Read an Excerpt
Keeping Mr. Right Now
A Kisses in the Sand Novel
By Robin Bielman, Wendy Chen, Stacy Abrams
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Robin Bielman
All rights reserved.
"SHE wants you."
Zane Hollander tipped back his chair and laced his fingers behind his head. The sun glittered off the Pacific Ocean, a confetti of surfers waited in the temporarily placid sea for the perfect wave, and bikini-clad women baked on the soft sand under a blazing August sun. From the balcony of his rented beach house, Zane wondered which female his best friend and agent might be referring to.
"Which she?" He pitched forward, his elbows landing on the round teak table.
Bryce Bishop shook his head. "Seriously?"
"I take women very seriously. You know that." Only lately, the media didn't seem to think the long line of company he kept did his reputation any good. Party girls with dirty mouths who left their undergarments at home apparently were frowned upon everywhere but the tabloids. The least desirable outlet when a guy had an already-compromised image.
Of course, it wasn't like he took them all home. His mom had raised him better than that. But caught with enough scantily clad women on his arm, he'd been labeled a bad boy. Only his best friends knew that the worst of his less-than-respectable behavior happened around the same time every year — the anniversary of his dad's death.
"I meant S-H-E, Zane. Surf Help Exchange. They want you to be their ambassador after all." Bryce ran a thumb across the condensation on his iced tea glass. "It's the kind of exposure that will cement your status as one of the top pro surfers, regardless of how many world titles you've got."
Zane's eyes drifted shut. The image he shared with the world was only a small piece of the man on the inside. He wanted this position with SHE — the largest nonprofit organization promoting humanitarian, clean water, and natural healing efforts across the globe. Wanted to make a difference and maybe, just maybe, be good at something besides riding waves.
"But ..." Bryce trailed off. Yeah, lately there'd been quite a few "buts" given Zane's behavior.
"What?" Zane popped the last piece of sushi on his plate into his mouth.
"They're concerned about your image. The deal is close, but only if you clean up your act — fast. Fun-loving tube junkie isn't what they want, but I think I've almost convinced them you're more than that." Bryce fanned his T-shirt away from his stomach. "They want the best you, and you've got this week in White Strand Cove to prove you're capable of giving something back."
"You know I am." Zane led the typical pro surfer life — in the water more than 320 days a year in multiple countries, including Panama, Micronesia, Fiji. He lived in perpetual motion, sometimes hotdogging it, more often ass-deep in a tube and winning competitions.
Girls fell all over him. Guys bought him beers.
But his small circle of close friends and family — Bryce; his other best friend and business manager, Danny; his mom and sister — knew he didn't want a life dictated by the ocean's moods. He wanted to leave something meaningful behind.
"I think it's time everyone else did, too," Bryce said.
A sliver of fear stole its way down Zane's spine. Being told his whole life by his father that he wasn't good at anything but surfing made it difficult to stand up for other things he believed in. He knew who he had to be in the water and on the circuit. Anywhere else? Not so much. You've got shit for brains, son. The only thing you're good at is surfing. Quit school. Take that endorsement deal and go where they want you. The only thing that suits you is the water.
They.] His father hadn't cared who they were as long as they took his stupid son off his hands. Just shy of his seventeenth birthday and his senior year of high school, he'd gone. Until the day his dad died three years ago, he'd always made Zane feel foolish whenever he opened his mouth.
And the son of a bitch still made him doubt himself. Still doused his confidence when the topic of conversation veered away from superficial issues.
There was nothing superficial about SHE.
"What's the plan?" Zane asked, his gaze on the sea. He still smelled and felt the salt on his skin from earlier, but he itched to straddle his board and get back in the water. No one questioned or doubted him out there.
"This is your third year at White Strand Cove and their Surf Fanatic Film Festival. The town loves you. This time, though, Danny and I thought that along with promoting your film and mingling in the bars and festival parties with the locals, you should let us organize a couple of soirees with the town's officials and other notable residents."
Zane looked him up and down. "You drop your man card somewhere? Since when does my agent say soiree?"
"Smart-ass. A good agent shifts with the changing landscape. And you" — Bryce pointed a finger — "are changing."
"Think the public will buy it?"
"Absolutely. You're selling you, just dropping the guard you keep under the guise of surfing's biggest bad boy, and your adoring fans will be jumping off the cliff with you."
"I do feel more at home here than anywhere else." White Strand Cove sat tucked away only sixty miles from where he grew up. Famous for fast waves and fierce localism, the Strand reminded him of his small town, only better. Better because now when he chased monster waves, he always came out the other side. And because people liked him no matter how he behaved.
"Exactly. The film festival opens tomorrow night, and I'd like to get a nice local girl on your arm. Preferably dressed in something that doesn't make it clear she has no tan lines."
Zane chuckled. That still left a lot of options.
"Get your mind out of the gutter," Bryce said. "I was in the surf wear shop on Bluff this morning. The manager is cute and finishing law school this fall. I thought we'd set it up with her."
A woman down on the sand stood and wiped her hands on her very fine ass. The scrap of bikini bottom didn't leave much to the imagination. No tan line. She twisted and gave Zane a peek at her well-endowed front side. "You sure I can't pick my own date?" he asked.
Bryce followed his line of vision. "Eight days, dude. I think you can play tame for eight damn days."
"You can. But this," he teased, gesturing down his bare torso, "is a chick magnet, and you know how I hate to turn away interested parties." Truth was, Bryce might be the complete opposite of Zane, with his dark hair and eyes, but he had his pick of the ladies, too. He was just more discreet about it.
"Yeah, sucks being you." Bryce shifted in his chair. "Listen, there's one other thing. Keep your distance from any troublemakers. The last thing we need is another altercation."
Zane swallowed the bad taste in his mouth. A few weeks ago, one of the new guys on the tour had thrown a punch at him over a girl. Zane refused to raise his fist in return, but word had spread about the fight and cast them both in a negative light.
"No worries there," Zane said.
"You're currently at the top of the world rankings, and I'd like to see you hold on to that spot without any mention of bad blood between you and someone else."
Zane would, too. But would it crush him if he slipped to second, third, or even fourth? Missing his shot with SHE would hurt more. He'd been the underdog enough times to know he could win that top spot back.
The sun reached its peak, and he and Bryce lifted their sunglasses from the table and slid them on. Daylight glittered off the waves; pelicans scoped out the sand in search of lunch food left forgotten.
"The latest mention in Surfer deems you surfing's version of David Beckham," Bryce added. "When this thing with SHE happens, you'll be the Muhammad Ali."
"You and Danny really think I can do this?" He ran his hands down his board shorts.
"Of course. You think we would've stuck around all these years if we didn't believe in you?"
Best friends since sixth grade, they'd gone to school together, surfed together, gotten into mischief together. They had one another's backs, lied to keep one another out of too much trouble. And they had never begrudged Zane's skill in the water. When he left to make it in the surfing world — and to escape his dad — Bryce and Danny had started a fan club. They kept up with his competitions and never let his successes go to his head. It got harder to stay in touch, but when his best friends graduated at the top of their business school classes, it wasn't long before the three were back together and tighter than ever.
"You reading those sports psychology books again?"
"Dude, if I could figure out your head, we'd rule more than the surfing world."
Zane laughed to cover how ill at ease he was at that. Some days he lived in slow-motion, out there in the water feeling an almost supernatural connection to the sea. Other days he felt like one of the masses, unable to find his footing on the board if his life depended on it. He tapped the side of his head with his finger. "What goes on in here stays in here."
Bryce's cell buzzed. He lifted his shades and glanced at the phone. "Tell me something I don't know."
"Beers tonight at the Happy Harpoon."
"That's perfect. It's mostly locals. Low key. I'll text Danny." His fingers sped across his phone screen. "Still, you might want to keep your head down."
"I'm capable of drinking a few ales and keeping myself in check."
"Not you I'm worried about so much as the women eager to say they've been Zaned. You know there're T-shirts that say I've been ZANED."
He did know. A woman on the beach this morning had one on. Lots of interpretations went along with it, and Zane never bothered to correct any of them. Let the fans say what they wanted. To curb someone's enthusiasm, whether it was truth or not, didn't interest him. The smiles on their faces did.
Bryce put down his phone. "Danny just finished lunch with the city council president and arranged something for later in the week. Tonight he's meeting with the new film festival coordinator to set up a special prescreening event." He took a sip of his drink.
"There's a new coordinator?" A hot blonde who worked for a company based out of Los Angeles had handled the past couple of years.
"Yeah. From some notable special events firm based out of Montana. In fact, she's your surf lesson this afternoon."
Zane groaned, not because Danny always volunteered him for a few lessons when he visited beach communities, but Montana? Did she know the difference between a surfboard and a snowboard?
"Be nice." Bryce pushed up from his seat. "But not too nice."
"I can do the perfect nice." Zane stood and pulled his shoulders back in a stretch. "This coordinator have a name?"
Her name had a nice ring to it. "Count on Sophie Birch being Zaned."
* * *
Between her room at the lovely White Strand Inn and the sand on the other side of the pool bar, Sophie Birch lost her virginity.
She blinked a dozen or more times, trying to get used to the contact lenses she'd only started wearing two days ago, and focused on tanned, capable hands. The second drink promised to be better.
"Try this," the bartender said, putting a blended fruit cocktail in front of her. This one guaranteed to incinerate her insides with sweetness rather than the hot steel otherwise known as tequila.
Sophie lifted her gaze and smiled, hoping her pale skin hadn't turned pink everywhere. She was positive her cheeks matched the strawberry speared on the edge of her tall glass.
"I can't believe you've only had virgin cocktails," her new friend, Honor, said from the barstool beside her. Honor drank her pretty reddish- orange drink like it was ginger ale.
Honor also looked cooler than cool while doing it. She had dark blond hair and blue-gray eyes, and no one as pretty as her had ever been so nice to Sophie before. Of course being that Honor worked for the mayor's office as an event specialist meant she sort of had to.
The only reason Sophie had agreed to a "drink" in the first place was (a) because Honor had knocked on her hotel room door to welcome her to White Strand Cove and act as her liaison during the film festival and then promptly escorted her to the bar and (b) to calm her crazy uneasy nerves. She had the sweaty palms and trembles in her limbs to prove her nerves were stressed out.
She needed to chill. Immediately.
Drinking probably wasn't the best way to start her first job going solo as a special events coordinator, but she had no idea how else to relate to the laid-back beach vibe. Her boss was supposed to be here, but she'd broken her leg last week in a water-skiing accident, and so Sophie had flown from Montana to California in her place to oversee the Surf Fanatic Film Festival.
It's work, but I want you to make it a vacation, too, her boss had said. Everything is in place and should only require minimal supervision, so live a little. Sophie had never taken a vacation before. She gazed out to the gorgeous dark blue sea. She'd also never seen the ocean before. Her heart did a few flips every time she looked that way.
"I'm sorry I spewed my tequila sunrise all over you," she said to Honor.
"Don't be." Honor waved her hand like no big deal, my friends spit their drinks on me all the time.
Sophie got the feeling she and Honor could be good friends, and she was grateful to the town for giving her such a wonderful welcome gift. She didn't make friends easily back home.
"Oh, this is yummy," Sophie said, sipping her piña colada. She could get used to these.
Only not while working. She'd been handed an amazing opportunity and she didn't want to blow it. She planned to do the best job ever for the film festival and to make her boss and company proud. Prove to everyone — including herself — that she had what it took to take on bigger events on her own. Leaving her research job studying brain regions and function last year hadn't gone over very well with her parents, and her mother was always looking for an opportunity to remind her that she was better suited for analysis than what color tablecloths looked good.
The mind is a terrible thing to waste, her mom would say, the cliché one of her favorite ways to share her displeasure.
Tonight, Sophie's job officially started. Today she'd have a little fun, even if it was a galaxy out of her comfort zone. She glanced down at her plain blue cover-up, then over at Honor. Honor had simply whipped off her blouse when Sophie soiled it with her drink, and now she wore a bright green bikini top with tiny white embroidered flowers and a pair of very short white shorts.
"Don't drink it too fast." Honor tipped the glass away from Sophie's mouth. "Just because you can't taste the alcohol doesn't mean there isn't any in there."
"Right," Sophie said. "Maybe we could get some lunch, too? I didn't eat on the plane and only grabbed a banana this morning before I left for the airport."
"You must be starving." Honor reached down the bar and picked up a small laminated card. "How about sliders and a quesadilla? We could share."
"Oh, but the fish tacos are really good, too." She put down the tiny menu and grinned. "Let's get all three."
Sophie smiled. Yep, good friends.
She wondered if everyone in White Strand was as nice as Honor. Her shoulders finally relaxed and she breathed in the scent of the ocean, suntan lotion, and something floral. Greenery with bunches of tiny pink flowers decorated the perimeter of the bar and pool area.
"Are you the liaison for every —" A loud clatter and then high-pitched squeals interrupted her question and drew her attention to the beach. A group of young women descended on some guy, and a few sunbathers around the pool were scurrying to join them. All Sophie could make out was blond hair and broad, tanned shoulders. Probably a pro surfer from one of the films. On the flight over, she'd done her research on the movies but hadn't had a chance to brush up on all the stars who would be here. She planned to lie in bed and do that tonight.
"Zane! Zane!" the women shouted.
Oh. She knew who he was. She had a surf lesson with him in an hour. Her boss had made the date, but when she'd handed Sophie her itinerary, she'd given Sophie strict orders to follow through with everything on it.
Excerpted from Keeping Mr. Right Now by Robin Bielman, Wendy Chen, Stacy Abrams. Copyright © 2014 Robin Bielman. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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