Kisses After Dark

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Chapter 1

His first thought at the start of every day was always the same.

He’s home in the cozy apartment he shared with his wife. It’s winter, and they’re snuggled under the down comforter they’d gotten as a wedding gift from his sister. His wife is warm and naked, her body soft as she sleeps in his arms. The scent of her shampoo, the expensive stuff he bought for her at the salon she loves, surrounds him. He would recognize that scent anywhere, the scent of his woman.

His body responds predictably to her nearness. Any time he’s awake and naked with her, he’s hard and ready to claim her. He moves his hand from her flat belly, up to cup a full breast, toying with the nipple that awakens instantly to his touch.

Wanting to see her and watch her reactions, he opens his eyes and is punched in the face by reality.

Every damned morning.

He’s not in bed with his wife. He’s alone in the room he calls home now at the Sand & Surf Hotel on Gansett Island. The wife he’d loved beyond reason, to the point of blindness to the faults that ended them, is long gone. She divorced him after ruining him in just about every way a man can be ruined, leaving behind memories that torture him.

Shane McCarthy stared up at the ceiling he’d painted white the winter before when the Surf had undergone extensive renovations overseen by his sister Laura and her now-husband Owen Lawry. The call from Laura, pleading with him to come help them get the hotel ready for the summer season, had finally drawn him out of the dark hole he’d been in for nearly two years, mourning the loss of his marriage—and a big chunk of his sanity.

He needed to get up, grab a shower before his nephew Holden woke up and get them both to the brunch Owen’s grandparents were hosting to celebrate the newlyweds. Shane was thrilled to celebrate his sister’s happiness with a man he liked and respected, but the minute he got up, he would lose Courtney for another day.

The beginning of every new day was the only time he gave her anymore. If he had his druthers, she wouldn’t even get that. But he was unable to control the places his mind went in that ambiguous space between dreams and wakefulness. So he gave her those minutes and nothing else. He took the time, upon waking each morning, to mourn what’d been lost, to grieve for what would never be again and to wallow, however briefly, in the past.

He’d experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows with Courtney, extremes so jarring it was a wonder he could function in the aftermath of the wreckage she’d left behind. But he was functioning. He was working on an affordable housing project with his cousin Mac and making a worthwhile contribution to the Gansett Island community.

He was involved on a daily basis with his sister, his father, his nephew, his new brother-in-law and the large extended family that lived close by on the island they all called home. The hotel that had initially served as a refuge had begun to feel like home. The dark apartment in Providence that had served as ground zero for the end of his marriage was a distant memory now that Laura and her hotel had forced him back into the land of the living.

If only she could do something about these early morning visitations with the past. He needed an exorcism or something equally dramatic to remove Courtney from his DNA. She’d worked her way all the way in during the years they’d spent together, and removing her was turning out to be one hell of a difficult challenge.

Too bad you couldn’t flip a switch in your brain and stop thinking about something that made you sad and angry and regretful and horribly, miserably lonely. Shouldn’t there be a way to make that stop? At this point, Shane would pay good money to find that switch in his own brain, because it was high time for this shit to stop. It needed to stop.

Courtney was nothing to him anymore, except for his ex-wife. He’d practically bankrupted himself to put her through rehab after discovering her addiction to prescription pain meds that predated their marriage. Her way of thanking him for everything he’d done for her was to serve him with divorce papers the minute she was sober again.

Talk about a wake-up call. He sure as hell hadn’t seen that coming as he’d counted down the ninety days she’d spent in rehab, living for the day when they could get their lives back on track. While he’d been blindsided by the drug problem, the divorce had left him demolished. The worst part was he still didn’t know why she’d done that. Had she met someone else in rehab? Had she suddenly decided he didn’t look as good to her when she was no longer hopped up on pills?

The why of it tortured him almost as much as the reality of living without the woman he’d expected to spend forever with. Even after all this time, he still didn’t understand why. He’d been served with papers on the day he’d expected to pick her up from the clinic and start over again. He hadn’t even gotten the courtesy of a conversation. She’d disappeared from his life as quickly and as dramatically as she’d entered it his senior year of college.

Running his hands over his face, filled with frustration and anger at himself for dwelling on things that shouldn’t matter so much after all this time, he thought about yesterday, about his sister’s wedding and the palpable joy between her and Owen. It had been a truly perfect day, a rare gem in the mess his life had been for quite some time now.

And then he remembered the incident that had nearly marred that rare gem of a day. Hell, it had nearly ruined a lot more than his sister’s wedding. He’d been swimming at the beach in front of the hotel when a distressed cry from another swimmer had put him in rescue mode. Upon reaching the woman, she’d latched on to him in a panic and dragged them both under. For a brief moment, he’d thought she was going to kill them both. Then he’d begun to fight, freeing himself from her tight grip after an epic struggle.

He’d managed to eventually get them both to the beach, but not before she lost her bikini top. When he’d brushed back the blond hair from her face, he’d realized she was Katie Lawry, Owen’s sister. Though their families were now connected by marriage and despite the fact that Katie was Owen’s sister, Shane couldn’t stop thinking about the most perfect set of breasts he’d seen since his divorce.

Hell, they were the only breasts he’d seen since his divorce, which was probably why he couldn’t seem to scrub the memory of them from his brain. Again, that off-switch would come in handy right about now as he was about to see her again at the after-wedding brunch, and he needed to be able to look at her without thinking breasts at the first sight of her.

Christ, he needed to get laid if he got so worked up over a pair of bare breasts. It was sad to realize he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had sex or even wanted to. Well before Courtney went to rehab, which was… Shit, almost two years ago.

How pathetic was it that the sight of Katie Lawry’s breasts triggered the first pang of desire he’d felt since then? Was he the same guy who’d had sex with his wife nearly every day—sometimes twice or three times a day—before it went to shit? He couldn’t remember what it had been like to be that guy. That guy was so far removed from his current reality, it was like he was someone else altogether.

Pathetic was definitely the word of this day, and it wasn’t even seven o’clock yet. Weekends provided hours upon hours of time that needed to be filled. This weekend had been better than most with all the wedding festivities to help keep his attention on the present where it belonged, rather than mired in the past. He was better off on days when he could lose himself in work and stay so busy he had no time for dwelling.

A tiny squeak from the room next door wiped away all unpleasant thoughts and gave Shane a genuine reason to smile. His nephew Holden, the brightest light in Shane’s life, was awake and in need of the uncle who’d stayed with him so his parents could enjoy their wedding night.

Shane got up, hit the bathroom and went into Holden’s room, where the baby was sucking on his own toes, a relatively new addition to his arsenal of adorable tricks. Then again, Shane thought everything Holden did was adorable. “Hey, bud. Did you sleep well? I don’t know what your mama is talking about with all these middle-of-the-night stories.”

Holden rewarded him with a big spitty smile that showed off his two new bottom teeth and reached up with his arms and legs.

Shane laughed and scooped him up, hugging him close for a full minute before transferring him to the changing table to dispose of the heavy overnight diaper.

“Dude, that’s a lot of pee. How many beers did you have at the wedding anyway?”

Holden squeaked and squealed and giggled, his infectious joy a balm on the wounds Shane carried with him. Holden gave him hope, an emotion he’d been sorely lacking until his nephew came along to remind him that life goes on even when you think it can’t possibly.

“Mammammamma.”

“Mama is across the street with Daddy, and trust me, bud, you don’t want to know what they’re up to.”

His comment was received with more squeals and lots of wrestling to get the new diaper on. Owen had warned him to feed Holden his cereal before he tried to get him dressed, so they moved to the apartment’s tiny galley kitchen, where he plopped Holden into his high chair and mixed up the cereal while the baby enjoyed some Cheerios scattered on the tray.

Shane had expected to have a couple of kids of his own by now. That’d been the plan, anyway, before he discovered his wife had been hiding a raging addiction to pain meds. What if she’d gotten pregnant while she was still addicted? He shuddered thinking now about the bullet he’d dodged.

Pushing those thoughts aside, he gave his full attention to his nephew. As long as he stayed focused on the present, the past couldn’t catch up to him. At least that was what he told himself as he moved through every day, still trying to outrun the relentless pain.

 

She’d dreamed about drowning. The reality Katie Lawry was still processing, twelve hours after she’d nearly drowned on her brother’s wedding day, was how quiet it had been under the water. It had drawn her in a like a lover, stealing over her with its awesome might, pulling her down, down, down into endless darkness.

A small part of her had welcomed the quiet darkness, not that she’d ever admit that to anyone. She’d seen the harshness, lived with it for much of her life, thus the slight temptation to let go and surrender. She’d struggled, she realized now, because of Owen. Because she couldn’t do that to him, especially not on a day on which he would finally get the happiness he deserved more than just about anyone she knew.

He’d always been there for her, and she’d fought like a tomcat to be there for him, nearly killing Laura’s brother in the throes of battle. In the shower afterward, she’d trembled so violently she’d been afraid it wouldn’t stop in time to attend the wedding.

She trembled just as violently as she relived the entire episode and allowed herself to imagine what could’ve happened if Shane hadn’t been there to save her. She trembled to think about what it would’ve meant to her mother, brother, siblings and grandparents to lose her so suddenly, especially after all they’d been through lately with her father’s trial.

The Lawry family finally had a reason to celebrate. Mark Lawry was going to jail—for years—after having abused his wife and children for decades. Katie would never forget the feeling she’d experienced upon hearing the news that her father had pleaded guilty to the charges rather than allow an old family friend to testify to the years of abuse he’d inflicted upon his family. General Lawry would rather plead guilty than allow his family’s dirty laundry to be aired out by the wife of one of his former subordinates.

Thank God for his arrogance. Thank God for his hubris. Thank God it was over for all of them, although she’d often had reason to wonder if it would ever really be over. Owen was the first of the seven Lawry siblings to find love and get married. The rest of them had chosen to remain stubbornly single rather than chance the kind of relationship their mother had found herself in after marrying their father.

Katie admired Owen more than just about anyone she knew. He’d taken many a fist on behalf of her, her twin sister Julia, their sister Cindy and their brothers John, Josh and Jeff. Owen had looked out for all of them, had sacrificed his own dreams to stay close to them after their father kicked him out of their home.

And now he’d taken the huge step of committing himself to Laura and their children for the rest of his life. That took guts when you came from what they did. Katie wished she had the guts to take that kind of risk, to let someone in, to allow herself to have feelings for a man.

She wouldn’t know what that was like because she’d never even been on a date. Sure, she’d been asked plenty of times, but she always said no. How was she to know if that perfectly nice man who’d come to the doctor’s office where she worked selling pharmaceuticals would turn into an abusive monster the minute he had her under his thumb?

It was easier to say no than it was to take that kind of gamble. Except… Last night, watching Owen dance with Laura, seeing the love they had for each other, knowing what they’d been through to get to this day, realizing he hadn’t let fear rule him… Katie had begun to wonder if the fortress she’d erected around herself was keeping the heartache out or trapping it inside.

She suspected the latter. As long as she kept the doors and windows locked, nothing could get in, but nothing could get out either. And now that her father was gone from their lives forever, now that he would be locked away and made to pay for what he’d done, perhaps now…

“No,” she said emphatically. “Absolutely not. Just because he’s out of the picture doesn’t mean his kind aren’t still out there looking for their next victim.” She said the words out loud, hoping they’d permeate the unreasonable longing her brother’s wedding had generated in her. She wanted what he and Laura had. Anyone would, especially a thirty-two-year-old woman who’d never been kissed.

Her thoughts wandered back to Laura’s ridiculously handsome brother who had saved her life and stared at her breasts like a hungry man who’d just found a thick, juicy steak. The memory of his hands on her, bringing her back to life after the near miss, carrying her up the stairs when her legs had been too unsteady to carry her… She trembled, with embarrassment now, as she recalled the heat in Shane’s eyes when he’d stared at her bare breasts as if he’d never seen breasts before.

And then later, in the white shirt he’d worn to the wedding that had offset his deep tan and the blond sun streaks in his hair. The way he’d looked at her, as if trying to forget that he’d seen parts of her that no man had ever seen, not that he could possibly know that.

Her nipples tightened under the lightweight T-shirt she’d slept in, making her squirm in her bed, trying to get comfortable. A needy ache between her legs took her by surprise, reminding her that while she might’ve sworn off men forever, she was still a young, healthy woman who had no control over her body’s decision to rebel.

She tamped down those urges the way she always had, determined to steer clear of men and all the trouble that came with them. Her brother’s wedding had shown her what she might be missing, but it hadn’t made her forget the many reasons she’d taken this path to begin with.

Katie would never forget her upbringing at the mercy of a violent, unpredictable man and couldn’t risk letting that nightmare back into her life—even if it meant spending the rest of that life alone.

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ISBN
E-Book: 978-0991418268
Print: 978-0991418275