Copyright © 2012 Nikki Duncan
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Family. Friends. Forgotten memories.
They all waited in Whispering Cove. Waited and taunted.
Already missing the call of deadlines, Braydon Mitchell anchored his forty-foot sailboat in the bay away from the main docks, where the water calmed to a gentle rocking at night, and raised his face to the sun. The salty air and slapping waves, lush foliage and open space failed to ease his spirit or his need for freedom.
The memories he’d set aside in pursuit of life could no longer be ignored and they wouldn’t be chipped away like irritating barnacles. Though they weren’t all bad, he was no longer the idealistic boy who’d attended Whispering Cove High. The death of a friend’s parents had stripped the gleaming gloss off life’s hull. Several of his group had scattered. Few had returned for more than a token visit.
Braydon secured the sail riggings and moved toward the back of the boat and the inflatable dingy he’d use to cross the gleaming water. Wood-sided businesses and homes painted primary blues and reds welcomed fishermen home. Nearby, mixed in with the traditionally painted ivory or white homes, were those painted orange or pink or lime green. There were even a couple of purple roofs. Even the homeowners who opted for more sedate colors leaned toward vibrant hues for the trim work or deck chairs.
Its appearance excited him while its unhurried pace slipped through him a little uncomfortably.
He stepped into the dingy and headed toward the shore, past the docks and the fishermen he’d known his entire life. For the first time in ten years he and his friends—most of them anyway—would be together again. How everyone would feel about it remained to be seen.
He could have resisted attending the reunion, but his grandparents… He couldn’t resist the family who had welcomed him when his parents became more interested in the next adventure than in their son.
He might not be so different from his parents.
Adventure excited him.
Ambition drove him.
His jaw tightened as he strained against the urge to gnash his teeth. Pushing his shoulders back, popping the vertebrae between his shoulder blades, Braydon angled the small boat to the spot Grandfather Byron said he’d be waiting.
Yeah, adventure excited him.
Yeah, ambition drove him.
But he wasn’t leaving a family behind. He would never leave a child to wonder why he hadn’t been enough of a reason for his parents to stay. Why he was so un-special, turning away had been easy.
Scrubbing his hand over his neck, Braydon shook himself off the path of useless thoughts. He’d been loved. By his grandparents. By his friends. They were the reason he’d come home.
Grandfather Byron, Granddad, wasn’t doing well and Braydon wouldn’t allow the pursuit of an exciting sporting story to cost him more time with family.
On the shore, a sleek blonde stepped from the glaring green shed at the end of the dock. Slender ankles, well-toned calves and slim thighs teased until they disappeared into white shorts enhancing her tan. A teal tank top hugged perky breasts and nipped in at her narrow waist.
Naked on the deck in the moonlight.
Naked on his bed in the main cabin.
Naked with her nipples calling him to taste.
The images of her on his boat clicked successively through his mind, fast and urgent.
Saliva pooled in his mouth, forcing him to swallow. Whoever she was, he would get to know her during his visit. He would enjoy her no-strings company as much as he enjoyed his freedom.
Braydon cut the small motor, jumped into the shallow water, and pulled the dingy to shore. He looked away from the woman to secure his raft and turned back in time to watch his grandfather step from the shed.
Tall and broad, the brawn he’d built as a fisherman stuck with him. But he was different. More frail and stooped over than before, he leaned on the blonde for support. His hand shook on her arm. Years of tying lures, stringing net and fighting his catch had swollen his knuckles into bulbous joints.
With gravel scrunching beneath his sandaled feet, Braydon quickly closed the distance.
“Hey, boy.” Granddad’s voice shook across the twenty feet still separating them as if each syllable required effort. He pulled free of the blonde and stepped forward. “’Bout time you got home.”
She followed at a cautious distance as Granddad’s left leg dragged a little across the slippery rock.
Emptiness washed through Braydon, leaving his chest hollow with a subtle burn of anxiety. His legs, his chest, his stomach were all empty and suddenly weak. He was shaken and guilt swarmed him at the sight of Granddad’s apparent loss of vitality.
“Got here as soon as I could.” Knowing Granddad wouldn’t approve of attention being drawn to his age or ailments, Braydon closed the remaining distance quickly and pulled his grandfather into their standard, manly hug. “Traffic was hell.” Stepping back he grinned. “Guppies were everywhere.”
The blonde’s small, sweet lips curled into a smile, showing off perfect teeth. She didn’t move closer, and though she seemed familiar, he wasn’t recalling why.
Granddad lasered his gaze into Braydon, alerting him to the hard tone to come. “You could have flown.”
“The boat’s already packed.” Braydon dipped his head in acknowledgement of the woman and offered his hand. “Pardon Granddad’s rudeness. I’m Braydon Mitchell.”
Something sparked in her gray-blue eyes behind her wire-framed and rhinestone-studded glasses. It was almost as if she alone was privy to an inside joke. Intriguing. From her blonde roots to her petite nose—with a fishing-line-thin scar running down one side—to her bodacious curves, she was intriguing.
“I’m not rude, you pain in the ass.” Granddad reached back and tugged the woman forward. “This chickadee is Dr. Dani, the new private-practice doc in town. She didn’t want me coming alone.”
Dr. Dani didn’t take Braydon’s hand. Disappointment at not discovering the feel of her skin slipped through him, but was overruled by concern about his grandfather’s need to be escorted by the town doctor.
Dr. Dani turned to Granddad.
“If you hadn’t insisted on walking the whole way, I wouldn’t have minded you coming alone.” Her voice was soft, underlined with determination and tinted by a strong local accent as she addressed Granddad. A sultry tone subtly emphasized the words walking and coming, sort of rolling the ing.
Braydon’s body jumped to aroused awareness. His head angled slowly to the left as unattainable recognition flirted with his memory. She was local, about his age. He had to know her. She wasn’t the kind of woman he would forget.
“Been walking longer’n you two combined have been breathin’.” Granddad’s customary grit lit a fuse of hope inside Braydon.
His guilt eased. The emptiness in his heart was replenished.
“All the more reason to slow down now.” Dr. Dani shook her head, bouncing her wavy hair around her shoulders. “Ruth wouldn’t have approved of you coming alone.”
Braydon grinned, appreciative of how the woman stood up to Granddad. Most people backed down, unwilling to attempt swaying the bull-nosed shark. “How is Grandma? Where is she?”
“She’s good. Today is her volunteer day at the hospital.” Granddad took Dr. Dani’s arm and headed toward the walkway leading to the road. “She sends her love and says she’ll see you at dinner.”
Braydon fell into step at Dr. Dani’s side. Her wintergreen scent floated up and mixed with the tang of the salty sea. His body screamed for a touch, a taste, of the temptress at his side. His stomach rumbled and, though he’d skipped breakfast and his mid-morning snack, it had nothing to do with hunger for food.
Dr. Dani glanced up at him. “Sounds like you’re starved.”
“Famished. Have anything good in mind?” Like dropping Granddad off at home and joining me back on my boat for a thorough physical?
She dropped her gaze back to her feet.
“Let’s go to The Seafarer,” Granddad suggested.
“Do Mr. and Mrs. Wilson still own it?” The town’s hotspot for great seafood, the restaurant had been owned by a high-school friend’s parents.
“Why change a four-generation tradition?”
“Do things ever change around here?”
“Not much,” Dr. Dani said.
“Tourists wouldn’t come. Locals’d be pissed,” Granddad summed up. He always narrowed matters down to the bloody quick, and he was right. Changing tradition around town impacted the economy. Times were tough enough without adding an unnecessary strain.
As they walked the few blocks to The Seafarer, they were stopped several times. Moms and grandmas patted Braydon’s arm and welcomed him home with a matchmaker’s gleam in their eyes—he’d avoid those women. The men wanted to reminisce and rehash that-time-you-insert-stupid-kid-mistake-here stories—they mostly made him laugh.
Much remained the same in Whispering Cove.
Family. Friends. Forgotten memories.
Danica Kent walked between Byron—who she suspected didn’t need help as much as he claimed, but she loved him enough to humor him—and the man she’d had a crush on since she was nine.
He’d grown into a walking, talking, adventure-loving, sea-scented sex fantasy. The rebel image projected by thick and slightly too long, sun-lightened brown hair, a strong jaw and almost broody eyes in his byline pictures in sailing magazines fuelled her wet dreams. Lean muscles, flat stomach, narrow hips and powerful legs… Raw masculinity oozing through his pores awoke her body and had her daydreaming about running her hands over him.
A chill of anticipation rushed up her spine and filled her head with dizziness. She stumbled. Byron’s grip on her arm released. Braydon was there. He wrapped his arms around her waist and stopped her tumble to the ground. Turning her in his arms, he held her pinned close. As his erection pressed into her thigh, his green eyes darkened.
Her heart flinched. Her chest rose and fell against his raggedly. She’d been in this position once before, very briefly, and had dreamed of the replay, but her dreams had never come true.
“You okay?” Smooth as her favorite rum, his Herculean purr teased her senses. Awareness flickered in his gaze.
“I…” Mouth gaping, Danica nodded.
The small gesture moved her body against his. Against his arousal. Memories clamped down harder than a crab’s claw. Memories of walking the widow’s peak on the tower of her parents’ home, of using her telescope to spy on Braydon instead of studying the stars, of dreaming he came to her asking to be with her.
The young girl in love was still trapped inside, and she was still desperately awkward.
Braydon chuckled. His green eyes, splintered with lines of brown, reeled her in with promises of wicked nights on the water and in her tower bedroom. Promises of nights in his arms.
Her panties grew moist.
“Seems I’m not the only one who’s hungry.”
He’s not talking food. Her mouth dried up.
She tried to swallow or speak or think, but failed. Failed to think of anything beyond Braydon and sex.
“I’ll leave you two to…well, to whatever is going on in those young minds of yours.” Byron patted Braydon on the back and moved toward the front door of The Seafarer. “I’ll just go eat alone.”
“No you won’t.” Braydon set her away from him without breaking his gaze. “We’ll join you.”
“Suit yourself.” Byron shook his head and stepped into the restaurant.
“You coming, Dr. Dani?”
Unfortunately, no. She’d never been more grateful for her inability to talk to Braydon. Hell, she was shocked he hadn’t figured out who she was by that inability alone. And she knew he hadn’t because when he figured it out, he’d be running in the opposite direction.
She nodded and headed in to join Byron. She would absorb as much as she could of Braydon’s attention, because the sand concealing her identity was quickly washing away.