Authors: Roxanne St. Claire
The Barefoot Bay Brides #3
Roxanne St. Claire
Welcome back to Barefoot Bay and another romantic interlude with the Barefoot Bay Brides! As her two best friends settle into their happily ever afters, destination wedding designer Arielle Chandler is beginning to wonder if the promise of “The One”—one true love, meant only for her—is merely folklore passed down from her Native American grandmother. But when a mysterious man nearly mows her down on a hill overlooking Barefoot Bay, the legend of destined love suddenly feels very real. That is, until Ari learns of Luke McBain’s plans to demolish a piece of land she believes is sacred.
While their immediate and potent attraction grows complicated, Luke and Ari discover the hills of Barefoot Bay could be hiding something far different—and even more valuable—than ancient art or graves. They are determined to discover the truth, but that will come at a cost. Will they risk their chance at once-in-a-lifetime love to uncover secrets that could change the landscape of Barefoot Bay forever?
As always, a crew of incredibly dedicated and talented professionals stand behind me as I write these love stories. I simply couldn’t bring these characters to life and get them in readers’ hands without the help of my amazing backup team. A million thanks to my editor, Kristi Yanta, whose talented touch brings the best out of my writing. A million more to copyeditor and proofreader Joyce Lamb, who polishes every page to perfection. More love needs to be showered on the formatting team at EMS Author Services, the artists at Ludwig Designs, my super enthusiastic Street Team (let’s hear it for the Rocki Roadies!) and, of course, my tireless assistant, Maria Connor. And last, but never least, my deepest gratitude to my family for their constant patience, support, and brainstorming over every meal.
Like every book set in Barefoot Bay, this novel stands entirely alone, but why stop at just one? All of the books and series are listed in the back. There are plenty of opportunities to go barefoot and fall in love! Check out my Web site for a complete list, and while you’re there, join my mailing list for monthly updates and release news. In addition, check out the Roxanne St. Claire Street Team Page on Facebook if you’d like to join the fun with other Barefoot Bay fans.
Have fun in the sun!
— Roxanne St. Claire
Dedicated with love and appreciation to Toni Linenberger, one of my most enthusiastic readers and a Street Team member with style! Without readers like Toni, writers would be lost!
Arielle Chandler never prayed, not in the classic head-bowed, hands-folded, beg-for-help kind of way. Despite the fact that her father was a Bible-thumping Oklahoma man of God, Ari’s spirituality came from the other side of her family, the Native American side that her shaman grandmother had nurtured and tended during long summers they spent together, communing with nature. So when Ari needed help, she headed outside, under the sun, next to the trees, close to the earth, where “the universe” could provide assistance.
Or maybe she just needed fresh air, a practical, skeptical little voice whispered in her head. Maybe she just
that nature delivered answers. She’d never been one hundred percent certain that Grandma Good Bear had known what she was talking about all the time, but everything the dear woman said had
So today, when things didn’t feel right at all, Ari had escaped to one of her favorite places in Barefoot Bay—the only hill on a flat, tropical Gulf Coast island. The rise took her closer to the sky, and sometimes, when the universe smiled, she’d see an osprey with golden eyes and gray-tipped wings nesting in the tall palms.
She liked to imagine that regal bird was the spirit of her departed grandmother, soaring overhead to remind Ari to trust the universe and everything would work out as it should.
Even when it felt like nothing was working out as it should.
She checked the sky to gauge the time, certain she had a few hours, maybe more, before she needed to be in the Barefoot Brides dressing room. But this afternoon, the event wasn’t work, as it usually was for Ari and her two bridal consultant partners. Today, one of those partners was the
and not the consultant, and Ari wasn’t just the event designer, but one of the two maids of honor.
And she needed every minute of that time to figure out why she felt so
today. Was it the wedding? The love that seemed to permeate the lives of her closest friends…but not hers?
“I’m happy for them,” she said out loud, as though she needed to be sure the universe understood that she really
happy when best friend number one is about to say “I do” and best friend number two just fell hard for the man of her dreams.
Nearly at the top of the hill, Ari looked out to the horizon, the sun glittering bits of gold on the indigo Gulf of Mexico, a commanding view sitting on pricey—and abandoned—real estate. Still,
must have lived here once or owned the land, because there was a dilapidated old bungalow at the bottom of the hill, missing most of its roof and all of its windows.
The old house looked as hollow and empty as Ari felt.
“I just want to know what it feels like to be complete,” she whispered, thinking of Willow’s ethereal joy and Gussie’s never-ending smiles since the two women had each found their true loves. Until then, Ari hadn’t realized just how much she wanted that kind of joy for herself. “Just how much I want to find…”
She closed her mouth, purposely silent. The universe would laugh at her. Like her friends tried not to do when she told them that Grandma Good Bear convinced her that there really is
one and only one person
meant for everyone on earth. They said they were laughing at her grandmother’s adorable Miwok name, but Ari knew they thought she was nuts for believing her grandmother and promising to wait for him…wait in every imaginable way.
Two years had gone by since Ari had made that vow to her dying grandmother, and sometimes it felt like she’d been celibate for so long that she was practically a virgin again. There had been a time when Ari thought the idea of “The One” was just folklore that Grandma made up to justify how Ari’s half-Native American mother had ended up happily married to a Presbyterian pastor. It did explain Ari’s parents’ bizarre, yet wildly successful, union.
But over time, during those spectacular summers spent alone with her Grandma in Northern California, Ari had realized that the old shaman truly
in the concept of a single real love, meant only for you. And, no surprise, Ari became a believer, too.
Grandma had said that Ari would recognize her “one true love” by the way her heart would feel like it was literally expanding in her chest when she met him, because it was “making room for love that will last a lifetime.” She’d said Ari’s spine would tingle, sending sparks out to her fingertips that wouldn’t stop until she touched him. Grandma had talked of white lights that would go off in Ari’s head and a numbness that would spread over her whole body. She might not be able to breathe.
The whole thing sounded like what happened when a person got shit-faced drunk, which, come to think of it, might be the optimal way to get through tonight’s wedding.
The truth was, Ari had never met anyone who’d made her feel things like what her grandmother described.
How do you explain that, Universe?
The flutter of bird’s wings pulled Ari’s attention. She hoped for the osprey, but instead, menacing black wings beat the air, and an evil red face and predatory eyes gazed down at her.
. Didn’t see a lot of vultures in Barefoot Bay. She ducked instinctively as the bird swooped low then ascended high and mighty, like a poor man’s eagle. But not before it dropped a dollop of poop.
“Eww!” Ari backed away in disgust. Is
what the universe thought of her dreams and longings? Bird doo all over…
that? The bird dropping had landed on something white, shiny, and long that looked like an ivory-colored snake curled under a pygmy palm tree. Ari stepped closer and leaned over to examine a string of tiny misshapen stones curled along a section of dirt.
Leaning over, she squinted at the row of at least a dozen stones, the droplets of bird doo still wet on the ridged surfaces. Reaching into the pocket of her shorts, she fished for a tissue or receipt or, much more likely, a candy wrapper, but came up with nothing that could wipe the stones clean.
So she’d have to man up and touch the stones, because they were absolutely stunning. Kneeling closer, she squinted at the bluish-purple color of the largest pearl. Wiping her hand on her shorts, she extended two fingers gingerly toward the end of the strand.
These were not your basic jewelry-store freshwater pearls. These had an ancient, handmade look, the string between each stone clumsily knotted and frayed with age. A memory slipped through the edges of her mind, barely more than a wisp of smoke, but Ari closed her eyes and drifted back to a Native American festival she’d attended with Grandma Good Bear.
Pearl necklaces had been among the artifacts found there…artifacts discovered in
Indian burial mounds
She gasped, blinking at the punch of realization. What if this hill—on an island that had no other hills—wasn’t a
A rhythmic pounding broke the silence, but not a bird’s wings this time. The sound was steady, strong, a drumbeat of…feet.
Ari whipped around to see a man jogging—no, seriously
—full speed toward her, bare-chested and bronzed.
She blinked as if the sun were playing tricks on her, highlighting the glistening muscles of his torso and abs, the powerful thighs as he took each stride, the tanned, sweaty shoulders held straight and strong as he powered up the hill, directly at her.
He had earbuds in, short, dark hair, and a mouth set in a grim line. He wore sunglasses, so she couldn’t see his eyes, but he made no effort to change his path as he barreled forward.
It happened so fast. With no time to stand, she threw herself back with a shriek to get out of his way, but he stumbled over her foot and barked a black curse. The sunglasses went flying, and he hopped to get his balance.
“Whoa!” He fought to stop his own momentum. “Where the hell did you come from?”
Her? What about him? “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Running up a hill. What are you doing here?”
“How did you not see me?”
“My eyes were closed.” He practically spit the words at her, popping out his earbuds, his chest heaving with shallow breaths.
“I was in the zone,” he added, as if that explained why anyone would run with eyes closed and ears plugged. He reached for her hand to help her up. “You okay?”
“I’m fine.” She started to wave off the help, but he clasped her wrist, wrapping huge, masculine fingers around her, giving her an effortless tug that brought her to her feet. She still had to look up at him and still needed to squint, but not because of the sunlight.
He wasn’t handsome, at least not by male model-type standards. This man was rough and dark, with heavy whiskers over a jaw that looked like it might have met a few fists in its day. His nose was a little off-center and maybe broken once or twice. His chest and shoulders dwarfed her, no tattoos, no chest hair, but tanned, sweat-dampened skin covering rolling, ripped muscles.