Christy Taylor smiled at the teens performing skateboard tricks on a set of iron rails, the screech-scrape of their wheels a musical accompaniment to the slap-slap of her sneakers hitting the pavement as she jogged past. Though it was early December on Vancouver Island the sun was a warm treat on her shoulders. Snowberries lined the pathway on the Goose Walking Trail, crunching beneath her feet. The unparalleled beauty of the Pacific Ocean lay off to her right. A salty breeze carried the scents of wood, brine, and soil to clear the fog from her brain. The past couple of years had been tough. Between Jill’s illness and the increasing costs in rent it was a never-ending battle to keep everything afloat.
She followed the snaky course through Beacon Hill Park, dodging dogs and children and couples holding hands. At the boat pond a father patiently taught his young son how to run the remote control for a jaunty red sailboat, while Mallard ducks paddled nearby searching for scraps.
She turned left and took the path that led her to the seawall, her favorite part of the run.
And there he was.
Every time she’d come by here for the past two months the same man crouched out on the furthest edge of the breakwater, staring out to sea.
He fascinated her.
She’d sit on the little spit of sand several feet away and create stories in her head about him. Maybe he was a Russian prince cast out of his homeland. Or a spy awaiting a boat bringing him information meant to save the world. Or maybe even a merman cast upon the shore and unable to find his way back to his watery home. The last brought a wry smile to her lips. Her mom always said she had a writer’s imagination.
She opened her fanny pack and drew out a bottle of water, a strip of homemade peach fruit leather, and her drawing supplies. She loved capturing nature on paper with nothing more than a few graphite pencils in varying grades and Caran d’Ache Luminance colors for shading. Her art was slowly gaining recognition, though it was taking more time than she could afford.
Sunset gradually lightened the horizon from chilly winter’s grey-blue to neon orange, brilliant fuchsia, and canary yellow. Fingers flew over the page, eager to catch every nuance as it occurred. Her unsuspecting model never moved, his silhouette perfectly captured by the dying rays of the sun.
When it became too dark to draw, Christy set the pad aside and twisted the cap off her water bottle. The liquid was a benediction going down her parched throat. She drank most of it before replacing the lid with a satisfied sigh. The day hadn’t begun well, but at least it was ending on a high note. She felt good about the work she’d just produced. It would be easier to tell after she returned to the shop and finished the shading of course, but she was off to a decent start.
Shivering a little now the sun had gone down, she returned everything to the bag and zipped it closed, then stood and brushed the sand from her butt and thighs before bending to pick up the fanny pack. Time to head home, Jill would be waiting.
A pair of dark brown hiking boots—size enormous—came into her line of sight. Her heart skipped a beat. Most people on the island were friendly and kind but she was a woman on her own and it was rapidly getting dark. How stupid.
She tightened her grip on the bag and cursing the fact she’d been so irresponsible, slowly rose to her feet, her gaze following the long, clean line of jean-clad legs, dark cotton shirt, tucked in and belted at the waist, open leather jacket, and chiseled jawline covered in a day’s worth of stubble. Glittering eyes stared at her from a deeply tanned, aloof-looking face.
“Quit following me.” The voice matched his visage, cold, harsh, and unforgiving.
So much for her fantasy hero. Christy stiffened and glared. “Kind of full of yourself, aren’t you?”
He leaned back and crossed his arms, his stance unforgiving. And to think she’d found him intriguing. Ha, more like infuriating.
“So it’s just a coincidence every time I turn around, there you are?” He lifted a hand and rubbed the back of his neck. The rasping sound along with the backdrop of the swishing waves made her—restless.
“Look, I don’t do interviews, okay? Not even for cute little pixies. Tell your boss, next time I’ll call the cops.”
Incredulity overrode her apprehension. “Are you serious? I have as much right to be on this beach as you do, buddy. Trust me, you’re not half as fascinating as you seem to think you are.”
In between one breath and the next, Mr. Personality seized the bag out of her grip and delved inside.
“Hey, give that back,” she cried, trying to wrestle it out of his grasp.
“If you have nothing to hide…” He pulled the drawings free and turned his wall of a back on her.
Christy couldn’t believe this was happening. Adrenaline zipped through her body, leaving her feeling more alive than she had in a long while. And it was all due to this… this jerk ripping pages out of her workbook while she stood by helpless to do anything about it. All that work—gone.
“Please,” she begged, her throat husky. “I meant no harm. I draw for a living. That’s all they are, drawings.”
At least the shredding stopped.
He leveled his gaze on her again, as though deciding whether to throw the whole bag out to sea or not. She really hoped not. It had taken months to save for those pencils. They were the very best and made a huge difference to the level of her workmanship.
“Please,” she said again.
He hesitated, then folded the sheets of paper he’d taken and shoved them into his jacket pocket before handing over her bag.
“Next time you might try asking,” he said dryly.
As he clumped away in those heavy boots his voice floated back to her on the breeze. “The answer would’ve been no, by the way.”
Was it too much to ask that he trip over his enormous—arrogance?
JACQUIE BIGGAR is a bestselling author of Romantic Suspense who loves to write about tough, alpha males who know what they want, that is until they’re gob-smacked by heroines who are strong, contemporary women willing to show them what they really need is love. She is the author of the popular Wounded Hearts series and has just started a new series in paranormal suspense, Mended Souls.
She has been blessed with a long, happy marriage and enjoys writing romance novels that end with happily-ever-afters.
Jacquie lives in paradise along the west coast of Canada with her family and loves reading, writing, and flower gardening. She swears she can’t function without coffee, preferably at the beach with her sweetheart. 🙂
Or email her via her web site. Jacquie lives on Vancouver Island with her husband and loves to hear from readers all over the world!