ringing. She was lying poolside, having a nice little fantasy about sinfully sexy and ever-so-helpful Jamie Reed. Her phone rang again, and she reluctantly shoved the thoughts of him away and dug through the bag for her phone.

Her father’s picture flashed on the screen, and she smiled.

“Hi, Dad.”

“Hi, honey. How is the Cape?” Ralph Ayers was in his mid-fifties. Jessica was blessed with his dimples, blue eyes, and light brown hair—though his was now graying at the temples. Unfortunately, she was also blessed with her father’s passive personality, which she was working this summer to change so she didn’t end up railroaded by her mother her whole life.

She remembered how she’d thrown her phone over the deck. Maybe I’m working a little too hard on that.

“It’s beautiful. I’ve been lying out by the pool all day.” When Jessica was young, their family vacations were more like cultural lessons overseas with only a day or two spent on a beach, and always with her cello in tow. Her mother insisted she keep up her practicing. Jessica could still remember begging to stay on the beach rather than tour museums and countrysides. But her mother insisted that the more well rounded she was, the better she’d be accepted as a cellist.

Unfortunately, life as a cellist, with no social life to speak of, left her feeling like a culturally adept square.

“Not the beach? I’m surprised,” her father said. “I was sure you’d be camped out on the sand all summer long.”

“I will be.” But today I followed Jamie off my deck. “Tomorrow maybe. How are you, Dad?”

“I’m well. Just worried about you. Your mother’s been on the phone night and day with her symphony friends. She’s concerned that you’re jeopardizing your seat with the orchestra and any chance you have with the Chamber Players. I’m not so sure she’s wrong. Are you sure this is what you want to do? After all that hard work at Juilliard?”

The Boston Symphony Chamber Players was one of the world’s most distinguished chamber music ensembles sponsored by a major orchestra. It was made up of principal players of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, including first-chair string and wind players. It would be a miracle for Jessica to be invited to join such a prestigious group. Everyone in the industry knew how unique it was for a twenty-seven-year-old to hold a seat in the BSO in the first place. Although her manager had agreed to the hiatus after weeks of discussion and they’d found a suitable replacement, she knew just how cutthroat the industry could be. There was a chance she’d lose her place—and any chance she might ever have at the Chamber Players—and that realization made her feel sick and free at the same time.

“Yes, I’m sure.” I think. “We’ve talked about this. Dad, I feel twenty years older than I am most of the time. I live in orchestra land, and that doesn’t really lend itself well to experiencing life outside of the orchestra. And I’ve never done anything else. I just want to be normal for a little while. Live a regular life. Daddy, I’m twenty-seven. I love Mom, but I don’t want to live my life like she does.” Her mother played the cello in several smaller orchestras but had never made the cut for the larger ones. Eventually she gave up trying and put all of her energies into Jessica’s success.

“I want to experience life a little, and besides, I have a summer project I’m working on. Something fun.”

“Okay, sweetie. As long as you’re happy. I trust your instincts, and you know we’re here if you need anything.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

“Want to say hello to your mom? She’s just upstairs.”

Jessica shifted the phone away from her mouth and sighed. The last thing she wanted to do was talk to her mother, but, like her father, she tended to avoid confrontation. At least until that morning, when she’d forgotten and barreled headfirst into creating it with Jamie.

“Sure.” She listened as he took the phone upstairs and said something to her mother.

“Hi, Jessica. How are you?”

“Fine, Mom. And you?” She forced a smile, but even she could hear the tension that had taken residence in her voice.

“How’s your vacation? Are you practicing? You don’t want to let that slip, not after all your hard work.” Cecilia Ayers had always micromanaged her daughter’s life, and Jessica was working on taking control of that, too. She didn’t give Jessica a chance to respond. “I spoke to your—”

“Mom, please. I’m on vacation, remember? Aside from stressing out over my career, how are things with you?” She closed her eyes, envisioning her mother’s thin lips pursed together, her eyes shifting upward as she blinked away her irritation in that proper, pull-herself-together-without-embarrassment way she had.

“I’m well, thank you,” her mother finally managed.

“Good. I’m glad to hear it.” Being the people pleaser that she was, she added, “Don’t worry. I’ll practice. I just need a few days away from it. You know I’ll miss it and have to play.”

“Okay. Well, good.”

Jessica knew her mother only pushed her to help her be the best darn cellist she could possibly be, and as thankful as she was for that, Jessica always felt a pang of longing for all of the normal mother-daughter things she’d missed out on over the years.

She sat up on the lounge chair as an older woman wearing a big floppy hat came through the pool gate. “Mom, I’ve got to go, but it was good talking to you.”

“Okay, honey. Enjoy yourself. Not too much, of course.”

She ended the call and stuffed her phone back into her bag, unsure what enjoying herself too much even meant. Her life in Boston consisted of practicing, playing concerts, and an occasional evening out with her musician friends—whose idea of a wild night was spontaneously playing “Rum and Tequila” by the Tom Fun Orchestra.

The pool looked too inviting to pass up, and as she passed the older woman, she said hello.

“Good afternoon.” The woman’s gray hair was cut in a pixie style similar to Judi Dench’s hairdo. She had a kind, familiar smile, although Jessica couldn’t place where she’d seen her before.

She felt the woman’s eyes on her as she walked into the pool and sank beneath the water. When she broke the surface, she saw three more women, wearing sundresses, coming through the gate, carrying colorful plastic wineglasses and towels. They were holding on to one another and laughing like best friends. They looked like they knew how to have a good time.

A skinny blonde looked over and waved.

“Hi,” Jessica said as the blonde walked past.

The brunette couldn’t have been five feet tall. She flashed a friendly smile as she peered around the skinny blonde’s back.

“Hi. I’m Jenna.”

“Hi. I’m Jessica. I’m renting up there.” She pointed to the apartment she was renting on the second floor of the only large house in the community.

“We know,” the skinny blonde said. “I’m Amy, and this is Bella.” She pointed to the tall blonde who was laying a towel out on a lounge chair by Jessica’s.

Bella waved over her head without turning around.

Jessica got out of the pool, feeling the eyes of all three girls on her.

“Darn it. I forgot my thong,” Bella said.

“Bella,” Amy hissed. “Well, I remembered mine.” She pulled her sundress over her head, and sure enough, she was wearing a pink thong bikini. She turned and wiggled her butt at Bella.

“I cannot believe you wore that. Who are you, and what have you done with my Amy?” Bella waved to the older woman. “Hi, Vera. Did you wear your thong?”

“Bella Abbascia, why, you know I always wear my thong.” Vera winked at Jessica, then returned her attention to the novel she was reading.

Jenna took off her sundress. She could have stopped traffic in her red bikini. She had the largest breasts Jessica had ever seen on such a petite woman, trapped beneath the tiniest bathing suit top. Jessica was sure the wrong move would send the top flying across the pool as if launched by a slingshot.

“I wore my thong. Looks like you’re the odd one out,” Jenna said to Bella.

“Has anyone seen Theresa?” Amy whispered.

Jessica spread her towel on the lounge chair and stretched out on her stomach. “Do you mean Theresa Ottoline? The woman I rent from?”

“Yeah,” Jenna answered.

Jessica pointed at the woman walking through the pool gate. She felt something on her butt and was surprised to see Vera covering it with a towel.

“Stay as you are,” Vera said with a serious tone.

What the heck?

Jessica waved to Theresa. Theresa lifted her chin in response. She’d been curt since Jessica arrived, but at least she usually smiled. Now she walked at a fast pace with her jaw clenched and her shoulders riding just below her ears. Her high-waisted khaki shorts hung nearly to her knees, and her polo shirt was primly buttoned. She had short layered hair, which, in combination with her outfit, looked a bit mannish.

Theresa crossed her arms and stared at Bella, tapping her foot on the concrete deck.

“Hi, Theresa. Here for a swim?” Bella set a pair of big round sunglasses on her nose and leaned back in her chair.

“I think I might.” Theresa wiggled out of her shorts, exposing far too much of her bare, white, cellulite-covered rear end, the tiny triangle of a thong peeking out at the top of her butt crack.

Jessica had no idea what was going on, but she covered her mouth to keep from laughing at the look on Bella’s face.

Jenna and Amy clung to each other’s arms with one hand and stifled their laughter with the other. Bella pressed her lips together, barely suppressing a laugh.

“How about it, Vera?” Theresa yelled across the pool deck. “You up for a Thong Thursday swim?”

Jessica looked up at Vera with wide eyes.

“Oh, I think I’ll spare you the imagery. Thank you, though,” Vera said.

Jessica chanced a peek at Theresa, whose eyes were still pinned on Bella.

“Actually, I think I’ll go run a few errands. You girls enjoy the afternoon.” Theresa pulled up her shorts and stomped out of the gate.

Amy and Jenna ran to Bella’s side, whispering and laughing. Jessica looked at Vera, who motioned her over to the table where she was sitting. She handed Vera the towel she’d covered her butt with and sat across from her.

“Hi, I’m Jessica. Thank you for covering my butt. I think.” She drew her brows together, still confused by what had just happened.

“Bella’s a prankster, and Theresa is the property manager. As you probably guessed, thongs aren’t allowed at the pool.”

“Oh.” Jessica chewed on her lower lip. “Gosh, I hope I’m not going to get in trouble. I had no idea, and the sign…”

“Bella made the sign. Every year, Bella plays tricks on Theresa. She’s been doing it since she was a kid, and every year Theresa ignores her. But this year, it looks like Bella’s getting a little payback.”

Jessica scrutinized the three girls, still laughing and carrying on about Theresa’s thong. She was a little envious of their fun.

Vera reached across the table and patted Jessica’s hand. “Don’t take it personally, hon. This wasn’t about you. You should be proud of that body of yours.”

Jessica felt herself blush. “Thank you. They look like they’re a fun group.”

“They are fun. Some of the nicest women you could ever meet. How long are you here for?”

“For the summer.” She turned back toward Vera. “I’m here through the beginning of August, I think.”

“You think? Where are you from, dear?”

“I’m from Boston. I’ve rented the apartment in the big house for the summer, so I’ll probably stay if nothing comes up at work. Where are you from?”

“I’m from Boston as well, and I’m also here for the summer. I come every summer.” Vera smiled.

Jessica glanced at the girls again.

“Why don’t you go join them?” Vera nodded toward the others.

“Oh goodness, no. I couldn’t do that. It’s been a long time since I’ve had friends like that. I really have to be going anyway.”

“Do you have a date?” Vera lifted her thin, gray brows.

“A date?” Jessica laughed. “It’s been even longer since I’ve had a date than since I’ve had friends like that. No, no date.”

“Well, then, why don’t you come by Wellfleet Harbor tonight and listen to our little concert. Do you know where that is?”

“Yes, I think so. That’s where the WHAT Theater is?” The Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater was a small theater located beside the harbor.

“That’s right. Just down the road, across from the beach are tennis courts, and beside that there will be a tent set up where I’ll be playing in a string quartet. I’d love it if you would stop by and listen. There won’t be many people there. There never are.”

A string quartet? She debated making up plans to escape going, for fear of the music spurring her on to pick up her cello, but in a split second the excitement of seeing Vera play stole any chance she had at conjuring up an excuse. “I would love to go. Thank you. What instrument do you play?”

“The violin. I used to play with symphonies all over the world.”

Jessica’s pulse quickened. She could hardly believe that she’d found someone she had something in common with in the little community. She wanted to tell Vera that she played the cello, but she didn’t want to talk about her career, or worse, be asked to play something. The minute she picked up her cello, she’d remember the beauty of it against her, the vibration of the music, and her much-needed hiatus would be kaput. She was purposely not picking up her cello for a few days to separate herself from her love for it. She needed that space in order to make clearheaded decisions about whether this hiatus was temporary, or the beginning of a new direction altogether.

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