He followed in his family’s footsteps and just graduated Marine boot camp. Now Mason Cutler’s personal mission is to get plenty of sun, surf, and no-strings romance in his favorite laid-back Florida beach town before shipping out. But a chance encounter with reserved Kiran Shenoy becomes a golden day of conversation, connection—and an intense attraction Mason can't walk away from. They make an agreement—eight sensuous days together without regrets or promises. Yet soon Mason is longing to convince the spirited woman behind Kiran's sad beautiful eyes to take a chance on even more . . .
All Kiran dared hope for was a chance to heal after a tragic accident and a devastating loss. Mason's freewheeling energy and head-on courage warms her scarred body and soul—and ignites her heart. But with their lives going in different directions, the only commitment they can make is a pact to meet again. Can what they feel survive Mason’s military duty, and Kiran’s second chance to restart her life? And can a desire sparked one summer night be enough for forever?
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Eight Days in the Sun
By MK Schiller
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 MK Schiller
All rights reserved.
It is a cardinal rule young girls do not vacation alone. It is simply not done. At least that was Papa's argument to dissuade me from taking the trip to the gulf coast town of Jasper, Florida. My stepmother, Linda, told him to hush, explaining I was returning to my childhood home to visit with old friends. That wasn't true. Having no other choice, I'd left Jasper to live with Papa and Linda when I was eighteen. I didn't keep in touch with anyone. I don't have any old friends to look up. Or even new friends to bring with me. Instead of correcting her, I clicked the big blue confirmation button on the computer screen to book my non-refundable ticket.
Even now, as the cab drives past all the beachfront hotels, I'm not sure why I wanted to come back. Maybe because I never had a chance to say a proper good-bye to the beachside city I loved. The air is ripe with the smell of saltwater and African violets. I inhale the scent. Maybe I am exactly where I need to be.
The cab pulls up to the Sandy Waves Resort. Not only is it the cheapest of all the beachside hotels, but I know a little secret. Sandy Waves has the best beachfront access and stellar views of the Gulf of Mexico. The cabbie pulls over. The sun shines so brightly I cover my eyes as I search through my purse for the right bill.
The driver takes my suitcase from the trunk. "Have a nice stay."
Handing him payment, I thank him.
A dusty plastic palm tree sits inside the corner wedge of the revolving doors. An unsettling feeling rises in my stomach. I'm not claustrophobic exactly, but once in a while a weird panic seizes me for no reason. I swallow down the fear, take a deep breath, and opt for the traditional door. I push it open and awkwardly pull my suitcase inside. Someone grabs the edge of the frame and holds it for me.
"Thank you," I say, not looking up.
"Welcome," comes the deep, masculine reply.
I doubt the lobby at Sandy Waves has experienced an update in decades. The décor is 1980s gaudy beach chic, complete with palm tree-patterned wallpaper and flowery couches. The floors are orange and white tiles. My flip-flops make an annoying clacking sound as I scramble to the front desk.
The guy who held the door open for me isn't far behind. His footsteps are sturdy and solid, almost clashing with the clatter of my flip-flops. I take my place in the line of tourists waiting to register.
There is a couple ahead of me. The girl has long brown hair, a few shades lighter than the guy. He's holding a surfboard with one hand and has the other wrapped around her. She's probably in her early twenties, close to my age. He looks a few years older. She glances down at the ring on her left finger while he keeps his gaze fixed on her. He smiles at her, a sweet, I-can't-believe-you're-in-my-life kind of smile. It's not for her, since she's not even looking at him. No, this smile bursts out of him like he can't contain it. I can almost feel his happiness as if it's a tangible, contagious thing. What is it like to look at someone that way? As if they are the best thing in the world, or at least, the best thing in your world.
When it's time for them to move up, his arm never wavers. The way he is looking at her, it's probably good they are getting a room. They need one.
"Mr. and Mrs. Robert Jorgenson," he announces to the woman behind the counter.
"Ah, yes," the clerk says enthusiastically. "You're in the Sweetheart's Suite." She starts rattling off a list of amenities. I almost laugh at the desperate look the dude is giving her. Apparently, there is fanfare involved when you sign up for the Sweetheart's Suite. The hotel clerk isn't about to let them leave until she gets through her well-rehearsed spiel. She hands them a small pink bag with tiny hearts all over it.
"This has sunscreen, bottles of water, and chocolates," the woman explains. "Just all part of the Sweetheart Suite experience."
"Thank you, ma'am."
I stifle a laugh as he takes the dainty, pink bag in his huge hands.
"Just one more moment," the clerk says loudly.
But wait, Robert, there's even more.
Another hotel employee places leis of fresh, colorful flowers on both of them while the bellhop loads their stuff onto a trolley. The bellhop's Hawaiian shirt matches the wallpaper pattern. Now, Rob (I call him Rob) looks a little embarrassed, but his bride is soaking it all in as if this were a five-star experience.
"The Sweetheart's Suite must really be something," the guy behind me mutters.
His voice is deep and throaty with the slightest southern twang. Not Florida southern, but maybe Alabama? He's probably talking to me because who else is there? I don't respond. Instead, I pull the string of my hood tighter.
He moves closer to me. "I think it's your turn, miss."
The woman is now calling for me. How long had I been holding up the damn line? Shit.
I rush toward the desk. The girl who leid the Jorgensons moves behind the counter and gestures for Alabama to come up as well.
"Welcome to Sandy Waves. Name, please."
"Kiran Shenoy," I respond.
"Kiran," she says. "Kiran, it's good to see you."
I glance up to see Mrs. Waters, my tenth grade English teacher. Her eyes widen before she shifts her attention back toward her monitor. I swallow down the hurt. She's surprised. I get it. The scar that travels down the left side of my face isn't subtle. I don't look like the girl she used to know. Her reaction shouldn't upset me. But it does just the same. I bite on my fingernail hoping this goes fast.
"Do you remember me?" she asks when I don't respond.
Maybe she thinks my memory is screwed up as well. How could I forget the woman? Under other circumstances, I would be thrilled to see the teacher who introduced me to the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen. She wrote the same quote on the board the first day of every class. Thinking of it now, I can almost smell the tang of white chalk. If you constantly depict yourself as the underdog in your story, it's highly unlikely you'll become the hero. Those words stuck with me, even though I fully acknowledge I am guilty of doing just that. Acknowledging and changing are two different things.
"Yes, of course, I remember. Mrs. Waters, how are you?" She once told me I was a great writer, even though she gave me a C on my Gatsby paper. No hard feelings there. The paper deserved a C. I had a love-hate relationship with Fitzgerald that translated to a long, rambling essay about narcissism and class distinction.
"I'm well, dear. How have you been? Are you in town visiting?"
"Fine." I decide not to answer the second question and counter with one of my own. "Are you still at the school?"
"Afraid not. The district had cutbacks. I took early retirement. I do love working here, though." That's too bad. She was a great teacher.
"That's great, Mrs. Waters."
"I heard you moved to New Jersey."
"I'm still there."
"Well, I'm sure you've missed the beach."
More than she can know. "Yes."
"Are you still writing?"
"No," I respond, although I'm pretty sure I just created a love story about the Jorgensons in my head.
"You're in college, though?" The way she asks, I'm sure she is readying a reprimand if I don't have the correct answer. I hand her my credit card for the incidentals, hoping it's enough of a hint I want to move on with this transaction.
I roll up the sleeves of my hoodie. "I'll have my business degree next year."
"That's wonderful, Kiran. I'm so glad to hear you're doing so well." She punches a few keys on the computer. "I see your staying with us for eight days."
"That's a nice long vacation. Is it just you? No one is joining you?"
Um ... hello, awkward moment.
Mrs. Waters punches a few more keys. She still has the long acrylic nails. Today, they are bright purple. It seems at odds with the conservative bun, eyeglasses, and neutral clothes. "I'm going to upgrade you to a water view suite."
"That's not necessary."
"Nonsense, we have one that will just sit empty. It's not the Sweetheart's Suite, but it is on a high floor and has a balcony."
I thank her as she hands me a plastic keycard.
"I hope we can catch up later." She gives me a soft, heartfelt smile.
I nod. Swinging my suitcase, I speed walk toward the elevator bank. One of the cars is out of service. The other one is incredibly slow. By the time the doors finally open, I've silently sung the whole soundtrack of Rent, all five hundred twenty-five minutes and six hundred seconds of it.
"Hold it, please," says the guy behind me as the doors begin to close.
I press the open button, but the doors keep closing. I jab it. The metal doors don't stop.
"Sorry," I say. "Can't get it to open." I throw my hand in the gap between the doors. Nope. Still moving shut. Guess it doesn't have a safety. I pull my hand back before the doors slam.
He rushes toward me, a duffle bag slung across his shoulder. It's too late, dude. They close. Well almost close. I gasp as a very large sneaker wedges between the doors.
"Ouch," he says as the doors part.
"Are you all right?"
He smiles. "I'll live."
He presses the button for the tenth floor. The air in the elevator suddenly becomes heavier. It's the same guy who held the front door for me, the one with the smoky southern flare in his voice.
"I swear I was trying to hold it open."
"You were?" He looks straight into my eyes.
For some reason, I don't shift my head down like I normally do. I'm not sure if this makes it worse or better. He's a nice looking boy ... man. Who the hell am I kidding? He's hot, like you-might-mistake-me-for-an-underwear-model hot. He's tall with defined, but not over-the-top, muscles. His jeans are ripped in all the right places and his faded gray T-shirt reads free shrugs in all caps. He's got a strong square jaw that's a day or two past a shave. His eyes are an intense light blue, my favorite color. The T-shirt might as well say my superpower is being beautiful.
The doors close, trapping us in a space that seems to get exponentially smaller now that he's sharing it with me. He runs his fingers through brownish hair. Umm ... not exactly brown. I'd call the color milk chocolate spiced with threads of cinnamon and honey.
Get a grip. So what if he's good-looking? This is freaking Beach Town, Florida. Next to seashells and citrus, cute boys are the largest produced crop.
Wait. He asked me something, didn't he? Oh yeah, it was about the stupid elevator. "I pushed the open door button."
"It just closed anyway, huh?" He quirks an eyebrow, an amused expression on his face.
"It did. I swear. It isn't working," I say, pointing to the button with the picture of the triangles next to it.
"That's the button you pushed?"
"You realize it's the close door button, right?" I stare at it and the one next to it. The placement seems wrong, but the pictures don't lie. "I do now."
He offers a wry, teasing smile. "Don't worry about it. I'm just giving you shit. I swear, this elevator has gotta be older than Archimedes."
"Who is that?"
"The guy who invented elevators back in BC."
Now it's my turn to question him. "You made that up."
"Look it up, girl. It's true."
"How do you know that?"
"I think it was a Jeopardy question or something."
He watches Jeopardy? I'll take mind blown for five hundred, Alex. I thought I was the only person in my age group who enjoyed the show.
"I'm a spermologer too." I cringe, realizing how the word comes off versus what it really means. It sounds as if I own an assortment of sperm ... gross.
He arches a brow. "Come again?"
"A spermologer, someone who collects trivia."
"I didn't know there was a word for us." Yeah, except a better title for me is Queen of Awkward Conversation.
"Yes, it's spermologer." God help me, can I please stop using obsolete words that have the antecedent sperm?
"Learn something new every day."
The elevator jolts before the car stops completely. I stumble back.
"You all right?" he asks.
"Looks like we're stuck."
I press the button for my floor. Nothing happens. So I start pressing the other buttons. Still nothing. No ... This can't be real. Getting stuck in an elevator with a super hot guy? This is the stuff of corny rom-coms.
"There's no need to panic."
"Not panicking," I say as I hit a few more buttons.
"Are you claustrophobic?"
"No." I sigh and lean back against the railing. I can still feel his gaze on me. "A little."
"Heard it helps to think about something else."
"Like what?" I curl my fingers around the steel railing at the back of the elevator.
He tilts his head, studying me. "Have we met?" he asks.
I replay the question in my head wondering if I heard correctly. When I laugh, the sound bounces off the walls and echoes inside the small elevator car. "Seriously?" He does a face palm. "Crap, that sounds like a pick-up line. I swear it's not."
As if I'd think he was trying to pick me up. "I'm sure you'd remember if you knew me."
"That's true. How could I forget?"
For a second, I thought he might be making fun of me on some level. But there isn't anything malicious in his voice. Taking a deep breath, I force myself to relax.
"Kiran Shenoy, right?"
I lift my head, wondering if I did know him. I think back to all the boys I went to high school with, but his face doesn't register at all. It's the kind of face that would register in triplicate. "How do we know each other?"
"No idea. I overheard the lady behind the front desk say your name." He holds out his hand ... his very large hand. "Mason Cutler."
I've been curling my fingers around the railing so tightly that I have to shake out my hand before taking his. His handshake is firm. I'm about to let go when he flips my wrist over. He presses his thumb against the ruby red mark there. Very few people notice it against my brown skin. His thumb slides back and forth in a short caress. The stain disappears against the pressure. It comes back slowly, deepening in color for a moment. My pulse spikes ten notches ... maybe twenty. After an eternity, he finally lets go. It's really only been two seconds, but it feels much longer, or maybe not long enough.
"It's not a tattoo?"
"It's a birthmark. They call it a port wine stain."
"A fire stain."
"I thought this was inked on since it's shaped like a heart."
The car starts up with a jolt. He gestures to the screen that signals we are moving. "See? No reason to panic."
The doors open, ending the weirdest elevator ride in the history of the world.
"This is me," I say, my fingers clutching the handle of my suitcase.
He holds one of the doors by leaning against it while I get out. I catch a hint of spicy, manly cologne and delicious boy. "Thank you."
"We made it unscathed."
"So we did." I nod, accepting what happened. He was just being nice and trying to distract me with an introduction.
"Maybe I'll see you around, Shenoy," he says.
I turn just in time to see the doors close.CHAPTER 2
After calling Papa to tell him I made it, I unpack my things in record time and head straight for the beach. I purchase a Rum Runner from the thatched roofed bar. After I adjust my straw hat and secure my sunglasses, I make my way toward the sand.
I nab the first empty beach chair I come across. All the chairs are in groupings of two. Figures. I throw my stuff on the other one and toss off my flips-flops. My feet sink into the soft, warm sand. For the first time in a long time, I feel at home. Rum Runners, a good book, and a beautiful view. What the hell else could a girl want? I plop down and stretch out, letting the sun warm me like a blanket.
This beach holds so many memories for me. I'd ride these waves for hours until exhaustion set in. The good kind of tired that makes you feel more alive. When it got too dark to surf, my friends and I would circle around the bonfire, a stream of music playing in the background. We'd talk for hours about our futures. I realize now I'd spent so much time thinking about the future that I never enjoyed the present. I miss those moments of laughter and freedom. I even miss the angst that's part and parcel to being a teenage girl. Now, here I am again thinking about my future. This time, I decide to enjoy the present.
I glance at the waves. Elevator boy is here too. He's out in the water on one of those cheap blue surfboards the hotel rents. I squint to get a better look at Mason Let-me-feel-up-your-wrist Cutler. It was weird, right? I was sort of a shut-in since my accident three years ago so I'm out of practice when it comes to the art of conversation. Still, nothing normal about that moment.
Excerpted from Eight Days in the Sun by MK Schiller. Copyright © 2017 MK Schiller. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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