Series: Sweetbriar Cove #3
Release Date: August 10, 2017
Brooke Delancey is looking for a fresh start. She’s packed up her heartbreak and traded her old life for a new beginning, managing the prettiest hotel on Cape Cod. She swears this time will be different: no drama, no distractions, and definitely no heart-stopping kisses with a handsome stranger. Which is exactly what she finds the night she meets Riley Ford.
Riley is gorgeous, charming… and intrigued by the buttoned-up blonde whose kisses are anything but restrained. He knows a thing or two about starting over, and he’s convinced a little fun is exactly what Brooke needs to put the past behind her. And he knows exactly the man for the job…
With a tempting offer like that, Brooke can’t help but try another kiss – or two, or three. But as the chemistry gets hotter, and their connection deepens, Brooke and Riley will discover that building a new future means reckoning with the past.
Can two unlikely hearts take a chance on a new tomorrow? Or will their sparks burn out with the end of summer in Sweetbriar Cove? Find out in the sweet and sexy new stand-alone read from New York Times bestselling author Melody Grace!
Brooke Delancey needed to trust her instincts.
She knew that plan hadn’t exactly worked out for her so far—the wreckage of her romantic life was plenty evidence of that—but her luck had to change sometime, right? Intuition, sixth sense: it was supposed to be wired into her DNA, a gift from her ancestors to avoid getting snapped up by a grizzly at the watering hole, or picking a fight with a caveman who had a bigger club.
Or, in this case, agreeing to a blind date she knew from the start was doomed.
“He’s perfectly nice,” her new friend Eliza had promised. “He dated my sister for a while, until it fizzled out. No crazy exes, no secret My Little Pony fetish, no baggage at all.”
That made one of them, at least.
“Who knows?” Eliza had urged. “You might feel a spark.”
So even though Brooke’s gut was telling her that blind dates—dates of any kind—were a bad idea, she decided to give it a try. After all, she’d moved to Cape Cod over four months ago, and her life still consisted of her work managing the hotel, running errands, and evenings alone watching The Great British Bake Off on TV.
Who knew? Maybe perfectly-nice-Doug was really the man of her dreams, and tonight was the start of a beautiful love affair. But now, sitting across the table, listening to him explain—in great detail—about the mating habits of spider crabs, Brooke thought longingly of her comfy little sofa and that solitary glass of wine.
At least Netflix occasionally asked if you were still watching, instead of talking for an hour without a break.
“Did you know there are Japanese spider crabs that can span over fifteen feet?” Doug pushed his glasses up his nose, fixing Brooke with an earnest expression. “They’re known to live up to a hundred years.”
“Wow.” Brooke nodded. “That’s . . . an interesting job you have there.”
“Job? Oh no, I work with freshwater crustaceans!” Doug exclaimed, chortling. “This research into saltwater species is just for fun.”
Crabs, fun? Brooke tried not to laugh.
At least they were the edible kind.
As Doug launched into another monologue, Brooke tried to stay positive. He was clearly passionate about his hobbies, that was something, and he’d been punctual—already waiting at a table in the corner when she’d arrived. Sure, it was because he liked to clean everything down with the antiseptic wipes he carried in a little plastic pouch, but hygiene was always a good thing.
Brooke stifled a sigh. Who was she kidding? This date was a disaster. Which was probably a good thing, since she had no business getting involved with anyone right now. Her broken heart was mending, but she was still a long way from peeling off the Band-Aid just yet.
She sipped her drink and let him talk, her attention wandering around the bar. It was one of the casual waterfront places in Provincetown, the largest community on the Cape, and tonight it was packed with a crowd of tourists and summer people, fresh from a day on the beach. They were well into the summer season now, and people came from all over, drawn to the gorgeous beaches, laid-back pace, and small-town New England charm. Brooke had spent her life as a city girl, with the hum of traffic and electric pace, but even she could see the appeal of waking up to those wide-open blue skies, and the expanse of sparkling ocean, and—
Her eyes stopped wandering, drawn to the guy waiting by the bar. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with messy blonde hair, his skin tanned to a golden bronze against his casual white T-shirt and jeans. He looked like he’d just stepped off the beach, giving an easy-going grin to the bartender as he took a sip of his beer and turned to scan the room.
His eyes locked onto Brooke’s, catching her gaze. He flashed her a smile, and just like that, Brooke’s stomach did a slow pirouette.
She looked away, her cheeks flushing. She knew she shouldn’t stare, it was too obvious in a place like this, but she couldn’t resist: she had to glance back.
He was still watching her. And still just as gorgeous as five seconds ago. This time, he gave her a wink, and one of those nods that almost seemed to beckon her over.
“What about you?”
Brooke snapped her head around. “Hmm?”
“I asked, what about you?” Doug asked. “What brought you to the Cape?”
Brooke cleared her throat. What was she playing at, drooling over some other guy in the middle of a date? “I moved here for work,” she said quickly. “I manage a small boutique hotel just outside of town. The Sandy Lane Hotel.”
Doug furrowed his brow. “I think I know that one. A friend of mine got married there, a couple of years ago. Great views.”
“Yes, it’s right on the water.” Brooke nodded. “I’m hoping to expand that side of things, and make it a real venue for ceremonies and events.”
Most hotels steered clear of weddings; they were just too much trouble. Tensions ran too high, tempers frayed, and invariably someone wound up crying over the party favors because the roses were blush pink instead of apricot. But with a little work, they could also mean big business, especially now that every bride-to-be plastered photos of her special day online. Even a small venue out of town could be booked solid for months with the right strategy—which was exactly what Brooke was hoping to achieve in her new position.
“Eliza mentioned you just moved from Chicago,” Doug said. “What brought you all this way?”
“Oh, you know, time for a change,” she said lightly, and took a quick sip of her wine. “I wanted a different pace. New challenges.”
And to put as much distance between her and her old life as possible. A thousand miles, to be exact.
“I totally relate.” Doug smiled. “I just got accepted for a research fellowship. I’ll be studying the mating habits of the grapsus grapsus crab. We should try some!” he declared suddenly. “Not grapsus, of course, but they have some excellent Dungeness on the menu.”
“I can’t,” Brooke said apologetically. “I’m allergic.”
Doug froze. “To shellfish?”
“Yes. Can’t even go near them. I break out in hives all over, not a pretty sight.”
Doug frowned. “Oh. Well. That changes everything.”
“It does?” Brooke tried not to laugh.
“Shellfish is very important to me.” Doug looked stricken. “I’m not sure I could have a relationship with someone who didn’t support my passion.”
Brooke couldn’t keep it together any longer. She quickly pushed back her chair.
“Excuse me. I’ll be right back.”
She ducked through the busy crowd to the restrooms. Once the door swung shut behind her, she could finally let out the snort of laughter she’d been holding in all night.
“Crabs,” she said aloud in disbelief, just as the bathroom stall swung open. Another woman emerged and caught her laughing.
“Sorry,” Brooke explained. “My date . . .”
The woman winced. “I know a good doctor,” she said, helpful, but that just made Brooke giggle harder.
“No, not that kind of crabs. But thanks!”
The woman gave her a weird look and exited the bathroom, and Brooke tried to pull herself together.
Poor Doug. It wasn’t his fault. This was clearly the universe’s way of reminding her that when it came to love, she was still radioactive.
Steer clear: cleanup could take another hundred years.
But glancing at her reflection in the mirror, Brooke had to admit, she hadn’t exactly stacked the deck in her favor. She’d come straight from work, so she was still wearing a crisp button-down shirt and pencil skirt; her hair pulled back in its usual neat French braid. It was a look that said, “Where are the quarterly projections?” not, “Ravish me, darling.” Still, at least she hadn’t spent all afternoon primping for Doug’s sake. She would finish up her drink, close up the tab, and be home in time to see if bread week got the better of the bakers on TV.
Brooke was heading for the door when her phone buzzed in her purse. Just like that, her stomach dropped. She couldn’t help it. She’d changed her number—even tossed her SIM card ceremoniously out of the car window, somewhere between Toledo and Cleveland—but still she flinched with every call, expecting to see that familiar number on the caller ID. Her ex could charm anyone; getting hold of her new number would be no problem at all.
She braced herself and checked the message. To her relief, was just Eliza, checking in on the date.
You owe me a drink, Brooke texted back.
That was an understatement. After learning everything there was to know about crabs, she deserved a bottle, but back outside, she found their table empty. She could see Doug on the patio, talking on his phone, so she made her way to the bar instead. It was even more packed than when she’d arrived, and she spent a couple of minutes trying in vain to flag down the bartender—who seemed oblivious to anyone who wasn’t tall, ripped, and handsome.
A voice came from behind her, and then the Adonis from before was leaning in beside her at the bar.
Brooke caught her breath. Up close, he was just as gorgeous; those tanned biceps straining at the fabric of his frayed white T-shirt, and three-day stubble rough on his jaw.
She tried not to stare. Usually, the scruffy, rumpled thing didn’t do it for her—she preferred a man in a suit, or crisp button-down—but there was no denying this guy’s appeal. Or the fact he was looking at Brooke with a tempting gleam in his blue eyes.
“I wondered when you’d come say hello,” he teased. “Couldn’t resist, huh?”
Brooke didn’t have a chance to protest before the bartender came rushing over.
“What can I get you?” he asked, all eyes on the man beside her.
“Another beer for me, and . . . ?” The Adonis raised his eyebrows at Brooke.
“Just my check, thanks. The table in the corner.”
“Leaving already?” Adonis asked, arching an eyebrow. “The fun’s just getting started.”
“Not for me,” Brooke replied.
He grinned. “Blind date?”
“How did you guess?”
“He doesn’t look like your type.”
“Looks aren’t everything,” she said, feeling strangely defensive. It wasn’t poor Doug’s fault that he hadn’t been born with the genes of a Hemsworth brother, and a smile like James Dean. “He’s fascinating.”
“I’m sure.” The Adonis just grinned, like he didn’t believe her for a moment. “I’m Riley, by the way.”
A woman appeared, snaking through the crowd to rest a hand on his arm. She was slim and gorgeous, with a mane of dark hair and at least five inches of flat, tanned stomach bared between the waist of her gauzy skirt and the hem of her cropped bandeau top. “Hey babe,” she cooed, ignoring Brooke completely. “The girls are meeting at this new raw food bar down the street. Did you want to come with? It’s supposed to be so healthful.”
“Nah, I’m good,” Riley drawled, his hand resting on her hip. “You go have fun, and call me after. Leave some room for dessert,” he added with a wink.
“Only if it’s gluten-free,” the woman frowned, his innuendo flying way over her glossy head. “You know I’m detoxing right now.” She kissed him lightly on the cheek and sashayed away.
Brooke arched an eyebrow. “Looks aren’t everything, huh?”
Riley smirked. “She’s fascinating,” he quipped, and Brooke had to laugh at that.
“So, do you want to tell him or should I?” he asked, nodding to where Doug was pacing on the terrace, still talking on his cellphone.
Brooke paused. “Tell him what?”
“That you’re coming home with me.”
Brooke snorted in surprise. From any other man, maybe a line like that would have come across as creepy, but this guy had such a cheerful attitude that it seemed charming instead.
Charming, and arrogant, and infuriatingly sexy.
“What about your dessert date?” she asked, amused.
“She’ll live. Besides, I’m in the mood for ice cream. Too many calories for her.”
“But not for me?” Brooke teased.
“You look like a woman who knows how to enjoy herself,” he said. “And I’m exactly the man to help with that.”
Brooke laughed. “You’re pretty full of yourself, you know that?”
“I’m told. Frequently.” He grinned. “Luckily, I’ve got the goods to back it up.”
“Sure you do.”
“So, how about it?” Riley gave her a lazy look from head to toe that somehow did something wicked to Brooke’s insides. “My place is nearby.”
She blinked. “Wait. You’re serious?”
“Rarely.” He grinned. “But about this? Absolutely.”
“But . . . that’s ridiculous!” she spluttered, suddenly feeling flushed. “You don’t even know me!”
“And this would be an excellent chance to work on that.”
He was still watching her with that molten smile. Brooke shivered, feeling her skin prickle with anticipation. That was a dangerous smile. Smooth as whiskey, with twice the kick.
And she already wanted a taste.
Brooke caught herself. “Thanks for the offer, but no.”
“Too bad.” Riley didn’t seem heartbroken by her rejection. In fact, his smile hadn’t slipped at all. “Can I ask why not?”
“Let’s just say I’m on a diet,” she replied.
Abstaining from sexy men for the foreseeable future.
“Now that’s a shame,” he drawled. “Sometimes you just need a little . . . indulgence in your life.”
Brooke flushed. He was looking at her like she was covered in whipped cream with a cherry on top. She couldn’t remember the last time a man had looked at her like that, so blatant and sexual. Not since—
She stopped. The memory of the man she’d left back in Chicago was like a bucket of ice water, jolting her back to reality. “Thanks, but no,” she said shortly. The bartender brought her credit card, and she scribbled her signature on the slip. “Enjoy your night,” she said, avoiding Riley’s gaze, and quickly crossed the room back to her date.
Doug was still pacing on the patio. “Sorry, it’s work,” he said, cupping his hand over the phone. “The salinity levels are haywire at the lab.”
“That’s OK, I’m going to head home,” Brooke said, pulling on her jacket. The sooner she got a safe distance from Riley and his molten smile, the better. “Good luck with your crabs!”
Also in this series: