JoAnn Mercer is living a surfer’s dream when her career tanks into the abyss, courtesy of a double-crossing lover. Daughter of a deceased fire captain, she returns home and takes up his grail. Sparks ignite with her high school surfing buddy who happens to be her brother’s best friend, but her inability to trust keeps her from revealing her true feelings.
Ray Andrews, a soldier turned hunky firefighter, kept his affections for Jo under wraps as she climbed the national surfing ranks. When she returns home, he is no longer obligated by the promise he made her father. Patient, yet determined, he’ll prove she is the only woman for him, but will her haunting past prove too much for their love to survive?
The dated Shaker shingle beach house brought Jo Mercer to tears. She’d doubted ever seeing it again. After parking, she wiped her eyes and patted the dash of her dad’s classic Bronco her brother, Bobby, had left at the airport for her.
As she stepped out of the truck, a warm Outer Banks sea breeze kissed her cheeks. Dune grasses waved in welcome. Home. The only sweeter thing would have been a husky Dahlin from Bobby’s best friend, Ray. Unfortunately, her stealth homecoming prevented opportunity. Ray was the last one she wanted to know her big California surfing dream had ended like a movie of the week crime drama.
By the dunes sat a black H1 Hummer, chrome surf rack glittering in the afternoon sun. It displayed a firefighter license plate. Probably one of Bobby’s friends. She climbed the steps to the house, unlocked the side door, and stepped inside.
The fragrant cedar aroma drew her into a familiar bare bones décor consisting of a big screen TV, over-sized recliner, and sofa with a couple of end tables. She skimmed her fingers along the worn flagstone fireplace mantle before reaching her father’s flag. So hard to believe he was gone.
Outside, the shower door slammed. Jo secured her sunglasses and headed down the deck stairs. Broad back muscles stretched the Nags Head fire department logo on the man’s shirt, as he racked his surfboard. Behind a pair of wraparound shades, he eyed her. “Bobby’s gone for the weekend.”
Her dad had been a captain for Nags Head. “Yeah, I know. How were the waves?”
His smile seemed familiar. He whipped off his shades and closed the distance. “Jo!”
“Ray?” She nearly toppled from her from her platform flip-flops as huge biceps wrapped her in a bear hug that left her toes dangling. His touch shot through her veins like straight whiskey.
“Bobby didn’t mention you were coming home, Dahlin.” His pale blue eyes held her captive and his southern twang brought her home faster than a jet from LAX.
The sexy sound of her pet name made her stutter. “Ahh, it was last minute.”
Well over six foot, her high school surfing buddy had grown into a man with a body rivaling most NFL tight ends. He squinted and cocked his head.
With her life long fantasy standing so close, coherent sentences failed her. She poked the firefighter seal over his rock hard pectoral. “So what’s this?”
“I thought Bobby told you?” He smiled lazily, running a hand over his close-cropped hair. “Couldn’t play lifeguard forever.”
She might be if her luck didn’t change. Nobody had told her Ray became a firefighter. Guess he didn’t want to worry her after he made it back from Iraq. The same reason she didn’t tell him about her trouble in California. “Awesome, Cappy would have been so proud.”
Hurt flashed over his handsome face. He flipped her sunglasses to the top of her head. “I was beginning to think I’d never see you again.”
“Me too.” She avoided his gaze as tears welled.
He tamed a wavy strand of her hair with gentle fingers. “Figured you would have cut it by now.”
The sensual gesture set off a resurgence of feelings she didn’t want to revisit. Hope welled in her chest, but she crushed it with memories of past heartache. He’d never see her as a woman. “Nope, still Bobby’s tomboy sister.”
“I never saw you that way, Jo.” His gaze softened with his tone.
He’d always had the ability to strip her of pretense with barely a word. She fought for control. “Sure.”
He bowed his head then checked his diver’s watch. “Damn, I’d love to stay and catch up, but I’m picking up a partial shift. You’re here for a few days, aren’t you?”
Guilt heated her cheeks, she hadn’t wanted him to know her arrival and now he wanted to spend time with her. “How about come cools ones after some waves?”
A little boy grin lit his tanned face accentuating his stubble. He winked a sexy blue and pecked her cheek with a kiss. “Sweet.”
As his beastly SUV disappeared from the driveway, her heart finally slowed to a normal rhythm. He never knew how much she’d loved him during high school nor would he ever. Besides, how would he feel when he learned the truth as to why she’d been kicked off the surfing team. She slipped her cell from her pocket and dialed a California number.
“Santa Cruz probation office,” a receptionist answered.