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Kate McGuire felt the spray of the salt water against her face, as the boat plowed through the choppy water. Beside her, pup Oliver peered over the railing into the teal blue sea.
Instinctively, she reached down and stroked the soft, caramel-colored hair on the back of his neck, just above his orange life vest.
“So what do you think of your first boat ride?” she asked softly. “Or is it your first boat ride?”
The pup’s past was still something of a mystery. From what she’d been able to learn, Oliver had simply appeared in Coral Cay one chilly March day. No one knew where he’d come from, but there had been no shortage of people who wanted to give the small, fuzzy puppy a good home.
Instead, the goldendoodle (or maybe labradoodle—no one was quite sure about that, either), had the field, spending a night or three at various homes before moving on. So now Oliver was the unofficial mayor of Coral Cay—welcomed and wanted just about everywhere in town.
But when Kate moved to the small Florida island—and into an upstairs room at the Cookie House bakery a few months ago—Oliver stopped wandering. For the most part.
“So what do you think?” Desiree yelled excitedly to Kate over the roar of the engine and the pounding of the waves against the boat.
“The island looks so different from the water,” Kate shouted back.
“That’s what I love about traveling by boat,” Desiree said. “Complete change in perspective. Jimmy Buffet was right.”
A few weeks ago, Kate had gotten a call from her old friend. Only in her mid-fifties, Desiree Goldsmith was retiring. And getting married.
The groom was, at least in certain circles, something of a celebrity: Judson Cooper. A globe-trotting marine biologist, the man made headlines with his efforts to protect the oceans and safeguard sea life around the world—from battling whaling off the coast of Japan to working to revitalize the Great Barrier Reef.
He’d also made a small fortune with a couple of inventions—one that harvested water-borne garbage and another that transformed liquid petro–chemical spills into solids, which could then be easily sifted from the water.
Kate couldn’t believe it when Desiree announced just a few days ago that they were holding their intimate beach wedding on Coral Cay.
“I don’t know why not,” her friend had countered, laughing. “You’ve told me so much about this place, I feel like I know it already. And Judson wants to kick back for a few weeks and spend some time at one of his pet projects just up the coast. A marine wildlife rehab sanctuary.”
“Sounds like the perfect honeymoon for a city girl,” Kate had teased.
“I know, right? But the whole thing feels just … magical. And perfect.”
And now here they were. The wedding was tomorrow evening. Sunset on the beach. To be followed by a bonfire, beach cookout, and cake—a three-tier key lime number with buttercream frosting that was currently under Sam Hepplewhite’s watchful eye back at the Cookie House.
As the boat slowed, Judson Cooper emerged on deck, a boyish smile on his broad, tanned face. “Look! Someone’s waving at us from the shore!” As they rounded the headland, Kate looked over and recognized the quaint cottage nestled in the cove. In its yard, two figures were each giving them full-armed waves.
“That’s Iris and Sunny,” Kate said, waving back.
“Woof!” Oliver barked over the din. “Woof, woof.”
“See? He knows them,” Kate said with a grin.
“You weren’t kidding,” Desiree said. “You really do know everyone in town.”
“Well, to be fair, it’s a very small town.”
“And everyone comes into that bakery,” Judson added, patting his midsection. “As I can attest.”
“Do I even want to ask who’s driving the boat?” Kate teased, laughing.
“Just call him ‘Captain Doc Scanlon,’” Judd said, winking. “And he’s not a half-bad skipper. For a landlubber.” Judd gave a mock salute and headed back up to the wheelhouse.
“I still can’t believe you guys are having your wedding here,” Kate said.
“Well, my first time around, I did it my mom’s way. Poofy white dress, stiff satin heels, and four bridesmaids. And the marriage lasted, what? Fifteen minutes? This time, we’re doing it our way. Barefoot on the beach.”
“It sounds wonderful,” Kate said.
At that moment, Judd reappeared. “I forgot to mention,” he called, as he approached. “I got a text from Liam this morning. He and Sarah are both flying in. They’ll be here tomorrow.”
“Judd, that’s fantastic!” Desiree exclaimed. “What happened? How did you change their minds?”
“Search me,” he said. “The boy reached out to me. Of his own volition. No arm twisting whatsoever.”
“Judd’s kids aren’t exactly my biggest fans,” Desiree explained.
“It’s not you, it’s any woman in my life,” Judson countered.
“Well, I’m grateful,” Desiree said. “Whatever the reason. Especially if it means they hate me just a little bit less.”
“Oh no,” Kate said. “They can’t possibly hate you. Maybe they just don’t want to share their dad.”
“It’s not me they have a problem sharing, it’s my bank account,” he said, shaking his head. “Or, as they’ve taken to calling it, their inheritance.”
“Judson, that’s not true,” Desiree said. “Although they were definitely not in favor of our summer wanderings. Three months away from the office—crisscrossing the globe. We stayed in everything from tents and hostels to five-star hotels. What was it Liam said when you first told him? ‘Over my dead body.’”
“I hate to correct you, honey, but what he actually said to me was ‘over your dead body, Dad.’ That kid of mine, he doesn’t mince words.” He shrugged, grinned, and ambled back to the pilothouse.
Kate tried not to look shocked. She couldn’t imagine anyone disliking Desiree. Bubbly, funny, and down-to-earth, she made everyone feel at home instantly. Maybe that was why she was so good at her job—head concierge for the Manhattan flagship of a major luxury hotel group.
As Kate and Desiree carefully lurched their way to the back of the boat, Kate had to admit she’d never seen her friend happier. And it was contagious. As they settled into the cushioned bench seat, Kate glanced up and spotted Jack Scanlon looking back at them from the elevated glass wheelhouse. The vet brushed a lock of sandy brown hair off his forehead, caught her eye, and smiled.
Kate smiled back and waved.
“Hmmm, so I’m not the only one doing well in the romance department,” Desiree said under her breath.
Kate shook her head. “Uh-uh. Nope. Not happening. Small island.”
“Hey, I’m just relieved you ditched that other guy. Mr. Millionaire.”
“You were always so nice to him,” Kate said, amazed.
“Because you liked him. I always thought he was kind of hollow. Handsome, but he knew it.”
Kate giggled. “Oh, did he ever.”
“Well, you can do a lot better. And clearly, you are.”
Kate risked a glance at the pilothouse: Judson at the wheel, Jack next to him looking out at the water—and Oliver happily wedged between them, all four paws planted wide for balance.
“Seriously, thanks for all the help with this,” Desiree said, almost shyly.
“Are you kidding? After all the events you’ve arranged? You deserve this. Besides, I just happen to know the best florist in Coral Cay. Maxi may own the only flower shop on the island, but she could hold her own in Manhattan any day.”
“I know. You should see the bouquet she designed. A strand of white orchids. Simple and beautiful. Which is pretty much our motto for the whole wedding.”
“I love the idea of a beach wedding,” Kate said. “Although, knowing this place, you may get a few uninvited guests. The folks around here love a good party. On the bright side, they seldom show up empty-handed.”
“The more the merrier,” Desiree said happily.
Abruptly the engine cut out. Except for the waves slapping the side of the boat, all was still.
Judson Cooper scrambled down onto the deck, adjusted his binoculars, and peered toward the shore.
“What is it?” Jack asked, leaning out the wheelhouse door.
Copyright © 2021 by Eve Calder.