Authors: Jessica Gray
Ethan woke up, his thoughts revolving around Hazel. He was surprised at himself; this desire to see a woman again wasn’t his standard operating procedure. It was new for him. New but wonderful.
After most of his brothers and sisters had fallen in love recently, he’d been pondering about his life as a womanizer, and almost unbeknownst to him a secret longing had built up inside his heart to find true love also. And Hazel might just be the one.
He wandered into the kitchen to start the coffee, and that was when he spied the single sheet of paper he hadn’t noticed last night.
He unfolded it and smiled. Her handwriting was beautiful, with flowing fonts, and her sweet scent stuck to the paper.
Thank you for your hospitality and the use of your house while you were gone. I appreciate it more than you will ever know, but I have to leave. I don’t want to be a burden.
Ethan shook his head as he read the note again. “Darling, you will never be a burden.” He smiled at himself.
Now I’m talking out loud to a woman who’s not even here.
His decision to find her had only been reinforced by her note. He decided to stop in at Hairworks first, talk to Vero, and find out if she’d seen Hazel. If that didn’t work, he’d visit each and every hair salon in Sandy Beach.
Even if she hadn’t gotten a job in town, someone would know her phone number or where she was headed. These were the perks of living in a small town where everybody knows everybody. In London, he thought, this wouldn’t be possible.
He arrived at Hairworks and sure enough, his eyes immediately found her working at a station near the back. She had her back turned to him, but he recognized her cute silhouette and her wonderful black hair, which she had tied up into a ponytail. The way she moved her hands busily as she cut a woman’s hair sent rushes of desire through his veins.
And rushes of relief.
Thank God. I’ve found you. Darling.
Hazel conversed with her client, and he reveled in her sing-song voice and wanted to hear her laugh.
Unfortunately he couldn’t admire Hazel any longer, or get her attention, because the receptionist had spotted him. Julia was a beautiful woman and they’d shared a few wild nights the last time he’d been in Sandy Beach. She’d been a hot firecracker in bed. But as he looked at her now, gushing at him, he wondered why he’d found her beautiful before.
She paled in comparison to Hazel, and as she flirted openly with him, he felt a sense of shame rush through him. He sure didn’t want Hazel to see him with another woman plastered to his front.
Thankfully Vero came to his rescue a moment later when she bear-hugged him. He liked Vero a lot, because she always said what she thought and did what she wanted. He admired her for being different. In a small town like Sandy Beach, this wasn’t easy.
“Thanks,” he whispered to her as she pulled away.
“No problem.” She winked at him. She kissed both of his cheeks and then scrutinized him. He felt like she was looking right into his soul with her x-ray vision.
Ethan squirmed uncomfortably beneath her stare, but his discomfort exploded when she said, “What a surprise, Ethan. I’d thank you for coming to visit me, but I don’t think you’re here for me as much as another young lady?”
He followed her look over to Hazel, who had now noticed him and was openly staring across the salon with an expression in her beautiful eyes he couldn’t quite figure out. She still held her scissors in her hand, and he saw the hand tremble before she turned around to continue her work.
The other girls had noticed him as well, and came over, trying to gain his attention. His shame intensified as he became aware he’d probably slept with each one of them at one time in his past. A past that seemed very distant.
Vero saw the situation for what it was and grabbed him by the arm. “You’re in luck, because I’m not busy right now. Come on. I’ll give you a haircut. You need it.”
She wrapped a cape around his shoulders and began to trim up his hair. “So, your mother tells me you’re back for good?”
“Well, I don’t know about for good, but I bought a house.” He tried to keep a straight face, as she continued her inquisition. This was one of the things Vero and his mother had in common.
When she was finished cutting his hair, she made a show of looking for something and then excused herself. “Be right back.”
Ethan nodded and then closed his eyes to block out the blatant stares the other women were giving him.
“You wanted to talk to me?” The familiar sing-song voice asked.
Ethan opened his eyes, meeting Hazel’s baby blues in the mirror.
How does she know?
His confusion soon dissolved when he glimpsed Vero standing in the wings and realized she’d orchestrated this moment.
Taking a deep breath, he spun the chair around and smiled, but inside he felt the burn of longing. “I missed you when I came home last night.”
She blushed – it was very cute – and he wanted to touch her, to kiss her, to feel her again. Hazel squirmed under his stare and asked, “Didn’t you get my note?”
“Of course I got it, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t miss you, and you’re definitely not a burden.” He squared his shoulders and asked, “Go out with me.”
Hazel’s heart was beating a mile a minute.
He asked me out.
But then she glanced around the salon and the sight of her colleagues trying to flirt with Ethan churned her gut. She knew at least two of them had slept with him. They’d discussed his bedroom technique in embarrassing detail the day before, which had Hazel wondering why in the world she would want to date a man every woman in town had already slept with? Please!
She shivered at the thought of how they might talk about them, and even more at the thought that he’d throw her away like he’d done with all the others.
No way. Hazel wouldn’t go down that route.
“No.” She turned away from him, but he pulled her back by grasping her arm.
“Why not?” he asked, his brown eyes trying to capture her own.
She avoided his stare and looked down onto his hand on her arm. His big and strong hand. “Because I don’t want to.”
He finally caught her gaze and grinned at her. “Liar. You know you want to say ‘Yes.’”
“Hadn’t you better go out with one of my colleague? It looks like you can choose.” She freed her arm from his hand, acutely aware of the tingles his touch had sent through her body.
His smile turned sad, but he didn’t try to touch her again. “Because you’re the only one I want, darling.”
“I need to get back to work.” She backed up a step before turning away this time.
“At least give me your phone number,” he called at her retreating back.
“Playing hard to get?” he asked when she turned back around to face him. She was about four feet away from him, but she was still shaken by his nearness. She needed to end this conversation now and for all.
“I’m not playing at all.”
“Can I at least have your number? I’ll call you after work and we can discuss this calmly.”
Hazel shook her head, not wanting to tell him that she didn’t have a phone number to give him. She couldn’t even afford a prepaid phone right now.
“I’m not giving up, Hazel.”
She turned around and distracted herself chatting at her client as she got back to work.
From the corner of her eye she saw Ethan talk to Vero for a moment, before she embraced him and kissed his cheeks. A stab of jealousy roared trough her. Was Vero serious when she’d said she’d share his bed without a second thought? Ethan left the hair salon, and emptiness crept into her soul.
“Hazel, do you know who that was? You are so lucky.”
She looked up from where she was cleaning her brushes to see Julia standing right behind her. “What?”
“Ethan.” Julia waved towards the door. “Every woman in town wants to be with him.”
Hazel shrugged. “I turned him down.”
“What? Are you crazy?”
“No. Just not interested.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing. Ethan is a gift to the female half of the race.” Julia lowered her voice.
Hazel’s stomach clenched into a tight, painful knot. She knew exactly how a night with Ethan felt and she would like nothing more than to repeat that night, but unfortunately she wasn’t in a position to date him at the moment
. I have to get back on track with my mess of a life first.
“I’m just not interested,” she managed to say in a steady voice. Julia gave her an incredulous look and then wandered off.
The rest of the day, her thoughts remained with Ethan, and she dragged herself back to her truck when the day was over, forcing herself with every step. How she hated having to sleep in her car.
She drove back to the grassy spot on the farmer’s property, her heart heavy and the weight of unshed tears burning the back of her eyes.
My life sucks.
Ethan left the salon with slumped shoulders. He needed some cheering up; he pulled his phone from his pocket to call his younger brother Terrence.
Terrence was the lead singer of the rock band Electric Flow. His band had finally gotten its big break. After their being the opening act of a popular rock band, a big record label had recently picked them up. Ter and his band members were in the process of temporarily relocating to New York to record their first traditionally released album.
Up to now they’d put their songs on YouTube and had mainly lived from the fee they charged for live appearances.
“Hey, bro. What’s up?” Terrence answered.
“Wondering what you’re up to tonight.” Ethan tried to remain nonchalant, not wanting his brother to pick up on his bad mood.
“Not much. How about celebrating the old times before I’m too famous to be seen with you?” Ter teased him.
“Ha ha. You’ll never be more than my
brother. But catching up before you leave would be great. The Lighthouse tonight?” Ethan had almost reached his house.
“Sounds good. Meet you there? At 6?”
“Fine. See you then.” Ethan hung up the phone and dug out his keys to open the front door. He still had enough time to go over the financial data Peter Shaw was waiting for. It should be possible to get everything checked and emailed before he met Ter – but it wasn’t.
His mind frustratingly circled around Hazel – and nothing but Hazel. After making the third stupid error in a row, he pushed his laptop with the financial statements away and decided to take a walk along the beach to clear his mind.
Ethan wandered into The Lighthouse at five minutes past 6 later that evening to see and hear Terrence up on the live stage that the bar boasted at the front of the house.
Electric Flow had started their career in Sandy Beach, and they’d performed at The Lighthouse many times during the last years. Ethan glanced around, but none of Ter’s band members were present. Instead he spotted some other musicians, who apparently had offered to play for him. Now that his little brother was on the way to fame and fortune, everyone wanted to rub shoulders with him.
Terrence finished his rock ballad
Get Me Some More
and thanked his audience before he waved Ethan over and jumped down from the stage. Ethan always admired how Ter worked engaging a crowd of people. He was a natural and music was his vocation.
Ethan slapped his brother on the back. “You were terrific up there. Can’t wait to see you in a big concert.”
Ter’s face lit with the praise and his green eyes sparkled. All the Paxton siblings had brown eyes, with the exception of the twins Terrence and Reese.
While they ordered their drinks, a group of women, some barely legal and others way past their prime and in denial, approached them. And Ethan witnessed the show as his brother transformed into the bad boy he pretended to be for the public image – putting on his megawatt charming smile and saying in his most seductive voice, “What can I do for you, babe?” while wrapping an arm around the shoulder of a petite blonde.
Ethan sent him a look only brothers could interpret, and Ter snapped back, “What’s wrong? How about having some fun? I don’t mind sharing.”
In fact, there were more than enough women for both of them, but Ethan wasn’t in the mood for casual sex. He was in the mood for Hazel.
Terrence was watching him shake his head, and suddenly the younger brother’s face fell and he unwrapped his arm from the blonde and spun Ethan around to search his eyes for the truth. “Oh my God. You are in love.”
Ethan held his stare, unable to refute the statement and not sure he even wanted to.
I’m in love? Yeah. I guess I am.
“Is it that obvious?”
Ter grinned – this time an authentic smile that reached his eyes – and answered, “You have the same cheesy, dreamy look Chase always gets when he talks about Pearl. Or Grant mentioning Sam.”
“I didn’t know they had a cheesy, dreamy look,” Ethan protested.
Ter put his palm above Ethan’s heart. “They do. And now you do too. And your heart’s beating a mile a minute. No more proof needed. Looks like I’m the last man standing. Good luck with your girl.”
The blonde tugged at Terrence’s arm and he gave Ethan a we’ll-discuss-this-later look before he took off with her. Ethan waved him off and finished his drink.
He left the bar and returned home only to find out he missed her even more in his house. As soon as he entered the door, the reminder of her presence assaulted him. He could smell her fragrance, hear her chatter and her giggles, and feel her body beneath his.
Ethan sat down on the couch and closed his eyes. He was in love, but the woman who held his affection didn’t want anything to do with him. Now what?
The next morning he woke up, determined to get some work done in his office, but no matter how hard he tried to focus, Hazel’s face kept invading his thoughts.
His heart squeezed at the thought of having lost her, but even worse, he didn’t have a clue as to how to get her back. He’d never had to work to get a woman’s attention.
I need to talk to a woman. Allison.
Allison was his youngest sister, who had the most inviting personality and easily made friends with everyone. And she’d fallen in love a while ago with a man who couldn’t run fast enough from commitment and emotions. But she’d managed to convince him love was worth the risk. She would know how he could win Hazel back.
He placed a call to check if she was home and when she answered, he sighed with relief and asked if he could come over. A few minutes later he walked into her house through the open front door and found his nephew Jackson sleeping in his playpen.
“Hey,” he called to his sister quietly.
Allison came over and hugged him. “You don’t have to whisper, Ethan. Jackson could sleep through a tornado.”
Ethan smiled and then his face fell when she cut right to the chase. “So, what was so urgent?” He wasn’t ready to tell her the real reason for his visit. Not yet.
“Well, not much.” She gave him a questioning look, but his little sister knew him well enough not to insist – for the moment.
She offered some of the latest gossip to start the conversation, “Wait! There is something new. Vero has a new girl working in the salon. I haven’t seen her, but she must be absolutely gorgeous, because every man in Sandy Beach is raving about her. Vero told Mom this morning that she’s had an influx of single men asking specifically for an appointment with her new girl.”
“What?” Ethan asked, trying to hide his jealousy and his interest.
“Well, I guess every man in town is in need of a haircut suddenly. They all want the new girl to cut their hair, and more than one of them has been hitting on her.”
Ethan felt his stomach clench with jealousy; just the thought of another man trying to hit on Hazel made his blood boil. He started to say something, but Jackson chose that moment to wake up and make it known he was ready to get up and play with the adults who were there to entertain him.
Allison changed his diaper and then put him down on the floor. Jackson immediately crawled to the coffee table and pulled himself up. He let go with one hand and turned to make sure his mom and uncle were watching. When he let go and stood there on wobbly legs, Allison cooed to him, “Good boy.”
She turned to Ethan, “He is so close to taking his first step.”
“So soon?” Ethan asked, looking at the small human in amazement.
Allison laughed. “He turned one last week, remember?” Then she scooped her son up and plopped him in his uncle’s arms. “Play with him while I put some food into the oven. You’re staying for lunch, right?”
Ethan nodded and couldn’t hide a grin. “I knew I had my timing right.”
Allison rolled her eyes at him. “No need to pretend with me. I don’t think you’ve ever come over when it wasn’t mealtime.”
“Hey. I resent that.” Then he turned his attention to the cute little boy in his arms. “So, you want to learn to walk? I can help with that, buddy.” He let the little boy down, holding onto his hands, and let Jackson walk around the floor. The little boy was giggling, thrilled with this newfound freedom.
During lunch, Allison picked up her earlier conversation. “From what I hear, Hazel would be just your type.”
Ethan almost spit out his food. “How do you figure that? I thought you hadn’t met her.”
Allison was a master in taking in clues when people were trying to hide their emotions. And she scrutinized her brother, who wouldn’t meet her eyes. “I should have known. You’ve already met her.”
More than met. Completely fallen in love with her.
Ethan looked at his sister and nodded. “Yeah. That’s kind of the reason why I’m here today. She won’t go out with me.”
“What did you do?”
“Nothing. I swear,” Ethan told her.
Allison shook her head at him and giggled. “I never thought I’d see the day my charming brother would be coming to me for advice on a woman. I thought you could get any woman you wanted?”
Ethan blushed and quickly turned his attention to Jackson, while mumbling, “Not every woman. Hazel won’t go out with me.”
Allison stayed silent for a long uncomfortable while, before she finally asked, “I don’t believe it. You’ve already slept with her, haven’t you?”
“Does it matter?” he replied with slumped shoulders. He hadn’t come here to get a lecture on his sex life, which he knew well enough the women in his family had never approved of.
“Ethan. Of course it matters. Don’t be so naïve. Think about where she works. Every girl in Sandy Beach knows you’re only good for one night. If she’s been listening to gossip, it’s no wonder she doesn’t want to have anything to do with you.”
Is that it? She’s been listening to Julia and the other women talk?
“So what do I do?” His answer came in a defeated voice.
“Why do you care if this one woman won’t go out with you? Aren’t there enough other women willing to take her place?” Allison asked, searching his eyes for the answer.
Ethan met her gaze and – paused. He cleared his throat and squared his shoulders.
Oh my god, why is this so hard to say?
“Because – because I love her. That’s why.”
Allison’s smile disappeared from her cute face and made room for a shocked stare. “That is some news. You are serious about settling down with one woman?”
He nodded and Allison giggled. “It serves you right to finally find the one woman you want more than she wants you.”
“She wants me, but she doesn’t want to admit it. Are you going to help me or not?” He scowled at his sister.
Allison held up her hands. “Don’t scowl at me. Just trying to figure out if you’re serious about Hazel. I wouldn’t want her to get hurt – Vero says she’s such a nice girl.”
Ethan shot his sister a pleading look. “I’ve never been more serious in my life. From the first moment I saw Hazel, I knew. And after we made – you know – she spent the night at my place, and waking up besides her was like paradise. I didn’t want to let her go ever again.”
She looked him over and nodded her head. “You really do love her. Amazing. And yes, I will help you. So, you need to show her you’re more than the rumors she’s heard.”
“How do I do that?”
“You need to court her. Flowers. Wining and dining. Show her that she’s not just a one-night stand for you, and that you are capable of having a long-term relationship.”
Flowers? Check. Wining and dining? Check. Showing her I’m ready for a long-term relationship? That one might take a little more work.