Chapter One – Mindy
One Year Ago . . .
There was something about hiking all alone on an island in the middle of the Pacific ocean that Mindy found utterly relaxing. She knew that it hadn’t been a smart idea to go kayaking by herself in a strange environment, but what was the point of coming to California if she wasn’t going to break the rules a little? No, she had her visions of what the day was going to be like, and she was damn well going to see it through, no matter what people said.
After the year she had, flitting from one job to another, never feeling like her feet were grounded, not to mention the sheer amount of times she had broken down crying after some fight with her mother, she was ready to start living life on her own terms.
And today was that day when she was going to turn things around. She was just glad that she had found herself an idyllic, uninhabited island to spend the day with her brother and sister. Just her, a bottle of wine, and their memories. It was much better than trying to spend the day in the crowded city or worse, with her mother who would just end up berating her for not having moved on yet. Five years and the ache was just as sharp as it was the day that she had lost them.
Mindy wiped sweat from her forehead as she came to the top of the small hill she had been hiking up. A quick glance around showed her a view of almost the whole island. It was fairly small, only a few miles across in either direction. There was no sign of humans anywhere.
She pulled a blanket out of her knapsack and laid it on the ground before settling down on it. It was five years ago today. As she pulled out her wine bottle to toast the dead, she allowed herself to think back on that day. The screeching tires. The shattered glass. The twisted metal. The police sirens. Walking away without a scratch while her siblings lay dead behind her.
Just as Mindy was about to open the bottle, she caught sight of something moving at the beach. Her heart jumped to her throat as her brain instantly shouted ‘Bear!’ at her. She began to scramble to her feet, but as she looked closer, she saw it wasn’t a bear at all. It was a man, emerging from the ocean like Poseidon, all gleaming skin and rippling muscles. He was naked.
Her jaw dropped at the sight of him. He caught sight of her and stopped dead ankle-deep in the ocean. Mindy didn’t move for a long moment, as though afraid that he might dive back into the ocean and disappear. He didn’t, though. In fact, he didn’t move at all.
After several moments of the two of them just staring at each other, Mindy decided that this was all very ridiculous. She put her wine back into her knapsack and picked up her blanket. Might as well go down and introduce herself.
As soon as she started to make her way down to the beach, the man started moving, too. Mindy continued walking down, and when she rounded a corner in the path, she found him pulling on a pair of jeans. She caught a glimpse of a toned, well-shaped ass before it disappeared. Heat rushed to her cheeks, and she found herself wishing she had been just a little closer when he came out of the ocean.
Behind the man, Mindy saw a tent set up just above the tide line, along with the remnants of a campfire. The man pulled on a shirt which clung to his wet skin and turned to face her. Mindy adjusted her pack as she took in the suspicious glint in his eye. It was almost a challenge to her, telling her to leave him alone.
Well, Mindy was never one to back down from a challenge.
She marched up to the strange man and held out her hand. “Mindy Davidson.”
The man eyed her for a moment longer before he took her hand. “Rex Tesla.”
Mindy was just able to stop herself from laughing. What kind of absurd name was that? “Pleased to meet you.”
“Right.” Rex dropped her hand and shoved his hands into his pockets. “What are you doing here?”
Mindy pulled the bottle of wine from her pack. “Finding a place far away from the noise of civilization so I can get drunk in peace. Today’s the anniversary of the day I lost my family, and I wanted to be alone. At least, I did. Wanna join me? I promise not to cry.”
Rex narrowed his eyes at her for a moment before his massive shoulders—seriously, the guy was built like a mountain—relaxed. “I wouldn’t mind if you did. I lost my parents and my sister a while back in an accident. Around this time of year, too.”
Rex shrugged. He disappeared into his tent while she spread her blanket on the beach and opened the wine bottle. He returned with a tin cup and bowl and offered her the cup. She took it, gave him some wine in the bowl, then poured her cup half-full. They sat together in silence, sipping their wine and staring at the ocean as the waves came crashing in. The world seemed utterly peaceful as they drank first one, then two glasses. By then the bottle was half-empty, and Mindy was getting tired of being wrapped up in her own memories.
“So what are you doing out here?” She turned to Rex, eyeing him. He was insanely gorgeous, with thick and long dark hair and eyes that were the same color as the sky above them.
Rex shrugged, lifting his bowl to his lips again. “Not much. Getting away. Finding time to think. I’ve made a real mess of my life lately, and I needed some time alone. So. Why did you decide to come all the way out to an island with no name to remember the dead?”
“Just wanted to be alone. I’m sick of people.”
Rex snorted. “And yet you decided to share your cheap bottle of wine with me?”
“Hey! This isn’t cheap.” She sniffed the bottle. It had a delicate, fruity scent to it. With a glare at Rex, she gestured at him with the bottle. “Just for that, I’m not going to share anymore with you. No more. You’re just ungrateful. This bottle cost me twenty bucks, you know! That’s not cheap.”
Rex grinned at her. “If you say so.”
Mindy narrowed her eyes at him as he took a gulp of his wine. She snorted.
“You didn’t answer my question. If you didn’t want to be around people, why invite me to join you?”
Mindy shrugged. “You don’t count as people. You look like you’re on the run from something.”
Rex roared with laughter, even though she wasn’t entirely certain what was so funny. He grinned, toasted her, and drained the rest of his wine. Come to think of it, he was probably getting into the drunk stage. She was feeling rather buzzed herself. Not enough to really muddle her thoughts but enough that she was more open than she usually would be.
“You’re right about that,” Rex said. “I am running from something. The woman I thought I loved is marrying someone else.”
“Bitch,” Mindy said comfortingly.
Rex shook his head. “No. I was the bitch. She didn’t want me from the start. But I decided that I knew what she was feeling better than she was and I . . . I guess I started stalking her. I was a real bastard about it. Ruined everything.” He glowered at the waves for a moment before his head suddenly whipped around. His eyes widened, and he leaned forward, looking earnest. “But I never would have hurt her. I didn’t mean to frighten her. I’m dealing with a lot of stuff right now, not that it’s an excuse, but I would never have hurt her.”
There was something in his eyes, something that begged her to believe him. Mindy cocked her head to one side, studying him. This was something that was clearly bugging him. She moved a little closer as warmth spread through her body.
“You know what? I believe you. You don’t look like that kind of guy. So how did it happen?”
Rex, who had relaxed when she said she believed him, tensed again. He scowled and shrugged. “I saw her, talked with her, and thought that it was love at first sight. She seemed interested at first, but then she ended up with . . . someone else.”
Mindy nodded, then giggled. “So it was all your fault, then. You were an idiot!”
Rex frowned at her.
“Take it from me, love at first sight isn’t real. Trust me. I’ve fallen in love at first sight dozens of times, and it never lasts. For instance, right now I’m falling in love with you.”
Rex stared at her for a moment, as though deciding whether or not she was serious, then smiled. “Then I suppose we had better get married before we fall out of love.”
“I’ll need a wedding ring then.” She held out her hand.
To her surprise, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a diamond ring. The diamond sparkled like his eyes, like the sun on the water. It was getting late in the day, the sky was a brilliant purple and red. The ring was a rose gold, with a rather large diamond sitting in between two smaller ones. Mindy snorted as she took a closer look at it.
“Amazing. You just happened to have a ring in your pocket?”
Rex shrugged. “I told you I took things too far with this woman. I completely ignored everything she was telling me and proposed to her. Like I said, I was an idiot.”
Mindy slid her hand into his and wiggled her ring finger as she smiled. “I don’t believe that’s the word that you used. But it’s lucky that you happened to have it on you. After all, how else were we supposed to get married?”
Rex slid the ring onto her finger. It got stuck on her knuckle briefly, but she straightened it, and he pushed it all the way on. The diamond caught the sunlight and winked back at her. Mindy admired it for a moment before she glanced up at Rex.
“Well, since we’re getting married, we ought to exchange vows,” she said seriously.
He nodded. “We should. You first.”
Mindy hummed, thinking for a moment. “I promise to . . . never complain about your smelly socks and always put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher.”
Rex chuckled. “I promise to always take the trash out and to never complain about your off-key singing.”
“I happen to sing very nicely.” To prove it, she let out a couple of off-key notes.
Rex chuckled. “Beautiful.”
Mindy shrugged. “Whatever. Now we kiss.”
She leaned forward, tilting her face to his. He brushed his lips against hers. A tingling sensation filled them, and she found herself following him, lengthening the kiss. Rex was hesitant only for a moment before his strong arms banded around her. His mouth crushed against hers, his tongue flicking across her lower lip. Mindy let out a soft moan as everything inside of her tightened. A thrilled sensation of heat swirled through her, warding off the chill of the cooling day.
Rex grabbed her by the hips and rolled over her, pinning her down on the blanket. His body was so hot and warm that she couldn’t stop herself from greedily exploring it with her hands. She tugged his shirt off over his head and licked his pec as his hands wormed their way into her jeans.
He paused, a look of consternation coming to his eyes as he looked up. “Do you want this?”
A grin crossed Mindy’s face. She nodded, her fingers tracing the tops of his jeans. “I do.”
If she could stay here forever, that would be paradise. Her back was chilly, but Mindy didn’t care about that. She curled herself into the heat of Rex’s body, the lazy sleepiness of waking just too early filling her. She repressed a sigh as her dreams slowly faded away. It was time to get back to life. As much as she would have loved to stay here forever, that wasn’t something that could happen.
She rolled over, trying to slip away from Rex without waking him. To her surprise, she found his eyes already open and staring at her.
“Your hair is full of sand,” he mumbled, running his fingers through it.
“Well, I did say we needed to move to the tent, but someone didn’t want to.” Mindy smiled at him, then stretched. She glanced around for her clothes. “Guess it’s time to go.”
“Yeah.” Rex sounded as reluctant as she felt. “I need to get home, too. I have to take care of some business.”
Mindy dumped sand out of her bra and put it on. “What are you going to do about the woman?”
“Forget her, hopefully. It can’t have been love if I was this eager to get it on with someone else, right?”
“Glad I could be your rebound.” Mindy smiled. “Oh, right.”
She tried to pull off the diamond ring, but it stayed stubbornly stuck on her finger. Rex watched her struggle with it for a moment before he shrugged.
“Keep it. I don’t have any need for it anymore.”
Mindy’s eyes widened. “What? Really? Are you serious?”
Rex nodded. “I’m not proposing to anybody anytime soon. Besides, you think twenty bucks makes for expensive wine. You clearly need it more than I do.”
Mindy stared at him, not sure what to do. She looked at the beautiful ring again. It would make a good souvenir if nothing else. A memory of a fantastic night with a gorgeous man.
Rex remained wrapped in the blanket while she dressed. When she stuck the bottle of wine back into her knapsack, he finally got up. Mindy admired the contours of his muscles as he shook out the blanket and handed it to her.
“Thanks,” he said. “Last night was just the fairy tale I needed.”
“Me, too.” Mindy swung her pack onto her shoulders and stared at him for a moment. She almost asked him for something to write her number down on, but didn’t. He didn’t want some random hookup to get attached to. So she just brushed a kiss to his cheek and started across the island, back to where she had left her kayak.
The fairy tale was over. Back to real life she went.