Behind the wheel, racing champion Zander Donavan is at the top of his game. But after too much excess in his personal life, he’s forced to step away. He needs to accomplish something all on his own—outside of his famous father's shadow.
Getty Caster is running away from the abuse that clouds her past. She thinks she’s found the perfect escape—until she discovers a stranger in the beachside cottage she’d been promised. He’s undeniably sexy, but she’s there to heal. Alone.
Before long though, fighting with each other turns into fighting their attraction. And giving into desire sets off a chain reaction that has their pasts colliding. With an unexpected love on the line, can they overcome the fallout to build a future?
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"You good, Getty?"
My mind flashes to a few hours ago. How jumpy both my heart and the rest of me felt when the man from table nine simply touched my forearm as he reached to get my attention for another round. The crash as the bottle of triple sec hit the hardwood floor. The immediate waves of panic. The rush of memories. The fear. From another place, another time, to rattle nerves already on constant edge.
And until now I was doing so well hiding my uneasiness behind my tough-girl facade.
But I saw the customers' stares. Heard my stammered excuses. Suffered the immediate regret of giving them a glimpse of the secrets I've kept hidden. Of the life I left behind.
So, good? Not by a long shot, but I'm not about to let Liam know. Besides, I'm making progress. It's been three months and I've already got a job, a place to live, and more freedom than I've felt in forever.
Trudging uphill and through what feels like barbed wire.
But it's progress nonetheless.
I collect my distracted thoughts-exhale a sigh to cover up my preoccupation-before turning to look at the Lazy Dog's owner, walking beside me. A tight smile hits my lips when I nod. "It's debatable if I'm good," I finally say, trying to make light of the earlier incident. Add humor so that he doesn't ask more questions. It's something I've learned how to do way too well. "But I do know I deserved to be fired after dropping that bottle."
The laugh I force-the one that used to be my everyday normal- sounds hollow to my own ears. Funny how it seems so odd in this new life I've created for myself.
"Nah. Everyone makes mistakes." Liam's voice pulls me back from my thoughts. "It's no big deal. Really."
"I can add an extra hour on my shift or help cover during a game night if you get too busy. It's the least I can do." I slow down my footsteps as we approach the fork in our paths on the walk home from the bar.
"Not necessary. Besides, you should come in during a game. Be a customer. Most of us here are a little obsessed with the Mariners. It's a good time."
"Nah. Not my thing." Too many people crowded in one spot. At least when I'm working, I have the bar counter as my barrier. A space between me and any unwanted contact.
Who am I kidding? All contact is unwanted these days.
"Are you telling me you don't like my bar?" he laughs in mock offense as we stand on the corner beneath the streetlight.
"No. Not at all," I correct myself. "I mean-"
"Relax. I'm just teasing you." He reaches out to touch my arm and I freeze at his motion. Then curse myself. Shit. He obviously notices my reaction, because he pulls his hand back immediately, but his gaze remains locked on mine. Searching. Asking. Wanting more.
"I, um-thanks for walking with me. I'm beat and-"
"Yeah?" My voice is cautious because I know what comes next and don't really want to venture there.
"If there was some kind of problem . . ." I'm not sure if the flash of hurt in my eyes stops his words, but they stop nonetheless. He nods in silent understanding. "Well, if you need any kind of help, I'm here, okay?"
"Thank you. I appreciate it," I murmur softly. "Good night."
I walk away, knowing he hasn't moved and is watching me make my way through the night toward my house. He's sweet and kind. So very different from what I'm used to, and so I need distance between us. It would be way too easy to lean on him, use his friendship to get through this, when I know better than anyone that the only person I can depend on is myself.
And yet the weight of his stare and the concern in his eyes are like magnets pulling me backward, begging me to find someone I can confide in, when all I really need to do is learn how to manage this new life on my own.
Keep walking, Getty. You can let him in once you figure yourself out.
I look out toward the moonlit ocean view beyond and take stock as to why I'm here. It seemed like the stars aligned when my mother's oldest friend offered to let me stay in the vacation house she and her husband were renovating before they could flip it. And because of that, I have a roof over my head. A place to reflect on what I want. A solitary space where I'll be able to come to terms with the mistakes from my past so I can have a better future.
You don't know they're mistakes until you make them. Or learn from them. Let's hope I've done both and can move forward.
I walk down the alleyway, past my car, parked in the narrow, shrub-lined driveway, to the front door of the old cottage. Skipping over the third step to avoid the broken wood slat, I remind myself that should be first on the very long list of repairs that I need to schedule for the house.
It's the least I can do, considering she's letting me stay here for free during the renovation.
Exhaustion hits me like a ton of bricks once I'm inside. I move through the darkened foyer quietly, in practiced precision, as if I'm still back in the Palo Alto house. I flick the light off in the kitchen, surprised I forgot to turn it off before I left, and ignore my grumbling stomach for the enticing hot water of the shower. Hopefully the muscles in my lower back will get used to my standing on my feet for eight-hour shifts soon, because this constant ache is annoying.
But it also means I'm doing this. Changes are really happening. And the past is over.
In a show of defiance no one will ever see and only I will understand, I make a trail of my discarded clothes as I walk down the hall toward the bathroom light I purposely left on at the end of the hallway: a beacon of imagined hot water calling my name.
Shoes. Shirt. Bra. Skirt. Panties. All come off one by one, throwing them to the floor in a messy trail as I go.
I'm exhausted, my mind still preoccupied with the mistake I made tonight dropping the bottle, so that when I clear the doorway, it takes me a second to come to my senses. The reaction is instantaneous-an earsplitting scream, a physical jump back, a shock to my heart, and hands immediately reaching to cover my pelvis and breasts-at the sight of the man standing in my bathroom.
And not just any man.
But a buck-naked man. Dripping in water. I see a flash of ink on his back in the partially fogged-up mirror's reflection. One hand holds a towel up to his wet hair. The other is doing I don't know what, because I'm so fixated on his presence that thinking clearly isn't a priority.
"HELP!" I scream the moment I get my wits about me, body frozen in fear, mind reeling.
And even though his blue eyes look as shocked as mine probably do, his mouth spreads into a slow, disbelieving but definitely cocksure smile. "I've had women go to extremes before," he says with a chuckle, silencing my next shriek for help, "but this takes it to a whole new level."
In my confusion, my guard comes up instantly, although for some reason I don't actually feel threatened like a rational person would. I'm naked, hunched over trying to cover all my lady bits, caught between stepping back down the hallway and grabbing my last discarded item to cover myself up. But I know damn well my panties sure as hell aren't going to make a very good shield. Add to that there's no way in hell I'm giving him the wrong impression, that I'm retreating in fear.
"Who are you? What are you doing here?" I'm shaking with adrenaline as I hop around in the I'm-naked dance, every ripple and roll of imperfection on my body on display in the wash of bathroom light into the hall. My eyes flicker desperately to assess the situation I have absolutely zero control over. I want more lights on to flood the house and don't want them on at the same time.
"I believe I should ask you the same question," he says as he slowly lowers his hand, the towel now hanging at his side. Of course I look.
And there it is. . . .
I jump back like my eyes have been burned and yet first impressions are hard to erase: cut abs, that V of defined muscles, a trail of happy, and a more-than-impressive package. What the hell is wrong with me? There is a man in my house. He obviously just showered in my bathroom. And I'm staring at his dick.
"Put that thing away!" I command, with my hand reaching out to gesture at his waist before I realize that I've just removed my hand from my own breasts and offered a peep show of my own. Of course I replace it promptly but not before the man throws his head back and emits a deep laugh. It causes his Adam's apple to slide up, then down, chest to heave, and dick to bob.
I force myself to look away because . . . well, because he's a stranger. In my house. Naked. And oh my God, something is wrong with me, because I'm not running and calling 911 like I should.
When his chuckle subsides, he brings his head back down, so I can see the tears in his eyes from laughter. "That thing is my cock, and since this is my bathroom and you seem to be attempting to seduce me in my house, I don't think you have any right to tell me what to do." And with that, he leans a hip against the counter and folds his arms across his chest, eyes locked on mine and one eyebrow lifted. Everything else is left hanging out there in the wind.
"Your house? Seduce you?" At that point I realize I'm sputtering and shaking my head. "This is my house. You're in my house."
Confusion drifts across his face and his jaw falls lax. "Hold up." He lifts his hands in the Hold on a minute position, drawing my eyes back to where they don't want to be. If this whole situation weren't so unbelievable, it would be comical, and yet as true as that is, I don't seem to be laughing at all. "I think there seems to be some misunderstanding."
"No shit." Sarcasm is my fallback and it doesn't disappoint me now. A lot of good it does me, though, as I'm still doing the naked dance while trying to react to this surreal situation.
The look of disdain he gives me at my comment earns him no points in my book. "While I'm digging the socks with your outfit," he says with a smirk, eyes veering down and then back up to my strategically placed hands, "you should cover up." I catch the towel he tosses me and immediately wrap it around myself. I'm certain my mismatching knee-high socks make a statement about me, but I'm beyond caring, because I'm still alone in my house with a strange man and have no answers as to how this has happened.
With one hand clutching onto the towel at my collarbone, I use the other to motion to him. "You too."
A lightning flash of a grin glances across his lips. "Sorry, but you just took the only towel left."
Why is this funny to him? This is not funny. Not in the least. And neither is my procrastination over folding the load of towels currently sitting in the dryer. Shit.
I glance around quickly. Needing to keep an eye on him for safety's sake and not wanting to look too closely for obvious reasons. Instinct tells me he's not a threat and yet sensibility tells me he is. So I do the only thing I can, look slyly around for a weapon. Something. Anything.
But I'm in a hallway. Pickings are slim. When I take a step back, the ancient mini-blinds behind me rattle as my butt hits them. The sound clicks my mind into gear and I reach back and pick up the broken wand that opens the blinds sitting on the windowsill. Without thinking, I hold it up in front of me like a swashbuckling sword.
"How'd you get in here?" I demand in my deepest, growliest voice.
"With the key under the frog on the back deck." He doesn't even fight the smile on his face or make an attempt to cover himself up. Nope. He just stands there nonchalant as day, like he's used to women staring at his naked body.
Maybe he is. He said he thought I was here to seduce him. Is he some kind of male escort or something? No. Wait. I have that all mixed up. He would be seducing me, then.
Focus, Getty. Focus.
"What key?" How come I didn't know there was a key under the frog on the back deck? I jab the wand toward him to emphasize each word. "And the wood on the deck is broken. How'd you climb-"
"How'd you get in here?"
"I've been here and I'm the one asking questions."
That laugh again. Full-bodied. More than amused. Enough to make me wonder what it sounds like when he really means it. "Right. I forgot. You're one to give orders in a bath towel, socks, and holding that fierce sword of yours."
I fight back the urge to drop the wand regardless of how stupid I look, because I don't know this guy from Adam. "Answer. Me."
"Now." I jab the wand to show him that I mean it. The smile again, but this time he bites his bottom lip to prevent it from spreading all the way to dimple territory.
"Smitty gave me instructions on where to find the key. We made a deal. I get to stay here so long as I make some repairs for him."
What? "There's some kind of misunderstanding. Smitty messed up. I'm already living here."
"So I gather by your Custer's Last Stand demonstration," he says with an indifferent wave of his hand.
"How do you know him?" I already have a sinking feeling that something is seriously screwed up here and that I'm not going to like his answer.
"He's like an uncle to me." He shrugs. "You?"