Whispering Cove, Book 3
Danica Kent, MD, has settled into her new role as a small-town doctor. She caters to her Whispering Cove patients, especially the rum-drinking, poker-playing, town grandfathers who have their hands in a bit of everything. But when one of those patients brings her face-to-face with her high school crush, the work she’s done to reinvent herself falters.
Braydon Mitchell sails around the world writing freelance magazine articles. With no desire to settle down, he’s successfully avoided his grandfather’s pleas to come home…until now. Returning out of worry for the old man’s health, Braydon finds old friends in town for their high school reunion. And something he hadn’t expected. Danica, the awkward teenage geek who’s all grown up—and filled out in all the right places.
From their first touch, erotic sparks make Braydon want everything he isn’t built for—small-town stability, a strong woman’s love, family. And Danica wonders if Braydon has dropped anchor for good…or if her lover will be gone with the next tide.
This book has been previously published as part of an anthology series with Cathryn Fox and Mackenzie McKade.
Family. Friends. Forgotten memories.
They all waited in Whispering Cove. Waited and taunted.
Already missing the call of deadlines, Braydon Mitchell anchored his forty-foot sailboat in the bay away from the main docks, where the water calmed to a gentle rocking at night, and raised his face to the sun. The salty air and slapping waves, lush foliage and open space failed to ease his spirit or his need for freedom.
The memories he’d set aside in pursuit of life could no longer be ignored and they wouldn’t be chipped away like irritating barnacles. Though they weren’t all bad, he was no longer the idealistic boy who’d attended Whispering Cove High. The death of a friend’s parents had stripped the gleaming gloss off life’s hull. Several of his group had scattered. Few had returned for more than a token visit.
Braydon secured the sail riggings and moved toward the back of the boat and the inflatable dingy he’d use to cross the gleaming water. Wood-sided businesses and homes painted primary blues and reds welcomed fishermen home. Nearby, mixed in with the traditionally painted ivory or white homes, were those painted orange or pink or lime green. There were even a couple of purple roofs. Even the homeowners who opted for more sedate colors leaned toward vibrant hues for the trim work or deck chairs.
Its appearance excited him while its unhurried pace slipped through him a little uncomfortably.
He stepped into the dingy and headed toward the shore, past the docks and the fishermen he’d known his entire life. For the first time in ten years he and his friends—most of them anyway—would be together again. How everyone would feel about it remained to be seen.
He could have resisted attending the reunion, but his grandparents… He couldn’t resist the family who had welcomed him when his parents became more interested in the next adventure than in their son.
He might not be so different from his parents.
Adventure excited him.
Ambition drove him.
His jaw tightened as he strained against the urge to gnash his teeth. Pushing his shoulders back, popping the vertebrae between his shoulder blades, Braydon angled the small boat to the spot Grandfather Byron said he’d be waiting.
Yeah, adventure excited him.
Yeah, ambition drove him.
But he wasn’t leaving a family behind. He would never leave a child to wonder why he hadn’t been enough of a reason for his parents to stay. Why he was so un-special, turning away had been easy.
Scrubbing his hand over his neck, Braydon shook himself off the path of useless thoughts. He’d been loved. By his grandparents. By his friends. They were the reason he’d come home.
Grandfather Byron, Granddad, wasn’t doing well and Braydon wouldn’t allow the pursuit of an exciting sporting story to cost him more time with family.
On the shore, a sleek blonde stepped from the glaring green shed at the end of the dock. Slender ankles, well-toned calves and slim thighs teased until they disappeared into white shorts enhancing her tan. A teal tank top hugged perky breasts and nipped in at her narrow waist.
Naked on the deck in the moonlight.
Naked on his bed in the main cabin.
Naked with her nipples calling him to taste.
The images of her on his boat clicked successively through his mind, fast and urgent.
Saliva pooled in his mouth, forcing him to swallow. Whoever she was, he would get to know her during his visit. He would enjoy her no-strings company as much as he enjoyed his freedom.
Braydon cut the small motor, jumped into the shallow water, and pulled the dingy to shore. He looked away from the woman to secure his raft and turned back in time to watch his grandfather step from the shed.
Tall and broad, the brawn he’d built as a fisherman stuck with him. But he was different. More frail and stooped over than before, he leaned on the blonde for support. His hand shook on her arm. Years of tying lures, stringing net and fighting his catch had swollen his knuckles into bulbous joints.
With gravel scrunching beneath his sandaled feet, Braydon quickly closed the distance.
“Hey, boy.” Granddad’s voice shook across the twenty feet still separating them as if each syllable required effort. He pulled free of the blonde and stepped forward. “’Bout time you got home.”
She followed at a cautious distance as Granddad’s left leg dragged a little across the slippery rock.
Emptiness washed through Braydon, leaving his chest hollow with a subtle burn of anxiety. His legs, his chest, his stomach were all empty and suddenly weak. He was shaken and guilt swarmed him at the sight of Granddad’s apparent loss of vitality.
“Got here as soon as I could.” Knowing Granddad wouldn’t approve of attention being drawn to his age or ailments, Braydon closed the remaining distance quickly and pulled his grandfather into their standard, manly hug. “Traffic was hell.” Stepping back he grinned. “Guppies were everywhere.”
The blonde’s small, sweet lips curled into a smile, showing off perfect teeth. She didn’t move closer, and though she seemed familiar, he wasn’t recalling why.
Granddad lasered his gaze into Braydon, alerting him to the hard tone to come. “You could have flown.”
“The boat’s already packed.” Braydon dipped his head in acknowledgement of the woman and offered his hand. “Pardon Granddad’s rudeness. I’m Braydon Mitchell.”
Something sparked in her gray-blue eyes behind her wire-framed and rhinestone-studded glasses. It was almost as if she alone was privy to an inside joke. Intriguing. From her blonde roots to her petite nose—with a fishing-line-thin scar running down one side—to her bodacious curves, she was intriguing.
“I’m not rude, you pain in the ass.” Granddad reached back and tugged the woman forward. “This chickadee is Dr. Dani, the new private-practice doc in town. She didn’t want me coming alone.”
Dr. Dani didn’t take Braydon’s hand. Disappointment at not discovering the feel of her skin slipped through him, but was overruled by concern about his grandfather’s need to be escorted by the town doctor.
Dr. Dani turned to Granddad.
“If you hadn’t insisted on walking the whole way, I wouldn’t have minded you coming alone.” Her voice was soft, underlined with determination and tinted by a strong local accent as she addressed Granddad. A sultry tone subtly emphasized the words walking and coming, sort of rolling the ing.
Braydon’s body jumped to aroused awareness. His head angled slowly to the left as unattainable recognition flirted with his memory. She was local, about his age. He had to know her. She wasn’t the kind of woman he would forget.
“Been walking longer’n you two combined have been breathin’.” Granddad’s customary grit lit a fuse of hope inside Braydon.
His guilt eased. The emptiness in his heart was replenished.
“All the more reason to slow down now.” Dr. Dani shook her head, bouncing her wavy hair around her shoulders. “Ruth wouldn’t have approved of you coming alone.”
Braydon grinned, appreciative of how the woman stood up to Granddad. Most people backed down, unwilling to attempt swaying the bull-nosed shark. “How is Grandma? Where is she?”
“She’s good. Today is her volunteer day at the hospital.” Granddad took Dr. Dani’s arm and headed toward the walkway leading to the road. “She sends her love and says she’ll see you at dinner.”
Braydon fell into step at Dr. Dani’s side. Her wintergreen scent floated up and mixed with the tang of the salty sea. His body screamed for a touch, a taste, of the temptress at his side. His stomach rumbled and, though he’d skipped breakfast and his mid-morning snack, it had nothing to do with hunger for food.
Dr. Dani glanced up at him. “Sounds like you’re starved.”
“Famished. Have anything good in mind?” Like dropping Granddad off at home and joining me back on my boat for a thorough physical?
She dropped her gaze back to her feet.
“Let’s go to The Seafarer,” Granddad suggested.
“Do Mr. and Mrs. Wilson still own it?” The town’s hotspot for great seafood, the restaurant had been owned by a high-school friend’s parents.
“Why change a four-generation tradition?”
“Do things ever change around here?”
“Not much,” Dr. Dani said.
“Tourists wouldn’t come. Locals’d be pissed,” Granddad summed up. He always narrowed matters down to the bloody quick, and he was right. Changing tradition around town impacted the economy. Times were tough enough without adding an unnecessary strain.
As they walked the few blocks to The Seafarer, they were stopped several times. Moms and grandmas patted Braydon’s arm and welcomed him home with a matchmaker’s gleam in their eyes—he’d avoid those women. The men wanted to reminisce and rehash that-time-you-insert-stupid-kid-mistake-here stories—they mostly made him laugh.
Much remained the same in Whispering Cove.
Family. Friends. Forgotten memories.
Danica Kent walked between Byron—who she suspected didn’t need help as much as he claimed, but she loved him enough to humor him—and the man she’d had a crush on since she was nine.
He’d grown into a walking, talking, adventure-loving, sea-scented sex fantasy. The rebel image projected by thick and slightly too long, sun-lightened brown hair, a strong jaw and almost broody eyes in his byline pictures in sailing magazines fuelled her wet dreams. Lean muscles, flat stomach, narrow hips and powerful legs… Raw masculinity oozing through his pores awoke her body and had her daydreaming about running her hands over him.
A chill of anticipation rushed up her spine and filled her head with dizziness. She stumbled. Byron’s grip on her arm released. Braydon was there. He wrapped his arms around her waist and stopped her tumble to the ground. Turning her in his arms, he held her pinned close. As his erection pressed into her thigh, his green eyes darkened.
Her heart flinched. Her chest rose and fell against his raggedly. She’d been in this position once before, very briefly, and had dreamed of the replay, but her dreams had never come true.
“You okay?” Smooth as her favorite rum, his Herculean purr teased her senses. Awareness flickered in his gaze.
“I…” Mouth gaping, Danica nodded.
The small gesture moved her body against his. Against his arousal. Memories clamped down harder than a crab’s claw. Memories of walking the widow’s peak on the tower of her parents’ home, of using her telescope to spy on Braydon instead of studying the stars, of dreaming he came to her asking to be with her.
The young girl in love was still trapped inside, and she was still desperately awkward.
Braydon chuckled. His green eyes, splintered with lines of brown, reeled her in with promises of wicked nights on the water and in her tower bedroom. Promises of nights in his arms.
Her panties grew moist.
“Seems I’m not the only one who’s hungry.”
He’s not talking food. Her mouth dried up.
She tried to swallow or speak or think, but failed. Failed to think of anything beyond Braydon and sex.
“I’ll leave you two to…well, to whatever is going on in those young minds of yours.” Byron patted Braydon on the back and moved toward the front door of The Seafarer. “I’ll just go eat alone.”
“No you won’t.” Braydon set her away from him without breaking his gaze. “We’ll join you.”
“Suit yourself.” Byron shook his head and stepped into the restaurant.
“You coming, Dr. Dani?”
Unfortunately, no. She’d never been more grateful for her inability to talk to Braydon. Hell, she was shocked he hadn’t figured out who she was by that inability alone. And she knew he hadn’t because when he figured it out, he’d be running in the opposite direction.
She nodded and headed in to join Byron. She would absorb as much as she could of Braydon’s attention, because the sand concealing her identity was quickly washing away.
With its dark wood trim, mismatched captain’s chairs and boat benches turned into seats, The Seafarer was a seat-yourself sort of establishment. Large sheets of white paper covered the tables rather than tablecloths, buckets for dumping shells and tails sat in recessed holes in the middle of each table.
Byron had chosen a table with a view of the water and Braydon’s boat. Not wanting to risk sitting too close to Braydon, Danica took the chair beside Byron. When Braydon sat across from her, folding his long legs beneath the table with his knees bumping hers, she acknowledged the flaw in her thinking.
“Braydon, hey.” With an apron tied around her waist, Katy Wilson stopped by the table with a smile on her fresh, girl-next-door face, the perfect face for daytime TV. She bumped a lean hip against Braydon’s shoulder. “It’s about time you graced us with your presence.”
“Katy!” Braydon pushed out of his chair and pulled the dark-haired, ponytail-wearing sophisticate into his arms. “What are you doing here? I didn’t know you were coming to the reunion.”
“Helping Mom and Dad.”
“What about your show? How’m I supposed to learn to cook if you’re here?” Braydon sat back down and locked his attention on Katy.
His knees bumped Danica’s and shot tingles of awareness up her exposed thighs. He didn’t have any trouble cooking.
“Watch the re-runs. We’re in a hiatus.” Katy’s voice caught with a note of hesitation or uncertainty, which disappeared an instant later. “Not that you can do much cooking on the boat you call home. My stove is bigger than your entire kitchen.”
Katy had been on his boat and seen his kitchen? What else had she seen?
“Hey! Don’t dis my skills in the kitchen until you’ve witnessed them. I make a mean lobster.”
Katy rolled her eyes and turned away from Braydon, much like she might shrug off a pain-in-the-ass brother. “Don’t let him bait you, Danica. He’s more talk than follow through.”
Braydon’s eyes shot to hers. For a second she thought he remembered her, but he gave no other indications of recognition.
“Good to know.” Danica smiled at Katy, feeling at ease for the first time since Braydon stepped out of his dingy. “What’s on the menu today?”
Then he shifted in his seat, brushing his legs against hers with a light tickle of his leg hairs.
Her pussy quivered and begged for attention.
“Well, not to outdo the amateur, but…” Katy leaned forward and nodded toward Braydon, “a shrimp platter including the best shrimp cocktail and richest scampi you’ve ever put in your mouth.”
“Sounds great.” Danica turned to Byron who was being uncharacteristically quiet. “How about you, Byron?”
“None of that fancy stuff. Bring me fried catfish and hush puppies.”
Katy opened her mouth, but closed it again without argument. “How about you, Braydon?”
“I’ll have the same as Danica.” He shifted his piercing gaze to her again. “Maybe she knows something I don’t.”
“That wouldn’t be tough.” Katy chuckled and moved toward the kitchen. She turned back and snapped her elegant fingers. “Oh, Danica. Who is doing your hair? It looks lovely.”
“Victoria over at the Whispering Salon.” Not that the new look was offering her the confidence she’d hoped for.
“She could do the big city proud.”
“I’ll be right back.” Byron pushed his chair back and disappeared.
His walk wasn’t as labored as it had been on the rocky beach, Danica noticed. Was it a terrain thing? Had he needed to rest? He asked her to diagnose him, but his symptoms were all logical for a man his age. They were just illogical in the way they came and went at random.
Braydon leaned forward, bracing his forearms on the table. He straightened his legs, resting his calves against hers, completely unaware, or uncaring, that she’d pulled her legs back to her chair to avoid touching.
“Danica.” Recognition and something she wasn’t brave enough to name infused her name on his lips.
He did remember her.
“Hey, Dr. Dani.” A woman’s voice pulled her attention from Braydon toward Chief of Police Brody McGrath and Andrea “Andie” Adair, who she’d seen last night at the hospital when Byron called her to look in on one of his best friends.
“Brody. Andie. How’s Harold?”
“Home.” Andie breathed a sigh of relief for her granddad. “He’s tired, but doing better. Thanks for helping out with him last night.”
Brody shook Braydon’s hand in some secret shake they’d known since high school. Typical men, they needed no words to catch up on life.
“That’s what I do.” Danica smiled, both to offer comfort and because she was glad Harold was back home. “If you like, I’ll check in on him a little later.”
“That would be great,” Brody grinned. “He suggested I keep Andie out of the house, but mentioned nothing about you.”
“I would think as the big bad cop you could get away with pretty much anything you wanted.” Braydon sat back in his chair, again brushing his leg against Danica’s.
Brody laughed. “You were the one who got away with everything.”
“Please.” Braydon waved his hand. “I’ve been here an hour and have relived enough ‘do you remember when’ stories for three weeks.”
“You gave people a lot to remember.”
“And myself as much to forget.” He turned to Andie. “How are you doing?”
Danica didn’t miss the note of concern deepening his voice. He wasn’t only checking on Andie’s current life. Danica hadn’t been one of them, but she’d seen how close they’d all been in high school. The death of Andie’s parents had hit them all hard.
“I’m holding up.” Andie kissed Braydon’s cheek. “Thank you for asking and for the calls over the years.”
“Hey, we runaways have to stick together.”
“And apparently come home at the same time.” Brody shook Braydon’s hand again. “We’ll catch up later. We just stopped by to check on Katy.”
Danica watched as Brody and Andie walked away. He took her hand in his. She pulled away. He pulled it back. They’d been inseparable in high school, the couple everyone envied and, though the spark still flickered between them, she was clearly holding out. If Brody won the fight for her heart he’d be impossible. Happy, but impossible.
“Now, back to this.” Braydon resumed the same position he’d settled into before the latest interruption. Leaning forward, forearms braced on the table with his calves against hers. “You’re Danica, as in Danica Kent?”
Her name slipped out of his mouth like a seductive caress. His eyes sharpened, but she couldn’t identify the underlying emotion. Anger?
She flattened her hands on the table, stroking the fork tines with an index finger.
“As in the Danica Kent who tutored kids in science?”
Relief swam in her blood. He didn’t remember the rest.
“As in the Danica Kent who watched me through the telescope on her widow’s walk?” He shifted an ankle against hers.
Her muscles twitched. He did remember. Her head bobbed in a nod. She’d wanted him to notice her all those years ago. Now she had his attention and still couldn’t speak. How had she ever hoped to capture his interest?
“You’ve changed.” He traced the back of her hand. The light calluses on his fingers and palms scraped in contrast to the gentle touch. “I wonder how else you’ve changed.”
Danica stared at his hand on hers. He knew who she was and that she’d spied on him, but he wasn’t turning and running. Shock overruled the embarrassment she should feel from him knowing of her teenage obsession.
“I’d say you’re still not much of a talker, but I think you only have a problem with me.”
She swallowed. She would have to talk to him eventually. Hopefully she’d come up with something intelligent.
He took her left hand in his, turned it over and traced her palm with his left index finger. Her stare was riveted on his hand willingly touching hers.
“Do you have nothing to say, Danica?”
“About what?” The words croaked out, but at least she’d managed something.
“About you and me and what we never did together but could now.”
Boat-sinking torpedo dead ahead!
He was referring to sex, and damn if she didn’t want it, even if he was leaving in a few days, right after the reunion. “We have nine feet of blood vessels, six hundred pain sensors, nine thousand nerve endings, thirty-six heat sensors and seventy-five pressure sensors in one square inch of our hand.”
“Really? So which sensors would feel this?” He pulled her hand across the table and blew a warm breath over her palm. “Or this?” He kissed her palm. “Or this?” He swiped the tip of his tongue along her lifeline.
Moisture pooled in her panties. She curled her toes to keep from squirming beneath his attention.
“Braydon.” She hardly recognized her own whisper. She was in a public restaurant and all she wanted was to find a quiet corner for him to keep touching her. She wanted nothing to shatter the mini dream-coming-true moment.
“Mmm. I like my name on your lips.” He linked his fingers with hers and smiled into her eyes. “I like your mouth.”
“I…” Her thighs trembled.
“You what, Danica?” He raised his foot, brushing his leg up the inside of hers. “Tell me what you want.”
“I…” Her pussy pulsed. She rolled her hips, slowly rubbing the seam of her shorts over her clit. She was going to orgasm in public and he had done nothing more than touch her hand or play footsies. “Braydon.”
“Go ahead.” That Herculean purr was back in his voice, enticing and encouraging her, pushing her toward the end of the plank. “Tell me what you want.”
“Say it. No one can hear you.” He placed an open-mouthed kiss on her palm and sucked the skin gently between his teeth.
Her inner walls and core muscles contracted in orgasm. Tingling electrodes of excitement coursed through her body, filling her veins and vibrating her muscles and shutting down her brain. Her vision blurred in a field of brilliant stars.
She gasped and pulled her hand free to grab her glass of water. Her hand shook as she raised it to her mouth.
Braydon Mitchell hadn’t run from her. Maybe she should have run from him.
He could be a fantasy come true she couldn’t handle. But damn if she didn’t want to be the handler.