Luci Monroe is on top of the world. She's just graduated from journalism school and she's already landed her dream job in PR. Then Cody Jarvis saunters into her office. Nothing like finding out that your teenage crush, now a gorgeous, globe-trotting, freelance photographer, is going to be your staffer for the summer. Never mind. They're both professionals. And she's over him. Kind of. Anyway, he's not interested. Cody is always waiting to disappear on his next assignment, and Luci needs someone stable. Someone who wants to build a life right here in Willow Beach
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"Cody Jarvis! What's he doing here?" Luci Monroe stared at the man who'd just stepped out the back door of her parents' home. "I didn't see his name on the guest list," she added.
Her sister, Francine, set a plate of crab cakes on the buffet table. "Maybe Don invited him," she said. "Didn't he say he had a surprise for you tonight?"
"He did, but I thought he meant the combo." Luci nodded toward the musicians her older brother had hired. Their music provided a pleasant backdrop to the party celebrating Luci's graduation from Seattle's University of Washington and her return to Willow Beach.
"Cody's spotted you," Francine said. "Better put a smile on your face."
"I'll be okay. I've been over him for at least a year." And yet, as she watched him approach, her heart was beating wildly.
"C'mere, Luci." Cody opened his arms and swept her up in a warm embrace.
With a resigned sigh, she looped her arms around his neck and hugged him back.
He drew away and let his gaze rove over her. "Lookin' good, Luci."
"Thanks. You, too."
And he did. She always thought the cliché "tall, dark and handsome" suited him perfectly, and that still held true. He'd let his hair grow a little longer, but she liked it that way. And his brown-eyed gaze was as sharp as ever.
Cody hugged Francine. "Hey, Fran, good to see you."
"Hello, Cody." Francine returned his hug.
Don joined them, carrying two bottles of beer. He handed one to Cody. "Here you go, buddy. Glad you could make it." He turned to Luci. "How do you like your surprise?"
Luci propped her hands on her hips. "He's a surprise, all right. I thought he was in Timbuktu or some other exotic place."
Cody tossed his head back and laughed.
"I'll have to put that on my list. No, I just got back from Italy."
"Still the freelance photographer?" Luci said, although she didn't know why she asked when she knew the answer.
"Always." Cody patted the camera attached to a leather strap slung around his neck. "And here you are, all graduated and degreed and starting a new job, I hear."
The mention of her job brought a smile to Luci's lips. "Right. I'm working for Glen Thomas at the chamber of commerce. Writing, of course. Articles, brochures, some PR, a little of everything. How about you?"
"I'll be in town till I get another assignment. Then I'll be off again. You know me." He shrugged and sipped his beer.
"Nice you could come back for a visit," she said, hoping she didn't sound insincere. "Bet your mom's happy to see you."
"She's here, too." He nodded toward the back door. "I left her in the kitchen trading recipes with your mom. Something about sponge cake."
"For Mom's strawberries," Francine said.
Anna Monroe and Olive Jarvis stepped from the house. Anna placed a large bowl on the buffet table and said, "Olive made her famous potato salad."
"Thank you, Olive," Luci said. Cody's mother was an attractive woman who shared her son's dark hair and brown eyes.
"You're most welcome." Olive enveloped Luci in a hug and then squeezed Anna's hand. "This is a happy day, isn't it? Both our children home again."
Cody rolled his eyes. "I'm going on thirty here."
"But children are always that, aren't they?"
"They are," Anna agreed.
"Well, look who's here!" Luci's father, having left his post at the barbecue pit, burst into the group, thrusting out his hand to Cody.
"Hey, Erv." Cody shook the other man's hand.
"Good to see you," Erv said. "Want to hear about all the places you've been."
Some of the other guests wandered over, and soon a large group had gathered around Cody. Luci edged away and circulated among the other guests, but Cody's presence distracted her. She heard him laugh politely at pharmacist Hal Barnett's corny joke and watched him help Don's wife, Arliss, pop open sodas for their children, ten-year-old Spencer and eight-year-old Hannah. She tracked his movements despite herself.
When her father's barbecued chicken was done, the guests lined up at the buffet table. Cody sat with Don and his family. Then Francine and her husband, Will, and their daughters, Betsy and Megan, joined the group. Luci thought about joining them but instead sat with two friends from high school and their families.
When Cody finished eating, he did what she expected him to doput his camera into action. He gathered several couples and their children for a group shot. He caught her father and one of his golf buddies laughing over a joke, and her mother showing off her prize roses to the ladies in her garden club. Even the musicians posed for him.
Luci sighed. Cody had turned her homecoming party into one of his photo shoots.
Needing a break, she wandered to the edge of the lawn where a path led through the dunes to the beach. The ocean sparkled under a sun about to slip below the horizon, and the waves made a soft shushing sound as they rolled onto the shore. If only she could escape there now. When something upsetting happened, a walk on the beach always helped to calm her. Cody's unexpected appearance was certainly one of those times. As soon as the party was over
She turned and, sure enough, there he stood, camera raised to his eye. He took a few shots and then backed away and took some more. Still more while down on one knee and yet another couple while standing with feet planted apart. Finally, he lowered the camera.
"Are you finished now?" Her words came out sharper than she'd intended. She must be in worse shape than she'd realized.
He frowned. "Not okay to take your picture? You're the guest of honor. Besides, you're a good subject."
"You didn't give me any warning. I probably need to comb my hair or something."
"Your hair is fine. The sunlight caught it just right." He tilted his head. "It's beenwhat?a year since we've seen each other?"
"Yes, about that."
"Your last year at the U go okay?"
She looked toward the water againwhere the lowering sun spread rays of red, yellow and orange along the horizonand wanted more than ever to take that walk on the beach. But the talk and laughter drifting across the lawn reminded her that the party offered an escape, too.
"I'd better get back to my guests," she said. "But thanks for coming, Cody, and good luck with your next assignment."
He laid a hand on her arm. "Don't say goodbye yet. I'll be around for a while. In a town as small as Willow Beach, we're bound to run into each other."
Just then, Don came toward them, waving his hand. "There you are, Cody. Been looking for you. Glen Thomas wants a word."
Cody raised his eyebrows. "The chamber of commerce president wants to talk to me?
Don shrugged. "Don't know. He didn't say."
"Okay," Cody said. "See you later, Luci."
"Sure. See you later."
Luci hugged herself as she watched Cody and Don head back to the party. She'd thought she was telling the truth when she said she was over Cody. But the moment she laid eyes on him tonight, all her old feelings came rushing back.
Why did he have to return to Willow Beach, even for a short while, just when she was settling in again with her family and her new job?
Cody heated a mug of leftover coffee in the microwave and carried it to the table where his computer sat. His apartmentthe detached garage on his mother's propertywas the perfect quiet spot for reviewing photos. The living, dining and kitchen areas were one big room. His bedroom had an en suite bathroom, and he'd turned the second bedroom into a darkroom.
Cody sat at the table, put down his mug and clicked the mouse. A new picture flashed onto the screen. Another shot of Luci. He chuckled. He'd taken more pictures of her tonight than of anyone else.
She made a good subject. Her red hair always caught the light in unusual ways, sometimes reflecting blond highlights, other times a rich mahogany. Her hazel eyes were wide set and expressive, her nose straight and regal, and her mouth, with its full lower lip, was perfect.
He played with the photo, trying different filters to see their effects. At the same time, his thoughts lingered on the party. Luci's behavior puzzled him. Judging by her enthusiastic hug, she was glad to see him; but later, when he photographed her standing at the edge of the yard, she'd acted annoyed. Was her mood change related to the crush she'd had on him years ago? He thought she was over that.
He hadn't paid much attention to Luci when he and Don were in high school; she was just Don's kid sister. After graduation, Cody attended the University of Washington but dropped out after two years to work as a photographer for the Willow Beach Herald. A few years later, when Luci was a high school senior, she'd interned at the newspaper. Apparently, or so he'd been told by various people, that was when she'd developed her crush on him. He'd never encouraged her, not because he didn't like her, but because of the age difference. She was eighteen to his twenty-four.
After she graduated and he decided to finish his college education, they both ended up at the U. They got together a few times, nothing serious, just friends. On his part, anyway. Although the age difference wasn't as important anymore, by that time he'd wanted to travel the world as a freelance photographer.
He'd also decided on no romantic attachments. Asking a wife or a significant other to wait for him at home wouldn't be fair. Maybe someday he'd change his mind and want more. For now, he traveled solamente.
He'd expected Luci to move on, but he hadn't heard about a new guy in her life; nor had he seen anyone in particular hanging out with her tonight.
A knock sounded on his door. When he went to open it, his mother stood there, her arms full of towels and sheets.
"Sorry to interrupt your work," she said, "but I thought you could use some clean linens."
"You're not interrupting. I'm almost finished for the night. Come on in." He opened the door wider, and Olive swept in. "You don't have to do my laundry, you know." He closed the door behind her. "I'm a big boy now."
"I know, but I don't have that much laundry myself, so I might as well throw in yours." She looked around. "Where shall I put this?"
Cody pushed aside a bin full of photographs sitting on one of the tables. "Right here. I'll put them away later."
Olive set down the linens and then propped her hands on her hips and surveyed the room. "If you put any more equipment in here, you won't have space to turn around."
He looked around, trying to see the place as she saw it. Okay, the room was crowded. Several tables held computers, printers and scanners; tripods were propped in corners, and cameras, cases and other miscellaneous items filled the shelves. Enlargements of his photos decorated the walls.
"I like my place," he said. "It's cozy and has everything I need."
"Maybe so, but do you think you'll ever find a woman who'll put up with all this?" Olive went to the sofa and plumped up the loose cushions.
"Not a question that needs to be answered, because I'm not looking. Not right now, anyway."
"What about that woman who was on your last assignment? The one you talked about in your emails?"
"Shar, from Omaha?" He smiled as the image of Sharlene Williams, with her blond hair and ready smile, popped into his mind. "Yeah, she's nice, but we're just friends."
Olive straightened and frowned at Cody. "Omaha is too far away, anyway. I always hoped you'd find someone closer to home."
Cody grinned at her wistful expression. "No woman would put up with my being gone most of the time. I'mwhat do you old folks call ita rolling stone."
Olive sighed. "Your dad really started something when he gave you that camera, didn't he?"
Cody chuckled and walked over to one of the shelves. "This one?" He picked up a child's red-and-yellow plastic camera. "Yeah, he did. And I was only, what, six?"
"Uh-huh. Right before he died." Olive's eyes misted. "And you'd go all over taking pictures, you with your little camera and he with his big one."
"Yep. And young as I was, I remember him telling me that when I got old enough, we'd travel the world and take lots and lots of pictures. 'Capturing the moment,' he called it, although I didn't understand what that meant." Cody's throat tightened. "We never got to do that."
"No, you didn't, and I'm so sorry. If only he could've beaten the cancer." She bit her lip and looked away.
Cody walked over to his mother and put his arm around her. "That's why I'm traveling now. I like to think he's with me on my trips, helping to capture the moments."
"That's a wonderful tribute, Cody. But what about passing on your love of photography to your son or daughterwouldn't that also be a way to honor him?"
Cody smiled. "Ah, we're back to that again, are we?"
"You can't blame me for hoping." She cast him a sheepish look. "Some grandchildren would be nice."
"You have Emma's grandchildren." He replaced the camera on the shelf. "Think how lucky they are, having two grandmas to dote on them."
Olive and Emma Chester were lifelong friends. When Cody's father passed away, Cody and his mom had moved from Portland to Willow Beach, next door to Emma. One of the reasons Cody didn't worry about being gone so much was that his mom had Emma and her family for support.
"Emma's grands are sweet, but they're not the same as my own would be," she insisted, and then her expression brightened. "Anyway, it's nice to have you home, even if it's only for a week or so."
If Cody accepted Glen Thomas's offer, he'd be staying longer than a week. But could he handle it? Before long, the open road would be calling him again, like it always did.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 1/2 STARS! You can come home again .. but will it ever be the same as you remembered it? I enjoyed this story. The characters are fun with a lot of potential there -- would have liked to have seen them decide to test their relationship waters earlier in the book. Luci Monroe has finished up school and is coming back home to Willow Beach to be close to her family. She's landed a great job doing PR and is ready to start living her life. Imagine her surprise when Cody Jarvis strolls in. She had a huge crush on him years ago, but he just considered her a friend and the little sister of one of his high school pals. Now they're going to be doing some work together for the summer, and she can't help but still feel that twinge when he's near. Will she be able to stand strong against her feelings for him when she knows he will just leave to roam the world once this temp job is over? Or could Cody actually feel something for her too this time?
Luci has had an unrequited crush on Cody for...well, for a very long time. When a summer journalism job throws them together, with her as the writer and him as the photographer, she finds she's not too sure she's over him. Luci is a fun character and not too complex. She's the baby of her family and desires nothing more than to put down her organized roots, stay in her hometown, and spend a lot of time with her family. I'm wasn't surprised for her to discover that you cannot plan your life out because wrenches are thrown into carefully laid plans all the time. There are some unexpected twists that derail her plan in a hurry and one of them is Cody. Cody is the opposite of Luci. He goes where his camera leads him and is a very spur-of-the-moment type of guy, one who has no desire at all to "nest." I was expecting more romance with this one, especially given the title, and I definitely would have liked more, but it's still a sweet little story. I always enjoy the characters journeys of growth and overcoming hard things. I really loved the setting--I love the beach and could picture living in this great, small town. I also loved the relationships between each character and his/her family members, as well as Luci in the role of a mentor to Tessa. This is a gentle, sweet, and clean summer romance, perfect for a pool or beach read. There's nothing too deep and is great fluff reading! Content: mild romance (kissing, vague implication of past, unmarried, intimate relations); no violence; one mild expletive; no religious elements. Clean! *I received a copy through Prism Book Tours in exchange for an honest review*