Read an Excerpt
Come join the hot, hot, hot Sin on the Beach festival! That's right, beach babes and beach dudes, we're talking hot games, hot competitions, hot bodies to help us kick off the second-season launch of the hottest TV show this season!
Twenty-nine-year-old Ellie Rockwell—glam goth girl, coffee shop owner and serious Lou Reed fan— read the announcement on the kiosk again, certain she was suffering from heatstroke. Or having a heart attack. Or both. Hardly what a woman on her first vacation in five years should be having.
"Sin on the Beach," she murmured, glancing over at the people setting up booths and tents along this stretch of Malibu Beach. It was one thing to read about this festival at her coffee shop, Dark Gothic Roast, located twenty miles inland in fast-paced, hyperstressed Los Angeles, quite another to be standing on the very sand where the TV show was filmed.
Everybody and anybody knew better than to call Ellie on Thursday nights between 9:00 and 10:00 p.m. when Sin on the Beach aired. She got teased a lot for loving this show, as though goths were narrow-minded enough not to like anything that wasn't black and morbid and reeking of Edgar Allan Poe. Okay, she could do without all the sunshine and tanned bodies on the show, but she dug the buffed actors in Speedos. Especially when they starred in the occasional mystery story line full of shadows and danger. Plus, the night scenes were to die for—moonlight gilding the water, the ocean spilling its secrets and the occasional body onto the shore, the rhythmic tumble of distant, dark waves.
She continued reading. The festival promised games such as Truth or Bare and Hot Shot Photo ScavengerHunt, surfing competitions, limbo contests, something called Good Vibrations. Even nearby bars were getting into the festival mood by holding karaoke sin-alongs, and…
Her heart stilled.
What was this?
She leaned forward, clutching her black silk top while reading the fine print at the bottom of the poster.
Hey, you! Want to be an extra on Sin on the Beach and earn beaucoup festival points doing so? Then come to the open audition the first morning of the festival! If you're 18-30, act wicked, dress cool and have a rockin'bod, meet here on Tuesday, August 15, 7:00 a.m. sharp. Be hot, be sinful, be ready!
For a wild, giddy moment, Ellie imagined herself as an extra on Sin on the Beach, looking killer in a black bikini, cavorting in the waves, maybe being the one who found the dead body in a mystery plot and getting to rip loose a bloodcurdling scream. How groovy would that be?
She scanned the ad again. Wicked, dress cool and have a rockin' bod…
Her short black hair was wickedly spiked, but she seriously doubted that's the kind of wicked they had in mind. Dress cool? Unless they were into the Mistress of the Dark look, she doubted they'd use that word for her wardrobe, most of it custom-designed by yours truly. Although, lifting everything from cappuccino machines to bags of coffee beans kept her in shape, so humility aside, she could probably pull off the rockin' body.
Wicked. Cool. Rockin'.
She blew out a sigh.
One out of three wouldn't cut it.
Just as well. She expected to hear any day that her business loan had been approved, which meant starting next week she'd begin the expansion of Dark Gothic Roast into the remodeled former warehouse in East L.A. The space was so large, she'd decided to try selling her clothes designs in one of the commercial spaces while overseeing the rental of the others. The enormity of her plans excited and scared the crap out of her. Rather than fret and worry until she got the news, she'd opted to adopt the pragmatic "what happens, happens" attitude.
Until then, she'd chill, do her caretaking thing.
Which meant she needed to ensure her brother, Matt, crossed paths as often as possible with her friend Candy and encourage her other friend Sara to occasionally pry herself off her laptop.
Speaking of which, time to call the mother ship and see how things were going. She flipped open her cell phone and punched in the speed-dial for Sara.
"It's El. Expecting it was your uncle calling again, hmm? Everything going okay?" She nudged her sunglasses up the bridge of her nose. "Hey, guess who's looking for hot-bodied extras?"
"I wish. Seriously, Sin on the Beach."
"Yeah, remember that festival we read about? Well, Sin is holding an open audition for extras. Better yet, everybody who gets hired also wins a scad of festival points."
"Ellie Rockwell, I see your name in lights."
"I'm not wicked and cool enough," she muttered.
"Nothing. Hey, I'll bring one of these flyers back to the house. There are all kind of games and competitions." And she knew just the people to sign up, too—Matt and Candy.
"Gotta go," Sara suddenly said. "Someone's waiting."
"Tell your Uncle Spence it's your first day on vacation! Girlfriend, you deserve a day off." "Yeah, like you ever close Dark Gothic Roast. Anyway, it's not Uncle Spence."
"Who is it?"
Pause. "Ellie, your goal is to matchmake Candy, not me."
A pause could only mean one thing…. "Sara Montgomery, you wanton mortgage broker you. You landed a guy! While sitting alone at the beach house! You rule."
Sara laughed and signed off.
Ellie shook her head. And here she'd been pondering how to help Sara relax, have some fun. Appeared Sara was a lot more resourceful than Ellie had given her credit for.
She started to slip her cell into her shorts' pocket, hesitated, then punched in the speed-dial for Dark Gothic Roast. Overhead, seagulls squawked and circled as a little boy tossed pieces of bread from a bag. Nearby, construction workers hammered, drilled, called out to each other as they worked on the festival site.
"Dark Gothic Roast," answered a female voice.
"Hey!" yelled a male voice. "That your Benz?" Ellie looked around. "Tish, El. How's it going?" A groan. "Kiefer called in sick and I ended up handling the morning rush by myself."
"Hey," boomed the male voice again. "I'm talking to you. Miss Spiky Black Hair."
As if that left any doubt who he meant. As Tish droned on about the espresso machine making a "funny sound," Ellie scanned the area. None of the construction workers seemed interested in her. Nor did the nearby jocks tossing a Frisbee.
The guy in the Hawaiian shirt, unbuttoned to reveal a buffed, brown and extremely hairy chest, was staring directly at her.
"It sounds kind of like keee-keee klunk," continued Tish, "and it only does it if I'm steaming milk longer than twenty seconds…."
Ellie stared at the man. Something about him looked familiar.
"I suppose I could stop steaming sooner," said Tish, "but then there'd be no froth and you know how some customers would get if their lattes were flat…."
The man smiled, and Ellie's heart ratcheted in her chest.
Only one man in the world had a smile like that. Impossible…and yet…it was him.
He was older—seventeen years to be exact—bigger and hotter than the boy she remembered. The rough-around-the-edges guy had morphed into a body like The Rock, with the too-cool aura of a Lenny Kravitz. He leaned against a palm tree, the breezes billowing open his shirt whose bright yellow flowers looked like pats of melting butter on his choca-mocha-latte skin. "El, what should I do about the espresso machine?"
Ellie cleared her suddenly parched throat. "Turn up the steam," she rasped before terminating the call.
"That your Benz?" he called out again.
Ah, the voice. It hadn't really changed. That deep, rumbling tone and clipped rhythm, so familiar it made her insides squeeze. How many nights had she lain in her childhood bed, her window open on the off chance she'd overhear Bill talking with a pal or family member. The summer she turned twelve, when he was eighteen, she must have written more journals than Anais Nin. Page after page filled with fantasies of her first kiss—her first everything—with him.
"Benz," he repeated, mistaking her silence for not hearing him clearly. "Over there!" He pointed.
Ellie stared at his raised arm. So big, so brown, two-thirds of it covered with a massive tattoo. She couldn't really see the details this far away, but could tell it was colorful, bold and elaborate.
Unlike her tattoos, which were hidden, secretive. Sea breezes brushed and stroked her, making her realize all the areas of her skin that were bare. In the distance, she heard waves crashing, the fading away of a girl's laughter.
Finally remembering to breathe, Ellie looked to where he was pointing. At the far end of the patch of tarmac sat a gleaming silver Mercedes. She had the momentary urge to laugh—did she really look like the kind of woman who drove a Benz? She looked back at him, wondering if, behind those dark shades, his eyes still looked like melted pools of chocolate.
"No," she called out, her voice breathy, unrecognizable. "Not mine."
He pushed himself off the palm tree—did his biceps ripple when he moved?—and stared at her. The sun glinted off an earring. That was new, too. And for a crazy moment, she wondered if he remembered her. No, no way. Back then, she'd been freckled and mousy-haired. Hardly the goth chick he was talking to right now.
Besides, they'd only really spoken once, that memorable summer night she'd worked up the nerve to ask if what she'd heard was true, was he was really moving far away? Her girl's heart had shattered into a million pieces when he'd said yes, he was moving to New York to start film school.
"Just my luck," he murmured, his voice rippling through the air like a heat wave. "Need it moved, hoped it might be yours."
She wiped a trickle of sweat off her brow, wishing she could say something, anything, to prolong this encounter. She was a whiz at chatting, did it all the time with her customers. Asked them about their jobs, their kids. Helped them figure out their love problems. But she couldn't summon one reasonably intelligent thing to ask Bill. Yeah, good ol' helpful Ellie was resourceful when it came to others' needs, but a tongue-tied, sweat-laden mass of messed-up hormones when it came to her own.
She took a few halting steps across the sand, imagining how she'd introduce herself. "Hey, remember me? That scrawny kid next door who wore pigtails?" No, skip the scrawny part. "The girl next door who…" loved, adored, idolized you. No, forget that. Although Bill had been a few years older than Matt, he'd probably remember her brother. Yeah, she'd bring up Matt. "Hey, remember me? Matt Rock-well's kid sister?"