SERENA MALLERY FIDGETED nervously as she walked from the parking lot of Bayside Resort, where she worked, toward Summer House Inn to meet her friends for breakfast. She embraced the sounds of their laughter and of Cosmos, her friend Desiree’s scruffy little dog, barking from his perch on the dune overlooking Cape Cod Bay. She spotted the objects of the pup’s attention. Her bosses, Rick and Drake Savage and Dean Masters—the owners of the resort—were sprinting up the path toward the inn after their morning run. This was how she’d greeted most days for the past several years, surrounded by her best friends, whom she loved like family. This time next week she’d be living in Boston, greeting the days alone but starting her dream job.
Her nerves flared as she stepped into the fenced-in area beside the inn, as excited as she was nervous to deliver her news.
“Hey, Serena.” Mira stood by Emery at the far end of the yard. At six months pregnant, Mira looked radiant in a cute maternity dress. Her skin really did glow. Even her dark hair looked fuller. “Des and Vi will be out in a sec. Is that the shirt you bought in P-town last week? It looks really cute.”
Mira was Drake and Rick’s younger sister. She and Serena had been best friends forever. Emery had moved to the Cape last summer. She taught yoga at the inn, and she was still dressed in her yoga pants and sports bra from an early class.
Serena looked down at her flowing white top, with cut-out shoulders and lace edging around the neckline and sleeves. It had quickly become one of her favorites. “Thanks. We have excellent taste.”
Emery glanced over as she pulled the elastic from her hair, sending her golden-brown hair tumbling past her shoulders. “I think it looks hot.” She shifted her gaze back to Dean, whose eyes were locked on her as the guys approached.
“Stalking your fiancé?” Serena asked.
Emery’s eyes lit up. “Look at all that yumminess. Do you blame me?”
She knew Emery was talking about her bearded, heavily muscled fiancé, but Serena had grown up with Dean, Drake, and Rick. There was no doubt they were all good-looking, and as water sports fanatics and hard workers, they kept in prime shape. But the only one Serena had ever crushed on was Drake. She watched him stalking across the dune. His powerful body was covered in a slick sheen of sweat. His thick, wavy dark hair blew in the wind. He always looked like he was in need of a trim, and he never seemed to care, which made him even hotter.
“Morning, Serena,” Desiree said as she stepped outside, pulling Serena away from her fruitless infatuation. “I’ve got cherry-cheese croissants, your favorites.” She set a plate of croissants on the table.
Serena’s mouth watered. “They smell delicious.”
Desiree cooked for them nearly every morning, and it was no secret that the quality of her elaborate breakfasts was tied to the quality of her sex life. Mornings when there was only cereal available, everyone grumbled at Rick. Not that Serena felt bad for him. He and Desiree were blissfully happy, they had incredible careers, and they had each other.
At least I’m on my way to the career I’ve always wanted. Finding my soul mate will just have to wait.
“You should have heard the headboard banging this morning.” Violet set a pot of coffee on the table. In biker boots, cutoffs, and a black tank top, with her colorful arm and thigh tattoos on display, she looked every bit the artist she was—the complete opposite of demure Desiree in her floral sundress.
“Sounded like a train was taking down the inn.”
“Geez, Violet!” Desiree chided. They might be half sisters, but they were as different as oil and water.
“I see Vi’s jealous again,” Rick said as he sat down beside Desiree and pressed a kiss to her cheek. “How’s my gorgeous fiancée?”
Dean hauled Emery into his arms. “Hey, babe. How was yoga this morning?”
Serena loved living on the Cape, but it was also small and transient, which made for few opportunities to meet guys who weren’t just looking for a quick hookup. At thirty-one, after watching most of her friends fall head over heels in love, she wanted a chance at that happiness, too. As a teenager, she dreamed of marrying smart, musically inclined, sexy-as-sin Drake. Even though he had blown her off years ago, making it perfectly clear that she’d been friend-zoned for life, she’d thought again about the possibilities when she’d started working for him at the resort. But he’d never made a move, and four years was long enough for her to accept reality. It was time to move on.
Emery giggled, and the next thing Serena knew, Dean was hauling Emery against him, kissing her deeply.
“Can we please keep the lovey-dovey frickery down to a minimum while I’m eating?” Violet asked.
Serena’s nerves got the better of her as Drake closed the distance between them.
“Hey, Supergirl,” he said as he sat down.
She tucked away the endearment. She’d miss all of her friends, but she’d miss seriously frustrating and insanely hot Drake the most. Of course, there was no way she’d tell him that. As they’d worked together over the past few years, he’d become one of her closest friends. When they were out as a group, he watched over her like a hawk, treating her like a younger sister who needed protecting and making it hard for her to meet guys. It was time she moved on, physically and emotionally. The miles between them should make it that much easier.
Drake grabbed the back of her shirt, tugging her down to the chair beside him, and leaned closer. His masculine scent surrounded her as he said, “Ready to talk about store number five?”
In addition to setting up the infrastructure and handling administrative work for the resort, Serena helped Drake with the design, layout, and administration of his chain of music stores. The grand opening of his fifth store was a few short weeks away, and today they were finalizing the store layout.
“Definitely,” Serena said. “But I think it’s time you start calling it Bayside Music and Arts.”
“Good point.” He poured her a cup of coffee, then poured one for himself.
As everyone loaded up their plates, she felt queasy at the prospect of delivering her news. Before she could lose her nerve, she blurted out, “I’m moving to Boston for an interior design job.”
Her friends fell silent, and all eyes turned to her. Her stomach pitched. The girls looked confused. Rick and Dean were exchanging displeased glances and eyeing Drake, whose jaw was clenched so tight, it had to hurt.
Oh geez. She felt like she was betraying everyone and reminded herself she wasn’t.
“You guys knew I took the job at the resort only temporarily, to help get it off the ground,” Serena reminded them. “That was four years ago, and I told you last summer that I was applying for interior design jobs to finally get my career moving in the right direction.”
“Yes, but I thought you were looking around here. You’re moving to Boston?” Mira said with a pained expression. She’d been Serena’s best friend since childhood, and they’d always been there for each other. She placed one hand on her burgeoning belly and said, “I’m happy for you, but I’m going to miss you.”
“I know. I’ll miss you, too,” Serena said, feeling the heat of Drake’s stare. She tried to distract herself from looking at him by mentally ticking off a list of things she had to do to get ready for her impending move. At the top of which was finding someone to fill her position at the resort. She hoped to still help out with the music stores. “I promise to come back as often as I can and of course when the baby is born, and we’ll FaceTime a lot.”
“You better,” Mira said in a softer tone. “Our new baby will need Auntie Serena around, and Hagen will miss you so much.” Hagen was her eight-year-old son.
“I’ll miss him, too,” Serena said.
“Poor Matt,” Mira said. Matt was her husband. “Forget gaining baby weight. I’ll probably pack on another twenty pounds from ice cream as I eat my sadness away.”
“Enough guilt tripping. This is great news,” Rick said with a genuine smile, which faded as his gaze shifted to Drake. “It’s what you’ve always wanted.” He seemed to direct his comment at Drake instead of her, as if reminding him of her plans.
“I know. Ever since I was a little girl. Isn’t it fantastic? I’ll miss you guys so much, but I couldn’t turn down an interior design job with Kline, Heinan, and Bruce, or rather, KHB. They’re one of the most sought-after design firms around.”
“You’ve wanted a career in the big city for as long as I’ve known you,” Desiree said. “So even though I’m going to miss you, I’m happy you found something so amazing.”
“Boston?” Violet said. “Our small-town girl’s growing up.”
“Congrats, Serena,” Dean said as he draped an arm around Emery’s shoulder. “I appreciate all you’ve done for us.”
It wasn’t lost on Serena that Drake hadn’t said a word.
“Thank you. I still can’t believe they called. I had almost given up.” She’d interviewed with KHB last winter and had thought they’d written her off. The resort had only a few winter clients, which had freed her up to get back into the industry by working part-time for Shift Home Interiors. Although she loved the work she’d done for Shift because it included space planning and helping to set up offices from scratch, and not just decorating work, the owner had recently had a baby and cut back to working only part-time. She couldn’t afford to hire Serena full-time. But even with a degree and several years of design experience prior to her current job, most of the bigger firms had turned her down.
Cosmos ran into the yard and leapt into Desiree’s lap. He began licking her face, making them all laugh. Except Drake, who remained stoic and still beside Serena, save for the muscles bunching in his jaw. She might as well get the worst part of it over with.
“There’s one tiny hitch,” Serena said, finally meeting Drake’s gaze. “They want me to start next week.”
Drake dropped his fork with a clank, a scowl twisting his handsome face into a mask of frustration. “Next week?”
“Hard to lose your bed buddy, huh?” Violet mumbled.
Emery choked on her drink. Dean patted her back, chuckling along with Rick. Mira went wide-eyed, and Drake turned a scowl on Violet.
Serena rolled her eyes. She was used to Violet’s insinuations. There was no doubt that she and Drake were close. He’d always looked out for her, but that didn’t mean they were sleeping together—despite the fact that Serena had spent too many nights thinking about what it might be like to have his strong arms wrapped around her and those piercing eyes boring into her…
Drake’s dark gaze slid to Serena, and her stomach skidded to a halt. Yeah. She needed to get out of town all right.
“I’m sorry. I did everything I could to try to get more time,” she quickly explained. “Two employees left them without giving notice, and they basically said if I couldn’t start right away they’d have to hire someone else. But don’t worry. I’m going to start interviewing right away to fill my position. I’ve been collecting résumés for months. I’ll start interviewing candidates tomorrow. I know I can get Harper to fill in at least part-time if we don’t find someone before Friday.” Their friend Harper Garner was a screenplay writer, and she was supremely organized. When Serena had first mentioned looking for a job, Harper had offered to help. “I’m sorry, Drake. I’ll turn it down if you really think it’ll cause a problem for the resort.”
“Don’t be silly,” Rick said, shifting a narrow-eyed look to Drake. “You were there for us when we needed you most, Serena. We’ll figure things out.”
“No sweat,” Dean agreed.
“I can help out part-time, too,” Emery offered. “I’d just have to rearrange a few classes, but it’s doable.”
“I’m sure, between all of us, we’ll be just fine,” Rick reassured Serena. “This sounds like a great opportunity for you.”
The air rushed from her lungs. “Oh, thank goodness. I didn’t want to turn it down. I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance like this again.” She looked at Drake and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll still help get the music store up and running.”
He nodded curtly. “Have you told Chloe yet?”
She and her sister, Chloe, had practically raised each other while their mother was out looking for a man to foot her bills. Chloe was the director of the Lower Cape Assisted Living Facility (LOCAL), and she was as determined to succeed as Serena was. Serena knew Chloe would be happy for her, even though it meant she was moving away. “I haven’t had time yet. They just called me this morning with the offer. I’m really sorry about giving so little notice.”
Drake grumbled something she couldn’t make out.
Violet pointed at him and said, “Maybe if she were your bed buddy she wouldn’t be leaving.”
“That’s not true!” Serena snapped. “And I would never be anyone’s bed buddy, least of all Drake’s.”
She didn’t even want to try to figure out what the messedup look Drake was giving her meant.
“Whatevs, little one,” Violet said. Then she glared at Drake and said, “Tell her you’re happy for her. Your resort will survive without her. More importantly, I’m hearing a reason to party.”
“A goodbye party!” Emery said. “Yes, definitely. Mira, can you go to Undercover if you don’t drink?” Undercover was a nightclub in the next town over, owned by Harper’s brother, Colton.
Mira patted her belly and said, “My baby is portable for the next three months. It goes where I go, so I’ll be there.”
Drake leaned closer to Serena and said, “I’ll drive you to the party so you can drink.”
“Okay,” she said, hoping that meant he wasn’t as upset as he looked.
Violet pushed to her feet. Her coal-black hair draped over her shoulder as she leaned across the table for another cherrycheese croissant. “Keep up the headboard banging, Rick. These croissants are the bomb.”
“Oh, I plan to.” Rick pulled Desiree close and whispered something in her ear that made her blush.
“I’m out of here, sis,” Violet said. “I’m heading to Hyannis to pick up supplies.” She strutted across the grass toward her motorcycle.
“And we have a music store to get in order.” Drake pushed to his feet and pulled Serena up by her arm.
“Hey. I haven’t eaten.” Not that she could eat anyway. Her stomach was all knotted up. “And I need my notebooks for the store.”
“Aw, man,” Rick said. “She poked the bear.”
“And we have to deal with the bear after she leaves.” Dean stroked his beard, his serious blue eyes locked on Drake, who was glaring at both of them. “Hey, Serena, you sure you can’t give us three months’ notice? Or maybe a year?”
Drake glowered at him and grabbed a croissant. “We’ll get your notebooks and you can eat on the road. We have work to do, and apparently only a week in which to do it.”
THE RIDE TO the music store was painfully tense. Music blared in the cab of the truck while Drake looked like he was chewing on nails and Serena pretended not to notice as she added items to her to-do list. She stole a glance at him in the driver’s seat, where he sat with his arm on the door, his jaw tight. He had a dimple in his right cheek that appeared only when he was angry or frustrated, and the darn thing was so sexy, there were times Serena had pissed him off just to see it. That little tell hadn’t disappeared since she’d mentioned leaving, and right now it was more heartbreaking than sexy.
Getting on better footing with Drake suddenly became her number one priority. They had a lot to do before she left, and if he was angry, it would be that much harder to get everything done. Besides, she truly, deeply cared about him, and the idea of leaving things unsettled between them cut her to her core. She set her phone in her lap as he slowed to a stop, waiting for a break in traffic so he could cross to the parking lot of the new store.
“Sorry about giving you guys such short notice,” she said. “I asked for a month, but they said they needed me right away.”
He shifted a tight look to her. “Mm-hm.”
“Drake, you can’t be that mad. You know I’ve been looking for a new job for months.”
“Yup.” He sped across the road, into the lot, and threw the truck into park in front of the store.
Those dark eyes slid to her for about half a second before they both climbed out of the truck. He strode purposefully toward the door. She hitched her bag over her shoulder, and despite the uneasiness between them, she did what she always did. Her eyes coasted down his broad shoulders and back, and as he unlocked the door to the shop, her gaze moved to his butt. She was forever trying to figure out how the hot hunk of a man before her was the same person as the lanky teen she’d fallen for when she’d been a silly high school freshman and he’d been a cool senior with all the pretty girls after him. She couldn’t help it. She’d crushed on him for so many years, it was as much a part of her as the way she craved cookies dipped in milk.
Only she told herself she no longer craved Drake in the same way she once had, with a fluttering in her chest or holding her breath at his every word. No, things had changed a long time ago. She’d grown up, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t appreciate a little eye candy from her first crush.
Drake held the door open and motioned for her to pass through.
“You keep grinding your teeth, they’re liable to break,” she said as she walked into the nearly empty space.
“I’m not grinding…” He shook his head, and a half scoff, half laugh fell from his lips. It was a familiar sound, one that said he was annoyed but also amused.
He was a broody guy sometimes, but it was always driven by a clear cause, and he didn’t mince words, play games, or hold grudges. She liked and respected those things about him, which was probably what made them such good friends. Neither one took grief from the other.
“Oh, good,” she said as she set her bag on the counter.
“You’ve gotten over yourself.”
“Over myself?” He paced the floor.
“Yes! So I got another job? You know I’ve always wanted to do interior design.”
He crossed his arms, leveling a serious stare on her. “I’m happy for you, but it leaves us—me—in a lurch. I’m just trying to figure it all out.” He waved at the space. “I’ve got to get my arms around doing this alone.”
“You’ve opened four other music stores.”
“We, Serena. We’ve opened four other music stores.”
“What…?” She thought back to the first store he’d opened, during her junior year of college. She’d helped him revamp it and had come up with a theme that they’d since carried over to the other stores. “That’s not true. You opened the first one. I just helped make it attractive after you made it look like a garage.”
“Exactly. It was a joint effort,” he said sharply.
“I guess you’re right.” She stepped closer, knowing the best way to center his mind had always been to be near him. She knew he was calculating project times, divvying himself up between the resort and the store. Some guys were like bears, all claws and scare tactics. They bullied their way into projects, creating more havoc than good. Drake was a methodical thinker, as fierce and powerful as any man she’d ever seen, but he didn’t attack. He was like an eagle ready to land, circling his prey until he knew the exact second to swoop down and make a clean getaway. She admired those qualities in him as a friend and as a businessman.
“But this isn’t new to you, Drake,” she said calmly. “I’m not leaving you high and dry. I’m here now, and it’s only Monday. I have five or six more days before I go to Boston, and you know I’ll work every minute to get as much arranged as I can. And then I’ll be only a phone call away. I love working with you and setting up the stores. You know that.”
“Do you?” His voice was tense, but his eyes filled with something much deeper.
Wishful thinking much?
“Are you really asking me that?” she challenged.
WHAT AM I doing? Drake had no idea when he’d stopped seeing Serena as just a friend—again—or when he’d begun noticing her womanly curves, the way she twirled her hair around her finger when she was sleepy, or the wanting look that came over her sometimes when they were working together late at night. But when the thrum of heat he’d felt when they were teenagers returned years ago, he’d known he had to mentally draw a line between them. He’d once again promised himself he’d never stand in her way or hold her back. She’d had big dreams since she was a kid, and after what she and her sister, Chloe, had gone through when they were growing up, he was bound and determined to make sure she achieved everything she ever wanted.
No matter how much it stung that he couldn’t be on that list.
But as he gazed into her entrancing eyes, shades of sea green glimmering against soft cocoa, even with his promise in mind, he was powerless to stop the guilt-inducing questions from coming out.
“Then why leave? You left your first interior design job because you were bored, remember?” Serena had worked for several years as an interior designer right after college, and after boredom had consumed her, she’d spent the next two years helping a retail company establish their offices in Hyannis. She’d been on fire, and lucky for Drake and his partners, when that job ended, they’d been able to swoop her up to help them get Bayside Resort off the ground. The last thing he wanted was for her to go backward in her career.
“Yes, but that was years ago, and it was a tiny firm where all I did was decorate. KHB has huge clients. They assured me I would be an integral part of the client teams, involved with all design-management decisions, not just picking out fabrics and pictures. If I ever want to make a name for myself, it’s the place to do it.”
He was glad she’d thought it through, but that didn’t take away his heartache over her leaving. “You’ve been doing interior design for months with Shift. We gave you an office in the community center so you wouldn’t have to drive to Hyannis. I thought you were happy here.” He’d even sent her a number of design clients over the winter, hoping to help her get off to a good start so she could build a reputation for herself.
“I am happy, and I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, giving me the office to work out of and sending clients my way. And I love helping you get the music stores up and running, taking a blank slate and creating something amazing like we did with the resort. All those cottages, the office, the community center…We made them gorgeous and homey enough so customers feel like they’ve come home when they arrive each summer. I love doing that, and I adore our friends. You know I do. But I need more, Drake. I need something of my own. The resort just doesn’t need me anymore.”
But I do.
Every iota of his being wanted to give her more, but he couldn’t give her the kind of more—the career—she wanted. He turned away to try to regain control of his emotions.
“C’mon, Drake, what do I have to say to make you understand?”
He faced her again, and she crossed her arms. Her long dark hair lay sexily over her bare shoulders, contradicting the angry press of her lips. The look summed her up perfectly. She could be tough as nails or sweet as sugar, depending on the situation. She’d spent her life fighting for everything she’d ever had just to overcome a mother who worked too many hours in order to keep a roof over her girls’ heads and spent her nights prowling for men. There was no way he was going to make it any harder for Serena to chase her dreams.
With a softer tone, he said, “There’s nothing more to say, and I’m sorry I was a jerk. It was totally selfish of me. Let’s get started on the space designs. I’m sure you’ve got a billion things to take care of before you leave.”
“Whoa. That was a complete turnaround. You sure you’re not going to secretly chain me up in the office or something so I can’t leave?”
“Or something,” he said with a laugh.
“Why are you laughing?”
“Because I don’t chain women down to get them to stay.”
Her jaw dropped open. “But you do…chain women down?”
He didn’t respond.
“Oh my gosh! You do!” she said. A hint of intrigue in her eyes warred with the shock on her beautiful face.
“Tie, not chain,” he clarified. “And only if they ask me to.”
“They ask you to?” She mouthed, Wow.
Why did he say anything? “We are not having this conversation.”
“How did I not know this about you?” she asked incredulously.
He grabbed her bag and handed it to her. “Dig your notebook out of there, Supergirl. It’s time to get to work.”
Her beautiful eyes were wide with curiosity that he wanted desperately to satisfy. “But—”
“Serena,” he said sharply, leaving no room for negotiation.
“We are not going there.”
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