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The sun seemed brighter here. Gavin McKinnon had been to beaches before, of course, and seen the ocean with his own eyes. Ireland had gorgeous coastlines to boast of, and he’d been to beaches in several countries over his twenty-nine years. But the way the sunlight reflected off the soft beige sand and churning, dark blue-grey Atlantic here in Long Beach, New York… he felt almost blinded by it. Squinting even behind dark sunglasses, he tipped his head back to breathe in the thick, salty air. Breezes caressed his skin as warm water rushed up over his bare feet before flowing back out, wave after wave. It was wonderful. After over six hours on a plane, then getting through the sticky heat and chaos of Kennedy Airport, standing on the beach and watching the sunlight glimmer off the waves, felt like paradise.
“Seen enough yet?” came his younger sister’s voice beside him.
“You kiddin’?” He flicked a glance and a grin her way. “I could take in this view for hours, Anna.”
“Well, yeah, but it’s already been fifteen minutes. And your precious Irish skin is gonna burn to a crisp quick if we don’t get ya some sunscreen, trust me.” She ran her fingers through her bob-length hair. When she’d picked him up at the airport, Gavin had been mildly surprised to see she’d dyed the ends of her blonde hair a loud shade of blue, but Anna had always done things like that. She grinned back at him now. “And if you want to have dinner with me before my shift, we should get goin’, or you’ll be eating by yourself.”
Gavin chuckled. “You’re as impatient as ever.” His arm wrapped around her shoulders to pull her in for a hug. “It’s bloody good to see ya, Annie.”
“It’s good to see you, too,” she said into his shoulder. She pulled back and smiled. “C’mon, then. You’ve got to be hungry.”
“Starved, actually.” He admitted. His stomach gave a fierce rumble as if on cue. “Let’s go.”
Turning their backs to the ocean, they ambled up the beach. Gavin took in everything around him—the sounds of the waves crashing, seagulls squawking and swooping overhead, bits of voices from beachgoers taking in the late afternoon sun… how soft and warm the sand felt between his toes. His daily life in the city seemed a million miles away. He couldn’t be happier. That was exactly what he’d wanted.
When he and Anna got to the where the beach ended and the street began, they brushed the sand from their feet, slipped their flip-flops back on, and began to walk. Anna lived in New York City, but was spending her summer bartending on Long Island. She’d done it last summer and had a blast, so she was doing it again. Through a friend, she’d found a room to rent in a beach house along with a few other single friends from Memorial Day to Labor Day. She’d told him Long Beach was a big beach town, and that she lived down in the West End; the “fun part of town”. Gavin could see why as they walked up West Beech Street. Crowded with restaurants, bars, shops, and houses, it was bustling with activity. There were young and old, mothers pushing strollers, people walking dogs and bicyclists whooshing by… a vibrant seaside community with the casual vibe that beach lovers worldwide seemed to share.
“This is great,” Gavin remarked. “No wonder you like spending the summer here. You must have a great time.”
“I do,” Anna grinned. “That first time I came out to hang with Wren, I thought, ‘Why can’t I be here? New York City in the summer is a pisshole!’ So I made it happen.”
“Never let it be said that we McKinnons aren’t resourceful,” Gavin said. “Good for you. And Sean’s fine with it?”
“Aye, the traffic in the bar over the summer is lighter anyway,” she said. “He didn’t even need to replace me.” She grinned again. “He can’t wait to see ya.”
“And I him,” Gavin said. He’d last seen his older brother at his wedding in October. Sean and Cassandra had married in a huge, lavish affair at an estate somewhere further east on Long Island. They now lived happily in an apartment near Washington Square Park, deeply in love with each other and with New York City. Before the wedding, it’d been almost two years since he’d seen Sean. “When are we seeing them, anyway?” Gavin asked, dodging around a group of teenagers laughing loudly as they walked.
“Monday,” Anna said. “Sean and Cassandra are coming out here for our big Fourth of July bash. You got here in time for the big holiday weekend, remember?”
“It’s only Thursday,” Gavin pointed out.
“Thanks, Captain Obvious,” Anna said with a snarky grin. “No kidding. But it’s a big holiday weekend here. It pretty much starts tonight. People go away for the long weekend, etcetera. Especially this year, since the fourth actually falls on a Monday. Manhattan’ll be a ghost town.” She grasped Gavin’s arm and linked it through hers as they walked. “They’re going out east tomorrow, gonna spend most of the weekend out in the Hamptons with Cassandra’s family and friends, then come here to us on Monday. They’ll be here ’round noon.” She smiled and bumped her hip against his. “I’ve got it all worked out, don’t ya worry.”
“Aye, I’m sure you do.” Gavin wiped sweat from his forehead. He wasn’t used to this kind of hot weather. He suspected Anna was right, and he’d be sunburned in no time if he wasn’t careful, but he’d be damned to admit she was right out loud. If he did, he’d never hear the end of it.
She stopped in front of a huge place in what seemed to be smack in the middle of all the activity. “This is it,” she said, sweeping a hand towards the white and wood building. A big brass sign over the wide doors announced THE EAGLE’S NEST. “C’mon in to the Nest, my summer home.”
Gavin was grateful for the burst of air conditioning that washed over them as they went inside. High ceilings, polished wood floors, brass railings, lots of windows. He liked it, it wasn’t dingy.
“Bar is to the left,” Anna said over the pop music playing. “Restaurant is to the right. We’ll go have dinner in a minute, but let’s say hi to Wren.” She pulled him through the door on the left, and the music got even louder. The bar was mostly empty, with only a few patrons sitting inside. As if reading his mind, Anna said, “It’s empty now ’cause it’s dinner hour, but by eight, it’ll start gettin’ crowded. By ten, it’ll be packed.”
“That’s why you work the night shifts, then,” Gavin surmised. “More people, more money.”
“You bet your arse,” Anna nodded. “HI!” she shouted merrily to a tall girl behind the bar with purple hair. Purple Hair Girl squealed in delight.
“This is him?” She rushed from behind the bar to get to them. Her pixie haircut was a bright shade of purple, and she wore it well. Her long, skinny frame was dressed in a tight, black tank top and black and white striped leggings. Light glinted off a tiny stud in her nose, similar to Anna’s. Her brown eyes went as wide as her smile as she hugged Anna in greeting. Then, quick as a flash, she threw herself at him and hugged him also, almost knocking the wind out of him. “I’m Wren, it’s so nice to meet you! Anna’s been so excited for you to come visit.” The New York accent was strong. She openly looked him up and down, in what seemed to be approval. “Damn, you McKinnons have good genes. Yet another gorgeous, blue-eyed hottie.” Looking to Anna, Wren asked, “How many brothers do you have, again? And are they all hot? Jeez.”
“She has no shame,” Anna said to him before answering Wren with, “Four brothers, m’dear. Three older, one younger.”
“Not to mention three more sisters. Big family.” Gavin grinned at Anna’s gregarious friend. “Nice to meet you.”
“You have a good flight?” Wren asked him.
“Aye, it was fine, just long,” he said. He took off his silver-rimmed glasses and cleaned the lenses with the edge of his T-shirt. “Anna just took me for a stroll on the beach to unwind. Now I’m ready for a beer and some supper.”
Wren blinked at him, staring, before saying, “That Irish accent is going to kill me. Oh. My. God. So hot!”
Gavin laughed and put his glasses back on.
“What, my accent’s not as sexy?” Anna joked.
“Sure it is, darling,” Wren said. “But you’re not my type.” She quirked a thin brow at Gavin and said, “Between that face, that accent, and you’re a doctor? Holy hell, you’ll have girls jumping into your lap by sundown. Careful, baby.”
Anna snorted out a laugh, but Gavin merely shoved his hands into his pockets.
“Leave him be,” Anna said. “Gavin’s kinda reserved. Take it easy on him.”
“I’m fine, Anna.” Gavin scrubbed his hand over his already stubble-coated chin. “Well, Wren. I can already see you and Anna together are probably a world of trouble. I’ll buckle up.”
Both women laughed wickedly, only confirming his suspicion.
Fifteen minutes later, Gavin and Anna were sitting in a booth by the window of the restaurant, sharing a plate of mozzarella sticks. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was until the food had come; he’d eaten three in about a minute. And he’d sucked down a whole glass of water before ordering a beer so he wouldn’t get dehydrated. The last thing he needed was to pass out in a bar on his first day there, but damn he was tired. “Wren’s interesting.”
“She’s a fireball. But with a heart of gold,” Anna said. “We met at FIT, my first semester. Then we both left the program at the same time last year.” She dipped another stick of fried cheese into a little cup of marinara sauce, practically drowning the thing, then flicked a glance at the clock on the wall. “Toni and Joe should get here soon. They’re both lovely. After they get home from work, they’ll come down here. And we’ll all have some fun tonight, officially welcoming you to New York.”
Gavin knew that Toni and Joe, along with Anna and Wren, would be his housemates for the next four weeks. When he’d told Anna back in January that he was thinking of taking part of his summer holiday on a beach somewhere, she’d launched into a campaign for his coming to Long Island and staying with her. By March, Anna found out their friend Gary wasn’t coming back this summer, leaving them with an empty room. Once he did the math, it made sense for him to take her up on the idea.
For his month-long stay, he’d have that room in the house and pay thousands less than if he’d stayed at a hotel. And be able to go into New York City whenever he wanted, only a short train ride away. Sean was in the city, Anna would be around, her house was practically sitting on the beach… but his brother and sister would both be working, so he’d also have space and time to himself. His small apartment in Blanchardstown, his job in Dublin, his bad memories of his ex, and everything else he’d left behind seemed light years away now.
Not a bad way to spend a long holiday. Not at all.
“Gavvy!” Anna squealed suddenly. With a little bounce in her seat, she grasped her brother’s hand and squeezed it. “I’m so glad you’re here! I really am.” She kissed his cheek, then bit into her mozzarella stick with gusto.
“I’m glad I’m here, too.” He smiled back. “It’s goin’ to be a good month.”
Toni Westmore sighed with relief as she entered the living room and dropped her leather messenger bag beside the long couch. It’d been a brutally long day at work, she was hot, she was hungry, her feet hurt from her stupid stilettos, and she desperately wanted a shower. The group text from Anna, around five, said her brother made it in and was with her at the bar; at six came a text from Joe, saying he’d gotten off work early and would head over there with a few of his friends. Well, she’d had to stay at work longer than she’d planned. Paloma and Sven, the haughty owners of the art gallery she worked in, hadn’t been happy that she was taking off a few days around the holiday weekend, and had burdened her with tedium to take care of before she left. Between their higher-than-thou attitudes, the obnoxious patrons, and the monotony of her actual duties, she hated her job a little more with each passing week. When she’d graduated from Georgetown with her degree in art history, this wasn’t how she’d thought she’d spend her days. She huffed out a sigh of exhaustion. At least, for the next five days, she wouldn’t have to make the trek all the way down to SoHo to be little more than a glorified errand girl.
The clock on her phone showed it was almost eight o’clock already. “Damn,” she muttered. At this rate, she wouldn’t make it down to the Nest until about nine, and she’d hoped to be there already. Like, an hour ago. Rummaging through the fridge, she found the container of egg salad she’d bought the day before. She scooped some onto a whole wheat wrap, got a glass of ice water, and sank into a chair at the kitchen table with a grateful sigh. It felt good to sit down, and to have quiet. She wished she had time for a nap, but if she did, she’d likely sleep right through and miss the whole night.
Her mind wandered as she ate, going over some of the more frustrating scenes from work that day, and remembering the terse guilt trip of a phone call from her mother after lunch. “We expect to see you at some point this weekend, Toni. We’re having a family barbecue on Sunday. Come over then. No, that’s not a command, it’s a request. What, you can’t squeeze in some time with your family? Your social calendar is that booked up?”
Toni was twenty-eight, and her mother still tried to rule her life. The more autonomy Toni exerted, the more her mother tried to pull her back under her thumb. It was exhausting.
“Fun,” Toni announced to the empty room. “This weekend—this summer—I’m going to have some fun, dammit. I am way overdue.” She raised her glass in a toast to herself and drank down some water.
The front door opened and closed, and she felt a twinge. No one was supposed to be home now; they were all down at the bar. “Hello?” she called out, a bit nervous.
“Hello,” an unfamiliar voice called back, deep and male.
A chill skittered over her skin. She grabbed the steak knife she’d used to cut the wrap in half, held it behind her back, and edged forward with caution. When a tall man appeared before her in the arch between the kitchen and living room, she gasped and tightened her grip on the knife.
He smiled amiably and said, “Are you Toni? I’m Gavin, Anna’s brother.”
His Irish accent and bright blue eyes, so similar to Anna’s, convinced her of that in a heartbeat. Knowing he was arriving today, Toni exhaled in relief. “Oh, thank God.” She lowered her hand from behind her back and put the knife on the nearby counter. “Don’t need this, then.”
Gavin’s eyes widened. “Ehm… a knife? What were ya goin’ to do with that?”
“I didn’t know who was in the house!” she exclaimed. “No one’s supposed to be here, and I didn’t recognize your voice.”
“Ah, hell. I’m so sorry, didn’t mean to scare ya.” He held up his hands in surrender and smiled again, a disarmingly sweet smile that made Toni’s heart do a little fluttery thing. “I mean no harm, I swear.”
“That’s what they all say,” she joked darkly. She took a deep, cleansing breath and held out a hand. “Do over. Hi, Gavin, it’s nice to meet you! I’m Toni Westmore.”
His smile grew wider as he shook her hand. “Pleasure to meet you, Toni. Gavin McKinnon, your guest for the next four weeks.”
“You’re not a guest, you’re a housemate. Everything here is yours, too.” Now that she had a good look at him, it hit her how attractive he was. Whoa. Seriously attractive. Tall, lean, with short, dark blond hair, a killer smile, and unbelievably blue eyes behind those glasses. The glasses made him look like a stereotypical hot college professor. She blinked, willing herself to stop zoning out on him like a fool. “I just wolfed down some dinner,” she said, gesturing towards the table. “I only got home from work a little while ago.” She glanced down at herself; the fitted dress looked nice but wasn’t very comfortable. “I haven’t even changed out of my work clothes yet. As you can see.”
He only nodded, his eyes traveling over her in quick appraisal.
“I know I’m supposed to meet everyone down at the Nest,” she continued, “but the truth is, I’m wiped. I just don’t feel like going. The couch is calling me.”
“I hear ya,” Gavin said. “I’ve been down there the past few hours. Had dinner with Anna before she started her shift, met Wren and Joe. It was good. But I think I’m a bit jetlagged, because I’m just wrung out. So I begged off, left, and came back here.”
“Well, Ireland’s what, five hours ahead?” Only then did she notice how tired his eyes looked. She’d been too distracted by the whole package of handsome.
“Aye. There’s that too. It’s really…” He glanced at his watch. “One AM for me.”
“Well, I’m going to text your sister and tell her I’m staying home, then,” Toni said. “In fact… I’m going to take a quick shower, then park my ass on the couch, have a drink or two, and veg out with a movie. Would you like to join me?”
“Sounds great,” he said. He tried to suppress a yawn and failed. “Of course, I might fall asleep on ya midway through. Bloody hell, I’m tired.”
“Then you take the couch, and I’ll take the loveseat,” Toni grinned.
Gavin watched her cross to the fridge, then bend over to look inside. Her muffled voice floated over her back as she asked him, “Want a beer, soda, what? Name it.”
His gaze was glued to her shapely arse, but he managed to say, “Just cold water would be good, thanks.”
She straightened, a bottle of Corona in one hand and a bottle of water in the other, which she handed to him. Like when he’d shaken her hand, when his fingers brushed hers, he felt a jolt. She turned away to look for the bottle opener, totally unaware of how his body was reacting to her.
Something buzzed through him as his eyes roamed over her deliciously curvy figure, clad in an elegant pale green dress. It was fitted, sleeveless, with what he thought was called a halter neck, and the color brought out the green in her hazel eyes. His ex-girlfriend had been short, skinny, with no soft curves for him to get lost in. Not like Toni had. In comparison, Toni was downright luscious. She had big, full breasts, God bless her, and he couldn’t deny his eyes were drawn right to them, wondering what they’d feel like. Her hair was long, dark, and curly, unlike the straight, fine blonde hair his ex had… physically, this woman was the exact opposite of Siobhan.
Maybe that was why he was having such an immediate, visceral reaction to her? Or maybe he was just exhausted, and she was striking, and he’d been alone for almost a year? All he knew was, just looking at her had his brain kind of fuzzy and urgent heat unfurling in his belly, making him feel like no woman had in a long time.
And she’d be his housemate for the next month. And was a friend of his sister’s. Great, just bloody great. He chugged back a hard swallow of water, welcoming the cold slide of it down his throat. Toni was saying something as he followed her into the living room, but his heartbeat was roaring in his ears. In something of a daze, he sank down onto the couch.
“Here.” Toni handed him the remote control. “I’m going to take a fast shower. When I come down, we’ll find something to watch that we both like. Okay?”
He nodded and shot her a grin. She grinned back before turning to walk up the stairs to her room.
Bloody hell. Now he had images of her in the shower flooding his brain. That sweetly feminine body, naked, wet… his shorts felt too tight; he shifted uncomfortably and drank more water.
The gods were cruel. He hadn’t been this immediately, insanely attracted to a woman in how long? And she may as well have been wearing a neon sign that flashed: OFF LIMITS.
End of Excerpt