Barefoot Bay: Castle in the Sand (Kindle Worlds Novella) (6 page)

BOOK: Barefoot Bay: Castle in the Sand (Kindle Worlds Novella)
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“It sounds like a coronary waiting to happen, but we need to find it.”

“I think I know just the place.”

 

They had found the perfect place. Two hours later, they were back at the house, Tony was barbecuing burgers on the grill, and Josie was preparing all the fixings. She loved that she could watch him being normal. Over the past few years, she’d been following him on social media. The palace kept accounts for the Royal Family, and it was there, on the computer, that Josie could see Prince Anton.

And that’s what stopped her daydreams and brought her back to reality. The images of the man she couldn’t have. That’s who he was. Because of those, her memory wasn’t filled with days and nights spent together, but of him presiding over an event, standing with his family, or dancing with an acceptable prospective bride. She was glad that her anger had dissipated, but the fun they were having today couldn’t last. Josie had to put the brakes on before she and Anton lost their heads, and her heart was shattered a second time.

 

 

Chapter Five

 

The little beach community where Josie lived wasn’t far from the bustling Casa Blanca resort, which was the focal point in Barefoot Bay. Rolling her shoulders, she wondered if she could get a massage tomorrow. After spending the last three months of the year bent over her desk dealing with end of year paperwork, and the added stress of having a prince under her roof, she could definitely use a little pampering.

It had been a week since Tony arrived, and while things were getting better, there was still an underlying edge to every encounter. They were civil with each other. At times, like the other day after she cut her hand, they were downright friendly.

The two of them had settled into a routine of sorts, like roommates, with him rising early to take a run at the same time Josie would take her swim. She didn’t make any overtures, but they spent more and more time together, watching TV and sharing meals. It was funny how Josie always made enough for two.

Before she could clean a dish, Anton would take care of it, and Josie did get some pleasure seeing his royal hands washing dishes. He had the most gorgeous hands.

“Who are you kidding?” she mumbled. “He has a gorgeous everything.”

Popping the hatch on her SUV, Josie grabbed two grocery bags, only to turn and smack right into Tony.
Speak of the devil.

“Gah! Don’t sneak up on me like that!”

“Sorry, I came around the side of the house. I heard you pull up.”

“Were you on the beach? In this weather?” It was no longer gray and misty. Dark clouds were starting to form.

“I took a swim, but I was sitting in the lanai when I heard your car. Can I help?”

“Sure, ah, grab that case of water.” It was quite possible watching Tony carry a case of bottled water just might make her year. Nothing had to come of it for her to enjoy the view. Tony wasn’t overly muscled or cut, but he was very well built, and she knew every inch of him, from the soft patch of hair in the middle of his chest to the long muscles of his legs.

Leading him through the house, she glanced back and sighed. God, she was still so attracted to him. He was closing in on forty years old, and she honestly thought he was one of those men who looked better as he aged.

“Are we expecting serious weather?” he asked, setting the case of bottles on her counter.

“Thunderstorms. From now until three or four this morning.”

“That’s going to be quite a blow. Anything we need to do?”

“I’d like to make sure the outdoor furniture is secure, but I think we’re in good shape. I just hope we keep our power.”

“It will be fine. I’m sure you have candles or lamps we can use.”

“I do. Bought extra batteries too, and I have some ice for a cooler.”

“Then I suppose we will weather the storm with candlelight and wine. Could be worse.”

“Really?” Josie cut him off. “You’re imagining candlelight and wine scenarios. That sounds suspiciously romantic.”

“I suppose it could be. But—”

“We’re not going to pretend we’re a couple. Let’s just peacefully coexist, okay?”

“I didn’t mean to suggest anything…”

She stopped him with a shake of her head. “Look, things are better between us, I agree. I mean, you’re still bossy, but we’ve had some nice moments. However, it doesn’t mean I’m available. I’m not going to be a convenience again.” Tossing a roll of paper towels in the cabinet, she faced him.

“For Christ’s sake.
A convenience
?” He moved toward her, and instinctively, Josie stepped back. “What kind of rubbish is that?”

“It’s not
rubbish.”

“I never treated you like a convenience. And what is this ‘bossy’ crap. I’m not bossy.”

Josie muttered. “You are so bossy.”

She turned away and scuffed her toe on the floor, hoping he would take her back as a hint. But he didn’t. He came toward her. Every step brought his scent, and his incredible warmth, closer. Then he touched her, dropped his hand on her shoulder and leaned in, his breath so close to her ear.

“I don’t know what brought on this psychotic episode—”

“Hey!” she snapped at him over her shoulder. “Watch the ‘psychotic’ comment.”

“I’m sure we’re going to have ups and downs because of all that’s happened between us, but you’re wrong about one thing most especially. You were never a convenience, Josie. Never. I’ve regretted leaving every day. I hate that you had to go through the embarrassment, or that you thought I’d dishonored you that way.”

Turning back to him was another mistake. Now she was face-to-face with a tall, shirtless, unbelievably handsome prince whom she’d never been able to resist. When his hands trailed from her shoulders to her neck, where he held on ever so gently, Josie felt her knees give a little bit.

He had power, this one. Unbelievable power over her, and she had to grab it back.

“Josie, please believe me. I never set out to hurt you. I loved you.”

Forcing herself not to melt into him, Josie gently pulled his hands away and stepped out of range. It was time to retreat. “Right. Okay. You know what? I’m going to go read. There’s plenty of food, so help yourself.”

“Josephine. Stay where you are. We have to talk about this.” His voice was low, firm. Very much the voice of a man who was used to getting what he wanted.
Bossy
.

Most likely, he was right. They probably did need to talk about what happened, really hash it out. They’d been glossing over it with good manners, and it was possible they needed to have a really wicked fight. But she didn’t have it in her, because with fighting came making up.

“I don’t agree, Anton. I’m sorry, but I don’t.” His Royal Highness was going to have to learn to live with disappointment.

 

Tony sat on his bed, thinking about Josie in the next room, wondering what was going through her head and imagining where they would be if he hadn’t left her. He’d always had visions of her with a pack of small blonde children, all with her big brown eyes.

His father and the Prime Minister wanted him to marry, and if Anton was honest with himself, he’d been thinking about it quite a bit. He was ready to settle down, but not with just anyone. He had made the biggest mistake of his life when he walked away from Josie. While he was busy dodging one royal lady after another, he could have just married the woman he cared about—the one he loved—tradition be damned. Instead, he hurt the person who least deserved it.

The wind was rattling the windows and the surf was rough. Waves crashed one after another on the beach, but Tony couldn’t look away. There was strength in the tide, movement. Maybe it was trying to send him a message. Change could be a powerful thing.

The storm was coming from the west, with billowing dark clouds on the horizon, darkening the sky. Nick had told him how the weather could change here in a moment, and it looked like they were in for a good storm. Unexpectedly, he saw a black dog run down the beach. He wondered what the animal was doing out in the weather, and thought he might see a frantic owner giving chase, but that didn’t happen. Instead, the little black dog jumped and barked at the surf, when without warning, a wave crashed over the puppy, taking it out into the gulf.

He opened his door and stepped onto the deck in spite of the weather. He couldn’t let the dog drown, but before he could take a step, he saw Josie bolting toward the water at a dead run. Obviously she’d seen the dog get washed out into the gulf. She’d grabbed a red buoy of some sort, the kind he’d seen lifeguards use. She put the nylon strap over her head and let it settle across her body, all while moving at breakneck speed to the edge of the water.

Shit. She was planning on going in.

“Do you see him?” he asked when he got to where she was standing. Tony hoped the dog would be washed in as easily as he was pulled out.

“No, dammit.” She scanned the water. “Wait…there! There he is. Okay, I’m going out to get him.”

“Are you daft? I’ll go.”

“Tony, I can get him. Just take this rope.”

“I can’t let you do this. You could drown.”

“I’m less likely to drown than you are. I’m a certified ocean lifeguard, and you, Your Highness, are
not
.” She thrust a coil of rope at him. “Now take this and let me go get the dog.”

The dog was fighting valiantly, and fortunately wasn’t too far from the beach, but that didn’t mean this was going to be easy. Josie dove into the surf without any hesitation, breaking the surface with strong movement. He could see her evaluating the currents and once she had her bearing, she powered through the waves to the pup, who was trying to make his way to Josie. She was pulled off course a time or two, setting Tony to wonder if he should go in after her.

It was true, he wasn’t a lifeguard, but he’d been through more than one open water rescue training course; he could have held his own. But Josie knew what she could do, and she needed him to trust her. As much as he was tempted, he stayed at the water’s edge, holding his breath as she pushed forward.

Once she reached the dog, Josie settled the wiggling mass over the top of the buoy, then positioned herself behind the dog before kicking off. He did his part, using the rope to guide them as she fought the current. They rose up on the swells, and all the while he could see Josie speaking to the little dog. His ears were pinned back, eyes wide and trained forward.

It took a bit before they finally got close enough to shore for Josie to stand up and lift the dog into her arms.

The puppy showed its gratitude by wriggling wildly and licking Josie’s face. Josie, who was tired, wet, and windblown, laughed as she walked toward him.

“I think I’m going to name this dog Lucky,” she grinned. “God, he’s cute.”

Scratching the dog behind the ears, he had to agree.

“Can you take him while I put this can away?” She held the dog out to him.

“Sure.” Tony took the hand-off, and Josie walked toward a box near the side of the house to store the buoy. Still grateful for his rescue, the dog transferred his affection to Tony. “He doesn’t have a collar. Is there any way to find his owner?”

“Not today. We’re going to have to get him clean, warm, and dry, and see if we can find out who he belongs to tomorrow. I hope he wasn’t just dumped on the beach.” She walked over to Tony and stroked the dog’s head. “He’s still scared. Let’s get him in the lanai and rinse the salt off of him.”

Tony watched as the bold savior of this poor little dog turned into a cooing puddle of goo. She was as sweet as she was strong, and he hadn’t been affected by someone’s bravery so acutely since he came home from the war.

“Are you all right?” he asked. She’d struggled coming in, and he was thankful he’d been there, because he had no doubt Josie would have gone in after the dog, no matter what.

“Right now, yes. I’ll be tired later.” She let out a long, shaky breath. “It was rough.”

Rough was an understatement.

All his life, Tony heard about how one woman or another wasn’t worthy of him. The whole royal mystique was just a bunch of smoke and mirrors. They were rich. That was the bottom line, and his parents—particularly his father—only wanted him to associate with other “rich” kids. His own kind. It was all shit.

Josie should be held up as an example to all royals. She would receive no medals or accolades for what she’d done today, but she’d risked her own safety for another, just the same. That the creature was of the four-legged variety didn’t matter. Sitting on the concrete floor of the lanai, showering attention on a frightened little dog, Josie was nobler than he would ever be.

 

Lucky was curled up at the end of Josie’s bed, sleeping soundly, an occasional snort punctuating the sound of the wind pounding against the house. She should be tired, but she was so jacked up on adrenaline, she was having a hard time getting her brain to settle down.

The whole episode with the dog could have been a disaster. As soon as she’d hit the water she felt the rip current, forcing her to put everything she had into the rescue. Once she had the dog, she was fairly sure she could get back to shore by swimming across the dangerous current, but there were more than one, and with the rough surf, she was exhausting herself. If it hadn’t been for the buoy she’d grabbed, and Tony hanging onto the rope, she wouldn’t have made it. Thinking about it now, she was the one who was lucky.

Seeing Tony on the shore, guiding them in—his eyes fixed, his expression steady—gave her the focus she needed to get safely to the beach. At first, her instinct was to go to him, let him wrap her safely in his arms, but she resisted. She’d been forcing herself away from him since he walked back into her life, and nothing had changed.

They’d spent a quiet dinner together, sharing small talk and speculating about how they might find the dog’s owner. That alone made her sad, because in just a few hours, the dog, who was obviously very young, had captured her heart.

Pretty much the same way Tony had captured her heart all those years ago.

That should teach her not to get her hopes up about the dog.

Empty mug in hand, Josie made her way to the kitchen to make more tea, the now-awake puppy trailing behind her. She didn’t expect to see Tony sitting in the living room, reading a book. In a new twist, he was wearing glasses, and Josie’s insides went on a long, slow meltdown as she took him in.

BOOK: Barefoot Bay: Castle in the Sand (Kindle Worlds Novella)
12.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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