Barefoot Bay: Castle in the Sand (Kindle Worlds Novella) (5 page)

BOOK: Barefoot Bay: Castle in the Sand (Kindle Worlds Novella)
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“I guess I deserved that.”

Watching him pace the kitchen, Josie got to appreciate the muscles in his body moving and flexing under the knit fabric. He was tense, unsure, totally out of his wheelhouse. But he still made her want like no one else. If he gave her a little nudge, she’d be in bed with him. No hesitation.

Proving, once again, that he shouldn’t be staying with her. Clearly she couldn’t be trusted with him.

“What’s on your mind?” he asked.

“Excuse me?”

Without hesitation, Tony took the cup from her hand, leaned forward, and crowded her personal space. Josie’s senses went on overload. He was big, strong, and his scent embraced her like the water in the gulf on an open water swim.

“Tell me what’s on your mind. Whatever it is. Get it off your chest.”

The accent was still a killer for her, especially paired with his deep, resonant voice, but it was the challenge that cut to the core. He wanted to know what she was thinking? How could she possibly tell him without opening herself up to more hurt?

“I can’t. No.”

There was no warning when he reached out and grabbed her hand, closing his warm fingers around hers and pulling her close. “Why? I want you to tell me what’s hurting, Josie. I deserve it. Let me have it.”

“No. I can’t. It’s too…”

“Too what?” He wasn’t letting go of her hand, and she was starting to forget why she thought boundaries were necessary. “Josie,” he said. “There was never anything we couldn’t tell one another.”

That did it. “Are you serious? You didn’t tell me who you
were
. You left the most important piece of your identity out of our relationship.”

“My title?”

“Yes! That title connects you to everything important in your life, and it represents all the reasons we couldn’t be together.
Your family. Your country.
Your job
. This is who you are, and you told me nothing. You lied to me. After everything we talked about, our future, having a family—I thought—I mean—” He was going to be with her for weeks, she couldn’t lose it on the first day.

“I didn’t tell you any lies. I wanted us to be together,” he said firmly.

“Oh, come on—”

“But I should have told you everything,” he cut her off.

“You’re splitting hairs.”

He looked away, trying to muster a defense. “You’re right. I should have told you, but I meant every word I uttered to you; thinking about it now, if I had told you, it probably would have changed your mind about getting involved with me.”

Would she have changed her mind? Or was the pull of him that powerful?

“No. It probably wouldn’t have changed anything. I wanted you, and even forewarned I wouldn’t have cared.” That was a realization, even to her. Wiggling her fingers free, Josie reclaimed her hand. It didn’t help much. When Tony touched her, the sensations lingered. “But we can’t revisit what we had. It’s just not possible. I don’t know how we’re going to do this.”

“Say the word, and I’ll leave.”

She didn’t want him to leave, which made her sadly pathetic. And weak. And still so totally in love with the man who had made her feel like the center of the universe, she ached from it.

Yep. Pathetic.

“I made a promise to my brother, so you can stay. That’s the only reason. But respect my space. Even if that means leaving me asleep on the couch.”

The gauntlet had been thrown down, and as much as Tony liked to call the shots, he realized Josie was in charge here. “Understood.”

“Good. I’m going to run to town. Do you need anything?”

“May I come along?”

God, he was pushy. “Are you not hearing me? We’re at day
one
. Give me a little time, okay?”

“Of course. I’m sorry.”

“I’ll be back in a few hours.”

Looking more than a little frustrated, Tony grumbled and growled something about taking a shower, then left her alone in the kitchen. As soon as he was gone, Josie supported herself against the counter, her knees giving way to the stress. It was going to be a long few weeks.

Lila was getting a text.

Meet me for lunch?

Sure. Lila’s reply was quick. SOB at 12:30?

See you there.

 

South of the Border, lovingly known as SOB, was an island hideaway known only to residents of Mimosa. Lacking a sign, a menu, and the all-important bar, kept it off the tourist radar, and that was just the way the locals liked it. When Josie arrived, Lila was already seated, sipping sweet tea and chatting with the person at the next table.

Her friend was a stunner. Tall, blonde, with legs to her neck and a bucketful of Southern girl charm and sass, she was the only one who knew exactly what kind of trouble Josie was in. Truth be told, she didn’t even know if Lila fully understood how seriously she felt about Prince Anton.

Taking the chair opposite Lila, Josie’s heart was in her throat. The past twenty-four hours had reawakened so many buried feelings. With Tony back in her life, even temporarily, she couldn’t think straight. Her heart and body wanted to forgive him, even though she knew that would only expose her to deeper pain down the road.

“Am I out of my mind?” Josie asked.

Lila took a long sip of her tea, folding her arms on the table to consider Josie’s question. “Well, darlin’, if you’re asking, probably not.”

“I’m losing it. I have no control where he’s concerned. It’s horrible.”

“For what it’s worth, I do think he still cares for you. He was ready to leave last night when he saw you’d gone and gotten yourself all drunk.”

“What an ego…” she snarled. “He just assumed he was the reason I drank all that wine.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake. It was. He’s not stupid.” Lila shook her head.

But when she refused to make eye contact, Josie knew she wasn’t getting the whole story. Not at all. “Go ahead, let me have it.”

“Call it a gut instinct, but I think his feelings run pretty deep,” she drawled.

“Had a conversation with him, did you?”

“Of course I did! What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t? Josie, I hate seeing you like this…”

“What. Did. You. Talk. About?”

Lila folded her arms, defiant. “It wasn’t much, but don’t be surprised if he makes a move on you.”

“Great.”

“It could be. I was thinking about the way he looked at you when you were asleep. He still loves you, Josie. Mistakes and all. And I get the sense he’s a man who goes after what he wants.”

“I don’t know. He had me, and he left.” Realizing how that sounded, she took a breath before continuing. “I did some research on Tony and his family. Profiled him, if you will.”

“Such a psychologist.”

“The royal family in Marinbourg is one of the oldest continual lines in Europe. King Edward, Tony’s father, is beloved. He has a very good relationship with the Prime Minister and the Parliament, and keeps the Royal Family’s house in order.”

“So, daddy’s a control freak, Tony’s the rebellious prince, and you were his middle finger to the palace? Is that it?”

“No.” Josie laughed at Lila’s assessment. “I wish it were that simple. Tony has been a model heir. He’s gone to the best schools and done well, he served in the military with honor, he works as a liaison between the Minister of Commerce and businesses around the world. He’s handsome, cultured, and charming. But whom he marries is not solely his decision. Tony doesn’t want an arrangement, but he’s a rule follower and he has a hard time bucking the establishment.

“In his mind, he kept his identity secret to protect me from the circus. But I think he didn’t want to put in the effort to keep up a relationship that didn’t have the King’s approval.”

“So, now he’s dropped back into your life, and everything you ever felt is bubbling right up, including all that unresolved anger.”

“Pretty much.”

“What if he decides he wants to try again, to fight his father for what he wants?”

“That doesn’t change the kind of risk he represents. What if I take him back, but he can’t convince his family to accept me? Then what?”

“What if he can? Or, what if being with you is more important than his title?”

That was something Josie never considered, and it was about as unlikely as snow falling on Mimosa. “He’s an honorable man, and he’s been raised to put his family and country first. I don’t see that happening.”

“I don’t know if you can rule it out. Something tells me you two are great together. And he knows it.”

“I used to think that. I loved the way I felt being with him. He made me stronger, more willing to take chances. I pushed myself in ways I never had before. I felt brave because he believed in me. I think he was happy when we were together. I know I was.”

“What changed?” Lila leaned in, squeezing Josie’s hands.

“He didn’t trust me with the truth. That would have been the ultimate show of faith in me, and our relationship. But he didn’t.” Josie’s eyes burned.

She and Lila ate their lunch in silence from that point on. When the check came, they went through their usual ritual of grabbing for the bill to see who would pay. This time, Lila won.

“Ha! My treat, Sugar.” Lila pulled some cash from her wallet and put it at the edge of the table. “I am sorry if I upset you. It just seems so romantic. Your Prince Charming… I want that for you.”

“It was romantic, beautiful, and perfect, until it fell apart. I’ve had my romance. I’m done.”

“Don’t be silly. Truly. Even if you can’t have it with Tony, you will find someone.”

“I’ll never have with anyone else what I had with him. I’m pretty well resigned to that.”

“Josie, please don’t say that.”

Lila didn’t understand. The wound had cut so deep, she didn’t know if she had it in her to try again. If that made her shortsighted or a coward, she could live with it. What she couldn’t live with was another heartbreak.

 

 

Chapter Four

 

Having Tony around had been more than Josie bargained for. He’d gotten on a fishing charter this morning, so she’d had the whole day not to think about how much he still affected her…but here she was emptying the dishwasher, and thinking about how much he still affected her. Josie assumed staying away from him would be easy, that the leftover anger and hurt would give her some perspective on the futility of a relationship with him.

Nope. The two of them had a hard time staying apart. During the past five days, he’d been exceedingly courteous, charming, helpful, and every time he turned his ocean blue eyes on her, or flashed a crooked grin, she found herself inching toward forgiveness. Even when she didn’t want to. It was the attraction they had fought for years until finally, they threw it all to the wind one night and took their friendship to the next level.

Some memories faded with time, others stayed crystal clear. Her time with Tony was like that. Every moment was etched in her brain, and lately she’d been thinking about those days way too much.

It was a hot July night three and a half years ago, and Josie was supposed to meet Tony and her brother near her apartment for dinner. Simple enough, and something she’d done many times before. But that night she was a hot mess, running late from her class at NYU, and dripping wet because the skies had opened up right after she’d gotten off the bus. Not her best day, but it wasn’t like it was a date, just dinner with her two best guys.

She was already in love with Tony by that point, but she’d never acted on it. He was older and very sophisticated, she was fairly sure he thought of her like a little sister.

Then Nick stood them up.

And Josie discovered she’d been wrong. Tony’s feelings for her were anything but brotherly.

Walking into the tiny midtown restaurant, Josie saw Tony and waved, but he wasn’t looking all too pleased. She knew his job with the Marinbourg Commerce Ministry could be stressful, but this didn’t look like it was work related. Somehow it felt personal, and if you’d asked her, she couldn’t tell you why.

“Hey,” she said. “You look like you lost your best friend.”

“My best friend is an ass,” he growled. Looking up, Tony flashed a smile and Josie remembered the slow meltdown that ensued. It wasn’t new, he did it to her every damn time she saw him.

“Your brother cancelled.”

“Are you kidding?” Josie plopped into the chair adjacent to Tony. “I haven’t seen him in six months. What happened this time?”

“He missed his flight. Said he was
delayed
getting to the airport. I’m guessing the delay was five-ten, curvy, and blonde. Goes by the name of Ashley.” Tony chuckled; he was probably right about the woman. Her brother tended to think with his libido rather than his brain, and it pissed her off.

“Well, that’s just great. Blown off again.”

“Don’t let it bother you, Love. I’m annoyed too, but I don’t get to spend time with just you very often. It will be nice to have a conversation without Nick shouting over the both of us.”

All she could think at the moment was that he was perfect, but there was no way she could possibly stay. She’d grown so aware of him, physically, emotionally. “I don’t know,” she protested. “I should go home. I’m soaked and I’m so tired.”

“It’s just dinner, Josie. Stay and eat with me, then I’ll walk you home, okay? They have great burgers here.”

He was charming and sweet, and the thought of spending time alone with him was so appealing, she’d said yes. That one decision had changed her path, as well as the way she saw herself—for better or worse.

They’d talked non-stop during dinner. He told her about a negotiation he was handling for his government, and she told him about the research she was doing for her doctorate. They held hands as he walked her home. And then Tony kissed her in the rain in front of her building. People alternately cursed or cheered as they walked around them, either being charmed by the romance, or annoyed that they had blocked the sidewalk.

It was there, with the summer storm raging around them, rain coming down in buckets, that she stopped fighting all the crazy mixed-up feelings, and gave herself to Tony Granville.

She’d been innocent, a virgin. A young woman so wrapped up in her studies and ambition that she’d never made time for relationships. She’d had a few boyfriends here and there, but no one serious. No one worth the commitment. But Tony? She loved him, and when he kissed her, Josie let it consume her in a way that nothing else had.

To this day, Josie wondered if her heart had been waiting for him. If all that time she’d been so focused on her classes and research, that she’d been wishing for Tony. He was a gentle, patient lover, and he made sure her first time was one she would never forget.

She wouldn’t. Josie felt like magic rained down upon her when Tony made love to her. Just thinking about it made her feel alive, but that first night, when he held her in her small bed, Josie understood that he’d ruined her for anyone else.

And she was okay with it.

That was the night he’d first called her
mon ange
; my angel. His words, his touch, would hypnotize her. Letting herself go back there, her mind filled with the delicious sensations; she felt his hands on her, his mouth—then she heard the crash, the sound of breaking glass and then she felt the warmth.

Blood. There was blood. She’d cut her hand.

“Dammit! Oww!” she exclaimed, grabbing a paper towel and putting pressure on the wound.

She had no idea Tony was home from fishing until he dashed into the kitchen. “What? Are you all right?”

“I cut my hand. Crap.”

Josie was hanging over the sink with her arm bent at the elbow, elevating her hand. She was more annoyed with herself that she’d been so wrapped up in her daydreams about Tony that she hadn’t been paying attention than the actual injury. The sting was really starting to set in when he took her hand and examined the cut on her palm.

“That’s a good slice there. What were you doing? Plotting my demise with a meat cleaver?”

Josie was obviously in pain, and Tony was trying to distract her by making her laugh. It was sweet, and she’d missed how sweet he’d always been to her.

“No. Not this time. When I imagine that scenario, I generally use melons. And I don’t usually miss.” He laughed, while he kept hold of her hand. “I dropped a glass in the sink,” she said. “It broke into a million pieces. One got me.”

He swapped the blood soaked paper towel for a clean one. “It’s slowing down, but you may need a stitch or two. Is there a good doctor on the island?”

“Yes, but it’s probably quicker if we head to the urgent care in Naples. Not too far.”

“Are you in much pain?”

“It hurts, but I’ll live. Do you really think it needs stitches?”

“It looks deep. It’s probably smart to have it checked out.”

Josie nodded. “I should have been paying attention. So stupid.”

She turned her eyes to her hand, where his thumbs were running up and down over the skin in a gentle, soothing caress. “You always had the softest hands.”

“Tony…” God, she looked up and his beautiful face was so close. She could kiss him without any effort whatsoever. All it would take would be a quick move and she’d be kissing him.

“I’m sorry. I…” He pulled his hands away and stepped back. “Habit.”

“It’s okay,” she replied. “I’d better get to the doctor.”

“I’ll drive you. Just give me five minutes to change.”

“You don’t have to.”

He took her by the shoulders and leaned in; he was not taking no for an answer. “I want to. Give me five minutes.”

 

Tony knew Josie was relieved she didn’t need stitches, but he was glad that she’d seen the doctor to close the cut. She’d been pretty talkative at the clinic, but she was quiet now, gently rubbing the bandage on her hand.

“Are you hungry? It’s almost dinner time.”

“Ah, a little.”

“What do you feel like? I’m sure there’s someplace we can get a bite to eat.”

She bit down on her lower lip and Tony felt all the blood in his body rush south. It was one of the sexiest things she did, and she had no idea.

“I feel like ice cream.”

It took him a second to process what she said. “Pardon? Ice cream?”

Nodding, her eyes lit up. “As soon as you get over the causeway, head toward the marina.”

“Okay, direct me so we don’t end up in the water.”

Josie laughed her genuine, full, lilting laugh and it was the best thing that had happened to him all day.

They found a spot to park, and the two of them headed straight for a small shop nearby. The sign said
Miss Icey’s
and the place was swarming with teenagers.

“Miss DeMarco! Hey! Miz Dee!”

Immediately, kids were calling her name, coming over to say hello and asking about her hand. These were her students, and without a doubt, they loved her.

Josie greeted the kids, asked questions about summer, jobs, and college visits. Once they entered the shop, a girl manning the counter smiled wide. “Miz Dee! I aced my SAT! Six-eighty verbal and seven-twenty on math!”

“Oh my God! Brenna, that’s awesome!” Josie hugged her student across the counter. “With your grades, you’ll get into some great schools. With scholarships, probably.”

“I hope so.” The girl was eyeing him up and down. “Is this your boyfriend?”

Josie smiled up at him, and what he wouldn’t have given for her to say yes. “No. This is Tony. He’s a friend of the family and he’s visiting for a couple of weeks.”

“Congratulations on your test scores. I’m not familiar with them, but it sounds as though you’ve done well.”

“Oh. My. God. Are you French? That’s so hot. Miz Dee. He’s French. What is wrong with you?”

“He’s just a friend, Brenna.”

“Yeah? Well none of my friends look at me the way he’s looking at you.” She paused with a smug expression on her face that only a teenage girl could pull off. “What would you two like?”

Josie and Tony ordered their ice cream, with Tony getting a simple chocolate cone and Josie getting two scoops of chocolate chip in a waffle cone. Both of them ignored the questioning eye of the teen behind the counter.

Because it was a beautiful day to take a walk, they took their ice cream to the marina. Almost like friends. As far as he was concerned, that was progress.

“I’ve been here five days,” Tony said looking out at the water. “And every day I see one more reason why you love it so much. It’s really beautiful here.”

“It really is. The weather is nice most of the time, and it never gets really cold. I’ll head north just so I can see snow once each winter.”

One of the things Tony always loved about Josie was her full-on enjoyment of her surroundings. It didn’t matter how small, how seemingly insignificant, she could find joy in any situation. Right now, he was watching her devour chocolate chip ice cream like it was the finest caviar. The harbor in her hometown might as well have been the French Riviera.

“I think I would miss snow,” he said. “I do like to ski. I never got to take you skiing, did I?”

“Me, skiing? Throw myself down a mountain? Are you kidding?”

She was so wonderfully direct. Everyone else skated around him, afraid to say one thing or another. But not Josie. She told him the truth. How he walked away from her still baffled him. She was bright, full of life, and happy. He must have been out of his mind. “How does your hand feel?”

She made an attempt to flex it, but the bandages were pretty thick. “It’s starting to throb a little bit. The doctor said I’m going to have to soak it in a day or so to keep it from getting infected. I can’t believe I was so careless with that glass.”

“It happens. I’m glad I was back in time to help you.”

“Will you help me clean up the sink?” she asked. “I’m a little afraid I’m going to cut myself again. This hasn’t been my day.”

Tony tossed his empty ice cream cup into a trashcan and patted Josie lightly between the shoulder blades. “I got a look at the sink. It looks like a murder took place. I can’t believe how much one little cut can bleed. But of course, I’ll help you clean it up.”

“Thanks.”

Josie stopped and looked out at the harbor. From where they were standing, Naples was clear as day. It was such a contrast to Mimosa. The city was home to some upscale hotels, fancy boutiques and very wealthy people. Mimosa was very much a small town. He guessed that’s why Josie liked it so much. It was safe. It felt like home.

“You know,” she said, tossing her napkin in a trash can. “That ice cream was delicious, but I’m still hungry.”

Something else Tony remembered about her, she ate like a sumo wrestler. “What are you in the mood for?”

“Hmm. I think we need to go find some burgers.”

“Burgers? Sautéed mushrooms and onions?”

“Is there any other way?”

He grinned. “Swiss or cheddar?”

Josie closed her eyes thinking about the perfect burger; he could see it all over her face. The woman loved food. “Picture this: a burger, medium, on a brioche role, with sautéed mushrooms and onions, Swiss cheese, and bacon. How does that sound?”

BOOK: Barefoot Bay: Castle in the Sand (Kindle Worlds Novella)
12.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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