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Rachel Anderson pedaled her bike toward downtown Silver Bay, feeling the caress of the breeze against her skin. Summer was her favorite time of year. She lifted her head to the sun, the rays warming her as she coasted along the street. As she turned onto Seapoint Boulevard, she waved to a lady in a car nearby, the mom of one of the children who frequented the Silver Bay Community Center where Rachel worked as head of programming.
Seapoint Boulevard went straight through the center of the small town. As she rode past Jamie’s Java, the scent of freshly brewed coffee filled the air. She slowed as she approached a store called Atmosphere, a home design shop owned by Kate Harden who moved to Silver Bay a few years ago and married a local, Jack Harden. A lifer as people called him, meaning he was born and raised in Silver Bay. Rachel loved to ride by slow enough to take in the front window, a well-known showpiece around town for the way Kate decorated. Filled with plush, green plants, bumblebee-covered plates and dishes, as well as sunflowers in large pots lining the window, the entire scene said warmth and summer.
Baylee’s Bakery was right next door, a place Rachel could easily gain unwanted pounds if she wasn’t careful about how often she stopped by. Baylee MacIntire had become a friend to Rachel since Rachel had moved to Silver Bay about a year ago. And Baylee was as sweet as the treats she baked—maybe even sweeter. As much as Rachel would have liked to stop and chat, she had to keep going or she would be late.
She continued on and as she veered left off Seapoint Boulevard, the fire station came into view. Her main job was at the community center, but she also worked as a volunteer chaplain with the fire department, and the local hospital.
Everything about Silver Bay was so different from where she grew up in Los Angeles. The focus there was bigger, better, and faster. Silver Bay was about neighbors, community, family, and a contented pace that wasn’t hurried. It fit Rachel like a long-worn, favorite sweater. Traveling after college had suited her during her twenties, but at thirty years old she was ready to settle in somewhere. And that somewhere was Silver Bay.
As she slowed down and pulled into the garage of the firehouse, past the fire truck and to the back where she could park her bike, she smiled and said hello to one of the firemen. Working in such close proximity to a group of good-looking guys, she got teased about which one might be perfect for her, but finding a man was the furthest thing from her mind. She’d gotten used to living alone, and although at times she’d admit to being lonely, she was aware that loneliness could happen just as easily while in a relationship as well as out of one.
Nope. She was good. She loved her work. She loved her town. She had a fulfilling life and she was happy. It was enough.
Rachel entered the main office of the fire station and set her backpack down on the chair near the door.
“Good morning, Cliff.” She greeted the fire captain who sat behind his desk reading paperwork. Although he was in his fifties, Rachel had seen Cliff keep up physically with the rest of the firefighters, the only giveaway to his age being a few laugh lines around his eyes and some specks of salt and pepper along his temples.
“Good morning, Chaplain.” He leaned back in his chair and smiled at her.
Rachel rolled her eyes. “Okay, Cap.”
As much as she loved being a volunteer chaplain for the Silver Bay fire department, she didn’t want to be seen or thought of as anything but Rachel. This was the song and dance by way of greeting between her and Cliff, and although she rolled her eyes, she knew it was a term of endearment from him, as was her retort.
“I’m gonna head over to Jamie’s Java and grab some real coffee.” He tossed a look toward the coffee machine on the counter, the glass carafe filled with what looked like fresh mud. “Can I grab you anything?”
“Thanks. I’d love an iced vanilla latte.”
“You got it.” He stood and headed out the door. “See you soon.”
The sound of a loud yawn caused Rachel to turn. “Well, goodness, Dottie. I didn’t even see you there. How is that possible?”
Rachel walked over to the sofa that sat along the opposite wall of the office from Cliff’s desk. A harlequin Great Dane lay across the entire couch, her spotted coat making it look as if a cowhide blanket had been draped across the cushions. She belonged to Chet Endicott, Rachel’s friend and a firefighter. Sometimes he let Dottie hang out in the firehouse if he was busy. Everyone loved her and teased she was the resident Dalmatian, even though she weighed about 140 pounds and when standing came just above Rachel’s waist. Rachel was five feet two inches, but still. The dog was huge.
Rachel leaned over and rubbed Dottie’s ears, causing deep, loud moans from the dog in response. “You love a good ear rub, don’t ya, sweet girl?” Dottie lifted her head, leaning into Rachel for more.
Rachel had considered getting a dog herself, but with her schedule at the community center and volunteering as a chaplain for first responders in town, not to mention at the hospital and church as well, she didn’t have the proper time and attention to give a pet. Which was one of the many reasons she was glad Chet left Dottie at the firehouse. It gave Rachel a chance to get her dog snuggles in when she could.
Giving Dottie a kiss on the nose, Rachel stood and went to her backpack. Chet had texted and asked if they could talk. People always asked Rachel what it meant for her to be a chaplain and the response she learned was most accepted and understood was “professional listener.” Although there was certainly more to it than that, she found it a decent sum-up.
The last time they had talked, Chet had shared some of his concerns about his family moving from Connecticut to Silver Bay and she had a feeling that was what he wanted to vent some more with her today. For Chet’s parents, as well as his brother and sister, a move from the East Coast to a small town like Silver Bay in Northern California was going to be a big adjustment. The Endicotts were a wealthy family and against the flow of what their parents had expected, Chet and his other sister, Eva, chose to move to Silver Bay and have careers outside the family’s company. The entire situation was full of family expectations as well as healthy boundaries needing to be made.
Rachel knew a bit about that herself. Setting boundaries in life was tough enough. Setting ones with family was a whole other level. Her mom and her brother had texted that morning. She’d read their messages, then put her phone away. Her brother, Ronnie, would only give her grief about leaving L.A. Conversations with her mother were even more stressful, since she tended to talk about Rachel’s stepdad a lot—a topic Rachel liked to avoid as much as possible.
It wasn’t something Rachel admitted to anyone, but she came from a wealthy family as well. Not private jets and multiple houses all over the world kind of wealthy like the Endicotts, but wealthy just the same. But Rachel was the apple that fell far from the tree. While her mother and brother wanted a life of attention and prestige, Rachel wanted the opposite. It was something her family didn’t understand and probably never would.
She dug into her bag for her lip balm. Dottie let out a loud yawn, then hopped off the couch to turn and climb right back on, but facing the other direction. Never a graceful movement for a Great Dane, the dog’s backside swung around and knocked Rachel off-balance.
The only reaction Rachel had time for was to put her hands out hoping the closest surface would break her fall.
That surface turned out to be a tall form standing in the doorway. A hint of woodsy cologne filled Rachel’s senses while muscular arms wrapped around her waist as she clung to whoever it was that kept her from face planting on the floor. She looked up into the blue eyes of her friend Chet. Eyes that were a bit hidden by the ball cap he wore. He smiled down at her, then propped her up as if she weighed no more than a rag doll.
“Goodness!” She brushed herself off, then turned to Dottie. “That was not one of your better dismounts, dog.”
She patted Chet on the chest then continued her lip balm search. “Thanks for catching me. Who knows where I would have ended up if you hadn’t.”
Chet didn’t respond. He just smiled at her.
Rachel hadn’t known Chet a very long time, but long enough to know that his silence wasn’t typical, along with the tingling she was trying to ignore that had moved from head to toe when he’d held her in his arms. It was brief, but she’d felt it just the same.
No. Chet was all but engaged to Meg, the beautiful owner of Meg’s Diner in town. They were perfect for one another. And there had never been one blip of attraction on the screen before between Rachel and Chet. It had to be the heat of summer toying with her brain.
“I’m venturing a guess that you’re wanting to talk more today about your family moving here.”
“That sounds like an interesting topic.”
“Aha! I found it.” She held up her lip balm and smiled. “Well, we can sit in here. Cliff just went to get us coffees, but I’m sure he won’t mind finding somewhere else to hang out when he gets back.”
She turned and looked at the sofa. “Of course, Dottie has claimed the entire sofa, but we can steal Cliff’s chair and use this one.” She placed her backpack on the ground and began moving both chairs near each other on the other side of the room.
Rachel continued, “Well, you choose the topic, but based on all we talked about last time, interesting is one way to describe things with your family.” She took a seat and looked at him.
Still standing in the doorway, he tilted his head. His hands were in the pockets of his athletic shorts, his stance relaxed. “I can’t recall the details. What exactly did I say? That my sister, Angelica, is a bundle of nosy energy, but my brother is the best-looking, wisest, favorite of the family?” One side of his mouth curved up in a wicked grin, and the look he gave her made her stomach do a weird little dance.
Was he flirting with her? That couldn’t be. He was madly in love with Meg.
Feeling her cheeks flush with warmth, Rachel sat tall in her chair. “Well…I don’t think…those weren’t exactly the words you chose…”
She was stuttering. What was happening?
He chuckled, the masculine sound filling the room, and causing the level of attraction to him to scramble her brain. She shook her head. Something was off.
“Hey, Rachel! Sorry I’m late.” A carbon copy of the man in the doorway stood behind him, a strong hand clasped on his shoulder. “I see you’ve met my brother, Dominic.”
Chet’s twin brother.
The puzzle pieces were falling into place, but Rachel’s brain couldn’t catch up to what was happening in real time.
The two men stood there, one with a ball cap on and slightly longer hair in the back. The other had cropped hair and no ball cap, but that was the only difference. It was like looking at two mirrored images that had turned to face her.
Dominic stepped in the room and held out his hand. “I’m Dominic. It’s nice to meet you, Rachel.”
The tiny brunette sat in the chair and stared at Dominic’s hand. Her back was rigid, her wide eyes a mix of blue and gray, and her cheeks the color of apples in the fall.
Fresh apples in the fall. His favorite.
She looked shocked, embarrassed, and downright beautiful. It wasn’t the first time Dominic had had some fun with someone who thought he was Chet, but hands down this was the best one yet.
She stood and reached for his hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”
The warmth of summer nights out under the stars filled his mind as their hands touched. Both of her hands could have fit into one of his, but her grip was firm. Her eyes narrowed a bit as she looked at him, her expression moving from embarrassment to sizing him up.
Dominic gave her one more grin before letting go and stepping back. Chet moved around him.
“Good to see you, friend,” Chet said as he wrapped Rachel up in a hug. Her body relaxed as she hugged him in return.
Dominic had never been so jealous of his brother.
“I’m so sorry I’m late. I sent Dominic ahead of me to grab Dottie and take her home.” Chet moved away from Rachel and looked between her and Dominic. The two men shared a look.
“Dom, you didn’t.”
All Dominic could do was smile. He should’ve been ashamed of himself for messing with Rachel, but he wasn’t. It had given him a chance to see a side of her he sensed he wouldn’t have had she known he wasn’t Chet.
Chet shook his head. “I’m so sorry, Rachel. I forget what it’s like for people who meet us separately. And my brother here takes a bit too much joy in messing with people who think he’s me.”
“The resemblance is quite…” Rachel started.
“Remarkable? Handsome?” Dominic offered.
“Unsettling.” Her eyes narrowed again.
“Ah. That’s one I haven’t heard before,” Dominic teased.
Unsettling, huh? What about their resemblance was unsettling to her? Could it be possible that she had felt the same level of attraction he had when she first fell into his arms? He made a mental note to thank Dottie for that later, maybe get her a big rawhide at the pet store on the way back to Chet’s place.
“Well, I’m sorry for it anyway. Dom is harmless once you get to know him.” Chet glared at his brother for a moment before turning his attention back to Rachel.
Rachel gave Dominic a wary look down and back up again. “I doubt harmless.”
“I appreciate the once-over and I don’t disagree with you,” Dominic said, with a grin.
Drawing attention to her checking him out caused her cheeks to flush that lovely shade of red again.
Flirting with this woman was more fun than he’d had in a while.
“I see Cliff out by the fire truck with my coffee. If you two will excuse me, I’m going to go get it.”
With that, she moved around them and out the door.
Dominic watched her go. A heavy whack on the shoulder from Chet caused him to turn back around. “Ow! What was that for?”
“Rachel is my friend. Don’t mess with her.”
“It was harmless, man, like you said.” Dominic moved over to the small bit of couch Dottie wasn’t occupying and sat down. She was on her side, her long legs sticking out. He draped his arm across her, which only drew a heavy sigh from the dog and a slight kick of her back leg against his, if only to show him whose couch it really was and not to venture any farther. “Although, she did share a little bit of what you’ve been venting to her about your family moving here. I’d love to hear more about that.”
Chet’s ears turned a bit pink. “That’s a private conversation, Brother.”
“Oh please. We’re twins. We’ve shared everything for thirty-two years of life whether we’ve wanted to or not.”
“Don’t worry. She didn’t give away any secrets. I’m mainly just messing with you anyway. And I wasn’t going to let her think I was you for very long. I have a sneaking suspicion she already knew but just couldn’t figure out what was off.”
As fun as it was for Chet and Dominic to play up being twins, they could always tell when someone was onto them. The best was in grade school when they were required to wear uniforms, so they were always dressed alike. Once, they went an entire day switching classes and their teachers were none the wiser. Of course, teachers had a lot to focus on, so it wasn’t the same as being one-on-one with people. But it was still entertaining. A twin perk, of sorts.
Chet sat in one of the chairs Rachel had moved. “I’m really glad you’re here, Dom. Honestly.”
“I talk to Rachel mostly about what I go through as a firefighter. Our last conversation was more about the logistics of the whole family being here and how that might change things for me and for Eva, but it’s not bad.”
Dominic leaned forward and placed his elbows on his knees. “Dude, I get it. Trust me. This move is huge for me and Angelica too. And Mom and Dad.”
They both nodded, each one understanding what the other was too afraid to say. Their dad’s health had been the reason the family had even considered uprooting their life in the first place. And although their father was doing well, it was still the pink elephant in the room not everyone was quite ready to address.
“I truly hope you like it here,” Chet said.
Dominic looked out into the firehouse. Rachel stood talking to an older gentleman who Dominic had met the day before. Cliff. He’d said something that made her laugh, her smile lighting up her whole face.
He turned back to his brother. “I have a strong feeling I will.”
End of Excerpt