“GO, GO, GO!” Bellamy whispered urgently, nudging Jules toward the candy cauldron.
Jules Steele plunged her hands into the well of candy, searching for miniature Almond Joy candy bars, while her bestie-since-birth and coconspirator kept watch.
“God, girl. Flash everyone much?” Bellamy tugged on the skirt of Jules’s sparkly green fairy costume, causing the wings to flap.
“Belly!” Jules swatted Bellamy’s hand away and, careful not to mess up her zombie makeup, shimmied the sparkly costume and fluffy purple underskirt a little lower. “Leave my butt alone and watch for my mom, please. If she catches me, she’ll kill me.” Her mother liked Almond Joys as much as she did.
Bellamy turned around, and Jules went elbow deep in the candy.
The Steele family’s annual Field of Screams Halloween event was in full swing at their winery on Silver Island, off the coast of Cape Cod. Black and orange lights crisscrossed the patio and lit up the trees, which were filled with creepy fake spiders and gauzy webs. Witches and ghouls hung from the back of the building, and zombies crawled out of graves in an eerie mock graveyard between the vineyard and the winery. Tables of refreshments boasted cookies shaped like gnarled fingers and other Halloween-themed goodies. Practically everyone on Silver Island had shown up in costume. Children, dressed as witches, superheroes, and other fun characters collected candy, bobbed for apples, and created mayhem, while adults mingled and danced, awaiting the big event—the haunted walk through the vineyard, when the Steeles hid among the vines and jumped out to scare those who were courageous enough to brave the darkness.
“Are my parents still kissing?” Jules called to Bellamy.
“No,” Bellamy said. “Now Gomez is groping Morticia’s butt.”
Her parents were always kissing and touching each other. Jules had walked in on them making out in the kitchen far too many times. They were so in love she could feel it from across the room. Was it wrong that she was jealous of them? The only man making her tummy tingle these days—or if she was honest with herself, the only man to ever make her feel like a pent-up tigress—was the surliest guy on the island, Bellamy’s oldest brother, Grant Silver. He wasn’t even at the party, and she still couldn’t get the six-plus feet of deliciously muscled hotness out of her head.
“I swear your parents get more action than anyone else on this island,” Bellamy said with a laugh.
Jules cast a deadpan stare over her shoulder at the petite brunette with big brown eyes and cherubic cheeks. Earlier today she’d chopped off six inches of her hair, and her new jagged bob was perfect for her gold-fringed flapper minidress. Bellamy was an up-and-coming lifestyle influencer, and she also worked with Jules at her gift shop, the Happy End.
Bellamy giggled. “Sorry, but it’s true. Well, except for maybe Daphne and Jock. Those two have been sneaking off together all night.”
Jules’s oldest brother, Jock, had recently reconciled with his twin, Archer, after a decade-long feud that had begun after Jock’s pregnant girlfriend, who had also been Archer’s best friend, was killed in a tragic car accident. Jock had just moved back to the island with his fiancée, Daphne, and her three-year-old daughter, Hadley. They were getting married on New Year’s Eve, and Jules couldn’t be happier for them. She was close to all five of her older siblings, but she and Jock had a special relationship. She’d been diagnosed with a Wilms’ tumor when she was three, and she’d had one kidney removed. Jock had sat by her bedside day and night until she was fully recovered.
“Just keep watch.” Jules tucked another candy bar into her bra and began rooting around in the cauldron again.
“Caught ya!” Tara Osten, another bestie, took a picture of Jules elbow deep in the candy cauldron.
Jules snapped upright, clutching an Almond Joy, and shoved it into her bra. “You’re a sneaky little mouse!”
Tara, a pretty blonde, was a year younger than Jules, and she was dressed as a sexy mouse, which was fitting, since her nickname had been Mouse since they were little, thanks to her older sister.
“And you’re a candy thief.” Tara leaned over Jules’s shoulder and whispered, “Do you see any Snickers in there?”
Jules snagged two Snickers and handed them to Tara. She found another Almond Joy and grabbed two Butterfingers for Bellamy, tossing them to her. “There’s plenty more where that came from.”
As Jules and the girls were tearing open their candy, her parents walked over arm in arm. Her friends all called her father, Steve, a silver fox because he was athletically built, with short silver-and-black hair and a neatly trimmed beard. Her mother, Shelley, was effervescent and beautiful and as voluptuous as Jules was petite, with long auburn hair and stylish bangs. They were all about family and madly in love. Jules counted herself lucky to have them. She couldn’t imagine growing up with her parents living in separate homes, like Bellamy had. The Silvers ran the Silver House resort with one of their sons, and they were almost always together. But they had separated when Bellamy was a toddler, and although they’d decided to stay married and still acted like husband and wife, they’d continued living in separate houses.
“Hello, ladies,” Jules’s mother said. “What’s going on over here?”
“Nothing!” Jules shoved the entire Almond Joy in her mouth and immediately gagged. She grabbed a napkin and spit the candy into it. “Ew!”
“What’s wrong, honey?” her mother asked.
“That’s not Almond Joy. It’s Snickers. Someone put the wrong candy in the wrapper. How does that even happen?”
As Jules whipped another Almond Joy from her bra and tore it open, Tara said, “Are you sure? That’s an Almond Joy wrapper in your hand.”
“I think I know the difference between Almond Joy and Snickers.” Jules popped the candy into her mouth and bit into caramel. “Ugh. Gross!” She spit it into a napkin.
Her father laughed and high-fived her mother. “My work here is done, my love.”
Bellamy and Tara cracked up.
“Dad! What did you do—swap out all the Almond Joys for Snickers and glue the wrappers closed?” Her father and brothers were major pranksters. “This is a community event. What if someone is allergic to peanuts?”
“Just making sure my beautiful wife got her fair share of her favorite goodies tonight.” He winked at her mother.
“I always do,” her mother said, patting her father’s butt.
“Mom! I’m being serious,” Jules complained, and her parents laughed.
“Don’t worry, Bug, I took care of our partygoers.” Her father had called her Bug since she was a little girl, because he said she lit up the night like a lightning bug. He slid his hand casually into his pocket and pulled out a small card, handing it to Jules.
She read the bold print. ALLERGY ALERT! WE’RE PRANKING JULES. PLEASE DON’T EAT THE ALMOND JOYS. THEY’RE REALLY SNICKERS.
“You girls have fun,” her father said, and sauntered away, laughing with her mother.
“I can’t believe you did this! You’re supposed to protect me, not prank me!” Jules shouted after them, but she couldn’t help laughing, too.
“I want those Snickers!” Tara went for the candy in Jules’s cleavage.
Jules smacked her hand. “Get out of there!”
“That’s more action than you’ve gotten all year,” Bellamy teased, making them all crack up.
Jules wasn’t a prude, but she was a virgin. She’d dated guys here and there, and she’d fooled around, running the bases, before realizing that most guys were simply unremarkable. She’d never felt the type of explosive chemistry and unstoppable lust their older sisters talked about to make her want to go all the way. Until Grant came back to the island and set her hormones on overdrive. What no one else knew, including Bellamy, was that every time they were in close proximity, sparks flew and she had an unrelenting desire to touch and be touched by him. It didn’t matter that the ex–covert operations specialist was eight years her senior and one of her brothers’ best friends, that he’d been injured last year, resulting in a below-the-knee amputation of his left leg, or that he’d only begrudgingly returned to the island over the summer. She’d known Grant all her life, she liked and trusted him, and he was the only man who had ever lit her body on fire and caused scorching-hot dreams like the ones that had become her nightly companion.
In fact, sparks had flown between them when he’d been home before leaving for his last mission, and that attraction had been simmering inside Jules for almost two years. But while she still felt the heat between them, he’d been gruff, distant, and reclusive since coming home, which she completely understood after all he’d been through. That didn’t change the fact that given the chance, she’d gladly crawl between the sheets with the handsome beast and spend an entire weekend exploring every inch of his glorious body, letting him make all of her dirtiest fantasies come true.
But she kept those steamy thoughts to herself, because she had bigger fish to fry and she didn’t need to make things uncomfortable with Bellamy.
The first few beats of “Thriller” came on, and the girls squealed excitedly. One of Jules’s favorite movies was 13 Going on 30. They’d watched it dozens of times and had practiced the “Thriller” dance for weeks until they knew it by heart.
Tara put down her camera and the candy she’d stolen from Jules, and they fell into line doing the “Thriller” dance. They threw their arms up, swinging them in the same direction as their hips, dancing across the patio. The crowd formed a circle around them. Their family and friends clapped and sang as the girls danced. Jules’s brother Levi, her sister Leni’s twin, took pictures, and her sisters made fun of her for singing the wrong lyrics. It didn’t matter how hard Jules tried; she never got the words to any songs right. But she didn’t care. She loved music, and she loved times like these, when her family and friends were together and happy.
When the song came to an end, the crowd applauded. The girls bowed and hugged each other, giggling as everyone else went back to partying.
“We nailed it!” Jules exclaimed.
“It’s our seventh-grade talent show all over again!” Tara agreed.
“And Grant missed it again.” Bellamy rolled her eyes.
Jules hated that Grant’s unhappiness was tearing apart his family the way Jock and Archer’s rift had torn apart hers.
“Remember how he used to get right in the middle of us when we danced?” Tara asked. “He’d do all the wrong moves and laugh the whole time.”
“I know he’s gone through a lot, and I hate saying this, but it’s like when they amputated his leg, they took the best parts of his personality, too,” Bellamy said sadly.
“They didn’t, Belly,” Jules said adamantly.
She knew Grant would probably never be the life of the party again. Nobody could go through what he had and not come out the other side a changed person. But she also knew he wasn’t destined to be an outsider, either, which was why she’d been trying to get him out of the house to spend time with friends and family. She knew how quickly a life could be taken away, and she wasn’t about to let a man who used to be charming and eager for everything that came at him throw away the future he’d been blessed with. He just needed to find his new happy place, and she was the perfect person to help him.
“Everyone thought Archer would be spiteful and angry forever. Remember?” Jules said. “And look how happy he is now.”
They looked across the courtyard at Archer laughing with his friends and eyeing their sister Leni’s friend Indi.
“If Archer could let go of his anger after all those years,” Jules said, “we can help Grant deal with and move past his struggles, too.”
Tara and Bellamy exchanged a disbelieving glance.
“I know you mean well, and you’ve tried really hard to help Grant,” Bellamy said. “But you know how he is, Jules. He grunts at me more than he talks to me these days. I don’t think he’s going to let any of us help him with anything.”
“I know exactly how he is, keeping himself locked away in the Remingtons’ run-down beach bungalow like a recluse. He’s blocking everyone out of his life like we don’t exist, and you know what? I’m done letting him do that to us and to himself. He needs to see that we care about him. He will be happy again. He just doesn’t realize it yet.” Jules put her hand on her hip. “You know what? I’m going to drag his surly butt to this party and remind him of all the things he loves about this island and everyone on it. But first I need to get Indi’s makeup case.” She headed for Indi, a professional makeup artist who lived in New York like Jules’s sisters Leni and Sutton and had come to the island with them to do their family’s makeup for the party. They were leaving in the morning, as were Levi and his daughter, Joey.
“Makeup?” Bellamy called after her.
Jules spun around. “It’s a Halloween party, and you know Grant won’t have a costume!”
“But you have the haunted walk soon!” Bellamy hollered.
Jules gave Bellamy a thumbs-up and made a beeline for Indi. She’d spent ten years holding her family together when Jock and Archer weren’t getting along. She was not afraid of a challenge, and Grant Silver just might be her biggest challenge yet. She was a woman on a mission, and nobody was going to stop her until that broody bad boy was on his way to being happy again—ideally with her.
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