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Authors: Tess Oliver



(Custom Culture, #3)

Tess Oliver


Copyright© 2014 by Tess Oliver

Cover Design by:
Avanti Graphics

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

All Rights are Reserved.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Chapter 1


Growing up my dad had a saying that sometimes bad luck could trickle into your life like an annoying leaky faucet and sometimes it could pour in like a river of shit. Dad dealt with life’s blows by taking it out on me, with his fist and his belt. And, because of him, my life had basically been one long flood of shit. But, deep down, I’d always hoped that the steady stream of crap that always turned my life upside down would eventually dry up. It had been that way for awhile when I’d finally allowed myself to love Cassie, but then, as usual, I’d managed to bust a hole in the dam. And, once again, the shit flowed, and, once again, I waited for something to stop it.

A loud knock rattled the door. I squinted into the semi-darkness. The unfamiliar furniture and pictures came slowly into focus. Sunlight slipped between the slats of the bamboo shades covering the windows. The girl next to me stirred but then dozed back off. It was the same confusing scenario I’d woken up to far too often in the past few months, an unfamiliar room, a strange bed and a girl whose name I couldn’t quite remember.

“Sandy!” a deep voice bellowed from the front stoop. The yell was followed by a pounding knock that nearly pushed the front door off its hinges. It was as loud as thunder, but the girl next to me had hardly flinched.

“Are you Sandy?” I asked.

She lifted her head as if it weighed a hundred pounds and peered up at me through a tangle of long brown hair. “I’m Hailey.”

“Oh, right. Sorry.”

She dropped her head back on the pillow. “That’s all right. I don’t know your name either except that it rhymes with gray or something.”


“Right,” she mumbled against the pillow.

“Sandy!” This time the wall moved with the door as the angry man outside rammed his fist against it.

“He sounds really big.”

With a sigh, she rolled onto her back and pulled the sheet up over her naked body. “That’s Cliff. His nickname is Bigfoot.”

I slid out of bed and searched in the dim light for my jeans. “Who’s Sandy?” I asked as I buttoned up my pants and grabbed my shoes and shirt.

Her thin arm came up and she pointed toward the bedroom. “I think she’s in there with your friend.”

The night was coming back to me in a blur. Shoes and shirt in hand, I pushed open the bedroom door. A girl’s head poked out from the bottom of the sheet. Barrett was on his stomach stretched out across the mattress with his big feet hanging off the side. Another girl lay across his bare back.

“Rett, we’ve got to get out of here. Some guy is out there looking for Sandy, and I don’t think he came with donuts and coffee.” Barrett winced as if he was in pain as he opened his bloodshot eyes. The girl who’d been stretched out across his back moaned softly and rolled off.

Barrett glanced back at her. “I thought your name was Teresa.”

“It is.”

I pointed to the head of auburn hair sticking out from the end of the bed. “I think this is Sandy.”

The giant fist pounded the door again and Barrett sat up.

“Shit, Cliff, you’re such a jerk,” a small voice came from the other side of the bed. A head with red hair popped up from the sheets.

Even Barrett seemed surprised to see her.

I shook my head at him. “Shit, Rett, you’re not just the
you’re a fucking legend.”

Barrett glanced around at the girl strewn mattress. “There were three of you? I remember you,” he pointed to the girl next to him and smiled. He lifted his face and looked down toward the end of the bed. “And I remember you, but . . .” then his smile widened. “Oh yeah, I just remembered.”

The pounding on the door increased in intensity. “Dude, relive the memories later. The guy outside goes by the nickname Bigfoot.” I went to the window and slid it open. “Pull on your pants. After last night, I’m not in the mood to pound in some guy’s face.”

Barrett lowered his feet to the floor and grabbed his pants. The girl at the end of the bed jumped up behind him and threw her arms around his neck. “Don’t leave, Sweetie.”

“I’ve overstayed my welcome.” Barrett stood and pulled on his pants and then leaned down to kiss her.

I shoved the screen out of the window and climbed through. Barrett followed. We raced around the back and ran along the beach toward our house. It was early enough that the sand was still cold and seagulls were the only signs of life.

Scotlyn and Taylor were cradling coffee cups in their hands as they sat at the wobbly picnic table in the postage stamp sized yard. Scotlyn’s blue eyes sparkled with humor as we stepped over the stones leading to the yard. Taylor looked back over her shoulder to see what had caught Scotlyn’s attention.

She laughed. “Ah yes, it’s the all-too-familiar shoes and shirt in hand walk of shame.”

“I don’t know, Taylor, there doesn’t seem to be any shame in their expressions. Did you run before the girls woke up or were you being chased by an angry boyfriend?”

I walked over and reached for a donut. “Something like that. Is Nix still sleeping?”

Taylor grabbed the chocolate donut out from under my fingers and winked at me. “Nix and Clutch are out in the water. You two hussies are missing some good waves this morning. You should suit up.”

Barrett waved off the suggestion. “I’m going back to bed. Didn’t get enough sleep last night.”

“I’ll bet.” I sat on the bench and pointed at the glazed donut for permission. Taylor nodded and I grabbed it off the plate. Scotlyn watched me with an unusual amount of interest.

It didn’t stop me from downing the donut in two bites. “Worked up an appetite last night.” I had to work to keep donut bits in my mouth.

A cool breeze floated up from the shore, and Scotlyn pulled the hood of her sweatshirt up over her head. “Please, spare us the details.” She stared down at her coffee, but it was obvious she had something to say. She’d been without her voice for many years following the death of her entire family in a car accident, and sometimes it seemed that words stuck in her throat.

“What’s up, Scottie? You’re twisting those perfect lips in a tangle to keep from saying something.”

“I’m not twisting anything, Dray.” She ran her finger around the brim of her cup. “You know she’s been back in town for a month. I just think you should talk—”

I managed to snag another donut as I stood from the bench. “See, I knew you had something floating around in that pretty head of yours. She left me, Scottie. End of story.”

“Only because you were being an asshole.” Taylor always added fun to any conversation with her bluntness.

The sun’s harsh glare reflected off the water where Clutch and Nix sat perched on their boards. I looked back down at Taylor. “Are you saying that Clutch has never been an asshole to you?”

“Of course he has.”

“But you never left him.”

Scotlyn looked up at me. “She didn’t leave you. She went off to follow her dream. Her pictures have been in a lot of newspapers and magazines.”

“Right. She went off to follow her dream, and obviously I wasn’t part of that dream.”

I put up a hand to stop Taylor from commenting.

She threw the rest of her donut at me. “I wasn’t going to say anything except that you were the one who broke it off when she left.”

I sighed loudly. “Thought you weren’t going to say anything?”

Taylor reached up and pulled her long copper hair into a loose knot. The spray of freckles across her nose had vanished beneath a layer of suntan. “I wasn’t but you made me do it by putting your big, ugly hand in my face.”

“How is it possible for someone as cute as you to be so damn irritating?” I walked to the house. “I guess I’ll head out to the waves. Maybe Nix and Clutch won’t be so hard on me.”

“Ah, come on, Dray, you know it’s only because we love you,” Scotlyn said as I slid open the door and stepped inside.

Barrett hadn’t made it to the bedroom and had opted, instead, for the first soft spot he found— the couch.

Scotlyn’s laptop sat on the kitchen counter next to the coffee pot. I poured a cup and stared at the screen saver. It was a picture of Nix and Scottie standing on the bow of the Zany Lucy, the houseboat Nix had inherited from his grandfather. Upkeep on the boat had become too much for Nix, and he’d put the boat up for sale. The Zany Lucy had been my first home away from my completely dysfunctional parents. Once I’d moved out, my mom had finally gotten the courage to leave my dad, and he now lived the lonely, pathetic existence he had earned by being a rotten husband and abusive father. After Cassie left, I was homeless again, and Nix had let me rent the Lucy from him while he waited for a buyer. Nix and Clutch had always been more of a family to me than my parents and without them I would have been dead or in jail by now.

I pulled on my trunks and grabbed my board from the back porch. Clutch took off on a wave just as my feet hit the sand. The three of us had spent a lot of summers on the beach with our second-hand surfboards. Clutch would drive all of us in his beat up Ford pick-up. We’d scrape together money for parking and ice cream bars, and we’d stay out on the water until our shoulders and noses were blistered from the sun. Sometimes Barrett would tag along. For me it was a time far away from the darkness of home life. I’d never learned to surf well like Nix or Clutch, but I’d managed to keep from drowning, which I’d always considered a success.

Scotlyn and Taylor had tromped down to the water’s edge. They were huddled together beneath a beach towel as they watched Nix and Clutch. My two best friends had found their soul mates, and for a brief period of time, I was sure I’d found mine too.

The salty foam lining the shore dissolved as a small wave slapped the wet sand. It was still early enough for the water to feel icy on my bare feet, but in just a few hours, the late August sun would be bearing down on the entire coast. Clutch ducked out of his wave and lay down on his board to paddle out with me.

“Did Barrett get home too?” Clutch tried to sound casual as if he really didn’t care whether his brother made it home or not, but I knew better.

“Your little brother is fast asleep on the couch. He had a very active night.”

We reached Nix, who looked bored with the ocean’s offerings. Clutch flipped back his long wet hair and straddled his board. “An active night? Who was she?”

I laughed. “You mean who
were they

“He was with two girls?”

“Give or take.”

Clutch shook his head. “That boy is out of control.”

“I take it we’re talking about Barrett,” Nix said.

“He’s not out of control.” I leaned back on my elbows. My legs dangled in the cold salt water as the sun beat down on my chest. Now that I was out on the water, surfing seemed like it would take a lot more energy than I had at the moment. “He just likes to have a good time.”

Nix laughed. “Rett takes ‘having a good time’ to a whole new level.”

“Just because you two have already settled into the ball and chain life doesn’t mean Rett and I have to.” I glanced toward the shore where the girls sat arm in arm on the sand. Even battered by the coastal breeze, and huddled in sweatshirts and a beach towel, they looked as if they were ready for a modeling shoot. Scotlyn had a face that could stop a man’s heart, and Taylor could walk into a crowded room and turn every guy’s head. “Of course, you both have amazing ball and chains.” Scotlyn had lost her only sister in the car accident that had nearly taken her own life as well, and Taylor only had a brother. And while Taylor was several years younger than Scotlyn, the two had bonded instantly. Cassie had been close with them too, but our break up and her taking off to travel the world had put somewhat of an end to her connection with Scotlyn and Taylor.

A small swell rolled under our boards and we coasted forward. “You had one too and you let her go,” Nix said.

I sat up. “I fucking wish people would stop telling me that. Cassie walked out on me. Now drop the damn subject. It’s our last few days of vacation and then I’m back at the docks working for a bona fide asshole, who is just waiting for me to make a mistake so he can get rid of me.” Work had been slow at the port, and, as a
, it would have been impossible for me to get hours. Even the card-carrying
, with much higher rank than me, would have to get to the docks hours before work to be hired for the day. Nix and Clutch had decided to rent a beach house for a week, and they’d talked me into joining them.

“Why does the guy hate you so much?” Nix asked.

“No idea.” Harcourt, my dock boss, had been harassing me since the day I started. “I guess I just don’t spend any time kissing his ass like some of the other guys.” And it might have been because his superior knew my dad, a connection that’d given me a boost in. I figured my dad had never given me anything that didn’t cause me pain, so I wasn’t going to turn down his one decent offer to help me get a job. It was hard to get hours though. And you needed hours to get your card. It took years of hard work and proving you had balls of steel to make it into the union as a longshoreman. The eventual financial reward was worth the effort, but my boss seemed determined to grind me down until I gave it up.

Clutch motioned toward the shore. “Hey, who is that heading toward the house?”

Nix and I turned our attention to the beach house. A massive, bald guy with clenched fists and a beet red face lumbered toward our rental.

“Shit, I think that’s Bigfoot.”

Clutch looked over at me. “Doesn’t Bigfoot have more hair than that?”

“This must be his bald brother. And speaking of brothers—,” I leaned down over my board, “—I think yours is about to get his ass pounded.”

“Fucking hell, Rett. Maybe an ass pounding is just what he needs.” Even as he said the words, Clutch dropped down over his board and paddled toward shore. Nix and I followed.

“Were the waves too small?” Scotlyn asked as we dragged our boards out of the water.

“The waves were flat, and Barrett is about to get flattened too.” Clutch impaled the end of his board into the sand and headed toward the house. Nix and I dropped our boards on the shore and ran to keep up with Clutch’s long strides.

Bigfoot had reached the house and was seemingly unaware of the crew coming up behind him. The guy was big but he was still dwarfed by Clutch. His fist pounded the sliding glass door, and it vibrated loudly.

“Hey, idiot, you’re going to break that door,” Clutch called to him as we reached the yard.

The guy spun around. His eyes widened and his mouth dropped open, a signature reaction of someone seeing Clutch for the first time. Clutch topped six-foot-six and his shoulders were as wide as a doorway. He made even
look pretty damn average.

The guy stumbled back a few steps but then the rage returned to his face. “Which one of you is Barrett?” His eye twitched slightly with the question, and it seemed that he was hoping it wasn’t Clutch.

Clutch wasn’t much into fighting, mostly because he rarely met anyone his size match, and Nix was tough but he’d always been more of a lover than a fighter. I, on the other hand, was a trained fighter, and I rarely turned down an opportunity to throw my fist. And since I’d been with Barrett the night before, this guy was mine.

I stepped forward. “I’m Barrett.”

The glass door slid open. “No, he’s not.” Barrett raked his hair back with his fingers and glanced with boredom at the guy. “I’m Barrett.” He yawned and scratched his stomach. Taylor and Scotlyn reached the yard.

Clutch turned around. “Go back down and watch the boards.”

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