Read an Excerpt
The sad truth was, Sara Montgomery did not set out to be a corporate droneone of those blue-suited types chained to a computer and cell phone. But somewhere between her wild-child past and her twenty-sixth birthday, that's exactly what she'd become. Even now, on vacation at a Malibu beach house, when she'd taken her pals Ellie and Candy's dare and vowed to leave work behind her for the week, she hadn't been able to leave her laptop at home.
"It's sick, I tell you," Candy Calder said as she watched Sara unpack the iBook. A diminutive brunette with violet eyes who worked at a software firm in the same office building as Sara and Ellie, Candy was the life of every partyan expert at leaving work at work. "You're supposed to be relaxing, not working."
"I only brought it to check e-mail," Sara said.
"Just in case there's an emergency." Of course, with Uncle Spence, everything was an emergency. But what if he really needed her while she was away?
"I'll only check it once a day."
"Come walking on the beach with us." The third member of the group, Ellie Rockwell, a glam-goth chick who owned the coffee shop on the ground floor of their building, rubbed sunscreen on her arms, her long dark fingernails standing out against her pale skin. "It's a gorgeous day. I hear the surf's up and that means lots of beautiful bronzed bodies to admire."
Sara set the laptop on the table and stashed the case behind the sofa. "And of course, your walk will just happen to take you past a certain beach house not far from here where a certain good-looking man is staying?"
Candy blushed. "Ellie wants to say hello to her brother. There's nothing wrong with that." Ellie's brother, Matt, worked with Candy and was conveniently vacationing at a bungalow down the beach.
"And there's nothing wrong with you talking with a coworker." Sara grinned. "Maybe even flirting a little. I mean, that's one of the big reasons for this vacation, right? So that you can get the man you've been not-so-secretly lusting after?"
Candy rolled her eyes. "That is not why we're here. I'm going to prove to Mattwho is my boss, not my potential bed partnerthat I can be serious about work. I'm not just a party girl."
"And you're on this vacation to learn how to loosen up," Ellie reminded Sara. "To forget about work for a while" she eyed the laptop "and have some fun. Find a gorgeous guy and get laid." Her eyes sparkled with laughter.
Sara ignored the tickle in her belly at the idea of handsome men and sexthings that had been missing from her life for too long now. "I know why I'm here," she said. "And I promise, I am going to have fun. I just have to check in with the office ."
When the others raised their voices in protest, she changed the subject. "Let's not forget why Ellie is here," she said. "It's not only to look after the rest of us."
Ellie fluffed her dead-black locks and avoided looking either of them in the eye. "I'm here because I'm a big fan of Sin on the Beach. And I got us a great deal on the beach house and I thought it would be fun."
"And you need to take a break from looking after everyone else and do something for you," Sara said.
Ellie nodded. "Right. And I intend to do that as soon as I know that you two are all set for killer vacations on your own. Which means no computer for you" she pointed to Sara "and more time with my good-looking but lonely brother for you." She wagged a finger at Candy.
Candy made a face. "I know you have your heart set on the two of us hooking up, but honestly, Matt isn't interested in me that way. And I don't see him that way, either. I only want to impress him with my work skills."
Ellie's grin didn't fade. "I think you impress him all right," she said. "You just don't realize how much." She shouldered her beach bag. "Come on, let's go. And Saraput away that laptop now. Before I hide the power cord."
"I'll relax as soon as I finish a few last-minute details." Sara tried to ignore the guilt pinching at her. "I promised Uncle Spence." She'd log on for a few minutes, make sure no catastrophes had struck in the few hours she'd been away from the office, then she'd be free to enjoy the rest of the weekend.
"Your Uncle Spence is so nice," Ellie said. "He always leaves a tip for his double-shot espressos. I'm sure he'd understand if you didn't work on your vacation."
"Uncle Spence is a nice man." All the more reason not to let him down. She shooed her two friends toward the door. "You two go on. I promise I'll change into my swimsuit, take a quick look at my e-mail, then I'll catch up with you."
"All right then." Candy lingered in the doorway.
"If you're going to be here for a few minutes longer, can you do me a favor?"
"Sure." Favors she could handleobligations were the real bitches these days.
"Call me on my cell in a minute?"
"Okay. Any particular reason why?"
"Pretend you're a business colleague. But wait until we've had time to get to Matt's place. I want him to see that I can be serious about work."
"Even when you're on vacation?" She nodded, holding back a smile. "Gotcha." Apparently Candy didn't see the irony in pretending to do exactly what she'd lectured Sara against. Maybe because her fun-loving friend was a pro at mixing business and pleasure, while Sara had never been able to figure out how to juggle the two.
When they were out the door, Sara fished a brand-new bright-orange bikini from her suitcase and slipped it on. Her reflection in the bathroom mirror made her flinch. Her fish-belly white complexion was not a pretty sight. Why hadn't she thought to buy a bottle of fake bake when she was out shopping for the bikini? The glare off her white skin was liable to interfere with satellite transmission or something.
Grabbing a bottle of sunscreen and the laptop, she went out onto the beach house's broad veranda and settled into a cushioned lounge chair. At least here she could see the beach and enjoy the sound of waves crashing on the sand. Even if she was at her computer, lounging in a bikini with the ocean as a backdrop didn't exactly count as work, did it?
She looked down the shoreline for some sign of Candy and Ellie, but staggered rows of beach houses blocked her view of them. She'd give them a few more minutes to reach Matt's place before she called.
She signed on to her e-mail and waded through half a dozen spam messages, all promising extreme outcomes in the subject line. As if she needed increased anatomy or free designer knock-offs. When she spied a message marked with the word Urgent! she didn't even have to check the sender to know this was from Uncle Spence. Stomach fluttering with dread, she opened the e-mail and read through a message completely in caps and heavily punctuated with exclamation marks. Maybe she should ask Ellie to switch Spence to decaf.
While she was composing her reply, her cell phone chirped. She retrieved it from her tote bag and checked the number. Frowning, she hit the answer button. "Hello, Uncle Spence."
"Sara, why haven't you answered my messages?" Spence's Southern gentleman's drawl was laced with tension. "I'm leaving for the golf course to play eighteen holes with Benton Granger. He's going to want to know about that deal you've been working on for him."
"Tell him everything's on schedule for his closing next Thursday." She logged off her e-mail.
"Are you sure? We haven't heard back from the title company yet, have we? And what about the survey?"
"The survey came in Friday. It's in the file. And the title company is supposed to call tomorrow."
"You should call them today." In the background she heard the hushed, reverent commentary of the Golf Channel announcers on TV. "If there's anything I've learned in my years in this business, it's that you have to stay on people to get them to complete tasks in a timely manner."
She rolled her eyes. Spence Montgomery's business philosophy in a nutshell: management by nagging. "Everything will be fine," she said. "Don't worry."
"It's my job to worry. And yours, too. It takes worryand a great deal of hard workto stay on top in this business. I'd have thought you'd have learned that from me, if nothing else."
She had learned it all right. Since she was seventeen and her uncle had given her a job as a clerk at his business, Anderson Title, he had taught her the importance of hard work. And she'd been a good pupil; once she'd graduated college, he'd promoted her and she'd taken on more and more responsibility every year. The business had blossomed into a multimillion-dollar concern, processing over a hundred mortgage loans a month.
Sara loved the business. And she loved Uncle Spence. She owed all her current success to him. But he really did worry too much. "When you see Mr. Granger, tell him everything is going great."
"It would be better if you were here to make sure of that."
"I'll be back in the office next week. I'll take care of his account then."
"I think you should call the title company today. Just to make sure they haven't run into any snags."
"Uncle Spence, I'm on vacation."
"One brief call won't make that much of a difference. And it would set Granger's mind at easeand mine as well."
She checked her watch. It was a little after one o'clock. She could phone Marsha, then hit the beach. "Okay. I'll call. And I'll e-mail you to let you know everything's okay. But then I'm turning my phone off."
"Don't do that! What if I need you?"
There had been a time when she'd been flattered by Spence saying he needed her. But the warm fuzzies had worn off some time ago. "You've been in this business a lot longer than I have. I'm sure you can handle anything that comes up."
"You're responsible for your own clients, Sara. Remember, at Anderson Title we pride ourselves on our customer service." The implication that he would be disappointed if she provided anything less than the best hung heavy in the air.
She sighed. She couldn't say no to Uncle Spence. "All right. But please promise not to call me unless it's an emergency."
"That's my girl." The cheerfulness was back in his voice. "I promise. I don't know what I'd do without you."
"Goodbye. And don't worry." She might as well tell the waves to stop moving.
She checked her watch again. Candy and Ellie ought to have reached Matt's beach house by now. She punched in Candy's number. The line rang and rang, but there was no response. Odd. Maybe Candy was too involved in a conversation with Matt to answer.
Sara shrugged and set aside the phone, then clicked on the address book on her computer to retrieve Marsha's number. While she waited for the program to open, she stared out at the ocean.
A figure appeared on the horizonthe dark outline of a surfer against an expanse of blue sky and foaming white water. As she watched, he moved closer. She could tell it was a man now, broad-shouldered, wearing Hawaiian print board shorts.
She leaned forward, holding her breath as he rode the crest of a perfect curl. Knees slightly bent, arms held a little apart from his body, he was precisely balanced on the board, a picture of grace and strength.
Her heart twisted with longing as she watched the man. Oh, to be able to tame the ocean that way. To have such command over the waves and your own body. When she was a girl, she'd spent a lot of time on the beach, mooning after various surfing gods. She'd never gotten farther than being "allowed" to hold surfboards while her crushes headed off with some other bikini-clad babe.
Of course she'd also been skipping school, experimenting with drugs and hanging out with the wrong crowd. She was one short step away from juvenile delinquency when her mother's brother, Spence, had reined her in.
But she hadn't been all bad in those days. She smiled, remembering. Sure, she'd been a little reckless. A little wild. But she'd also been fun and spontaneous. Words that didn't play a big part in her life these days.
Wasn't that part of the reason she'd come on this vacationto get in touch with that inner wild child again? To rediscover the fun of being a little reckless?