CATCH FLIGHTS, NOT FEELINGS.
So says Weston Daly, the playboy backpacker I keep running into around the globe. And I, for one, am sick and tired of tripping over his windblown chestnut hair and that impossible heartbreaker grin every time I leave the country.
First Amsterdam. Then Portugal. And now? Aruba.
He’s Instagram-famous and too gorgeous to trust. I’ve hated him since the day I met him, but on this trip, I have to play nice, even though he makes it impossible. It’s our best friends’ wedding…and I’m the official photographer.
The more this man smiles through my viewfinder, the harder it is to remember why we’ve always butted heads. Before I know what I’m doing, paradise takes on a new meaning, and it involves Weston Daly’s tongue.
His profile might say that he stops for nobody, but when we’re together, time itself freezes. When I receive the offer of a lifetime, Weston wants something that throws my whole world into disarray.
And worse yet? He plans to make me choose.
Fans of Lauren Landish and R.S. Grey will love this lighthearted yet sizzling rom-com! Though it is book 4 of the Bayshore series, this is a standalone romance and you do not have to have read the others to enjoy this book.
Start reading today to find out just how many choices these lovers have to make!
READ CHAPTER ONE HERE!
Is this farts or is this joy?
Inside my head, I sing this line to the tune of The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” The plane I’m on is just now cresting the northern ridge of Aruba, offering me a pristine view of the island below. My stomach lurches again—this is definitely joy. Because, motherfuckers, I’m about to be on Aruba!
It’s the same every time I travel. Nervous belly in advance of a new locale. Possibly a foreign tongue awaiting me, though according to my research, I may be hearing plenty of English. This constituent country of the Netherlands (thanks Wikipedia) was not exactly on my Top Ten Next Destinations list, but when my bestie from another chestie told me she was getting married on this twenty mile long hunk of Caribbean goodness (thanks again Wikipedia), you know I put in my vacation request to my supervisor before we’d even ended the Skype call.
My knee is bouncing as I look out the plane window. All I can see is the turquoise water of the sea and the frayed edges of the island giving way to white sand beaches, which is the mathematical equivalent to one week of paradise.
And holy crap, I need the getaway. Travel is in my blood, but I can only afford to donate said blood on strictly scheduled vacations and long weekends crammed around the edges of an uninspiring full-time job. Besides, if I ever tried to do something wild like travel for more than two weeks at a time, I’m pretty sure my family would have a collective heart attack and stage an intervention.
That’s how my family is. They don’t travel. Hell, they don’t even leave New York State. The wildest thing they’ve done so far is name me Nova, which came from my father’s brief obsession with the movie Planet of the Apes. There’s the one fun factoid about my life.
The plane banks as it aligns with the runway. One week. Seven full days of Aruba magic. I’m only assuming it will be magic, of course, since I’ve never been here before. This is my first destination wedding, which either means it will win the best week of my life until I die at age ninety, or some sort of disaster fit for a decently performing rom-com.
I peer out the window, trying to spot which beach my best friend and her fiancée are getting married on. Amelia and I met our sophomore year at Purchase College in southeastern New York. She was a free-spirited art major who loved to travel, which is how she met Rhys Henry Bradford III, her British other half. They figured they’d bridge the distances between their respective countries by heading to an island that felt energetically equidistant from both their hometowns.
I definitely can’t complain once the plane touches down and I catch that first whiff of sea breeze. The plane unloads in the middle of the runway, because island life, and the humid air feels like a salve to all the stressors and dissatisfaction I left behind in upstate New York, which I have categorized into three main areas:
- I am a 25-year-old drowning in debt
- Who lives with her grandmother in a small shack behind her parents’ house
- And uses her high-falutin’ fine arts degree to…take senior high school portraits.
Of all the items on that list, my grandmother bothers me the least. Because my grandma is the fucking best.
But if it seems like things couldn’t be more pathetic for a woman my age, I assure you, they get worse. I also haven’t had sex in so long, I technically qualify as a virgin again. Yep, that’s a thing that can happen.
I don’t expect Aruba to change any of these things about me. No, I just expect a most-expenses-paid escape. Because that’s the American Dream, isn’t it? Quietly pay your bills your entire life and be happy with your one-to-two week getaway to a beach.
After I step onto the tarmac, an ocean breeze blows every last bit of my thick, red hair across my face. As I struggle to see the blue sky again, a familiar, feminine voice cuts through the air.
My best friend Amelia is jogging toward me, her arms open, pure joy written on her tanned face. Before I know it she’s wrapped me in an oxygen-stealing hug, shrieking with laughter in my ear as she says “You made it, you made it,” over and over again.
“Amelia! I can’t believe they let you this close to the plane without a boarding pass!” We’re laughing and hugging, and I’m already full of so many #vacayvibes I can hardly stand it.
“Yeah, well, I sweet-talked the luggage handler, and he said I could find you if I moved quick,” she says with one last squeeze around my waist before we pull back to look at each other. If the sculpting world had a Hollywood, she would be the It Girl. She’s even dressed like an incognito celeb, with a baseball cap pulled down over a low white-blonde ponytail.
“You should be an international spy,” I remark as she grabs my hand, leading me toward the lone terminal. “Sculpting is the perfect cover for your next career of espionage.”
She tosses her head back and laughs. “What makes you think I’m not already a spy?”
This is how it is with us: easy, fun, a little ridiculous. Exactly the sort of interaction I’ve never been able to strike up with the opposite sex. And trust me, I wish I could just be into women and call it a day. If only I didn’t love the D so much. And the rolling hills of a nice pair of biceps. And the gruff bass of an unexpected “hey, babe.” And, you know, about a million other things that go into the butterflies and frustrations of dating a man.
With any luck, I’ll find that elusive man before I die.
We whoosh through the baggage claim, and she talks with the luggage handler on the way back in as if she’s known him for years, not minutes. That is one of Amelia’s superpowers: she can become anybody’s best friend in minutes. My lime green luggage wobbles past us on the rickety conveyor belt a moment later.
“Let’s go find our driver,” Amelia says with a mischievous giggle once I’ve got all my things. This destination wedding is off to a great start. Ocean breeze: check. Private escort to the resort: check. I can’t keep the silly smile off my face as I follow Amelia onto the sidewalk of the airport arrivals lane. There’s a sleek black van waiting for us that looks like it could double as a party bus or an FBI vehicle. The side door slides open, and Rhys hops out, shooting me a smile fit for the British rag-mags. This is pure party.
“Nover! You made it!” His British lilt on my name never fails to delight. I laugh into his solar plexus (he’s like seven feet tall) as we embrace. “Can I help with your bag?”
“I’d love that,” I say. “Not gonna lie, I packed eighteen times more clothes than I’ll need, so it weighs as much as an iceberg.”
From inside the party van, there’s a little snort. Rhys goes to the back of the van to load my bag.
Amelia says, “So, I forgot to mention…” but I can’t hear her after a certain point because the person who snorted at me has now revealed himself.
First thing I notice is the hair—longish, chestnut brown tresses that are caught between stylishly windswept and bedhead. And then I notice the broad shoulders, dark tee pulled tight over the aforementioned hills of biceps. And once he comes to standing on the sidewalk, I barely notice that two others are following, because I can no longer focus on anything that isn’t this man.
Because the man who stepped out of the van isn’t just a casual hottie.
He’s none other than Weston Daly.
The man who’s made my heart flutter since I first met him four years ago. The living definition of tall, tan, and handsome. A vagabond who has never noticed me even a tenth as much as I have noticed him.
And this marks the third time around the world that he has come to haunt my vacation.
“…and Weston, Elliot, and Keko came along, too!” Amelia is finishing up. My gaze is hopelessly riveted on Weston, and I can’t tell if my face looks like petrified shock—something you’d find on one of those mummies accidentally preserved by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, no doubt—or blatant chagrin. His icy blue eyes return my surprise-volcano-eruption stare, and the smirk that curls at his lips says volumes without him uttering a word.
“Good to see you again, Nover,” Elliot, the other Brit, says. Keko, the final member of their groomsmen bro squad, waves at me. I met both of them during a trip last year to Portugal, which marked the second time I spent too many consecutive days with the gorgeous—I mean, completely irritating—Weston Daly.
Weston hasn’t greeted me, and I won’t be the first one to budge on that front.
“This is great,” I manage to say, smiling brightly at Amelia. I hope she can read the strain in my eyes as Oh, you didn’t fucking tell me that Weston Daly was coming, because that’s exactly what those near-burst blood vessels are trying to convey.
It’s been a year since I saw him last. Each time we’ve met up has been an accident—a misfortune, really—and I should have expected he’d be here too.
Because when I say he haunts my trips, I mean it. He’s like a ghost I just can’t get to cross over to the next dimension. It doesn’t matter how many times I chant “You’re free.” Weston continues to appear at all my international getaways.
Rhys comes from around the back of the van. “I bet they charged you triple for that beastly thing.”
It’s only beastly because I need to justify all my last-minute thrift store purchases by wearing outfits outside my comfort zone at least once. But I’m not high maintenance, no matter what the bulging weight of my luggage suggests. Really, all I need to travel is a few days’ worth of clothes, my cameras, and my travel talisman.
The talisman is important. It’s my good luck charm whenever I leave the country. I’ve never been robbed as a result. I know this doesn’t stand up to the scientific process, but I don’t care. It’s a gorgeous necklace that protects me and has mystical powers, surely. Even if it can’t convince Weston to stop tagging along on my itineraries.
The boys are all clambering into the car, leaving the middle bench seat for Amelia and me. Once the van lurches into motion, the driver nodding his greeting to me through the rearview mirror, I feel vulnerable. Weston is sitting directly behind me, and the fact that we haven’t technically exchanged a greeting but have stared each other down is weighing on me.
He’s holding out, but so am I. And I feel like he knows that I know that.
Reggae music floats through the van while Weston’s existence sizzles behind me. Amelia and Rhys start recounting a funny story about a passenger on their plane from England who insisted on gherkins to the point of requiring an emergency landing in Boston, and I’m trying to listen while also spying on Weston without actually turning to look at him. This is a hopeless task.
The bass rumble of Weston’s voice near my ear sends goosepimples flaring up and down my spine. I catch a waft of his scent—sandalwood and spice. If he were anyone else, and we were anywhere else, I’d be taking my panties off by now. But no. Despite how intolerably good it feels to have his hot breath graze the back of my neck, I will not give in to him.
“Sorry?” I turn slightly, feigning confusion.
“Just was wondering if you’d ignore me for the rest of the day or the entire week.”
I suppress an annoyed sigh. “There was no ignoring. I greeted you with my eyes.”
“Oh. Did you smize?” he asks, which makes me laugh. Almost. “I must have missed it.”
“Don’t let it keep you up at night,” I say, heat and curiosity curling through me.
Because Weston is exactly the type of guy that I have dreamt about for a lifetime and never once considered a possibility. Confident, attractive, impossibly put together men? They never go for someone like me. If I had a warning label, it’d say “Fat and Sassy”. And then in much smaller font, right below, it would say “And incredibly unsure of herself; please tell me I’m funny”.
But Weston can do whatever he wants in this life, without reassurance. He’s that attractive. I’ve watched with my own two eyes as he sought out and dominated cute backpacker girls in our shared hostel in Amsterdam, like they were doltish gophers and he was an incredibly dapper coyote. He floats around the world unperturbed and totally at ease. He eats confidence for breakfast.
And if he weren’t so annoying, I’d sort of look up to him. Because that confidence breakfast is what I’ve been missing since college graduation. Except this guy is the last person on Earth I’d ever ask for advice.
“…and then we can go surfing!” Amelia wraps up, clapping her hands together.
“Surfing,” I repeat, pretending I’ve been listening.
“The lessons will be free,” Rhys insists. “If you’ve never learned, now’s the time.”
Bless his accented optimism. “I’m not a big…swimmer.”
Though I am big and I know how to swim, I don’t make a habit of flinging myself into waves that could drown me. Rhys doesn’t need to know the details, though.
“Well you could at least sit on the beach with us,” Amelia suggests, just as the van runs over a jagged pothole. I slide out of my seat—that’s what I get for not buckling—and crumple into a pile against the front passenger seat. I catch the annoying twinkle in Weston’s eye as he tosses his head back and laughs.
What a confident and sexy way to start off my trip. If Weston eats confidence for breakfast, then I must eat puffed embarrassment. I grimace, collecting myself onto the bench seat of the van. It’s not like I came down here to bang random hotties—it’s not my MO—but Weston reminds me of how not his type I am. And yes, part of me would pawn a lung to be his type.
I stare out the window while the van merges onto the highway outside the airport. Palm trees buttress the road, and cotton candy clouds dot the pristine blue sky. We make a few turns, pass an astonishing number of deep purple flowering bushes that I can only gawk at, and then we pull onto a one-way street that immediately bleeds into white sand beaches and resorts.
My heart stutters as the asphalt turns into a neat cobblestone driveway. My fingers twitch, wanting my camera, but I’ll have plenty of time for that. It’s what I came here to do, after all. Take pictures of everything as my best friend’s official wedding photographer. But for right now, I want to simply absorb these perfect early moments.
The driver pulls the van under the palm-frond-bedazzled overhang of a sandstone resort while Rhys and the rest of the group bicker about what time they should start drinking.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling itchy for a trip but don’t have the money or time off (which is often, with how much debt I have), I scour the internet for reviews of faraway resorts and destinations. I’ve noticed that some resorts aren’t truly resorts like you might expect. You could slap a cow barn onto a Motel 6, label it a wedding venue, and register the whole thing as a resort, technically, as a certain establishment in Florida attempted, according to Google Maps.
But this place?
This is a resort with a capital Ritzy. There is a swimming pool in the foyer just because, which also doubles as a glass-topped atrium. I stare at the clouds through the ceiling as Amelia leads me toward the front desk, which looks to be carved from volcanic rock. I can’t tell if I’m in a fantasy, the future, or a Salvador Dalí painting come to life. Hopefully it turns out to be all three.
“I can’t believe you’re getting married in Aruba,” I tell her as we wait for my room key. The guys disappeared as soon as we crossed into the foyer, and I’m reminding myself I don’t care where Weston is.
“It sounds ridiculous,” she admits.
“You’re going to be Rhys’s old lady,” I remind her, craning my neck to take in the ever-changing wonders of the resort once we’re checked in and she whooshes me down a wide hallway bedecked with Grecian columns. I’m on the lookout for melting clocks, Dalí-style.
“That means I’d have to join a motorcycle club,” she corrects me.
“No, he’d have to be in the club. Unless you’ve been hiding your loyalty to the Viper Sculptors MC all these years.”
“Viper Sculptors MC. Where we sculpt a bitch, and cut a bitch!” She snort laughs, which only makes me laugh harder in return.
Suddenly the hallway we’re in opens up to a sprawling patio, leading out to so many things that yank at my attention I don’t know what to absorb first. There’s a pool shaped like a skinny kidney. A gazebo draped in vining orange flowers. Signs point to a spa area, promising even more treasures I can’t quite fathom.
And then there’s the boardwalk. Amelia leads me, her flip-flops a’floppin’, along the wooden walkway that crisscrosses the resort. My wheeled luggage goes clack-clack-clack behind me. Everything is lush and fragrant and oh-so-beautiful.
We pass a fountain with teal water. A statue dripping with pearls. An honest-to-god tiki bar. And then the boardwalk gives way to white sand, the type of sand you only see in commercials, with palm trees towering above us and the most fascinating series of thatched-roof huts sprawling out along the border of the beach.
“This is where the bridal party is staying,” Amelia says in a reverent whisper. I’m considered the bridal party, even though I’m technically the photographer and not a bridesmaid. She wanted me to be both, but I wanted to give her the gift of eternal photos more. Besides, how can the photographer include herself in all the bridal party pictures? Selfie sticks aren’t exactly a beacon of professionalism in the photography world.
She gestures toward the huts, and I drift toward them at her side. Each one is a different tropical color. Bright orange. Vibrant yellow. Relaxed green, if that’s even a color. My wheels get stuck in the sand, but I don’t care. I abandon my luggage. Who needs changes of clothes anyway? Not me. Not when I’m here, in Aruba, about to behold my own personal Crayola hut.
Laughter and low voices register with me, but I’m too laser focused on the prize to notice who else is out here in this dreamy transition between resort and full-fledged ocean beach. The waves create a mesmerizing soundtrack as I pass Amelia in our sandy trek to the huts. I’m pretty sure she told me which one was mine, but I don’t need to confirm. I can hear it calling to me in the salt-tinged breeze. My fated teal vacation home.
More laughter, and then the vinyl thud of a ball.
“Nova—” Amelia begins, just as I swing around to look at her.
A ball whizzes past my face. Something white and high velocity. My breath evaporates, and I freeze.
And that’s when I find out where Rhys and the guys went. They headed straight for sand volleyball. Except now they’re all shirtless, and I feel like I just stumbled onto the set of an Abercrombie & Fitch shoot.
And then I spot him. Again.
Except this time, he’s shirtless and his body might as well be sent from God himself as a little care package he wanted to bestow upon humanity.
“Did you have to get in the way of our game?” He saunters toward me, the lines of his abs practically yanking me by the earlobes to make sure I notice them. Dark swim trunks cling to sculpted thighs in the same way a koala hugs a bamboo tree. His chestnut hair pairs too well with the dimple in his left cheek, and the outrageous glint of his ice-blue eyes.
My breath disappears. I can’t stand this man. Yet I have never not wanted to jump his bones.
“Oh, Jesus,” I spit, annoyance flooding me.
“First you barely acknowledge me, then you get in the way of my game?” Every step closer feels like a threat, and I can’t explain why. He’s too beautiful. He’s too virile. He’s too much of everything I’ve ever wanted.
And I hate him for it. Because he’s never wanted me.
“Your ball got in the way of my path,” I explain to him.
“Excuse me, Princess Nova.” Weston bows exaggeratedly. “Continue on your way. I’d hate to have to cross your path while I get my volleyball.”
“You don’t need to be ridiculous.” To Amelia, I say, “He’s gotten more ridiculous since last time, hasn’t he?” And he has. Our tense stand-off in the van should have been my warning. He was only gearing up to unleash the full brunt of his attack: shirtless, using all his muscles, looking like this.
Weston has an intolerable smirk on his face, hands propped on his hips. And it only makes his biceps pop even more. And when he speaks again, I can feel the scrape of his bass voice inside me.
“Even though you’re the more ridiculous one, I’ll overlook it this once,” he says. “Because we’re about to spend the next week together, neighbor.”
There’s something about the word together that excites me. Ignites me, even. But I squash it. Tamp it down, because I learned everything I need to know about this man the first day I met him. He might be hot enough to send my ovaries into shock, but luckily I can see right through his sexy, sandy smirk.
Weston Daly isn’t just out of my league—he’s in a league I don’t want any part of.
One populated by beautiful drifters and callous playboys.
And I learned long ago just how far away I need to keep men like him.