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Book 5 in the Gansett Island Series
All her life, Grace Ryan was the “fat girl.” Taunted and teased and ignored by her peers, she tried every diet ever invented to no avail. Desperate to change her life as her twenties slipped away, she decided it was time for drastic measures and had lap-band surgery. More than a year later, she’s lost 130 pounds and is venturing into the dating world for the first time. During a boat trip to Gansett Island with the new guy in her life, Grace refuses to have sex with him and finds herself abandoned without a dollar to her name at McCarthy’s Gansett Island Marina. At home for the summer awaiting the launch of his debut CD, music star-in-the-making Evan McCarthy is performing at the Tiki Bar when he notices Grace looking lost in a sea of happy people. Evan comes to her aid and quickly finds himself smitten. But the last thing Grace needs after all she’s been through is a guy who “doesn’t do relationships.” Will Evan change his ways to win Grace’s heart?
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“I need to get up.”
Taking her hand, he flashed a sexy grin and tried to press her palm against his pulsating erection. “I’m already up, babe.”
Grace pulled her hand back. “Not you. Me. I have to pee.”
Frustrated, he flopped on the bed. “Hurry up already.”
She reached for his discarded T-shirt and started to put it on.
“What’re you getting dressed for? Just go.” He took the shirt from her. “You don’t need this.”
The Grace Ryan who’d never been naked in front of another living soul clung to the shirt. But the Grace who was more than ready for a whole new life let him take it from her.
He caressed her face. “Go on. It’s okay.”
The tender—and unexpected—gesture gave her the courage she needed to slide off the bunk and duck into the tiny head without obsessing too much about what her backside might look like to him. Wondering if he’d hear her peeing through the wall almost made it impossible for her to go.
Oh, I’m so not cut out for this, Old Grace thought. Yes, you are, New Grace insisted. You have as much right to a hot night with a hot guy as any other girl. You’ve certainly earned it.
That much was true. With her arms crossed over her abundant breasts—the one part of her that hadn’t benefitted from the weight loss—she took care of business and stood just as the phone Trey had left on the counter chimed with a text message.
Honestly, she didn’t intend to look at it, but he was Trey Parsons after all, the stud king of Mystic, Connecticut, and she didn’t trust him as far as she could spit him. So she looked.
From “Quigs,” also known as Tom Quigley, Trey’s best friend since grade school:
Did u nail the whale yet? Remember $500 in it for ya if u bring back proof of the cherry bomb.
Grace was frozen with shock and horror. It had all been a big joke! Weeks of dates and flowers and “romance” had all been a big, fat joke! And to think she’d almost given him her virginity so he could use it like a trophy to impress his asshole friends! Red-hot rage the likes of which she’d never before experienced surged through her.
“What the hell are you doing in there?” Trey called, no doubt impatient to seal the deal so he could collect his prize money.
Grace wished she could storm out there and tell him off, but the fact that she was naked made it hard for her to think about anything other than the fact that she was naked—and humiliated. Again.
Staring in the small mirror, she forced back the pain, focused on the rage and opened the door.
“I thought you just had to pee.” Had she ever noticed that he pouted like a petulant child when he didn’t get his way? “You were in there so long I lost my boner.”
Grace threw the phone at him, narrowly missing his head. Too bad. “You left it in the bathroom.” She pulled on her clothes with frantic, jerky movements, desperate to cover herself and get out of there.
“What’re you doing?”
“What does it look like I’m doing?”
His blond hair was mussed from her fingers, and his blue eyes shot daggers at her. What had she ever seen in him anyway? “Why?”
“I’m going for a walk.”
“What the hell? I thought we were having sex here!”
“Were is the key word. I need more time to think about it.” What she needed was to figure out a way home that wouldn’t involve calling the parents who hadn’t wanted her to go on this overnight in the first place.
“You gotta be freaking kidding me. We’ve been dating for weeks! How much more time do you need?”
“I don’t know.” She grabbed her phone and headed for the cabin door. “I’ll be back.”
“Don’t rush on my account.”
Glancing over her shoulder, she noticed him staring at his phone. Good. Let him figure out that she was on to his sick little plan. As she climbed off the boat onto the pier at McCarthy’s, her hands and legs trembled from shock and anger. On her way up the dock, the pain set in. After everything she’d been through—years of obesity, the huge decision to have lap-band surgery and all her hard work to lose the weight—and keep it off for more than a year—she was still “the fat girl” to people like Trey who’d never known her as anything else.
Thank goodness she’d discovered what a total asshole Trey was before things had gone any further. When she thought about being naked in bed with him and how close they’d come… “Ugh!” She sank her fingers into her hair, wishing she could scrub the images from her brain.
While they’d been frolicking aboard the boat, the sun had set over Gansett’s Salt Pond. A crowd was gathered at the Tiki Hut, where two guitarists played old favorites, not that Grace paid much attention as she walked past the bar. She had far more pressing issues—such as getting as far away from Trey Parsons as possible.
“Excuse me,” she said to an older man who leaned against a cab reading the newspaper.
He glanced up at her, a friendly smile on his weathered face. “How can I help ya?”
“I was wondering—what time does the last ferry leave?”
“Ya just missed it. Left at eight.”
Grace sagged under the weight of the realization that she was stuck on the island until morning. “Can you recommend a place where I might be able to get a room for the evening?”
He let out a guffaw. “On Labor Day weekend? Hate to tell ya, doll, but everything’s been booked for months. There’s not a room to be had on the entire island. Biggest weekend of the year, ’cept fer Gansett Race Week.”
Grace conjured up an image of the camper-sized sofa in the boat’s salon. It was small, but it would do for one night. “Thanks for your help,” she said.
Since she had no choice, she turned and made her way slowly and reluctantly back to the boat, taking her time to avoid Trey for that much longer. On the way, she spent a moment appreciating the two supremely handsome men who were performing at the Tiki Bar. One of them had shaggy blond hair and a smile that wouldn’t quit. He seemed in his element playing the guitar and singing for the appreciative crowd.
The other had dark hair—Patrick Dempsey hair, she decided—a muscular build and a face that belonged in movies. He too seemed right at home on stage and sang with his partner as if they’d been performing together for years.
Leaning against the gift shop building, Grace hummed along to “Brown-Eyed Girl” and “Turn the Page” before she reluctantly continued down the pier to deal with Trey. As she approached the spot where the boat was supposed to be, she did a double take.
It was gone.
“Oh my God,” she whispered. “That bastard!”
She stared at the empty spot at the dock for a long moment before the truth sank in. He’d left her there alone, taking her purse and clothes with him. She was stuck on Gansett Island with no boyfriend, no place to stay and no money. In the span of an instant, she went from hurt to angry to scared and then to sad. What was supposed to have been one of the greatest nights of her life had turned into yet another disaster.
This, Evan McCarthy thought, is as good as it gets. Strumming his guitar in perfect harmony with his best friend on a warm late-summer evening at the docks where he’d spent an idyllic childhood. Playing the home crowd at McCarthy’s Gansett Island Marina beat any stage in any venue, and he’d played his share of stages and venues.
He and Owen Lawry exchanged glances as they played the last notes of “Bad Moon Rising” and launched into their anthem, “Take it Easy.” Life was good. His CD would be out by Christmas, he’d had an awesome time with his brothers, sister and extended family during his sister’s wedding the previous weekend and the tropical storm that followed. He’d gotten a new niece out of the storm, born to his brother Mac and sister-in-law Maddie.
After a scary accident earlier in the summer, his father seemed to be on the mend from a head injury and broken arm. “Big Mac” McCarthy wasn’t quite his old self yet, but he was better than he’d been. Evan was somewhat concerned about the unusual bickering he’d witnessed between his parents since he’d been home, but he chalked that up to the strain of his father’s recovery, their daughter’s wedding, a houseful of extra people and the unexpected arrival of a granddaughter during a tropical storm.
A table of pretty young women had been sending flirtatious signals to him and Owen all evening. They’d have their pick of the ladies at closing time. Since he was still staying with his folks up the hill at “The White House,” the name the islanders had bestowed upon the McCarthy family home, he hoped the ladies had their own rooms at whatever hotel they were calling home for the weekend.
A nice fling over the long weekend would be just what the doctor ordered after a summer of nonstop work. He’d been feeling cooped up lately, cagey and unsettled. A little mindless sex would straighten him right out—the sooner the better, as far as he was concerned. When was the last time he’d blown off some steam? That he couldn’t remember was worrisome.
He joined Owen for the chorus to “Take it Easy,” high off the adrenaline of performing before an appreciative audience. Here he had none of the issues with the crippling stage fright that had plagued him throughout his career. That was another reason why he loved playing on Gansett so much.
Owen grinned at him, no doubt enjoying this evening as much as Evan. The gig was actually Owen’s. Evan’s folks had convinced O to stay on until Columbus Day, and he’d cajoled Evan into joining him tonight. It hadn’t required much arm twisting, since Evan hadn’t been doing anything but hanging around the house trying to dodge his mother’s increasingly probing inquiries into his nonexistent love life.
The one thing Evan McCarthy avoided like the clap was commitment, which was the last thing his mother wanted to hear, especially with his siblings falling like dominoes lately. First Mac fell for Maddie, then Janey married Mac’s best friend Joe, and then Grant fell for Stephanie. To add insult to injury, even their friend Luke Harris went down hard this summer with his first love, Sydney Donovan. Evan had no idea what was in the water lately, but whatever it was, he wasn’t thirsty.
Thank God at least Owen shared Evan’s commitment to bachelorhood. So did Evan’s brother Adam, who’d gone back to New York once the ferries started running again after the storm. The three of them had to stick together in the midst of all this marriage mayhem.
Owen nudged him, nodded toward a woman sitting at a table by herself and raised a questioning eyebrow.
As Evan watched her, she swiped at tears and stared off in the distance. Unlike the other women in the crowd, she wasn’t paying them an ounce of attention. Evan told himself that was okay even as his ego registered the hit.
Evan shrugged as they started into “Love the One You’re With.” As he sang along, he kept half an eye on the unhappy woman in the corner. Thanks to the overhead lights on the pier, he could see that she had shiny, dark, shoulder-length hair, the kind of hair that would feel like silk when you ran your fingers through it. What he could see of her face struck him as exceptionally pretty—or it would’ve been if it hadn’t been red and blotchy from crying.
When they finished the song, Owen announced they’d be taking a short break. Usually this was the point in the program when they lined up after-hours entertainment. At their table of admirers, the perky blonde he’d been making eyes with gave Evan a come-hither smile, full of invitation. All he had to do was walk over and close the deal they’d been negotiating for hours now.
“What’s with the weepy chick in the corner?” Owen asked as they set their guitars into stands.
“Doesn’t look like she’s here with anyone.”
Evan looked over at her again, noting that she continued to stare off into space as if she had no clue she was in the midst of a bar full of people having fun.
“We’re not under any obligation here, are we?” Owen asked warily, eyeing the table full of friendly women.
“You’re not, that’s for sure.”
“Dude, just because your folks own the place—”
Confused, Owen stared at him. “Huh?”
“What would Big Mac do?” Evan asked, knowing the answer to his question before he asked it.
Wincing, Owen said, “Bring a gun to a knife fight, why doncha?” He accepted a couple of beers from a waitress and handed one to Evan.
“I could ignore it and go about my life, but his voice would be in my head, ruining whatever fun I might be trying to have,” Evan said. “He’d be saying, ‘How could you leave that gal crying all alone, son? Especially when she’s a guest at our place? That’s not the kind of man I raised you to be.’”
Owen busted up laughing. “Jesus, you sound just like him.”
“Years of intensive training, my friend.” Evan took another look at the young woman, confirming she was still there and still miserable. With a resigned sigh, he said, “Wish me luck.”
Owen touched his bottle to Evan’s. “Go get her, tiger. I’ll entertain the other ladies for both of us.”
“Gee, you’re a pal.” Like a condemned man heading to the gallows, Evan started toward the corner table. As he passed the perky blonde, he sent his regrets with a shrug and a rueful grin. Would’ve been fun. He approached the corner table and plopped down, startling the crying woman. “Now tell me this—what in the world could’ve ruined such a great night for such a pretty lady?”
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