Now through July 6.
Matt Fletcher stood on her front porch in a black T-shirt and jeans, thumbs hooked into his front pockets, a hint of a smile on his lips, totally at ease. Without even trying, he made every gym-toned banker and golf-playing engineer her parents had ever pushed at her seem overdressed, insecure, and uninteresting. He was so entirely male, so completely comfortable in his own skin. Her insides danced with a mix of lust, rebellion, and Chardonnay.
“You look pretty.” His gaze brushed her bare shoulders before settling firmly, warmly, on her face. The tiny hairs on her upper arms tingled in awareness. “Might want to bring a sweater, though.”
Allison flushed with heat and wine. She’d spent twenty minutes digging in her closet for an outfit that didn’t make her feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder, finally unearthing a halter top from spring break five years ago and a pair of skinny jeans. She had good arms. And decent legs. But despite what Gail had said about Matt’s reputation, he was obviously in no hurry to talk her out of her clothes. Maybe she should suggest that he keep her warm? But she needed more daring for that.
Or another glass of wine.
Wordlessly, she fetched a cardigan from her bedroom.
“Thank you for going out with me,” she said when they got to the truck.
“My pleasure.” He shifted gears with one hand, steering with the other. He had great hands, she noticed. Working hands, tanned and strong, with a thin line of white scar across his knuckles. “Thank you for saying yes.”
“I asked you.”
He glanced over in surprise.
“Tonight,” she explained as he backed smoothly out of the driveway. “You asked me for tomorrow. I asked you tonight.”
“Yeah, you did.” Another sideways glance. “Why did you?”
To spite my mother didn’t seem like a tactful reply. Or even a very good reason.
She cleared her throat. “My mother called. I told her I had a date to get off the phone.”
A corner of his mouth kicked up. “And you don’t like to lie to your mother.”
“Yes. No.” Allison took a deep breath to still her jittery stomach. If she wanted honesty from Matt, she owed him honesty in return. This wasn’t about her mother. Allison was a grown-up, old enough to make up her own mind about what she wanted, what she needed.
And woman enough to change it.
“I wanted to go out. With you,” she said, so there could be no doubt. “I’d like to get to know you better.”
The echo of her previous words charged the air of the cabin. I don’t jump into bed with someone I don’t know. She wiped damp palms on the thighs of her jeans. Did he remember?
“Most women from off island don’t care about getting to know me. They’re just looking for a good time.”
“Which you no doubt provide.” She meant to sound teasing, not wistful.
He slanted a smile at her. “I can.”
The two words thumped softly in the pit of her stomach. The buzz was back, collecting on her skin like static before a storm. She had asked Matt out as a gesture of independence, a show of control over her life, her destiny. But she didn’t feel in control of herself or the situation.
He sounded so sure of himself. Of her.
But then, she thought crossly, she was practically throwing herself at him. He had every right to sound confident.
“So is this how you entertain your dates? By bringing them . . .” She leaned forward to peer out the windshield at empty road and shadowed, silent dunes. “Where are we, anyway?”
“I told you I’d show you my island. This is it.”
Gnarled live oaks on one side; an uneven line of erosion fence on the other; marsh grass and sea oats everywhere.
“There’s nothing here.”
His teeth showed in a smile. “Give it a chance.”
Their headlights jumped across the road. He turned left toward a gap in the line of pickets. She felt a bump as the pavement ended and their tires dropped onto sand. Shells crunched. The engine rumbled. She gripped the door handle as the truck lurched, aware of leaving something behind, of venturing off the road she knew into the unknown. And then the dunes fell away and the beach opened below, stretching away into the dusk on either side, gray sand and silver sea under a twilight sky.
Allison drew her breath in wonder.
Matt circled the truck to face the dunes, parking perpendicular to the water. He cut the engine. Silence rushed in, cool and laced with the scent of the sea.
Allison craned her neck to look out the windows. “Wow. Just . . . Wow.”
The horizon ran with paint box colors, purple, red, and gold. Low breakers rolled toward shore, dissolving in a flurry of foam against the flat sand.
Matt came around to help her from the truck. “Easy.” He steadied her as her heels sank into sand.
“I’m okay.” She was not drunk. “I wasn’t expecting a walk on the beach.”
“We’re not going far.”
She glanced down the shoreline at the glowing line of lights over the water. “Is that the pier?”
“What is it, like a mile?” She could walk a mile if she took off her shoes.
“We’re not walking. We’re parking.” He went to the back of the truck.
The soft sea breeze was clearing her head. “I didn’t know you could park on the beach at night,” she said conversationally.
“Now, yeah. Not during the season.”
“Because of tourists?”
He grinned and lowered the tailgate. “Because of turtles. Sea turtles lay their clutches in May. They hatch at night, follow the moon’s reflection to the sea. Headlights confuse them. And they can get trapped in tire tracks. But this time of year, it’s not a problem.”
He grabbed a quilt from the back and spread it over the truck bed. “Up you go.”
He boosted her onto the tailgate, his hands hard and strong. She caught her breath as he swung up beside her, the truck bouncing beneath his weight. His thigh brushed hers, his body warm and close. He stretched an arm behind her, making her heart beat faster.
Making his move, she thought.
He dragged a cooler forward from the back and began to unload it. A picnic.
Her lips curved as he laid out grapes and cheese and wrapped sandwiches. She found the simple spread more appealing than her mother’s themed and catered menus, more romantic than an overpriced meal in some fancy restaurant.
Matt lifted a bottle of wine from the cooler.
And far more seductive.
from CAROLINA HOME, on sale July 3
"Matt’s family captured my interest in a big way since they are so convincingly drawn - from his taciturn father to his super organized mother, war-weary brother and very driven sister. The story is balanced between the developing love affair between Matt and Allison, and incidents that impact the whole Fletcher family, showcasing the importance of familial bonds...This book definitely worked for me."
Ten days to release day! I can't wait! (Not that I'm counting or anything!)
Her head moved slowly against the cushions, back and forth. No. “I’m too excited to sleep.”
He was perilously close to too excited himself. Damn, but she was pretty. Under her turquoise tank top, her breasts rose and fell. Her lashes fanned against her cheeks. The necessity of keeping their voices down and the lights low wrapped them in intimacy.
If she didn’t hustle back into her own bedroom where she belonged, he was going to sink down on that soft couch and dive into her like a swimmer into water. Conn rocked on his heels, stuffing his hands into his pockets. Right now, he was trying real hard to remember he had scruples about things like that. He wasn’t proud of the idea that he would take advantage of his role as Val’s protector to jump her bones.
To shock himself back to sanity, to scare her back to her room, he said deliberately, “I could help you to sleep.”
She chuckled. “You can cut the Big Bad Wolf routine, MacNeill. It won’t work.”
He was irritated. Curious. “Why not?”
“Because you’re being nice tonight,” she explained, still without opening her eyes. “I don’t buy it.”
He tried to remember the last time a woman had accused him of being nice. Nothing came to mind. Patrick was decent. Sean was charming. Conn had been called smooth and, occasionally, generous. Never nice.
“Well, that puts me in my place,” he said acerbically.
She chuckled again, almost asleep. Her hair streamed over the overstuffed pillows and rolled arm of the couch. She was spread out like a banquet for his starved senses. He wanted to thread his fingers through that heavy fall of hair, to nuzzle the hollow just below her ear, to glut himself on the scent and the taste and the texture of her.
She sighed, and his breathing jammed, doing funny things to the rhythm of his heart.
If he had half the brains his brothers credited him with, he’d get the hell out of Dodge.
Instead, he eased down beside her, stretching one arm along the back of the couch. The soft cushions gave beneath him. She shifted as the springs adjusted to their relative weights. Her head rolled against his shoulder. She kept it there.
Hunger leaped inside him.
She rubbed her cheek against his shirt. “This is nice.”
Conn groaned silently. That word again. He ordered his libido back into its cage and slammed the door shut. And it was...well, not satisfying, precisely, but pleasant, he discovered, to sit in the half light with Val’s head resting on his shoulder and her hair tickling his jaw.
For an instant, she was convinced she was seeing double. The waiting room appeared full of MacNeills. Patrick paced, fists jammed in his pockets, his wide shoulders and contained intensity dwarfing his surroundings. She felt her heart trip into double time at the sight of him.
But nothing could dwarf the man beside him.
Taller and younger than Patrick, his companion had the same dark hair, longer and curlier, and the same male assurance. He wore a gold hoop in his ear, like a pirate, and exuded cheerful good nature and unabashed sex. There were at least three nurses craning for a look at him, and one patient’s mother was openly fanning herself.
Three months ago, such blatant good looks would have frozen Kate into a cold and inarticulate block of insecurity. She discovered now that after knowing Patrick, his brother didn’t alarm her at all. No more than she would be afraid of a wolfhound after petting a wolf.
She tapped her pen on her clipboard. “So. Which Mr. MacNeill can’t wait to see me?”
Three dark heads turned. The shortest one dashed forward.
A corner of her heart melted at the boy’s exuberant greeting. “Hey, Jack-o. Are you sick?”
“Pining for you,” the younger man offered.
Kate smiled down at the boy’s bright face. “I find that difficult to believe.”
“Okay,” the pirate said agreeably. “Maybe Patrick’s the one pining.”
The listening nurses goggled. Kate felt her cheeks flame. With gossip breeding in the hospital like bacteria in a wound, she’d always resolved to keep her personal life private. Not that it had been much of an issue. Until recently, she hadn’t had a personal life.
She swallowed. She still didn’t have a personal life. Patrick might want to go to bed with her, but they hadn’t even been on a date.
“Sean,” Patrick said warningly.
“So it’s me. I need a doctor. Take my pulse.” He snatched her hand, enclosing the pen with it, and laid it on his muscled chest, just above his heart. “What do you think, Doc?”
Kate lifted her chin, refusing to be flustered. “You feel normal to me.”
“Not just a little hot? “ His dark eyes were wicked, inviting her to share his joke.
“You don’t think maybe I need some bed rest?”
“You don’t let go of her hand,” Patrick growled, “and you won’t be getting up for a week.”