Prologue

Piper

 

PAST

 

“What do you think?” Jenn spun in front of the skinny mirror on the inside of the closet.

 

“It’s perfect.” I flicked one of the small little rhinestone buttons in the shape of a flower. It was sophisticated, and the pale pink was beautiful against Jenn’s summer-tanned skin. “I didn’t think there was any way you’d need a sweater while we were here but I should’ve known better.”

 

“Doesn’t matter that it’s summer; it’s always freezing at night.”

 

I should’ve remembered. Our families had been making our yearly trip to Anchor Island for as long as I could remember.

 

“Okay, finishing touches.” Jenn motioned me forward so I stood in front of her. “Look down.”

 

My gaze caught on the half of a heart around her neck that read: Friends. My fingers sought out my half, rubbing circles on it as Jenn swept something across my eyelids.

 

“Okay, finished. You can look.” Jenn stepped behind me, her hands on my shoulders. “My bestie is a stunner. Those high school boys won’t know what hit them.”

 

Facing the mirror, I rolled my eyes. “I just hope no one shoves me into a locker on the first day of class.” The high school we were attending in the fall was so much larger than the middle school we’d gone to, and I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the new experience.

 

She hooked an arm through mine, so we were looking at each other through the mirror. We were polar opposites. Jenn with her blond hair and long, sinewy form. Me with my dark hair and petite stature. But fourteen years of being hitched to each other’s sides had made us more like sisters than friends, even if we looked nothing alike.

 

“We’ll handle it like we do everything—”

 

“Together,” I finished.

 

She grinned into the mirror. “I have a surprise…”

 

The mischievous glint in Jenn’s blue eyes had my stomach dropping. “What?”

 

She stuck out her tongue at me in the mirror. “Don’t be like that. It’s a good one.”

 

Jenn’s good surprises could be anything from: I scored us some double fudge brownie ice cream, to we’re going to toilet paper our pre-algebra teacher’s house. “All right, spill.”

 

“I ran into Ethan earlier, and he and his friends invited us to a party. They’re having a bonfire up on the cliffs.” She did a little running-man dance and let out a squeal.

 

That dropping sensation in my stomach turned to cramps. I should’ve known when Jenn had said she wanted to give us both a makeover that something was up. “I don’t know.” I wandered out into the main room of the cabin, Jenn on my heels.

 

“Come on, Piper. Pleeeeeease? It’ll be fun, I promise.”

 

I slid into a chair at the table, studying the drawing we’d been working on every night since we’d arrived at Whispering Falls a week ago. “You know my uncles wouldn’t like it. Neither would your parents.”

 

She leaned a hip against the table, looking down at me with that same mischievous smile. “What they don’t know won’t hurt them. And don’t you want to start high school having gone to one party?”

 

I didn’t. If I could avoid parties for the foreseeable future, that would be just fine with me. But that was something changing between Jenn and me. I was happy with how we usually spent our yearly vacation here—excursions with our families during the day, whale watching, hiking, shopping in town. And our nights working on our plans for when we’d buy the Falls one day, while our favorite movies played in the background.

 

“Come on,” Jenn pleaded. “I really want to see Ethan again. And don’t you want to hang out with Nick? You’ll like it. He said they tell ghost stories at the bonfire. You’re super into all of that.”

 

No number of ghost stories could get me out of this cabin tonight. I had never lied to Nathan and Vic. Okay, I had never lied to them after I’d told them that a fox had kicked the soccer ball and broken the window when I was nine. I was pretty sure there were no foxes in Seattle, and the guilty look on my face had given me away. My uncles trusted me, and I didn’t want to ruin that. “It’s a stupid idea. I bet those guys don’t even know you’re fourteen. They wouldn’t have invited you if they did.” They must be at least sixteen—too old to be interested in an incoming freshman.

 

Jenn stiffened. “I told them I was in high school.”

 

“But not a freshman,” I challenged.

 

“It doesn’t matter. What’s going on with you? Are you scared or something?”

 

“I’m not scared. I just think that party’s going to be lame, and as soon as they figure out how old you are, they’re going to kick you out anyway. Why waste time?”

 

Jenn straightened from her perch against the table. “Well, I don’t want to watch another lame old movie and doodle on those stupid plans. I want to have some fun. Live a little.”

 

“Fine. Go without me, then.” The words were out before I could stop them.

 

“I will.” With that, she took off, slamming the door against the wall as she went.

 

Tears stung my eyes as I stared down at the map we’d been working on all week. The sketches of the buildings and the swimming pool blurred.

 

“What’s going on? Jenn tore out of here like the cabin was on fire,” Nathan asked as he entered, Vic in tow.

 

Concern laced Vic’s features as he crossed to me. “What are these tears, Munchkin?”

 

I let him fold me into a hug, the familiar scents of cedar and something just a bit floral wrapping me in comfort. “It’s nothing.”

 

“Doesn’t look like nothing to me,” Nathan said, a bit of extra gruffness to his tone as he sat across from Vic and me.

 

I gave my head a little shake. “Just a fight. I think high school is going to be different…” I let my words trail off. I didn’t know how to explain it. Everything felt as if it were changing, and all I wanted was for things to stay the same.

 

Nathan and Vic shared a look, and then Vic turned to face me. “Friends aren’t always forever. Sometimes, they’re just for a season. Others might fall away, only to come back when you least expect it. I have a feeling you and Jenn will find your way.”

 

“Maybe.” I couldn’t imagine my life without her. We’d been friends for so long, she felt more like another limb. I took a shuddering breath. I could take it back, apologize tomorrow. Or maybe she’d have a horrible time at the party and realize that a movie night was better.

 

Nathan stood from the table. “Why don’t I make sundaes, and we can pile onto the couch and watch that awful movie for the millionth time?”

 

Vic pressed his lips together to hide his chuckle, but he wasn’t very successful. “You love Troop Beverly Hills. It’s why you decided to lead Piper’s Girl Scout troop.”

 

Nathan leveled Vic with a glare. “Don’t remind me of those dark days.”

 

“The moms loved you, though,” I offered.

 

“I thought I knew what being competitive meant, but I had no idea until we had to sell those damned cookies. I swear those moms would’ve sold a kidney to win one of those cookie prizes.”

 

“Language,” Vic chided.

 

I rolled my eyes. “I think I’ve heard the word damn before.”

 

Vic pulled me into a tight hug and then covered my ears. “Let me keep you young and innocent forever.”

 

I immediately went for his sides, where I knew he was ticklish. “What was that?”

 

Vic’s hands flew off my ears with a shriek. “Uncalled for, young lady!”

 

Nathan just shook his head at the two of us.

 

Eventually, we settled onto the couch with bowls of ice cream in hand—extra whipped cream on mine, no peanuts, just the way I liked it. I burrowed into the couch cushions between the men who always had my back, no matter what life threw my way. But the ice cream sat heavily in my stomach, and I couldn’t help but imagine where Jenn was. Wondered if she was having so much fun, she hadn’t thought about me.

 

By the time the movie had ended, I was a walking zombie, brushing my teeth on autopilot and falling into bed. I pulled back the curtain to peek out the window. I saw no light on in Jenn’s room at her cabin. My stomach twisted. Clearly, she was having way more fun than I’d thought she would. I lay back on my pillow and stared at the ceiling. It was a while before sleep finally came, and when it did, it was fitful. Dreams of being stuffed into a high school locker, kids laughing and pointing.

 

When an arm shook me awake, I thought it was because I’d screamed in my sleep. Nathan’s face filled my vision. “Did you hear from Jenn last night?”

 

I blinked the sleep out of my eyes. “No.” Cell phones barely worked on this end of the island. You had to stand in one of three spots to get service.

 

Nathan’s jaw tightened. “Do you know where she was going? The truth, Piper.”

 

My heartbeat fluttered, wings beating against my rib cage. “Sh-she wanted to go to a bonfire. With some high school kids. What’s going on?”

 

He eased down onto the bed. “The Brantons can’t find her. She wasn’t in her bed this morning.”

 

“What?” I croaked. Jenn might stay out late, but all night? Never.

 

Nathan took my hand. “No one’s seen her. She’s missing.” 

 

 

Chapter One

Piper

 

PRESENT

 

My SUV jolted as I guided it off the ferry ramp and onto the streets of Anchor. Rolling down my window, I took in the scents of salt air and a hint of pine. The smell was the same, even ten years later. My heart gave a stutter step as I took in The General Store. We’d always stopped here directly off the ferry to stock up for our few weeks on the island, Jenn and I trying to sneak extra candy and cookies into the carts.

 

I let out a slow breath, trying to balance the healthy doses of nerves and excitement that flooded me. “We’ve got this. Right, Bruno?” I glanced in the rearview mirror as if my one-hundred-and-fifty-pound dog might answer me. Instead, his tongue simply lolled out of his mouth. “I’m taking that as a yes.”

 

I guided my vehicle onto Main Street, following the steady stream of cars. It wasn’t high season yet, but late spring brought a healthy dose of tourists to the small island. From what my realtor had told me, at the height of summer, the thirty-mile island could swell to over two thousand people. I just hoped some of those tourists stayed at Whispering Falls once I got her up and running.

 

I rolled down the back window so Bruno could feel the wind on his face. As soon as a crack appeared, he attempted to shove his massive head through the space. “Don’t hurt yourself,” I muttered.

 

Traffic moved slowly through town, a combination of too many vehicles and vacationers not knowing their way around yet. I didn’t mind. It gave me a chance to take things in. The central street in town was mostly the same—the buildings, at least: a picturesque mix of Victorian, Craftsman, and raw brick. But many of the shops and restaurants had changed hands. Or maybe I’d simply forgotten in all my years away.

 

I smiled as I caught sight of The Catch Bar & Grill. Their BLTs and Shirley Temples had been my favorites, and I knew that Nathan and Vic would be thrilled to hear that the place was still in business. I saw an Italian restaurant I didn’t remember from years past that looked promising. The ice cream shop and The Mad Baker bakery were still around. Farther down the street, an antiques and furniture shop called Second Chances looked new and had me wanting to pull over for a closer look.

 

“Tomorrow,” I said to Bruno. “We’ll come into town and check everything out.” He lifted his head into the breeze as if to say that he liked the idea.

 

Traffic fell away as we drove out of town. The island had always been a mixture of historic neighborhoods, farmland, and protected nature preserves. I was relieved to see that none of that had changed. Glancing ahead, I took in Mount Orcas to the northeast. I couldn’t wait to spend some time hiking her again, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t be getting that wish anytime soon.

 

The road bent and curved, taking me away from the neighborhoods and through farmland. A handful of cows raised their heads as I drove by, and Bruno let out a bark. “You’re not a city dog anymore. You’re going to have to learn to make friends with creatures other than fellow dogs.” I quickly glanced back at him in the rearview mirror. God, I hoped he didn’t get into a tussle with some wild animal, thinking he was protecting me.

 

The paved road turned to gravel, and I was suddenly thankful that Nathan had insisted I trade in my sedan for an SUV. A pothole jarred my spine, further cementing my gratitude. After a few minutes of bouncing along, I came to a stop at the entrance to the property. The resort sign I remembered had clearly seen better days. The wooden posts holding up the sign were crooked, and Whispering Falls Lodge & Resort had faded to the point where it was barely readable.

 

It would be the first thing I fixed, I decided on the spot. And it wouldn’t be hard. The posts themselves seemed to be in good shape; they simply needed to be secured better. A little paint and the sign would shine again.

 

I slowly took my foot off the brake and switched it to the accelerator. As the resort came into view, my chest constricted. Cabins dotted the hillside, leading up to the cliffs, and the lodge stood proud and majestic with a view of the sea, the old barn peeking out in the distance. Memories slammed into me, one after another, a slideshow of the good and bad. But no matter which kind passed, they left an ache in my heart that I wasn’t sure would ever go away. Because I had come back without Jenn.

 

An SUV door slammed across the drive, jarring me free of my memories. I pulled into a spot near the other vehicle. As I climbed out, the woman waved.

 

“Welcome home,” she beamed.

 

My lungs seemed to shake as I inhaled. Home. Thanks to foreclosure and the inheritance my grandparents had left behind—plus a healthy dose of insanity that made me think I could make this work.

 

Nathan and Vic certainly thought I was crazy. Even with degrees in hospitality and interior design, almost ten years helping with their restoration business, and two years working for a premier hotel in Seattle, they still worried. Maybe I was a little overly ambitious to tackle this alone, but I couldn’t wait.

 

Losing Jenn had taught me that life was fleeting. When an opportunity presented itself to chase your dreams, you didn’t let it slip through your fingers.

 

I gave my head a little shake and returned my realtor’s smile. “Thank you. Are you okay with dogs? He’s very well behaved.”

 

Corrie’s eyes widened a fraction as she took in Bruno’s head, sticking out of my SUV’s window. “Love them.” I opened the back door, and Bruno immediately hopped out and went to meet the new person. Corrie stuck out a hand for him to sniff and then rubbed his head. “Aren’t you a beauty?”

 

“He knows it, too.”

 

Corrie chuckled, continuing to give Bruno scratches. “As he should.” She looked up and met my gaze. “How was the trip?”

 

“Not bad at all. I’d forgotten how gorgeous the view is coming in on the ferry.”

 

“Can’t beat it.” She stopped her petting, much to Bruno’s dismay, and riffled through her purse, coming up with a set of keys that looked as if they should belong to a janitor. “The place is officially yours.”

 

The ring of metal sat heavily on my palm—the weight of risking everything for a dream I’d never been able to let go of. “Thank you for all you did to make this possible.” I hadn’t been able to make it out to the island to see the place in person before I bought it, but I’d had my memories. And Corrie had sent me at least a hundred photos and had gotten the property assessed for me.

 

“It’s more common than you’d think, people not being able to make it in from the city. Properties fly off the market faster than you can blink. This one, though…” Her words hung in the air as she pressed her lips together.

 

I chuckled. “Let’s be honest. Someone would have to be a little crazy to buy this place.”

 

“You said it, not me. Were you able to get in touch with Hardy Construction?”

 

I kept an eye on Bruno as he explored the property around us, seemingly following some invisible scent trail. “I did. The owner’s coming out next week to finalize everything, and I think they’ll be able to start a few weeks after that.”

 

What I needed was someone to start yesterday, but quality work was better than quick work. And in the meantime, I’d just have to be patient and do what I could to get the place in shape. Thankfully, I still worked the occasional weekend on one of Nathan and Vic’s sites. The knowledge and practice I’d gained there should give me a bit of a head start.

 

Corrie slid a tablet out of her purse. “That’s wonderful. I’ve got three summer-long rentals already booked for you. The details and copies of the leases have been sent to your email. And I’ve got a few more maybes.”

 

“That’s perfect.” I would need to fill as many usable cabins as possible to help cover the renovation costs. “And your assessor said those cabins are workable?”

 

“He did. And I did a second walkthrough of the ten on the north side. They’re going to need a good cleaning, but everything works.”

 

Cleaning, I could handle. I had a couple of weeks before anyone would arrive, and the summer-long rentals didn’t include meals or a maid service unless it was specifically requested. Which meant I had some breathing room.

 

“Thank you for everything, Corrie. You’ve gone above and beyond.”

 

“I’m happy to help.” Her gaze swept the property around us. “I’m glad someone’s going to bring this place back. It’s been empty for far too long.”

 

My hand moved to the necklace that dipped under my shirt—the little half of a broken heart with Best on the front and Piper on the back. I hoped I was up to the challenge. Because if I could bring Whispering Falls back to life, then maybe I’d be able to keep a piece of Jenn with me always.

 

***

 

I pulled open the door to the coat closet, and the doorknob fell off in my hand. I stared at it as a cloud of dust plumed around me. I let out a series of violent sneezes, each one worse than the one before as if some sort of allergy demon had possessed my body. Sinking to the floor, I rubbed at my eyes. “This is bad,” I muttered to Bruno.

 

I wished the doorknob was the first thing to break off in my hand, but it wasn’t. The pulls on more than one kitchen drawer had suffered the same fate. The handle to my shower door. And last but not least, the pull chain on one of the antique toilets. I wasn’t even going to try to fix that one.

 

Bruno looked at me with judgmental eyes from his bed in the corner, silently asking why the hell I had yanked him from his sleek loft in downtown Seattle and brought him to this rundown lodge in the middle of nowhere. The call of nature and the new smells had lost their appeal when he took in where he’d be sleeping.

 

“Don’t give me that look. It’s going to be great.” I wasn’t sure if I was talking more to Bruno or myself. Neither was a good sign. But I’d give myself a pep talk daily if that’s what it took.

 

I glanced around the large room. It wasn’t that bad. More than anything, it needed a thorough cleaning, just as Corrie had said. Once I did that, I’d be able to see what I was dealing with. And maybe the lodge I remembered from all the summers I’d spent here would start to reappear.

 

I sighed and pushed to my feet. “You want to go for a ride?” The little traitor perked right up at that and bounded to my side. “Sure, now you like me.” I headed outside and towards my SUV. Pulling open the back door, Bruno hopped up. He likely hoped I was taking him back to Seattle and away from this falling-down nightmare covered in dust and grime.

 

I climbed into the SUV and started the engine, taking a moment to soak in everything around me. Yes, the cabins that dotted the hillside needed a little work, as did the landscaping, but none of that detracted from the pristine beauty surrounding us. I rolled down my window and took a deep breath, the familiar scents easing the panic that had a firm hold on my body.

 

The land extended as far as the eye could see and was all mine. And I would make it sing again. From the cliffs that dropped off to the sea to the rocky beaches and the dock below, to the forest and the rolling hills. I could picture all the families and friends who would come through here, filling the Craftsman-style bungalows and log cabins. One day, there would be weddings and family reunions.

 

I’d expand and build a spa and more cabins. We’d have guides to take the guests out on fishing and whale-watching trips. I’d bring in glamping tents and install hot tubs at some of the cabins, just like Jenn had wanted.

 

I rubbed at the space between my breasts that always burned when a memory of her hit—the spot where my necklace lay. “One day,” I promised myself. “But first, I need to clean.” I’d used the last of my wipes and dusters while cleaning the bedroom and bath I was using at the lodge. I needed supplies, and it would take a lot of them.

 

The resort was on the farthest northern point of Anchor, the quaint downtown area a good twenty minutes away. It meant that cell service, internet, and power were iffy, to say the least. But it also gave the feeling of being removed from the rest of the world, and that was precisely what vacationers wanted.

 

It was something I realized I needed, as well. Quiet and peace. It was so easy to get caught up in Seattle. Working too many hours, agreeing to too many dinners out, squeezing in time with my uncles. My life was full, but I rarely had time to just…be. To slow down and appreciate my surroundings—not that they were as beautiful as this. My new life on Anchor would force me to be more present, and I wasn’t mad about it.

 

I guided my SUV down the bumpy gravel road and sighed in relief when I hit pavement. A smile stretched across my face as I drove through downtown. I couldn’t wait to really explore. I wanted to frequent as many shops and restaurants as possible so I could give guests catered suggestions of where to visit and eat.

 

I turned left and headed just a few blocks away from Main Street, pulling into the local hardware store’s parking lot. I needed heavy-duty cleaning supplies and not the stuff I would find at the grocery store. I also needed at least a hundred shop rags. Probably more. Buckets and a mop instead of the little disposable doodads I’d been using up to this point were also on the list. Heck, a hazmat suit probably wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

 

A wave of anxiety swept through me as I pictured just how much work needed to be done. Seeing the photos was one thing. Seeing it live and in person as the dust set off an allergic reaction, and my muscles were already weeping from cleaning a single room, was another. I pulled in a long and steadying breath. Just one step at a time.

 

As I backed into my parking spot, my phone buzzed in the cupholder. I glanced down at the screen.

 

Vic: You getting settled okay?

 

Before I could type out a reply, another message popped up in our group chat.

 

Nathan: Make sure you have your pepper spray and get emergency supplies as soon as possible. You shouldn’t drive in a storm on that island.

 

Me: Don’t worry. I’ve picked up a few hitchhikers to keep me company and took lots of candy from strangers on the ferry, so I should be good.

 

Nathan: Not funny.

 

I grinned down at my phone. I could practically hear Nathan’s growl.

 

Me: I’m fine. Just getting to the hardware store to pick up supplies. Pepper spray is in my purse, and I’ve got enough bottled water to get me through an apocalypse. Love you both. Stop worrying.

 

Vic: It’ll never happen. Worrying is our job.

 

I sent a few heart emojis in return and climbed out of my SUV, leaving the window cracked for Bruno. Heading into the store, I picked up one of the jumbo carts. I would need it. I winced, thinking about how much this shopping trip would cost. But it was unavoidable. Renters wanted clean cabins, and I didn’t think my allergies would survive a week living in a dust tunnel. I mentally added a mask to my list. That might help.

 

I took my time, slowly weaving my way up one aisle and down the other. Wandering in a store with no real hurry was one of the simple pleasures in life. But as I passed each section, my anxiety ratcheted up a level. Each display of tools and supplies reminded me of something that needed to be done at the Falls.

 

I stopped in front of a display of industrial cleaners and supplies. “One step at a time,” I whispered to myself. “And the first one is a clean surface so I can evaluate.”

 

“Are you okay?”

 

My head snapped up at the question. I’d been lost in my frantic struggle to escape the downward spiral of my thoughts and hadn’t noticed the blonde next to me. I couldn’t help the slightly hysterical laugh that escaped. “No. I’m really not. I bought a resort, and I’m in so over my head, it’s not even funny. Things are falling apart left and right. There’s enough dust in the buildings that I’m going to become a permanent asthmatic. And I’ll have to get extremely creative if I have a prayer of bringing the place back to life.”

 

The woman let out a full and uninhibited laugh and then held out a hand. “I’m Bell Kipton. And you must be Piper.”

 

Heat hit my cheeks. “I’m not sure I even want to know how you know my name after I just unloaded like that.”

 

Bell waved a hand in front of her face. “Please. We all have days like that. And it’s a small island. News travels when someone buys a place like the Falls.”

 

Small-town life would be an adjustment. “It’s nice to meet you.”

 

“You, too. I promise folks around here are welcoming, and I have a feeling you’ll get the place up and running in no time. If you need an extra hand with anything, just stop by Second Chances. That’s my shop. I’ll be happy to help.”

 

The kindness of her offer was almost painful. A reminder that I wasn’t supposed to be on this journey alone. “Thank you,” I croaked out. “I hope you’re right.”

 

 

Chapter Two

Hunter

 

I winced as I flipped the chicken on the grill but kept right on moving through the pain. If I didn’t start using my arm again, I’d never truly heal. But the months of slow progress were about doing me in.

 

“Still bugging you, huh?”

 

My brother handed me a beer, and I took a slow sip, buying myself some time. “My physical therapist says it’ll be a few months before I’m back to one hundred percent. But I’ll get there.” I had to. I had no backup plans or emergency exits. My construction company was my life. And part of that career meant being physical.

 

Ford nodded slowly. “You’re going crazy, aren’t you?”

 

“I’m about ready to crawl out of my skin.” I’d gone by the project site to check on my crew no less than half a dozen times in the last few days alone.

 

“You really think you’re ready to start that big resort job?”

 

I opened my mouth to say something that would probably sound more like I was biting Ford’s head off, but then I saw the worry lining my brother’s face. I’d put him and my parents through hell after I’d been shot. None of them needed the stress—especially my dad, who’d had a bad stroke a couple of years back. “I’m going to take it slow. I promise.”

 

Ford took a pull from his beer. “I know you, Hunt. You’ll go slow for about an hour, and then you’ll be bursting at the seams to bring your vision to life.”

 

He wasn’t wrong. It was how I always operated. There was no high like seeing the thing in your mind come to life in the buildings around you. And I’d been itching to get my hands on the resort for almost a decade. The more years that passed, and the more significant disrepair it fell into, the more I’d considered buying it. The problem had always been what the hell I would do with it after I restored it. This was the best of both worlds. I’d get my hands on the old girl and not have to deal with the aftermath.

 

I brushed a touch more marinade on the chicken. “I know I’ll only set myself back if I push too hard. That should keep me in check. The last thing I want is to be laid up in your guest room again with Bell clucking over me like a mother hen.”

 

Ford grinned. “At least, you’ve made it to the Airstream now.”

 

I glanced out at the silver trailer that had been sitting a few hundred yards from Bell and Ford’s place since before I was shot. “You know a door means nothing to Bell. She’ll just come bursting in, asking if I’ve had breakfast, did my PT exercises… It’s never-ending.”

 

“I heard that,” Bell’s voice sounded as she appeared in the frame of the back door.

 

Ford let out a low whistle. “You’re in for it now.”

 

“You know it’s the truth. Mothering might as well be your second language,” I griped.

 

Bell crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Well, maybe if you weren’t so indecisive, you’d have a house of your own by now instead of living in our driveway.”

 

“I’m not indecisive. I just want to find the perfect spot to build.”

 

Ford snorted. “You’ve bought over a dozen tracts of land over the last couple of years, only to turn around and sell them a few months later.”

 

“Perfection takes time,” I argued. And each piece of land I’d purchased was just that: the place where I would finally build my dream home. The house that had been coming together in my mind since I first started working construction in high school. But after purchasing the properties and living on them in my trailer for a couple of months, I inevitably started seeing all the flaws. So I’d sell and start all over again.

 

I’d tried beachfront, clifftop, forest, mountainside, and rolling farmland. Nothing was exactly right. And I refused to settle.

 

Bell shook her head and rolled her eyes heavenward. “Land and women. He can never make up his mind where either is concerned.”

 

I pointed the grill tongs at her. “Hey. I resent that—”

 

“Because it’s the truth?” Ford cut in.

 

I narrowed my eyes at my brother. “If I remember correctly, you lived quite the bachelor lifestyle in LA before settling down with sweet Bell here. I’m not sure you’re one to judge.”

 

Bell scoffed. “He really shouldn’t. I, on the other hand, can judge you both.”

 

“You’re gonna pay for that,” Ford murmured in my direction.

 

I couldn’t hold in my laughter. “Thank God, you two got your shit together. We’d all be miserable if you hadn’t.”

 

Bell slipped under Ford’s arm. “He really is lucky he snagged me.”

 

“I am.” Ford brushed his lips across hers.

 

I rubbed at the phantom pain in my chest and turned my focus back to the chicken, flipping it one more time. I’d always felt at ease with dating when it suited me, being single when that did the same, but as all the people in my life seemed to be settling down and starting families, I couldn’t help but feel as if I were missing out.

 

I’d always wanted that. Nothing about being a perpetual bachelor appealed to me. But I’d always been more than happy to wait until the right woman came along. I’d thought a few might be it, but ultimately, they hadn’t been right.

 

I wanted what my parents had. What my brother and friends had found. A person who seemed to balance them out perfectly. And I didn’t have the first idea of what that felt like.

 

“Earth to Hunter…”

 

I glanced up at Bell’s voice. “Sorry, what?”

 

“I said I met your new boss.”

 

I took the chicken off the grill and placed it on a platter. “Really? Did she scream ‘city?’” I’d talked to Piper Cosgrove a handful of times on the phone. She seemed nice enough, but I had a feeling that she didn’t have the first clue what she was getting herself into.

 

Bell shook her head. “I didn’t get that vibe. She did seem overwhelmed by all the work that needs to be done, though, so go easy on her.” Bell glanced at Ford, a mischievous smile stretching across her face. “She’s also gorgeous.”

 

Ford sighed. “Do not get some wild matchmaking hair, please.”

 

She shoved at his chest. “I’m a great matchmaker. Look at Kenna and Crosby.”

 

“Kenna almost killed Crosby at least a dozen times before they ended up together,” Ford argued.

 

“But they’re happy now, aren’t they?”

 

I shoved the chicken into Bell’s hands. “As adorable as this weird fighting foreplay you guys get into is, I’d really love to eat dinner in the next century, and I won’t be able to do that if you two have to go lock yourselves in a room.”

 

Bell blushed. “I’ll go get the salad.”

 

Ford smacked me upside the head. “I can’t wait until you meet someone. I’m gonna cheer when she knocks you on your ass.”

 

“Naw, I’m way too even-keeled for that.”

 

Ford glanced over his shoulder as he headed for the house. “We’ll just see about that.”

WANT MORE OF BENEATH THE WRECKAGE? You can order at any of the following retailers...

Amazon | Amazon Worldwide | Apple Books | Nook | Kobo | Audible