Chapter 1 – The Shore
Ryan stepped on the gas, hoping the car would inch forward. Actually, she just hoped it would do anything but sink deeper, which unfortunately, is exactly what it did.
“Are you fucking kidding me right now?”
She slammed her hand on the steering wheel then laid her forehead where her hand had just been.
Ryan Echo Blake had just arrived in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She and her furry baby, Berkley, had been traveling for six hours with the music blaring and the top down on her silvery-gray Mini Cooper and all she wanted to do was cross the dune, walk in the sand and stick her toes in the Atlantic.
She was the leader of a team at a small design house in Charlotte and they had just completed a huge rebranding project for a client. She was more than ready for a little rest and relaxation and not at all in the mood to deal with a car stuck in the damn sand.
As a child, she had spent nearly every summer in the Outer Banks, traveling with her mom and sister from her childhood home in Wisconsin. Her parents had even purchased a house so they had a familiar place to call home when they were in town. It had been a few months since she’d been back.
And now, here she was, stuck.
Ryan lifted her head and Berkley’s ears perked up behind her in the review mirror.
She turned the steering wheel back and forth, giving it more gas, hoping the car would gain some traction. She was wrong. Again.
That’s what you were supposed to do in the snow, wouldn’t it be the same in the sand?
The car sank even more.
Apparently not. Now what the hell am I going to do?
Sure, she had spent nearly every summer here, and even the occasional weekend, but she didn’t really know anyone in the area anymore. Hell, she didn’t even know if Abby still lived here.
As kids, Ryan and Abby had been inseparable from the moment Ryan and her family arrived on the island until the last bag was packed. When the summers were over, they sent notebooks back and forth so they could share what was going on with each other. Growing up, something didn’t really happen until Ryan had a chance to write or talk to Abby about it.
Time had created distance between them, and it made Ryan’s heart break a little.
Ryan dug into her purse for her phone, praying she’d have enough signal to search for a tow company. She got out of the car so she could see just how bad the sand was.
“Shit,” she sighed. Berkley’s ears perked up again.
Ryan wasn’t a violent person, but she wanted to punch something. The back tires were more than half buried in the sand, and the front tires weren’t in much better shape.
Reeling, she unlocked her phone and saw it had three bars. “Thank God!” She opened a web browser and typed “tow company Hatteras Island” into the search field and waited for the results.
A moment later Ryan heard a vehicle coming her way.
Great. People are going to know I got stuck in the fucking sand.
Just as the search engine presented her options, Ryan heard honking. She looked up to see the driver pointing at her car.
Great, now he’s laughing at me.
She looked down at her phone and started to evaluate the companies listed.
The driver honked again, and when she looked up, she could see he wasn’t laughing. The truck slowed as it approached her.
Who knows? Maybe he’d be willing to help. It sure beats having to wait for a tow company, and who knows how long that will take.
The driver rolled down the window and leaned his elbow against the door.
Oh, holy hell. Ryan’s eyes traveled from his muscular forearm resting on the door to his bicep that stretched the material of his black shirt, to his face. He wore a faded blue Chicago Cubs ball cap with sunglasses laying on the bill and had small brown-haired curls that peeked out from underneath in the back. There was a permanent five o’clock shadow on his cheeks and chin, and soft milk chocolate colored eyes looked back at her.
“You need some help?” he asked.
Ryan was feeling more than a little awestruck. This man was … beautiful. And those eyes.
How could a person not get lost in those eyes?
“I’m sorry, what?”
The driver smiled to himself while pointing at the Mini and repeated himself. “Your car. You need some help?”
“Sorry, yes,” Ryan stammered, trying to make her brain work again. “That would be great.”
She heard him give a low chuckle and wanted to die of embarrassment.
Why did it have to be some cuter than cute guy who finds me stuck in the damn sand?
“Don’t worry, this happens more often than you’d think.” His eyes softened a little. “Why don’t you let us help, okay?”
“Um, yeh. That would be great.” She felt her cheeks burn with embarrassment. “Thanks.”
Ryan had been so taken with the driver she was startled to see a second man hop out of the truck. Both men looked to be a little older than her but in good shape and not at all hard on the eyes. The other guy was about the same height as the driver, but blonde. It was obvious he, too, worked out by the way his shirt stretched across his chest. But it was the driver Ryan couldn’t take her eyes off of.
He had on a pair of army green cargo pants that came to just below his knees and a black t-shirt that fit snugly across his chest and narrowed slightly at his waist. Ryan was doing her best not to check him out but it wasn’t working. He had to be at least six feet tall, and probably a couple inches more. And those pants. She was a sucker for guys in cargo pants, and the way he filled them out…
The driver extended his hand to Ryan. “I’m Cody. And this is my brother, Riley.”
Ryan accepted Cody’s hand and felt a tingle when his hand circled around hers. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Ryan. Thanks for stopping.”
She turned her gaze toward Riley who nodded quietly in her direction.
Cody needed to keep it together. Ryan was beautiful with long brown hair that was pulled back into a sloppy ponytail. Convertibles weren’t exactly conducive to keeping hair nice and neat, and this girl’s hair was anything but. Cody liked
that thought – it meant she didn’t take her looks too seriously. She wasn’t afraid of a little wind in her hair.
Her legs were long and began just beneath her denim shorts and ended in what he could only define as sandals. He was a guy. What the hell did he know about shoes?
She had curves he found himself wanting to run a hand along. And those eyes.
He stared into her crystal clear blue eyes as she looked back at him and he couldn’t help but smile.
Trying to reign himself in, Cody leaned toward the door so Berkley could sniff his hand. “And who is this?”
“That’s Berkley,” Ryan responded. Berkley lowered her head and let Cody scratch behind her ears.
“Not much of a watch dog, huh?”
“No, not really. She’d be more likely to lick a stranger to death than actually hurt them.”
“What breed is she?”
“Border Collie with a bit of Chow mixed in.”
“That’s an interesting combination.”
Ryan’s smile was warm and genuine as she lowered her hand to pet Berkley’s head. Her fingers brushed lightly over Cody’s, just for a second, but it felt like an electric shock to her heart.
Then much to their surprise, Berkley started to growl. They looked at her, noticing her tail was still wagging as she eyed the large dog in the bed of the truck.
Cody chuckled and ruffled the fur on Berkley’s head. “It’s okay, girl. That’s just Wrigley. Once we get your car out of the sand, I’ll let him down so you two can meet.”
How in the hell did I completely miss the big dog in the back of the truck?
This man had Ryan completely distracted. Wrigley was a beautiful full-grown golden retriever with long golden fur that had a tinge of red to it.
“Riley, can you grab the chains out of the back for me?” Cody asked his brother.
Riley didn’t say a word but nodded and headed to the back of the truck.
The guys worked quickly to attach the chains to the right spot on Ryan’s car, not that she would know where that was, and Cody’s truck.
“Okay, Ryan, you want to get in and start her up?” Cody asked as he turned to Ryan.
“Really? Are you sure that’s such a good idea? I’d probably end up gunning it and run right into your truck.”
Cody chuckled that sexy as hell chuckle again and Ryan’s body reacted to him in a way it really shouldn’t.
“It’ll be okay. We’ll take it nice and slow.”
There was an assurance in his voice Ryan could appreciate. She had taken note, almost immediately, there was no band or tan line on the ring finger of his left hand.
“Great, first I get my Mini stuck in the sand and now I’m going to end up wrecking the back end of my car and ramming it into his truck,” Ryan mumbled under her breath as she got in the car.
She turned the ignition and quickly noticed Cody standing to her left so he could see both her and the truck. In the rearview mirror she saw the truck begin to back up so the chains could tighten.
“Okay, Ryan, put it in reverse and lightly step on the gas,” Cody instructed. He raised his right hand signaling to Riley they were starting. With a shaky hand, Ryan put the car in reverse and eased her foot onto the gas. The tires started to spin.
“That’s it, Ryan. Just a little more,” he coaxed.
Ryan pressed harder on the gas and began to feel the car move. Just a second later she felt solid ground under her. She braked lightly not wanting to break the chain that served as a lifeline between her car and Cody’s truck. After putting the Mini back into park, she laid her head on her steering wheel.
“Nice job! See? No need to worry.” He grinned as he said it, and it made her smile.
“You were right,” Ryan acknowledged. “Thank you so much. You guys are lifesavers!” She breathed a sigh of relief and started to dig to find her purse. “Let me just grab some money for you guys, okay?” It was the least she could do. A tow truck would have cost her anyway.
Cody smiled to himself as he watched her and suddenly realized he didn’t want her to go. There was something about this girl and he wanted to get to know her better. He wasn’t sure where these feelings were coming from. It had been years since he’d shown any interest in a woman, and for good reason. But… there was just something about her.
Besides, he had promised Berkley she would get to meet Wrigley. It was lame, but he liked to keep his promises.
“Hey,” Cody said, recalling where he and Riley had been headed when they stopped to help Ryan. “We were on our way to a place down the road when we saw you. We’re meeting Riley’s wife for a burger and some beers. If you’re available, how about joining us? You can buy us a beer as thanks.”
Ryan turned and eyed him suspiciously.
“What?” Cody acted as though she had hurt his feelings. “We’re not serial killers or anything. I promise,” he added with a grin.
Ryan’s eyes softened as she listened to him. A beer sounded really good and she was starving. It would be a nice way to end this embarrassment, and if she was being honest with herself, she wanted to get to know Cody better, too. He was completely gorgeous, nice enough to stop and help a stranger, obviously loved dogs, and he wasn’t married.
“Actually,” Cody said as he bent his knees so he was the same height as her and lowered his voice, “you’d be doing me a favor. I’m kind of sick of being a third wheel to my brother and sister-in-law.” He could see she was hesitating.
“It’s just one beer, Ryan – maybe a burger, too,” he winked. “Besides, I told Berkley she’d get to meet Wrigley. We’re good friends with the owner, and he’s never had a problem with us bringing Wrigley onto the pier. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind having Berkley there either.”
“Well,” Ryan smirked, “since you did promise Berkley. And I am hungry.”
“Great! Just follow us,” Cody said. “And try not to get stuck in anymore sand, okay?”
Ryan sneered playfully at Cody, sticking out her tongue at him as he walked back to the truck.
It’s only one beer and he seems pretty nice. Why not?