In this story about awakening and the healing power of love, a woman who refuses to let go of her troubled past is united with an easygoing man who can show her the path to her own salvation.
Lucretia “Cree” Cabot spends her time saving everybody else to avoid facing her own haunted life. Between raising her younger brother and trying to open a women’s shelter, Cree has built an impenetrable wall around her heart. But when a tenant for Cliff Cottage appears at her door, he cracks her vigilantly controlled world, forcing her to look within to confront the emptiness inside.
Mike Sullivan, famous superhero artist, is searching for a peaceful summer break and a new perspective on life. A farm in sunny Santa Cruz seems like just the place. Looking to escape from his usual routine, he doesn’t count on falling for a woman who is as stubborn as the mule that lives in her barn. Yet beneath Cree’s prickly exterior, he finds a woman in pain—a woman with an immense capacity for love. Mike knows she is the only one for him, but will Cree find the courage to truly live and love before the best thing to walk into her life leaves her behind?
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"Do you have any more sex wax left?"
Behind the counter, Mike whirled around at the female voice, his first customer at his new job at Carmen's Surf Shack, and froze.
The woman's gray eyes were like a November day in New England, reminding him of wild waves and wilder rain. Somewhere in the steel orbs flecks of warm light called him home. A deep ache tugged at his heart, and he knew, without a doubt, that she was the one to--
"Mr. Zog's. There aren't any more on the shelves."
Her words split his trance and he swooped down and grabbed a can from the open carton near his feet, the shipment he'd planned to stock after lunch. "Here you go," he said, handing her the round tin as he studied the setting of those rocky coastline eyes. She was a typical surfer girl, all blond and gold in frayed cut-offs and hot pink tank top. He breathed a sigh of relief. Pure California. No danger of being bewitched here. There was nothing magical about California, which is why he came here, far from his haunts in Northampton. Still, those eyes...
She rested her forearms on the counter as she squinted at the shelves of surfing supplies behind it. She straightened and reached into her knapsack for her wallet. "No, nothing else. Just the wax, thanks."
Mike rang up the sale and tried to ignore the quake in his heart as he sensed those hurricane eyes focusing on him.
He was the last person she'd expect to be working in a sunny surf shop on the Boardwalk of Santa Cruz. He was all lean muscle in black jeans and a worn black tee shirt with the sleeves ripped off. That part fit the beach, yet with that black forelock that fell overone eye, short sideburns, and lips of Elvis quality, she would expect to see him on a stage at the local rock club, far away from daylight.
He stared at her, though, with those wide eyes the color of small miracles, and for a moment she felt as if she'd been sucked into a strange spell. She tossed her head to shake off the rare distraction. Too much sun today, Cree, she thought and said aloud, "You're new here."
When he smiled, blue lightning danced in his eyes, momentarily dizzying her. He nodded. "Just moved here two days ago from back East." She handed him a twenty. "Figured I'd give California a chance," he finished.
Something fleeting in his expression reminded Cree of a lost child. She'd seen too many of those in this city--kids running to the golden land to chase a dream only to end up on the streets owning nothing but backpacks of broken wishes.
He was no kid but she guessed he was just another drifter. Most likely, she guessed, he'd end up on the streets like the rest of them. Nothing special here, she decided. Just another one in need of saving.
She pressed her lips together and took her change. "Well," she clipped. "Good luck."
"Wait!" he barked as she turned away. She faced him again and inclined her head.
Man, he thought. Something about her, not only her New England eyes, tugged at him and he didn't want her to walk out of the shop until he chewed over what that something was. "What, uh," Mike stuttered and tried to ignore her impatient expression. "Why is it called sex wax, anyway?"
Her sudden laugh was a magic charm and he forgot his burning cheeks and grinned as she approached the counter again. "Not a surfer, huh?"
"Nope. Just working here for some pocket change."
"I don't have a clue. It's catchy, though, isn't it?" She lingered, her shadowy eyes kind, and tilted her head at him. "I hope you find what you're looking for here. This place can be ... deceiving."
Her warning tone intrigued him. Maybe there was more to California than he'd thought. Maybe there really were vampires prowling this little beach town just like in the movies. A burst of excitement sprinkled through him.
"What do you mean?" He leaned forward, rested his palms on the counter.
The tip of her tongue peeked from the corner of her mouth as she appeared to choose her words. "A lot of people come here looking for--how shall I put this?--'the way, man,' but they are quick to lose their own way. Don't let that happen to you."
He laughed. "I'm thirty-one. If I haven't found my way by now then I think I'm in big trouble, but I appreciate the advice. I'm Mike, by the way."
He held out his hand and she grasped it, shook it briskly. "Cree."
Her smile was fleeting but it lit those eyes and he fell just a little bit in love with her, just for a second. "You know, I may have found 'the way' but I could use a little help finding my way around here. You want to show me around Santa Cruz sometime? Maybe check out the Mystery Spot?"
He cringed the moment he said it and Cree dropped his hand, arched a brow.
"I don't think so." With a look of cool disdain, she turned and marched out of the shop.
"Good one, Sullivan." His manager, Carmen, slapped him on the shoulder with a shake of the head. "You have a way, all right, a way to chase hot babes right out the door." He chortled and vanished into the back room.
Mike groaned. "You wanna check out the Mystery Spot?" he mimicked and felt his face flame. He recalled her scornful look and flushed once again. No doubt she thought he was a typical meathead.
The thing was that he really did want to visit the Mystery Spot he'd read so much about. He had no clue why he'd been suddenly inclined to ask her anyway. The words were out of his mouth before he had a chance to think. Cree was blond and light and everything that didn't attract him. Not that he hadn't pictured her naked the whole time they talked. He was, after all, a man.
But what words! He'd only felt shame the times he'd witnessed members of his gender sidle up to an unsuspecting female and attempt to seduce her with stupidity.
Now he felt a sorry kinship with his brethren.
Oh well, he thought as he hoisted the carton of sex wax onto the stool next to him, no doubt it's for the best. With a long sigh, he slapped his hands on the counter and straightened, still bothered that she'd left the shop thinking that he was a jerk.