Sand Dollar Lane
Book Excerpt :: Chapter 1
To be or not to be? That was not the question when your perfect woman decided she was perfect for someone else. The question was, how the @!*!!! did this happen? How had Brody Green gone from being engaged to Jenna Jones to getting dumped by her? How had he gone from saving the Driftwood Inn for her to seeing her honeymoon there with his archrival, Seth Waters? The rival Brody had beaten.
Or so he’d thought. One minute he was engaged to the prettiest, smartest, pluckiest woman in all of Moonlight Harbor and the next he was at her wedding, pretending to be a good sport. Something had gone very, very wrong.
Unlike his first marriage he hadn’t seen the great dumping coming. Yes, he’d looked like a villain for a short time, but he’d known that once Jenna learned the truth and he’d proved himself to be a hero, all would be well once more.
By all rights they should have gotten married, then walked off into the sunset together, hand in hand—her, barefoot in a flowing wedding gown, him all duded up in a tux. They’d have sipped champagne on the beach, maybe even made love on a blanket. He’d have whisked her off to Tahiti for a honeymoon to remember.
Instead, she’d chosen that glorified handyman, who hadn’t been able to take her any farther than the Driftwood Inn for their honeymoon. Some honeymoon. Some marriage.
Except Jenna was ecstatically happy.
Okay, Brody wanted her to be happy. He was happy for her. He just wasn’t so happy for himself. What they’d had was the perfect relationship. What they had now was all whacked out and wrong.
As far as Jenna was concerned, they were still best buds. He didn’t want to be best buds. He wanted to go back in time to when they were in love.
Except maybe only one of them had really been in love. Not hard to figure out which one that had been.
Friends. Meh. But that was all he had now, all he was ever going to get. And he had to be good with it. If Jenna was happy, then he should be happy. Right?
Still, it was hard not to feel the sting of unrequited love, to act like all was well when they met at chamber of commerce meetings. Kind of like asking a zombie not to walk funny, look vacant and dopey, and drool blood. If they were characters in a book, he’d climb right off the page and slap the idiot writer who hadn’t kept them together.
Once he’d been Moonlight Harbor’s most eligible bachelor. Now he felt like Moonlight Harbor’s biggest loser. He had no interest in dating and he hated the feeling of sadness that settled over him every time he saw Jenna. So, of course, he tried to see her as little as possible.
But then he’d wonder where she was and what she was doing. (Except at night. He didn’t want to think about where she was and what she was doing then because he knew exactly where she was, what she was doing and who she was doing it with.)
He couldn’t completely avoid her. When he wasn’t running into her at Beachside Grocery, he had to see her at the chamber of commerce luncheons. They’d both worked together on the last Seaside with Santa festival and that had left him with a real bah-humbug attitude toward Christmas that he found hard to shake, even when his kids came down to celebrate New Year’s at the beach.
After the kids left he’d stuffed himself with chips, and binged on Bourne movies. He’d found it temporarily consoling that even Jason Bourne couldn’t hang on to a woman. That proved it. Heroes walked alone.
He was no hero though, and walking alone sucked. Nobody cared if you stubbed your toe or ate too much crap. Or that your life was crap. The only thing good about the New Year was that the old one was over.
With such happy thoughts he made his way to the chamber of commerce’s January meeting. New year, new beginnings, better attitude. Who cared about Jenna Jones?
He did. There she came, entering the banquet room of Sandy’s restaurant in a black jacket over a long red sweater and skin-hugging black tights. Jenna Jones had great legs.
Jenna Jones had great everything. He frowned at the sight of her.
She saw him and smiled, and he forced the corners of his lips up. “Happy New Year,” he greeted her.
“Happy New Year to you, too,” she said. “Did your kids come down?”
“Yeah. We had a good time.” He’d have had a better time if Jenna had been with him. “So, did you make any New Year’s resolutions?”
“Yes, to find you the perfect woman.”
I already did. He didn’t say it. What would be the point?
“You’re still the catch of the day around here, you know,” she said.
Did he sound bitter? It was so hard to be a good sport when you should have won the game. Except it hadn’t been a game.
She shook her head at him, making the silvery earrings dangling from her ears dance. He didn’t remember seeing those before. Had Waters given them to her for Christmas?
“You know you are,” she said.
“Yes, I am,” he agreed. Which showed remarkably poor taste on Jenna’s part.
It seemed like every conversation they had started off in this vein—her trying to put what they once had together in a completely different way, him trying to pretend it was okay and eventually failing.
They would never get back to where they were before they’d dated. He didn’t think they’d even get near it. She felt guilty. He felt…a lot of things. Let down. Resentful. Jealous. Yeah, all of the above. And he still loved her, which complicated things even more. At least it did for him.
He spent a lot of time after every encounter trying to shake off his ignoble feelings. Jenna Jones deserved the best, and if she was content with second best (hey, it was true), then that was okay by him. Waters still didn’t like him and he didn’t like Waters, but he could rise above all that for Jenna’s sake. He could be civil when they met at various functions. He could refrain from kidnapping the guy, tying him up, rowing him out to sea on a dark night and dumping him overboard. He had ethics.
“I see you’re selling the Dinglers’ house,” she said.
“Yeah, they want to move to Palm Desert.”
She gave a mock shudder. “Ugh. All that heat.”
“My thoughts exactly. Why would you want to live anywhere but here?”
Where you could be miserable. He’d thought more than a few times about moving after they broke up. He still loved Moonlight Harbor, but after losing Jenna he was finding it hard to see the magic in the waves crashing onto the beach or moonlight dancing on the water or a beautiful sunset.
You need to snap out of it, he told himself for the millionth time. So things hadn’t worked out? So what? There were other fish in the sea. Other sand dollars on the shore. Other pebbles on the beach. Moonlight Harbor still had plenty of women who’d like to date him.
None of them measured up to Jenna.
He could feel his facade of easy charm crumbling. Time to get away.
“There’s Ellis. I need to talk to him,” he said, and made his escape. There had to be something he needed to talk to Ellis West about.
Checking in on how things were going with Ellis and his bride only resurrected Brody’s frown. Melody West should have been his mother-in-law.
Ellis and Mel were still happy as a couple of Moonlight Harbor clams. Good for them. Good for everyone. Meh. Every man in Moonlight Harbor was getting happily hitched except him. Every man would be getting lucky on Valentine’s Day. He’d be getting drunk.
He could get lucky if he wanted. He didn’t have to keep roaming around town all by himself like the ancient mariner. He could have friends. With benefits.
That was as close as he was ever going to come to getting involved with anyone from now on. Never again was he plunging heart-deep into a relationship. Jenna was his second love disaster and he wasn’t a big believer in that old saying that the third time was the charm. He lived at the beach. He knew what happened when you were drowning. The third time you went down, you never came up.
Rian LaShell sauntered up to him. Rian was cool. He liked her a lot. They’d dated for a while but, although there’d been some sparks, it hadn’t been enough to light a fire under him and get him to commit. Rian was svelte and sexy, and this day she looked hip in tight jeans and a black sweater. But she wasn’t Jenna.
“Hey there,” she said in that throaty voice of hers. “Happy New Year.”
“To you, too,” he said. “Did you do anything exciting to ring in the New Year?”
She shrugged. “I managed to ring it in.”
A mysterious answer, meant to pique his curiosity over whom she’d rung it in with and make him jealous.
He didn’t take the bait. “Well, good. How are things going at Sandy Claws?”
“Doing a fifty-percent-off sale next week. Too bad you don’t have a pet.”
He should get a pet. Not a cat; cats were too independent. A dog. Dogs were loyal. They stuck with you. Yeah, maybe a dog. Why was it he didn’t have an animal, anyway?
Oh, yeah. Animals required time and commitment.
Well, it wasn’t like his days were full now.
They could be. They should be. Jenna was the past. He needed to be looking toward the future. But really, who did he think he was going to have a future with?
People were starting to find seats at the two tables in Sandy’s meeting room and their waitress had appeared and was taking orders. He and Rian sat down next to each other and he cast around in his mind for something to say to her. His brain locked up.
Good grief. They’d dated for six months. He ought to be able to come up with something. The exotic eyeliner that accented her eyes inspired him.
Ah. The cat. “How’s Pyewacket?”
“He misses you.”
Brody gave a snort. “Cats never miss anyone.”
“Sure they do,” said Rian. “You should come by and visit.”
“So he can scratch me?” Brody and Pyewacket had never really bonded.
“He’ll be good. So will I,” she added, her voice as smooth as whiskey.
A hot woman inviting him to her place. Any man in his right mind would be all over that. Obviously Brody was no longer in his right mind.
Their waitress came up, getting him temporarily off the hook.
But it was only temporary. Once they’d placed their lunch orders, Rian was still there smiling at him, waiting for an answer.
“You know, I think I need to stay on my own for a while.”
“I’m sorry things didn’t work out with Jenna,” she said in a low voice, “but that’s a closed chapter. Maybe it’s time to turn the page.”
“Or close the book,” he quipped.
But he wasn’t kidding. Lightning didn’t strike twice. What were the odds he’d ever meet anyone again whom he wanted as much as he’d wanted Jenna?
And actually, he wasn’t sure he wanted lightning to strike again. Lightning was destructive.