Authors: Mackenzie McKade
To every woman who knows exactly what and, more importantly,
A salty breeze blew off the ocean, whispering through Harold Adair’s hair as he sat in his lounge chair and pushed his toes beneath the warm sand. His heavy eyelids began to droop, but the chill against his palm reminded him he held a half-full glass of his favorite rum propped on his barreled chest. He raised the tumbler to his lips and took a swig, allowing the amber liquid to quench his parched throat.
Life couldn’t be any better.
His granddaughter, Andrea Adair—now McGrath—was home where she belonged. Married to her high school sweetheart, Andie had two healthy boys with her husband Brody. Said boys were playing beneath their watchful parents’ eyes.
Donal followed a sand crab moving sideways to avoid the stick the naughty boy used to poke at it. His twin brother, Daniel, chased a receding wave. When the wave made an about-face, the boy squealed. He spun around, his chubby little legs going a mile a minute as he tried to outrun the water licking at his ankles.
Daniel’s giggles warmed Harold’s heart, until the crab Donal harassed got wedged between two rocks and the child turned his attentions to his brother. With a shove, Daniel ended up facedown in the sand and water. Before the ocean could engulf the child, his father ran to his side, jerking him into the safety of his arms.
The scream Daniel released as he spat sand out of his mouth made Brody, the local sheriff, frown. “If your momma wasn’t here I’d tan your hide, Donal.”
The twenty-month-old puckered his lips. His big blue eyes took on a sad puppy-dog look that always did Harold in.
As Andie approached, she shook her head and narrowed her sights on her husband. “Who are you trying to kid? You’ve never raised a hand to either of these boys.” She dropped to her knees before Donal. “You know what you did was wrong. I think you need a time out.”
“No, Donal.” She pushed to her feet, her hands propped against her slender hips. She glared down at the child, who inhaled a ragged breath, clearly on the verge of tears. “You don’t treat your brother like that. Now get to the blanket and sit beneath the umbrella until I say you can get up and play.”
“Brody, I don’t want to hear ‘boys will be boys’.” She extended her arms toward Daniel and he crawled into them. Brushing away the sand caking his face, she held him close and kissed his forehead.
Daniel was the quieter of the two—a gentle soul. His brother? Well, that was another story. But they were both angels in Harold’s eyes.
“Let’s clean you up. Brody, he’s yours to watch while I’m gone.” She glanced to where Donal sat. Silent tears streamed down his dirty cheeks. “I want to see him sitting right there when I return.” She leveled a firm eye on her husband, who had the good sense to simply nod, before she pivoted and walked away.
Errol Wilson chuckled. “She’s a good mother.” A stiff breeze blew the thin piece of gray hair that was usually combed over his bald head to the side. After he patted the stringy stuff back in place, he reached for the half-empty bottle of rum propped in the sand by the leg of his lounge chair.
“Aye. She be the best.” There was no better in Harold’s eyes.
Errol filled his glass and frowned at the remaining contents of the bottle. “Looks like it’s time for another bet.”
Byron Mitchell swirled the amber liquor in his glass, making the ice cubes clink against the sides. “My cupboards are bare too.”
The arthritic man made up the final member of their threesome. Together they had finagled their wayward grandchildren to return home. With a little more conniving, they had even gotten them hitched and settled down. Now and then they tried their hand at matchmaking and had become quite successful.
The way Harold saw it, they were doing this town a service. “I agree.” It was time they put their matchmaking skills to work again.
“I’ve been thinking,” Errol said.
Laughter burst from Byron’s mouth. “Did it hurt much?”
“Real funny, you ol’ blowfish.” Yet Errol chuckled at his friend’s teasing. “What do you say we make this bet a little more interesting?”
Byron leaned forward in his chair. “What do you have in mind?”
“Let’s change it up a little. How ’bout a public declaration by either the man or woman.”
Byron’s brows shot upward. “In front of a crowd?”
Harold liked the idea. “The most creative expression of love.”
“Anywhere? Any size group?” When Harold and Errol nodded, Byron continued. “Since today is June first, the deadline should by the Fourth of July Parade.”
The gleam in his eyes had Harold a little concerned. His friend of many years was up to something. “Who should we be focusing on this year?”
Byron looked over Harold’s shoulder. “Here comes my man now.”
Harold’s gaze followed both of his friends’. “Ryan Alden? The boy recently returned to town.”
“Two months ago. After twelve years in the Marines, it’s time he settled down.”
It dawned on Harold exactly what Byron had been up to. “Why you scalawag. You’ve been sneaking around and preparing for our next bet.”
Harold shot a look of disbelief toward Errol. When he expected his friend to join in berating Byron and he didn’t, it became clear he’d been the only one waiting for the next bet to be announced. But to confirm it, he asked, “You too?” When Errol shrugged, Harold grumbled, “Well, you liver-lily pond-suckers. Who have you chosen?”
“Sam Doherty.” Errol grinned ear to ear as he glanced over to Sam, who was playing catch with young Jake Caan on the other end of the beach.
“He be old man Doherty’s grandson, right? The ghost hunter?” Harold shook his head. Whoever heard of a grown man who believed in ghosts?
“This wouldn’t have anything to do with the young woman who purchased Ol’ Lady Landry’s old Victorian house?” Byron asked.
A sheepish expression spread across Errol’s weathered face as he looked at the big house overlooking the ocean at the far end of the beach.
Byron took a sip of his drink. “What have you been up to?”
“Just a little funny business. You know I have a key to Ol’ Lady Landry’s place.”
“You be scaring the poor lassie out of her wits.” Harold thought of the big, creaky house. It was perfect for a little mischief. He glanced toward Byron. “Suppose you have someone in mind to match Alden up with?”
Byron nodded toward Carmen Smith as she walked from the water in her fifties-style swimsuit. “It’s about time that young chickadee settled down.”
Her older sister, Aimee, had captured Byron’s attention at Christmas time. Two months ago she had married her daughter’s baby daddy, as it should be.
Byron raised his glass and Errol clinked his against it. “Best you get to fishing or cut bait.” He rose from his chair and glanced to the large Victorian house down the beach. “I have a little tomfoolery in mind.”
Harold harrumphed. Of all the rotten things for his two best friends to have done, he was now behind the eight ball.
He gazed around the growing crowd, stopping when he caught sight of Lauren Savage, Brody’s secretary from the police station, playing volleyball. Now
showed possibility. The attractive blonde had been in town for almost two years and hadn’t reeled in any particular man.
A very pregnant Tabby and her brother Devon Taylor walked up to Brody, reminding Harold one of their sisters had come of age. If Harold remembered correctly, Katrina, or Kat as she was known around these parts, had recently returned from college this year.
“Yes!” Lauren’s squeal of delight as the volleyball she served struck the sand inside the boundaries on the other side of the net grabbed Harold’s attention, before he glanced at Devon once more.
Hmmm. Lauren? Devon?
After the sworn bachelor helped his sister sit down next to Donal, he pinned his sights on the game of volleyball before him. But he didn’t have eyes for Lauren, who again served the ball over the net. Instead his gaze was locked on a shapely redhead in a teeny-tiny bikini, playing on the opposite team.
Now there held some potential.
Instead of focusing on the bet between his friends, he’d choose a couple who would give him a run for his money. Devon was a laid-back construction worker. He lived life one day at a time and to its fullest. With his dark, shoulder-length hair and that bandanna, he wore the bad-boy persona well, but he wasn’t fooling Harold. The young man had a heart of gold. No one messed with his sisters or mother and he was always there for someone in need.
The statuesque redhead was Leo Caan’s sister, who had come to town early to help her brother and soon to be sister-in-law with their wedding arrangements, another couple Harold was responsible for hooking up. Sahara Caan was a Supreme Court Justice’s daughter and a real estate developer. She was everything Devon wasn’t. Different as black and white.
When she flashed Devon a drop-dead smile, Harold eased back in his lounge chair. From where he sat it didn’t appear getting them together would be difficult at all.
But keeping them together… There lay the challenge.
When his sister groaned, Devon dragged his eyes off the curvy redhead. “Sis, are you comfortable enough?”
“Comfortable?” She stretched out her bare, swollen legs. Hands propped behind her held her up in an awkward sitting position. “Look at me.” Her blue eyes grew misty. “I look and feel like a beached whale.”
The weariness on her face squeezed his heart. He prayed she didn’t start crying again. Tabby’s emotions rose and fell like a rollercoaster, which was unlike his spunky sister. When her chin began to quiver, Brody and Devon quickly scanned the area for Reece. These days Brody’s brother was the only one who could soothe her. Donal must have sensed her sorrow, because he stood and wrapped his arms around her neck. The innocent child’s show of sympathy toward Tabby was all that was needed to burst the dam and release the waterworks. As her tears fell, Devon dropped to his knees beside her. Lord, help him. Even growing up with three sisters, he had never gotten used to a woman’s tears.
“Where is he?” he spat, while patting Tabby softly on the back.
Donal’s eyes grew large before his began to fill with emotion. Brody pulled his son onto his lap. “Reece stopped to pick up some more beer and snacks.”
Devon attempted to hold his sister, but her extended belly got in the way, which only made her weep harder. “
… It will be over soon.”
Of course, from what he had overheard Brody say to Reece the other day, it was just the beginning. Diapers. No sleep. And more tears from both baby and mother. Exactly why Devon swore to be a bachelor for the rest of his life.
When Donal jumped up out of his father’s lap and screamed, “Weece!” Devon looked skyward.
, he mouthed.
Reece and Leo carried an ice chest between them. Sky strolled beside them with several bags of what looked like chips and an assortment of other things in her arms. The grin on Reece’s face as Donal ran toward him fell when he saw Tabby. He released his side of the ice chest and took off. Leo scrambled to support the ice chest before the contents spilled on the sand.
When Reece met up with Donal he swept him into his arms and continued onward. Setting Donal on the blanket, Reece pinned Devon with an incriminating glare. “What’s going on here?”
Devon raised his brows, flashing his brother-in-law a what-do-you-think look as he stood, allowing his best friend access.
Somehow Reece was able to maneuver around Tabby’s protruding belly and he pulled her into his arms. “What’s wrong, baby?”
She buried her face into his chest. “I’m ugly.” She sniffled. “And fat.”
Reece kissed the top of her head. “Darlin’, you’re the prettiest girl on this beach.” As he rubbed his cheek against her long, black hair, he continued to soothe her. “No one burns as bright or as sexy to me as the woman who cradles my baby inside her.” He nuzzled her ear. “Have I told you recently that I love you?”
A giggle broke through Tabby’s gasps. She raised her head and Reece stared into her eyes like he could eat her up in front of everyone.
So this was love?
Devon shook his head. Love wasn’t for him.
He had seen a change in Reece since he married Tabby. Usually after a job the two of them would hang out, have a beer, maybe chase a woman or two. Nowadays Reece acted like he couldn’t wait to get home, which left Devon alone. Not that he begrudged his sister, but he and Reece had been locked at the hip since kindergarten. The only time they had been separated was when Reece went to college. As soon as he returned to Whispering Cove, Devon had begun to work for him. Guess he always would.
Reece lowered his head and captured Tabby’s mouth. The long, slow kiss was poetic, but way too much for Devon. Soft laughter pulled his gaze back to the volleyball game.
Lord have mercy. God had truly been generous when he dished out sex appeal to the long-legged redhead. Slowly, he started toward her. Every red-blooded American male on the beach had his eyes focused on her as she moved across the sand. Something told Devon she knew exactly what she was doing. It was in the way she tossed her elbow-length hair behind her. The way she retrieved the volleyball in a slow, sensual dip that threatened to spill her full breasts right out of her string bikini.