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!
Meant for Love
(Gansett Island Series, Book 10)
By Marie Force
“I’m absolutely, positively, totally and completely done with men,” the woman sitting behind Adam McCarthy announced—loudly—to everyone on the noon ferry to Gansett Island. “Done, done, done.”
The voice was familiar, so Adam sat up taller, hoping to overhear enough to figure out who she was without having to get involved.
“I’ve followed two men to the ends of the earth and regretted it both times. From now on, I’m off men. You heard it here first.”
A slight slur to her words had him wondering if she’d been drinking. Who cares? What business is it of yours? Ignore her.
“Did I mention I’m done with men?”
Adam had no idea who she was talking to, and figuring that out would require him to turn around. And there was no way he was turning around. He had his own problems and no desire to take on someone else’s, even if it was possible that he knew her. He knew a lot of people. That didn’t mean he had to jump to their rescue when they were on the verge of making fools of themselves.
With the day stormy and the seas rough, the woman played to a captive audience inside the crowded cabin. Adam was used to rough rides. He’d been taking the ferry all his life. Others weren’t so fortunate, and the distinctive sound of barfing soon filled the airless cabin.
Rough seas and rocking boats had never made him sick. The smell of vomit, however… No one was immune to that. He got up and told himself to get out of there. Walk to the door and the fresh air… But curiosity got the better of him, and he made the huge mistake of turning around.
His mouth fell open when he saw his brother Grant’s ex-girlfriend Abby Callahan scrambling for the garbage can.
While she was violently ill, Adam stood paralyzed with indecision. She hadn’t seen him, so he could still get out of there unscathed. And then, as if Adam had conjured him from a dream, Big Mac McCarthy’s voice sounded in his conscience, warning of dire consequences if Adam walked away from a family friend in her time of need.
Not for the first time in his adult life, Adam cursed the values his father had hammered into him and his brothers from the time they were young boys.
He took a deep breath he instantly regretted due to the pervasive smell of vomit filling the cabin, choked back a wave of nausea, walked toward her, took her by the arm and escorted her outside.
Naturally, she fought him off. “What do you think you’re doing?” Her words were garbled and slurred, and she smelled as if she’d spilled an entire bottle of eighty-proof something or other on her clothes.
“Did you sleep in a bar last night?” he asked when they were outside and both taking deep, gulping breaths of cold, damp, fresh air.
“Adam,” she gasped when she realized who he was. “No, I did not sleep in a bar. I had two drinks on the plane this morning, and the man in the next seat spilled his tequila all over me.”
Adam cringed at the thought of tequila for breakfast. Those days were a distant memory. “As I recall, you don’t drink.”
She wobbled when the boat pitched violently to the side, and he steadied her with a hand to her arm. “I had an occasional glass of wine,” she said as she pushed him away. “I’m all done being a nice girl who does what everyone expects of her. I’m going to drink and party and curse like a sailor and have sex with strangers and…” Her chin began to quiver.
“Don’t you dare cry.”
“I’ll cry if I want to. I’ll do any damned thing I want.”
“Since you’re new to swearing, you might consider adding a ‘god’ in there.” She seemed to have no idea what he meant, so he elaborated. “Goddamned is a lot more hard-core than plain old damned.”
Her eyes were big and brown and shiny with unshed tears. “Are you making fun of me?” she asked, incredulous. “Feel free. My day can’t get any worse. My life can’t get any worse, so do your worst.”
“What’re you even doing here? Don’t you live in Texas now?”
“Not anymore.” Her chin trembled violently, and tears spilled from her eyes as if someone had turned on a faucet.
Adam was instantly sorry he’d asked. Mascara ran down her blotchy face as she sniffed and sobbed. Because he was too much of a gentleman not to, he patted her shoulder and muttered a soothing word or two, all the while wishing the deck would open up and swallow him.
He’d had a hellish few days of his own and didn’t need to take on anyone else’s problems. In the midst of a professional implosion the likes of which he’d never imagined possible, he’d received word from home that his brothers were missing in a boating accident. Thankfully, they’d all been found safe, but Adam wouldn’t be completely at ease until he saw them with his own eyes.
As for Abby, the last he’d heard, she was engaged to the island’s former doctor, Cal Maitland, and living with him in his home state of Texas. Adam took a surreptitious glance at her left hand and didn’t see a ring. Uh-oh. Even as he wondered what’d happened between her and her fiancé, he didn’t dare risk more tears by asking.
“I’m homeless at the moment,” she said after a long period of silence as the boat bobbed and weaved through the surf.
Retching noises from the deck above had Adam pulling Abby back from the rail, just in time to avoid a direct hit.
The momentum propelled her into his arms. She pressed her face into his shirt and broke down into sobs.
Oh, for God’s sake! Why had he turned around back in the cabin? Why had he allowed himself to get sucked into this situation? None of that mattered now that he was firmly in the situation. Because he’d known her all his life, because she’d very nearly married his brother, he put his arms around her and patted her back. “It’ll be okay.”
“No, it won’t.” She sniffed and seemed to be using his shirt as a tissue. Lovely. “It’s never going to be okay again.”
“That’s not true,” Adam said, though he tended to agree with her. He’d had the same feeling repeatedly in the forty-eight hours since his world blew up in his face.
“It is true. All I ever wanted was to fall in love with a wonderful man, get married, have a family and maybe a career that satisfied me. Now I have nothing. I gave up my business for him! Do you know how successful Abby’s Attic was?”
“I heard it was very popular.”
“I made a quarter of a million bucks there last year, and I walked away from it like it meant nothing to me. All for a man who wasn’t worth my time.”
While Adam knew he should at least attempt to defend mankind, he was stuck on the money. “You made a quarter milliondollars selling T-shirts?”
“And toys. There’s big money in toys, especially when you’re the only toy store on the island,” she said, hiccupping loudly. Her hand covered her mouth. “Oh my. Excuse me.” This was followed by another hiccup, louder than the first, and more tears. “My life is a mess.”
He shouldn’t ask. It was none of his business. And yet… “What happened with Cal?”
She used her own sleeve—thankfully—to wipe her nose and eyes, which smeared the mascara into dark smudges under her eyes. “His ex-girlfriend happened. Apparently, he’s not completely over her, or some such baloney.”
“You mean bullshit.”
“If you’re going to swear now, you want to say bullshit rather than baloney.”
“Oh, right. Yes, it’s a big pile of bullshit.”
That drew a tentative smile from her.
“So what’s the deal with the ex?”
“She comes sashaying up to him every time she sees him and makes sure to flip her fake blonde hair and bat her fake eyelashes and rest her fake boobs on his arm, and he acts like it’s no big deal that she’s totally flirting with him. This goes on for weeks. She’s over at the house every day, supposedly to check on his sick mother because they’re so very close, you see, but really it’s all about more chances to hang all over Cal. I finally got sick of it and confronted him about it. That’s when…” Her chin quivered anew, but she managed to blink back the tears this time. “That’s when he admitted he still thinks about her. Candy. Her name is Candy! Can you stand that? She makes me sick. It’s all so…so…”
Nearly breathless with anticipation, Adam raised his brows.
“Screwed up,” she said.
He shook his head. “You can do better.”
“Yes, you can. You’re a whole new woman now, remember?”
Her face turned bright red, and in that moment, he discovered she was rather adorable, raccoon eyes and all. “Fucked up,” she whispered, turning a deeper shade of scarlet as the curse passed her lips.
Adam rewarded her with a big smile. “Now we’re getting somewhere.” The ferry passed the buoy that marked the island’s northern coast, but the mist was so thick he could barely make out the bluffs. “So you really think you can have sex with strangers?”
The question clearly caught her off guard. “Of course I can.”
“I don’t think you can. You’re not that kind of girl.”
“How do you know what kind of girl I am?” she asked, indignant.
“Um, you dated my brother for ten years. I think I have a slight idea.”
“You don’t know me at all. He never knew me either. No one does.”
“Abby… Come on, that’s not true. You and Grant were the real deal for a long time.”
She shook her head. “No, we weren’t. I thought we were—I thought Cal and I were, too, but I’ve never had the real deal.” Turning her big eyes up at him, she said, “Have you?”
The question hit him like an arrow to the heart. “I thought so until recently, but no, I haven’t either.”
“What happened to you?”
Adam smiled and shook his head. “Not worth talking about.”
“I told you all my bad stuff,” she said between persistent hiccups. “It seems only fair that you tell me yours.”
Adam hadn’t intended to tell anyone at home about what’d happened in New York. He’d planned to see his brothers, make sure they were okay, check on his parents and get back to the city to resurrect his career before the damage became irreparable. But here was Abby looking up at him with her liquid brown eyes, and suddenly the whole sordid tale was pouring out of him. When he was done, she stared at him, openmouthed, until a hiccup lurched her out of the trance.
“That’s… It’s… It’s horrible.”
He tilted his head, urging her silently to try again.
“Seriously fucked up.” This was said with no hint of whisper or blush, which made Adam want to cheer. “How long had you been seeing her outside of work?”
“Seeing her for three years, living with her for two of them.”
“And no one at work knew?”
“Nope. My own company policy of no fraternizing at work had come back to bite me in the ass, so we went way out of our way to keep it quiet. From what I can gather, one of the employees saw us somewhere, and we were…we were kissing…and reported us to the board. The funniest part, if you can consider any of this funny, is that it all came down to a dentist appointment.”
“How do you mean?”
“The chairman of the board called both of us. I was at the dentist. She was at the office and took the call. Before I was out of the chair, she’d accepted a deal to force me out of the company I founded. I’d lost my company and my girlfriend in the time it took to get my teeth cleaned. Hilarious, huh?”
“No,” she said, her tone hushed and the hiccups gone. “It’s not funny at all.”
“It’s kinda funny.” He hated to think what he might do if he didn’t laugh.
“I’m sorry that happened to you, Adam.” Her hand on his arm was strangely comforting. He’d felt very alone during the last few unbelievable days. “You’ve worked so hard to build that company.”
“Fourteen years, and the only mistake I made was taking on a partner four years ago.” He leaned against the rail as the breakwater for South Harbor came into view. “You know what the best part is?”
“I’m the only one with the first clue about the actual work we do. She runs the business side. I oversee the technical end. She and the board have no idea what they’re in for without me there to take care of the technical stuff. I’d love to be a fly on the wall.”
“They’ll be begging you to come back in no time at all.”
“Will you go?”
He shook his head. “I gave that company everything I had, and this is the thanks I get? They can kiss my ass.”
“I don’t blame you for being bitter. You got royally screwed—in more ways than one.”
“So what’ll you do now?”
“I’m not sure exactly. After the accident, I wanted to come home and see my brothers—”
Her eyes went wide. “What accident?”
“You didn’t hear about the sailboat in Race Week that got hit by the freighter? All three of my brothers and Grant’s friend Dan were on the boat.”
“Oh my God! Are they all right?”
“They will be. Grant and Dan got the worst of it, but Mac and Evan were fine.”
Abby looked like she might be sick again, so he nudged her closer to the rail. “Take some deep breaths.”
She did as he directed while blinking rapidly. “It’s been over between Grant and me for a while now, but to hear he could’ve died…” The hand she rested over her heart said it all.
“Believe me, I’ve had some rough moments of my own since I got that news from my parents. It was a very close call. All three of my brothers.” He shuddered just thinking about what could’ve happened.
The next thing he knew, she was hugging him, tightly, and it felt really good to have the arms of an old friend around him. And then he felt her breasts pressed against his chest, and his mind went blank. She was no longer an old friend—or his brother’s ex-girlfriend—offering comfort. Rather, she was a sexy, curvy woman who fit perfectly in his arms and had awfully nice breasts, too. Had he ever noticed that before? Not that he could recall. She’d always been Grant’s girl, so he hadn’t looked too closely.
Adam released her and stepped back, noticing how shiny her dark hair was. He wondered if it was as soft and silky as it looked.
Surprised by his abrupt retreat, Abby stumbled, forcing him to reach out and steady her. With his hands on her shoulders and her gaze once again focused on him, Adam had to remind himself that this was Abby. She’d nearly been his brother’s wife. He withdrew his hands from her shoulders and was thankful when the ferry passed through the breakwater into South Harbor.
They stood side by side at the rail as the ferry backed up to the pier and the cars began to drive onto the island.
“You won’t tell anyone, will you?” she asked in a small voice after a long period of awkward silence.
“Of course not. You won’t either, right?”
She shook her head. “If you need to talk to someone who knows what’s going on, I’ll be at the Beachcomber.”
“Not at your folks’ place?”
“No way. My mother told me I was a fool to give up a successful business to chase after yet another man. The last thing I need right now is her reminding me every day that I can’t trust my own judgment when it comes to men.”
“Well, I’ll be at my parents’ place for a day or two while I figure out what’s next if you need someone to talk to.”
“That’s nice of you. Thanks, Adam. Thanks for everything. You’ve been really…nice.”
“I know everything seems awful right now—for both of us—but this has got to be the worst of it, right?”
“If you say so,” she said with a weary sigh as they took the stairs single file to the lower deck.
Since he had only a backpack, he helped her with two of her three suitcases, dragging them up the hill from the ferry landing and across the street to the Beachcomber Hotel. A bellman came down the stairs to assist with her luggage.
“You’ll be okay?” Adam asked.
“Sure. I’m a survivor. It’s how I roll.”
If only she didn’t look so devastated, he might’ve bought that line. He cuffed her chin playfully. “Hang in there.”
Adam walked away, heading in the direction of his parents’ North Harbor home. At the corner, he glanced back to find Abby exactly where he’d left her, looking up the steep staircase to the Beachcomber, as if seeking the fortitude to move forward.
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