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On the Rocks (E-Book)

On the Rocks (E-Book)

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Hunter Markham left home to travel the world for fame and glory, finding it as a top ranked professional surfer. Now he’s returned home to the sand and salty breeze of the North Carolina Outer Banks so he can open The Last Call, a beach bar nestled among the dunes of the Atlantic.

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Five years ago, Gabby Ward drunkenly threw herself at her best friend’s brother, only to have her young heart crushed. Hunter is back but Gabby is content to stay far away from him and his dangerously charming ways.

Gabby’s well-schemed plans to ignore Hunter go up in flames when he presents her an offer she simply can’t refuse. Working together day in and day out proves problematic for two reasons—Gabby realizes her feelings for Hunter are still very much alive, while Hunter struggles to break through to Gabby’s cold heart. What starts out as a mutual business arrangement soon turns into a passion that neither can deny.

But when the pro surfing tour comes knocking and Hunter has a chance to reclaim his former glory, hard choices lie ahead for both of them.

Choices that could destroy what they have built or take them further than they could ever dare to hope in their second chance at romance.

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Prologue

Gabby

Five Years Ago

Oh My God!

He’s kissing me, and it’s the best feeling ever. I don’t want to forget a single detail, so I commit everything to memory.

The way his lips are soft but assured against me. Roaming and testing. His tongue is demanding… leading me toward my deepest fantasy.

I’m dying.

Dying of pure, sinful pleasure that my eighteen-year-old psyche just may not be able to handle.

I’m not sure if I can handle it because I’ve been in love with Hunter Markham since I was just shy of ten years old. For eight long years, I’ve pined after him.

It didn’t help, and certainly only fanned my flames, that I’m best friends with his sister, Casey, and I practically grew up in his house. He was always teasing me, as a boy four years older will often do. That only made my crush that much stronger, because surely… the reason he was teasing me was because he liked me.

Right?

And tonight… things couldn’t have been any more perfect.

Casey and I graduated high school not five hours ago. When I walked across the stage to accept my diploma, my eyes scanned the audience. I passed briefly over my parents, whom I love and adore beyond measure. They sat right beside Casey’s parents, beaming with pride. I vaguely acknowledged both set of parents, who are the very best of friends, clapping enthusiastically.

Then my eyes landed on Hunter. He was smiling at me, bright and cheerful, his teeth dazzling against his tanned skin. I love the way he’s wearing his hair longer, all shaggy brown and streaked with pale blond from the sun and salt water. He flew in just last night from Fiji, where he had competed in the Volcom Fiji Pro as part of the ASP World Championship Tour. That’s fancy talk for saying Hunter is a professional surfer, and he’s quite good. He placed second in that tournament, but he’s ranked number five in the world.

In the entire freakin’ world, which, yeah… makes him that much hotter in my mind.

And tonight… Casey and I made our rounds to the normal beach parties that were going on around Hatteras Island. I’m riding high on the fact that I’m an adult, I’ve graduated from high school, and Hunter Markham gallantly offered to shuttle Casey and me around while we celebrated the time-honored tradition of getting drunk on graduation night in our tiny, North Carolina hamlet. So as not to be completely bored with high school parties, he roped his best friend, Wyatt Banks, into riding shotgun with him, which is funny in its own right. You see, Wyatt just started with the police department up in Nags Head, but tonight he was off duty and turning a blind eye to our underage drinking.

Not that Hunter and Wyatt were going to let Casey and me get out of control. In fact, they strictly monitored our beer intake, insisted we drink a bottle of water every time they drove us to a new party, and hovered over us like protective mama bears.

Of course, I didn’t mind the hovering in the slightest. Any chance for me to be next to Hunter was a chance I was going to relish. He’s more than just a celebrity in these parts. He’s practically a god and said god-like status brings a certain amount of fawning and swooning by the female persuasion. I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to watch as Hunter turned down pass after pass by blonde surf bunnies because he was taking his chaperoning duties seriously.

Now… back to the kiss.

It started out innocently enough, even though I may have provoked him a little. I’d had five beers over a two-hour period, and I’m not gonna lie... I had a good buzz going. We were just leaving Troy Bean’s party, which was really quite good. His parents were uber-cool and didn’t mind the underage drinking that was going on. They had built a huge fire pit down on the beach, just below the deck of their oceanside house, and had a band playing. It was getting late and, even though we had responsible chaperones, my parents insisted I be home by midnight, fully aware that Hunter and Wyatt would probably be bringing home two very drunk girls.

My parents were cool like that, because I have been, in every sense of the word, the perfect daughter. I graduated top of my class, had never done anything stupid, and got a full ride to the University of North Carolina. My parents trusted me—or rather, Hunter—to be safe and smart, even if I was doing a bit of graduation celebration.

When we had less than half an hour to make the approximately ten-mile trip home, Hunter grabbed onto my elbow, bending down near my ear to whisper, “We need to get going, Gabs.”

I couldn’t help the shudder that rolled through me at the nearness of his lips to my skin or the way he called me Gabs. He was the only person in the world that called me that, and thus it was special.

Turning around, he uttered a small curse. “Where the hell did Casey go?”

Shrugging my shoulders, I scanned the area filled with buzzed and frolicking teenagers, but I couldn’t spot Casey. She was most likely off in a dark corner making out with a cute boy. Casey was high-octane wildness times ten, and she owned her sexuality. She made no apologies for the trail of broken hearts she left behind, and always had at least three condoms in her purse at any given time. Casey had it tough the last year, what with her brother and Hunter’s twin, Brody, being sent to prison. She’s been sort of acting out ever since then, and I spend much of my time letting her cry on my shoulder or listening to her shout out curses to the heavens for taking her older brother away.

“I’ll look out here for her,” Wyatt said with a grin. “You look inside on your way out, and I’ll meet you at the car.”

Hunter nodded, his teeth gritted. “I hope to God you find her, man. If I catch her with someone, no telling what I’ll do.”

I shivered again, this time from the menace in Hunter’s tone, because it was just plain hot the way he was so protective. Grabbing my hand, he said, “Let’s go, Gabs.”

And yes, I shuddered once again because of the way he said my name and the feel of my hand in his.

Hunter led me through the house, weaving his way among the indoor partygoers. He nodded at several people, fist bumped a few guys, and gently removed the hand of one whorish girl that tried to grab him by the neck to pull him down for a kiss. I muttered the word “skank” under my breath as we walked past her, and I heard Hunter chuckle.

We never did find Casey inside, so we assumed she was out on the beach somewhere and Wyatt would find her. Hunter led me down the front steps, and we walked along the narrow beachfront roadway to where he had parked his parents’ car a few hundred yards down.

As we walked in the dark on the uneven pavement, Hunter grumbled, “I swear… Casey better not be…”

He trailed off, not wanting to voice what he hoped Casey wasn’t doing. The disappointment rang clear in his voice.

“Give her a break, Hunter,” I said, stumbling slightly over a crack in the road. Luckily, he still had a hold of my hand and steadied me instantly. “She’s having a hard time because of Brody.”

I could feel the tension in his body when I mentioned his twin’s name, and he practically growled, “It’s no excuse.”

He pulled me along faster, and I doubled my pace to keep up. “I’m just saying… she could use some understanding from you.”

Hunter immediately stopped and spun around on me, and of course, I barreled straight into his chest. He released his hold on my hand and immediately gripped my waist to keep me upright. The beers I had swimming in my gut and clouding my head caused me to sway, fortuitously, closer to his body. My hands came up of their own volition and rested against the hard muscles of his stomach, and I internally sighed over the fact I was touching Hunter Markham.

The moon was bright, and I could see its reflection in his blue eyes as he looked down at me in anger. “I don’t want her to do something stupid. I’m traveling so much that I can’t look after her.”

Yes, he was angry, but I also saw something else. He was scared for his little sister. Scared she would become lost and he wouldn’t be able to reach her, and my heart broke for him at that very moment.

I’m sure it was the alcohol that made me daring enough to do it, but I pressed in closer to him and whispered, “I’ll watch out for her. You don’t have to worry.”

He stared at me hard for a minute, and then his features relaxed a little. He even raised one hand and tucked a lock of my hair behind my ear in a move so tender… so loving, my heart at that very moment decided that it would never belong to anyone other than Hunter Markham.

I could no sooner stop myself than I could stop a herd of gazelle stampeding the Serengeti to get away from a ravenous lion in hot pursuit. My hands smoothed up his chest and wrapped around his neck. I felt him flinch in surprise, and his eyes widened with uncertainty. It didn’t stop me though. I stood on my tiptoes and brought my lips up, gliding ever so softly over his.

When I pulled back, I saw an array of emotion filter through his irises. Shock, dismay, and maybe a little bit of disgust. My heart sank, and I started to pull out of his grasp. But just as quickly, I saw something else fill his gaze and it slammed into me hard.

Lust.

There was no warning… nothing that could have prepared me for what happened next.

Hunter’s arms wrapped around me tightly, and he brought his mouth back down on mine with a groan that was carnally seductive and had my stomach tightening with desire.

His lips pressed in hard and opened up, causing my mouth to follow suit. His tongue immediately filled me, and he tasted of spearmint and cherry Chapstick. I thought my heart would burst out of my chest it was hammering so hard.

So yes… here I stand on a darkened road with Hunter Markham kissing the hell out of me, and I never want to forget a single detail of this magical moment. It is the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my life and can only be surpassed by his continued kissing and his fervent declaration that he feels about me the way I feel about him.

I’m inexperienced… a virgin, but I can’t help the way my body wants to know all the things I never thought I’d be considering this very night. Images of Hunter naked, his body moving over mine… in me… flood my head and before I even know what I’m doing, I press my hips inward.

Hunter is taller than I am by a good six inches, so when my body comes up flush against his, I’m stunned, exhilarated, and even a bit nervous over the thick erection I can feel pushing into my stomach.

Amazement washes through me that he is turned on, and he’s turned on by me. It makes me bolder and wanton so I rub up against him, hoping to induce him to take this even further.

But I get a completely different reaction.

Hunter jumps back from me as if he’s been burned and curses, “Fuck, Gabs!”

I immediately feel cold when his hands fall away. I watch the way he stares at me with a wild look in his eyes, his chest heaving. His hands are clenched at his side, and he looks like he wants to murder me.

“What the hell was that?”

“I… I… I thought it was a kiss,” I mutter lamely, my heart now sinking down into my stomach. I’m confused. How could he be kissing me with such passion, such fire, just mere moments ago and now, he’s looking at me in horror?

“That’s wrong,” he says sternly, and he actually wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. It makes me feel dirty and cheap, and sorrow lances through me.

“Wrong?” I ask in confusion.

“Yes,” he says, like I just asked the stupidest question. “You’re like a sister to me. We can’t do that. You shouldn’t have done that.”

Okay… now I’m starting to get mad. He’s making it sound like this is totally my fault, and while I may have instigated the kiss, he certainly participated in it one hundred percent.

Narrowing my eyes at him, I say, “I shouldn’t have done that? You kissed me back.”

His mouth falls open and he starts to argue, then he snaps it shut because he knows I’m right. I can’t help the smug look of triumph that overcomes my face, but I realize immediately that it’s a mistake to gloat because he stiffens his spine.

Taking a deep breath, he says in a much calmer voice. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that either. This was a mistake.”

What? Mistake? No way.

“It’s not a mistake,” I assure him and take a step closer. He takes a step back, which makes me even madder.

I start to open my mouth to lay into him, when Wyatt calls out from the dark. “I found her, Hunter.”

Turning around, I see Wyatt walking into the glow of a streetlight, pulling Casey along behind him. She doesn’t look too happy, and neither does Wyatt.

I feel Hunter take a step up behind me and lean down to whisper, “This was a mistake, Gabs. I’m forgetting it. So should you.”

Then Hunter is walking by me toward Casey. “Where the hell was she?” he asks Wyatt.

Releasing Casey’s hand, Wyatt reaches out and claps Hunter on the shoulder, turning him back toward the car. “It’s all good, dude. She was just in the bathroom.”

The devious smile I see curling Casey’s lips upward tells me she was most definitely not in the bathroom and that Wyatt was covering for her. She grabs my hand and pulls me toward the car, opening the back door and pushing me in. She climbs in behind me, enclosing us in darkness. I can vaguely hear Wyatt and Hunter outside talking, and although I can’t hear the specifics, the calming tone of Wyatt’s voice tells me that he’s assuring Hunter that Casey is fine and all is right with the world.

Casey grabs my hand and squeezes. “Holy shit, Gabby. Fucking Tim Miller had his hand down my pants when Wyatt caught us. I thought I’d die.”

Normally, I would raise my eyebrows over Casey’s sexcapades and give her a chastising glare. But I can’t even find it within myself to care enough right at this very moment. I’m still reeling from the hot kiss and cold smackdown I just underwent in the last five minutes.

Of course, my failure to act like my normal self puts Casey’s bestie radar on full alert. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I say hastily, and a little too loudly, although my mind is racing over the implications of what just happened between Hunter and me. It’s pressing down heavily that the feelings I have for him are most definitely not returned, and now… he probably thinks I’m a big whore of a person, too.

“Bullshit, Gabriella Ward. Spill it,” she demands.

I squeeze her hand reassuringly and even my voice out. “I’m fine. Just a little sick to my stomach is all.”

That’s all it takes… the prospect that I may barf, and Casey’s attention has been diverted. She reaches past me and rolls down the window. “There… you can throw up if you need to. I’ll hold your hair.”

It’s at this moment that Hunter opens the driver’s door, and the overhead light comes on. My eyes snap to his as he gets in, and he’s still wearing that look of disdain on his face. I’m not sure if it’s for me or for Casey, but it’s probably for both of us.

Wyatt gets in on the other side but before they close the doors and the overhead light goes out, Hunter says, “Let’s get these girls dropped off, and head over to Salty’s. I’m supposed to meet Mindy over there.”

Hunter looks in the rearview mirror at me, maybe to gauge my reaction over the fact he just blatantly made it clear that I’ve been forgotten. He’s hooking up with the biggest slut in the Outer Banks, and he said it to make sure that I don’t misjudge how he feels.

It’s weird… but just moments ago, my heart was filled with many warm feelings for Hunter. Love, care, friendship, desire.

Now?

It’s like ice, pushing out all of my gooey feelings and replacing them with bitterness and loathing. I’m so mad at him, and mad at myself for ever thinking there could be anything there. All those years I had fancied myself in love with him, I realize in one startling moment of clarity that I am the world’s biggest idiot, and Hunter Markham is the world’s biggest asshole.

As of this moment… he means nothing to me.

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Product Release Date: February 17, 2014

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