St. Martin's Press
Dylan Harrington popped the kickstand down and swung his leg over the seat of his hand-restored fifteen-year-old BMW sport bike. Tugging off his helmet, he stared up at the fairy tale of Victorian gingerbreading and white clapboard at the end of the boxwood-lined walkway.
This may have been a mistake.
Or maybe that was just the hangover talking, and all of this stately colonial business would look better after a strong pot of coffee and a pile of greasy cheese fries at the one restaurant he’d passed on his way in. Even a tiny, picturesque seaside joint called the Firefly Café would serve cheese fries, right? Right?
Dylan pinched his eyes shut around the throbbing headache. Walking his bike onto that tin can masquerading as a ferry boat hadn’t helped the sickness roiling in his gut, and the way he’d turned heads with the growl of his bike as he rode through the town square sure hadn’t done much for his state of mind. But he was here now, and what the hell? His grandparents’ vacation home was as good a place as any to lay low until Miles got over his temper tantrum.
Dylan wasn’t a moron. He was well aware that he was wasting his life partying, getting into bar fights, and taking a different woman back to his penthouse every night. He didn’t need his perfect, responsible, judgmental eldest brother to lay it all out for him.
Miles looked at me like I was a complete stranger.
Shoving down the angry shame that choked him at the memory of his brother’s disappointed frown, Dylan set his jaw. Miles made his choice a long time ago, and it hadn’t been to stick with the family and be there for his brothers.
This was just another in a long line of lectures about his lifestyle, Dylan reminded himself. Yet another argument with Miles about missed opportunities and what their parents would think if they were still alive. No reason to get bent out of shape. It certainly wasn’t why Dylan had impulsively jumped on his bike and started riding south.
Dylan was bored with the city, that was all. Same scene every night, same gallery openings, same women in tight dresses looking at him with that same edge of calculation from under their fake eyelashes. He needed a break from being the “Bad Boy Billionaire,” as the scandal rags had tagged him.
Sanctuary Island, though? Might turn out to be more of a change than he could handle.
Realizing he’d been standing on the sidewalk in front of the house for a good five minutes, Dylan shook his head to clear it. The way his pickled brain sloshed against his skull made him regret it instantly, but at least it got him moving.
He slung his leather duffel over his shoulder before starting up the walkway to the wraparound porch. Morning light glittered off of the house’s navy-blue-shuttered windows, and Dylan shivered a little and zipped his leather jacket a little tighter to his chin, even though it was warmer here than he was used to.
Back in New York it was still in the sixties almost every morning, but tucked away off the coast of Virginia, Sanctuary Island already felt like high summer. Pink and white dogwood blossoms nodded at him from the small trees lining the path, and deep magenta azalea bushes crowded the flowerbeds below the porch.
He glanced over his shoulder to remind himself that, yep, the house really honestly faced out on an old-fashioned town square, complete with gazebo and bandstand set in the lush green sprawl of the grassy park.
It was beautifully serene, almost idyllic. Dylan felt as if he’d blundered into a Thomas Kinkade painting. Rubbing a hand over his suddenly dry mouth, he grimaced at the rasp of stubble against his palm.
Just like that old song from when we were kids … one of these things is not like the others.
Despite feeling viciously out of place, even a jaded cynic like Dylan could appreciate the appeal of this place. No wonder his grandparents, Bette and Fred Harrington, had loved this island. They’d spent summers on Sanctuary until their deaths, one following the other as closely as they always had in life, five years ago.
The edges of grief had smoothed over time, like stones tumbled on the riverbed, and Dylan breathed through it as he contemplated how to get into the locked vacation house.
He probably should’ve planned ahead, gotten the key from whoever his family employed to oversee their various properties around the world. Now he’d have to bust in a window or something, which sounded like a lot of trouble in his hungover state, after ten straight hours on his motorcycle.
Dylan was tired, his bones almost aching with it. Of course, that was why he’d come to Sanctuary Island in the first place.
If he was honest, Dylan was tired of the life he’d chosen, the reputation he’d deliberately cultivated.
The pretense of it all, paddling around the shallow waters of the New York art scene, made him sick. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d looked a beautiful woman in the eye without catching the edge of calculation as she wondered what she could get out of him.
Grimacing, he dropped his duffel on the porch and prepared to jam his leather-jacketed elbow through the diamond pane of decorative etched glass flanking the front. Before he could do more than crack his knuckles, the heavy wooden door swung open.
A woman appeared in the doorway, pushing a strand of dark chestnut hair out of her eyes. She was small and delicate looking, with softly rounded cheeks that were flushed a healthy pink that had nothing to do with cosmetics.
She couldn’t look more different from the magazine-ready models he usually dated, so the sudden shot of desire caught him off guard. Already off balance from nearly getting caught in the act of breaking into this woman’s house by accident, Dylan stood there silently while the woman closed those wide hazel eyes and clasped her hands in front of her.
“I thought I heard someone out here,” she breathed. “And thank the sweet lord, because my shift starts in half an hour and I can’t afford to be late. Come on in, the toilet’s this way.”
“Toilet?” Wrong house. Man, I even manage to screw up my vacation.
Somewhere, his brother Miles was laughing his ass off.
Obviously clocking his confusion, the angel flushed and brushed a self-conscious hand down her front. “Right. The uniform. I know, it doesn’t look right, and I swear I don’t usually wear it around the house.”
For the first time, Dylan noted her getup, which looked like a costume for a diner waitress in a fifties movie, complete with a sea-green skirt that bared long, slender legs and a tiny white apron emphasizing the curves of her waist. THE FIREFLY CAFÉ was embroidered in pink over her left breast.
“You look just fine to me,” he told her honestly. Dylan was no stranger to beautiful women, but this woman, with her messy, tumbled-out-of-bed hair and slightly tired eyes unaccentuated by makeup sparked something in him. Something he hadn’t felt in a long time.
She managed to look so nice, even while rolling her eyes; maybe it was the good-natured twist to her pretty pink mouth. “You’re sweet. A liar, but sweet. And I’ve got a plumbing issue that needs to be fixed or the Richie Rich one percenters who own this place will throw a hissy.”
Dylan frowned—was she talking about his family? Maybe this was Harrington House, after all. But what was this woman doing here? Stalling for time to figure out what the hell was going on, he said, “I’d like to help you out, but I’m not sure I’m the guy you want.”
The smile that lit her face heated Dylan’s blood faster than the most seductive pout. “Oh, you’re definitely the guy I want.”
Arousal, all the stronger for being so unexpected, tightened his belly. “Is that right?”
Pink bloomed over her cheekbones and down her neck, but instead of getting bashful, she lifted a flirty brow and said, “That’s exactly right, sugar. So long as you can snake my pipes.”
His bark of laughter surprised even Dylan. “Is that my cue to make a crack about showing you my tools?
“Don’t strain yourself, sugar.” She waved a cheerful hand. “I work the night shift at the only restaurant on this island that serves alcohol. Trust me, I’ve heard every dirty joke there is. Now get in here, the clock’s ticking and the plumbing isn’t the only issue. I’ve got a whole list.”
When Dylan hesitated, reluctant to own up to belonging to the family she’d rolled her eyes over before, a slimly toned arm shot out and grasped the lapel of his leather jacket. With a laugh, she hauled him over the threshold and into the dimness of the house.
Half a second later, Dylan Harrington, third son and heir to the multibillion-dollar Harrington fortune, stood in a small white-tiled, paisley-wallpapered bathroom staring down at the plunger in his hand.
Glancing up, he caught a glimpse of his own bemused expression in the gilt-edged mirror above the pedestal sink. The wry half-grin tugging at the corner of his mouth gave his face an unfamiliar lightness, but it felt good.
So much for a vacation from women who wanted something from him.
But somehow, as he faced down a misbehaving toilet and whipped out his smartphone to search the Internet for tips on plunging, Dylan admitted to himself that this was something different.
The mystery of who this woman was, and why she was living in his grandparents’ old vacation house, roused Dylan’s curiosity. But the bigger mystery was why he found himself attracted to a woman whose clean, fresh looks screamed “good girl.”
Dylan gripped the handle of the plunger, his rusty laugh echoing off the bathroom tiles. For the first time in a long time, his life had taken a sharp turn … and he couldn’t wait to find out what was around the corner.
Copyright © 2014 Lily EverettLily Everett grew up in a small town in Virginia reading Misty of Chincoteague and Black Beauty, taking riding lessons, and longing for a horse of her own. Sadly, her parents gave her a college education instead—but she never forgot what the world looked like from the back of a horse. She currently lives in Austin, Texas, where she writes full-time.