ONE KISS CAN LAST FOREVER
Becca Thorpe has uprooted her life and escaped to the beach. Now's her chance to get away from city living, throw caution to the ocean winds, and live in the moment. Especially if the moment includes the deliciously sexy surfer she meets shortly after arriving in Lucky Harbor. Something about the dark intensity of Sam's eyes and the thrill she gets at his touch convinces her to stay awhile.
Boatbuilder and investment genius Sam Brody is a self-made man who knows how dangerous it can be to mix business and pleasure. But he can't resist offering Becca a job just to hear her laugh and have her near. Yet when her brother comes to town asking for help, will he tempt her back to her glamorous life in the city? Or do Sam and little Lucky Harbor have a chance to win Becca's heart?
There was still the night’s chill on the air when Becca woke up the next morning. Early sun rays were doing their best to beat back the dark shadows of the night, stabbing through the cloud layer with hints of soft yellow and orange.
She rolled the kink out of her neck from sleeping on the floor. Today was the day she further depleted her savings by buying furniture.
And other essentials, such as food.
Today was also the day that she got her act together. She stared at the portable piano keyboard leaning so deceptively casual-like against one of her suitcases.
As a jingle writer, all she had to do was write a catchy tune for a given product. That was it. Write a jingle, sell it to the ad agency that had her on retainer, and accept their thanks in the form of a check.
Except she’d been having trouble for a year now. Her muse had shriveled up on her, and she was eking out only the barest minimum to keep her agency interested. Her latest assignment was simple—come up with something catchy for Cushy toilet paper. A relatively easy and insignificant enough assignment, right?
With a sigh, she grabbed a roll of the toilet paper that the company had sent her, shoved it in her tote bag, and headed out. The first person she came across was the same boy on the bike who’d nearly hit her the other day.“Hey,” she said, flagging him down.
He slowed. “Sam’s probably in his warehouse—”
“No, this question’s for you.” She pulled out the roll of toilet paper. “Feel this. What does it make you think of?”
“I’m writing a commercial for it,” she told him.
“That’s weird,” he said, but he reached out and took it. Considered. “I guess it feels nice to squeeze,” he finally said.
“Good, but unfortunately, that commercial’s already been done,” she said. “Give me something else.”
“Okay…” The kid scratched his head. “It’s…soft?”
“Soft,” she said.
“Yeah. You know, cushy.”
She blew out a breath. “Thanks.”
“I wasn’t any help at all, was I?” the kid asked.
“You were great,” she told him, and waved as he rode off.
She walked to the pier for more ranch-flavored popcorn, which she’d bought at the ice cream stand. The
same twenty-something-year-old guy was there today.
“You’re back,” he said.
“Yep. You give good popcorn.”
He smiled. “I know. I’m Lance, by the way.”
“Becca,” she said. “I’m new to town.” Lance was small, painfully thin, and had an odd sound to his voice,
like his chest was hollow. She glanced at the jar on the counter, with a donate to cystic fibrosis research
poster taped to it, and felt a pang of worry and empathy for him.
“So what’ll it be, Becca New to Town?” he asked.
She smiled. “Ranch-flavored popcorn.” She paused. “And a single chocolate scoop.”
“Living large,” he said. “I like it.”
When he brought the popcorn and ice cream to her, she held up the roll of toilet paper. “Question,” she said. “What does this make you think of?”
He laughed. “That’s going to cost you a double scoop, at least.” But he squeezed the roll of toilet paper. “Tell me why I’m humoring the crazy lady?”
“Because she writes the songs for commercials,” Becca said. Sometimes. If she’s very lucky. “And I need
one for Cushy toilet paper. Only I’m stuck.”
“So your brain’s…plugged?” he asked playfully. “Yourbrain’s got a big…load?”
She laughed. “Don’t quit your day job.”
He squeezed the roll again. “You know,” he said casually. “I get sick a lot.”
Her heart pinched. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. But I use this brand for blowing my nose. It’s softer and more gentle than tissues.”
She smiled and handed back the ice cream cone she hadn’t yet licked. “Okay, now that’s worth a double.”
He made it a triple.
A million calories later, she was back in her place, and she managed to come up with a little—emphasis on little—jingle for Cushy. She sent it off to her agency, fingers crossed.
Standing up, she moved to the window and took in a most mesmerizing sight.
Not the ocean, though that was pretty damn fine, too.
But Sexy Grumpy Surfer—SGS for short, she’d decided—side by side with one of the other guys from last night, the two of them doing pull-ups on some metal bar. Given their easy, economical speed and the way they kept turning to eyeball each other, they were competing and not for the first time. They were shirtless, their toned bodies gleaming with sweat in the early-morning sun, definitely outshining the Pacific Ocean.
“Wow,” she whispered. She had no idea how long she stood there, or how many impossibly difficult pull-ups the two men did before they both dropped lithely to the ground, straightened, and gave each other a shove.
Their laughter drifted to her ears and she found herself smiling along with them. A sweaty tie then, she decided, and realized she was a little hot herself.
Hot and bothered.
Sexy Grumpy Surfer looked damn good laughing. The other guy moved off, back toward the small building between the street and beach, but SGS remained. Turning only his head, he unerringly met Becca’s gaze.
Crap. She dropped like a stone to the floor and lay flat. He hadn’t seen her, she thought. He totally hadn’t. The glare on the window had blocked his view. Yeah, for sure he’d missed her…
Slowly, she rose up on her knees to take a quick peek and winced.
He was still there, hands on hips, looking right at her.
He’d missed exactly nothing, and she suspected he rarely did.
Then the clouds shifted, and suddenly the sun was shining right on him, like he was the best of God’s glory. Since the sun was also bright, making seeing details difficult, it was probably—hopefully—her imagination that his mouth quirked in a barely there smile as he shook his head at her.
Her stomach quivering, she ducked again.
And then from her position prone on the floor, she forbid herself from looking out the window ever again.
Crawling to her suitcases in the center of the loft, she sat cross-legged, pulled out her list of Must-Buys,
and added curtains. Curtains would keep her from being distracted by her view. Curtains would keep her on task.
And away from further embarrassment.
She showered, dressed, and left the warehouse, sending a cautious look down the alley.
Relieved, she left. Several hours later she was back, followed by Eddie, the kid on the bike, whom she’d paid to help lug her loot. Thankfully he came with an older brother who had a truck, and equally thankfully, Lucky Harbor had a “vintage” shop, a really great one. She’d found everything she’d needed there, including gently used sheets that she bought for curtains.
In far less time than it’d taken to shop, she had curtains up and the bed made, and she was sitting on it, staring at an email from her ad agency.
The Cushy jingle works. I’ve sent accounting a request to get you payment. Next up is Diaxsis, the new erectile dysfunction medicine. Details and deadline info attached, if you’re interested.
Not Great job, Becca. Not You’re back, Becca. Not We’ve put you back on our top tier, Becca.
But neither was it You’re fired, Becca, so she’d take it. But Diaxsis? She blew out a breath and hit reply:
The next morning, Becca opened her eyes and let out a happy breath. She’d actually slept, and if there’d been bad dreams, she didn’t remember them. Turning her head, she stared at the curtains where a weak daylight poked in around the edges.
The insulation in her building was either poor or nonexistent. She could hear every single time the back
door of the building next to hers opened.
It opened now.
Don’t do it, she told herself. Don’t go look. You’re stronger than this. You don’t need the distraction…
But like Pavlov’s dog, she got up and peeked through the curtains.
It was foggy out, but the bigger news was that Sexy Grumpy Surfer was back. It looked chilly, and yet he was in another pair of board shorts and a T-shirt that hugged the width of his shoulders as they flexed enticingly while he dumped the contents of a shop vac into the trash bin.
Sex on a stick.
He didn’t look up this time, and Becca forced herself away from the window. She showered, ate the leftover ranch-flavored popcorn—breakfast of champions—and gave her keyboard a long, hard look. “Today,” she told it. “Today, you give me something better than It works.”
Sitting on the bed, leaning back against the wall, she pulled the keyboard onto her lap.
A year. A year since she’d composed jingles for the best national brands, and the reasons why were complicated. She’d lost her muse, and her footing. On life. That had to change. Hence the across-the-country move. A new venue, a new beginning. But she still needed to prove herself, if only to the woman in the mirror.
Her parents wouldn’t ask her to prove herself, she knew this. Growing up, they’d never asked anything of
her, other than to take care of her brother while they worked crazy hours in the jazz clubs of New Orleans. Watch Jase, that’s all they’d ever expected her to do.
Though only two years separated her and her brother, Becca felt far older, always had. She’d done her best to take care of him, succeeding better at some moments than others. But at least the promise of his talent had been fulfilled. He was a wonderful concert pianist.
Now she wanted, needed, to be wonderful at something, too.
And yeah, yeah, being worthy shouldn’t be tied up in financial success—or lack thereof—blah blah. But whoever had said that had clearly never had to pay their rent on time.
Her cell phone vibrated. The screen said Jase calling.
Until recently, they’d been close, and had talked frequently. Except, just like her early—and short-lived--
success with jingle writing, this too had turned out to be an illusion. A glossy veneer shown to the world, while the truth was hidden deep inside them both.
She stared at the phone until it went to voice mail.
Two seconds later came a text. You okay?
Completely okay, she texted back. Liar, liar, pants on fire…
But hell if she’d give anyone she cared about more stress to deal with. She turned her phone off, ignored the guilt, and spent the rest of the day alternating between nesting in her new place and trying to work a jingle about the male erection.
And maybe, also, looking out her windows a little bit. She told herself it was the ocean that drew her, but mostly her gaze was drawn to the alley. In addition to the pullups, she’d now seen Sexy Grumpy Surfer carrying a large duffel bag to the boat moored at the dock, washing down said boat with the same two other guys she’d seen before, and taking a hard, brutally fast run along the beach with yet a third guy.
Seemed like maybe Lucky Harbor was a hot-guy magnet.
By the end of the day, Becca needed sustenance and a change of scenery, so she headed into town. She could’ve gone to the diner Eat Me, but instead she walked a block farther, past the pier, to go back to the Love Shack.
She told herself it was the atmosphere. The place was done up like an Old West saloon, with walls lined with old mining tools, tables made from antique wood doors. Lanterns hung from the exposed beam ceiling, and the air was filled with laughter, talking, and music from the jukebox in the corner.
She ordered a burger and sat by herself to eyeball the real reason she’d come back here—the baby grand piano in the far corner. It was old, and had clearly been around the block decades ago, but it called to her. She stared at it, torn between wanting to stroke it, and wanting to run like hell.
Jase might the real talent of the Thorpe family, but there’d been a time when the two of them had been a duo. Maybe she’d never been quite as good as he was—not that her parents had ever said so, they didn’t have to—but she’d been good enough to boost Jase’s talent. The press latched on to them early, and they’d even become pseudocelebrities. Things had been good, until she’d turned seventeen.
With that age had come some self-awareness, and a seriouscase of the awkwards. Besides the headaches and bone aches that had come with a late, fast growth spurt, she’d lost all coordination, including her fingertips. Practically overnight she’d turned into the Graceless Ugly Duckling, exemplified.
The following month, their manager had gotten them invited to compete at the prestigious Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. The place had been filled with people—more than two thousand—and all Becca remembered was being struck by sheer, heart-stopping panic.
She’d tanked, and the press had ripped them to shreds.
Shaking off the memory, Becca paid for her food at the bar and took in the sign at the register that said: help wanted. She glanced at the piano and gnawed her lower lip. Then she gestured for the bartender. “Who do I talk to about the job?”
“Me,” he said with a smile as he set aside the glass he’d been drying to shake her hand. “I’m Jax Cullen, one of the owners.”
“Is it a hostess position?” she asked hopefully.
“Waitressing,” he said. “You interested?”
Was she? She glanced at the piano and ached. And she knew she was very interested, skills or not. And there were no skills. None. “I am if you are,” she said.
Jax lost his smile. “Shit. You don’t have any experience.”
“No,” she admitted. “But I’m a real quick learner.”
He studied her, and Becca did her best to look like someone who was one hundred percent capable of doing anything—except, of course, handling her own life. She flashed him her most charming smile, her “showtime” smile, and hoped for the best.
Jax chuckled. “You’re spunky,” he said. “I’ll give you that.”
“I’m more than spunky,” she promised. “I bet you by the end of my first night, you’ll want to keep me.”
He held her gaze a moment, considering. “All right, I’ll take that bet. How about a trial by fire starting now?”
She eyed the room. Not full. Not even close. “Who else is working?”
“Usually on a night like this, two others. But both my girls are out sick tonight and I’m on my own, so you’re looking like good timing to me. If you’re any good.”
The piano in the far corner was still calling to her, making her braver than usual. “I’m in,” she said.
Jax gave her an apron and a quick rundown of what was expected. He told her that here in Lucky Harbor, familiarity was key. Everyone knew everyone, and the trick to good service—and good tips—was friendliness.
Then he threw her to the wolves.
The first half hour remained thankfully slow, but every time she walked by the baby grand, she faltered.
Play me, Becca…
At about the twentieth pass, she paused and glanced around. Not a soul was looking at her. She eyed the
piano again, sitting there so innocuously, looking gorgeous. Damn. She’d played on her keyboard, but not a piano. Not since two years ago when she’d quit. She’d had a near miss with going back to playing a year ago, but then things had gone to all sorts of hell, reinforcing her stage fright and giving her a wicked case of claustrophobia to boot.
Play me, Becca…
Fine. Since fighting the urge was like trying not to need air, she sat. Her heart sped up, but she was still
breathing. So far so good. She set her fingertips on the cool keys.
And almost before she realized it, she’d begun playing a little piece she’d written for Jase years ago. It flowed out of her with shocking ease, and when she finished, she blinked like she was waking from a trance. Then she looked around.
Jax was smiling at her from behind the bar and when he caught her eye, he gave her a thumbs-up. Oh, God. Breaking out in a sweat, she jumped up and raced into the bathroom to stare at herself in the mirror. Flushed. Shaky. She thought about throwing up, but then someone came in to use the facilities and she decided she couldn’t throw up with an audience. So she splashed cold water on her hot face, told herself she was totally fine, and then got back to work to prove it.
Luckily, the dinner crowd hit and she got too busy to think. She worked the friendliness as best she could. But she quickly discovered it wasn’t a substitute for talent. In the first hour, she spilled a pitcher of beer down herself, mixed up two orders—and in doing so nearly poisoned someone when she gave the cashew-allergic customer a cashew chicken salad—and then undercharged a large group by thirty bucks.
Jax stepped in to help her, but by then she was frazzled beyond repair. “Listen,” he said very kindly, considering, “maybe you should stick with playing. You’re amazing on the piano. Can you sing?”
“No,” she said, and grimaced. “Well, yes.” But she couldn’t stick with playing, because she couldn’t play in
front of an audience without having heart failure. “I really can do this waitressing thing,” she said.
Jax shook his head but kept his voice very gentle. “You’re not cut out for this job, Becca. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”
She was beginning to think she wasn’t cut out for her life, but she met his gaze evenly, her own determined. “I bet you, remember? By the end of the night, you’ll see. Please? One more try?”
He looked at her for a long moment and then sighed. “Okay, then. One more try.”
A group of three guys walked in the door and took a table. Fortifying her courage, Becca gathered menus and strode over there with a ready-made smile, which congealed when she saw who it was. Sexy Grumpy Surfer and his two cohorts.
Bolstering herself, she set the menus on the table. “Welcome, gentlemen.”
SGS was sprawled back in his chair, long legs stretched out in front of him crossed at the ankles, his
sun-streaked hair unruly as ever, looking like sin personified as he took her in. She did her best to smile, ignoring the butterflies suddenly fluttering low in her belly. “What can I get you to start?”
“Pitcher of beer. And you’re new,” one of them said, the one with the sweetest smile and the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. He had short brown hair he’d forgotten to comb, some scruff on a square jaw, and was wearing cargo pants and a polo shirt with a small screwdriver sticking out of the breast pocket. “I’m Cole,” he told her, “and this big lug here…” He gestured to the dark-haired, dark-eyed, darkly dangerously good-looking guy next to him. “Tanner.” Then he jerked his chin toward SGS. “You apparently already know this one.”
“Yes,” Becca said. “SGS.”
They all just looked at her.
“Sexy Grumpy Surfer,” she clarified.
Cole and Tanner burst out laughing.
SGS just gave her a long, steady, paybacks-are-a-bitch smile.
“Or Grandpa,” Cole offered. “That’s what we call him because he always seems to know the weirdest shit.”
“And Grandma works, too,” Tanner said. “When he’s being a chick. No offense.”
Sam sent them each a look that would’ve had Becca peeing her pants, but neither man looked particularly worried.
“And your name?” Cole asked Becca.
She opened her mouth, but before she could answer Sam spoke for her. “Peeper,” he said. “Her name is Peeper.”
His steely but amused gaze held hers as he said this, which is how Becca finally saw him smile. It transformed his face, softening it, and though he was already ridiculously attractive, the smile—trouble-filled as it was—only made him all the more so. It gave her a little quiver in her tummy, which, as she couldn’t attribute it to either hunger or nerves, was not a good sign.
“Peeper,” Tanner repeated slowly, testing it on his tongue. “That’s unusual.”
Still holding Becca’s gaze, Sam said, “It’s a nickname, because she—”
“It’s my big eyes,” Becca broke in with before he could tell his friends that she’d been caught red-handed watching them like a…well, peeper. “Yeah,” she said. “I’ve bowled him over with my…peepers.”
Sam startled her by laughing, and the sound did something odd and wonderful and horrifying deep inside her, all at the same time. Unbelievably, she could feel herself standing on the precipice of a crush on this guy. She’d been attracted before, of course, plenty of times, but it’d been a while since she’d taken the plunge.
A long while.
She hoped the water was nice, because she could feel the pull of it and knew she was going in.
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About the Author
New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis lives in a small town in the Sierras full of quirky characters. Any resemblance to the quirky characters in her books is, um, mostly coincidental. Look for Jill's bestselling, award-winning books wherever romances are sold and visit her website for a complete book list and daily blog detailing her city-girl-living-in-the-mountains adventures.
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