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PLAYING FOR LOVE AT DEEP HAVEN

 

Enchanted Places — Book One

 

Katy Regnery

 

Copyright © 2013 by Katharine Gilliam Regnery

 

 

Sale of the electronic edition of this book is wholly unauthorized. Except for use in review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part, by any means, is forbidden without written permission from the author/publisher.

 

 

Katharine Gilliam Regnery, publisher

 

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

 

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

 

 

Please visit my website at www.katyregnery.com

 

 

Edited by: Chris Belden and Melissa DeMeo

 

First Edition: January 2014

 

Katy Regnery

 

Playing for Love at Deep Haven : a novel / by Katy Regnery – 1st ed.

 

ISBN: 978-0-9912045-0-2

 

 

 

 

 

For my readers, because I’m nothing without you.

 

And for Drew, who always loved “Morning Has Broken,” and didn’t mind a little heavy metal.

 



Table of Contents

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Epilogue

Sneak Peek at Book Two

About the Author

 

 



Chapter 1

 

 

. . . slammin’ in . . . the . . . sun . . .

The lyrics tapered off as an intense guitar riff repeated over and over before fading out. Zach Aubrey switched off the radio, disgusted. Of all the songs he had written, “Slammin’ in the Sun,” recorded by Savage Sons, had been his biggest hit.

More like my biggest sellout.

He pushed the window-down button on the door of his SUV rental and leaned his elbow on the sill, catching a glimpse of his dark gray eyes and mop of chestnut hair in the side mirror. The sun, which had been high for most of the six-hour drive north, was setting, and the warmth felt nice on his bare arm, heavily tattooed to look like a shirtsleeve.

His mother’s voice echoed in his head, thick with censure, “You went to Yale for this?”

Zach had never intended to write heavy metal music for popular, mediocre bands. Once upon a time, his dream had been to write a rock musical-opera hybrid, like Hair or Rent mixed with the steel of Tommy. Something vital and gut-wrenching, bursting with anthems of brooding youth that represented the soul of his generation. Instead, he’d abandoned his dreams and hocked his talent for royalties, directing his manager to sell his songs to Cornerstone Records, one of the biggest, flashiest labels in Manhattan.



For a while it had been a pretty good gig. Over the past few years, Zach had written more than thirty songs for the big heavy metal bands on Cornerstone’s label and toured six times with several of Cornerstone’s bands as a back-up guitarist. Though he hadn’t saved much money, his royalties provided a steady and comfortable income.

But he’d grown weary of writing-for-hire, with other bands getting the credit for songs he'd written. He was tired of being on the road. He’d recently decided it was time to give Phenomenon, his rock opera, a chance.

When he informed John Lewis, Senior Vice President at Cornerstone, that he wouldn’t be writing for the label anymore, it had initially surprised him that John offered the use of his Maine vacation house for a writing getaway . . . until John had rolled his eyes and added, “Get this opera business out of your system, Z. Then come back and write me a chart topper.”

The patronizing tone in John’s offer pissed him off. Was John hoping that a few weeks in the woods would lead Zach straight back to Cornerstone for the easy work of churning out more three-chord hit songs? If so, John was in for a little disappointment. While Zach couldn’t turn down the offer of a quiet place to write, complete with an in-house studio and no distractions, he had no intention of returning to Manhattan to write more shitty, meaningless music. Zach had bigger plans for himself.

His phone buzzed in the console beside his seat, followed by the dramatic chords of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” Zach grimaced as the display lit up with the name Malcolm, the lead singer of Savage Sons, who was not happy about Zach’s impromptu getaway. He looked out the windshield at the sign that read “WELCOME TO MAINE – The Way Life Should Be,” and then back down at the phone, wavering a moment before pressing the answer button.

“Malc?”

“Zachariah!” The British singer’s thick Brummie accent filled the car, as demanding as “Kashmir,” just not in a good way.

“Yeah.”

“Where are the new songs, Z?”

Zach took a deep breath, counting from ten backward.

“Didn’t Tracy tell you? I’m out of town.”

“We need four more for the album,” Malcolm whined, the same high tenor voice that belted out one hit after another, surprisingly feminine when he was agitated.

“Ace is on it.”

“Don’t want Ace. Ace is crap. You did the other six.”

“I’m out of town, Malc. Not coming back for a week.” Or two. Or ten. “Anyway, you need a couple of ballads for that album, and I write angry.”

“I want angry. I want that head banging shit you do. This album’s supposed to be fierce.”

“Sorry, man. No can do. Johnny said ballads.”

“Bollocks to that!”

“Ace’s got some good stuff for you. Give him a chance.”

Honestly, Ace’s work was nowhere near as good a fit for Malcolm as Zach’s. Ace always managed to write a song that somehow demanded more of Malcolm’s voice than Malcolm could give, and the recording sessions generally ended up with Malcolm throwing a tantrum. The melodies were too intricate, with intervals that, even with a key change, Malcolm had a hard time handling. Often Zach—who not only had a gift for writing hits but also for tailoring his music to his clients’ sometimes meager talent—had to come in to rework the tunes so that Malcolm could sing them more comfortably.

“Ace’s stuff is shite. He doesn’t get me, man. Listen, I’ll pay you ten a song to come back now, Z. Four songs. Forty bags of sand. Cash. From my own pocket. Crazy amounts of green. Gold strings on your Stratocaster!”

Zach tapped his teeth together. Forty thousand dollars was a lot of money for four songs, and a private arrangement with Malcolm meant instant money now and royalties later. He could write these four songs in his sleep and walk away with a big check. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. It would help. He’d be able to quit studio songwriting for months and concentrate on his own project with that kind of cash. He wouldn’t have to “write for the man” or tour for a while as a hired guitarist.

“Where am ya, anyway?” Malcolm demanded. “Maybe I could—”

The idea of Malcom Singer showing up in Maine was all Zach needed to make his decision final. He took a deep breath and winced at turning down so much money. “Can’t do it, man. Gotta be somewhere. Ace’s got you.”

“Fuck Ace. Get your arse back to New York now, Z, or I’ll—”

“I’m losing you, Malc. Malc? Malcolm? Hey man, if you can—”

“Don’t pull this shite with me, Z.”

“—hear me, I’ll, uh, I’ll call you in a couple weeks.”

“Zachariah! Za—”

Zach hit the red End button on his phone, then leaned up and switched off the Bluetooth. Just as he expected, the phone started buzzing and vibrating on the seat console beside him, but he ignored it, driving farther and farther north as the sun dropped behind the trees. It had the effect of backlighting the autumn oranges and reds like they were on fire and amped up the visual beauty the same way plugging straight into the board amped up the sound on his guitar. Shocking in its clarity, astonishing in its volume, and all-around satisfying. Nah, he wasn’t going back to the city to write for Malcolm. Fuck, no. The whole point of this getaway was to be unreachable—to live far off the beaten path for a few weeks and see if he still had something beautiful, something worthwhile, to give to the music world.

As if on cue, he heard her words in his head from long ago, her faint Maine accent making him flinch with longing: Something beautiful, Zach. Write me something beautiful.

As always, her voice, and its accompanying memories, made his heart twist with regret. After almost a decade, he should be over her. He should have moved on by now, and really, in every way but the one that mattered most, he had. Physically, aside from his hair and eye color, he was unrecognizable from the gangly, pasty-faced kid he’d been at Yale. Zach was hard-bodied from hours in the gym and tan from his frequent gigs in California and the Southwest. He glanced down at the rings on his fingers, the leather and rubber straps on his tattooed wrists, and ran a hand through his shaggy hair. Oh, yeah. He’d changed a lot, thank God.

Over the years, he’d figured out how to relate to people, too, although deep inside he still preferred his own company in the absence of hers. She’d been the only person with whom he’d ever felt genuinely comfortable. But socially, he’d finally learned how to assimilate: drinking heavily with other songwriters and musicians during his first few years writing and touring for Cornerstone, tattooing and piercing his body as a way of embracing the heavy metal world that had been his home since college. When other kids had learned to socially adjust to their peers in high school, Zach had been forced to nurture his musical talent in relative seclusion. Of course, his personal growth had been delayed, but he’d finally—mostly—caught up with himself.

In spite of these outward and inward changes, though, Zach had never been able to totally let go of her. She lived persistently, achingly, in his heart, tormenting him in quiet moments. Losing her and her love was like a curse: he was convinced that it would take love to write beauty, and love had been elusive since he lost her. This wasn’t about female companionship—Zach had plenty of women vying for his attention, and he was never lonely for friendship or fucking. But love? No. No one came close to the place she still occupied in his heart, and sometimes, when her voice echoed in his head, the sudden burst of agony—of regret—could take his breath away. Angry songs came easily. Fury came easily. Sad came easily, but he hated sad. Sad was weak and useless, and he refused to write it.

As for beauty? Zach scoffed. Beauty felt impossible.

Over the next two weeks, he was determined to chase it down. Even if he had to remember the once-terrifying feelings that had made him stupidly push her away. Even if he had to unearth the dormant, though potent, memories of a love he’d never felt for anyone before or since. He was determined to do whatever it took to get out of the songwriting rat race, and make a new name for himself by writing something fresh and beautiful—something that would have made her lips tilt up in a smile and her sable eyes sparkle with approval.

Suddenly, nothing seemed as important to Zach as cutting the cord that bound him to his unfulfilling life in New York. Without giving it another moment of thought, he picked up his phone, drew his arm back, and lobbed it out the open window onto the highway.

Wow. Okay. Cord cut.

Then he put her firmly out of his mind and stepped on the gas. He wanted to make it to Winter Harbor by sundown and ruefully hoped that turning down Malcolm wouldn’t be the newest addition to his long list of regrets.

***

 

Violet Smith pulled into the gravel driveway, relieved that the dusk still afforded enough light for her to see the wooden arrow that pointed into the woods, etched with the words “Deep Haven.” She drove for a tenth of a mile, bouncing and crunching under a dark canopy of heavy tree cover, until the woods cleared to reveal a rambling, pristine four-bedroom house and, beyond, glimmering in the setting sun, the water of Winter Harbor.

She pulled up in front of the house and cut the engine, taking a deep breath, then sighing in a wobbly, exhausted way as she released the steering wheel. She laced her fingers and cracked her knuckles, the clicking sound oddly satisfying, as it released hours of driving tension. She didn’t remember the drive from Greenwich, Connecticut, to Maine, being quite so long. Then again, she’d never done the driving, or made the journey, alone. Shep had always taken care of the arrangements and trip planning. She’d happily sat beside him in the car, reading on her Kindle as he drove them up and back.

Her eyes misted with tears, and she blinked them away, taking off her glasses and massaging the bridge of her nose. The whole world was hazy without her glasses or contacts, especially at twilight, when shapes lost their edges and blurred into gray. She certainly couldn’t drive without them, but it felt nice to be free of them for now, so she set the glasses carefully in the cup-holder. She opened the car door and swung her body out into the cool, brackish air.

Winter Harbor. It wasn’t Shep’s Bar Harbor, the lights of which she could make out across the bay, but it still smelled like the same heaven.

Her flip-flopped feet were chilly in the October evening air, but it didn’t matter. As soon as she settled in, she’d take out her fuzzy fleece slippers and live in them for the next two weeks. For now, she just wanted to stand on the deck of her rental house and say hello to the sea.

Do you smell it, Vi? Heaven?

She heard the echo of her own laughter in her head, felt the imprint of Shep’s palm pressed against hers, pulling her toward the beach, sunlight dancing on the water and making his light blond hair sparkle.

“Once a Mainer, always a Mainer!” she’d exclaimed as her feet sank into the sand, letting herself be pulled along, letting Shep lead the way.

Violet stepped onto the deck carefully in the waning light, placing her hands lightly on the railing, and sighed contentedly. What a lucky break to run into Lena Lewis at Whole Foods in Greenwich two weeks ago. Violet had shared her recent challenges in completing her second novel, and Lena, an acquaintance from the Junior League, had offered the use of her house in Winter Harbor, Maine, as a writing retreat. Lena had explained that since her divorce she couldn’t bear to visit the four-bedroom, harbor side mansion, and as long as Violet was willing to pay $1,000 to cover two weeks’ worth of utilities, maid and handyman service, she was free to use the beautiful house. Despite Violet’s strained finances, she wasn’t able to refuse the tempting offer and immediately sent a check to Lena in exchange for a set of keys.

After a lifetime of living in apartments, Violet loved the idea of having so much space to herself, even temporarily. She’d be able to write in a different room every day. A great room with a fireplace, a gourmet kitchen, and a deck with sweeping views were all at her disposal. The house, and its inspiring location, was worth the thousand dollars because Violet was in desperate and immediate need of inspiration.

She’d already spent the twenty thousand dollar advance her publisher had paid her last December when she’d signed the contract for Us After We, and she’d already begged for two extensions on her deadline, once in May and again in August. Here it was October, and she had written precious little. Not to mention, the royalties from her first novel alone weren’t enough to sustain her Greenwich lifestyle without Shep’s second income. Her bank account was dangerously low and her unwritten manuscript was due on October 20th, in about two weeks. If she didn’t deliver it this time, she’d be held in contempt, and not only would she have to return the advance she’d been living on, she’d have to pay a penalty for breach of contract. Coming to Deep Haven was an act of sheer desperation, and she was hoping such a beautiful spot would finally shatter her crippling writer’s block.

If she was honest, there was another reason Violet had felt drawn to Deep Haven, aside from its beauty. Although it was a little less showy than the Smalley mansion across the bay in Bar Harbor, it was built in the same style: in the same gray, weathered Nantucket wood. It looked out at the same bay, albeit from the opposite side. The photos online had made the place feel familiar to her, as though staying in it somehow still connected her to the wealthy, well-known Smalleys. The family into which Violet had almost married. Almost.

Waves beat lightly against the stone retaining wall at the edge of the lawn in the dying light of dusk. Violet closed her eyes, breathing deeply, feeling a rare peace fill her as the salty air soothed her lungs.

The last time she’d seen Shepherd Smalley, fourteen months ago, he’d turned to her at the front door of their apartment. He was about to leave for work, but stopped at the last minute, facing her.

“Say, Vi, I was thinking . . . ,” he’d started in his New England prep school accent that reminded her of the Kennedys’, his astute, thoughtful eyes twinkling.

She’d glanced up from her coffee and newspaper, tilting her head to the side and smiling at him. His hand was on the doorknob and his freshly shaved face managed to look youthful and shrewd at once, his cerulean eyes set off by a crisp blue oxford and Vineyard Vines tie. “Hmm?”

“I was thinking we should make things official. You and me. I was thinking we should …”

Her heart raced from peaceful plodding to a gallop and the sudden impact took her breath away, making her gasp. The newspaper fell to the table in a soft rustle. She fought the insane urge to run back to the bedroom, throw the covers over her head and act like he hadn’t spoken. She reached up with one hand to straighten the Coke-bottle-thick, black-rimmed glasses she wore every morning before putting in her contacts, then rested her hands on her flushed cheeks.

She had simultaneously dreamed of and dreaded this moment ever since they graduated from Yale together six years ago. In her dreams, she was wearing a cocktail dress, sporting a perfect manicure, and had a heart overflowing with love only for Shepherd Smalley. She pulled her threadbare bathrobe around her body as she took in her unmanicured hands, the nails chewed down to unattractive nubs. And her heart . . . her heart raced, thumping uncomfortably in acknowledgment of its deceit, hating that someone else still took up a large chunk of real estate there. She balled her hands in her lap and looked up to catch his eyes, feeling overwhelmed and slightly nauseous.

“We should . . . ?” She gulped, unable to finish the sentence, overwhelmed by panic and guilt.

His glance dropped to her fisted hands, then to the neckline of her ancient bathrobe before returning to her face. He winked at her, looking boyishly sheepish. “No, Vi, you’re right. This isn’t the right way, is it? I can do better than this. Somewhere special with candlelight and…”

His voice tapered off and he turned toward the door and lingered for a moment in thought, fingering the pocket of his suit jacket. She didn’t say anything. Not a word. She stared at him as he looked back at her and winked again before closing the door behind him.

We should . . . ?

Those were the last words he would ever hear from her lips. They haunted her.

We should . . . ?

A million times since his death, she’d finished the sentence for herself. Mostly, remembering Shep’s laughing blue eyes and easy manners, she’d finish it like this: We should go back to bed where we’re safe. Where no teenagers late for school are driving and texting while you innocently walk to the law office where you’re the brightest and youngest partner. Where the diamond ring you’re holding in your suit jacket pocket doesn’t get knocked into the park across the street from the impact of the car. The car. On your beautiful body.

Since his death, Violet indulged an idealized version of Shep, casting their imperfect relationship in the hazy half-light of perfection—the best moments and good times taking precedence over the rest. Sepia memories of Shep, who’d rescued her broken heart in college, who’d loved her more than she deserved to be loved. She remembered them as happy together. She remembered herself happy with him.

But there were rare moments—dark, agonizing times when her brain overrode her attempts to whitewash the truth, even in the midst of her grief. In those hated moments, the bright, unforgiving glare of truth replaced Shep’s affable blue eyes with turbulent dark gray, shrouded by long, thick, chestnut brown lashes. She’d grapple to hold on to Shep’s face—so comforting and genteel—as it was eclipsed by another visage: brooding, serious, intense. And the way she finished the sentence would inevitably change: We should never have stayed together for so long, Shep. Not when someone else still owned half of my soul and refused to vacate my heart, despite my bitterness, in the face of my contempt, regardless of my efforts to forget him and accept that he never, ever wanted me as much as I wanted him.

It didn’t matter how quickly she forced the thoughts and images from her mind—her heart would twist all over again: with guilt over Shep, yes, but also with the fresh pain of a brooding boy’s long-ago rejection. A sharp ache of longing would knock the wind from her chest as almost-forgotten music engulfed her mind. It had been nine years. Nine years since she held his slim, pale body against hers. But she wasn’t any closer to forgetting that brooding boy now than the day he walked—no, ran—away from her.

“Oh, Shep,” she murmured, trying to force her thoughts back to her almost-fiancé, who was taken from the world too soon. She looked out at the dying light on the harbor, wishing away the haunting gray eyes that lingered in her subconscious. “I’m so sorry I didn’t love you enough, Shep. I should have let you go.”

Violet shook her head, wiping the stream of tears coursing down her cheeks. The sun had set during her reverie, and in front of her, the dark water of Winter Harbor twinkled with lights reflecting from the houses that lined the shore. It was comforting that the bay still looked the same, that the place Shep had so loved maintained its timeless beauty, as if in memorial.

“Here’s to you, Shep,” she said softly, hoping it wasn’t a mistake to return to the place they’d spent so many enjoyable summers together. She looked around the dark, empty porch, where fall leaves gathered and crackled in the corners. She’d hoped the quiet and solitude would force her to write, but her loneliness made her gasp suddenly. She hugged her body tightly in the cooling darkness.

It’s good to be lonely. It’ll force you to work. And that’s why you’re here: to work, not to mull over your unlucky love life.

Suddenly, a bright light from behind her unexpectedly lit the entire deck like daylight, and she squinted in surprise as an SUV pulled into the driveway. Her mind raced through the details of the rental. Could it be Lena, joining Violet for a getaway? Surely not. Lena Lewis had made no mention of visiting. In fact, since their check and key exchange, Violet hadn’t seen Lena, even though the check had been quickly cashed. She’d e-mailed Violet the name of a local maid and a handyman who could assist her during her stay, sharing that she was headed out of the country indefinitely and wouldn’t be available to answer any further questions.

That was certainly it, then. This must be the handyman or maid coming to offer assistance in opening the house. That must be it. She squinted, feeling herself at a disadvantage, and wished she hadn’t left her glasses in the car. Trying not to feel freaked out that she was out in the middle of the woods with a stranger approaching, she took a deep breath before leaving the deck and walking back toward the driveway.

 

 



Chapter 2

 

 

Zach looked at the enormous, dark house in front of him, whistled under his breath, and wondered who owned the Prius he’d parked beside. Unlikely it belonged to the handyman John Lewis had mentioned. Maybe a very environmentally conscious maid? He shrugged, letting himself out of the car and stretched his arms over his head. He could smell the sea, and it smelled like . . . freedom.

“Excuse me?”

He looked to his left to see a shadowy figure approaching from the deck. It was hard to make out her features in the darkness, but he could tell from her voice she was a woman. She stopped about ten feet away from him, lingering in the shadows at a safe distance.

“Sir?” she asked.

“Yeah. Hey, there. I’m the houseguest.”

She didn’t move forward, so neither did he, sensing her wariness.

“What did you say?”

“‘Hey, there?’” he repeated, feeling like an idiot.

“No. The next part.”

Zach always looked for tells in people’s voices, but hers was strange: quiet and refined, like it had been wiped clean, without a hint of an accent that might give him a little information about where she was from. It was carefully modulated, almost as though she’d watched a lot of Grace Kelly movies and taught herself how to talk that way.

“Oh. I’m the, uh, the houseguest. I’m the guy staying here for the next few weeks.”

She laughed, and the timbre pinged in his head, strangely familiar.

“What are you talking about? You’re staying here? I’m staying here. I’m staying here for the next two weeks.” Her voice ratcheted up a notch and lost just a touch of its refinement.

“I don’t think so. John told me it was free for the entire month of October and that I could use it for as long as I like.”

“John?”

“John Lewis. The owner.”

“Well, Lena Lewis said I could stay here,” she said tightly.

“Oh, man.”

Lena Lewis. Loony Lena, John’s estranged wife who’d sometimes show up at the Cornerstone offices, carrying on publicly about her shitty divorce settlement. John had bragged to Zach just last week that while Lena had ended up with their condo in Greenwich, he hadn’t had to pay her another dime. Zach remembered his exact words: “A solid prenup’s worth its weight in gold, Z.”

“Oh, man . . . what?” asked the woman.

“You probably already know this if you’re friends with Lena, but John and Lena Lewis are at the end of a pretty nasty divorce. I’m positive John owns this house. And I’m pretty sure Lena’s hard up for cash.”

“No. No no no. You must be wrong! Lena Lewis is—well, we’re in a ladies club together. She said I could use this place rent free. I just needed to pay her a thousand dollars for the utilities.” She whipped her iPhone out of her back pocket and started typing quickly. “I have an e-mail.” She kept typing, the phone’s screen casting a slight bit of light on her shadowed form. She tilted her head back, glancing up at the starry sky in frustration. “There’s no signal here. But, believe me, I have an e-mail giving me permission to be here.”

Zach cocked his head to the side, squinting to see her better in the dim light, but she stood several feet away. He could barely make out her silhouette.

“Well, John said I could use it. Said it was empty and vacant. Said I should use it to get away for a few weeks and work.” He rubbed the inside of his wrist before flicking his lower lip with his thumb.

The moon shifted from behind cloud cover and for a moment he could make out the shininess of her eyes. She probably didn’t mean for them to drop and linger on his lips for the second they did, but he noticed. She shifted slightly, catching some moonlight, and he could see her chest was proportionally larger than the rest of her slight frame. Zach was a fan of big tits on small women and felt his body tighten a little.

“But I have e-mails,” she insisted again. “Lena said I could . . . You cannot stay here.”

“Huh. Okay,” Zach said. He saw what was going on here. He had been invited to use the house by the actual owner, cleared his incredibly busy calendar, pissed off Malcolm, rented an SUV for two weeks, and brought his guitar, keyboard, and two weeks’ worth of Scotch on an eight-hour excursion north only to be kicked out before he got in the door.

Not so fucking fast, fake-voiced, Sister-Big-Boobs.

“Looks like you’ve got a little problem,” he said as he backed up against the side of the SUV, crossing his arms.

“Looks like you’ve got a problem. I have permission to be here. I paid to be here.”

“You may or may not have permission to be in a house that doesn’t belong to the person offering it. And all you probably paid for was Lena Lewis’s ticket to Cabo,” he said, walking around to the back of the SUV and popping the trunk, the dome light shining down on his various bags and cases.

“What are you doing?” she demanded in a light shriek, and something about her voice made him pause again. When she dropped the bullshit mid-Atlantic accent, even for an instant, her voice was oddly familiar. New England, maybe? Someone he’d known at Yale? His brows furrowed, and his heart kicked up a notch. He jerked his head out of the brightly lit trunk and glanced at her again. After the glare of the trunk light his eyes had to readjust to the darkness, so he couldn’t make out a thing.

Write me something beautiful, Zach.

The words floated through his head but he clenched his jaw in annoyance. This chick wasn’t her, and he wished to Christ his mind would quit doing this to him, looking for her everywhere. After nine years, it was exhausting.

Annoyed with himself, he turned back to the trunk.

“What am I doing? Unpacking.” He lifted a guitar case out of the trunk and set it against the bumper while he hefted a backpack onto his shoulder.

“Are you deaf? This is my house! I have permission to use it!”

That imperious fucking tone was getting under his skin. “Actually, princess, I don’t think you do. But hey, I’m easy. It’s a big house.”

“And?”

He turned to face her, adjusting the backpack and putting his hands on his hips. “What’s your name?”

“What? Why do you want to know?”

He could just make out her crossing her arms over her chest in the darkness. He’d met all types, but she was giving new meaning to high-strung.

“Well, if we’re going to share a house, we should probably be on a first-name basis, don’t you think?”

“Share? Are you crazy? You’re a stranger! A t-tattooed stranger!”

He looked down at his arm, illuminated by the dome light. Yep, a high-strung snob. The girl she reminded him of wasn’t a snob. Never had been.

“My tattoos have been known to bite, so it’s a good thing you’re keeping your distance.”

“Oh! I—”

He really wasn’t in the mood to deal with dramatics. He gestured to his guitar case, trying for a gentler tone. “Listen, I’m a musician and I live in Manhattan. I’m just here to work. I’ll stay out of your way if you stay out of mine, Greenwich.”

He pulled a heavy duffel bag onto his other shoulder. She stared at him from the respectable distance she still maintained, apparently speechless.

“Now I’m not a stranger,” he added.

“How did you know I’m from Greenwich?” she asked softly to his back.

“Lena lives in Greenwich,” he said, remembering John’s comment about the settlement and the condo. “Not that I know her personally.”

He made his way up the front walkway, adjusting the bag to bend down and feel under the welcome mat for the key that John said would be waiting. He picked it up, unlocked the door, and walked into the entry, flicking on the light switch to his left. The lights didn’t go on, so he put his bag on the floor by the door. With the house in disuse for several months, he probably needed to trip the circuit. When he turned around, she was standing a little closer to the house, at the foot of the steps in the dark behind him.

He could feel her discomfort, and some part of him was glad. She was starting to come into focus for him now: a rich, entitled, snob who was probably using Daddy’s money for a two-week getaway to find herself. Well, she could find herself in one half of the house while he wrote music in the other. Hell, on tour, he’d happily stayed in hotel suites a tenth of the size with three times as many people, some perfect strangers. There was no reason they couldn’t share the house. And if she didn’t like it, she could go find somewhere else to stay. He had just as much right to be here as she did. More right, really.

As he turned to head back to the trunk, she backed up. “The gentlemanly thing to do would be for you to find a motel.”

“I guess. But we haven’t established that I’m a gentleman.”

“You’re well-spoken.”

He scratched his jaw. That observation sort of surprised him, especially coming from her. He was used to people like her taking in the tattoos and shaggy hair and piercings, and drawing conclusions about the rest of him. He tugged his keyboard case out from the back of the trunk.

“I’m sorry I said that about your tattoos,” she added softly, still hovering near the steps in front of his car.

“Look, I’m not trying to be a jerk by staying. I drove a long way to be here, and I really do have a lot of work to do. John said this place has four bedrooms. There’s really no reason we can’t share it. In fact, I’ll take one bedroom, and you can have the other three. In the basement there’s a soundproof listening room and studio, and I plan to spend most of my time there anyway, so I’ll stay out of your way. You won’t even hear me. You can just . . . find yourself or whatever it is you came here to do.”

Find myself?

“Isn’t that what you rich girls from Greenwich do? Open your trust funds so you can go to spas and rent vacation mansions and find yourselves?”

“Now who’s the snob?” she asked, and for a second he thought he detected a slight accent in her amused voice, and the sound pinged in his head again. He squinted, trying to see her better without approaching her. Her face fluttered through his mind again, but he pushed it away. That girl and this girl were nothing alike.

“Whatever,” he said, reaching for the paper grocery bag that held three bottles of very good Scotch that clanked together as he nestled them against his hip. “I’ll lay low. My tattoos will barely pollute your rental space.”

“I already said I was sorry about that.”

“It’s fine.” He swung another duffel bag onto his shoulder and took the handle of the keyboard bag.

She had taken a few steps closer to the trunk and stood a couple feet away from him now. Her head was bent as she looked down at the ground, nervously shifting her weight from one foot to the other.

“We can’t stay here together,” she said softly. “Y-you can’t stay here.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not sleeping in a house with a total stranger—”

“With tattoos, no less!”

“—who I don’t know at all.”

”Look, I told you, I’m a musician. My name is Zachariah Aubrey, and—”

She gasped, which grabbed his attention. Still in the shadows, she stared at him, gaping, and he stared back, startled by her reaction. A cross between a whimper and a cry escaped from her throat as she reached up to cover her mouth. His heart seized in his chest, pumping like crazy as a wave of realization crashed on the shore of his consciousness.

“Oh my God,” she murmured in a shocked, shaky voice against her fingers, her snooty accent entirely replaced with a heartbreakingly familiar Maine lilt. “You’re Zach Aubrey.”

He nodded, his brain fighting to fit everything together—her voice, posture, expression, and those dark, glistening eyes—just in time for her to confirm it.

“Zach,” she whispered, stepping forward into the pool of light by the open trunk. “It’s Violet.”

 

 



Chapter 3

 

 

His arms went slack and the black bag fell to the floor of the trunk while the duffel bag slipped from his shoulder and the paper bag clanked precariously. He bent his elbow at the last minute to keep the duffel strap from clotheslining the paper bag. Violet’s eyes cut to his arms, to the taut, corded, tattooed muscles that bulged as he held the bag off the ground. As he stepped closer to search her face in the dim light, she could almost feel his breath on her skin.

“Violet,” he said softly, his voice suddenly different now, as she reconciled it with her memories. It was deeper and raspier than she remembered, like he’d smoked for years or yelled a lot. “Like the flower.”

“Violet-like-the-flower,” she repeated in a whisper, staring up at him, looking for the Zach Aubrey she used to know in this muscular, tattooed, pierced, shaggy-haired rocker. It seemed impossible to reconcile the two completely different people. Yale Zach had been skinny and pale—an awkward and brooding teenager.

She stepped closer to him and with a sigh of relief, she saw the resemblance. His hair, some of which was held back in a ponytail, was still the dark chestnut color she remembered.

And his eyes. She was close enough to see that his eyes were the same stormy, intense gray.

There you are, her heart whispered.

Her pulse fluttered wildly as she found that small brown mole under his left eye and she licked her lips nervously.

His eyes lingered on her lips for a second before they swept slowly down her body, pausing at her breasts and exhaling in an audibly shaky breath before dipping lower. As though catching himself in an impropriety that was totally incongruous with the Zach who stood before her, his gaze darted back up to her eyes after lingering on her hips, and his cheeks flushed.

“Violet,” he repeated, in an uneven, breathy voice. He didn’t smile at her; he just stared in that searing, searching way she remembered. He’d looked at her that way many times, sitting at the desk across from her in his dorm room, his intense eyes stricken and unsure before he’d force himself to look away.

His face gradually softened, and he gave her an unexpected grin, equal parts wonder and surprise. She sensed he was trying to figure out what to say or do next, and she was at just as much of a loss. Zach Aubrey was standing before her after all these years. Zach Aubrey, whom she’d thought about at least once a day since their fraught farewell nine years ago at Yale. Damn her heart for throbbing and her lungs for burning and her fingers for trembling like she was nineteen again.

He rubbed his bottom lip with his thumb, and the simple, familiar action made her eyes widen as he stared at her in amazement. His lips, still gorgeous, she noted, finally tilted up into a full-blown smile, which grew more confident—and cocky, which was new.

“My God, Violet. Violet Smith. How are you? What are you doing here? Damn.”

Violet laughed lightly—no doubt the result of shock—stepping back from him as he reached back into the trunk for the long black nylon bag he’d dropped. A keyboard, she figured distractedly.

He turned to face her, and she was aware of how big he was, how much more filled out since their college days. Big. Broad. Full-grown. And scorching hot.

“I didn’t recognize you at all, Zach. Not at all. Not . . . at all.”

“What’s it been? Ten years?”

“Nine.” Almost to the day.

“You seemed sort of familiar to me, but you look really different . . . and Greenwich . . .”

“Yeah,” she said. “I live there now.”

“Greenwich, huh? Strange choice for Miss Hippie Bohemian chick who was going to be the next poet laureate and lived on a literary diet of Jack Kerouac.”

She wondered if her face reflected the shock she felt at his detailed description of the girl she used to be. “You remember me.”

He stared at her intently. “I remember everything.”

Oh. She exhaled raggedly, her tingling body swaying involuntarily toward him. She caught herself and forced her spine to straighten, tilting her chin up in defiance. It was embarrassing that Zach—who’d rejected her, after all—rated this big a reaction deep inside her body. She’d be damned if she gave him the satisfaction of seeing how much his words affected her.

“That’s too bad,” she said coolly.

His eyes flashed for a moment with something intense and undefinable, but he didn’t acknowledge her comment. He glanced at her chest before turning quickly and heading to the house again. “Listen, let me get this stuff inside. I’ll get the power on, and then come back and help you with your stuff.”

My stuff? What the—what? Stay here? With Zach Aubrey?

“I can’t stay here with you, Zach,” she called after him, cracking her knuckles against her palm.

“Why not?” he tossed over his shoulder, placing the bags inside the open front door on the floor of the dark foyer. “We’re definitely not strangers.”

She was pretty sure she heard a slight emphasis on the word definitely. It made the hairs on her arm stand up as a wave of something delicious but unwanted flushed her skin. He came back out and stood beside the hood of his car, and although she couldn’t see his expression clearly in the dark, she felt his eyes on her.

“Are you married?” he asked quietly.

She felt herself wince, then looked down at the ground to hide it. “No.”

He exhaled. Audibly.

“Then what’s the problem?”

“If I was married, it would be a problem?”

He shrugged, standing beside her, next to the open trunk. “I could understand a husband not wanting his wife to share a house with some dude from college that she once . . .” His eyes held hers as his voice drifted off, and she could feel the heat in them. She looked away from him, her mind flooded with memories she’d spent almost a decade trying to suppress.

“That was a long time ago,” Violet said, reaching into her back pocket for her phone to see if she had a signal yet. This unexpected reunion was way too emotional and intense. She didn’t even want to think about Zach Aubrey, let alone chat with him, let alone share a house with him. Besides, it felt like she was being disloyal to Shep’s memory to even be standing here talking to him. She needed to find out if there was a hotel in town and beg them for a room.

His expression cooled as though he’d read her mind. “You still with that guy?”

“Which g—”

“Shep Smalley.”

He remembered Shep’s name? After all these years? Shep’s face flitted through her mind, and she had to swallow the lump in her throat. She clamped her eyes shut and turned toward her car.

“No.”

She felt his hands on her shoulders, and her first instinct was to pull away—no, to run away from Zach Aubrey and all the painful memories and confusing feelings that were rushing back to her. But she didn’t pull away. She let his hands settle on her shoulders, her breath catching as his fingers gently curled, grasping lightly at the fabric of her hot pink cardigan sweater.

“Hey, Violet-like-the-flower,” he said softly in a voice that sounded so much like the old Zach, unexpected tears pricked her eyes. “It’s nighttime. It’s dark out. Stay here tonight, and if you still feel weirded out in the morning, I’ll find a hotel.”

She turned slowly to face him, keeping her face as neutral as possible, and he withdrew his hands from her shoulders. With the open trunk still affording a soft light, her eyes fell to the shadow of dark scruff at his jawline and it irritated her that she found it so sexy. To distract herself, she raised her gaze to his lips. Big mistake. They were as full as she remembered them, quirked up in a coaxing smile. Frantically she raised her eyes to his nose, then eyebrows, grimacing as she finally found something she didn’t like: the silver stud in his nostril and two thin silver hoops over his left eye.

He stepped back, smile fading as he put his hands on his hips defensively. That’s when she noticed he had rings on two or three of his fingers, as the metal caught the moonlight, pulling her eyes to his waist. Catching herself, she quickly moved her gaze up to his broad chest, checking out the faded T-shirt that read “METALLICA GUNS N’ ROSES,” a garish skull with roses decorating the letters. More memories rushed back but her lips tilted up this time.

“Still listening to the same loud, obnoxious music, I see.”

“Aw, Vile,” he said, sweeping his eyes up and down the shadows of her body, exploring hers as she had his, “this shirt is vintage.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Why not?”

“Just don’t.” She didn’t want to be Vile to his Z. She didn’t want to be anything to him. She wasn’t anything to him. He’d made sure of that. “You were capable of more. You were capable of something beautiful.”

Write me something beautiful.

She heard her own voice in her head, dreamy and besotted, whispering the words from so long ago. Her pulse fluttered uncomfortably in her neck as she suddenly felt the imprint of his lips pressed against it. She wondered if he remembered too, because he flinched before quickly recovering to smirk at her.

“How’s Joni Mitchell working out for you?”

“I still love her.”

He snorted, then looked away, rubbing his thumb over his bottom lip, like he sometimes did when he was thinking. Or maybe remembering. She couldn’t recall the exact reason why he did it—but it was distracting as hell. “Yeah,” he said. “I guess she’s okay.”

Violet didn’t add that despite her love for Joni Mitchell, she hadn’t been able to listen to her for nine years. Even now, when “The Circle Game” came on the radio, she changed the station before old, unwanted feelings could swirl into her consciousness and hijack her uncomplicated life.

Zach shifted his weight, crossing his arms over his chest, staring at her with narrowed eyes. If she didn’t know him, he’d look casual. But she did, so he looked brooding. “So, what’s it going to be? You staying?”

He was right. It was dark and getting late, and it’s not like he was a stranger. In fact, for one brilliant, intense, way-too-short time in her life, he’d been the person who mattered most, the person she’d fallen in lov—

No. No, Violet. Don’t go there. Back it up.

She rephrased her thoughts: he’d been her friend. A very good friend, even … until she’d said the wrong thing. Until that one, crazy October weekend that never should have happened. They shouldn’t have ended up stranded on a mostly empty campus, in an almost empty sophomore dorm together. The trees in New Haven shouldn’t have been on fire in breathtaking reds and oranges and yellows that made them forget reality and feel invincible. The days shouldn’t have been so warm and perfect, with bright blue skies and nothing to do but write songs and bask in their newfound, unarticulated feelings. And the nights shouldn’t have been so packed with lust, so achingly full of beautiful murmurs that had, ultimately, meant nothing. It had all been a fluke, a mistake, an anomaly. It had left her heart broken in half.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” she said, walking to her car.

When she snuck a glance at him, he was running his thumb over his bottom lip again, then bit it before calling out to her, a slight edge in his tone. “Time was, Vile, you could make a bad idea work for you.”

His words made more forgotten memories surface—of his hand in hers as they ran, barefoot and drunk, over the plush grass of the Old Campus green. It made her feel light-headed for a second, and she reached up to rub her forehead. She needed to get away from him.

“Like I said before, long time ago,” she called over her shoulder.

She opened her car door, sitting down and feeling around for her glasses on the center console. She put them on and reached out to shut the door, but her fingers touched denim instead. Zach was suddenly standing beside her, blocking her from the door handle. She jerked her fingers away from his jeans like she’d touched fire. His body took up the entire space between her and her door, and she was eye level with his abdomen, which she had a feeling was as hard and muscular as his arms. She put her hands firmly on the steering wheel just in case they decided to find out, and tilted her chin up to look at him.

With her glasses on, she could finally see subtle nuances like how his gray eyes were harder now than they’d been then, harder and more intense, more unsettled, if that was possible. But also cooler, like he could laugh if he wanted to, even if nothing was funny. She focused on the little brown mole under his eye and found herself wishing desperately—for the first time in years—that things had gone differently between them, then hating herself for such foolishness.

“I’ll be here,” he said, his dark, stormy-sky eyes searching hers, one hand clutching the headrest of her seat, his elongated, graffitied arm tense and hard by her cheek. It threw off heat, and she concealed a shudder by shifting in her seat. “Offer to share the house stands, Vile.”

She hadn’t seen anyone this sexy, this close up, in years. Her mouth went dry, and the muscles between her legs clenched, begging her to reconsider.

“I won’t be back,” she whispered, tearing her gaze from him.

“Whatever you say,” he said. Then he turned away and sauntered into the house. She slammed the door and turned the key, unable to keep her brain from processing the fact that his ass in retreat was a thing of profound beauty in her headlights. She shook her head and looked down at her hands, white-knuckled on the steering wheel, and swallowed the lump in her throat.

I say . . . not again. Never again.

She pulled out of Deep Haven’s driveway and drove back through the black woods toward town.

***

 

Violet Smith. Vile. Violet-like-the-flower.

The girl. The only girl. Ever.

He clenched his jaw until it ached as her taillights disappeared into the woods.

Damn it, Zach. You’re just going to let her drive away? Idiot! Do something!

He stood motionless on the front steps of the house, like his feet were planted in cement. His brain, which told him to leave her alone and let her go, was at war with his body, which had finally processed the shock of her appearance and amped itself into highly aroused territory, hot and incredibly fucking bothered to be near her again. His heart, just about numb from the shock of being face-to-face with her after almost a decade, was finally calming down enough to recognize that he’d let Violet Smith slip through his fingers. Again.

“Fuck!” he shouted, running his hands through his hair so roughly, the black rubber band in the back snapped and fell to the ground.

He’d barely gotten over the shock of who she was before she was speeding back down the driveway. How was he supposed to recognize her, anyway? Never mind that she sounded like a totally different person, she also looked like a totally different person. She’d probably lost about thirty pounds, and her hair was straight and boring, dyed back to its natural dark brown. He probably should have known her from her eyes, but without her glasses and wearing those expensive, preppy clothes? She didn’t look a thing like the Violet he used to know. She looked like a snobby, high-maintenance, suburban priss—the kind of girl who crossed to the other side of the street when Zach approached, the type of girl who would barely give him a second glance unless she was slumming.

Until he’d looked closer.

Her dark eyes were as luminous as ever, and her long, black lashes still framed them so damn beautifully, it took his breath away. Her lips were as red and bowed as he remembered them, but College Violet wouldn’t have worn the glossy lip gunk Greenwich Violet was wearing. Not that he minded, since it was sexy as hell. He swiped his thumb over his lips thoughtfully, trying to find the imprint of her lips beneath his. But he was too agitated to pull any meaningful memories from the depths of his mind. Not to mention, a whole lot of anonymous lips had touched his since hers.

When the red lights of her car were finally out of sight, he turned and stalked into the house. He felt around in the kitchen drawers until he found a flashlight, then opened the door to the basement and reset the main circuit. One flip and the house was powered up again.

Back upstairs, he glanced out the front windows, hoping to see her car pulling back into the now-illuminated driveway, but saw only his rented SUV.

Zach pulled out a tumbler, poured himself a glass of Scotch, and headed into the living room to make a fire. One thought kept him from chasing after her: he was pretty sure there was nowhere to stay within a fifteen-mile radius.

If you luck out, you stupid bastard, she’ll be back.

He glanced out the window again at the darkness, taking another sip of Scotch as he remembered the day they met.

It was mid-August, the first day of sophomore pre-orientation for a small group of returning internship students, and Violet was moving into a dorm room down the hall from him. Her dark brown eyes behind glasses had peeked into his dorm room as she rapped lightly on the open door.

“Um . . . Hi. I’m Violet,” she’d said, taking a step forward to lean against the doorway in Birkenstocks, too-tight jeans over wide hips, and a low-cut peasant blouse that showed off the swell of her ample breasts.

Zach knew exactly who she was, and his hormonal, adolescent body had trembled lightly to see her so close, suddenly standing at the threshold of his room like a present. He’d sought her out at a poetry reading last year after he’d read her poems in The Yale Literary Magazine. Wait, read them? Nah. He’d memorized them. They were like nothing he’d ever read before, pieces of lyric truth, unstyled and wrenching. One had even inspired a song, not that he’d ever played it for anyone—not that he had anyone to play it to.

“Hey. I’m Zach,” he answered, looking up from the keyboard he was trying to plug in behind the built-in desk.

“Zach, my, um, my trunk is stuck and I don’t think there’s an RA here yet. Do you have pliers by any chance? Or, um, scissors?”

While she spoke, his hands sweated and he lost the battle of keeping his eyes focused on her face. They dropped to the shadow of cleavage between her breasts, visible just above her low-cut blouse.

When he looked up, she grinned at him playfully, looking down at her breasts, then back up at him. “See any scissors in there?”

He’d flushed, fumbling in his pocket for his Swiss Army knife, and gestured for her to lead the way. He cracked open the lock, and she insisted he share half of the pizza she’d just ordered. Mostly she did the talking as they ate, telling Zach about her summer and asking about his. He’d spent most of his cooped up in student housing at Juilliard or playing guitar or piano in one of the many windowless practice rooms and studios. She’d spent hers running barefoot on the beaches of Maine where she lived with her mother, reading Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and embracing her hippie soul. They talked until dawn, until Violet, who had curled up on his floor with a borrowed blanket, nodded off midsentence.

It turned out they’d both returned to Yale two weeks early for special programs: she, for a poetry seminar, and he, for an orchestral internship. Further, they were the only students living in the massive Gothic Revival dorm, which Violet declared was creepy, and the next night, without asking, she slept on his floor again. When he woke up, she was there, the shape of her body, under her sleeping bag, curled toward his bed. When she showed up with her sleeping bag the following night, too, he was surprised to realize how glad he was to see her, and a pattern started.

Violet more or less lived with him in his single dorm room throughout August and September, into October. They ate every meal together, met up before every campus event, found each other after classes, went to parties, got drunk, watched movies, shared their work, and inspired each other. She’d lie on his bed writing poetry as he sat at his desk writing music in companionable silence every night until dawn. Sometimes she’d let him write music for one of her poems, and those nights, surrounded by his music and her words, were the most ground-shifting of his life. Suddenly all those hours spent practically chained to the piano in his parents’ home and in solitary confinement at Juilliard meant something: he had every musical tool he needed to make her words come to life. Not that they needed his help.

It wasn’t like he had anything emotionally meaningful to offer anyone at that point in his life. From a young age, he’d been treated like musical veal, forced to practice, compose, or perform every available minute, his parents eschewing affection for expectations, encouragement for demands, support for a single-minded insistence on success. If he veered from the course, he was met with the heel of his father’s shoe on the side of his head, so he didn’t veer. He knuckled down and worked. For most of his life, his feelings were trapped and buried so deep down, he’d barely ever considered them.

So it made a certain amount of sense that he was drawn to Violet. He’d never known anyone like her. Raised by a loving, if busy, single mother, she was his polar opposite. She had her arms wide open to the world, her heart practically beating outside of her chest. Her emotions were so remarkably unbottled, she could zero in on a feeling with startling precision, translating it into a visceral, throbbing, breathing string of words that felt alive. And deep inside him, where his feelings had been ignored for so long, he felt a stirring. More and more every day.

Many times, Zach had looked over at her lying on his bed, as she chewed the hell out of a pen top, and imagined what it would be like to kiss her. Would her red lips be soft or firm? What would her mouth taste like? Would she push her chest into his or push him away? His body would harden eagerly, but he’d turn back to his composition notebook, adjusting his headphones and forcing himself to move beyond his aroused curiosity for two reasons.

First, even Zach, who was relatively inexperienced, knew that getting physical could make things dicey between them, and dicey wasn’t an option. Violet was his best friend. She made music exciting and fun for the first time in years. She made Yale home for him. Being around her made him feel alive and aware—awake—for the first time in his life. Like he belonged somewhere, with someone.

Second, he feared his feelings for Violet. Their full force and depth, were he to examine them, were so uncharted, so intense, so absolute and enormous, that acknowledging them would be fucking terrifying.

***

 

Still standing by the window, Zach threw back the rest of the Scotch, an ice cube biting his upper lip as the amber liquid funneled down his throat like lava. He wasn’t that overwhelmed nineteen-year-old kid anymore and losing Violet once had been enough. If he ever got another chance with her, he’d never hurt her again. Damn if his heart didn’t drum painfully, hoping for a chance to prove it.

 



Chapter 4

 

 

“Isn’t there anything you can do?”

The lady at the White Swan Inn regarded Violet from over her glasses with pursed lips. “Not a thing. We’re all filled up. Leaf peepahs, don’t ya know.”

“And this is …”

“Ay-yuh. The only place in town.” She tapped a finger against her chin. “You want that I call over to the Pineview Inn south of Hancock? See if they’ve got a room?”

“Oh, would you? Thank you!” Then she remembered the long, dark, twenty-minute drive just to find the White Swan Inn. As the woman reached for the phone, Violet touched her wrist to stop her. “Er, how far away is it?”

“’Less’n an hour during daylight. Little more, maybe, in the dark, you bein’ new to these parts.”

An hour! It was almost eight o’clock now. She imagined herself lost in the woods, still driving around at midnight. She’d already driven seven hours today. Her eyes were burning, and her body was exhausted. She wiped her sweaty palms on her lime-green corduroy pants. “Nothing closer?”

“Bar Harbor’s across the way.” She gestured vaguely at the window, her long vowels and dropped r’s making it sound like Bah Hahbah. “You got a boat?”

Violet shook her head no, turning away from the reception desk in a daze. As she got to the front door, she turned around, remembering her manners. “Thanks for trying.”

“You come back on Tuesday, now. I’ll have a nice room waitin’ for ya.”

Violet nodded, opening the door and letting herself out onto the porch of the old inn. To her left was a crisply painted white rocking chair that afforded a nice view of Frenchman Bay. She plopped down in the chair, hugging her thin pink cardigan to her body, and shivered as an autumn breeze blew in from the water, making her exposed skin rise with goose bumps. Her shoulders slumped in defeat. She had no other choice. Short of sleeping in her car, she was going to have to return to Deep Haven and share the rental house with Zach—at least for tonight.

Zach Aubrey.

For goodness’ sake, what were the chances of him showing up at the same house she’d rented in some obscure town in Maine? One in a million, that’s how many. She shook her head in disbelief. Of all the crappy luck.

She sat back, rocking, trying to ignore the chill and put off the inevitable.

Damn, he looked good. So edgy and hard, foreign and forbidden, with his tattoos and jewelry, ripped jeans and heavy metal T-shirt. He’d taken that quiet, brooding thing he’d had going on in college and amped up the heat level to scorching.

He’d changed a lot over the years, for sure. His arms were covered in tattoos, and he had that small silver stud in his nose and two in his eyebrow, which she didn’t like a bit. (Did she? No! Of course she didn’t!) His face had been shuttered and wary in college, and even though it was mor


Date: 2015-04-20; view: 370


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