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Jenny & Alex

She’s waited a long time for her second chance at love…
It’s been twelve years since Jenny Wilks lost her fiancé in the 9/11 attacks in New York City. Since then she’s been floundering, trying to find her way. Taking the job as lighthouse keeper on Gansett Island was the best thing she could’ve done for herself. On the island she’s found amazing friends and a wonderful new life. There’s only one thing missing and that’s romance. She’s recently asked her new friends to fix her up with some of the island’s more eligible men. While her friends are busy arranging dates for her, Alex Martinez comes to cut the grass at the lighthouse.

He’s given up everything to come home to Gansett to care for his ailing mother…
Alex has gone from cultivating orchids at the US Botanic Garden in Washington to cutting grass on Gansett, like he did as a teenager. Running the family business with his brother while managing their mother’s dementia requires Alex’s undivided attention until a sexy lighthouse keeper shows him there’s much more to life than work and endless obligation.
During a scorching summer heat wave on Gansett, Jenny and Alex take comfort in each other, and what begins as a hot summer fling quickly becomes something much more lasting. But will it hold up beyond the heat wave when real life intrudes on their sexy interlude?

Catch up with many of your favorite characters from past Gansett Island books in this latest installment in the New York Times bestselling McCarthys of Gansett Island Series!

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Meant for Love

(Gansett Island Series, Book 10)

By Marie Force
Chapter 1

The dream was always the same, the last perfect moment before life as Jenny Wilks knew it ended forever. She and her fiancé, Toby, in their cozy New York City apartment, enjoying breakfast, the morning paper, the news on TV, talking about everything and nothing. He’d asked about their dinner plans, and she’d reminded him her parents were coming the next day, so they needed to clean their apartment.

He’d groaned in protest, and she’d laughed at him, as she always did. She was a neat freak, and he was a certified slob. She loved him anyway, even when she had to pick up after him. Every time she had the dream, she tried to recall those final minutes, wanting desperately to know what they’d said to each other.

It was the one thing she couldn’t remember, and the one thing she needed to know.

Toby got up to leave for work in Lower Manhattan, leaning in to kiss her the way he did every morning. He looked gorgeous and successful in the suit that had been cut just for him, as he rubbed his freshly shaven cheek against hers. “I’ll—”

A roar of noise startled her out of a sound sleep, setting off a panic deep inside where the lingering trauma still resided. An engine, close by… In a cold sweat despite the oppressive heat, she launched out of bed and ran for the window to find a shirtless man standing on the back of the biggest lawn mower she’d ever seen. At—she glanced at the clock on her bedside table—5:45 a.m.! Was he serious?

Next to the clock was a framed picture of Toby that brought back the dream in startling, vibrant detail that made her eyes swim with tears and sparked fury that had her running for the lighthouse’s spiral staircase. Down she went to the first floor and then one more level below to the mudroom and out into the pearly predawn, where the air was thick with heat and humidity.

She burst into the yard, screaming as she went, “Hey! Hello! Do you know what time it is?

The dark-haired man wore a bulky headset over his ears and couldn’t possibly hear her over the roar of that…thing…he was driving. It was massive—and very, very loud. His skin glistened with sweat as day three of the heat wave from hell began on Gansett Island.

Jenny looked around for something, anything she could use to get his attention and zeroed in on the bumper crop of tomatoes that had begun to ripen on the vines she’d planted earlier in the summer. Without giving a single thought to what she was about to do, she grabbed a handful of pulpy tomatoes and began flinging them at the man’s bare back.

The first two went wide, missing the target, but the third one hit him square between the shoulder blades, splattering on contact. Excellent.

Recoiling from the direct hit, he cut the engine on the beast, threw off the headset and jumped from the platform, spinning to face her. “What was that?” Looking around, he noticed the remnants of the first two tomatoes on the ground next to him. “Are you throwing tomatoes at me? What the hell?”

“I could ask you the same thing! Do you have any idea what time it is?”

“Ah…five something?”

Despite her rage, she couldn’t help but notice a muscular chest and belly, dark chest hair, tanned skin and khaki shorts that hung from narrow hips. He wore work boots with dark socks that peeked out the top of them. “Five forty-five. In the morning!

“Thanks for clarifying. Do you mind leaving me alone? I’ve got a long day ahead of me, and you’re the one who complained to the town that we hadn’t been out to cut the grass. Well, we’re here to cut the grass.”

“Not at five forty-five in the morning you’re not.”

“Ah, yeah, I am.”

She took a step closer to him. “No, you’re not.”

He took a step in her direction. “Yes, I am.”

The fourth tomato in her hand went sailing toward his head.

He ducked at the last second, avoiding a direct hit. “Are you completely insane?”

As he looked her up and down under the cover of sunglasses, Jenny realized she was wearing next to nothing as she faced off with the angry lawn guy. The lighthouse didn’t have air-conditioning, and the heat had been unbearable, thus the short nightgown she’d worn over tiny panties. She crossed her arms over her unrestrained breasts.

“Look, lady, I’m sorry if I woke you up, but I need to get back to work if I’m going to keep this already screwed-up day on schedule.”

“You’re not turning that…thing back on at six o’clock in the morning! I thought I was being attacked or something.”

“Right. Attacked. On Gansett Island, where it’s so unsafe.”

Jenny knew what it was like to be attacked in a place where she’d always felt safe, a thought that brought back the images from the dream, reminding her of what she’d missed out on thanks to the roar of his lawn mower.

Who knew when or if she’d have the dream again? It had been more than a year since the last time Toby had “visited” her slumber. “You never know when a safe place can become unsafe.” As she uttered the words, her chin quivered and her eyes swam with tears.

“Oh my God. You’re not going to cry!” He tipped his head for a closer look at her. “Are you?”

“No, I’m not going to cry.” She really had no intention of crying, but having that particular dream threw her out of sorts for days every time it happened. Being blasted out of a sound sleep on top of it was a recipe for emotional overload.

“Good.” He ran his fingers through straight, silky, dark hair, a gesture that made his muscles tighten and bulge, not that she was looking or anything, and then he lifted his sunglasses to swipe at the sweat on his face, revealing dark brown eyes. She couldn’t help but notice how exhausted he looked. “Listen, I’m sorry I woke you up,” he said in a more conciliatory tone. “I wasn’t thinking about someone actually living here. I need to get this done while I can. Since you’re already awake, would you mind if I got back to it?”

The exhaustion that radiated from him had her softening, too. Slightly. “And you won’t show up here again at this hour?”

“I won’t show up here again at this hour.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.” He treated himself to another good look at her barely covered body before he stalked back to his Sherman tank of a lawn mower and fired up the beast.

Damn, that thing was loud! Jenny covered her ears and headed into the lighthouse, kicking the door shut behind her because that made her feel like she’d gotten the last word on the matter. She went up the spiral stairs to the kitchen and poured a glass of ice water that she ran over her face, hoping to cool her fevered skin. This heat was unbelievable and heading into another day with no end in sight.

Trying to ignore the impossible-to-ignore sound of the mower, she took the ice water with her when she went up another level to her bedroom and stretched out on the bed. She turned on her side so she could see the photo of Toby and stared at his boyish grin, wishing she could go back to sleep and return to the dream, back to the last minute in time when everything was still right in her world.

What had he said to her before he walked out of their Greenwich Village apartment into a crystal-clear September day and disappeared off the face of the earth? If only she could remember. At times over the last dozen years, she’d considered hypnosis to jog her memory, but she’d never taken it that far. The dream did this to her every time. It made her start to wonder again, which tended to set her back a few steps in the never-ending cycle of grief.

It was less raw and gritty now than it had once been, but it was always with her, as much a part of who she was as the dark blonde hair that refused to grow past her shoulders or the tiny mole next to her upper lip or the brown eyes that were too close together, in her opinion. Toby used to laugh at her inventory of “flaws.” He said she was the most beautiful creature on the planet, and he was the luckiest guy in the universe because she loved him. How exactly did one “move on” after experiencing the all-consuming love of a man like that?

She’d been trying to move on lately, accepting dates with guys her well-meaning friends had fixed her up with. So far she’d been out to dinner with the very nice—and very tall—Gansett Island fire chief, Mason Johns. They’d had a good time together, but there’d been no real spark. She almost hoped he didn’t call her for another date so she wouldn’t have to turn him down.

Linc Mercier, the Coast Guard officer who ran the local station, had called to ask her to dinner tomorrow night, and she’d accepted his kind invitation. She’d met Linc a few times through her friends Mac and Maddie McCarthy and newlyweds Tiffany and Blaine Taylor. Linc seemed like a nice enough guy, and he was certainly handsome, but again, she didn’t look at him and think, wow, the way she had the first time she met Toby at Wharton when they’d been MBA students together.

Maybe she’d never feel that particular emotion again. Maybe she should accept that she’d been lucky to feel it once, which was far more than some people ever got. She stared at the photo of Toby and thought of the phone call he’d made after the plane hit the South Tower. He’d said he was so sorry to do this to her and that he wanted her to be happy, that her happiness was the most important thing to him.

She blew out a deep breath, mad at herself for wallowing in the past as she had far too often in the last twelve years. Toby was gone. He wasn’t coming back. She’d accepted that a long time ago. Now it was time to get busy seeing to what he’d most wanted for the rest of her life—true happiness. It was out there somewhere, and she was determined to find it, if for no other reason than she owed it to him.

* * *

If Alex Martinez was looking for further proof of how totally his life had gone to shit, Exhibit A could be the sticky remnants of flying tomatoes drying on his back in the sizzling heat. He’d have full-blown spaghetti sauce ready to eat by the time he finished cutting the grass.

As he rode the biggest mower they owned over the acres of land that surrounded the Southeast Light, the sun beat down on him relentlessly. He guzzled the last of the water he’d brought with him. The scorching heat wasn’t doing much for his already surly disposition. He’d gone from cultivating new breeds of orchids and other exotic plants at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, DC, to cutting grass on Gansett Island, regressing to his former life as a sixteen-year-old.

He’d left the respect of his colleagues, along with his ascending career in horticultural sciences, to come home to help his brother, Paul, run their family business on Gansett and manage their mother’s rapid plunge into dementia. A year ago, she’d been running the business their father started on the island more than four decades earlier. Now he and his brother were doing their best to keep the business afloat while dealing with their mother’s illness, too.

At times Alex felt like his head was going to explode from thinking too much about the staggering array of demands on his time, as well as the overwhelming challenge of trying to care for their mother within the confines of the small island they called home. If they’d lived on the mainland, he and Paul would’ve investigated long-term residential facilities by now, especially after their mom strolled out the front door of their home recently and walked miles into town on bare feet.

That incident had scared the hell out of both brothers and brought home the very real need for more qualified medical care than they could provide, even with the amazing support of Dr. David Lawrence, the island’s doctor.

If one good thing had come from the tomato-chucking incident, he’d discovered that he was, in fact, still a man who could be moved by a sexy woman, even when she was spitting nails and hurling tomatoes at him. That was one hot lighthouse keeper, he thought, remembering the way she’d looked in the baby-doll nightie that barely covered all her most important assets. Too bad she was so unfriendly. He might’ve been interested in getting to know her better—as if he had time for such frivolous pursuits. Who was he kidding?

God, he was overheating, and he was only halfway done with this massive lawn. Thinking about the way she’d looked in that barely-there nightgown wasn’t doing much for his temperature. Filled with frustration and unable to remember the last time he’d had sex because it had been so long ago, Alex shut off the mower and crossed the wide expanse of lawn he’d already cut to the lighthouse, where a hose lay coiled on the grass.

He turned on the water, let it run until it went cold and then stood under the spray until he began to cool off. While he knew he should get back to work, he stood there for a few extra minutes, relishing the refreshing shower. So little about his life was enjoyable these days that he had to take pleasure where he could find it, and this cold shower was feeling pretty damned good.

Alex pushed wet hair back from his face and startled when he saw the lighthouse keeper watching him take a shower under her hose. She’d put on a skimpy tank top and short-shorts that did awesome things for her legs. She was staring at him as if she’d never before seen a half-naked guy take a shower under a hose.

He expected her to chew him out for helping himself to her water, but then she licked her lips and something in him snapped. He dropped the hose, and his stride ate up the space between them until he was standing right in front of her.

Big brown eyes widened with surprise, but she held her ground as she gazed up at him.

“What are you looking at?” he asked.

“Not a damned thing. What’re you looking at?”

He zeroed in on her lips, which were moist and very appealing. The entire package was very appealing. Well, except for the tomato incident. But he wasn’t thinking about tomatoes just then. Strawberries came to mind as he stared at her ripe lips and wondered if they’d taste as sweet as they looked. “Nothing.” Alex took another step that put him right in front of her.

Her lips parted with surprise as she looked up at him, probably trying to gauge his intentions. And what were his intentions, exactly? Damned if he knew.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“Alex.” Since he had absolutely nothing to offer any woman, he gave her only his first name. “Who are you?”

“Jenny.”

He’d begun to rethink his plan to steal a taste of those lips when she moistened them again and made his decision that much easier. “If you don’t want this, say no.”

“I, um…”

His hands curled around her hips, drawing a gasp from her as he tugged her against him. “That’s not no. Last chance…”

She didn’t say no. She didn’t say anything as she continued to look up at him with big, startled eyes that had him thinking about melted chocolate. And then her hands landed on his bare chest, and he realized she was bringing him closer, not pushing him away.

He lowered his head and moved slowly, giving her time to say no at any point. She didn’t. His lips landed on hers, and the impact was nothing short of incendiary. He told himself it was because it had been so long since he’d done this, but he suspected that wasn’t entirely the case.

It was her and the sweet taste of her lips and the moan that came from her throat as she wrapped her arms around his neck. Holy shit. Holy fucking shit. He pulled her even closer, not caring in the least that she’d feel his instant arousal or that he was getting her wet. Her breasts flattened against his chest as her mouth opened to his tongue.

Oh my God. This was the hottest kiss he’d ever experienced, and he’d had his share of hot kisses. Just as he was sinking into her sweetness, though, she began to withdraw. He wanted to cry out in protest, but then she grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the door to the lighthouse.

“Not out here,” she said, her voice hoarse and sexy.

As he followed her through the door, his gaze firmly planted on her ass, Alex gave thanks to the god of hot kisses that she wasn’t done with him yet. And while he was at it, he said thank you, Jesus, too. In the mudroom, she spun around to face him, and that was when he saw that his wet chest had soaked her thin top, making her nipples visible. He took a good long look at that gorgeous sight.

Lust pounded through him as he reached for her at the same instant she reached for him. The second kiss made the memory of the first one pale in comparison. He reached down to cup her ass and lifted her in tight against his erection. When she wrapped her arms and legs around him and gave as good as she got, Alex decided he’d truly died and gone straight to heaven.

Hello, Jesus.

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. 

~ Calvin Coolidge

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