Second Chance Summer
Love Inspired, ©2014, ISBN 978-0373878918
When Rachel Shaw and Jack Fletcher meet on a sunny Georgia barrier island, it seems like the perfect start to a romance. There's just one problem—neither is the least bit interested in falling in love. They're simply looking for peace, and time to work through their losses. But Rachel's Aunt Eleanor and Fletch's Gram have other plans. Their meddling matchmaking would drive Rachel and Fletch nuts if the two younger people weren't busy helping restore a house for one of Gram's charities. Yet as they repair the house, their hearts also begin to mend. And before the summer ends, might Rachel and Fletch discover not only the charms of this Golden Isle but of each other?
Man, could that guy swim.
Under cover of her wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, Rachel Shaw kept a discreet eye on the powerful shoulders cutting through the water a hundred feet beyond the crashing surf. The swimmer was moving as fast and effortlessly as the ubiquitous Jekyll Island dolphins that had been cavorting in almost that same spot yesterday.
And he’d been at it since before she’d arrived on the beach twenty minutes ago. Yet other than the few brief times he’d floated on his back while switching strokes, he showed no sign of tiring or slowing down.
A soft, snuffling sigh sounded close to her ear, and she looked over at the golden retriever flopped down next to her low-slung beach chair. He, too, was watching the figure in the water—until he turned to her with a pleading “Can we please swim, too?” look.
“Sorry, boy.” She patted his head. “I promised Aunt Eleanor I wouldn’t bring you home sopping wet. But we’ll play a quick game of Frisbee in a few minutes.”
At the word Frisbee, his ears perked up and his tail began to sweep the sand.
“I thought you’d like that. But give me five more minutes to veg.”
Leaning back in her chair, Rachel tossed her book into her tote bag, abandoning any pretense of reading. It wasn’t every day a woman got treated to such a demonstration of athletic prowess. And a quick scan left and right confirmed she had the show all to herself. Ah, deserted beaches—one of the beauties of summering on an off-the-beaten-path barrier island in Georgia.
Well, not quite deserted.
Her gaze swung back to the man in the water—who suddenly changed direction and headed for shore.
As Rachel followed his progress, her canine companion put his chin on her knee.
“Getting anxious, are we?” She gave him a distracted pat, her focus still on the dark-haired swimmer as she waited for him to stride from the sea like some mighty Greek god, all muscles and brawn and sinew.
Instead, he washed up on shore like a limp piece of seaweed, then scuttled backward with his hands, away from the frothy surf.
Talk about a letdown.
Adjusting her glasses, Rachel watched him fiddle with his ankle as he sat at the waterline. Maybe he’d had a close encounter with one of the jellyfish that were sometimes a painful nuisance here.
At the soft whimper beside her, she tugged the Frisbee out of her tote bag. Whatever was going on with that guy, he seemed well able to take care of himself.
“Okay, boy. You’ve been patient. Time for a quick game.”
After settling her hat more firmly on her head, she stood and moved away from her chair. Throwing against the stiff breeze would be nuts; better to face the swimmer and aim the Frisbee his direction.
As she made the first toss, the man rose to his feet, diverting her attention.
Squinting into the sun, she peered at his left knee. Was that an elastic bandage?
Even as the question echoed in her mind, he sent her a quick look, picked up the towel that was draped over his duffel bag…and turned his back without the merest hint of appreciative interest.
That wasn’t the usual male response when she wore her swimsuit.
At the unexpected twinge of disappointment, Rachel huffed out a breath, straightened her shoulders and smoothed a hand over her hip. She might not be eighteen anymore, but her thirty-three-year-old body had held up fine.
Besides, why should she care whether a stranger noticed her? It wasn’t as if romance was on her agenda for this visit. Her goals were the same this year as they’d been for the past three summers: rest, recharge and renew. And a broad-shouldered guy who swam like a fish wasn’t going to change that—no matter how good-looking he might be.
She took the Frisbee from her eager companion and tossed it again, doing her best to give the other occupant of the beach the same I-couldn’t-care-less treatment he was giving her.
Except a gust of wind snatched the Frisbee and hurled it straight toward the man’s back as he pulled a T-shirt over his head—and her canine friend, in hot pursuit, was focused only on the soaring blue plastic disk.
“Hey!” Rachel jogged forward, waving her arms. As the distance between man and dog shrank at a frightening pace, her pulse tripped into fast forward and she doubled her volume. “Hey, mister!”
Just as the man turned, seventy pounds of golden fur took flight toward the broad chest.
Rachel came to an abrupt halt, cringed and closed her eyes.
Five seconds ticked by before she had the courage to peek at the scene.
It wasn’t pretty.
The man was flat on his back. Her aunt’s dog—not her dog, she’d be clear about that—was nosing through the guy’s stuff, which must have flown out of his duffel bag in the melee.
“Bandit! Get back here! Right now!”
Excellent retriever that he was, her aunt’s dog snatched up the Frisbee and streaked toward her, leaving the guy in the dust…er, sand.
“Hey! Bring that back!” Anger nipped at the man’s voice as he righted himself, yanked down his T-shirt and slammed on a pair of sunglasses.
Bandit bounded up, tail wagging, and sat at her feet—holding a flipper that was the same color as the Frisbee.
But, hey. Anyone could make a mistake, right? The flipper looked a lot like the Frisbee at first glance. Sort of. To a dog. Maybe.
Somehow, though, Rachel doubted the man striding toward her was going to see it that way.
Especially since he’d just been flattened by the dog in question.
Better to jump in fast and get the apologies over before he reamed her about losing control of her dog and threatened a lawsuit for bodily injuries. Although other than that bandage on his knee, he appeared to be in fine condition.
Her gaze lingered on the bandage. Dropped lower.
It wasn’t a bandage.
It wasn’t even a real leg.
The man was wearing a prosthesis.
Her aunt’s dog had tackled a man with one leg.
Was there any possible way she could transform herself into a sand crab and disappear into the beach?
As Rachel stared at his leg, a blue Frisbee held by long, lean, sun-browned fingers appeared in her field of vision.
She jerked her head up, heat rising on her cheeks.
Smart move, Rachel. Add insult to injury by gawking.
“I think this is yours.” He passed her the Frisbee.
She couldn’t read his eyes behind his dark glasses, but she had no trouble deciphering his tone.
He was ticked.
Clenching the fingers of one hand around the edge of the disk, she leaned down, took the flipper from Bandit and handed it over. “Look…I’m really sorry about this. Are you hurt?”
“I’ve had more painful falls.”
Her first instinct was to glance back at his leg.
She quashed it.
“That flipper does look kind of like a Frisbee.” She aimed a distracted wave towardthe appendage in his hand.
“A swim fin doesn’t look anything like a Frisbee.”
At his correction, her chin lifted a notch. Flipper, fin, who cared? “Maybe it does to a dog. And for the record, Bandit is very friendly. But when he’s focused on retrieving, he tends to be oblivious to everything else.”
The man regarded the dog. “Bandit. An apt name. I can see why you picked it.”
Rachel appraised him. Was that a touch of amusement in his voice?
She softened her tone. “Actually, he belongs to my great-aunt. So on behalf of both her and Bandit, I apologize again. You’re sure you’re not hurt?” Hard as she tried, she couldn’t keep her gaze from flicking down to his leg.
The sudden stiffening of his posture was subtle but unmistakable. “I’m fine. But you might want to keep that guy on a leash around kids. A forty-pound child wouldn’t have fared as well.” He leaned down and patted Bandit, but his cool tone suggested he was far less willing to forgive her faux pas. “And for the record,” he parroted her own words back at her, “I’m no more prone to injury than a man who has two good legs.”
With that, he turned away and headed toward his towel.
Rachel watched his retreating back, fanning her burning cheeks with the Frisbee.
That had gone really well.
Bandit nudged her leg, and she looked down at her canine friend. At least her aunt’s dog liked her.
“Sorry, big guy. I think we’d better cool it for a while.”
Tail drooping, he skulked back to the beach chair and flopped down, chin on paws, angled away from her—the same cold treatment she’d gotten from the other occupant of the beach, who was packing up his gear to make a fast exit.
With a sigh, Rachel trudged back to her chair and sat. As she did, one of the slats emitted an ominous crack.
Three seconds later, she found herself sprawled on the sand, staring up at the dark clouds invading the blue sky.
And hoping her rocky start to this year’s vacation wasn’t an omen of things to come.