Melissa Foster Passionate Romance for Fiercely Loyal Hearts

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Bayside Escape – Sneak Peek!

bayside escape

KINDLE | APPLE | NOOK | GPLAY | KOBO | PAPERBACK

Chapter One

VIOLET PACED THE floor of her half sister Desiree’s bedroom, stealing glances out the window of their waterfront inn. They’d been blessed with a gorgeous September evening, the sky was clear, and the breeze hadn’t yet kicked up. Summer House sat high on the dunes, giving Violet a gorgeous view of the beach below, where Desiree’s fiancé, Rick, mingled with his brother and friends around the beautiful arbor he’d built for the wedding. The ceremony was supposed to start in ten minutes, but Violet and Desiree’s selfish, flighty mother, Lizza, had yet to show up. Desiree had been watching the parking lot like a hawk out the front window, while Violet and three of their closest friends tried to distract her. It was bad enough that their good friend Harper couldn’t make it back from Los Angeles for the wedding or to help out at their inn while Desiree was on her honeymoon. If Lizza was lucky, she’d have an equally good excuse, or she’d have Violet to answer to.

Rick’s sister, Mira, was nursing her newborn baby girl, Holly, as the girls chatted about the wedding. Desiree looked anxiously out the window again. If Violet had any hope of getting her down to the beach before she fell apart completely, they had to get a move on.

“How much milk can one baby drink?” Violet asked.

Mira touched Holly’s cheek and said, “As much as she needs or wants. As Hagen says, it’s not like she can have a hamburger.” Hagen was Mira’s little boy, who was outside with her husband, Matt. “You might as well call me Bessie from now on. I feel like a milking cow.”

“You look beautiful,” Desiree reassured her.

“Well, beautiful Bessie,” Violet said, “you’d better hurry up or the sun’s going to set.”

“Shh,” Desiree urged. “Don’t rush her. Let Holly eat in peace.”

Desiree looked gorgeous with her blond hair tumbling loose over the shoulders of her peach maxi dress. The corset top laced up the front, showing off her hourglass figure, and the skirt had ruffles from hips to ankles. Desiree was as proper as Violet was unfiltered, and after a lifetime of barely knowing each other, they’d spent the last couple of years forming a sisterly bond Violet had never imagined possible. The wedding was exactly as Desiree had wanted, with lots of frilly, flowery shit and sappy, tacky things, like wooden signs leading down the dune that read Leave shoes here! You’re almost there! and This way to your forever!

At least Rick wouldn’t let Desiree down. He was determined to make sure all of her dreams came true. Desiree thought their honeymoon was going to be spent at the Monroe House, a remote Upstate New York resort, but they were only spending one week there. Desiree had never been overseas, and once their week was up, Rick was going to surprise her with an additional two weeks in Portugal. Violet couldn’t be happier for her.

“Babies need calm environments,” Serena said, peering into the mirror and fussing with her dark hair. She had recently gotten engaged to Rick’s brother, Drake.

Violet rolled her eyes. “Babies spend nine months getting rocked and rolled as their mommy and daddy bang like bunnies.”

“Violet!” Desiree chided her.

Violet set her hands on her hips and said, “Don’t even pretend you’re embarrassed by that when every one of us knows if you have good or bad sex based on the breakfasts you make for us each morning.”

Desiree’s cheeks flushed. “But you don’t have to talk about it!”

“Yes, she does,” Mira said with a smile. She pressed a kiss to Holly’s forehead and tucked herself back into her dress. “Look how much fun she’s having making you blush.”

Desiree sighed.

Emery, Desiree’s best friend, who had recently moved to the Cape, watched as Mira burped Holly and said, “I think I need a baby.”

“Like you need a hole in the head,” Violet said. “You can barely feed yourself.”

“That’s what Dean is for.” Dean was Emery’s fiancé, and he co-owned Bayside Resort, the property next door to the inn, with Rick and Drake. “And I have an insatiable appetite for that man.” Emery waggled her brows, making them all laugh. She looked down at her lean, toned body, a benefit of teaching yoga at the inn, and palmed her breasts. “Besides, if I had a baby, I’d have nice knockers.”

“Can we please hurry up so Des and Rick’s fuckery can finally be legal?” Violet waved toward the door.

Emery bit her lower lip, giving Violet a worried look. Emery had grown up with Desiree in Oak Falls, Virginia, and she knew just how often Lizza had let her down.

Violet glared at her.

“Come on.” Violet grabbed Emery’s arm and dragged her away from the others. “If you mention Lizza I will kill you right here and now.”

“I won’t,” she whispered as the others fawned over Holly and Desiree. “But…” She glanced at Desiree, who was heading for the window again.

“No buts,” Violet said sternly. “I’ve got her.” She went to corral the others and said, “Okay, Bessie, Serena, please go keep the guys company and tell Ted we’re on our way.”

Ted was Desiree’s father, and for the first seven years of Violet’s life, he’d also been Violet’s stepfather. Until Lizza got bored, divorced Ted, and yanked Violet out of the only happy family she’d ever known. She’d left Desiree to be raised by her father, and she’d whisked Violet away to live a nomadic lifestyle as Lizza taught English as a second language, meditated, and floated through life on a whim.

The girls hugged Desiree, and then Violet ushered them out the door, trying to ignore the thickening of her throat as sadness rounded Desiree’s shoulders.

“I can’t believe she didn’t show up,” Desiree said. “I thought she really wanted to see me get married. She even said she was bringing a plus one.” Her voice went low and angry. “Why did she bother asking us to reserve the artist’s cottage for her for a month if she had no intention of showing up? We could have rented it out. You don’t think something could have happened to her, do you?”

No. She has spent a lifetime letting us down. This is what she does.” Violet dragged Desiree away from the window, gritting her teeth, when what she really wanted to do was hunt down their mother and give her hell.

Lizza had always changed directions as often as the wind. She and Violet had traveled overseas, never staying anywhere longer than a few months at a time, and rarely returning to visit with Desiree. If not for the few brief, uncomfortable visits, and the time they’d spent with their grandmother every summer at the inn, Desiree and Violet would have been complete and total strangers. As it was, before Lizza had tricked them into coming to the inn a few years ago, leaving them with a mortgage, an art gallery, and a secret sex shop, they’d barely known each other. And now this? This was too much.

“I’m sorry, Des.”

Desiree’s eyes dampened, and Violet cursed under her breath.

“I’m sorry.” Desiree snagged a tissue from the dressing table and dabbed at her eyes. “I know you hate when I cry.”

“I don’t hate when you cry. I hate that she makes you sad.” Blinking away her own damn tears, she took Desiree by the shoulders and said, “Listen to me. Your father is on the beach waiting to walk you down the aisle to marry the man of your dreams, and God only knows how you managed it, but your badass biker sister is wearing a dress.”

Desiree’s eyes swept over Violet’s body-hugging black dress, lingering on the open zipper, which started just below her ribs on her right side and wound around her torso, across her lower back, and over her left hip, exposing a trail of flesh all the way to where it ended at the top of a long slit that ran from thigh to ankle. She smiled and said, “I’m never going to see you in a dress again, am I?”

“Not a chance in hell.” If it were up to Violet, she’d have worn a black leather miniskirt, jeans, or cutoffs, with her biker boots, a black tank top, and her leather jacket.

“What if you get married someday?” Desiree reached up and touched Violet’s long jet-black hair. Then she touched the ink on Violet’s shoulder and arm. “You’ll make a beautiful bride.”

“Not happening, and more importantly, we are not going to let Lizza ruin this day for you. You are gorgeous, Rick adores you, and you have the world at your fingertips, so let’s spin this positive. At least you no longer have to stress out over how Ted and Lizza will get along.” When that didn’t earn a response, she said, “Des, Lizza is always going to be Lizza.”

“She does the best she can,” Desiree said sweetly.

Those six words had become their mantra, and they both knew it was the truth. Their mother tried to do what she thought was right for each of her daughters. But that didn’t make Desiree hurt any less. Violet had nerves of steel. She could handle her mother’s bullshit. But seeing Desiree in pain? That killed her. With Desiree and their friends, Violet had found the stable family she’d always wanted, and she wasn’t going to let Lizza waste another second of Desiree’s happiness.

“You know, for a girlie girl,” Violet said with a teasing smile, “you sort of suck at this wedding stuff.”

Desiree’s green eyes—the only trait the sisters shared—widened, and her jaw dropped open. “Why? We planned every detail. You said it was beautiful and perfect!”

Violet reached into the bag she’d brought and said, “It will be. I know you said you wanted a small wedding, and you feel like your life is here, so you didn’t invite the friends you have from Oak Falls. But you were so close to the Montgomerys that when Amber reached out to see what they could give you, there was only one thing I could come up with, and her sister did a beautiful job.” She fished out the black garter with pearl appliqué and pretty pink ribbon and lace and handed it to Desiree.

“Violet!” She laughed. “Morgyn made this? It’s so pretty.”

“I know you would have asked for something white or pink, but nobody bangs the headboard as loudly as you and Rick without a little naughtiness going on.”

Desiree swatted her, her cheeks flaming red.

“I think you also forgot you need something borrowed.”

“Oh gosh, you’re right,” Desiree said, frantically looking around the room.

“I’ve got you covered.” Violet reached into the bag again and handed her a small pink-and-white batik pouch she’d made. “You’re borrowing the pouch. What’s inside is a gift.”

Desiree opened the pouch and shook out a gold necklace with two dainty interlocking yellow and white gold rings. Her eyes dropped to the matching necklace around Violet’s neck, and her eyes welled with tears. “Sister necklaces?”

“Don’t get all sappy and ruin your makeup. Emery will give me hell if you do.” She secured the necklace around Desiree’s neck, choking back her own emotions. “It symbolizes infinite strength, protection, and unity. The rings move freely but are forever connected. No matter where we are, we’ll always have each other.”

Desiree threw her arms around Violet’s neck.

“Oh God, more hugging?” Violet teased. It had taken her a long time to get comfortable with Desiree’s frequent outpourings of affection, but as she embraced the sister she’d missed for so many years, her heart swelled. “Okay, bridey. Time to put that garter on and get down to the beach to marry your man.”

They rushed down the wide staircase. Desiree stopped on the first floor and grabbed Violet’s hand. “Wait! Our shoes! We left them in the room.”

Violet groaned. “We’re leaving them at the top of the dunes anyway. Do we really need them?”

“But what about the Harley-Davidson Tybee boots Donovan special ordered for you?” Donovan owned Swank, the Provincetown boutique where Violet and Desiree had bought their dresses.

“I’ll wear them tonight. Come on, before Rick thinks you backed out.”

“Like he’d ever think that.”

They headed for the back door just as the front door flew open and their mother breezed in, waving her hands and flashing her Julia Roberts smile. Her long dress was tie-dyed in orange, black, and white. It was cut wide and deep at the neckline and belted at the waist, with a long flowing skirt and billowing sleeves. Lizza was tall and slim, and like Violet, her dress was slit right up to her thigh, giving her a youthful appearance.

Her wild chestnut mane swished past her shoulders as she came at them. “Hello, my darlings!”

Violet froze, anger bubbling up inside her.

Lizza threw her arms around Desiree and said, “Happy wedding day, Desi.”

“I thought you weren’t coming,” Desiree said uneasily, her eyes shifting to Violet over Lizza’s shoulder.

Lizza released her and embraced Violet equally as eagerly. “Violet, look at you! Why, the Cape has been good for you, hasn’t it?”

“Where have you been?” Violet asked curtly, annoyed that the first words out of her mouth weren’t an apology for Desiree. “Des has been waiting all day.”

“It’s okay,” Desiree said. “I’m just glad you made it.”

“It’s not okay,” Violet seethed. “When you say you’re going to be at your daughter’s wedding, you show up before the start of the ceremony, which we’re now late for.”

“Oh, Desi, I’m sorry. Vi’s right,” their mother said. “It’s been a busy day, and I wish I could have come sooner. You didn’t think I’d miss your wedding, did you?”

Violet scoffed. Desiree elbowed her, silently chastising her with pleading eyes as the front door opened again. Lizza spun around and said, “There you are!” She ran toward the door, arms up, blocking their view of what had to be a crazy man since he was traveling with their mother.

She lowered her arms to take his hand and spun around with a beaming smile and said, “Girls, this is my plus one!”

Violet couldn’t breathe.

Standing before her was the man she’d left behind in Ghana more than two years ago. The man who had asked her to move to Boston and become his wife. Beautiful, loving, talented Andre Shaw. His hair was the color of desert sand. It was longer on top than she remembered, cut short on the sides. He must still run his hands through it, because it was tousled, and a few wispy bangs hung over his thick brows. She could still feel his chiseled cheeks beneath her fingers, his warm lips on hers, and the slide of his aquiline nose against her skin. A dusting of scruff covered the devastatingly sexy cleft in his chin, but his loving dark eyes—the ones that still haunted her dreams—bore a mix of shock and pain, as if he’d seen a ghost.

Violet tried to swallow, but her mouth was bone dry.

Desiree’s face was a mask of surprise at their mother’s younger, handsome date, who looked like he’d come from a summer photo shoot despite the wrinkles in his brown linen pants and tan linen shirt.

Violet closed her gaping jaw, trying to blink away what could only be a mirage.

Daisy,” Andre said with disbelief.

The endearment turned her knees to jelly, and she clutched Desiree’s hand as his whispers echoed in her mind. You’re sweeter than a Violet. You’re my Daisy.

“Oh no, sweetheart,” Lizza said. “It’s Violet, remember? Andre Shaw, these are my daughters, Desiree and Violet.” She took his arm and gazed up at him. “Isn’t he just gorgeous? I was delighted that he could come with me. Andre is an artist and a doctor. He runs one of the companies I work for.”

“Well, um, Andre, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” Desiree said. “Should we arrange for a room at the inn?”

“Don’t be silly.” Lizza waved her hand as if Desiree had made the most ridiculous suggestion. “He’s staying in the cottage, with me.”

What. The. Fuck?

Emery ran through the back door, slowing when she saw Lizza and Andre, and said, “Is everything okay? Rick is about to pull his hair out.”

“So am I,” Violet mumbled.

“Emery, darling.”

As Lizza greeted Emery, Violet grabbed Desiree and hauled her toward the back door. “Let’s go. It’s your wedding day.”

“But what about Lizza? And oh my gosh, Vi,” she whispered. “Andre must be our age! And he’s gorgeous! What’s he doing with her?”

“I don’t even want to know…”

****

IT DIDN’T MATTER how long Andre stared at Violet, or how many times he caught her stealing glances at him, he simply couldn’t make sense of her being there. Not after he’d looked for her for so long and come up empty. It was like the universe was playing a trick on him. As if all the talking about her that he’d done in Paris with his friend Brindle had conjured her. But how messed up was that? The only reason he was there at the Cape was because he’d taken Brindle’s advice about getting away someplace new to finally get over Violet—Daisy. My Daisy—once and for all. That was why he’d taken Lizza up on her offer to stay at the cottage she’d rented while he was between projects instead of staying at one of his usual haunts. The Cape was close enough to visit his parents in Boston, and he was able to secure a part-time volunteer position at the Outer Cape Health Clinic for the last three weeks of his stay, which was supposed to help keep his mind off Violet. But now his head was spinning, which was nothing compared to the hurt and anger warring inside him.

Applause and cheers rang out, startling him from his thoughts. He clapped as Desiree and Rick sealed their union with a kiss and a scruffy dog with a peach bow around his neck barked as it ran circles around them.

“That’s Cosmos,” Lizza said. “He’s a little matchmaker.”

Andre wasn’t about to ask what that meant. He hadn’t heard a word of the ceremony, and until now he’d hardly noticed the sounds of Cape Cod Bay kissing the shore or the scents of the sea surrounding them, things he’d once savored. He was well practiced at keeping busy to escape thoughts of Violet, but she was right there, looking beautiful and troubled, making him want to hold her and get the hell out of there at the same time.

Lizza squeezed his arm and said, “Isn’t it exciting? My baby is married!”

He looked at the carefree woman he’d met overseas more than two years ago. He’d met Violet on the same trip. He’d been working at a clinic through Physicians Around the World, which was similar to Doctors Without Borders. He wondered if Lizza knew what a can of worms she’d opened by inviting him there. He tried to remember her interactions with Violet when they’d all been in Ghana, but she’d come through the village for only a couple of days with some sort of mission group. For the life of him, he couldn’t remember the two of them spending any time together, much less Violet calling her Mom, or even giving her more than a brief nod. None of this made sense. Violet had told him about her strange relationship with her mother, and now that he knew that woman was Lizza, he felt guilty for being there with the person who had caused Violet so much grief. Then again, he’d spent months looking for Violet, and it was only because of this odd coincidence with Lizza that he’d found her again. But seeing her unleashed too many conflicting emotions. He needed to get the hell out of there.

“Congratulations,” he said, mentally preparing his exit speech.

“Come on.” Lizza pulled him to his feet. “We have to go congratulate them.” She held on to his arm, guiding him toward the crowd. “Look how beautiful the flowers are. Desi planned everything with the help of her friends. I want to introduce you to my girls’ friends. They’re a hoot! But watch out for my Violet. She’s a pistol, and trust me, you don’t want her to go off.”

Actually, he’d prefer if Violet had gone off on him rather than slipping away in the middle of the night and leaving without a trace. He glanced at Lizza’s proud smile. It was obvious she had no idea what had gone on between him and Violet. Would she care if he took off?

“Come on, now. Don’t be shy,” Lizza said, dragging him into the middle of the crowd. “I want to squeeze in there and congratulate Desi and Rick. Excuse me for just a second.”

As Lizza pushed her way through the crowd of overzealous men and joyous women hugging and laughing, congratulating the happy couple, Andre couldn’t take his eyes off Violet. She stood at the edge of the crowd in a wicked black dress, her colorful tattoos snaking over her shoulder and down her arm. She looked his way, and their eyes connected—and held. His body instantly heated up despite the way she’d disappeared from his life.

Her hands curled into fists, and she turned away, causing the slit in her dress to open, revealing the ink on her thigh. That strategically placed open zipper offered another peek at the tattoos on her back. He knew those tattoos by heart, had kissed and loved every spec of the earth signs on her thigh and the colorful wings that began just beneath her shoulders and flared over her hips and buttocks, covering all but a few inches around her spine. Did she have any new tattoos, as he did? He hadn’t had a single one before they’d met.

Memories of Violet traipsing around the village in skimpy shorts, tank tops, and biker boots flooded him. She’d had a major chip on her shoulder, but she was sweet as sugar to the children. She made colorful face masks for the doctors in the clinic so they wouldn’t scare them, and she made fun, colorful gowns for the children who had to stay overnight, giving them something to focus on other than their illnesses or the procedures they were undergoing. She was always in control around others, and protective as hell of each and every child, even the ones who fought, scratched, and bit. Now she looked anything but in control. Oh yeah, maybe no one else noticed, but he couldn’t miss the slight inward turn of her left foot, the way her toes dug into the sand. That was her tell, like she channeled all her uncomfortable thoughts into that move. She’d done it a lot when they’d first become close, and it had been inescapable the night he’d confessed his feelings to her.

And then she’d disappeared like a ghost in the night.

The cheers quieted, and people began mingling. A tall, brown-haired guy sidled up to Andre and said, “So you’re the guy who’s got the girls gossiping.” He offered his hand. “Gavin Wheeler.”

“Andre Shaw. Nice to meet you.” He shook his hand and said, “Why are people gossiping?” He glanced at the guests, noticing what he hadn’t before. Two brunettes, one slim, one curvier, and a regal-looking short-haired blonde were watching them intently, talking and giggling. Behind the brunettes, three rather large guys also had them in their sights, only they weren’t smiling.

Gavin shrugged. “Everybody’s got to check out the new guy.”

Andre raked his hand through his hair and looked up at the dunes, thinking about where he could go if he left. He’d seen the large tables that had been pushed together on the patio, draped in peach tablecloths and decorated with gorgeous bouquets of peach, white, and red roses. It occurred to him that this was likely a destination wedding, and Violet was probably leaving after tomorrow. She’d made it clear that she never stayed anywhere for long, especially when her mother was around. Maybe he could stay in the cottage after all.

“Thinking about taking off?” Gavin leaned closer and said, “Better make a run for it fast if you’re going to, because here comes the firing squad.”

He turned around and saw the three gigglers heading his way. Shit.

“Want to introduce us to your new friend?” the blonde asked with a flirtatious smile.

She was gorgeous, all legs and a sweet face in a short blue dress. Definitely not the type of woman to sneak off in the middle of the night. He stole a glance at Violet, talking with Lizza and Desiree with an irritated look in her eyes, and his stomach took a nose dive. Would he ever be able to think about another woman without wishing it was her?

“Andre Shaw,” Gavin said, jarring Andre from his thoughts. “Meet Chloe and her nosy cohorts, her sister, Serena, and Emery.”

Chloe waved, eyeing him flirtatiously. “Nice to meet you.”

He nodded. “You too.” If he weren’t so fucked up he might return her flirtation, but it’d been a long time since he’d wanted to flirt with anyone.

“Hi. I’m Emery.” The thinner brunette thrust her hand out. As he shook it she said, “I’m engaged to Dean, the bearded guy over there.” She pointed over her shoulder. “He’s the one who looks like he sort of wants to kill you. That’s actually his happy face.”

Great. So you’re engaged to a dick?

“And I’m Serena. My guy’s the groom’s brother, Drake.” She pointed to the guy beside Dean, who winked at her. Then she smiled at Andre and said, “So, you’re here with Lizza? How do you know her?”

“We met on a project. Sometimes she works for my company.”

“What do you do?” Emery asked.

“I’m a physician, and I—”

“But Lizza’s an artist,” Serena interrupted with a scrutinizing tone. “What type of company do you own?”

“She could still know him,” Chloe pointed out.

“Well, yeah,” Serena said, “but it’s not likely since she’s always traveling.”

“They probably forgot you’re standing here,” Gavin said to him. “You might want to make that run for it now.”

“Oh no.” Chloe touched Andre’s arm. “Don’t leave. The party is about to start. So, you’re a doctor, and you know Lizza through your company, which is…?”

“Operation SHINE—”

“You’re the guy behind Op SHINE?” Chloe exclaimed.

“What’s Op SHINE?” Serena asked.

Before he could get a word out, Chloe said, “It’s like Physicians Around the World, but SHINE allows doctors to sign on for shorter periods of time than PAW, right?”

“Something like that,” he said absently, watching as Violet headed his way with a serious look in her eyes. His heart rate kicked up with her every step. Even barefoot she gave off a tough, seductress vibe. It was Violet who had set him on a different path than the one he’d always known. Both of his parents were physicians, though his mother had only worked part time while Andre was young. He’d followed in their professional footsteps, and his life had always included charitable work, like the assignment with PAW he’d been on when he’d met Violet. Had he not been only six months into the nine-month assignment when she’d taken off, he would have gone after her. But even then he wouldn’t have known where to look. She’d told him she’d spent little time in the States, so she could have been anywhere.

“I work in the medical field, and I keep up with the industry,” Chloe explained.

“You work in administration,” Serena said just above a whisper.

Chloe elbowed her, whispering something back.

As Violet neared, Andre’s jaw clenched as he drank in her sexy curves, her long black hair lifting in the breeze with each determined step. He didn’t trust himself not to give her hell for the way she’d left him without a trace. He had to get out of there before he said something he’d regret, but her green catlike eyes pierced his barriers, pinning him in place. Sweet Jesus, you still hold all the strings.

Violet stopped beside Chloe, her jaw tight, her eyes a mix of determination and vulnerability.

“Vi, have you met—”

Violet put her hand up. “Stop talking.” Her eyes narrowed, still locked on Andre as she said, “Tell me you’re not fucking my mother.”

“Whoa,” Gavin said. “Okay, ladies, that’s our cue to get out of here.”

“Are you kidding?” Emery complained.

“No.” Gavin mumbled, “Good luck, dude.” Then he dragged the girls away.

Andre wasn’t about to satisfy the plea in Violet’s eyes. He glanced at Gavin and the girls, who had joined the rest of their friends but still had their eyes on him and Violet.

“Are you screwing Lizza?” Violet demanded.

He slid his hands into the pockets of his slacks as if his heart weren’t hammering against his ribs and said, “Patience was never your strong suit.”

She huffed out a breath and crossed her arms. “Are you?”

He stepped closer, catching a whiff of jasmine. How many times had he smelled that scent in the last two years and caught himself looking around for her?

Too damn many.

“Maybe you’d like to start over with something like, ‘Hello, Andre. I’m sorry I disappeared in the middle of the night and never thought to let you know I was still alive, much less why I left.’”

She pressed her lips together, sadness washing over her face for the briefest of seconds, softening his resolve a little. She lifted her chin as she said, “I asked you a question. Are you screwing my mother?”

He lifted one shoulder. “What if I am? You washed your hands of me years ago.”

She grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the dunes. “What is going on? How long have you been with Lizza?”

“If either of us has a right to demand answers, it’s me.”

She lowered her eyes.

Why, Daisy? That’s all I want to know. Why did you take off like we meant nothing?”

She kicked at the sand, her mouth twitching like she wanted to say something, but either didn’t want to or she couldn’t.

He leaned closer so she had no choice but to look at him, and holy hell, that was a mistake. The vulnerability in her eyes, thinly veiled by a mask of strength, nearly brought him to his knees. He tried to push those feelings down deep, as he’d been doing for what felt like forever, and said, “I’ve only ever seen you speechless once before, and the next morning you were gone.” He couldn’t help but add sarcastically, “Will I be so lucky tomorrow?”

“I live here,” she said with narrowed eyes.

“Yeah? For what? A week? A month? Two?”

She looked over her shoulder at all the people on the beach, and her expression warmed. “This is home.”

Home? Boy, he’d like to pick at that word like a raven on roadkill. Violet didn’t know what the word home meant. But if she was staying for a week, a month, or longer, then this was his chance to get some answers and finally get the closure he needed to move on with his life.

She cleared her throat before turning back to him, the warmth gone from her expression. “How long are you staying?”

“Again, not that it’s any of your business, but I was invited to stay for a month, until I leave for my next project.”

“A month?” She shook her head. “You and Lizza cannot stay here for a month.”

He arched a brow. “Oh, but we can. It’s already been arranged, and I’ve already committed to volunteering at a local clinic. I’m not about to let them down. And you know what else? I like it here. The sand, the sea, the people I’ve met. Chloe seems especially interesting. Did you know she works in health care? This might be just the break I need to clear my head of old distractions.” It pained him to speak of their love like that, but not nearly as much as it hurt to see the ache in her eyes.

He looked away so as not to get sucked in again and caught sight of Lizza watching them. He waved and forced a smile. “If you’ll excuse me, Dai”—he caught himself before the endearment slipped out; the first step in moving on was letting it go—“Violet. I believe my date wants to introduce me to her friends.”

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