Shaking her head, she looked away, to the sand. Her kids were out there—not the entire class yet, but many. Playing in the sand, chasing each other, having a ball. She felt a pang for the simplicity of youth.


When she looked at him again, he was no longer smiling, but his eyes were gentle. Warm.


“I know how much this means to you,” he said. “And that you’ve had a lot of shit dumped on you—”

“I’m fine,” she said, not enjoying the reminder of her shitty week. “This is my problem. I’ll take care of it.” Somehow.

He slid his hands to her hips. “I want to ask something of you.”


“I want you to trust me to help,” he said. “Trust me to fix the bash for you. And then after, I fix us,” he said, voice low. Determined.

Still fierce.

Her heart caught. “Sam—”

He slanted his head and gave her one quick, hot kiss, and then he was gone.

She stood there a moment, then realized the beach was filling quickly. The air was hot, salty, and ringing with the laughter and sounds of people fully enjoying themselves. It seemed that all of Lucky Harbor had come.

She let out a breath and went back to supervising the setup. An hour later, everything was going amazingly well. The food was plentiful; the drinks were flowing. The younger kids were playing games near the water, supervised by the teens from the rec center whom Becca had hired to do exactly that.

A little later, the pyrotechnic team arrived and set up for the night’s show. The crowd thickened some more. There was face painting and a hula-hoop contest. Older kids were bodyboarding, or flirting with each other. Adults were eating, drinking, relaxing in the late-afternoon sun.

There was music after all. It came from Sam’s quick-thinking setup with his iPod, a speaker, and a long extension cord from the hut. As night began to fall, Becca walked through the crowds for the umpteenth time. She was hot and tired and exhausted, but exhilarated as well.

She’d pulled it off.

Well, everything except the live music. That was still needling her. It was the only thing lacking. But then she saw movement in the area that she’d originally blocked off for the band. Sam was there, directing the high school boys she’d hired to help set up. They were dragging chairs onto the makeshift stage, and . . .

“Oh, my God,” she whispered to herself.


From her classroom.

The instruments Sam had bought. And more than that, there was her keyboard as well. She started walking over there, ended up running, and skidded to a halt behind him. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Not supposed to swear in front of the kids,” he said, waving them in.

“But—” She broke off as the kids sat with their instruments.

Sam smiled at them.

They beamed back.

“Sam,” Becca said, her heart rate accelerating to near-stroke levels. “What’s going on?”

Sam moved closer to her, pulling her into him.

“Don’t,” she said.

“Don’t what?”

She pushed free. “I can’t think when you touch me.”

He just looked at her, like she was still cute but also a colossal pain in his ass. “Or look at me,” she added.

So what did he do? He tightened his grip, stepped into her, and cupped her face up to his. “Couple of things we have to get straight,” he said.

“Now isn’t exactly the time—”

“You were right before,” he said over her. “I never intended to say the words to you.”

She went still, absorbed it, decided she hated it, and tried to back away.

He tightened his grip. “I never was going to say them,” he went on, “because they’d never meant anything to me, never gave me anything but a headache. They’ve always cost me one way or another. I thought this, with you, was different, that somehow my actions would be enough.”

At that, she stopped fighting him and stared up at him. “Oh, Sam.”

“I’ve had the words all my life and they meant nothing. I thought love was in the showing.” He let out a low laugh and shook his head. “But then you came out of nowhere. I didn’t expect you, Becca.”

“I know, I—”

He put a finger to her lips. “I’m still getting past the surprise that I was willing to go there with you at all.”

“There,” she said, needing a translation.

“Here. You’ve become a part of me,” he said. “As important and basic as breathing. I feel things for you that I can’t even name.” His lips twitched. “And a few that I can.”

She sucked in a breath and looked around to see if anyone was listening. When the kids had gathered on stage, the crowds had shifted in and were settling around the stage. Her keyboard sat up there, mocking her, and a new pit of panic gripped her, but Sam took her hands in his.

“You can do this,” he said softly.

“Do what?”

But he let her go and moved to the edge of the stage, facing the crowd. “Welcome to the first annual Lucky Harbor Charters Summer Bash!” he called out.

The crowd cheered.

He grinned at them, and Becca could hear the collective hearts of every woman in the place sigh.

“Here at Lucky Harbor Charters,” he said, “we’ve appreciated your business all year. We appreciate your future business as well. And today is mine, Tanner’s, and Cole’s thanks to you. But first, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you to help me thank Becca Thorpe for. . .” He met her gaze. “Well, everything.”