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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Summers

It's Almost Time to Go Back to Paradise Bay! Get Your Sneak Peek Now...


The countdown is on. Only 6 short days until BEACH PLEASE launches!!

I've LOVED being back in Paradise Bay these past few months, and I have to tell you, I'm madly in love with Lola and Aidan. They're the bee's knees.


Of course you love them, Melanie. You made them up.


Yes, I know, but seriously, these two are just...ahhhh. Aidan's Canadian, which has been sooo fun for me to write, and Lola's a surfer chick who's also a trivia buff. I can't wait for you to meet them. For today, let's meet Aidan, and next week, I'll introduce you to Lola (otherwise this post is going to be hella long).

 

THE SETUP...


Lola Gordon's dreams of a thriving surf shop were shattered when her ex vanished with all the money in their business account, leaving her on the brink of losing everything. With the bank set to auction off her beloved shop and its contents in just six weeks, Lola is desperate to find a solution.


When news of an exciting treasure hunt sweeps through the island, Lola sees it as her last chance to reclaim her surf shop and rebuild her life. There's just one obstacle standing in her way: she needs a boat.


Enter Aidan Clarke, a disillusioned Canadian expat seeking solace in the tranquil shores of Paradise Bay. Having recently discovered his fiancée's infidelity with his brother, Aidan wants to be alone. So when his parents decide to visit and hunt for a house near his seaside cottage, Aidan realizes he must create an illusion of happiness.


He proposes a deal to Lola: he'll provide the boat she needs if she agrees to pose as his live-in girlfriend.


As Lola and Aidan set sail on their adventure, the lines between fiction and reality blur, and their fake affection starts to feel all too genuine.


Join Lola and Aidan as their dreams are tested, their hearts are mended, and a sun-kissed romance awaits…





SNEAK PEEK TIME!

CHAPTER 1


Party Boats, Life Goals, and Bachelorettes

Aidan Clarke

I won’t do it today. I won’t. It’s been six months. Time to move on and shed the rituals that may have served me well in the past (or maybe only served to prolong the pain). Whichever it is, today, I have to stop. It will be a birthday gift to myself. And possibly a gift to the people on any nearby boats docked at the pier. I’m not sure if they can hear it, what with me doing it in the cabin, but I do get an awful lot of strange looks from people around here.


Not that I care what they think. That was the whole point of moving to Santa Valentina Island in the first place—to get away from people whose opinions matter to me. If I wanted to be judged—or worse, pitied—I’d still be living in Canada. I’d be back in Calgary with plans to drive out to my parents’ ranch for a big birthday dinner with my four stupid professional hockey-playing millionaire brothers. But I’m not.


Instead, I’m here in paradise, starting over. Healing. Moving on. Which is why I won’t do it today. I’m going to stand here in silence while I wait for the coffee to brew and prepare the snacks for today’s snorkeling tour guests.


The thing is, I don’t need to do it anymore. At first it started out as a way to soothe the pain. But now that I’m over her, I keep it up as a way to remind myself that falling in love is, without a doubt, the worst choice a human can make. Idiotic. Nonsensical. Not ever happening again. And because I know this deep in my bones, I don’t need to keep doing it.


I’ve carved out an amazing life for myself here. When it all went down and I left Canada, I bought a catamaran and swapped out my previous life of working in cybersecurity for a major bank (hunched over a keyboard all day fending off hackers only to risk my life on the icy drive from my office to my condo) for something infinitely better. The perfectly free and easy, no-commitment life. I take two three-hour tours out a day—one at nine a.m. and one at one p.m., which means I’m not even committed to serving them a meal. Just snacks. My morning guests get a variety of pastries, scones, and fresh fruit, while the afternoon crowd gets tortilla chips, salsa, fresh guacamole that I make myself, and cookies. Then I spend the rest of the day blissfully alone doing whatever the hell I want.


The inspiration for buying the catamaran was simple—it’s a great way to meet women. Specifically, women who are here for a limited time and are looking for a little vacation fun with a free-spirited boat captain. But I’m not an animal. I have rules—no one vulnerable, no one intoxicated, and no one married or otherwise in a committed relationship. So far, it hasn’t worked out exactly as I expected because at least half of my guests are families (so not my preferred demographic), and of those who are single women, a surprising amount of them are going through a bad break-up or some other tragic life moment which immediately makes them a hard no. On the odd occasion that I have met a woman who seems to tick off all the boxes, I inevitably wind up asking her a few questions about herself over a bottle of wine, only to realize that she’s off limits. This means instead of a night of fun, I spend the entire evening listening to her talk about her ex/parents/whoever has hurt her, only to hug it out at the end and have her leave grateful while I head home to my little seaside cottage having not had the random hook-up for which I was hoping.


But there’s always a chance, and today’s group is looking pretty good—eight women who are here for a bachelorette party. Yes, ma’am, happy birthday to me. I’ll start out the day feeding them and helping them fit their snorkels and fins, then at some point, mention my sad-but-true sob story—that my fiancée left me for my own brother. That’ll garner some ‘awww, you poor thing,’ energy, which, with any luck, will turn into some hot, meaningless birthday sex.

The kettle reaches 200 degrees—the perfect temperature for French press coffee. I pour the water over the freshly-ground beans, then rest the plunger carefully on top while the coffee brews, its comforting scent tickling my nose. In precisely four minutes fifty-four seconds, it will be brewed to perfection, which is exactly the length of time to do it once.

Just once couldn’t hurt, right?


Screw it. I know I said I wouldn’t, but it’s my birthday. I’ll let myself do it this one last time. But I won’t let myself sing along. That’ll help me put a stop to this nonsense. After this, I really will move on forever.


Turning my head toward the speaker, I say, “Alexa, play ‘The Winner Takes It All’ by ABBA.”

Alexa must be so sick of this by now. I’m sorry, Alexa. The keyboard starts up and I close my eyes, letting Agnetha’s pain remind me of how awful it was when I first found out. Agnetha gets it. Even though, as far as I know, Bjorn didn’t leave her for her own sister. I also doubt she grew up feeling like a complete reject on account of every single person in her family playing professional—or, in my mother’s case, Olympic-level—hockey, but Agnetha was too uncoordinated to skate a straight line.


Don’t sing. Do. Not. Sing. “I was in your arms…”

Dammit, I’m singing.


I belt out every word until my throat is raw. When the song ends, I open my eyes, only to see one of the guys who runs fishing tours staring at me slack-jawed through the cabin window. He gives me a quick nod, then shakes his head as he walks down the pier to his boat.

Yeah, buddy, enjoy fishing with a bunch of old retired guys today. You weirdo who peeks into other people’s cabins. I’ll be hosting a group of beautiful ladies, hopefully at least one of whom will be looking for a little captain action.


That wasn’t nice of me. Not very Canadian at all. Besides, technically I suppose I’m the weirdo. I should probably do that at home. Not that I’m doing it again because … last time.

Plunging the coffee down with the exact pressure required to blend the oils to perfection, I tell Alexa, who just started playing Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares,” to shut off the music. Time to get prepared for the tour. These snack trays won’t make themselves.


It’ll be a bit of a tricky day because I’ll be dodging birthday calls from my family, especially from Lawson the Betrayer. That’s his new name. Fitting. He doesn’t know I call him that though because I haven’t spoken to him since it happened. He still tries calling me every two or three days, but I don’t pick up. I should just block him already and get it over with. I will. Just not today.


Lawson always was an asshat. Two years older than me and forever determined to show me he could beat me at anything. Obviously he could beat me at anything. He was two years older than me.


All right, so he wasn’t always an asshat. Not until six months ago when he started sleeping with the woman I was going to marry. In fact, of my four brothers, he and I were the closest. He was the only one in the family who seemed to have any appreciation of my skills—my ability to fix computer problems, the ease with which I could solve riddles and complete puzzles, and my mad Lego skills. Yes, my parents tried to encourage me, and my other three brothers certainly used me when they needed some tech nerd help. But Lawson actually seemed to like listening to me talk about my interests. He asked questions instead of giving me the cursory ‘uh-huh, yeps’ that my mom and dad would when I was excited about the latest version of The Legend of Zelda. So when he was the one who put my heart through the wood chipper, it was … unexpected. And by that I mean the most painful experience in all my thirty-one years (and I’m including the time I broke my nose so badly it was sideways on my face).


It’s a pathetically typical story. I got home a day early from an IT conference only to catch the two of them in bed. My bed. Where I used to snuggle up and inhale the scent of her right before I’d drift off into a peaceful sleep believing I was the luckiest man on earth to have a woman like her to love me. Cue the two of them scrambling to cover up, get dressed, and explain all at the same time. Caitlyn clutching my pillow to her chest and crying while he’s on all fours searching for his briefs. Cue my world being shaken to the core, my lungs feeling like they were going to collapse, and my legs turning to mercury, which is both a liquid and one of the heaviest metals on earth.


Side note: Most people say lead in this scenario (as in, my legs felt like lead), but lead is light enough to sit on top of mercury. That’s how heavy mercury is. But I digress.


Anyway, within a week, the story broke all over Canada. I’m not sure how the press found out that one of hockey’s royal family had cuckholded his little brother, but they did and it was big news. That’s when I decided to become an expat from Hockeylandia forever. I told Vivian, my overly sympathetic boss who will ‘never cheer for the Cougars again,’ that I was moving to Santa Valentina Island to become a boat captain. She felt so bad for me that she cried. Talk about an awkward Zoom call. It couldn’t have been worse if she’d forgotten to wear her pants.

Fast forward to me literally living as far away from an ice rink as a guy can get while still remaining on planet Earth. Honestly, that’s how much I hate hockey. I don’t even get ice in my drinks. I’ll suck back a lukewarm Coke rather than have that awful white stuff touch my lips.

After I get the snack trays set out on the counter and tidy up, I grab the freshly-laundered towels, roll them and set them up into pyramid shapes on various locations throughout the boat. Yes, if women love anything, it’s neatly rolled towels within their grasp.


I’m just finishing the last towel when I smell the stench of a cigar. I turn to see Stew Milner standing on the pier next to my boat. Stogie Stew, as he’s called by the locals, owns the biggest tour company on the island, Sandy Shores Snorkeling Adventures, which is honestly the dumbest name for a snorkeling tour company ever. It doesn’t even make sense. No one snorkels on the shore, Stew.


He grins at me while he chews on the cigar he’s holding between his finger and thumb (both of which are yellow—blech). “Zelda’s looking pretty fine. You almost ready to sell her to me?”

Zelda’s my boat. She’s a 47’ Passenger Day Charter Catamaran that I bought off a fellow from St. Lucia. She’s got seating for up to twenty-eight passengers, not including the trampoline. She has a small living quarters below deck including a galley, a bedroom with one double bed (and a cupboard full of condoms), a bathroom with a shower, and a tiny living room with a couch and TV. There are also another two toilets on the main deck for guest use. The best feature is a slide that drops people from the top deck into the warm Caribbean waters—a big hit, especially with kids. And I’m never selling her to Stogie Stew.


I involuntarily cringe, feeling somehow violated on Zelda’s behalf. “And give up the good life? Never.”


“Oh, you’ll sell her to me. It’s just a matter of time before you get sick of ferrying drunks around.” He turns to leave, calling over his shoulder, “I’ll pay you a fair price for her! Just let me know when you’re ready to give up!”


“Not going to happen,” I call back. I’d rather burn Zelda to ash than sell her to that guy. Sorry, Zelda. I didn’t mean that.


At ten minutes to nine, a taxi van pulls up next to the pier. And here they come, eight gorgeous women. I squint a little as they get closer. Are they … old ladies? Based on the grey hair and the fact that one of them is using a walker, I’m going to say yes. Which means my hopes for a birthday romp are pretty much over. Unless…?


No. They’re over, Aidan. Accept that.


I plaster a smile on my face and hold out my hand to help them climb the steps. “I’m Aidan, your captain for today. Which one of you lovely ladies is our blushing bride?”


They all titter and one of them shoots up her hand. “I am, but I’m not exactly blushing.”


“No, Loretta’s been with lots of men,” the one with the walker says.


“Joyce, you’re making me sound like a trollop.”


“I’m just being honest,” Joyce says.


“If I had known you were going to be honest, I wouldn’t have invited you,” Loretta says.

Joyce hands me her walker, then grabs hold of the railing and hoists herself up the steps while I stand, ready to help if needed. Once she’s aboard, she smiles up at me. “Well, aren’t you a tall drink of water?”


“Uh-oh, I can tell you’re going to be trouble, aren’t you?” I ask with a wink. God, I hate myself sometimes.


They all laugh and a few of them agree, although they don’t sound too happy about it.


“Oooh! Look at the towels,” Loretta says.


“So lovely.”


“Where’s the food? Your brochure said there would be pastries.”


“Hold your horses, he can only do one thing at a time.”


Oh dear, I have a feeling this is going to be an excruciatingly long three hours.


***


Yes, yes it was. So much bickering. And calling me Captain Hot Stuff. And asking me to ‘do their backs,’ meaning lather sunscreen on them. In more than one case, it meant lifting skin folds to make sure I could get in the cracks. To be honest, I’m not sure if I’ve just spent my birthday morning being sexually harassed or not. I think I was. Thank God I don’t have a tour booked for the afternoon because I just want to go home and have a shower.


While I was out at sea (and out of range) I received the customary texts from my non-betraying brothers, Bennett, Hayden, and Wilder. But nothing from Lawson. Maybe his gift to me is a break from his pathetic attempts at reconciling. That would be surprisingly thoughtful, so clearly I’m going to have to keep my guard up.


By the time I clean up and head home, it’s nearly three o’clock. I go for a long run on the beach before showering. Now I’m going to spend a delightful evening totally alone. I’ll cook my birthday dinner of grilled snapper, brown rice, and veggies, then spend the evening binging the latest season of Formula 1: Drive to Survive while I play chess on my phone.


My phone rings and Scotia Dominion Bank appears on the screen. That’ll be my ex-boss Vivian calling to wish me a happy birthday. She’s so thoughtful. “Hey Vivian, how’s life in Toronto today?”


There’s a pause, then I hear, “It’s me, Lawson. Please don’t hang up. I had to beg the lady at the front desk to let me use one of their meeting rooms to call you.”


My stomach lurches. My heart squeezes. So many emotions all at once. Humiliation at him going to my old place of work, where they will undoubtedly recognize him since he’s an über-famous hockey god, then immediately remember that his brother used to work there. Red hot rage, searing pain, and inexplicably, guilt for having ignored him for so long, which is insane because I have every right to avoid him for the rest of my life. I open my mouth to tell him not to call me again, but nothing comes out. Just say it. Then hang up. At least you’ll have that one final thread of dignity you managed to salvage.


“Aidan, please. I really need to talk to you. I’ve never felt so sorry about anything in my entire life. In fact, I’ll never forgive myself.”


“That makes two of us.”


“I deserve that. I do. I just … really miss you, man. You’re my little bro.”


“A fact you conveniently forgot when you started banging my fiancée.”


“Aid, I swear I never forgot. The entire time it was just killing me knowing—”


“If you called to tell me how hard this has all been on you, I’m going to hang up now.”


“That’s not why I called,” he says, letting out a heavy sigh. “I wanted to wish you a happy birthday, and I know it’s a long shot, but I was hoping we could find a way to get through this mess. I miss you, man. The guilt is…” He lets out a groan. “I can’t stop thinking about what we did to you. I’m worried about you. Mom’s worried. Everybody’s furious with me and with Cait. I’m playing like shit, to be honest. I don’t even have one goal yet this season.”


Cait. The sound of her name coming out of his mouth is like a sea urchin to the bottom of my foot. Clearly they’re still together, which is just a real punch to the beans. “Well, you should have thought of that before you betrayed your own brother. Actions have consequences.”


“I know. I know. I just…”


“What? Didn’t care? Couldn’t control yourself?”


“The second one. The thing is, I’ve been in love with her since the first time you brought her home to meet the family. For three years, man. I tried stuffing those feelings deep, deep down but…”


“But you failed miserably.”


“Yeah, I did,” he says. “I know I shouldn’t say this because it’ll probably come out wrong and piss you off even more, but I might be the only person who can actually understand how you feel.”


“That’s quite possibly the stupidest thing you’ve ever come up with, which is saying something.” Now I’m just being nasty, and I won’t lie—it feels fucking incredible.


“The thing is, if you’re missing her even half as much as I wanted her for three long years, I get it. It was torture. Pure torture, which is why it’s killing me to know how much pain you’re in.”

I pause while I try to make sense of his half-baked logic. My brain quickly decides it doesn’t want me to admit how much this hurts. I’d rather have her think she didn’t mean that much to me. “I’m not in any pain at all, actually.”


“Come on, Aidan. It’s me. I know you.”


“No, for real. I’m totally over her. In fact, I’ve been having the time of my life. Meeting tons of women. Getting laid like crazy.”


“Really?” He sounds hopeful.


“Yeah, and the best part so far is that none of them floss their teeth in bed or eat lettuce with their hands, like some other women I know.”


He ignores my obvious digs at Caitlyn and says, “That’s great, Aid. I’m really happy for you.”

“I wish I could say the same,” I tell him. “If that’s all, I really have to go. I’m super busy with my catamaran business. Don’t call me from the bank again. It’s humiliating for both of us.”


“Please wait. That’s not all,” he says.


I blow out a frustrated sigh, then snap, “What?”


“Caitlyn and I are … well, I’m not, she is. We’re… having a baby and we’re getting married.” His voice sounds like it’s coming out of a long tunnel. I hear the words but it’s like I’m not really taking them all in. “We want you to be there. It would mean the world to us both.”


I must have slid out of my seat because I’m now seated on the tile floor. Am I rocking back and forth like some sort of young child? Yes, yes, I am.


For God’s sake, pull it together.


“Aidan? Are you still there?” he asks, his voice so quiet I can barely hear him.

I make some sort of sound. It comes from deep in my gut and resembles the lonely howl of a needy malamute who’s been left out in the yard too long.


“Was that a … dog?”


“Yes, I’m outside.”


“Oh, okay, it just sounded so close to the phone that I thought it was you. Look, I know it’s a big ask—for you to come to the wedding—but I don’t want to get married without my best friend by my side. And I can’t stand the thought of you not being part of our daughter’s life.”


“Daughter?” I ask, finally rising to my feet. I walk over to the window on wobbly legs.


“Yeah,” Lawson says, and I can hear the smile in his voice. How the fuck does he get to be so fucking happy? “We found out yesterday that we’re having a little girl. But we’re planning the wedding for after she’s born. Cait wants some time to get back in shape again and I’m hoping it’ll be enough time for you to decide you can be there. All I’m asking is that you think about it, okay?”


“Yeah, no. I’m not going to.”


“Not going to think about it or not going to come?”


“Both.” My gut flips. I’m taking a stand here and I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but I do know this is something he and I are not going to come back from. But then again, that ship has already sailed, hasn’t it?


He blows out a long sigh. “Okay, I should have guessed that going in. I hope you’ll change your mind. There’s lots of time between now and then.”


“I won’t.”


There’s a long pause before he says anything. “For what it’s worth, not having you in my life is like having my right arm cut off.”


“Am I supposed to feel sorry for you?”


“No. I just want you to know how much you mean to me, and that I wish I had fallen in love with anyone else.”


“Well, you didn’t.”


“No, I didn’t. I guess I gotta play the cards I was dealt.”


I let out a scoff. “How awful for you, especially since you dealt them yourself.”


I can picture him rubbing the back of his neck, his face screwed up with regret. “I suppose I did. I’ll let you go. Love you, man.”


“Bye.” I hang up before he can say anything else. I’ve heard about all I can handle from him for a lifetime. “Happy fucking birthday to me,” I mutter.


This feeling, right now—this gut-churning, nauseous, too hot and too cold at the same time feeling that seems like it may last forever—is the reason I will never fall in love again. Because love is Not. Worth. It. Love doesn’t care about you. Love will turn your life upside-down and leave you a complete mess. If life has taught me anything, it’s that being alone is far better than being rejected. So alone, I shall stay.


New plan for this evening. I’m going to get piss-stinking drunk.





Okay, that's it for me today!

I'll be back next week to celebrate the launch of BEACH PLEASE! It's going to be fun! Rosy and Darnell will be there, and we'll meet Lola's best friend, Penelope. You're going to love her.

And as always, I wish you love, peace, good health, and happy reading!

xoxo,

mel

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