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It was going to rain.
Molly Cassidy knew without a doubt that it was going to pour buckets from the huge dark clouds that were looming over the Gulf of Mexico and moving steadily closer.
Last night it had rained just a little and the roof of this enormous, white stucco Spanish eclectic-style house that she and Zander had inherited had done a fine imitation of a sieve.
Molly had bought tarps first thing that morning, but in this wind, tying the last of them over the low-pitched, rambling red-tiled roof was proving to be a two-person job.
Lightning cracked in the distance, and the boom of thunder was quick to follow. Instinctively, she flattened herself on the roof, the hair on the back of her neck rising. Was she nuts? On the roof during an electrical storm?
But this decaying, moldy, wonderful old architectural monster was their future. It was their chance at a new beginning, a fresh, clean start.
And it would be much more fresh and clean if there weren't two inches of water standing in the living room by nightfall.
As another rumble of thunder rolled, Molly lifted her head and peered over the crest of the roof down toward the ground. She could see her ten-year-old son looking up at her, his thin face pinched with concern, his eyes huge behind his glasses. Zander hated thunder and lightning. He always had, even as a baby.
"Get down from there," he signed up at her, his hands moving swiftly, sharply. "Now."
"Go inside," Molly signed back. "I'm almost done."
"Go inside," Molly signed again. "Make sure all the windows are closed. Quickly!"
Zander turned and dashed inside, and Molly looked down at the tarp, wondering the best way to untangle it in this wind with only two hands. Maybe she should just tie it down the way it was. It would be better than nothing... .
But then the wind rose and the tarp whipped up and over her, covering her and nearly knocking her off the roof. She slid, cursing and scrambling for a finger- or toehold on the slippery mission tile.
Her foot hit a loose tile and caught just as strong hands grabbed her around the waist and hauled her against a hard body. Who the heck... ?
Molly pushed the tarp off her head and found herself nose-to-nose with the Beach Boy.
She'd seen him out on the beach every morning since they'd first arrived on Sunrise Key three days before. He had an artist's easel and watercolor paints and he always sat quietly in the early-morning light, painting the changing colors of the ocean.
A surprising number of people were on the beach early in the morning, but there was something about this man that had caught her eye.
It was more than his gleaming, golden-tanned, beach-boy good looks. Even though everything about him seemed to glisten--his sun-bleached, reddish-gold hair, his trim, muscular, tan body--Molly refused to allow herself to be impressed by a handsome face. But this man had a certain air about him. And it was that, she told herself, his calm authority, that had drawn her attention to him. Of course, once her attention had been caught, she couldn't help but notice that movie-star face and extremely well-maintained body.
Molly had never gotten close enough to see if his paintings were any good.
Or if his eyes were as brilliantly blue as she'd imagined.
They weren't. They were hazel. How refreshing.
"You all right?" he asked, his voice a raspy baritone flavored with a hint of the South. He was a smoker--the lingering scent of cigarette smoke clung to him.
Molly nodded, wide-eyed, aware that his arms were still around her, aware of his leg thrown across hers in his attempt to hold her in place, aware of the heat of his skin against hers.
She was anchored.
Up close, he wasn't as perfectly good-looking as she'd thought. His face was harder, leaner, his nose sharper and slightly crooked, and a small scar marred his left cheekbone, underneath his eye. He hadn't shaved in a number of days, and his scruffy chin glinted with shades of red and gold, making him look less like a beach boy and more like a pirate. And those eyes...
They were the color of the ocean as the storm clouds approached, green and gray and darkly dangerous.
"Come on," he said, his voice nearly inaudible over the rising wind. "I'll help you. You get this side, I'll take the other."
Molly nodded again, and just like that, his weight was off her, the intimate warmth of his bare leg against hers was gone.
He was up and over to the other side of the roof as if he were a professional tightrope walker, escaped from the Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota, several dozens of miles up the Florida coastline. As he went he untangled and smoothed down the tarp. The muscles in his arms tightened as a big gust tried to whip the blue plastic away from him, and he brought his weight down, holding the tarp with his body against the roof.
His thick, gorgeous hair was pushed forward into his eyes and then quickly dashed back out by the rising wind. He ignored it, lashing the rope at the tarp's corner securely into place.
Molly did the same on her end. It wasn't perfect, but it was much better than nothing.
Lightning streaked across the sky and thunder boomed. And the heavens opened, showering them with big, fat raindrops that fell faster and faster until there was only a sheet of water, pouring down from the clouds.
Thunder cracked again, deafeningly loud. Molly could see the Beach Boy crouched by the ladder, chivalrously waiting for her to descend first.
She skidded on the plastic, and he reached for her, his hand around her wrist holding her steady. Their eyes met, and he smiled, a quick, fierce, genuine smile that electrified and heated his gaze.
He was having fun. He actually liked being up on the roof in the middle of a thunderstorm, with the wind and the rain ripping at his clothes and his hair, danger all around him.
Molly scrambled down the ladder and dashed toward the shelter of the house. The Beach Boy was right behind her.
Zander was inside, waiting. The roar of the wind and the rain was quieted as Molly shut the door behind them.
"Oh, man," Molly gasped.
"Welcome to Florida." The Beach Boy was still grinning at her.
He was dripping wet. His hair was plastered against his head, and his eyelashes were beaded with drops of water. But his smile was infectious, and Molly found herself smiling back at him.
The Beach Boy looked down at the puddle he was making on the marble-tiled floor. His T-shirt and cutoff jeans were soaked, as were the ragged boat sneakers he wore without socks. "So much for keeping the rain outside," he said ruefully.
Zander was staring, blue eyes wide behind his glasses. "Who is he?" he signed to Molly, using small furtive movements. It was the American Sign Language equivalent of whispering, and it wasn't very polite.
"Please run and get us a couple of towels," Molly told her son, signing the word towels for emphasis, and the boy dashed away.
But who is he? was a very good question indeed. She turned to the Beach Boy. "Thank you so much," Molly said to him.
He was staring off after Zander. "Is your boy deaf?" he asked, turning to gaze at her with those odd-colored eyes. "I didn't realize... ."
Others might have been put off by the bluntness of his question, but Molly liked it. It was so much better than what most people did--staring askance at the boy's hearing aids and then ignoring both the child and his physical challenge.
"Zander?" One golden eyebrow lifted, and the start of another smile danced on the edges of his lips.
"It's short for Alexander. He's got a severe high-frequency hearing loss--and high frequency is where most of human speech occurs. His hearing aids make up for some of that, but not all. If you speak clearly and let him watch your lips, he'll understand most of what you say. And what he doesn't understand, he'll ask about. He's not shy."
The Beach Boy nodded, his disturbingly warm gaze searching her face. "He looks just like you. It's very cool--it's like you should be put on display with a big sign that says 'Genetics in Action.'"
Molly couldn't help but laugh at that. "Well, I think he's the most gorgeous, perfect child in the world, so thank you very much." She looked up to see Zander reappear with the towels. He handed them both to her.
She gave one to the man. "Thanks," he said, including Zander with a look and a nod.
Molly opened her own towel, wiped her face, and blotted her hair. "I'm Molly Cassidy," she told him.
"I know that. Me and everyone else on the island. It's a pretty small place, you know--and news travels faster than the speed of light down here."
"I've seen you on the beach," Molly said.
"Yeah, I'm trying to learn to paint." He smiled, but didn't offer her his name. It was odd--as if he assumed she already knew him. "You know, this old house has been leaking for at least fifty years." He wrung out the edge of his T-shirt. "Why'd you choose today to break tradition?"
Molly peered out at him from under her towel. "Because I intend to make this place into a bed-and-breakfast--and soaked mattresses and soggy toast is not what I have in mind."
"A B-and-B, huh? That's a lot of hard work."
Not compared with what she'd been used to. But Molly just smiled, kicking off her saturated sneakers.
The Beach Boy looked at her son. "How about you, Zander? You want to make this place into a B-and-B?"
"I like it here," Zander said. "I want to stay."
"We like the idea of working for ourselves." Molly pulled the ponytail holder from her wet hair and ran her hands through the light brown tangle.
"Why not sell the place?" the man asked, his eyes following the movement of her fingers. "An old building like this, with all this property? You could name your price, walk away with a pile of cash. And if you invested it right, you wouldn't have to work at all."
"Invest it? No thank you very much." Molly made the sign of the cross with her fingers, holding it up as if to ward him off. "Been there, done that. At least my husband did. And it's not a mistake I'm going to make twice."
"You could find some low-risk--"
"Risk is risk," she interrupted. "No, I'll stick to what I know, thanks."
"You could find someone who does know to invest the money for you."
Molly laughed. "Here comes the part where you introduce yourself and tell us that when you're not vacationing here on Sunrise Key, you work in New York City managing people's investments, right?" She started for the stairs to the second floor, turning back to face Zander. "We better check our buckets, Z--see where we're still leaking." She smiled at the Beach Boy. "Come on, Mr. Investment Banker, tag along. We'll give you the official leaky-roof tour of the Kirk Estate."
He started up the stairs after them. "I'm not an investment banker," he said. "I'm sorry I didn't introduce myself--I thought you knew who I was."
"Oh, wait a minute, I know who you are," Molly teased, checking the buckets that were strategically placed across the upstairs landing. Several places were dripping, but it wasn't the steady stream of water she'd expected without the tarps. "You're the island's famous billionaire, Preston Seaholm the third, or whatever pretentious number he has dangling off the end of his name, right? You've come to make your fifth offer for this house--" She turned to face him. "Can you believe the nerve of that pompous man? He's made four offers on a house that's not even for sale in the course of three days. Isn't that incredibly crass! Zander--please check the buckets in your room, and the other bedrooms on that side of the hall, okay?" She signed "check the buckets please" for emphasis.
As Zander disappeared down the corridor Molly pushed open the door to the room she'd slept in over the past few nights. Last night, she'd woken up with water dripping onto her nose. She'd moved the bed and wound up directly underneath another leak. She'd ended up putting buckets and plastic containers on the bed, and taking her blanket and pillow down to the couch in the den.
"He must really want to buy this place," the Beach Boy said, following her and continuing their conversation.
"Who? Preston Seaholm the fifth?" Molly snorted. "You know, for all he knows, we're in mourning for poor Great-Uncle Jeremiah Kirk. And all he wants to talk about is money. I know his type. Egotistical, overbearing, thinks he owns the world--"
"Are you in mourning?"
Molly led the way into another bedroom. "Well, no. We didn't exactly even know of Jeremiah's existence until two weeks ago when the lawyer contacted us about his death. He was my husband's great-uncle. I didn't even know Chuck--my husband--had other surviving family."
"Don't you think that Pres Seaholm probably knows your connection to Jeremiah Kirk was distant? I mean, if he wants to buy this place that badly... "
The room Molly thought of as the lavender bedroom had a drip that was running pretty quickly. She turned to search for the largest, widest container, but the Beach Boy beat her to it, already switching it with the small plastic bowl that had been under the leak.
His hair was starting to dry, and the red highlights gleamed in the dim light. And it was dim in there. Molly was positive there were no lightbulbs stronger than forty watts in the entire house. It made it difficult to read at night, but the glow they cast was warm and intimate and filled with interesting shadows.
It was romantic.
Of course, this guy would cut a romantic enough figure even in the glaring light of high noon. But with the storm raging outside, turning the afternoon unnaturally dark, in these still-unfamiliar rooms, filled with furniture that was nearly three times as old as she was, Molly was suddenly painfully aware that the man she was talking to was among the most attractive of all the men she'd ever met.
She shook her head, pushing that errant thought away.
"Have I thanked you properly for saving my life up on the roof?" she asked.
"That depends on what you mean by properly."
His gaze dropped to her mouth for just a fraction of a second, but it was long enough for Molly to realize that he found her attractive too. He wanted to kiss her. She remembered the sensation of his leg thrown across hers, of his hard body pressed against hers. She was willing to bet he remembered it too.
If she kissed him, he would probably taste like an ashtray.
That should have been enough of a turnoff for a pro-fresh air nonsmoker like herself, but oddly enough it wasn't.
She turned away, uncertain of whether she was more afraid of him or her reaction to him, and unable to keep from glancing back in his direction.
He was smiling as if he could read her mind. She didn't doubt that he could. "You said your husband was Chuck--Chuck Cassidy ... ? Do you mean the writer?"
She gazed at him in surprise. "Did you know him?"
"No, but I've read all of his books. He was a favorite of mine. I think his short story 'Day After the End' is still required reading in ninth-grade English in most of the western hemisphere. As it should be." His voice got lower. "I was sorry to hear of his death."
With the exception of "Day After the End," by the time Chuck had died, his name and his books were virtually unknown. He'd published nothing since 1979--more than five years before Molly had even met him. Writing had always been a struggle for him, and in the last years of his life he'd fought, but not nearly hard enough. And then, when he was diagnosed with cancer...
"That was about two years ago, wasn't it?" he asked.
"Three," Molly said. "I'm surprised you even knew. Chuck Cassidy's passing wasn't exactly considered newsworthy."
"His obituary was in the local paper."
She blinked. "Here? On Sunrise Key?"
"Yeah. According to local legend, he used to come down here for vacations all the time, back fifteen, twenty years ago. He even lived down here for a while. It was before I came to the key, but there's still a picture of him up on the wall at Millie's Market."
Molly turned away. "I didn't know." It was amazing. Another secret. Another piece of himself that Chuck hadn't shared with her. He'd never told her anything about Sunrise Key, Florida.
But then again, Chuck hadn't told her much about anything.
The Beach Boy was watching her and she forced herself to smile.
And change the subject. "So, what is it?" she asked him. "Mike? Or Tom?" --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.