|Cover Art by BitterGrace|
Lucas Madison is in the Bahamas for his sister's wedding on the beautiful and idyllic island of Sapphire Cay.
He has the weight of the world on his shoulders. With the stress of his job, the loss of his friend, and faced with his own medical crisis, Lucas arrives on the white sands of Sapphire Cay gray and exhausted. His only thought is to see his sister married and happy.
Dylan Gray is a free-spirited traveler who literally follows the sun. Never settling in one place for long, he earns his way from state to state and continent to continent. But there's something about Sapphire Cay that draws him back over and over. A feeling of home.
When these two men meet, both have decisions to make and directions to choose. And maybe together, they can make the right ones and follow not only the sun, but also their hearts.
This is the story of Lucas and Dylan, set against the stunning landscape of Sapphire Cay.
The Sapphire Cay series
Written with Meredith Russell
Book 1 - Follow The Sun
Book 2 - Under The Sun
Book 3 - Chase The Sun
Book 4 - Christmas In The Sun
Book 5 - Capture The Sun
Book 6 - Forever In The Sun
Buy Links - eBook
Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords | iTunes
Buy Links - Print Book
Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK)
Hearts on Fire Reviews - 4/5 - "....I recommend this story to anyone looking for a slow burn romance. Ms Scott and Ms Russell have proven that they can write a good romance as a team. I’m looking forward to book two in this easy going series...."
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Guilty Pleasures Book Review - 4/5 - "....I found this book to be a wonderful love story with some steamy M/M action thrown in for good measure. While they end with a HEA, I admire that these men make decisions that were good for them, not because of their relationship. Follow The Sun is the first book in this series and I can’t wait to see what the authors will come up with next. If this book is any indication, we are in for a real treat!.."
Excerpt - Chapters 1 & 2
“We want you in place by the fourth of next month and no later.” Oscar Morgan was not beating around the bush. His words were brusque, final, and brooked no argument.
Lucas Madison swallowed the sudden feelings of claustrophobia and panic—quickly calculating how much time that gave him. Two weeks on the island, and then he would need to return straight to the office. He closed his eyes against the bright sun and shifted in the waiting room seat until his five-ten frame was finally in a comfortable position. That wasn’t enough time to get his head straight.
“That’s a bit tight,” he said. Choosing his words carefully was his stock in trade these days. React too aggressively and Oscar would see he wasn’t as committed as he used to be. Lucas had to toe the company line and stay focused despite the fact his head was at direct odds with his heart, which was telling him to just walk away.
Oscar tutted. What? Why the tutting? Did he think there was any other response Lucas could give? The deadline was tight—what did Oscar want him to do? Magically prepare contracts and negotiate terms? Lucas bit his tongue and began to count back from ten.
“Johnson not being here to cover you is hard enough,” Oscar began. Lucas closed his eyes. The grief over losing his friend was still fresh. Oscar mentioning Alan’s name as if dying at fifty-three was an inconvenience served to do nothing except cut the wound open again. His boss was still talking and Lucas forced himself to listen. “I’m not entirely convinced the new rep, Patterson, can handle the west coast as much as we had hoped. You need to get in there before he does more damage than you can fix.”
A mix of emotions washed over him at the words ‘West Coast’. Ever since Alan Johnson, Lucas’s friend and mentor and the existing West Coast manager, had keeled over in the parking lot after his youngest boy’s ball game, the general consensus was that Lucas would be the new manager on that side of the US. Alan had two kids in college, so much to look forward to, and at fifty-three, he was too young to have died. They said he had a stroke and that his body just gave up but Lucas knew better; Morgan Municipal had killed his friend.
Lucas hadn’t known where to turn since Alan was gone. The company had insisted, in some kind of corporate panic following Alan’s death, that all employees get physicals at their own expense—just to make sure no one else died on their books. Lucas hadn’t been worried about his physical. He’d passed his first one for the company at twenty-two with flying colors and this time would surely be no different. He was thirty-two, not sixty-two, and he was fit. Not a gym rat by any stretch of the imagination, but he was healthy.
The news he had been given had been enough to knock everything into perspective. He may well have investments, a nearly mortgage-free house, and a growing pension, but he also had eighteen-hour work days. All the plans for the future paled next to what he had been told. If he didn’t stop, he was dead. Simple. Ulcers and high blood pressure were slowly killing him.
“I’ll be there on the fourth,” Lucas said carefully. He’d be there to negotiate fewer hours and more support. The constant nagging tension in his chest spiked in a sharp pain. Friends warned him that working eighteen-hour days six, sometimes seven days a week was going to end up killing him. They didn’t need to warn him anymore; doctors had done a very good job of cutting short the future laid before him.
Glancing over at his sister, he caught her glaring back at him. He didn’t blame her for her reaction. After all, she didn’t know what was wrong, and why would he tell her? This was her wedding and he had spent ten years caring for his sister and shielding her from the bad things in life. He wasn’t about to stop now. He had promised her he wouldn’t be on his phone every hour God sent, but receiving this call from Morgan himself wasn’t something he could ignore. This last job would bring in enough money to tide him over for a year. He wouldn’t need to touch his extensive savings and investments. Just one more job and then he’d take some time off.
Tasha was still staring, but there was a new expression on her face. A thoughtful, lost look of sadness that he had put there.
Oscar’s voice was still in his ear. “This contract needs negotiations; Patterson has already messed up on most of it. You need to go in there, negotiate with the partners, make them an offer, and stick by it.”
“Is he getting any backup?” Patterson had been headhunted into Morgan Municipal as a bright young thing. A small sense of satisfaction washed over Lucas when he heard Patterson was fucking things up, but then he felt immediately guilty. Patterson was a nice man and reminded Lucas of what he had been like ten years ago: full of enthusiasm for his career and aiming for a bright future.
“He’s a liability,” Morgan said. “Can’t even negotiate a decent contract in our favor. He’s too damn nice for his own good. Between you and me, I’m considering having his papers drawn up this morning to let him go as soon as you’re back on US soil. You’ll be flying straight from Miami to Sea-Tac. I’ll have Anna arrange the flights. I’m emailing you the files for the negotiation that Patterson fucked up; I’ll need them back in ten days to pass through the steering group.” So casually, the boss decided that Patterson was a liability. Patterson had been good for Lucas, lessening the time he was needed in the office. Yes, he was new and somewhat inexperienced, but his input had made a work-life balance possible for Lucas. And now his boss was removing that crutch entirely? One more thing to tip the balance for Lucas to just up and leave.
Ten days. Lucas thought about what the next week and a half held for him. A wedding rehearsal and meal, the wedding itself. That left the rest of what he was supposed to be calling a vacation. He could clear the contract files left for him if he could just get a solid ten-hour day in somewhere. One more contract finished and he could ride the bonus on it for a year. Get some rest. Get well.
Tasha would have to understand without him explaining fully what he was doing. As long as he was there next to her when she walked down the aisle, or whatever people did on beach weddings, then he was sure she would be fine. He would have done his brotherly duties and seen Tasha marry. Maybe then he could slip in a bit of work. She’d be preoccupied with Liam and being all loved up.
“Send it over,” Lucas agreed softly. Casually, he glanced up and over at his sister. She wasn’t watching him but he could tell she was listening. He knew her too well and braced himself for the tongue lashing that accompanied him disappointing her. She simply looked his way briefly. There was no censure on her expression; instead her eyes held that same incredible sadness.
Lucas bristled but then just as quickly deflated. Great. He was in for one of his sister’s pity talks. She had to see that not everyone was going to be lucky enough to be part of a ‘married with kids, settled for life’ scenario; hell, he was gay, as he liked to remind her. It wasn’t part of the hand he’d been dealt. The whole family thing certainly hadn’t worked out for Alan, nor was it looking so hot for Patterson.
“Lucas? You still there?”
Lucas snapped back to concentrating on the person at the other end of the phone. “Sorry. Bad line.”
His boss tutted his disapproval again. “Damned inconvenient, you leaving on a vacation at this point.”
His sister’s wedding wasn’t really a vacation and he couldn’t and wouldn’t let Tasha down. His sister was the only family he had since he became her guardian at twenty-two when she had just turned seventeen. She wanted two full weeks on an island retreat to get married, and she wanted her brother to stop his life just for those two weeks. He would do anything for her. She’d always wanted a big wedding, but Lucas had always imagined a white dress and a church somewhere in their home city of Seattle. Setting the wedding on Sapphire Cay in the Bahamas, only accessible by boat and as far away from civilization as it was possible to get, was a shock. As far as he remembered, she was always dressing her Barbies in white and making churches out of cardboard boxes.
He even recalled the day he announced Ken was actually gay, which had sent Tasha into a tailspin of temper. His mom had calmed them down, but when he was fourteen and Tasha was nine, he already knew devious ways of bypassing his mom’s talks. He wasn’t even entirely sure at that point that he had known what gay was. Nope, that revelation hit him in the face with enough force to send him to his knees when he turned fifteen. Being appreciative on gym days of his friends’ bodies and being entirely not interested in the blooming of boobs had kind of been the nail in the proverbial coffin. He was gay. He wasn’t going to get married and have two kids and a dog and a freaking minivan. He was going to find his success and fulfillment in a different way.
“My sister is getting married,” Lucas explained.
There was another huff and then his boss simply confirmed the files had been mailed and ended the call.
Lucas pocketed his phone and casually looked around for some kind of sign that proclaimed internet access. He couldn’t see anything in the immediate area and he stood and stretched tall.
“What are you doing?” Tasha asked suspiciously. He had been sure she was looking the other way; she had eyes in the back of her head that one.
“Going to look for the bathroom,” Lucas said evenly. With a smile, he sauntered away from her and her fiancé and the rest of his sister’s friends. He didn’t really know any of them but guessed they were here as support. That and a vacation.
He passed the welcome desk and checked the arrival time for their water taxi from Marsh Harbor to Sapphire Cay. According to the schedule, he had another forty minutes. Plenty of time to find a computer, locate the email, and print off the supposed clusterfuck that Patterson had created. Then he could maybe look at it on the boat and slip it out as and when he had time.
Paperwork downloaded and printed—all forty-seven pages—and with a smile of thanks from the administrator who was now holding eighty dollars in his hands, Lucas pushed the papers into his flight bag and made his way back to his sister.
“You’ve been gone half an hour,” she said with a sigh.
“Was exploring. Killing time,” he lied again. He was getting good at this lying thing.
“Why did you take your bag?”
“I didn’t want you to worry about it.”
“You’re working aren’t you?” She stood up with frustration in her eyes.
“Lucas, I can see right through you.” This time the frustration was tinged with sadness and resignation.
“Leave it, Tasha. Okay?” Stress built inside him. It was his hard work that had put her through college so she could get a decent job, and it was his money helping her to hire a freaking island to get married on, so she should hold off on commenting on his life. Or lack of it.
Jeez. Where had that thought come from? She was his sister and just worried about him. He was the one fucking everything up. She’d been the first person to be there when Alan died, the only one outside of Alan’s family who knew just how much the man meant to him. Alan’s kids called him Uncle, and Rosemary, Alan’s wife of over thirty years, knew all his favorite dinners.
“We need to move to the quayside. The boat will be ready to go in ten,” Liam interrupted the brother-sister face-off diplomatically. His sister’s fiancé was good at that. Lucas could feel Tasha’s guests staring at them, and embarrassment crawled inside him. Carefully, he turned away and grabbed the handle of his rolling suitcase. With that and his flight bag, he was ready to go and the discussion was diverted. Tasha was distracted by getting her bags and the argument was shelved. Lucas doubted it would be forgotten. Finally, they were all standing at the quayside after locating the mooring for the Sapphire Cay boat, curiously called Lady Liberty.
“Come aboard.” A man was waiting for them and holding out his hand to help each person onto the wide-open and frankly flimsy-looking boat. When it was Lucas’s turn, he first passed on his luggage and the captain placed it with the other bags. Concentrating on seeing his bag was placed in the right area, he stumbled as he climbed in, and the guy had to use some of the muscles he was showing in a cutoff tee and board shorts to steady Lucas. Irritated that he needed help at all, he turned his back to the slightly taller man and focused on finding a seat to the side of the small boat. Finally, he was seated just in front of a redhead, who kept talking about the kids she had left with her mom, and her partner, who nodded at everything she said.
He was sitting at an angle to his sister, who grasped Liam’s hand like she was never letting go. He liked Liam. Liked him a lot. That was the protective big brother inside him who wanted his sister happy and settled with a good man. Liam was a good man with a solid career in marketing and his own agency.
“Okay. Y’all ready to go?” Tall-guy’s voice was melodious, and if Lucas wasn’t mistaken there was a hint of the south in the drawled vowels. As everyone else said their yeses, Lucas took the time to appreciate the view. And he didn’t mean the crystal blue sea or the vastness of the azure sky. He was focusing on every little detail of their captain, or whatever he called himself.
“Welcome aboard. My name is Dylan.” Well that answers that question. “I’ll be taking you over to the Cay. Just a few things. The trip to Sapphire Cay should take us about fifty minutes. Please no leaning over the side and no jumping off the boat until we’re in deeper waters. Just to warn you, we often have heavy rain that lasts for a few minutes and then clears just as quickly, but there are umbrellas in the storage bin at the back.” Dylan moved past the guests to the back of the boat and started the small outboard motor. He slipped the rope and soon they were heading away from Marsh Harbor and out into the expanse of ocean.
From his seat, Lucas had a good look at the man who was competently guiding them to the island for the wedding. He was probably an inch or so above his own five ten, and he had the fit, lean body of a swimmer. Lean and muscled and with skin burnished gold by the Bahamian sun, he was a sight for sore eyes. Lucas couldn’t remember the last time he had the space to stare at a good-looking guy just for the sake of it. Dylan’s hair was a fascinating shade of dark brown shot through with sun-bleached blond strands that hung in soft, shaggy waves around his face. With brightly colored board shorts and a faded pink tee, he was the epitome of beach bum. Lucas spent a good amount of time imagining the color of Dylan’s eyes since dark shades hid them. He pictured them the same cornflower blue as the sky or maybe an emerald green like the shallow sea. He was just relieved he could stare from behind his own shades. Dylan wouldn’t know. The fifty minutes passed against the background of chattering and lots of oohing and aahing from various passengers. Dylan pointed out schools of blue and green parrot fish. Even Lucas admitted they were stunning as they darted this way and that around the boat, and the shimmer of color was fascinating to see.
They caught their first glimpse of Sapphire Cay as little more than a smudge on the horizon. The smile on Tasha’s face as they drew nearer was one of wonder, and a small part of Lucas melted as he watched her expression. Whatever he had to do while he was here, none of it was as important as seeing his sister happy. He picked at his shirt, pulling it away from his skin and moving it so air hit him. Sweat was pooling at the back of his neck and the base of his spine. Maybe slacks and a shirt were not the most practical of clothing for a boat trip in the Bahamas.
“So, you didn’t bring anyone with you?” the redhead with the kids asked him. Clearly, she had run out of stories about toddling and talking and diapers and had turned her attention to her next victim.
“You’re here alone? Is your boyfriend coming over later?”
“I am currently boyfriendless,” Lucas responded. Like it was actually possible to have any kind of relationship right now. There was just so much else going on. It wouldn’t be fair to him or anyone. Although, why it was any of her business he didn’t know. Clearly though, she knew enough about him to feel comfortable with her questions.
“You never know, there may be some cute young thing on the island for you.”
Lucas doubted it. Sapphire Cay had about twenty staff, including the owners, and the rest of the population was made up of the guests sitting in the boat and the few others that arrived tomorrow. It didn’t make the pool of prospective gay suitors all that big.
“I have too much work to do to look for men,” he said. He regretted the statement when his sister piped up with her usual anti-work refrain.
“Luc is happier taking his work to bed,” she said cheekily. Lucas buried his head to stop anyone from seeing the blush of temper at his sister bandying around his personal life. He was a private person and he didn’t know these people from Adam. He mumbled something appropriate.
“If you look to your left, you’ll see the dock and the hotel now,” Dylan interrupted. Lucas was never happier to hear the captain’s voice and he looked up to see Dylan looking back at him. There was a curious expression on his face. Puzzlement? Inquiry? A frown? Lucas looked away quickly. He wasn’t dealing with what a stranger thought about what he had heard any more than he could be bothered to deal with the rest of the people on the boat.
The hotel was wide, low, and painted white. The building was nestled in amongst greenery, and wide steps led up from the beach. A welcoming party waited on the beach, and with bags off of the boat and his five-hundred dollar shoes sinking in the sand, Lucas followed the rest of the party up the stairs and to the hotel foyer. Crisp and clean and cool, it was a welcome after the sun on his back for so long. He just wanted a shower and a drink, most definitely in that order. The captain didn’t follow them up into the hotel and Lucas was left to wonder how the man filled his time. Did he stay here on the island between trips or return to the mainland? Probably the latter. Shame. Lucas would have liked to have stared some more.
Christ, he needed a drink. He hadn’t officially started on any medication yet, happy to put it off until after the weekend. With that in mind, he planned to make the most of it. This could possibly be the last occasion that he and alcohol were joined at the hip. Lucas held the empty champagne flute in his hand and gently tapped his fingers against its rim. The redhead, now formally introduced as Kate, chief and only bridesmaid for his sister, had made it her duty to get to know every detail of his life. He was, after all, father, mother, and brother of the bride all rolled into one. He smiled politely as Kate reeled off another fun fact about his sister. Apparently, she and Tasha went to Vegas last year.
“And there was this man in drag and he was…” She grinned and leaned in close. “Well, I don’t need to tell you. I bet you see all kinds of crazy things.”
“Crazy things?” He probably shouldn’t have asked.
“Well,” she said and then lowered her voice as if to tell a secret, “you’re gay.”
Lucas raised an eyebrow and nodded. “Yes, I am,” he said slowly, not entirely sure how that had anything to do with seeing so-called ‘crazy things’.
Kate winked and, seemingly content with Lucas’s answer, turned back to talk to her husband. This was going to be a long night.
Clearing his throat, Lucas waved a hand in the air. He really needed that drink. He smiled as he met the eyes of the pretty blonde who had been serving the table all night, and she was quickly at his side, filling his glass with champagne. He eyed the back of Kate’s head. He’d never met the woman in his life and tried to recall what her connection was to his sister. He remembered there had been a Kate at university—Tasha’s second-year roommate. That must be it. To be honest, he knew very few of Tasha’s friends. He had always been working, and then a couple of years ago she had moved in with Liam.
“Are you okay?” Tasha asked as she rested her hand over Lucas’s. He smiled as her warm fingers circled around his. “I’m so sorry if she’s bothering you.” She smirked as she leaned forward and looked at Kate.
“It’s fine,” Lucas lied. The woman was annoying but she had a big heart. She loved her husband, her children, and from the sound of it, she loved Tasha like a sister. “And no, you’re not sorry.” She’d have done it on purpose. It was her way of making him suffer for even daring to think about working while he was out here. It was a vacation, she had told him several times. A well-deserved one.
Tasha grinned. “She’s an acquired taste,” she said with a laugh and tucked a strand of her dark blonde hair behind her ear. She seemed to have relaxed since that morning. Stress and nerves had been creeping in over the last few days, but now that she, her husband-to-be, their closest family and friends, and, most importantly, her dress had all arrived safely on the island, she was finally looking forward to her big day. Christ, how was it his baby sister was getting married tomorrow? He had been responsible for her for almost ten years and had proudly watched as she had grown from an annoying seventeen-year-old brat into a fine, dedicated young woman.
Lucas smiled and met his sister’s eyes. “So long as she’s your taste, I really don’t mind.” He pressed his lips to her temple in a warm kiss. All he wanted was for this weekend to go off without a hitch. Tasha deserved to be happy. He chewed thoughtfully on his lip, and his smile grew wider. It was time to play his part. Getting to his feet, Lucas picked up his glass and fork, chiming them together as he called for attention.
“What are you doing?” Tasha asked in a hushed voice. This was something she hadn’t planned on.
“My duty,” he said. Taking a deep breath, he looked around the large, circular table and at the eight expectant faces staring back up at him. If this was a meeting for Municipal, he’d have his tablet, projector, PowerPoint presentations filled with charts and data, and his performance would be spot on. Every single thing would be perfect. Pushing his hand into his pants pocket, he did his best to relax.
“Hi,” he started, kind of wishing his opening had had a little more impact. “As most of you know, my baby sister is getting married tomorrow.” Kate whooped and everyone laughed. “First, I want to thank the staff for a beautiful evening.” He nodded toward the row of staff lined up against the far wall. “I expect you’ll make tomorrow just as amazing.” He turned back to Tasha and her guests. “And I want to welcome you all to Sapphire Cay on behalf of Natasha and Liam.” He glanced down at his sister, relieved to find a smile on her face and Liam’s arm around her shoulder. “Obviously, we’ve a few guests missing right now so I’ll save my best lines for tomorrow for maximum embarrassment on Tasha’s part.” He grinned as Liam laughed. Turning to Tasha, he raised his glass. “I just want to wish you all the best for tomorrow. I know Mom and Dad would have been incredibly proud.” He smiled and held his glass out toward Tasha. “To Tasha and Liam.”
“To Tasha and Liam,” the guests repeated.
Lucas smiled as he sipped his drink.
Tasha wrapped her hand around his and pulled him down into his seat. “Thank you,” she said, and there was a twinge in Lucas’s chest when he found tears glazing her hazel eyes. Had it really been ten years? He remembered the day like it was yesterday—Officers Jenkins and Tabor standing in his parents’ living room with their hats in their hands and offering their condolences. Tenderly, he cupped her cheek and then slid his hand through her blonde hair so like his own.
Leaning over, he kissed her cheek. “Don’t go ruining your makeup,” he whispered. Tasha laughed and his heart swelled with pride and warmth. They hadn’t done so bad since their parents had been cruelly taken from them. Tasha was a beautiful and successful young woman, and she was going to be an equally amazing wife and mother. Whether he was part of her life or not, she was going to do just fine.
“Ladies and gentlemen, would you like to move the party outside to the pool area. We have much to set up for tomorrow,” the wedding coordinator announced with his clipped British accent. The suited and booted cliché-gay was a little too sure of himself for Lucas’s liking, but he was to the point and beyond efficient, if not slightly regimental. Seriously, at one point, Lucas felt like they were preparing for battle, not a wedding. “Help yourselves to another glass of champagne as you leave. The bar will open shortly.”
“Isn’t Edward amazing? He’s gay you know. Well, I don’t know for sure but he probably is,” Kate slurred from Lucas’s right. She leaned forward and Lucas feared he was about to see far more of Kate than he really needed to. “It’s going to be so beautiful tomorrow. Do you think he has a boyfriend? I mean, you could totally be his boyfriend, right?” At that point her husband wrapped his hands around her wrist and gently guided her back to him. Lucas couldn’t have been more grateful. Sure the wedding coordinator was kind of cute in a straight-laced, up-his-own-ass kind of way, but totally not his type and definitely not what he needed right now. Edward edged towards a bit too obvious and colorful for Lucas to feel entirely comfortable. What he had to do now was high-maintenance enough without having a partner like that demanding his time and energy.
Lucas rested his elbow on the table and watched the flurry of movement as everyone excitedly followed his sister and her fiancé to the exit. He smiled as he watched his sister’s friend, Kate, being guided around the furniture and toward the door. He couldn’t remember seeing her without a drink all evening, and it seemed alcohol and the heat had finally taken their toll. Downing what was left of his glass of champagne, Lucas got to his feet. Kate wasn’t the only one flagging. The day had been a continuous parade of ‘doing’—the flight, the boat ride, checking in, unpacking, showering, changing, the rehearsal, drinks, and the meal. And somehow he’d managed to grab an hour to skim through the first several pages of the contract, and already he regretted it. Patterson had certainly screwed the pooch this time. Municipal wouldn’t be happy with the offer he’d made, and it was going to take some serious backpedaling to get this thing fixed and calm the waters. What Patterson had done was beneficial to workers and owners alike but it cut Municipal’s percentage to under six percent. To Lucas’s mind this was a good deal and the kind of thing he wished Municipal negotiated every time. Municipal knew Lucas was good. Lucas knew he was good. But this good? Somehow he needed to redo the contract, raise Municipal’s percentage, and all the while not screw over staff and owners of the respective companies, or, indeed, Patterson.
With a sigh, Lucas slid his glass onto the table and made his way outside. He closed his eyes as he was greeted with cooler air mixed in with the humidity. Thank God. Since arriving on the island he’d had a constant layer of sticky sweat between him and his clothes. Even in the lightweight chinos and casual, short-sleeved shirt, Lucas had felt overwhelmed with the heat. But finally the promised cooler evening had arrived, and it was very much appreciated.
A high-pitched squeal suddenly erupted from among the guests and Lucas opened his eyes in time to see Kate’s husband lift her from the ground. She squealed and kicked her legs, losing one of her expensive sandals as she was tossed through the air and came down with an almighty splash in the pool. What was it about alcohol that had grown adults behaving like children? He couldn’t help but laugh as Kate stood up in the pool and smacked her hands against the surface of the water. She looked like she was about to have a full-on tantrum. Angrily, she pulled her wet hair back from her face and screeched at her husband, claiming he was a dead man. Lucas smiled as the guests burst into laughter and the one sober and sensible head of the group, Vanessa, Liam’s mom, began shooing them from the poolside. His smile turned to a smirk as Vanessa held out her hands to Kate. A risky move for the prim and proper sixty-year-old. He half expected—and in a small way kind of wanted—Kate to grab the woman’s hand and pull Vanessa in alongside her. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and instead, Kate emerged from the water drenched and dripping and glaring at her husband. Lucas should really have listened to his name when Kate introduced them. He would like to shake that guy’s hand and applaud his bravery, because from the look on Kate’s face, he was totally in for it when she got him alone.
Leaving the rest of the guests to their games, Lucas wandered idly across the decking and down the single step to the small bar. Wooden in structure, it mixed the modern, classy smooth edges and neutral colors of a city cocktail bar with a whimsical tropical feel with its grass roof, lanterns, and chains of fake orchids and various other brightly colored flowers. He stopped as he reached the bar and rested against the solid edge. Leaning his head to one side, he admired the view. Now this was something he could appreciate. He stared at the ass of the figure behind the counter. The bartender was distracted, crouched down in front of one of the coolers and arranging bottles of drink so their labels faced outward. Lucas slid onto one of the barstools and continued to watch. The bartender was wearing tight, black jeans that accentuated the curve of his ass, and a sliver of tanned skin was on show as he bent over and his white shirt rode up his back.
“What can I get ya?” sexy-assed bartender said as he got to his feet.
Lucas sat up straight, surprised the bartender knew he was there. “Erm…” What the hell did he want? The bartender turned around and Lucas was pretty sure his jaw hit the bar as he stared up at the same man who had brought them over on the boat. “Oh, hi,” he managed and quickly averted his gaze and glanced over to where Tasha and Liam were locked in an embrace. Their profiles were set against a net of twinkling fairy lights and he couldn’t remember them ever looking as in love and happy as they did right now.
“Brother of the bride, right?” the barman asked.
Lucas nodded, adjusting his position to sit more comfortably. “Captain Dylan,” he said and flashed a smile.
“Just Dylan.” The captain, Dylan, looked past Lucas at the rest of the wedding party. “They look like they’re having fun.”
Lucas turned on his stool and looked across the group of guests. Kate seemed oblivious to the fact she looked like a half-drowned rat as she held a glass of champagne in her hand and was deep in conversation with Vanessa. Kate’s husband was keeping his distance and sharing a joke with Tasha’s remaining guests.
“So, what can I get for you?” Dylan asked again and rested his hands on the bar as he waited.
On the bar was a cocktail list. Picking it up, Lucas eyed the various concoctions. “What would you suggest?” he said and laid the menu out flat.
Dylan scanned the list. “Sex on the Beach is quite popular.” He gave a mischievous grin, as his eyes briefly met Lucas’s. Their rich ocean blue was more beautiful than anything Lucas had imagined lay behind the shades Dylan wore on the boat.
Lucas drew his lower lip between his teeth. “I’m not crazy about sand,” he said suggestively and then focused on the cocktails. “I’ll have an Apple Mojito. Thanks.” He closed the menu and pushed it to one side.
“Coming right up.” Dylan turned and searched for the ingredients to put together the Mojito—rum, apple liqueur, soda water, lime, syrup, crushed ice, and mint leaves.
Lucas watched the flick of Dylan’s wrist as he muddled the lime and syrup with the mint leaves. “So, are you a boat-guy moonlighting as a cocktail-guy or the other way around?” he asked. He wasn’t sure which to bet on. Dylan was lean and tanned, stubble covered his jaw, and Lucas could see him halfway to crusty old seadog already. And yet with the tight jeans and the white, open-collar shirt, his hair swept back from his face, and the finesse with which he was pouring and mixing, Dylan definitely had the exotic bartender feel to him.
Pouring the drink over ice, Dylan then finished the glass with a slice of lime, fresh mint leaves, and a straw. “What would you say if I said neither and both?” Dylan accompanied his mysterious answer with a grin. Rolling up his sleeves, he slid the glass toward Lucas.
The drink looked good, as did the man who made it. Lucas’s gaze drifted from the drink to the inside of Dylan’s wrist and the tattoo that was now visible. He stared at the outline of a spiraling sun, made up of a large circle with equally spaced curved rays around its circumference. It was filled in a mixture of yellow and orange and words were written beneath it in a script Lucas couldn’t read from where he was.
“Is that for me?” Tasha chimed in as she stumbled up against him and flopped across his lap.
“No,” he said and sucked on his straw. The rum and apple taste was refreshing, and he had to stop himself before he finished the drink too quickly. “How the hell are you going to get up in the morning?” Was he supposed to look after her now that Kate was pool-soaked and definitely not sober?
“I’m fine. Stop being a party pooper and have some fun.”
Lucas rolled his eyes upward and stared at the night sky. It was clear and the stars shone brightly.
“I mean it,” Tasha continued. “It’s a vacation. I don’t want you working all week or next week. You could do with getting a tan and drinking cocktails out of coconuts.” She stopped and looked up at Dylan. “You do have cocktails in coconuts, right?”
“They can certainly be arranged,” Dylan said with a smile.
“See?” She stood up and wrapped her arm around Lucas’s shoulder. “Please, for me and for you, no work while you’re here.” Tasha put on a firm look. “I mean it. I worry about you. I don’t want to lose you.” Unspoken was Alan and everything he had left behind.
“Tasha!” Thank God. They both turned to where Liam was motioning for her to join him. Soon they would go to their separate rooms and Liam was evidently keen to spend as much time with her as possible before that happened.
“Promise,” Tasha said.
Lucas debated what to do. “Promise,” he lied. He watched as Tasha made her way unsteadily in three-inch heels back to her husband-to-be.
“Are you okay?” Dylan asked, and Lucas tiredly pinched the bridge of his nose. “Your sister seems a real sweet girl.”
“She is,” Lucas said and rested his arms on the bar. He thoughtfully looked up at Dylan. Boat-guy or cocktail-guy? “Do you ever feel like you should be somewhere else, doing something else?”
Dylan met Lucas’s eyes and nodded. “Of course.” He smiled and leaned on the bar opposite Lucas. “It’s why I’m not the sole captain of that boat or the bartender mixing cocktails past the end of next month.”
Narrowing his eyes, Lucas needed to ask. “Why?”
“I’ve never subscribed to the whole settling for just one thing. There are a million and one places to visit, people to talk to, and jobs to have.” Despite saying this, Dylan had a thoughtful expression on his face. If he had made that statement with a grin then Lucas may well have left it but something about Dylan’s demeanor made him want to carry on this thread of conversation.
“But aren’t some things worth settling for?” Lucas asked. Because of his job, Tasha had never wanted for anything. That was a good thing. Right?
“Sure, I guess,” Dylan said and leaned back as Kate’s husband joined Lucas at the bar. He glanced at Lucas and smiled. “If you settle for the right reasons.”
Not knowing what else to say, Lucas nodded his reply, and then taking his drink, he left his chair and walked past the hut, down onto the beach. Awkwardly and one-handed, making sure not to spill the drink, he removed shoes and socks and then left them in a small pile as he wandered down towards the gently rolling waves. The night was warm and there was a faint breeze that ruffled through his hair and brought with it the scent of the sea.
He reached the water and immediately took a step into the cool sea, not really caring that the bottoms of his pants were getting wet. He’d packed shorts and cutoffs for after the wedding, getting this spare pair of dress pants wet meant he was more likely to wear the shorts. The only way to make sure he lived a little.
His mind went from work to Alan to his health and inevitably settled on Tasha.
Her meeting Liam, a man who could provide for her as well as Lucas had done, was the other part to this complicated jigsaw Lucas called life. In his opinion, no man would ever be good enough for his sister, but Liam came damn close. He was a solid, steady man with a passionate soul, and Tasha and he were perfect for each other. She had wanted Lucas to leave Municipal as soon as she heard Alan had died. She worried about Lucas as much as he worried about her.
“And you think the stress won’t kill you as well?” she said with passion. “You’re thirty-two years old yet you walk around exhausted and gray. I never see you, and I worry.”
“It isn’t like that,” he defended. “I’m younger than Alan and I know my limits—”
“So did Alan.”
He had no response to that one really. He could lie to everyone as much as he wanted, but he couldn’t lie to himself anymore. Instead he focused on the why of working as opposed to the actual doing.
“I work so I have something for the future.”
“You’ve said that before, Luc, and I’m the only one that can say this to you. Alan had a solid future—a pension, a family.”
Sighing, he kicked at a small pile of sand on the edge of the water as he walked out of the water and back onto the beach. He glanced up at the beautiful hotel, lit with a thousand low lamps that cast a glow out into the surrounding darkness. The air was still humid, but there was a breeze coming in off the sea and the whoosh of the waves lulled him out of his introspection. He had to draw a line under his working life and decide what he was going to do now; it was the only way to move forward. Folding his legs under him, he sat cross-legged on the soft sand and looked out at the blackness of dark sky and iron sea.
Was it the best thing for him to take up a new role on the fourth of next month? Was it worth losing his health and living on pills for the rest of his life? Would he be able to leave Municipal once the bonus for this last job was paid? Or should he change the direction of his whole life? He bet Alan would have wanted another chance to make these kinds of decisions.