DESIREE CLEARY STOOD at the end of a jetty at Indian Neck Beach, watching three brawny guys race around Cape Cod Bay on Jet Skis while she FaceTimed with her best friend, Emery Andrews. She had known Emery since first grade, and she was the only person who would understand why, after driving for more than twelve hours, Desiree was standing on that jetty, pretending to be on vacation, instead of facing the woman who had summoned her to Wellfleet.
“I should have come with you,” Emery insisted. “You’re at the beach, and I’m stuck here teaching yoga and Pilates to people who go home and eat entire pizzas afterward. Not that I’m only thinking of me. I’m just saying. I could be your backbone when you see your mother. You know, make sure you don’t wimp out on telling her how cruel it was to go months without any contact and then send you that email.”
Emery had a right to be upset. She’d been there for Desiree for more than twenty years, picking up the pieces of Desiree’s broken heart after short, awkward, visits with her mother. Lizza Vancroft had been breezing in and out of her life since Desiree was five years old. Desiree was used to hearing from her mother only once or twice a year, but her most recent email had taken the cake. She’d read the cryptic message dozens of times, as concerned as she was annoyed. I need you to come to Wellfleet and run my art gallery for the summer. It might prolong my life. She hadn’t even known Lizza was ill, much less owned a gallery and had been living in the States.
“I’ll be fine,” she said, though she wasn’t sure she believed it. After Desiree’s parents had divorced, Lizza had taken off to teach overseas with Desiree’s half sister, Violet, leaving Desiree to live with her father. Some small part of her was still waiting for her mother to make amends for leaving her behind. “I just need a few minutes to get my head on straight before facing her.”
One of the Jet Skis headed directly for another, swerving at the last second to avoid a collision. “Holy cow. Someone is going to get killed. Look at these guys.” She held up her phone to show Emery the crazy Jet Skiers. “Who does that? It’s so dangerous.”
“Hot Jet Skiing guys who thrive on danger. My kind of guys, and your perfect distraction.” Emery waggled her brows.
“I don’t need a distraction. Lizza is almost a stranger to me. It’s like I’m waiting to get bad news from someone I met a few times but don’t really know.”
“I know. Your mother is as flighty as a fairy, and I’m sure right now you wish you were wired like her and Violet instead of being responsible and organized to the nth degree, like your father,” Emery said. Spot-on, as always. “Then you could be the one who was living overseas working with one nonprofit or another without Internet or a care in the world, like Violet, instead of procrastinating the unleashing of a nest of demons you’ve spent years tamping down.”
“You’re so dramatic.” Desiree smiled, thankful for Emery’s teasing.
She had no idea whether Violet would be there when she arrived. Though she and Violet had grown up on opposite sides of the world, they had spent a few weeks together at the Cape each summer with their grandmother. At least they had until they were teens and one or the other had found better things to do, most years whittling those weeks down to just a few days. They’d kept in touch only sporadically during college, and before their grandmother’s funeral last winter, it had been more than three years since Desiree had seen Violet or their mother. But that didn’t mean Desiree hadn’t always wished for a relationship with her sister, despite how different they were.
“That’s why you love me.” Emery flashed a cheesy smile. “Seriously, though. You need to just go see Lizza and get it over with. And you should probably be glad I’m not there. Because as far as I’m concerned, her email was infuriating, unfair, and heartrending.” Emery’s eyes narrowed. “I’d like to give her a piece of my mind.”
“So would I,” Desiree admitted. “But I won’t.” A breeze swept off the bay, lifting the ends of her dress. She pushed it back down, catching a glimpse of one of the Jet Skiers slowing to watch her. As if she wasn’t nervous enough today?
“I know. You’ve got the biggest heart on the planet. We need a plan. You do best with plans.” Emery tucked her brown hair behind her ear and leaned closer to the screen, like she was sharing a secret. “Tonight, after you get your heart torn to shreds, since I’m not there to help heal your mama-wounds, please get yourself a nice bottle of wine and a big man. I promise that will help ease whatever pain she throws your way.”
“Don’t you mean a big bottle of wine and a nice man?” Desiree asked, as the Jet Skier who was watching her broke away from the others and sped past.
“Definitely not. You don’t need a nice man. I know you think you want romance and all the mushy stuff like flowers, candy, and midnight walks.” Emery flashed her don’t-even-try-to-tell-me-otherwise scowl. “But trust me. You need a man who takes control, whose kisses turn you inside out and make you forget about your crazy mother.”
She wrapped her arms around her middle, listening to the roar of the lone Jet Ski cutting tracks in front of her and wondering about kisses that turned a woman inside out. She had yet to experience anything like that, but Emery talked about them like she’d had enough to share. Maybe it was time to expand her horizons.
“Hello?” Emery said. “Think you can look at me and stop watching the hot Jet Skiers for two minutes?”
Desiree laughed. “Like you’d ever look at me instead of a guy? Besides, I’m only watching one, because he’s watching me. The other two are long gone.” She held up her phone again, showing her the hot guy with dark hair keeping time with her as she paced the jetty.
“You’re so lucky. Go take hot Jet Ski guy for a ride and show up late to see Lizza.” Emery waggled her brows. “For all you know, she’s not even at your grandmother’s house waiting for you.”
That was true. Lizza and Violet still hadn’t replied to her messages. But that didn’t change the fact that Desiree wasn’t a jump-in-the sack-with-a-stranger kind of girl. “That’s just what I need. A reckless adrenaline junkie before seeing Lizza. No thanks.”
Emery turned away from the phone. “I have to go. My date is here.”
“You have a date? With who?”
“One of the reckless, adrenaline-junky Jericho brothers. I’ll let you try to figure out which one.” She blew Desiree a kiss. “Listen, babe. Take my advice. Go for the Jet Ski guy; then you’ll be nice and relaxed when you see Lizza. Call if you need me. Love you!”
Desiree ended the call, and the guy trailing her on the Jet Ski zoomed past. He made a sharp turn and headed back, eyes locked on her, making her heart race. Maybe letting loose for a night was just what she needed. One night of uninhibited anything would be a first. The Jet Ski turned again, taking another, faster pass, the hot guy’s eyes still trained on her. Butterflies took flight in her stomach. He was obviously interested. Maybe…
He turned again and headed straight toward the jetty.
Straight for her.
Uh oh. How long had she been staring at him? What was I thinking?
She tried to act casual, looking at the boats, the sky, anywhere but at the man on the machine as she made her way along the rocks toward the beach. He fishtailed, spraying water in her direction. She shrieked and turned away as water rained down on her.
No, a reckless man was definitely not what she needed.
OH MAN! RICK Savage beached his craft, threw his life vest onto the sand, and ran after the woman he’d soaked. He’d been so captivated by the curvaceous blonde that when she’d started to leave, his first instinct had been to stop her. He’d clearly lost his mind. He knew better than to come that close to the jetty or to fishtail near people.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, jogging over as she stepped off the rocks and onto the beach.
She turned, mouth gaping, strands of wet hair stuck to her cheeks, forehead, and shoulders. The most beautiful green eyes stared back at him in shock and horror. He felt like a total jerk.
“I’m sorry. I saw you watching me, and—” There was absolutely no excuse for what he’d done, so he went with the truth, no matter how bad it sounded. “I wanted to meet you before you took off.”
“I wasn’t watching you.” Her eyes darted around them, as if someone else might hear her lying.
He cocked a brow.
“Okay, maybe I was for a second. But you were stalking me.” She swiped at her sundress, which clung to her incredibly sexy body like a second skin.
He tried not to leer, but oh, man…
Forcing his eyes up, he said, “I wasn’t stalking you—”
Her deadpan stare stopped him from telling his own lie.
“Okay, fine,” he said with a laugh. “I was. You caught me. I’m sorry.”
“Does this usually work for you? Drenching unsuspecting women?” she said with a hint of annoyance, and a smile, as she shook the water from her arms. “Not that I’m an expert on being hit on, but it doesn’t seem like the best way to go about it.”
“I’m sure you get hit on all the time, but this wasn’t planned. It was a stupid mistake. It’s actually illegal to go that fast near the jetty, so you can have me arrested if you’d like. I wasn’t thinking. I was—”
She arched a brow, a slight smirk playing across her beautiful face as she tossed his mannerism right back at him.
He felt himself smiling. Man, this woman was as sweet as she was spunky. “What can I say? If you weren’t so hot…”
“So, it’s my fault?” She rolled her eyes. “You really do kind of suck at picking up women.”
The caveman in him grunted, and he squared his shoulders. “I don’t suck at it. I’m actually really good at it. A pro. A master. A champion.”
She laughed. “Sorry, but…” She waved at her wet clothes. “Evidence proves otherwise.”
And I’m about to prove that evidence wrong. “Let me buy you a sweatshirt and something warm to drink at Mac’s so you don’t freeze.” Mac’s was a walk-up restaurant by the Wellfleet Pier, a five-minute drive by car. Less by Jet Ski.
Her eyes rolled over his face, as if she were considering it. He’d never had anything close to a poker face, which meant she saw his remorse and his attraction. At six two, two thirty, he was a big dude, and he kept in prime shape with running and water sports. He was used to women ogling him and practically doing cartwheels to get his attention. She drew in a deep breath, her eyes dropping to his bare chest, and she bit her plump lower lip. “Sexy” didn’t begin to describe the dichotomy of sweet and sultry this woman possessed. But she wasn’t doing cartwheels. In fact, those hungry eyes shifted away from him.
“It’s okay,” she said. “I was getting ready to leave anyway.”
She was blowing him off? There was no way he was letting her leave without doing something to make up for this debacle. Okay, maybe he also wanted to strip away those wet clothes and warm her up. But that was beside the point.
“Are you staying at a cottage on the beach? I can give you a ride on my Jet Ski.”
“As tempting as that sounds, since I’ve never been on one, I have my car.” She pointed to the parking lot with the hand that held her phone, and her smile faded. “Oh, shoot. My phone got wet.”
“I can take care of that.” He took it from her and dried it on his shorts. She watched his hands, his biceps, his pecs, his shorts, with laser focus. His fish wasn’t off the line yet. “It should be okay now. Want me to put my number in your contacts? In case you change your mind about that drink?”
That brought a curious smile. He noticed the cutest dimple beside her mouth when she smiled. “Does that usually work?”
“No idea. I haven’t had to use that line before.”
He stepped closer, unable to resist brushing a lock of hair that was stuck to her cheek away from her face so he could see her better. Their eyes connected, and the temperature spiked. She must have felt it, too, because she was licking her lips like a hungry tigress. In the next breath, her eyes darted nervously around the beach, making her appear sweet and innocent. How did she do that in the blink of an eye? Rick was only at the Cape for a few more weeks, working on renovations at the resort before returning to his real life, and design-build business, in Washington, DC. The thoughts running through his mind were not sweet and innocent. He should let his apology ride, get on his Jet Ski, and drive away. But she had his rapt attention, and he was unable to walk away.
“You don’t have to use my number,” he said. “But you never know. Maybe when you’re lying in bed tonight, unable to stop thinking about me, you’ll wish you had it.”
Her cheeks flushed, and those sparkling green eyes moved over his face and down his chest again, lingering long enough to send a stroke of heat to his core.
“Why not?” she said, surprising him. “Go ahead and put your number in my phone…?”
“Rick.” He entered his contact information and handed it back, curling his fingers over hers and holding them for a beat.
Her eyes flicked up, dark and alluring. “I’m Desiree,” she said a little breathlessly.
Oh yeah, you feel it, too.
“Desiree.” Her name rolled off his tongue as if he’d said it a hundred times. “You sure I can’t convince you to have a drink with me? We can go back to my place and build a bonfire.”
“A bonfire…” She crossed her arms, rubbing at goose bumps, and her expression turned skeptical. “Just out of curiosity, why didn’t you ask me for my number?”
The truth was, he had no idea. He just sensed he shouldn’t be too aggressive with her, but he couldn’t tell her that, so he went with, “I’ve got a sister. She got married last summer, but when she was single, I wouldn’t want her giving her number to a guy she met like this.”
Her lips curved up. “Um…?”
Great, now he sounded like a cretin and had to come clean. “Not buying it, huh?” He laughed. “The truth is, I was just trying to give you the choice instead of being one of those jerks who come on too strong. My brother and a buddy and I own Bayside Resort, here in Wellfleet. I’m pretty easy to track down. A safe bet. A good choice. The best choice.” Her gaze warmed, and he tried again. “Bonfire?”
She inhaled a shaky breath. “I better not. It’s been a crazy day, and I’ve got a complicated evening.”
Complicated? He had a handful of questions about that, but before he could suggest they go somewhere to talk, she said, “Sorry, but I’d better go. I have a lot to do tonight.”
“I hope it’s nothing too difficult.” Too difficult? That was the best he could come up with? He was really out of practice. It had been a long time since he’d had to try to pick up a woman.
She smiled. “Actually, I don’t know what it is yet.”
He wondered if she was on the cusp of a breakup. That would explain her blowing him off. “You have my number. If things get rough, use it.”
“Thanks, but I’m sure it’ll be fine.” She cocked her head to the side with a thoughtful expression. “You don’t even know me. What if I’m a psycho?”
She was too cute. “If you were a psycho, you would have taken my head off when I sprayed you. Come on, I’ll walk you to your car.”
“I’m parked just over the dune. You don’t need to.”
“I’d like to.”
Her eyes shifted over his shoulder toward the water. “But your Jet Ski…”
“It says ‘Bayside Resort’ on the side. No one’s going to be stupid enough to steal it.” He didn’t care if they did. She intrigued him more than that machine ever had.
“You’re persistent.” A smile lifted her lips as he guided her up the sandy path with a hand on the small of her back.
“And you’re beautiful.”
“Does that usually work for—”
He stopped walking and drew her against him. The reins on his aggression were apparently short-lived. She sucked in a sharp breath, and when their eyes met, she let it out with a dreamy sigh. It was the sexiest sound he’d ever heard.
“You tell me, Desiree. Does it work for me?”
The unmistakable look of lust rose in her eyes. She licked her full, pink lips, and he wondered how they’d feel pressed against his or searing a path down the center of his body.
“The verdict is still out,” she said softly, but her unstoppable smile, and the fact that she was no longer shivering, told him all he needed to know.
Each time their sides brushed as they crossed the parking lot, she stole a quick glance. He had the urge to tell her she could brush against him, touch him, taste him all she wanted, but that underlying sweetness held him back.
“If you own Bayside Resort, then you probably have pretty women at your beck and call. Why go to the trouble of leaping off your Jet Ski to meet me?” She withdrew a single key with a tiny gold heart key chain from a pocket in her dress and unlocked the door of her MINI Cooper.
“You were gawking at me.” He stepped closer, hoping to see that hungry look again. “It would have been rude of me not to.”
A sexy smile lifted her lips.
“We’ll have to take my car when we go out. There’s no way I’ll fit in this one.”
A melodic laugh fell from her lips. “When we go out?”
“That’s right.” Holding her gaze, he ran his hands up her arms, from wrist to shoulder. Her skin was soft and cool, but it heated up quickly beneath his touch. “Warming up?”
“Mm-hm. You’re very forward.”
“Most people call me ‘aggressive,’ but I like your word better. I’d like to get to know you, Desiree. I hope I haven’t scared you off.” His hands dropped to her waist. She didn’t move away, her body didn’t tense up, and she held his steady gaze. Game on? He still wasn’t sure.
“Like I said.” Her eyes narrowed in speculation. “Forward.”
“You know what they say. If you’re not moving forward, you’re going in the wrong direction.”
“So, you’re pretty sure getting women wet is the way to go?”
Maybe she wasn’t as innocent as she seemed.
He drew her soft body against him, loving the way her breathing hitched. “Absolutely, and I’m pretty sure when we go out, you’ll agree.”
Her eyes widened with surprise. She was sending so many mixed messages he couldn’t tell if she was toying with him or nervous. Or was she testing the waters? Dipping her toes in and pulling away when it got too hot? He wanted to take her in his arms and carry her to the volcanic side. But he feared he’d already pushed too hard, and went for a save.
“Get your mind out of the gutter, sweetheart.” He leaned down and kissed her cheek. Her skin was soft as silk, and she smelled like the promise of a warm summer’s night. She was watching him with that curious, lustful gaze again, and he brushed his thumb over her jaw. “I’m really sorry for soaking you with my Jet Ski, but I’m not sorry we met.”
To continue reading buy SWEET LOVE AT BAYSIDE