Read an Excerpt
"Hudson Group, how may I direct your call?"
"Macintyre Hudson, please."
Could silence be disapproving? Lucy Lindstrom asked herself. As in, you didn't just cold-call a multimillion-dollar company and ask to speak to their CEO?
"Mr. Hudson is not available right now. I'd be happy to take a message."
Lucy recognized the voice on the other end of the phone. It was that same uppity-accented receptionist who had taken her name and number thirteen times this week.
Mac was not going to talk to her unless he wanted to. And clearly, he did not want to. She had to fight with herself to stay on the line. It would have been so much easier just to hang up the phone. She reminded herself she had no choice. She had to change tack.
"It's an urgent family matter."
"He's not in his office. I'll have to see if he's in the building. And I'll have to tell him who is calling."
Lucy was certain she heard faint suspicion there, as if her voice was beginning to be recognized also, and was on the blocked-caller list.
"You could tell him it's Harriet Freda calling." She picked a fleck of lavender paint off her thumbnail.
"I'll take your number and have him call you back when I locate him."
"It's okay. I'll hold," Lucy said with as much firmness as she could muster.
As she waited, she looked down at the paper in her purple-paint-stained hand. It showed a neat list of names, all of them crossed off save for one.
The remaining name stood out as if it was written in neon tubing.
The boy who ruined my life.
Macintyre W. Hudson. A voice whispered from her past, Everybody just calls me Mac.
Just like that, seven years slipped away, and she could see him, Mac Hudson, the most handsome boy ever born, with those dark, laughing eyes, that crooked smile, the silky chocolate hair, too long, falling down over his brow.
Just like that, the shiver ran up and down her spine, and Lucy remembered exactly why that boy had ruined her life.
Only, now he wasn't a boy any longer, but a man.
And she was a woman.
"Macintyre Hudson did not ruin your life," Lucy told herself sternly. "At best he stole a few moments of it."
But what moments those were, a voice inside her insisted.
"Rubbish," Lucy said firmly, but her confidence, not in great supply these days anyway, dwindled. It felt as if she had failed at everything she'd set her hand to, and failed spectacularly.
She had never gone to university as her parents had hoped, but had become a clerk in a bookstore in the neighboring city of Glen Oak, instead.
She had worked up to running her own store, Books and Beans, with her fiance, but she had eagerly divested herself of the coffee shop and storefront part of the business after their humiliatingly public breakup.
Now, licking her wounds, she was back in her hometown of Lindstrom Beach in her old family home on the shores of Sunshine Lake.
The deeding of the house was charity, plain and simple. Her widowed mother had given it to Lucy before remarrying and moving to California. She said it had been in the Lind-strom family for generations and it needed to stay there.
And even though that was logical, and the timing couldn't have been more perfect, Lucy had the ugly feeling that what her mother really thought was that Lucy wouldn't make it without her help.
"But I have a dream," she reminded herself firmly, shoring herself up with that before Mac came on the line.
Despite her failures, over the past year Lucy had developed a sense of purpose. And more important, she felt needed for the first time in a long time.
It bothered Lucy that she had to remind herself of that as she drummed her fingers and listened to the music on the other end of the phone.
The song, she realized when she caught herself humming along, was one about a rebel and had always been the song she had associated with Mac. It was about a boy who was willing to risk all but his heart.
That was Macintyre Hudson to a T, so who could imagine the former Lindstrom Beach renegade and unapologetic bad boy at the helm of a multimillion-dollar company that produced the amazingly popular Wild Side outdoor products?
Unexpectedly, the music stopped.
Mac's voice was urgent and worried. It had deepened, Lucy was sure, since the days of their youth, but it had that same gravelly, sensuous edge to it that had always sent tingles up and down her spine.
Now, when she most needed to be confident, was not the time to think of the picture of him on his website, the one that had dashed her hopes that maybe he had gotten heavy or lost all his hair in the years that had passed.
But think of it she did. No boring head-and-shoulders shot in a nice Brooks Brothers suit for the CEO of Hudson Group.
No, the caption stated the founder of the Wild Side line was demonstrating the company's new kayak, Wild Ride. He was on a raging wedge of white water that funneled between rocks. Through flecks of foam, frozen by the camera, Macintyre Hudson had been captured in all his considerable masculine glory.
He'd been wearing a life jacket, a Wild Side product that showed off the amazing broadness of his shoulders, the powerful muscle of sun-bronzed arms gleaming with water. More handsome than ever, obviously in his element, he'd had a look in his devil-dark eyes, a cast to his mouth and a set to his jaw that was one of fierce concentration and formidable determination.
Maybe he didn't have any hair. He'd been wearing a helmet in the photo.
"Mama?" he said again. "What's wrong? Why didn't you call on my private line?"
Lucy had steeled herself for this. Rehearsed it. In her mind she had controlled every facet of this conversation.
But she had not planned for the image that materialized out of her memory file, that superimposed itself above the image of him in the kayak.
A younger Mac Hudson pausing as he lifted himself out of the lake onto the dock, his body sun-browned and perfect, water sluicing off the rippling smooth lines of his muscles, looking up at her, with laughter tilting the edges of his ultra-sexy eyes.
Do you love me, Lucy Lin?
Never I love you from him.
The memory hardened her resolve not to be in any way vulnerable to him. He was an extraordinarily handsome man, and he used his good looks in dastardly ways, as very handsome men were well-known to do.
On the other hand, her fiance, James Kennedy, had been homely and bookish and had still behaved in a completely dastardly manner.
All of which explained why romance played no part in her brand-new dreams for herself.
Fortified with that, Lucy ordered herself not to stammer. "No, I'm sorry, it isn't Mama Freda."
There was a long silence. In the background she could hear a lot of noise as if a raucous party was going on.
When Mac spoke, she took it as a positive sign. At least he hadn't hung up.
"Well, well," he said. "Little Lucy Lindstrom. I hope this is good. I'm standing here soaking wet."
"At work?" she said, surprised into curiosity.
"I was in the hot tub with my assistant, Celeste." His tone was dry. "What can I do for you?"
Don't pursue it, she begged herself, but she couldn't help it.
"You don't have a hot tub at work!"
"You're right, I don't. And no Celeste, either. What we have is a test tank for kayaks where we can simulate a white-water chute."
Lucy had peeked at their website on and off over the years.
The business had started appropriately enough, with Mac's line of outdoor gear. He was behind the name brand that outdoor enthusiasts coveted: Wild Side. First it had been his canoes. It had expanded quickly into kayaks and then accessories, and now, famously, into clothing.
All the reckless abandon of his youth channeled into huge success, and he was still having fun. Who tested kayaks at work?
But Mac had always been about having fun. Some things just didn't change.
Though he didn't sound very good-humored right now. "I'm wet, and the kayak didn't test out very well, so this had better be good."
"This is important," she said.
"What I was doing was important, too." He sighed, the sigh edged with irritation. "Some things just don't change, do they? The pampered doctor's daughter, the head of student council, the captain of the cheerleading squad, used to having her own way."
That girl, dressed in her designer jeans, with hundred-dollar highlights glowing in her hair, looked at her from her past, a little sadly.
Mac's assessment was so unfair! For the past few years she had been anything but pampered. And now she was trying to turn the Books part of Books and Beans into an internet business while renting canoes off her dock.
She was painting her own house and living on macaroni and cheese. She hadn't bought a new outfit for over a year, socking away every extra nickel in the hope that she could make her dream a reality.
And that didn't even cover all the things she was running next door to Mama Freda's to do!
She would have protested except for the inescapable if annoying truth: she had told a small lie to get her own way.
"It was imperative that I speak to you," she said firmly.
"Hmmm. Imperative. That has a rather regal sound to it. A princess giving a royal command."
He was insisting on remembering who she had been before he'd ruined her life: a confident, popular honor student who had never known trouble and never done a single thing wrong. Or daring. Or adventurous.
The young Lucy Lindstrom's idea of a good time, pre-Mac, had been getting the perfect gown for prom, and spending lazy summer afternoons on the deck with her friends, painting each other's toenails pink. Her idea of a great evening had been sitting around a roaring bonfire, especially if a singalong started.
Pre-Mac, the most exciting thing that had ever happened to her was getting the acceptance letter from the university of her choice.
"Pampered, yes," Mac went on. "Deceitful, no. You are the last person I would have ever thought would lower yourself to deceit."
But that's where he was dead wrong. He had brought out the deceitful side in her before.
The day she had said goodbye to him.
Hurt and angry that he had not asked her to go with him, to hide her sense of inconsolable loss, she had tossed her head and said, "I could never fall for a boy like you."
When the truth was she already had. She had been so crazy in love with Mac that it had felt as though the fire that burned within her would melt her and everything around her until there was nothing left of her world but a small, dark smudge.
"I needed to talk to you," she said, stripping any memory of that summer and those long, heated days from her voice.
"Yes. You said. Imperative."
Apparently he had honed sarcasm to an art.
"I'm sorry I insinuated I was Mama Freda."
"Insinuated," he said silkily. "So much more palatable than lying."
"I had to get by the guard dog who answers your phone!"
"No, you didn't. I got your messages."
"Except the one about needing to speak to you personally?"
"Nothing to talk about." His voice was chilly. "I've got all the information you gave. A Mother's Day Gala in celebration of Mama Freda's lifetime of good work. A combination of her eightieth birthday and Mother's Day. Fund-raiser for all her good causes. She knows about the gala and the fund-raiser but has no idea it's honoring her. Under no circumstances is she to find out."
Lucy wondered if she should be pleased that he had obviously paid very close attention to the content of those messages.
Actually, the fund-raiser was for Lucy's good cause, but Mama Freda was at the very heart of her dream.
At the worst point of her life, she had gone to Mama Freda, and those strong arms had folded around her.
"When your pain feels too great to bear, liebling, then you must stop thinking of yourself and think of another."
Mama had carried the dream with Lucy, encouraging her, keeping the fire going when it had flickered to a tiny ember and nearly gone out.
Now, wasn't it the loveliest of ironies that Mama was one of the ones who would benefit from her own advice?
"Second Sunday of May," he said, his tone bored, dismissive, "black-tie dinner at the Lindstrom Beach Yacht Club."
She heard disdain in his voice and guessed the reason. "Oh, so that's the sticking point. I've already had a hundred people confirm, and I'm expecting a few more to trickle in over the next week. It's the only place big enough to handle that kind of a crowd."
"I remember when I wasn't good enough to get a job busing tables there."
"Get real. You never applied for a job busing tables at the yacht club."
Even in his youth, Mac, in his secondhand jeans, one of a string of foster children who had found refuge at Mama's, had carried himself like a king, bristling with pride and an ingrained sense of himself. He took offense at the slightest provocation.
And then hid it behind that charming smile.
"After graduation you had a job with the town, digging ditches for the new sewer system."
"Not the most noble work, but honest," he said. "And real."
So, who are you to be telling me to get real? He didn't say it, but he could have.
Noble or not, she could remember the ridged edges of the sleek muscles, how she had loved to touch him, feel his wiry strength underneath her fingertips.
He mistook her silence for judgment. "It runs in my family. My dad was a ditchdig-ger, too. They had a nickname for him. Digger Dan."
She felt the shock of that. She had known Mac since he had come to live in the house next door. He was fourteen, a year older than she was. When their paths crossed, he had tormented and teased her, interpreting the fact she was always tongue-tied in his presence as an example of her family's snobbery, rather than seeing it for what it was.
Intrigue. Awe. Temptation. She had never met anyone like Mac. Not before or since. Ruggedly independent. Bold. Unfettered by convention. Fearless. She remembered seeing him glide by her house, only fourteen, solo in a canoe heavily laden with camping gear.
She would see his campfire burning bright against the night on the other side of the lake. It was called the wild side of the lake because it was undeveloped crown land, thickly forested.
Sometimes Mac would spend the whole weekend over there. Alone.
She couldn't even imagine that. Being alone over there with the bears.
The week she had won the spelling bee he had been kicked out of school for swearing.
She got a little Ford compact for her sixteenth birthday, while he bought an old convertible and stripped the engine in the driveway, then stood down her father when he complained. While she was painting her toenails, he was painstakingly building his own cedar-strip canoe in Mama's yard.
But never once, even in that summer when she had loved him, right after her own graduation from high school, had Mac revealed a single detail about his life before he had arrived in foster care in Lindstrom Beach.
Was it the fact that he had so obviously risen above those roots that made him reveal that his father had been nicknamed Digger Dan? Or had he changed?