Chapter 1 — 01
Agreeing to have a drink with Rosie at my beach house had seemed like a good idea at the time, but she's talking a mile a minute about a subject I have little time for even when it's not the end of a very long week.
From inside my country—style kitchen where I'm baking cookies, she tucks her burnished copper hair behind her ear and narrows her blue eyes. "You know you've got to get back out there. A man isn't going to fall out of the sky."
I try to keep my annoyance from showing as Rosie places a bottle of wine on the countertop. "At some point, you need to move on. Find a hot guy and jump him. Even if it's just for a weekend. This whole repressing your sexuality can't be good for you."
I keep staring out the window, my eyes on the storm clouds muscling in, casting the beach in broody tones that spell the end to the mild autumn.
Her eyebrows rise as she reaches for two glasses and sends me one of her signature 'I'm worried' looks. "Ev? Are you even listening to me?"
I unscrew the bottle and avoid her inquiring glance as I fill our glasses. "I'm too busy at work. I barely have the time to sleep, how am I supposed to fit a person into a seventy—hour week?"
She takes her glass with a disapproving frown and downs almost half of her pinot noir before I've even taken a sip. "Stop making excuses. You only work so damn hard because you have no one to come home to anymore." Her voice softens, which makes what she's saying even worse somehow. "Hon, it's been three years. I don't think he would have wanted you to be alone."
I stay silent even though I'm sick of people telling me what Scott would have wanted. I'm out of answers, out of protests, because she's heard it all before. I'm not ready. Why can't people understand that?
I take a large sip in the hopes it will warm the cold that has settled in my middle. "I'm tired. It's been a long day. Can we take a rain check? I really just want to go for a run before the weather turns and get in an early night."
Rosie sighs deeply. "I'm worried about you. It's so isolated out here in the winter. No cell access, no internet. No one is in town; the stores are all boarded up. How can you stand it?"
I run a hand through my blonde hair and make a point of looking at my split ends. "I like the quiet. And I like that my time is just that. Work knows they can't get me once I leave the office."
I don't explain that no one is out here to try to set me up in the tiny beachside town of Sanctuary Cove.
She growls at me. "Fine. Be all introverted. But there's a singles night at this new bar next Saturday, and you are coming with me." I open my mouth to protest, but she shakes her head and slams her glass down on the countertop so violently I flinch. "Don't argue. I'll meet you there at eight."
To keep from protesting, I gesture to the sky outside and take another drink. "You should probably leave now if you want to beat the storm."
Her eyes narrow, a frown spreading over her tanned skin. "See this makes me even more worried. A woman alone with no neighbors close by. How does that not worry you?"
I frown back at her. "I have firewood, candles, and an emergency kit. I'll be fine."
She rolls her eyes and pulls out her lip gloss, then puckers her lips and waves the lip brush at me. "I know you'll be fine. That's not the point." She makes a show of plastering the shiny pink over her lips as she looks me up and down. "Make sure you wear some makeup on Saturday. You can look pretty hot when you try."
Before I can reply, she blows me a kiss and spins on her heel. As the door closes with a click and I hear her Honda start outside, I close my eyes and try to think of yet another excuse to avoid going on a date.
I stare out the window again, watching the sun as it dips lower, the black clouds edging in stealing the sun along with my mood, and drink my wine until the buzzer signals the cookies are ready. I leave them cooling on the tray, glass in hand as I walk around the empty beach house.
I need to keep moving. Despite what I told Rosie, I have no intention of relaxing. I won't sleep. I know that well enough. Not until I've run off my nervous energy, and not until I've drunk enough to stop the memories from crushing in as I try to sleep.
I shrug out of my clothes, removing the heels that make my arches ache, and find my sneakers and sweats. I pull my hair back and try not to look myself in the eye as I pass the guestroom mirror.
The air is frigid as I step outside. I don't see anyone on the beach, and I don't expect to. Not this late in the season. And not this close to a storm. I start to run towards the water where the sand is firmer and packed more evenly. Before I reach the edge of the water, my nose is dripping. I shake off the discomfort, embracing it as I run faster. My legs start to burn, breathing coming in quick as I blink back hot tears.
I run into the wind, pumping my arms and legs until I can't think about anything else until I feel nothing but the burning in my muscles. I push harder, gasping but gritting my teeth against the muscle fatigue until I push through. I make it to the rocks and bend over as I try to find my breath. The slightest amount of movement coming from the corner of my eye alerts me to activity I didn't expect. I peer at the rocks, unsure if my eyes are playing tricks on me or if it's just a seal basking on them, taking in the last of the sun's rays.
I've nearly convinced myself it's a seal when the blurry object starts moving closer with decidedly human posture. I suck in a breath as a man with shaggy dark hair dressed in torn clothing starts taking awkward fumbling steps over the rocks.
I squint into the fading light, trying to see if he's a local fisherman who's maybe looking for shellfish. I scan the water, shading my eyes as I try to see any of the boats I know frequent the area. Out past the breakers, the water is choppy, wind picking up the waves as the sky darkens even further, but there are no boats out tonight.
The intruder seems unaware of my presence as he nearly tumbles over the rocks and onto the beach. A shiver runs down my spine as I ease myself up, standing to my full height. Tension creeps through me as he lifts his head to stare in my direction. I feel a tug in my chest as his dark eyes lock on to mine.
My heart starts to thud unevenly as he stops walking ten feet away from me. He slowly raises a hand in greeting. I creep closer, nerves winding higher as he starts shuffling awkwardly to cross the few feet remaining between us.
He's so close now I can see his bronzed face and muscled body. His face is half hidden by stubble. His voice comes out strained. "I could use a little help."
I force a smile to my face. "Where did you come from?"
His own smile is weak as he adjusts his soaked clothing. "Had an accident. I swam ashore but—" His sentence is cut short as he sways and grimaces. "I don't suppose you have a phone I could use? Maybe a first aid kit?"
I swallow and gesture to my house, the only one on the beach—front with any sign of life. "I don't have a phone that will work, but I have a first aid kit."
He smiles again and starts to drag his feet in the direction of my house. My heart continues to pound as I fall into step with him, doubting the wisdom of showing a stranger where I live. Alone.
He doesn't say anything, whether he's exhausted, or whether the increasing wind is making it impossible, I don't know. I'm just relieved I don't have to make small talk with him. I know next to nothing about fishing, and I'm not sure I should be encouraging him to talk, injured as he seems.
As I fumble with my key, he drops to sit and leans his head against the balcony and stares out at the increasingly agitated water. My hand hovers over the door as I watch him sitting on my porch. He's not looking at me, and he's not trying to come inside, but if he's a predator, an opportunist, I would be foolish to let him in my house.
I clear my throat. "I'll just get the first aid kit. Wait here."
He doesn't reply so I twist the key in the lock and step inside the warmth. My eyes stay on him, but he doesn't move. If he expected me to invite him inside, he doesn't seem bothered when I glimpse at him through the glass door. I lock the door and head to the bathroom cabinet, heart tapping too fast at the unexpected intrusion. I fumble with the first aid kit and check my cell on the off chance the patchy reception is cooperating.
When I see there's no signal, and I pause to look at him, still questioning my judgment, his body goes slack, and he topples over from where he's sitting.