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Book 6 in the Gansett Island Series
His idea of permanence is the VW van that takes him from one gig to the next…
Owen Lawry has made a living as a traveling musician and enjoys his footloose and fancy free lifestyle. But after meeting Laura McCarthy and helping her to land the job as manager of his grandparents’ hotel on Gansett Island, Owen decides there’s something to be said about a roof over his head and a warm, sexy woman in his bed.
Laura, a newlywed who discovered that her husband never quit dating, came to Gansett for her cousin Janey’s wedding, but ended up staying after she met Owen and took on the renovations to the dilapidated Sand & Surf Hotel.
As Owen and Laura’s attraction simmers during months of close proximity, they form a tight bond that will be tested when her estranged husband refuses to grant her a divorce. As summer turns to autumn and Laura and Owen take baby steps toward love, favorite characters from past Gansett Island stories continue to live their happily ever afters.
Owen Lawry stood on the porch of the Sand & Surf Hotel to watch the last ferry of the day leave South Harbor for the mainland. He and his van were supposed to have been on that boat. With his obligations on Gansett Island over for the season, he’d planned to be heading for a two-month gig in Boston, the same autumn engagement he’d had the last five years. It paid well, and, after all this time, the club owners were friends.
His gaze was riveted to the ferry as it steamed past the breakwater into open ocean, where it dipped and rolled in the October surf. As the sun set on Columbus Day, officially ending another summer season on Gansett, Owen wondered what the hell he was still doing here when he was supposed to be on that boat, leaving for good-paying work on the mainland.
“You know why you’re still here,” he muttered, thinking of the blonde beauty who had him all tied up in knots. He was at the point where he wondered if a man could actually die from pent-up desire.
It might’ve been better for them both if he’d left as scheduled, if he’d taken the gig in Boston and gone about his carefree existence with the same lack of responsibility that had marked his entire adult life.
What was he doing here pining after a woman who was still married to someone else and carrying her estranged husband’s child? What was he doing spending every waking moment with a woman who’d made it clear she was unavailable for all the things he suddenly wanted for the first time in his thirty-three years? He was driving himself slowly mad. That was the only thing he knew for certain.
Before he met Laura McCarthy, he was perfectly satisfied with his life. He spent summers playing his guitar and singing on the island—the closest thing to a real home he’d ever had—worked autumns in Boston and winters in Stowe, Vermont, playing to the ski crowd. In the spring, he headed for a few months off in the Bahamas. It was a good life, a satisfying life. Watching the last ferry of the day fade into the twilight, Owen had the uneasy sensation that he was also watching that satisfying life slip through his fingers.
He usually felt sorry for guys who allowed themselves to be led around by a woman. His best friends, Mac, Grant and Evan McCarthy, Joe Cantrell and Luke Harris, had fallen like dominoes lately, one after the other finding the women they were meant to be with. Only Adam McCarthy remained untethered and seemed happy that way.
Owen, on the other hand, was stuck in purgatory, caught between the single life he’d embraced with passionate dedication and the committed life he never imagined for himself. He wasn’t with Laura, per se. He just spent all his free time with her. Weeks ago, they’d shared a couple of chaste kisses that had been hotter than full-on sex with other women.
Since then, there’d been nothing but an occasional hand to his arm or a brief hug here or there. He’d continued to collect her off the bathroom floor each day until the relentless morning sickness suddenly let up as she entered her fifth month of pregnancy.
As he leaned against the railing he’d recently replaced on the hotel’s front porch, Owen realized he actually missed that time with her in the mornings when she’d been so sick and he’d been there to prop her up. “You’re such a fool,” he said to the gathering darkness.
The autumn days were shorter, the nights longer and the chilly air a harbinger of things to come. Shivering in the breeze, Owen questioned his decision to stay with Laura this winter for the millionth time. Did she even want him here? Did she want company, or did she want him? If she wanted him, she was doing a hell of a job hiding it. For a while there, he’d thought they were at the start of something that could’ve been significant for both of them. Now he wasn’t so sure.
She treated him like a platonic buddy when all he did was fantasize about getting her naked and into his bed. Was he sick to be having such fantasies about a woman who was pregnant with another man’s child? Probably. But as she rounded and swelled and glowed, he only wanted her more. At times, he even let himself pretend they were married and the baby was his.
“You’re one sick son of a bitch,” he said to the breeze. Sick or not, he wanted her with a fierceness that was becoming harder and harder to hide from her. One of these days, he was going to grab her and pin her against a wall and show her exactly—
He sucked in a sharp, deep breath, ashamed to have been caught having such uncivilized thoughts about a woman he truly cared for. Making an attempt to calm himself, he turned to her. “Yeah?”
“Aren’t you cold out there?”
Actually, he was on fire thinking about her, not that he could confess such a thing to her. “Not really. It’s nice.”
Laura tugged the zip-up sweatshirt of his that she’d “borrowed” around herself and joined him on the porch. Even though the oversized jacket swallowed her up, she was still his regal princess. She snuggled into his side, and it seemed the most natural thing in the world to slip his arm around her.
Resting her head on his chest, she let out a contented sigh. “It’s so pretty this time of day.”
His throat tightened with emotion, and his entire body ached from wanting her. “Sure is.”
“It’s pretty every time of day. I never get tired of our spectacular view,” she said as a shiver traveled through her.
“You shouldn’t get too cold.”
“It’s a good night for a fire.” Now where did that come from? He’d no sooner said the words than he wanted to take them back.
“Oh, can we? I’d love that!”
Owen wanted to moan as he imagined how gorgeous she’d look in the firelight. With her around to look at all day, every day, he never ran out of ways to torture himself. “Sure we can. Mac inspected the chimney last week and declared us good to go.” Owen had collected a ton of driftwood off the beach that had been drying on the porch for weeks.
“I got marshmallows at the store. We can have a campout.”
Perfect, Owen thought. More torture. Her childlike glee at the simple things in life was one of the qualities he liked best about her and part of what made him want her with a burning need unlike anything he’d ever experienced.
“Will you play for me, too? You know I love listening to you.”
Here, wrapped around him, was everything he’d never known he wanted. And wasn’t it ironic that he couldn’t have her. He would’ve laughed at the lunacy of the situation if his growing ache for her hadn’t been so damned painful. “Absolutely,” he managed to say. “Let’s go in before you catch a cold.”
Was she reluctant to step out of his embrace, or was that wishful thinking on his part? As he followed her inside, he took a last look at the horizon where the ferry was nearly out of sight and hoped he hadn’t made a huge mistake by letting it leave without him.
Laura’s alarm dragged her out of a deep sleep the next morning. Ever since she’d moved to the island right after Labor Day to renovate and manage the Sand & Surf Hotel, she’d been sleeping well again. That was a welcome relief following months of sleepless nights.
Discovering that her new husband hadn’t quit dating after their May wedding had shocked the life out of her—almost as much as discovering she’d been married just long enough to get pregnant. Months of restless nights, mounting anxiety and relentless morning sickness had taken a toll. By the time she arrived to start her new job, she’d been a wreck.
A month later, she was restored, energized, loving her job and falling more into something with her sexy housemate with each passing day. She thought about the evening they’d spent together in front of the fireplace, roasting marshmallows and singing silly songs and laughing so hard she’d had tears rolling down her face at one point.
What would she have done without his steady presence to get her through these last few weeks? His care and concern had been a balm on the open wound her husband Justin had inflicted on her heart. And while she had no doubt Owen wanted more than the easy friendship they’d nurtured since they met over the summer, she didn’t feel comfortable pursuing a relationship with him when they were on such vastly different paths. Not to mention, she was still technically married, which wasn’t likely to change any time soon with Justin refusing to grant her a divorce.
With her baby due in February, her life would be all about responsibility for the next eighteen years. Owen’s life was all about transience. He loved his vagabond existence. He was proud of the fact that everything he owned fit into the back of his ancient VW van. Other than the Sand & Surf, which his grandparents had owned and run for more than fifty years before their retirement, he had no permanent address and liked it that way.
His world simply didn’t fit with hers, even if she liked him more than she’d ever liked any guy—including the one she’d married. Despite their significantly different philosophies on life, their chemistry was hard to ignore. She wasn’t immune to the heated looks he sent her way or the overwhelming need to touch him that was becoming almost impossible to resist.
Standing with him on the porch last night, looking out over the ocean as the sun set, had been a moment of perfect harmony. They had a lot of those moments. Whether it was picking out paint colors for the hotel or discussing furniture options or reviewing advertising strategies, they agreed on most things. And when they disagreed, he usually said something to make her laugh, and she’d forget why she didn’t agree with him.
She turned on her side to look out on the glorious view that was now a part of her everyday life. She’d loved the old Victorian hotel since she visited the island as a young girl after her mother died. Then it had reminded her of an oversized dollhouse. Those summers with her Uncle Mac and Aunt Linda had been the best of her life. They—and their island—had saved her from the overwhelming grief that had threatened to consume her. The island had saved her from the same fate earlier this year when she’d come for her cousin Janey’s wedding and discovered a whole new life, thanks in large part to Owen.
With Justin fighting the divorce and still unaware he was soon to be a father, Laura should be spectacularly unhappy. As she got out of bed and dragged herself into the shower, she couldn’t deny that the only reason she wasn’t spectacularly unhappy was because she got to be with Owen every day.
She thought about that fact of her new life as she dried her hair and got dressed to meet her Aunt Linda for breakfast at the South Harbor Diner. Maybe it was time she and Owen had a heart-to-heart about what was really going on between them. But how exactly did one broach such a subject? Did she say, “Listen, I know you want me, and you know I want you, but that’s where our similarities begin and end. We can’t build a relationship based on chemistry alone.” Or could we?
That question stayed with her as she went downstairs, where Owen was sanding the hardwood floors in the lobby. At some point over the last few weeks, her project of renovating the old hotel had become their project, which was fine with her. Everything was more fun with him around to share it with, and besides, his grandparents owned the place, so it seemed fitting to have him involved in the decisions.
Owen turned off the sander, removed his respirator mask and hustled her outside to the porch. “You shouldn’t be breathing the dust.”
When he was always taking care of her in one way or another, how was she supposed to remember they wanted different things out of life?
He took a closer look at her. “You look nice. What’s the occasion?”
On regular workdays, she tossed her hair up in a ponytail and didn’t bother with the light bit of makeup she’d applied to meet her always well-put-together aunt. “Breakfast with Linda, but I won’t be long.”
She felt guilty about leaving him to work when she was the one being paid to oversee the renovations. That reminded her she wanted to speak with his grandmother about getting him on the payroll. Since he’d given up his gig in Boston to babysit her this winter, it was the least she could do for him.
“Take your time,” he said with a grin that made his eyes crinkle at the corners. “Believe it or not, I can manage on my own for an hour or two.”
Looking up at him, she had to fight the ever-present urge to straighten the shaggy, dirty-blond hair that hung low on his brow. “Owen…”
Amusement and affection danced in his gray eyes. “What’s on your mind, Princess?”
As a modern, independent woman, Laura knew she probably shouldn’t love that nickname quite as much as she did. “We need to talk.” They couldn’t go on like this all winter without one or both of them incinerating from the heat that arced between them.
“Probably.” He bent to press a soft kiss to her forehead. “But not when you’ve got somewhere to be.”
The loving gesture took her breath away. She wanted to reach up, grab a fistful of that unruly hair and drag his sexy mouth down for a kiss that would leave him as breathless as he made her feel when he looked at her in that particular way. But then she remembered all the reasons why it was a terrible idea for her recently shattered heart to take a chance on a man who thrived on freedom.
She’d survived heartbreak once—barely. Why in the world would she set herself up for another trip down that hellish road? “Later, then,” she said, her voice sounding as shaky as she felt. “We’ll talk later.”
“I’ll be here.”
Laura felt him watching her as she went down the stairs to the sidewalk. As much as she wanted to look back at him, she didn’t. Rather, she took deep breaths to regulate her heart rate. The powerful effect he had on her was frightening. Nothing had even happened between them, and she already knew if he broke her heart, it would be way worse than the substantial damage Justin had done.
By the time she stepped into the South Harbor Diner, she’d almost gotten her heart to stop pounding, but the looming conversation with Owen had her vibrating with nervous energy.
Laura was surprised to find her friends, Grace Ryan and Stephanie Logan, along with her cousin Mac’s wife, Maddie, sitting with her Aunt Linda in a corner table. Grace had recently gotten together with Laura’s cousin Evan, and Stephanie was hot and heavy with Laura’s cousin Grant.
Everyone around her, it seemed, was newly in love and glowing with happiness.
“Hi, honey,” Linda said, rising to greet Laura with a hug. Linda’s love and affection had helped to fill the awful void left in Laura’s young life after her mother died. “You look so pretty. Come have a seat.”
“I didn’t realize we were having a party,” Laura said, thrilled to see the others. Her new friends were also a big part of the reason she was so happy on the island. It was comforting to be around people who hadn’t witnessed the thermonuclear meltdown of her marriage and didn’t look at her with pity the way her friends in Providence did.
“Neither did we,” Grace said, “and I’m kind of relieved to see you all. When Linda asked me to meet her, I thought I was in for a ‘when are you going to marry my son’ inquisition.” She punctuated the comment with a cheeky grin for Linda.
“Don’t be silly,” Linda said. “I’d never ask such a question.”
The others laughed at the ludicrous statement.
“Right,” Stephanie said, dripping with sarcasm.
Propping her chin on her upturned hand, Linda zeroed in on Grace. “Since you brought it up, when are you going to marry my son?”
“Don’t make eye contact,” Stephanie advised Grace.
“You hush,” Linda said to Stephanie, who she often said she would’ve handpicked for Grant. “I could ask you the same thing.”
“You’re not the one who has to do the asking,” Stephanie said, arching a brow meaningfully at her boyfriend’s mother.
“Touché,” Maddie said, laughing at her mother-in-law’s shameless quest for information about her unmarried sons and their love lives.
Sydney Donovan came rushing through the door and made a beeline for their table. “So sorry I’m late,” she said, also seeming surprised to see the others.
They scooted chairs around to make room for the newcomer, who was Maddie’s close friend from childhood.
“Luke dropped me off on his way to see Dr. David,” Sydney said. “Fingers crossed this is his last appointment for the ankle injury from hell.”
“Oh, let’s hope so,” Maddie said. “At least he’s finally off the crutches.”
“And he’s walking much better since the surgery,” Sydney said as she accepted a cup of coffee from the waitress.
Laura shook her head when offered coffee. “Could I have decaf tea, please?” Oh how she missed coffee!
“And when are you two tying the knot?” Linda asked Sydney.
Sydney’s cheeks flushed with color to match her strawberry-blonde hair. “Maybe soon.”
“Oh my God!” Maddie said. “Have you been holding out on me?”
“Luke asked me a while ago, but I wasn’t ready yet. I think I might be now.”
“Oh, Syd,” Maddie said, hugging her friend. “I’m so happy for you!”
After losing her husband and children in a drunk-driving accident more than a year and a half ago, Sydney had returned to Gansett Island earlier in the summer and reconnected with Luke, her first love, a part owner of McCarthy’s Gansett Island Marina.
“I haven’t told him yet,” Sydney said, “so keep a lid on it for a few days.”
“Our lips are sealed,” Maddie said, and the others nodded in agreement.
“I’m thrilled for you both,” Linda said, reaching out to pat Syd’s hand.
“Thank you,” Sydney said. “I’m rather thrilled myself.”
“No one deserves it more,” Laura said.
They talked wedding plans and hotel renovations and kids for a while before Linda tapped her spoon on her coffee cup to get their attention.
“The reason I invited you all to come today,” Linda said, “is I have a project I need your help with.”
“Sure,” Grace said. “What can we do?”
“You’ve all heard about the new lighthouse keeper—Jenny Wilks?”
“I’ve heard she’s living out there,” Stephanie said, “but I’ve never seen her.”
“Neither have I,” Laura said.
“Mac told me she has her groceries delivered so she doesn’t have to leave the lighthouse,” Maddie said.
“That’s what I’ve heard, too,” Linda said. “Big Mac was on the search committee, and when she sealed herself off out there, he said we should do something. And that’s where you all come in.” She leaned in and lowered her voice. “Part of the application process was an essay about an event in their
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