Authors: Kim Law
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2013 Kim Law
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
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Cover design by Laura Klynstra
Table of Contents
Strains of Rachmaninoff flowed from the Steinway grand
piano, mixing with the ocean breeze that casually drifted in through the open
dining room windows. Roni Templeman lifted slightly off the piano bench, one
foot working the pedal, and picked up the tempo of the song. If there was
anything she could get lost in, it was being at the keyboard. It had been that
way her entire life.
Her hands flew in front of her. Up, down, pounding,
caressing to the song’s crescendo. She lifted her face to the cool breeze and
sucked in a deep gulp of the morning dampness, knowing her cheeks had to be
pink from her exertion. There was nothing like playing in the mornings when the
rest of the world was still asleep.
Of course Turtle Island, just a ferry ride away from the
southeasternmost corner of Georgia, had begun waking up well over two hours ago.
Roni had welcomed the sunrise as she’d sat in her dining room—where most people
would have a table instead of a black-lacquered, six-foot piano—as she did
every morning. Tucked into the curve of the large bay window in her beach
cottage, she had her routine, and she stuck to it. Occasionally, however, she did
go beyond her allotted piano time and into her run-on-the-beach time. Because some
mornings demanded she stay right where she was for just a bit longer. Today was
one of those days.
As she neared the last stanzas, she watched through the
plate-glass window as a distended bead of water clung to the leaf of a potted
cabbage palm sitting on her deck. The sun had greeted the morning behind a
hazy, slow rain, and though the sky was now a clear blue, promising a glorious
early-December day, everything remained damp.
The droplet of water shook slightly, as if wanting to let
go, but not quite certain it was ready to be free. Roni set her back teeth
together and concentrated on the song, on the movement of her hands across the ivories,
yet she couldn’t take her eyes off that single leaf with the lone bead of
As she reached the final bars, her arms tensed with exertion,
her breaths grew short. She was exhausted from the longer-than-normal session, yet
at the same time, exhilarated. Playing had that power.
The tiny orb seemed to grow in size as she played, puffing
up with bravery for a brief second before it vibrated with hesitation. Then, as
if in desperation to move forward, it broke free, slipping silently along the leaf’s
vein and rolling down its length toward the tip. As it leaped from the greenery,
Roni hit the last note and a crystal-clear, rich sound filled the room.
She let out a ragged breath.
Then her muscles went lax, and her body sagged against the
bench as the bead of water splatted to the wood deck and the final note disappeared
in the room.
Everything seemed overly quiet in the seconds that followed.
But it wasn’t, not really.
If she listened carefully, she could pick out the faint hiss
from the gas fireplace burning in the connected living room. She heard the motorized
hum of half a dozen ornaments hanging on her Christmas tree, slowly rotating while
tiny people danced away inside.
She could hear the ocean a story below her deck; the swish
and lap of the water was always there. Even more so after the wet greeting to
Yet without chords coming from the piano, everything seemed
so perfectly still.
She let out another slow breath and relaxed her shoulders before
inhaling and filling her lungs once again. Then she blinked and looked around
as if coming out of a fog.
She took in the cozy rooms with the cluster of unique
furniture she’d handpicked from local stores. Her home wasn’t tiny, having once
housed a family of eight, but it wasn’t too big, either. She liked having a bit
of space. It was far nicer than the cramped apartment she’d rented in New York
City. Or the hotel rooms where she’d spent the majority of her childhood.
The best thing about the house, though, was that it sat surrounded
by almost an acre of land. This meant she could play in the mornings with her
windows open to the sea and not worry that she’d wake her neighbors. The size of
her yard was unheard of for a beachfront property in this day and age, but
she’d lucked out when she’d moved here almost three years ago. The older lady
who’d owned the property had refused to sell, even though she’d already moved into
the smaller two-bedroom next door, until she’d found just the right owner.
Upon hearing that Roni intended to put a piano in the dining
room instead of a fancy table for twelve, the eighty-year-old white-haired
sweetheart had held out her gnarled hands, grasping Roni’s in hers. “Welcome
home,” Mrs. Rylander had said. Roni had grown misty at the words.
Yes. It had felt like home. Turtle Island had always done
that for her.
It was the place where she’d once met her two best friends.
Where she’d spent every summer with them, from eight until eighteen. It was her
home away from the hotels. She’d loved her summers here, not only because they
were spent with her friends, but because it was uninterrupted time with her
mother and brother. Her mother, a college professor at University of Alabama in
Huntsville, had been able to take summers off, pack up her two kids, and spend the
months at the beach.
Turtle Island was also the place Roni and her friends had all
promised to return to someday. And they had. Only, Andie had married and moved
to Boston earlier this year, and now Roni was …
She shook her head. No, she was happy. She loved the island.
She loved her life.
She loved her house.
Though, granted, she hadn’t been in any one place this long
since she’d been six years old.
It was just this time of year. She always got a little
melancholy in December.
The sound of “The Little Drummer Boy” sounded at her hip and
she looked down to where she’d laid her cell before she’d sat down at the piano.
It was her brother. She’d known Danny would call today. He always did.
Instead of answering, she pressed the button to send the
call to voice mail and then headed across the room as she brought up the small
text window. She keyed in a short message.
I’m fine. Really.
It’s been three years. I’m over it.
She ran a fingertip over the tiny Christmas village sitting
on the mantel while she waited on Danny’s reply. The glass pieces had been
hand-blown by a local artist who rented space in the art gallery.
The phone sang out the words, “and a partridge in a pear
tree.” She had a text. At the same time, she caught sight of the usual spot of
pale yellow bobbing across her yard and heading to the house next door. The
tiny body below the scarf hustled faster than Roni thought an eighty-year-old
She looked down at her phone.
Then answer the
phone when I call.
Roni smiled. She loved her brother.
I’ll see you in
three weeks. You’ll see then that I’m fine.
Too long to wait. I’ll
call you later this week.
And she suspected he would. She would talk to him then. But
right now, on this day, she didn’t want to have a conversation with her brother
about what she’d lost in the past.
It was over. She’d moved on.
Instead of dwelling, she wanted to head out to the beach and
get in her morning run.
She wanted to wave good morning to the locals and tourists she
passed. To enjoy her life—because it really was a good one. And she wanted to head
over to the hotel and meet up with her friends for lunch while they giggled and
fantasized over the idea of what they could all do with the twenty-four
amazingly hot men that would soon be parading all over the island.
Because it wasn’t every day a girl had that to look forward
Four hours later, a crisp breeze hit Roni in the face,
lifting her dark bangs, as she sat at an outside table at the Turtle Island
Hotel restaurant after downing a scrumptious meal. The morning rain had burned
away and the temperature had risen to a pleasant seventy-two. Slightly higher
than normal December temps, but perfect for lunch on the patio with the girls.
“I totally think you should go for it with one of them,
Roni,” Savannah Marconi said across from her. “When will you ever get that kind
of chance again?”
Eight women, four on each side of shoved-together teakwood
tables, all silently turned their heads to the eight men sitting two tables
over from them. They. Were. Gorgeous.
Roni had met each of them briefly the evening before when
they’d arrived at the hotel. Contestants one, three, eleven, twelve, fourteen, nineteen,
twenty-one, and twenty-four. They had names, of course, but she couldn’t
remember them. She only knew their numbers now because each of them had a two-inch
button attached to his shirt.
She’d met them with Kayla Morgan, head of Seaglass
Celebrations, after the limos had brought the men from the ferry to the hotel.
As master of ceremonies for the first-ever Mr. Yummy Santa competition, Roni
had been asked to be there to greet all arrivals. Kayla had been with her, of
course, to make sure everything ran smoothly and on time. And to hand out the
welcome bags—which included the numbered buttons the men were asked to wear
anytime they were in public over the course of the next thirteen days.
go for it?” Roni returned. She forced her
gaze back to Savannah—because geez, they were pretty, pretty men. And because
like to go for it with one of them. It had been a while
since she’d had that kind of fun. However, Kayla would have a conniption if she
found out Roni even entertained the idea of having a fling with a contestant.
Not that it would really matter in the grand scheme of
things. Roni got the same exact amount of input into the voting as everyone
else did. But something told her Kayla would see it differently.
“Because she’s married, you dolt.” Samantha Greene chimed
in. Samantha was Savannah’s twin sister, and was sitting beside Savannah. Two
long-haired, blue-eyed beauties, both with the Southern charm of Nashville that
they’d brought with them—though Samantha was a bit more blunt and outspoken.
Samantha had moved to the island and opened a women’s
clothing boutique a year after her sister had arrived here with her husband. She
eyed the men now as she took a long drag of her piña colada.
Roni shrugged at Samantha’s words as if being married didn’t
matter, but the nonchalance was faked. She would never encourage a married
person to have an affair.
“I’ll do one.” This came from the far end of the table, from
shy and quiet Cookie Phillips. Everyone at the table knew there was no way
Cookie would make the first move.
A couple of the men glanced over at them before turning back
to their table.
“Me too,” Ginger Atkinson spoke up at Roni’s left. “I’m not
married.” Ginger’s green eyes were glazed and dreamy as she eyed the tableful
of ripped bodies. She was best friend number two, whom Roni had spent the
summers with when she was young. The best friend who had been born on, and who remained
on, the island. In fact, other than two years away at college, Ginger had never
Roni nudged her with her elbow. “Go for number nineteen. Did
you see the size of his hands?”
“I saw.” The words were said in sync, all with a tone of awe,
by at least five of the ladies at the table.
One of the men leaned back in his seat at that moment,
laughing heartily at something one of the other guys had said, and every single
woman seemed to hold her breath. It truly was a crying shame Roni was out of
the market for this impressive showing. These guys were taut, lean, chiseled,
polite—if the brief greeting last night was anything to go by—and just
A real crying shame.
“I really do think you should dip your toe into some of
that,” Savannah leaned forward and urged. “Maybe number one. His shoulders are
broadest, and I know you like that.”
His shoulders were broadest. And yes, she did like that.
She’d also caught him checking her out a couple times during lunch.
“Imagine if you two fell in love,” Ginger said in her
dreamy, everything-is-romantic voice. “You’d have access to that body every
“Only until he went back home,” Roni clarified. Ginger
turned everything into happily-ever-after. Roni kept it casual.
She picked up her own drink—a lemon drop that was far
stronger than she should be having, considering she was about to meet Kayla to
greet the remaining sixteen contestants—and gulped as she studied number one.
Dark hair, muscled chest and arms, pleasant face. It wasn’t
that she was so wildly attracted to him. Granted, he was good looking, and he
had been super sweet the evening before. But it was mostly that she wanted
something to take her mind off the next two weeks. December wasn’t her best
month. Plus, there was the master of ceremonies thing.
She might be the designated local celebrity—though she’d
been out of that game for going on three years now—but that didn’t mean she
wasn’t nervous about being the figurehead for this contest.
If she were to be entirely honest, though, the idea excited
her more than she wanted to admit. She hadn’t done much more than hang out on
the beach with her friends or play hostess and entertainer at Gin’s bar since
moving to the island. So yeah, she was secretly thrilled at the idea of doing
something new. Plus, it would help Turtle Island.
All of the women at the table, with the exception of Roni,
were business owners on the island. They, along with several other merchants,
had each contributed five thousand dollars, plus time and merchandise from their
businesses, on the trust that this contest would up winter tourism on their
tiny little island. They were literally betting their hard-earned money on
twenty-four hot men drawing a crowd. Roni being the face that crowd would be
seeing day after day.