Melissa Foster Passionate Romance for Fiercely Loyal Hearts

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TEGAN SQUINTED TO see past the blur of pummeling rain and whipping windshield wipers as she drove toward the gas station. Gripping the steering wheel so tight her knuckles blanched, she yelled over her rattling defroster in the direction of her cell phone. “This is insane! You could have warned me I was moving to the arctic for half the year.” She raised her voice an octave, mimicking her friend Chloe Mallery’s voice. “‘You’ll love it!’ you said. ‘There’s nothing like Cape Cod in the spring!’”

“In my defense, everyone knows April showers bring May flowers.”

“It’s the first week of April, and it’s freezing. I’m pretty sure all the flowers are digging their way to China right now. I’m starting to rethink the other promises you made, like hot eligible bachelors coming to the Cape in droves over the summer.”

“That is true,” Chloe said.

“Says the single girl who uses dating apps to find men. What was I thinking?”

Chloe laughed. “You were thinking of your favorite uncle, and of me, Harper, and Daphne, of course. Your new besties!”

A pang of sadness moved through her. Tegan had lost her great-uncle Harvey Fine, an eccentric retired-actor-turned-amphitheater-owner, last summer. He’d left her his house, the amphitheater business, and enough money that she could walk away from it all and never work a day in her life. But she’d adored her uncle, and two weeks ago she’d left her hometown of Peaceful Harbor, Maryland, and come to the Cape to see if she could make a go of it. For the next seven months, Brewster, Massachusetts, would be home. But while Tegan was used to traveling alone on short vacations, the seven-month move was still a little jarring. She wished Jock Steele, her uncle’s caretaker for the past decade who had also become her trusted friend, had stuck around. At least then she’d have company in the rambling old mansion and someone to help her understand some of the ins and outs of her uncle’s business. But Jock was off trying to figure out how to move forward with his own life.

As she drove through a puddle at the gas station’s entrance, spraying water up to her windows, she was convinced her uncle had known the move might be difficult and had pulled strings from the heavens above, bringing Harper Garner, a local screenwriter, into Tegan’s life. Harper had not only proposed a joint venture that would expand the offerings of the amphitheater, but she’d also introduced Tegan to Chloe and several other of her closest friends, each of whom had welcomed her with open arms.

“Think of this storm as one of your adventures!” Chloe said excitedly.

“My life has been one big adventure for as long as I can remember.” Tegan had worked three jobs for years. She never knew what the day would hold, and she took a solo vacation at least once each year to someplace new and exciting. But this would be her biggest adventure yet because it was the one she cared most about. The house that had once felt joyful and like a second home now felt too empty, and the wicked weather felt like a sign.

She glanced out the window at the driving rain whirling with the wind, the ominous and angry-gray sky gave the nearly deserted gas station an eerie vibe. “Don’t worry, Chloe. I’m not hightailing it out of here. Even with this crazy storm, it feels like I’ve been dropped into a whole new world that I was meant to discover.”

She pulled past a row of pumps where a black SUV was parked—or maybe abandoned—and into the next row. “I must have been nuts coming out in this, though,” she said more to herself than to Chloe. She’d been weeding through her uncle’s belongings for a week and a half, and she’d needed to get out of the house before she lost her mind. “After I get gas and hunt down a place to grab lunch and work on a plan for the amphitheater, I’m going to hibernate until the storm passes.”

“Think of all the reading you’ll get done. Did you start this month’s book for the club yet? If not, be forewarned, it is definitely not safe to read in public.” Chloe was an administrator for an assisted living facility, and she also ran an online erotic romance book club. This month they were reading a book from one of Tegan’s favorite series, Nice Girls After Dark by bestselling author Charlotte Sterling.

Tegan cut the engine, and her old Corolla, Berta, sputtered and coughed before finally shuddering to silence. Her uncle had left her a fancy Lincoln Town Car, but like his house, without him in it, it felt wrong. Besides, she wasn’t ready to give up Berta just yet.

“I just started the book,” she said to Chloe. “And I realized it was NSFW on the third page. Holy cow, talk about dirty!”

“I know. It’s a good one. That should keep you nice and warm when you’re hibernating.”

“Good. Now tell me where I can get some food if I survive pumping my gas.”

“Oh gosh, that’s a toughie this time of year. Other than the grocery store, there are only a couple places that open before Memorial Day. My friend Gabe’s coffeehouse, Common Grounds, is open year-round, but it’s in Harwich. There’s the Sundial Café between Brewster and Orleans. Where are you right now?”

The Cape was made up of several quaint small towns. Orleans was only about fifteen minutes from Tegan’s property in Brewster. At least in good weather. It had taken her more than forty minutes to drive there today.

“I had to come to Orleans to find an open gas station. I passed the Sundial on my way here. That’s perfect. But you could have warned me about nothing being open.”

“If I had warned you, you might have thought twice about leaving your perfect little Peaceful Harbor, and then where would that leave Harper?”

“I would never let my uncle or Harper down by not even trying to make this work.”

She took her phone off speaker and held it to her ear as she scoped out the gas station. “This place looks deserted. I see an SUV, but there are no signs of life. This isn’t going to be like that movie where the stupid girl takes a wrong turn and ends up in the hands of a serial killer, is it?”

Hardly,” Chloe said sarcastically. “But you might get swept away in the wind. I’ll stay on the phone so if you get carried away like Mary Poppins I can call for help.”

“Okay. Wish me luck—I’m braving the arctic.” Tegan grabbed her credit card and pulled the hood of her raincoat over her head. She tried to open the car door, but the wind slammed it closed, nearly catching her fingers and causing her to shriek. “The freaking wind pushed my door closed!”

“You’re a badass book club girl. Go out there and show that wind who’s boss!”

“Damn right I am.” She used her shoulder to push the door open, struggling against the wind and rain as she stepped out of the car. The door slammed, and her hood flew off. Rain pelted her despite the shelter over the pumps. She tried to pull her hood on and turn her back to the wind and rain, but they seemed to come from every direction, and her hood kept flying off. “Can you hear the wind howling?”

“Howl back!” Chloe yelled.

Tegan tilted her face up and howled as loud as she could through her chattering teeth. A guy walked out of the gas station’s convenience store while she was howling.

“Awesome mating call!” he shouted, with a wave. Then he howled as he ran toward a pickup truck she hadn’t noticed parked around the side of the building.

She ducked her head, pressing the phone to her ear. “Oh my God! Some guy with a killer smile heard me and howled back!” She and Chloe roared with laughter as the truck drove out of the lot. She fumbled with her credit card. “My fingers are numb!” She inserted the card into the pump, bouncing on the toes of her rain boots to try to warm up, and her eyes caught on a tall, broad, dark-haired man coming out of the convenience store. His hair and expensive-looking overcoat were already drenched, and he strode unhurriedly through the driving rain with a phone pressed to his ear, looking serious. He moved with an air of authority, as if he could stop the rain and wind if he so chose, but it wasn’t worth his time.

“I want to hear all about your plans for the amphitheater…”

Chloe’s voice turned to white noise as the man’s eyes sailed over Tegan for only a second before landing on the SUV in the next row. But in that second, the earth stood still. She watched him disappear behind his vehicle.

“Are you listening to me?” Chloe hollered, snapping Tegan from her reverie.

“Uh-huh. Hold on.” She peered around the gas pump, trying to get one last glimpse.

He stood by the hood of the SUV, the phone still pressed to his ear. He lifted his face, catching her staring, and winked. She sucked in a sharp breath, but she was frozen in place. He had the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. A cocky grin appeared on his handsome face, and then he ducked into his SUV and drove away.

The air rushed from Tegan’s lungs, and she realized she hadn’t just been staring, but she’d been gawking—and smiling like an idiot. “Holy fudge. I take it back. You do have hot guys here. At least one or two.”

“Please tell me the howler wasn’t Justin Wicked. He’s the biggest flirt around.”

Their friend Justin was not only a flirt, but he was also a talented artist, co-owner of a stone distribution company, and a member of the Cape Cod chapter of the Dark Knights motorcycle club. He was protective over his friends in the same way the Dark Knights in Tegan’s hometown were protective of their community.

“For the record, Justin is gorgeous,” Tegan said. “But it wasn’t him.”

“A hot, unidentified howler? I love it!”

“I wasn’t ogling the howler.” Tegan wiped the rain from her face, still staring out at the road. “This guy looked like he dined on fine wine and caviar. But I could tell that he knew he was hot, which makes him good for only one thing.”

“A night of awesome sex and then see you later, alligator?” Chloe asked.

“No.” She rounded her shoulders against the cold and said, “He’s the kind of guy that would probably check himself out in the mirror the whole time. I hate guys like that. This guy was only good for fantasies. Dark, dirty fantasies where he’s the man I want him to be, not the arrogant jerk he probably is.” She turned back to the pump and read the display. “Are you freaking kidding me? The stupid thing says Card Error. See Attendant.”

“It’s an adventure, remember? Think positive. Maybe the attendant will be hot and single,” Chloe said.

“There has to be a better go-to than hot guys,” Tegan said. It had been a long time since she’d met a guy she wanted to date, much less sleep with.

Two hot guys?”

Tegan pulled her coat tighter around her and said, “Only if they’re bringing ice cream and pizza.”

“You’re no fun.”

“I’m all kinds of fun. Like right now. I’m going to brave the monsoon to see the attendant so he can restart the stupid pump. I’ll call you later.”

“Don’t forget the bachelorette party Saturday night! The theme is the hotter the better! So go full-on superslut!”

“I cannot wait! I have the perfect outfit for that.”

After ending the call, she shoved the phone in her pocket, wrestled her wet hood back on, and held it there as she ran into the building. She wiped the rain from her face as she made her way to the counter.

The guy behind the counter lifted kind eyes from the magazine he was reading and said, “It’s nasty out there, huh?”

“It is.” She waved her card and said, “The pump won’t take my card.”

“This is your lucky day. Your gas is already paid for.”

“Excuse me?” She must have heard him wrong.

“A guy who was in here earlier gave me a hundred bucks and said to fill up the tank for the next person who came in and to keep the change. You were pulling into the pump at the time, so you’re the lucky winner.”

“Really? He paid it forward—that’s awesome.” Tegan was a big believer in paying it forward, and she tried to do things for others as often as possible. But she’d never been the recipient of a true pay-it-forward effort. It felt as good as being the one who did it. “Well, that sure makes today a lot brighter.”

She ran back to her car, thinking about the two men she’d seen leaving the building, immediately writing off the self-absorbed hottie. As she pumped her gas, she didn’t think about the wind and rain or her icicle fingers. She was too busy wondering how to find her soul mate—the howler who had driven away in the pickup truck.

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