When you've met a love interest in your own life, was it snap, crackle, sizzle or more of a slow burn? It's kind of fun to think about, isn't it? First meetings of heroes and heroines in movies or novels spark the audience's interest. We start to think...ah, chemistry. Or maybe we think...how on earth could these two make it work?
Today we're featuring "Riptide," voted one of Goodreads' Best Beach Reads of 2013. Caribbean intrigue meets sizzling romance! Below is an excerpt of when Lauren and Noah meet for the first time. What do you think? Is it love or lust at first sight? I'm fairly certain it's lust.
“You nearly killed me, you know,” a deep voice said from over her shoulder. “That was you on the Jet Ski, right? Reckless.”
Lauren turned her head and blinked several times. Merman in the flesh stood within inches of her left shoulder. Little earthquakes rocked through her body until she thought she’d fall off the stool.
“Noah, good to see you,” Austin said with a smile. “Lauren, meet Noah Reynolds. Noah, Lauren.” Austin pushed a beer in front of him. “I thought you were writing all day. What’s up? Procrastinating?”
“Mostly.” His wet hair curled against his forehead and into eyes that reminded her of expensive whiskey. A faded red T-shirt stretched across his chest. Moisture seeped through at the shoulders and neckline. He resembled a pirate—the Hollywood kind that makes every woman crave the bad boy.
“Mostly.” Austin snorted. “I’m beginning to think you’re never going to write again.”
“Be more concerned with your sister’s reckless moves on that Jet Ski. She nearly took my head off.” A smile tugged up the corners of his mouth while he took a long drink from the beer bottle without looking at her.
“I didn’t come close to you,” she said after finding her voice. “What were you doing way out there anyway? Danger zone.”
Watching a droplet of water slide down his neck made her squirm and lick her lips. Okay, so maybe island mode was a bit too much to handle her first day. She held the cold glass of sangria against her skin.
“Hey, Erin, Larry booked a private charter tonight. Want to ride along? He needs another dive master.” He ignored her and spoke to Austin’s manger slash girlfriend.
“Why aren’t you doing it?” Austin said.
“I’m not up for it. Bad day.” He shrugged. “What do you say, Erin? We’ll pay you.”
“Will you hold the boat for me if I’m a little late?” Erin asked. “I promised Austin I’d stay until he gets back from taking Lauren home.”
“No problem. Do you dive, Lauren?” His whiskey-colored eyes focused on her face.
She had a sudden craving for a shot of Jack Daniels. “No, I prefer seeing fish in an aquarium, especially the ones with big teeth.”
“Hang out here long enough and we’ll change your mind.” Erin smiled, but didn’t look her in the eye. “Won’t we, Noah? We’ll have you diving before the end of the week.”
She doubted it. She stabbed another cherry with her straw. God, she was a mess. Restless all of the time, unable to relax, paranoid about what these people knew about her reasons for being here, having erotic visions of the hot guy next to her. She should have filled that prescription her doctor had given her before leaving Atlanta. She needed sedation.
“What brings the island recluse out in the middle of the day?” Erin asked Noah.
“Island recluse?” The concept clashed sharply with the fantasies playing out in her mind.
“Yeah, this is weird, Noah.” Austin propped his elbows against the bar and looked at his friend. “Any special reason you’re over here so early?”
“Early?” she asked even though she’d coached herself to stay quiet. “Isn’t it at least four by now?”
“Ignore them,” Noah said with a wink. “Works for me.”
“Unless we’re diving or helping him fix up his shack, we don’t see him until at least midnight. He says he’s a night person,” Erin explained. “So what’s up, Noah?”
“Can’t a guy have a beer in peace?” He grinned as he pulled out the stool next to hers. “How long are you staying on Cayman, Lauren?”
“Six weeks.” Every instinct she had screamed “proceed with caution.”
“Do you like snorkeling?” His gaze slid over her face.
“As long as I can see the bottom, I do. Deep water equals big fish in my mind. I like to avoid predators when I can.” She inched away from him as much as possible without falling onto the floor. “I guess I’m not much of an adventurer.”
“Liar. I saw the way you drove that thing, remember?” His smile had her imagining what he would taste like.
I’ve lost all self-control, dignity, and common sense.
His fingers scraped at the edges of the label covering the beer bottle, but the smile remained as if he could sense her reaction to him...like a predator.
She gulped her drink, welcoming the alcohol-induced fog in her brain.
“You’re timing for a sudden snorkel over here is interesting,” Austin said. “Didn’t you hear anything I said last night?”
“I heard you. Loud and clear. Simply having a beer, that’s all.” He faced Austin. “I’m not feeling too welcome. You need to work on your customer service skills.”
Erin held a clipboard toward Austin. “We’re short about two cases of crab legs and, with the buffet tonight, that could mean a big problem.”
“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” Austin said with a final look between them.
“He asked you to stay away from me, didn’t he?” The thought of Austin having his big brother talk with his friends before she arrived simultaneously amused and annoyed her. Once again, she wondered how many details they knew and tried desperately not to care.
He rested his back against the bar and shrugged . With the way he captured his lower lip with his teeth, she suspected he held back another smile.
“Ah, I see,” she said.
“See what?” His smile escaped, guilty as hell.
“Austin likes you as one of the boys, but when it comes to his sister, stay back, my friend, stay back. Am I close to the truth?” Her gaze slipped down his neck to where wet hair curled beneath his ear. The thought of licking him there nearly sent her running toward the ocean to put out the fire in her gut.
Yep, definitely should have filled that prescription.
She nodded when Erin asked if she wanted a refill. Hell, at this rate, she’d need a pitcher to cool her off. Yep, definitely too early for island mode. She needed to ease into it...slowly...after a steady rum haze.
“More like give you some space until you’ve had time to…settle.” He slipped a pair of sunglasses over his eyes. Pity. Or maybe it was a good thing...she couldn’t decide.
She cringed at the way he said the word settle, as if it alone carried a deeper meaning. “Care to elaborate?”
He stretched his legs out in front of him. Flip-flops dangled from his toes. The man exuded ease and...island mode. “Your arrival is a big event around here.”
Big event, huh? She twisted a cherry stem between the fingers of her right hand while his words sank into her brain. She’d come here seeking anonymity not more attention.
He watched her face while he drank his beer, as if trying to read her mind. She’d seen that same expression on every single person she’d encountered since “that night”. With a sigh, she dropped the cherry stem on a napkin and looked hopelessly into her empty glass. She was tired of being a big event...sick of her story...didn’t want to ruin a moment with Merman thinking about it.
“You’ll like Cayman. It’s a good place to clear your head, get perspective,” he said.
“What do you mean? Perspective?” Tension straightened her spine.
“I know what happened in Atlanta. The attack, your leave of absence, all of it. It’s good that you’re here, that you’re taking time to—”
“Austin shouldn’t have told you.” Awkwardness replaced fragile confidence. She wanted...well, she wanted all kinds of things. Normalcy topped the list. “I didn’t want anyone here to know. I wanted to blend...stupid of me, I guess.”
He studied her for a minute before shaking his head. “I shouldn’t have blurted it out like that. I’m sorry.” He finished his beer and motioned at Erin for another. His bare knee bumped against the thin linen covering her thigh when he swiveled on his stool to face her.
Contact. Her core melted like candle wax, hot and wet. Scalding. She crossed and recrossed her legs. With a long sigh, she focused on the waves breaking against the reef off shore.
“I’ve been curious about you,” he said after a long silence pregnant with speculation.
“Curious about me? Why? Seems like Austin filled in the blanks before I arrived.” She stared at a palm tree swaying with the breeze, almost in rhythm to the music.
“I’m interested. Do I need a better reason?”
“Maybe.” She caught her lower lip between her teeth.
“I want to know you better, that’s all.”
“Why?” A shiver skittered across her skin despite the mid-afternoon heat.
“You’re my good friend’s sister. Do I need a better reason than that?”
“Knowing what you know, I need a definition of the word interested.” Suspicion clenched at her heart and battled with the need for this—whatever this was—to be easy. Simple. Normal.
“Austin will vouch for me. Honest,” he said with a smile that looked anything but trustworthy.
“I thought he told you to stay away from me. Remember? Stay back, my friend, stay back.” Their gazes connected through dark lenses. “What is it that you really want, Noah? Your next story line?”
“Ouch.” He flinched and shoved a restless hand through his thick hair. With a sigh, he stood and reached for his snorkel bag. “I deserve that more than you realize. We should talk another time. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.” When he looked at her again, a frown replaced the easy smile. “Enjoy getting settled, Lauren.”
Cursing beneath her breath, she watched him adjust the bag over his shoulder. Here stood a sexy man—an interesting one, too, which was rare—and she couldn’t stop acting like a paranoid freak.
With a shake of her head, she tilted her chin up, forced the suspicion aside, and looked directly into his face. “No, I’m the one who’s sorry. Sit down. Stay awhile. If you don’t mind being with a dangerous woman, that is.” She patted the vacated stool.
“Dangerous? I don’t think you’re dangerous…unless let loose on a Jet Ski again.” He shifted his weight from foot to foot. “You might think I’m the dangerous one once I’ve told you that I’ve started—”
She held both hands out in front of her. “Stop. No confessions. I won’t ask you for explanations if you don’t ask me for any. What do ya say? Deal?”
He hesitated a fraction too long. Her confidence quaked in the silence.
“For now anyway.” He held his hand out to her. “Friends?”
“Friends.” She clasped his hand and gasped. Electricity snapped through her veins. Visions more intimate than friendship flashed through her mind. She yanked her hand free.
His teeth tugged at his bottom lip, sunglasses hiding whatever expression dwelt in his eyes. After a minute, he reclaimed the empty stool.
“There are so many reasons I should have walked away,” he muttered.
“You should have ran like hell,” she whispered more to herself than to him. When he tilted his head back and laughed, she smiled. “I wasn’t joking.”
“I know you weren’t, that’s why I’m laughing. Let’s start over.” His lips twitched. “I’m Noah, Austin’s friend. He’s told me a lot about you and how you used to make his life hell when you were both kids.”
“That’s your way of starting over?” She shook her head and looked away from him.
“Why not? Childhood is a safe topic, right?”
She shrugged, trying to regain mental equilibrium.
“He claims you were a real menace.”
“Menace? Such a strong word. An exaggeration,” she whispered, a smile itching to be released on her mouth. She nodded at Erin, relieved to have a fresh supply of sangria in her hot little hands.
“Oh, I doubt it. You look like trouble.” Beer to his lips, he smiled. “But I mean that in the nicest possible way.”
“I look like trouble? Have you looked in the mirror lately?”
A feeling akin to a rush of teenage hormones took control, and there was no fighting it. Not that she wanted to. It was good to feel again. She laughed at the realization that she honestly did feel something other than numbness, fear, or exhaustion for the first time in months. Silently, she toasted the concept of island mode.
He peeled the label from yet another beer bottle, gaze averted from hers. Music from the one man band drifted over the buzz of tourist laughter and ocean surf.
“Pretend I don’t know anything, that’s why you came here, right? I blew it within minutes.” He folded the torn beer label in between his fingers, moving it back and forth in his palm.
She nodded at Erin who placed a full glass in front of her before moving down the bar. “So…how do you spend your days on Grand Cayman, Noah?”
He glanced toward the thatched roof as if studying it for a flaw before answering. “Aside from writing, I own a small dive boat operation with my friend Larry. Private charters mostly.”
Once again the idea of him as a pirate flitted into her ongoing fantasy. “Hmm…you’re not fitting the stereotype I have about screenwriters.”
He leaned his elbow on the bar and propped his chin up with his fist. The sun hit his sunglasses just right, giving her a glimpse of his eyes watching her through the lenses.
“If you didn’t know what I did for a living, what stereotype would I fit?” he asked.
Male stripper. Movie star. Construction worker. Greek God. She peered over the rim of her glass without answering.
“C’mon. Tell me. I’m dying to know.”
“You’ll have to live with the disappointment,” she said.
Sea salt had dried on the expanse of his neck where it met the material of his shirt. She twisted on the stool at the idea of tasting him there, lips against his flesh, licking, nibbling…
God, help me, I’ve finally gone crazy.
“Where is Austin’s place from here?” Needing to stop looking at him, she concentrated on the beach.
“Five minutes by foot.” He pointed to a crooked palm tree that bent over the sand like the letter L. Waves licked its roots. “Right around there. Want me to take you? He could be awhile.”
“I should wait for Austin.”
“Probably a good idea.” He faced her, knees bumping against her thighs again. “I have a beach right off of my property, great snorkeling, usually a sea turtle or two. You’ll have to come by one of these days.”
“Why did you choose to snorkel here today then?” She absently toyed with a cherry stem. “Why not stay home?”
His shrug emphasized the width of his shoulders. “A project I was working on that suddenly doesn’t seem that important brought me over here.”
“A project? What kind of project brings a writer to the beach?”
“The human kind.”
“What does that mean? Human kind?” She licked her lips and smoothed her palms over the thin material covering her thighs.
“You ask a lot of questions. Maybe you are dangerous.”
“Maybe I am.”
“Women as a whole are dangerous.”
“Someone break your heart, Noah?” She liked flirting with him—flirting—the idea alone made her laugh. “A tourist? No, probably not. I bet it was a Hollywood starlet from back home. Am I right?”
His smile no longer seemed genuine. “You must have been one hell of a good reporter, sexy lady, but this interview is over.”
“Don’t go.” She grabbed his forearm when he moved as if to stand. “Okay, so I’m not good at small talk either these days. I ask too many questions, offend my brother’s friends…” She looked at her white hand against his tanned skin and abruptly released him. “You keep trying to run away, and I keep stopping you.”
So much for flirting. She would need to add that to her list of words—and situations—to avoid.
“I’m not running away from you.” He pushed his sunglasses to the top of his head and looked her in the eye as if trying to see inside her skull.
“I wouldn’t blame you if you did.” She clenched her fingers together in her lap and chewed the inside of her lip.
“I’d blame myself, though.” He continued to look in her eyes. “I’m more than a little on edge today. I probably should have listened to Austin when he said to give you a few days to settle in before intruding.”
“You’re not intruding.” She broke eye contact.
“I usually avoid these situations at all costs,” he whispered.
“These situations?” Gaze locked on his neck, she swayed toward him as if pulled by a magnetic force.
His gaze roamed down her body. “Dangerous situations.”
Silence bound them.
“Let’s get out of here before something else needs my attention,” Austin said from her side. “Thanks for keeping her company, Noah.”
He leaned back and nodded without answering.
“Everything okay?” Austin asked, looking at them with narrowed eyes. “You both look a little sick.” He leaned close to her ear. “You didn’t eat any shrimp, did you? We just pulled it—”
“No shrimp.” She shoved a strand of hair behind her ear, unmoving from the stool. “It’s been nice meeting you. I’ll probably see you around.”
“You will.” He slipped the sunglasses back over his eyes. “I’m sure of it.”
“Maybe I’ll stop by later this week. You can show me that reef of yours.” She had no idea why, but she wanted…well, she wanted an impossible fantasy.
“I’d like that. Lots of sea life. Sea turtles, stingrays…”
She ogled his mouth and decided he would taste exactly like saltwater, beer and sex. She swallowed the onslaught of saliva in her mouth.
“We’ll all come by for dinner, how’s that sound? I’m sure Erin and Larry will want to come, too. You can break in that new grill you bought a few weeks ago,” Austin suggested.
“Good idea.” He shrugged without looking away from her. “Later this week? After you’ve settled in?”
“Perfect. See ya, Noah.” Austin squeezed her shoulder. “Let’s get going, sis.”
She narrowed her eyes at her brother’s back as he walked toward the parking lot and hoped for some type of restaurant emergency so she’d have an excuse to stay, enjoy the sun, drink more sangria…mingle with the locals.
Noah stood with her. Proximity erupted waves of need that filled her veins like lava moving down the side of a volcano. Her legs liquefied at the idea of leaning forward…only a few inches and licking his skin. Confused by her reaction, she shook her head and backed away.
He frowned, also taking a step backward. “Lauren…”
“What?” she prompted when he hesitated.
He looked toward the path Austin had taken before shrugging. “Good luck getting into island mode. Despite all of this time, I still haven’t quite done it.”
“I knew he was lying when he said it’d only take a week.”
“Austin’s an optimist.”
“And you’re not?”
“No, I’m not.” Smile a little sad, he shrugged. “Wish I were, though.”
“Optimism usually ends with great disappointment.” She lingered, one hand on the edge of the bar, the other fidgeting in the material covering her hip.
“You should go.” He grinned with regret.
She nodded before walking toward the parking lot. Despite her inner voice that coached her to be cool, she looked over her shoulder and saw him staring at her. For the first time in months, she liked being watched.
* * * *
Damn if he wasn’t attracted to her. He scrubbed a fist across his forehead.
“I had no idea she would be so…” he struggled to find a word to describe her, “intriguing.”
“Talking to yourself again?” Erin asked from behind the bar.
“Eavesdropping again?” He reclaimed his stool.
“Is it technically eavesdropping if the conversation you’re having is one-sided?” She turned her head and watched Lauren disappear around the corner. “She seems okay, not as messed up as I thought she’d be.”
“Everyone sure had an opinion about how damaged she was, didn’t they?” Maybe he was guilty of other things, but he’d never judged her or theorized about how screwed up she’d be. Of all people, he knew how it felt to be on the other side of speculation.
Erin whistled, and her eyebrows rose. “Protective of a woman you just met? That’s interesting.”
“I just think we need to respect what she’s been through and give her the benefit of the doubt. That’s that. Don’t read into it.” He slid the empty bottle in her direction. “I should get back to my shack, as you call it.”
“Didn’t I hear something about a barbecue at your place? A certain blonde who wants to snorkel?”
“Nothing wrong with snorkeling or grilling, perfectly innocent.” He absentmindedly flipped some cash onto the bar, his mind tossing with questions and doubts.
Olive green eyes squinted at him as if seeing through his façade.
“What? I’m harmless.” He gestured wide with his hands. “You’ve known me for years. You know I’m harmless, right?”
“Sounds like you’re asking.” Erin propped her elbows on the bar. “Are you okay? You look like you’ve eaten some bad fish.”
“Has anyone been here asking about me? Anyone suspicious?” He looked around the crowded bar for anyone who might be paying too much attention to him. “Anyone overly curious about either Larry or me? Anyone who seems too...friendly maybe? Too LA?”
“No.” Erin stood up straight and looked at him as if he had just sprouted horns. “Is everything okay with you? Seriously? You look all out of sorts. Who would be asking about you? Is something going on?”
He shook off the unease. Of course no one had been here asking about him. The newspaper clippings from years ago that had showed up on his door and in his mailbox—sans envelope—were just someone’s idea of a sick joke. Nothing else. Nothing sinister.
“I’ll let Larry know that you’ll be with him on the dive tonight.” He slid the barstool into place with more attention than the action deserved. “Thanks for taking my place. I owe you one.”
He hesitated at the edge of the steps leading to the beach, stared at the curved palm tree that marked the edge of Austin’s condo complex, took a step forward, and stopped on the last stair.
For the past two years, he’d lived with a firm set of rules. Rule 1: stay busy. Rule 2: avoid relationships with women. Rule 3: keep life simple. Rule 4: confide in no one.
He sighed, turned his back on the tree, and walked to the parking lot. His inspiration—a real live Muse—had landed on Grand Cayman. What to do, what to do, what to do…
Buy it now! Voted one of Goodreads' Best Beach Reads!