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Her Wild Coast Haven (new chapter 1)

Chapter One - raw and uncut!

Tasha

 

“Why are you torturing me like this again?” I say, staring at the clothes in my tiny closet, hoping something worth wearing will materialize.

“Because if I didn’t, you’d stay home and eat a tub of coffee ice cream in your underwear and binge watch something trashy,” Mariah says with a snicker from my living room.

“Excuse me,” I fire back. “It’s called self-care.”

“Come on. You promised me one drink and if you’re still not having fun, we’ll bail.”

With a sigh, I grab the pink shell with the V-neck and cap sleeves and the off-white sweater. This combo requires me to change my bra to my cream-colored one. This small inconvenience will be worth it, though. I’ll be comfortable yet feel a little bit feminine, which I don’t often do in a town where the default style choice is flannel and hiking boots. I pull on my shorts and do a quick brush of my hair, add a touch of lip gloss, then hurry to my living room.

Mariah’s big brown eyes light up. “Holy hotness, batgirl! While you’re busy fending off the hordes of single guys, send a few my way, okay?”

I laugh this off. Though I’m blessed with decent looks, no way am I fending off guys. Tonight or any night. “One drink,” I add, leveling her with a hard gaze.

“We’ve totally earned a night out after this school year.”

“That sounds dangerous,” I say, and grab my purse. “Should I have 911 on standby?”

Mariah gives me a wicked grin. “I was thinking more like a couple of lumberjacks.”

I roll my eyes. Of all my new friends here, Mariah is by far the most adventurous.

A distant rumble of thunder catches my attention as we head for the door.

“Oh yeah, I was going to warn you to close your window,” Mariah says, nodding at the one I left open a few inches to let in the smell of the fresh pine and salt. “Supposedly big thunderboomers tonight.”

An anxious flutter tickles my gut. “Right,” I say, and hurry to the windows. Thunderstorms always make me think of that night. I’m suddenly glad I’m going out with Mariah and not staying home.

I shove the sash closed just as a flash of lightning brightens the narrow street below. I gasp and my heart races, but at least my back is to my friend, and she doesn’t see it.

Just one more thing I hide from her.

I close the second window as the thunder rolls in the distance, but by now I’ve composed myself enough that it doesn’t startle me.

But as I turn away, lightning flashes again. But this time, on the street, there’s someone there.

I blink hard, fighting a sense of panic. There’s no way he’d come all the way here. I’ve managed an entire year here without him finding me. I’ve started to feel safe.

Thankfully, when I open my eyes, the figure is gone.

I exhale. It’s just my stupid brain, playing tricks on me.

As if the universe wants to confirm this, a double flash of lightning brightens the street. It’s empty. Just a few parked cars. A mountain bike locked to the rack across the street. A stubby blue post office mailbox.

“Ready?” Mariah calls from my front entryway.

With a sigh of relief, I turn away from the window. “Ready.”

***

The Rusty Pelican isn’t the only bar in Storm Harbor, but they have killer burgers and an amazing ice cream pie plus an outdoor patio they open in the summer months. When I moved here last year, sitting outside at a restaurant came as a welcome surprise. I hadn’t imagined summers would be warm or dry enough this far north. Sure, it gets chilly after the sun goes down, and it rains sometimes, but that just makes it feel cozy.

I park my little hatchback in the lot and we step onto the gravel. The approaching storm has added a fresh chill to the air, but it feels good. So far no rain, but it’s coming.

“I hear there’s a group of guys from that offshore drill rig here tonight,” Mariah says, straightening her skirt and using my dusty side windows to make a quick adjustment to her hair.

“Just be careful,” I say, joining her at the back of my car.

She links arms with me and leans in. “I grabbed all the condoms I could find in my bedside drawer.”

I give her a look. “How many is that? Ten?”

She laughs. “No, I think just three.”

“I’m glad you’re taking precautions, but be careful in all the other ways, too, okay?”

“Hey, I know karate, remember?”

We round the corner and follow the side of the Pelican, the noise from inside growing with every step. Friday summer nights are the busiest, and tourist season is heating up, meaning tonight will be even busier. The Pelican’s wide front porch is lit up with Christmas lights. The music playing from the back patio drowns out the sound of our footsteps on the gravel.

We climb the wide steps of the Pelican’s porch which is lit by white Christmas lights. In the shadows on the far-right side, a couple is sitting on a bench. They’re close. Before I can think to look away, the man leans in to kiss the woman. His fingers brush the side of her face as she turns to him. Even over the music and sound of the squeaky hinge on the door, I can hear the woman’s soft sigh.

Mariah holds the door for me, filling the porch with the noise from inside. I follow her into the bar and the door thumps shut behind us. Typical of Alaska, there’s giant animal heads on the dark wood walls and old-fashioned sconces lighting the booths along the side. The crowded bar takes up the entire back wall, the backlit rows of colorful bottles glowing. A group of four or five beefy-looking guys are clustered at the left side.

“I was right. Drillers,” Mariah moans, and tugs on my hand.

I let her lead me to the bar but my mind replays that sweet, front porch kiss I just saw. Heat flashes over my skin. It’s been a while since I was kissed like that. Recently, Mariah’s been hinting that it was time to “get out there again.” Could she be right and I can finally let my guard down a little? Let someone kiss me, touch me. Maybe even tonight.

No. I haven’t moved to Alaska and started my life all over just to throw it all away for some fling.

By the time we get our drinks, Mariah’s already made eyes with one of the guys in the group.

“Trish and Lochlan should be here,” Mariah says, sipping through a pair of red straws. “You want to check outside?”

I sip from my ice-cold bottle of blackberry pilsner and move toward the back door. As we near the group of beefcakes, one with dark hair and a chiseled jaw gives Mariah a heated glance.

I hear her suck in a breath.

“I’ll meet you out there,” I say, and don’t wait for her to protest.

Outside, the fresh air does little to calm my fluttery heart. I remind myself that I only promised Mariah one drink. Though what kind of friend would leave her in a bar with five hormone-charged hulks?

I scan the two rows of picnic tables. Though I recognize faces, Trish and Loch aren’t here. A band is setting up on the small stage at the end of the patio. I wonder if I’ll stay long enough to hear their music. A part of me wants to, and the other part, the cautious part, thinks I should finish this beer and head for the door. Mariah is totally fine without me. In fact, I should be more worried about the guys.

However, Mariah’s right. We’ve earned a night out after wrapping up another year of teaching. I love the job, but it’s grueling. Even more so in rural Alaska. Though after a year in Storm Harbor, I’m more used to kids bringing seal blubber for lunch and gifting me quail eggs, life here is intense. Not in a bad way, but life here requires more awareness, more tolerance. I can’t leave my apartment without a first aid kit, winter rain jacket, map, and sturdy boots. Grocery store staples I used to take for granted aren’t always available. Last winter the produce section was practically bare for weeks.

The payoff though is the unbelievable beauty, access to nature, and of course, how easy it is to hide.

“Sorry, were you going to play?” a deep voice says, startling me.

I’ve wandered to my usual spot along the ride side to the deserted bocce ball court and shelf of used paperbacks and board games. Probably because it’s quieter. And it gives me a good view of the patio so I can watch for my friends.

“Um, no,” I say, and give the guy a quick glance. He’s medium tall with dirty blonde hair and broad shoulders. Though the light is dim in this corner of the patio, his eyes are a rich color. Not quite hazel, not quite brown.

He gives me a curious grin that gives his face a youthful fullness. A dimple creases his left cheek.

Heat warms my core. Dimples and mischief? My ovaries perk to life.

“Do you want to?” he asks. He’s holding a deck of cards. Lazily, he starts shuffling them from hand to hand.

“What’s the game?” I ask, even though I have no intention of playing.

“Strip poker?” he says hopefully, that grin spreading across his face.

I laugh.

He widens his stance, his eyes not leaving mine as he continues to shuffle the cards.

Damn. He’s charming and hot. “I suck at lying, so poker is out.”

“Then we should definitely play,” he replies, “preferably somewhere private.”

“Oh? Like the back of your car?” I hold in my wince. I should not have said that.

He steps closer still, putting us even further into the shadows. I catch a hint of clove and mint. He leans in, so his cheek almost touches mine. The heat from his face sends a pleasure tingle down the side of my neck and between my breasts. “If that’s what you need,” he says in my ear.

“Need?” I say, realizing I’m breathless. How has he gone from some random guy I could have walked past without thinking twice about it to making my heart race and my blood pound?

The question brings me back to my senses. Shit, I don’t need anything. Especially not with someone who smells this good whispering naughty promises in my ear. I don’t even know this guy.

From the stage, the lead singer and the two others open with a simple acapella verse in sweet, rich harmony. It echoes through me, pooling hot energy in my core.

Someone hoots from the crowd.

“Yeah,” the man says, his lips just brushing my earlobe. “Why don’t we start there. You tell me what you need and I’ll make sure you get it.”

The band starts to play to accompany their singing. It’s louder but not oppressive, and the harmony is still strong and sweet.

I exhale a shaky breath. What is wrong with me? I should push this guy back and go look for my friends. I should stop panting like a horny teenager and get a grip. What I need is to be left alone.

Yet haven’t I been alone enough? Not just since leaving, but before. Back then, I had never felt so alone.

I brush my lips against his jawline, where his skin is smooth and warm. God, he smells good.

He places a hand on my hip. Though his touch is gentle, I can feel the callouses on the pads of his palm through my t-shirt, and the confidence in his touch.

Warning signals fire in my brain. The last time I let anyone touch me was the day I planned my escape. I should have stepped away from this guy from the start. He’s dangerous.

But it’s like my libido is a runaway train. My pulse is fluttery in my throat. My skin tingles. Heat is collecting low in my belly, and the hollow between my thighs aches.

Damn it. I’m in deep trouble.

He caresses my side with a slow brush of his thumb. It’s deliciously sensual, sending messages to my thundering heart. Live a little, she says.

Maybe she’s right. Maybe a little fun with a stranger in a bar would be okay. This guy isn’t looking for more than that anyway, so it would be easy to walk away, easy to protect my eager little heart, protect my silly dreams.

“Here,” I whisper, and guide his hand to my bare thigh. “I need you here.”

He kisses my cheek, his perfect lips pressing tenderly. I turn and close my eyes as our lips touch. A tantalizing flood of need whooshes up from my stomach to my throat and mouth. I kiss him, my hands going to his chest. Maybe to steady myself, maybe to get ready to push back from him. Not knowing where this kiss is going brings on a delicious push-pull inside me. It swirls through my mind, distracting me. I let it.

His fingertips brush my skin just under the hem of my shorts. He kisses me again, his tongue flicking between my lips. Everything about him is warm and rich and intoxicating. I kiss him back, my tongue dancing with his. Can he feel my hard, fast pulse sending heat to my deepest place?

As if to answer, he glides his fingers up my inner thigh to the hem of my panties. I’ve become so wet that the shifting fabric sends a pulse of yearning through me.

Maybe I do need this.

He kisses me again, his tongue hot and slick against mine. His fingers glide against me. I clench my inner muscles as he finds my bud and circles.

Thank God the music is loud enough to cover my garbled moan. He strokes me and kisses me, his fingers and tongue working together in wicked harmony while I stand there with my palms pressed into his firm chest and my fingers curled into the fabric of his shirt. The pleasure rises so quickly that I don’t have time to realize that I’m on the edge until one more caress of where I’m practically on fire and I’m coming, my cries stifled by his firm, sweet mouth.

“Tasha?” a female voice says from behind me.

As if in a dream, I blink my eyes open. The man’s mischievous eyes flash and he smiles that gorgeous smile at me.

“I’m sorry,” I say because it’s the only thing I can think of.

He chuckles. “Why?”

“That’s not what I meant.” Over his shoulder, I can see my friends Lochlan and Trish approaching, wary expressions on both of their faces. I’m guessing it’s because we need to go rescue Mariah, or some other disaster.

“I’m sorry because…I have to go,” I say.

He tilts his head in a way that turns my tummy to mush. “Can I see you again?”

“Give me your phone,” I say.

He slides it from his back pocket and hands it over. When I take it, our fingers brush, and even though he’s just touched me in the most intimate way, this tiny bit of contact makes my skin tingle all over again.

I type in my name and phone number. What am I doing? I never, ever do this, but there’s something about this guy that’s making me reckless. It’s a side of me I’ve kept tamped down. Maybe that’s why. He’s bringing it out of me. Reminding me of a part of a time in my life when I felt free.

I hand his phone back and he slides it back into his pocket. Then he cradles my face and kisses me, long and slow and deep.

“Bye for now, Tasha,” he says, when he steps back, his eyes smoldering with an intoxicating heat.

“Wait!” I say as my friends near. “I don’t know your name.”

“Evan,” he says with a wink, then slips into the darkness.