Authors: Lauren Christopher
The Red Bikini
“A heartfelt, well-written story with characters I rooted for.
The Red Bikini
is a winner!”
New York Times
“I love this book! . . . A fantastic debut. Charming and funny and a totally great read . . . And I have a new favorite hero. Fin is amazing!”
New York Times
“The easy charm of fictional Sandy Cove, California, sets the scene for a sweet romance . . . Christopher’s writing is crisp and her characters are strong, and readers will look forward to the next installments in the trilogy.”
“A great debut and a fantastic start to a series.”
RT Book Review
(4½ stars, Top Pick)
Berkley Sensation titles by Lauren Christopher
THE RED BIKINI
TEN GOOD REASONS
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China
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TEN GOOD REASONS
A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2015 by Laurie Sanchez.
The Red Bikini
by Lauren Christopher copyright © 2014 by Laurie Sanchez.
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Berkley Sensation Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.
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eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-18707-8
Berkley Sensation mass-market edition / April 2015
Cover photos: Marina © Arief Rosa / Getty Images;
Couple © Reggie Casagrande / Getty Images.
Cover design by Sarah Oberrender.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For my loving and supportive children—
Ricky, Rene, and Nate:
Thank you for all the cheerleading and understanding.
I couldn’t have written three better kids.
There are always a lot of wonderful people to thank for their help in writing these books.
For this one, very special thanks go to Gisele Anderson and her husband, Dave, of Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale-Watching Safari in Dana Point, who gave me answers, tips, and advice regarding whales and dolphins (not to mention inspiration for Drew’s awesome boat). Captain Dave (and “Mrs. Captain Dave”) boast an incredible knowledge of whales and dolphins, and I’m so appreciative of their time and enthusiasm in answering my e-mails and phone calls.
Also thanks to Dana Wharf Whale Watching in Dana Point whose boat, the
, first inspired me to write about whale watching. When I went out with my kids one spring many years ago and saw three grays and a dolphin stampede myself—all that beauty in the ocean—I just knew I had to write about it someday.
All the whale-watching captains of Dana Point are true stewards of the ocean, and I have the utmost respect for all the work they do for marine life. Any errors I made in trying to bring this work and beauty to life are my own.
Thank you to my critique partner, Tricia Lynne, who critiqued this book as I was writing it and always offered the most amazing help. You are a true friend, confidante, and a talented writer, and I’m lucky to have you in my life.
Thank you, too, to so many people who read this book at various stages and gave me great advice and feedback: beta readers Debi Skubic, Michelle Proud, Crystal Posey, Kristi Davis, and Mary Ann Perdue, who helped shape this story; writer friend Tamra Baumann, who keeps me motivated and on schedule in our almost-daily e-mails; Mark and Lauran Lansdon, who helped me with some of the sailing lingo; and my mom, Arlene Hayden, who helped copyedit and proofread (and cheer me on).
Thanks, as always, to my awesome agent, Jill Marsal: Your encouragement, dedication, and patience are lifelines to me.
And thanks to my editor, Wendy McCurdy, and to all the staff at Berkley, including Katherine Pelz and Jessica Brock, who do such great work. (And special cheers to the copyediting staff and cover designers!)
Behind-the-scenes thanks go to friends and talented professionals Shawn Oudt for my author photos and Carli Krueger, who does all my newsletter, website, stationery, and logo design.
And last, but certainly not least, I want to thank my incredibly patient husband, Chris, and my three kids who have been so supportive. Kids, this one’s dedicated to you!
ia’s rolling briefcase bumped over the wooden dock slats as she rushed down the ramp in her high heels toward Drew’s boat. The rhythmic thumping of the broken wheel on the left echoed the relentless thump in her chest, especially when she saw the empty wheelchair parked at the end of the dock, a seagull perched haughtily on the handle in the late-winter sun.
“Drew?” She pulled her case to attention and peered up and down Drew’s enormous white catamaran deck. Long shadows darkened the back end.
When she was met with only the quiet laps of the harbor water splashing against the hull, she mentally measured the leap from the dock to the three small steps at the back of the boat, then eyed the deep Pacific below. She took a tentative step with her toe, but the catamaran pitched a little too wide for her pencil skirt.
“Lia!” Douglas’s gruff voice, rasped from at least five decades of smoking, preceded him as he hoisted his bearlike body through the narrow cabin door.
“Douglas! Glad to see you. How is he?”
Douglas wiped some kind of potato chip grease from his
fingers onto the belly portion of his T-shirt, took the steps down to the catamaran’s low stern, and hauled Lia’s briefcase into the boat. He reached out his weathered hand to help her make the leap, but his eyes slid to her shoes.
“Where are your boat shoes, sunshine?”
“I came straight from my last client when you called.”
“On a Saturday?”
“No rest for the promotion bound.” She threw him a tired smile for proof. Her boss, Elle—real name Elvira—whom Lia not-so-affectionately thought of as the Vampiress and who regularly used phrases like “I’ll hold your feet to the fire,” had been running her ragged.
“Here.” Lia undid the straps of her shoes and handed them one at a time to Douglas, who stared at them curiously before chucking them onto the bench seat that ran along the edge of the boat.
He jutted his chin toward the main hull. “Enter at your own risk.”
Drew’s galley was clean and sparse, mostly bright white with splashes of nautical blue and meticulously shined stainless steel. Lia was always surprised at how spacious it seemed, even when the catamaran was filled with the forty-five guests he usually had on a whale-watching trip. But today it was eerily empty, with just Drew sitting at the small galley table, twisted so he could unload a tiny cupboard that was part of the curved bench seat. He slammed paperwork and small canisters onto the tabletop, then hauled out three or four folded plastic table-cloth-looking items that looked like some type of covers. Beneath the table, two bright white, slightly bent casts covered both legs, his toes poking helplessly toward the narrow walkway.
“Drew, I’m so—”
“Save it, Lia.” Without a glance back at her, he continued stacking things onto the table. “I know you’re sorry. Everyone’s sorry. I’m sorry. But I just don’t want to talk about it right now.”
She pressed her lips together and tore her eyes away from the casts, then sidled in toward the table, lugging her briefcase behind her. The case was filled with two hundred new color brochures, plus two hundred colored tickets and passes she’d
had made up for his new whale-watching business. She really wasn’t supposed to be doing free marketing work on the side for her friends—the Vampiress would screech into her twenty-third-floor ceiling tiles if she found out—but Lia’s friends had terrific businesses, and Lia always had marketing ideas for them.
“Drew, I think we need to talk about this and come up with a plan for what you’re going to—”
, Lia.” A small vinyl bag landed on the table next to the canisters. It seemed to be the main thing he was looking for. He turned slightly in the dinette seat. “I guess you didn’t understand the part, ‘don’t want to talk about it right now.’”
She tugged her briefcase closer to the table and edged around his casted feet to take a seat. “Drew, as your friend, I would honor that one hundred percent. And I would come here and make you soup in your lucky bowl from college and pour you a nice, neat scotch and we’d sit here and get plastered. But, buddy”—she cupped his wrist—“I have to come to you today as a marketing manager. Because I just booked the Vampiress’s most important client on
. Because you needed the business. You need to come through for me on this, Drew.
Drew stared at the table. “I don’t see how I can make that happen.”
Images of the Vampiress and her rage floated through Lia’s head. Lia was not much more than a glorified administrative assistant right now, and had been for the last four years, but she was on the cusp of a promotion—a huge promotion to open the new office in Paris—if she could pull this off. She could feel it. It had been a dangling carrot for the last three years, but now—finally—it looked like it could happen. And just in time, too. Turning twenty-nine and still hoping she got the coffee right for her boss was not exactly what she’d had in mind for herself when she’d stepped into the hallowed glass walls of the most famous ad agency in Southern California.
“Drew,” she started again. She kept her voice calm. “I just spent two whole vacation days helping you sell a hundred freaking tickets for excursions over the next six weeks, and you launch Monday. I know you’re feeling frustrated. And I know you’re feeling desperate. But you need a plan. And I need that
promotion. So we need to figure out how to run this boat for a couple weeks, and how to run that charter next week. Let me be your free PR person and help you come up with something. And then let me be the friend who’s going to help you through all this.” She stole another glance at the casts.
“I need the friend who will sit quietly and let me brood.”
“Then you should have called Xavier.”
Drew smiled and stared at the table. They both stilled, listening to the gentle marina waters lapping the sides of the boat and Douglas’s distant whistling of “Daydream.”
“I wanted you to come,” he said quietly. “I knew you’d know what to do. I just don’t want to keep rehashing the accident.”
She gave his forearm a gentle squeeze. She knew her friendship with Drew was strong. And knew he’d come through for her. Their friendship had undergone a subtle shift in the last six months, when she’d become his public relations manager. He was the fourth friend from Sandy Cove she’d started helping with marketing. It probably wasn’t smart to give up her measily leftover time off to help friends for free on the weekends, but she enjoyed it. She helped Drew and their friend Vivi, who ran the cute little vintage clothing shop on Main Street. She helped her next-door neighbor Rabbit who ran a surf camp for kids, plus their landlord Mrs. Rose when she needed to advertise for new residents. And Lia just started helping Mr. Brimmer who opened a wine-and-cheese shop on Main and didn’t know how to start a website. She was really proud of some of the campaigns she’d launched, and proud of all her friends for starting such brilliant businesses. Until today anyway.
Drew was flexing his fingers, staring at them on the table. “We need to find someone for at least the first week,” he said.
“Yes.” A breath of relief escaped Lia’s throat. “Do you know any other captains we can call?”
“No one I can trust.”
Lia listened to the waves lapping. “What about Douglas?” she asked.
“He doesn’t have a commercial captain’s license.”
She figured as much. Otherwise he’d have been the clear choice. Her mind raced. “Kelly from the marina?”
“He’s fishing boat only.”
“What about want ads?”
Drew scowled further. “This is an expensive boat, Lia.”
She nodded and touched his arm again. Drew was more of a control freak than she was, with touches of OCD to boot. She couldn’t imagine him giving up his boat to anyone. It cost more than his house.
He gingerly began putting the items from the table into a box that was wedged onto the seat next to him.
Her mind wanted to stay focused on business, but it kept drifting to the motorcycle accident she imagined. She’d just flown in from a trade show in New York that the Vampiress had sent her to, gotten dressed this morning, threw everything into her car to start visiting the Los Angeles clients she’d missed this week, then received the call from Douglas. The horror of the accident—Drew sliding across the freeway off his motorcycle—and the fact that they could have lost him, played over and over in her mind all the way to the marina.
“Does it hurt?” she asked.
“I’ll be okay. Painkillers help. No talking about it right now.”
Lia nodded and eyed the neat stacks in the box. “Need help?”
“I got it.”
They sat in silence again, Drew organizing the items in the box in his fastidious way, his movements slowing as he seemed to think.
“I thought about calling my dad down here from San Francisco,” he said, “but his heart’s been bad. My mom thought it best we not tell him yet.”
Lia’s mind raced back through everything she knew about Drew. They’d been friends for six years—part of a small circle of really cool people here in Sandy Cove that had all become like family, really. Until recently, anyway, when she started working eighty-hour weeks. She and Drew had even tried to date once, eons ago—he’d picked her up to take her to a nice restaurant near the Sandy Cove Pier, but when he’d leaned over to try to kiss her, they’d both burst out laughing.
“Oh! What about your old first mate, Colleen?”
Lia slumped back. Colleen would have been perfect.
“There is . . .” He stared at the table, as if trying to decide whether to mention it or not.
“I don’t know. Maybe not. It’s probably too risky . . .”
Drew shook his head.
“Look, if this person can sail, and knows anything about whales, and—whoever this is—let’s consider it. This is both of our careers we’re talking about. . . .”
Lia frowned. “I didn’t know you had a brother.”
“He just . . . showed up.”
Behind her, Douglas took a step down into the cabin. “He just washed up on shore, is what you mean. Need anything more, boss? Want me to get you loaded up?”
“In a minute. Here, take this.” Drew shoved the box across the small galley table.
When Douglas stepped back into the sunshine, Drew glanced up at Lia. “My brother’s a wild card.”
“Where is he? Why haven’t I heard you mention him in all these years?”
“Well, ‘just washed up on shore’ is about right—he sailed in yesterday. He’s a little messed up. Been sailing the world.”
“Well, that . . . that sounds
. Sounds like perfect timing.” Lia’s heart began racing. Maybe this was an easier solution than she thought.
“Did you not hear the ‘messed up’ part?”
“What do you mean, ‘messed up’? If he can sail the world, he can certainly sail in and out of the harbor. Does he know anything about marine life?”
“Oh, yeah. Former U.S. Coast Guard. Naturalist. Environmentalist degree.”
“What are you waiting for?” Lia scooted her hips around the bench to reach into the briefcase for her cell. “He sounds perfect. Let’s call him.”
“Lia.” Drew grabbed her wrist. He looked up at her through the bangs that fell across his forehead.
“How messed up? You mean on drugs?”
“No, not drugs.”
“You mean, like, crazy?”
Drew shrugged. “He went through a lot of tragedy over the years. He’s just kind of . . . on his own. Just stays on that boat
and anchors wherever the winds take him. He rarely even talks. He won’t agree to a tourist boat, no way.”
“Can’t you ask?”
“He won’t agree.”
“Drew!” Lia brought her head down to try to get him to look at her again. “You
him. You don’t have many options to keep your business alive in this most-important week, and I
need that charter. He’s family. He’ll do it for you. Just ask.”
Drew looked away without answering. He scanned the cabin, as if searching for anything else he needed. Beads of perspiration lined his forehead.
“Drew!” Lia couldn’t believe he wouldn’t consider this. It was an easy solution to a problem they needed to solve by Monday. Family would do anything for you, right? Granted, she sometimes missed phone calls or important gatherings with her own mom and sisters, but that was only because she worked a lot. If Giselle or Noelle or her mom really needed her, she’d be there. “I think we need to come up with a plan,” she said softly.
“Let’s talk about it tomorrow. I need another painkiller. Douglas!” he hollered over his shoulder. He turned back toward Lia. “So how’s your boyfriend, anyway?”
“He’s fine. But Drew, let’s discuss this. I booked some impor—”
“Did he leave for Bora Bora?”
“Yes, but let’s stay on task, here. I think—”
“I thought you guys were getting serious. I can’t believe you let him go to Bora Bora without you.”
“It’s not serious, and I don’t think ‘let’ should be a phrase in any healthy relationship . . .”
Drew threw a grin at that—it was an argument they’d had time and time again—but then he turned and looked frantically for Douglas.
“. . . but I think we need to come up with a plan, Drew, for who’s going to sail your boat Monday. It’s booked solid for the first three weeks, and my client wants to show up to inspect it before the big charter next week, and—”
“Doug!” His yell had a twinge of desperation.
“Let’s just ask your brother. It would be a simple solution, and you trust him, and—”
“Asking my brother would
be a simple solution. In fact, the more I think about it, the more disastrous it seems. So let’s get that idea off the table. Let me think of another plan overnight, and we’ll talk tomorrow.”
“But we’re running out of time.”
“Give me until tomorrow. Maybe Doug and I can handle it—he can lift me up to the captain’s bridge every day.” At the sight of Douglas lunging down into the cabin, Drew gave a weak smile and began maneuvering out to the side of the dinette, his casts clunking along the deck floor.