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Lane Duke kicked off his board before the ocean ran out and scooped it under one arm and jogged through the frothy remnant of the best wave he’d caught this evening. Life did not suck. He turned back to face the ocean, a last scan to ensure he wasn’t missing a fiercer wave less crumbly building out beyond the break just out of sight.
“Always one more wave.” He taunted.
Mentally, he added “cooler ass game” and “bigger numbers opening night” to the list, as he was obsessed with besting himself. He looked at the angle of the sun, then glanced at his watch and turned away from the ocean. He was due to meet up with his friend, and local surf legend, Kadan Carson and his fiancé, Hollis Remington, for drinks and a “chat.”
Chat his ass. He wanted to know if Kadan could still surf again after his last injury, if not professionally, then at least extreme enough to demonstrate a new camera, software, and virtual reality glasses that could interact live with the latest gaming experience he and his team had helped create. Ever since he’d seen a “holodeck,” on reruns of Star Trek Next Generation, Lane had been determined to create the real thing only he didn’t want his gamers isolated on their couches. He wanted them outside. Participating. Creating. And with the help of an engineering buddy from his aborted years at Stanford, he was close.
The camera would initially be for extreme athletes—surfers, skaters, snowboarders—to mount to their board that he could then download live and integrate the footage with his newest interactive surf game experience that also used virtual reality. But eventually users could create, store, and share their own experiences and other users could build on them.
And he owned the patent.
“Suck on that Dukes.” He snarked under his breath, thinking of his San Francisco based family, who had declared he was stupid, emotional, and ruled by his dick when he’d been twenty because he hadn’t “acted like a Duke.”
He hoped he never would.
Just thinking about his family and the falling out twelve years ago had Lane turning back to his beloved ocean to watch the next wave set develop. He tried not to think about her anymore and succeeded most days. He had been stupid. Trusting. Thinking she’d loved him, not his trust fund. The memory of her hair falling all around his body when she’d straddled him had him cursing as he ruthlessly stamped out the image.
The waves always jostling to throw him off soothed him, and now he was torn between joining Kadan and Hollis, or catching another few rides. He even lowered his board, planted the keel into the sand, but though his white-blond curls tumbled nearly to his shoulders, his body was as ripped as a professional surfer and he rarely wore anything more formal than board shorts or jeans and a t-shirt, work almost always won.
Lane took a deep breath of the salt-tinged air and once again shouldered his board and walked under the San Clemente pier, pausing to catch the last of the sunset. Vivid pink and orange fingers scratched across the sky as if dragging the reddish-orange ball below the purple horizon, but he didn’t give a shit about that. He felt a surge of confidence and fierce joy.
Damn, it rocked to be alive.
His smile faded as he felt the rough, split wood of one of the pilings against his bare arm. A shiver went down his spine, and he felt a chill of spook. His grandmother, the only member of his family he could stomach, would have said someone was walking on his grave. He’d had this goosebump, creeped-out chill several times before, and it usually meant his life was about to change. Not always for the good, it had seemed when he was younger and prone to a more melodramatic reading of his feelings.
He’d had the chill the day local golden boy Holland Remington had dropped in on Lane’s wave and tried to shoot the pier. Lane still remembered how pissed he’d been at the kid. And then how shocked when he’d seen the board arrow up and smash into one of the pilings. Holland had hit another piling and before anyone could even react, he was gone under a punishing crush of water hurtled across the ocean with more force than a freight train from a storm originally churned up off Japan.
Fifteen years ago. He could still remember Kadan shouting, paddling over there like he had a goddamn motor on the back of his board. Diving under that churning surf over and over again. And Lane, instead of helping, hauling Holland’s girlfriend, Paz De Luna, out of the surf and back to the beach. Shit, she’d cursed and screamed and kicked and even bitten him before her sister…
No. He would not think of Luz. Never. Ever. Again. Even if she stood naked in front of him. Crying. Begging. Telling him she’d made a mistake. That it was over between her and his back-stabbing, manipulative, asshole of a brother, Alex. That way led to crazy dark shit, and he had an empire to build that already dwarfed the Dukes’. He had laser focus and no two-timing bitch, who was so far in the past he shouldn’t be able to remember the warmth of her mocha skin he’d once ached to touch and to taste or the sensuous glide of her midnight hair swishing through his fingers as he reeled her in for a kiss that could unspool for hours, could distract him.
No woman would ever again get close enough so he’d lose one second of sleep or his hard fought Zen thinking about her, worrying about her. He ate calm with his kale and blueberry smoothy for breakfast. He surfed nearly ever dawn. He meditated an hour a day. He did an hour of hot yoga and ashtanga yoga to sweat and tone the fury and resentment and poison that his family had planted and sown over the years. And when that didn’t work, he ran, skied, rock climbed and boxed until he was sweaty and bruised and aching and able to crash for a few hours of unconscious bliss.
Fucking Kadan. Why’d he have to surf the pier that day? Holland would have never been there if Kadan hadn’t. That should have been an epic day. Every surfer in So Cal had been streaming up and down the I5 and Pacific Coast Highway to Trestles that day. Hell, everyone Lane knew from the summers he’d spent in San Clemente had been there to surf. To watch. To record. To bump chests and talk trash just to join in the experience. The joy of killer waves.
Only the killer part wasn’t supposed to be literal. And golden boys from adoring families should never die before they got facial hair, devastating a family, a community, and his friend, Kadan, whom Lane had thought unbeatable. Inhuman. Superhero. Until he’d been pulled out of the waves exhausted and hypothermic by the coast guard two hours later after ducking under the waves over and over again, his own body bruised and bloody from hitting the pilings.
If only Kadan had done the expected and surfed Trestles like everyone else, but no, Kadan had had to ditch his entourage to catch the waves at the pier to try some new moves without any cameras, commentary, and dozens of competitors all lined up for the same wave, biding their time. Secretive bastard. And, of course, Lane had had to follow Kadan. Had to follow his obsession. His hero. His idol. Almost his fucking destruction.
If he’d stayed put at Trestles, he never would have had to watch Holland die. He never would have played hero and dragged that firecracker of a girlfriend away from her own death to hold her down on the beach, while she screamed and thrashed and cursed like she was a goddamn reincarnation of Proteus. And he never would have met her sister, who had ruined him for any other woman, destroyed his stupid adolescent dreams of love and commitment and a family of his own that wouldn’t be toxic.
Women ruined everything and memory was a vicious bitch.
He needed to go. But the heaviness was back. The sick stomach, sour, churning with acid and bile and resentment for all the shit he’d endured until he’d flipped off his family, dropped out of school, and ditched off the grid for a few years to figure out who he was and what he wanted. The only thing he’d kept from his past was his name because he wanted to piss off his family forfuckingever. Oh, and his love of surfing. And his friendship with Kadan.
Three things. The triumvirate that ruled his life for the past twelve years.
Maybe he’d blow off drinks with Kadan even though he’d asked for the meeting. Let him cozy up with Hollis on the deck of Fisherman’s without Lane, now their official third fucking wheel. It was still light enough to catch a few more waves and try to regain some of his inner bliss. His lip curled in mockery at the thought, but as he took a step forward, a woman crested the top of the wave, freestyle swimming as if racing the wave until it smashed down on the beach, and in a beautiful ballet of timing, she stood up, all long legs, tan skin, and soaked burnt orange bikini plastered to breasts he used to dream about, and then later when he’d stupidly thought himself the luckiest man alive, cup with his hands and lick and nip and taste for what seemed like hours so many years ago. Her nipples were dark, visible through the thin material, and for a second it was like he was eighteen again.
Lane couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. Was his heart even beating? The ocean sounded miles away. His ears rang with the roar so loud it was like a scream.
But instead of midnight black, silky hair falling to her tucked in waist, she had a jagged, angular bob fringed in bitch red.
Except now, huge eyes like melted, dark chocolate were now trained on him, and all he could do was stand there like a statue when he wanted to be thousands of miles away. Anywhere but here on this beach at this time again. Mars wasn’t fucking far enough.
“Fuck.” He spit out. “Luz.”
She walked toward him. Glistening. Her face, carved by a master, all high-planed cheekbones and appealing hollows, an Aztec nose she could look down to survey the worshipping peons, dark arched brows that could create a million expressions in a second, and thick, long black lashes that could conceal every thought even as she picked up the dagger to gouge out someone’s heart and then their eyes just for laughs.
“Lane.” Her musical voice flowed over him like water. “No, thank you.”
And then the bitch walked by him. Like he was nothing she remembered.
And he was nineteen again, driving all night so he could bring her an espresso and chocolate croissant in bed. Kissing her senseless, starting at her beautiful toes and working his way up like her sex slave, always eager to please her, anything she wanted whenever she wanted, wherever she wanted. Walking into intimidating women’s boutiques, cluttered with colorful “accessories” just to find her a gift, a bracelet, a dress, a sexy camisole that she’d wear just for him. Maybe he’d cajole her into taking a hike with him in Griffith Park or to ditch class like he had so that they could go up to Zuma Beach and surf or head south to San Clemente and Trestles, his favorite surf spot.
What a loser he’d been, obsessing over her. Thinking about her all the time. Calling just to hear her voice. Loving her like she was the only woman in the world, the only woman who’d ever matter to him when there were so many millions more who’d have been thrilled to please him. Who the hell wanted to marry at twenty? He kicked his young idealistic self.
His friends and water polo teammates had thought he was ridiculous, spending so much energy on one chick, when he could have had hundreds. His family was obscenely rich. And by the time he’d been eighteen he’d been over six-four, cut from years of water polo and surfing, smart, confident, and ambitious. He’d practically had to dodge girls and women anytime he left the house. He’d been propositioned in class, in the line at Starbucks, grocery store, once at the dentist, out for pizza with teammates. Daily.
And had he taken advantage of it?
No. Never. Hadn’t even crossed his mind. Luz had been his light, that dark-hearted bitch.
He’d been faithful. Chasing after Luz for four months before she’d even consent to have a date with him, because she was three years older and the age difference freaked her out. So he’d set out to prove how mature he was. Sophisticated. Idiot. And when she’d finally said yes, he’d been so grateful and thrilled and nervous he hadn’t even held her hand the first night.
He could shoot himself for remembering any of it. Totally cringeworthy. God, how she must have laughed at him. Probably told his brother every stupid detail, proving how unmanned he’d been.
With another curse, he hurtled himself back in the ocean and began paddling fiercely through the break, letting the water crash over his head and his body, hoping the ocean could pound away the black memories of when he’d had feelings. Crush out even the spark of memory of intense love, longing, and loss.
End of Excerpt