THIS CAN’T BE LOVE

ThisCantBeLove200

WHISPERING BAY ROMANCE Book 5

Coming February 28, 2017

Luke Powers has a stellar career, a loaded bank account, and the perfect girlfriend. Or so he thought until she gives him a marriage ultimatum. Unfortunately, he’s just not the marrying kind. After working six months non-stop, all he wants now is a few weeks of R&R in the beach house his late grandfather left him in his hometown of Whispering Bay. But when he shows up late one night, he finds something totally unexpected—a naked blonde in his bed.

Sarah Jamison is the antithesis of perfect. She’s a college dropout, a bit of a slob, and annoyingly opinionated. But she also makes the best macaroni and cheese Luke has ever tasted. A roommate wasn’t in Luke’s summer plans, but she’s here, so she and her macaroni might as well stay.

One thing Sarah knows for sure is that she’s never going to end up like her mother who’s spent years hopelessly in love with a man who deserted her. Sarah is in Whispering Bay long enough to help out a friend, then she’s off to greener pastures. Spending a few weeks with the attractive, but acerbic Luke, won’t be any skin off her nose. Except, the two of them have more in common than she originally thought, and those blue eyes of his have a way of making her panties melt.

As things between them begin to heat up, Sarah and Luke have to admit they’ve definitely fallen in lust with one another. But in love? No way.

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EXCERPT

Chapter One 

Sneak peek! (this is an unedited version)

Luke Powers was hungry, tired, and horny. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the list was in the correct order. But if you were to ask Luke his opinion, tonight he’d rearrange those needs a bit differently. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast nineteen hours ago, and he hadn’t gotten laid in a good three months. But he hadn’t slept for over two nights, so right now tired was winning hands down. He couldn’t fall into his bed fast enough.

He tried to pull his jeep into the narrow driveway to the beach house he hadn’t visited in well over a year, but a beat up Honda Civic that looked older than dirt was already parked in his spot. Three other cars, all with Indiana license plates, haphazardly took up the rest of the grassy strip between his place and the house next door.

Damn tourists. They thought renting a house for a week meant you could do whatever you liked and the hell with everyone else.

He drove his jeep around the block until he found a place to park and killed the engine. Which, after thinking about it for a minute, was probably for the best. Whispering Bay, Florida was a town of about ten thousand people. Ten thousand people who watched your every move, that is. If anyone saw his jeep with the distinctive Georgia license plates parked in front of the beach house it would only be a matter of minutes before Ann Powers knew that her only son was back in town.

Not that Luke didn’t plan to visit his family. Eventually. But for right now all he wanted was a couple of days of sleep interspersed with a little fishing thrown in. A couple of quiet sunsets sitting on the back porch with a cold brewski in his hand. He’d spent the last three months working on a string of oil rigs in the gulf with hardly a day off. A little R and R without his mother constantly asking when he was getting married wasn’t too much to ask.

He yanked a small overnight bag from the back seat of the jeep, ignoring the rest of his gear. It was past two in the morning. No need for anything more than a toothbrush and a clean change of underwear. He’d get the rest of his stuff tomorrow.

He trekked down the deserted road, past the dark quiet houses weaving his way around the parked cars with the out of state license plates.

Whispering Bay wasn’t the tourist Mecca that nearby Panama City Beach or Destin were. But it was July, and although Luke hadn’t visited the beach house in over a year, he knew his neighbors well enough to know that most of the homes on this block were owned by snow birds. Retirees who lived in Florida during the brutal northern winter months but who rented their places out in the equally brutal summers of the sunshine state. The houses on this block were probably filled with families and their two point five kids. They’d spend a week on the pristine beaches of the Florida panhandle, then another week in Orlando visiting Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter and spend the rest of the year paying off their credit cards.

He stood in front of the neat little lime green clapboard beach house his grandfather had bequeathed to him three years ago, and gave it a quick inspection. The house wasn’t fancy. It was more like a two bedroom fishing shack, really. But it sat on prime beachfront real estate, which made it worth substantially more than what it looked like on the outside. The front yard was freshly mown with a trimmed hedge of hibiscus along the borders. His mother handled the upkeep on the place through a joint bank account he kept specifically for that purpose.

He could easily rent it out, but he preferred not to. He kept all the stuff he didn’t want in his Atlanta condo stored here and he didn’t want a bunch of strangers pawing through his things. From time to time he offered the place to a few of his old college buddies and he encouraged his sister, Mimi, who lived just a couple miles down the road to use it whenever she wanted. She had her own house of course, but it wasn’t directly on the beach. As far as he knew, Mimi and her husband Zeke had never taken him up on his offer.

He unlocked the front door, pleasantly relieved to be walking into a semi-cool house. The Florida summer was too brutal to not have the ac on even with the place empty. He turned on a light in the living room and found the wall thermostat set to seventy-eight. He flipped it down a couple more degrees and took a look around.

He blinked. Shook his head. And blinked again.

Someone had rearranged his furniture.

That would be his mother, of course. Or Mimi. Not that he minded overly much. He was grateful they took the time to watch the place for him. There were other changes too. His plain brown leather couch had some kind of frilly blanket draped across it and there were at least a dozen candles everywhere. The slightly sweet vanilla aroma lingering in the air revealed their recent use.

He picked up a discarded towel that had been carelessly tossed on the wooden floor, then tripped, nearly losing his balance in the process.

What the—?

He bent over to retrieve a bucket filled with seashells. Huh. Now that was weird. His mother wasn’t the collecting seashells by the seashore type. More like the sitting in her lounge chair under a big umbrella sipping on a cold martini type.

The place wasn’t exactly messy, but both his mother and his sister were neat freaks. Neither of them would leave a towel lying on the floor.

Maybe Mimi had let the kids use the house. His niece, Claire, was almost eighteen and had just graduated from high school, and his nephew Cameron was…what? Twelve or thirteen? Could they be using the place without anyone knowing?

If they were using the beach house, then maybe they’d left some food behind. His stomach let out an angry growl. Maybe hungry was going to win out over tired, after all.

He flung open the refrigerator door. There was fruit, and some yogurt and a lot of other healthy looking stuff that he ignored. Behind a cut up pineapple was a plastic container with some macaroni and cheese. Now this was more like it. Add in a neat inch of the Glenlivet he kept in the cupboard above the stove and he’d have himself a proper meal. But when he checked the cupboard, his scotch was gone. Neither his mother or Mimi would have touched it.

The idea of Claire sneaking in here and drinking his liquor brought out the protective uncle in him. He hoped to hell she wasn’t using his place to throw any wild teenage parties.

He zapped up the mac and cheese, grabbed a fork and plopped himself down on the sofa. There was a book, opened in the middle of the spine face down on the sofa’s arm rest. He picked it up and read the title. It was John Steinbeck’s novel Travels With Charley and according to the back cover it was borrowed from the Whispering Bay Public library. Definitely pre-college summer reading material. Good to know his niece wasn’t spending her entire summer partying before heading off to Duke.

He put the book aside and found the remote. At least no one had messed with his flat screen TV. He hit his favorites button and the Lifetime channel popped up. He hit it again, expecting ESPN, but got the Hallmark channel instead.

Luke snorted and shook his head, then manually switched over to the Golf channel. He took a bite of the mac and cheese. Damn, but this was good. And definitely homemade. Not any of that boxed crap he’d lived on in college. Had his mother made this? Nah. Mac and cheese was more Mimi’s style. His sister was a good cook but her culinary skills had definitely gone up a notch or two since he’d last eaten at her house.

He wolfed down the rest of the macaroni, then toed off his sneakers and propped his feet on the coffee table, too tired to move. Maybe he’d fall asleep right here on the couch. He was thinking about how great it was to finally be doing nothing, when his gaze wondered over to the side table to a series of framed photographs that made him immediately sit up straight.

There was at least a dozen photos of him and Victoria at various stages in their relationship, as well as a couple of him by himself, all arranged carefully, like some kind of shrine. This definitely had his mother written all over it.

There was also two photos that had been laid face down, as if someone had picked them up and couldn’t stand to look at them. He flipped them over. One was a picture of him and Victoria taken at Taos, New Mexico last year during a ski trip. The other was a photo of him in a black tux taken at his old college roommate’s wedding a few years before that. He’d only been dating Victoria a couple of weeks at that point, but he was the best man at the wedding and he’d needed a date. She’d completely wowed all his friends. But then, Victoria would wow anyone. She was the total package. Tall, with long dark hair and a killer bod, and she was smart, too. She’d just made partner at her corporate law firm in Atlanta. They’d dated for almost three years. Until that day six months ago.

They’d been having a good time—dinner and an overheated couple of hours in the sack when she’d sat up in bed and hit him with those fatal words no guy ever wanted to hear, “I think our relationship needs to go to the next level.”

“Give me a few more minutes and I’ll be happy to take it to whatever level you want.” He’d hoped that she’d appreciate the joke.

But instead of the sweet, sexy smile he’d expected, she’d pulled the sheet up to cover the nicest set of knockers this side of the Mississippi, and frowned. “Luke. You know what I’m talking about.”

Neither of them were kids anymore, so yeah, he knew exactly what she was talking about. But he’d always been honest with her. He wasn’t the marrying kind. Way back when, he’d made a point of telling her that on their second date.

“Either we get married or…” She shrugged. Her big brown eyes were shiny with tears. “Don’t you care about me?”

Hell yes, he cared. How could he not? She was nearly perfect in every way. Beautiful, smart, accomplished, sexy, funny, kind. She was every man’s dream.

“Do you love me?” she whispered.

“I love everything about you, Torie,” he said, using the nickname that only he was allowed to use. To everyone else she was Victoria.

“I guess that answers my question.” She slipped out of the bed and began pulling her clothes on.

“Torie—”

“Don’t.” She spun around and stabbed him with a glare that bordered somewhere between anger and hurt. “The thing is, Luke, I’m thirty-four and while you might think this is my biological clock ticking away, I’m not trying to trap you into one of those awful ultimatums girls give their boyfriends when they think they’re wasting their time in a relationship. I love you. And I want to be with you. And I thought… I thought that you’d fall in love with me, too. I thought if I just gave you enough time.” She laughed, a sad little laugh that tore at his gut.

“So that’s it? We either get married or we’re through?”

“Yeah, that’s it.” She didn’t look angry anymore. More like resigned. Like a part of her had expected this.

He could tell her he loved her. Who’s to say he didn’t? He’d never told anyone he loved them before, but what did he know? He’d never done the girlfriend thing in high school. He’d been too busy making good grades and playing sports to pay much attention to girls. And then he’d hit college and there was a different girlfriend every month. But he’d graduated summa cum laude from Duke with his civil engineering degree without ever saying those three fateful little words to any of the pretty co-eds he’d been with.

Then he was off to grad school at the University of Charleston to get a masters in marine biology and the pattern repeated itself. Lots of girls, but no one special. After school, he’d taken a job with a civil engineering firm that specialized in marine construction. He’d worked hard in those first few years to build up a reputation of excellence. He’d also played hard. And he found that he liked it. While all his buddies were settling down with nice girl next door types their mommas would approve of, Luke found that that he enjoyed the single life. He liked going out with a different woman every weekend. Going to nice restaurants and having lots of nice sex. But he also liked coming home to his nice empty apartment where he could kick back and relax after a hard day in the field.

Eventually, he quit his job and together with a friend from grad school they’d opened their own consulting firm. For the past seven years he’d traveled around the country, making more money than he’d ever dreamed possible. He had a nice condo in Buckhead and a couple of million tucked away in the bank. He and Torie had a good thing. They saw each other exclusively and were together most of the time he wasn’t away from Atlanta traveling, which he had to admit, could sometimes be weeks at a time. For the most part, he missed her when he was away, and he’d been faithful to her. Maybe love was as simple as that.

Or maybe, it wasn’t.

He watched as she finished dressing. He was sad, no doubt about it, but he didn’t feel any overwhelming urge to stop her either. He didn’t want to get married. He didn’t even want to live together. And if he didn’t want those things, then she was right. He couldn’t be in with love her.

She pulled on her heels and turned to face him. “I love you, Luke, but I can’t be with a man who doesn’t feel as strongly for me as I do for him.” He went to say something, what exactly, he didn’t know, but she cut him off by leaning over the bed and planting a kiss on his cheek. “It’s all right,” she said, giving him a shaky smile. Leave it to Torie. Always classy, never making a scene. “The thing is, I know that one day you’re going to fall in love. And I hope you’re happy. I really do. But…and I hate to say this, but a part of me hopes that she breaks your heart into a million pieces, because I want you to know what I’m feeling right now.”

He’d heard those words echoing in his brain for the past six months. He put down the framed picture of them and thought about the email he’d received from Torie just a few days ago.

I’m getting married, Luke! I know it sounds crazy, because Jeff and I have only known each other a few months, but it just feels right. I know it might be a lot to ask, but in a lot of ways, you’re my closest friend and I’d really like it if you could be at the wedding. I hope life is treating you well. Hugs, Torie.

Would he go to Torie’s wedding? Nah. Despite what she’d written in her note, it didn’t seem right. But he was happy for her. He really was. It just felt…odd. Unsettling, in a way he couldn’t quite describe. It wasn’t jealousy or regret. More like the realization that if he hadn’t been able to fall in love with someone as terrific as Torie, then he probably wasn’t capable of the emotion. He was thirty-seven years old. All his friends were married. A few of them were already divorced from wife number one and onto wife number two. His sister, Mimi, two years younger than him had been married for eighteen years, with two kids and another surprise baby on the way.

Marriage, family, kids… they weren’t for Luke Powers. Neither was forced monogamy, dirty diapers and making nice with your mother-in-law on Thanksgiving.

He had a good life. Hell, he had a great life. No use crying over spilled milk.

He placed the empty bowl into the kitchen sink and padded his way to the lone bathroom. Someone was definitely using the beach house. Someone who used fruity scented shampoo and wore…a retainer? He picked up a small plastic container off the bathroom counter to find both an upper and a lower retainer still inside.

Claire had worn braces. At least, he thought she had. These must be hers. But why would his niece leave them here? Then he noticed the two tiny scraps of damp brown material hung over the towel rack. He picked up what must be the bottom to the smallest bikini in the world and frowned. Underwear models from Victoria’s Secret wore a lot more than this.

No wonder Claire was sneaking in to use his beach place. No way would her father, Zeke Grant, Whispering Bay’s chief of police, let his teenage daughter wear anything this risqué.

Luke finished up in the bathroom, pulled off his T-shirt and shorts and headed for bed. He’d call Mimi in the morning and let him know what he’d found. He didn’t want to get his niece in trouble, but it was his responsibility to let her parents know that she’d been drinking his scotch and using his beach house for…for what he didn’t want to think about.

He opened the door to his bedroom, flipped on a light and immediately went still. His bed was mussed and there was a lump huddled beneath his comforter. The lump flipped over to change position giving him a glimpse of long tan legs and a head full of blonde hair. Definitely not his niece.

Someone had snuck in here and rearranged his furniture.

They’d drank all his scotch.

And they were now sleeping in his bed.

“Hey! Whoever you are, wake up.”

The lump sat straight up in his bed causing the comforter to fall off to the side. “What?” A pair of big brown eyes blinked hard, then rounded in shock. “Oh my God!” The shriek nearly pierced his eardrums. The lump grabbed the sheets and pulled them up to her chin, but it was too late. He’d already gotten more than an eyeful.

There was a naked woman in his bed.

Correction: A naked blonde.

A very attractive naked blonde.