Carly Kuper no longer believed she could make lemonade out of her sour-lemon life. It was seven o’clock and she stood behind the bar at The Sandcastle cutting lemons and limes to prep for the rush that would start around eight. It was Wednesday, midweek, but it was June and the summer season had begun in the Hamptons, which meant they had a crowd every night now.
Taylor, her roommate who was also a waitress here in this upscale Southampton bistro, passed close behind her with a tray of filled beer mugs and hissed, “He’s here.”
So of course Carly’s hand slipped, and before she knew it, blood was spurting from her finger. She tossed out the now ruined fruit, then ran her fingers under the faucet, cleaning the cut.
She stepped away from her station to a short hallway where the first aid kit was kept. One band-aid didn’t quite make it, so she wrapped a few of them tight enough to hold. Not the kind of conversation piece a bartender wanted. Wouldn’t exactly give the customer confidence.
When Carly walked back to her station behind the bar, she saw him sitting on the bar stool he always took. The bar ran the length of the bistro, with two other bartenders, both female. But whenever he came in he sat at her station. Had to mean something, right?
“The usual, Dr. Rocklyn?”
The overhead lighting in the bar picked up auburn highlights in his shiny brown hair as he nodded, his green eyes and sexy smile making her knees weak.
She slid a mug of New Amsterdam ale onto the bar in front of him.
He never had more than two beers. Never sat with anyone, even though he greeted other doctors and nurses who sometimes showed up from the medical arts building down the street. He never said much but wasn’t one of those brooding types either. Just quiet. Preoccupied. Dreamy.
And too hot and handsome for her to resist the challenge.
Carly was an ace at engaging customers, yet it had taken her two weeks to eek out that he was an orthopedic surgeon who liked to chill with a quiet beer after a long day that usually included morning surgery at the hospital, then seeing patients in a low-cost clinic, then tending those in his private practice.
He didn’t wear a wedding ring, and after she’d managed to find out from an admin in another doctor’s office that he was single, Carly had begun luring him into conversations about the weather, sports, movies, music, and goings-on around the Hamptons this summer.
She didn’t ask about his medical practice since he was here to chill. And she was careful not to pry or push on the personal front. So far it was working. He was gradually opening up to her. Last week he’d mentioned that he lived in Bridgehampton, and at one point he teased her about her chronic doodling on the bar napkins. Two days ago he heard her singing softly along with the song playing overhead and he told her she had a beautiful voice. She’d just murmured a quiet thanks and went on with her work, but his praise and attention actually made her remember a dream she once had.
Not that it meant anything anymore. That train had left the station long ago, never to return.
Today Dr. Rocklyn pulled an envelope from the inside pocket of his suit jacket and seemed to be studying the card inside it.
“What’s that?” Carly asked before she could censor her tongue, a bad habit she couldn’t seem to break. “Somebody’s birthday?”
As he looked up at her, a folded paper fell out of the card and Carly retrieved it. She tried to be discreet but couldn’t help peeking at it. Nothing on it but two digital codes. She handed it back to him, her eyebrows lifted in question.
“That’s a printout of my airline tickets,” he said. “Ever been to Paris?”
“No, but it’s one of the places I’ve absolutely promised myself I’ll get to before I kick the bucket. The fashion, the music, the cafes. Notre Dame, Montmartre, the perfume museum, the Paris Opera. And the The Louvre. But what I really, really definitely have to see before I die is in the Musée de l’Orangerie. Because they have a whole room devoted to Monet’s Water Lilies. Have you ever seen them? They’re these humongo paintings and the museum has them on every wall of the small room so you’re surrounded by this incredible—” Her hand flew to her mouth when she heard a soft chuckle and saw him grinning at her. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to babble on like that.”
“No, your enthusiasm is great. I love it. Your sunny personality is the reason I choose this seat every time I come in.” He looked at her for a moment, his head tilted in thought. Carly tried not to shiver under his focused gaze.
Holy moly. So he did purposely choose to sit near her whenever he came in. Could it be the raging crush she’d developed on this man wasn’t one-sided? “When are you going to Paris?”
“I’ll be leaving Friday.” He turned the shiny card with a colorful “Happy Birthday” on it to face her. “It’s my fiancée’s birthday and she’s never been to Paris, so I’m going to surprise her with these tonight.”
“Oh. Your fiancée.” Her silly heart shattered along with all those wild fantasies she’d been having about this man, but she managed to say, “How wonderful. Wish you were my fiancé.” No, I didn’t just say that. “I mean, being single and all, I meet so many skanky guys out there and I can tell you’re not one. Wait—that didn’t come out right.”
“Thanks,” he said, laughing. A warm full sound that sent heat right through her. She could just imagine what it would be like hearing that laugh while he was lying next to her in bed.
Oops. Not allowed to imagine those things anymore.
Carly went off to wait on another customer, but she couldn’t resist heading back to Dr. Rocklyn. Dr. Jeff Rocklyn. Yep, she’d googled him, but everything she found was about his professional rep—and that was darn good. Nothing about his personal life though. Guy didn’t even have a Facebook profile. “So, I guess it isn’t easy to plan time off with all your patients needing you.”
“It’s not, but I’m in a group practice and we cover for each other.”
Yeah, she knew he was part of South Fork Orthopedic Specialists. She’d been to the website about a million times to look at the photo of him. Even knew the names of the three other doctors in the group, had chatted a few times with one who came in every Friday around eight for the surf and turf special.
And she couldn’t resist digging for more, even though it was like picking at a painful scab. “If the trip is a surprise, will your, um, fiancée, be able to take time off from her job?”
“I had to tell Peyton a while back to clear next week for a vacation trip, but I kept where we’d be going a secret.”
“What does she do?” Okay, Carly knew she was pushing the nosy boundaries, but he didn’t seem to mind—and she couldn’t stop herself.
“She’s a dermatologist. She only recently finished her residency and got a job with a group practice not far from Southampton Hospital.”
Of course. Another doctor. Intelligent and accomplished and no doubt beautiful too.
Carly nodded, suddenly feeling like “the bartender,” someone a man like Jeff Rocklyn would never consider dating. The reality of it sat heavily on her chest. She was nothing more to him than a friendly ear with a sunny disposition.
How could she have fooled herself into thinking she had a chance with him? He’d never flirted with her. Never asked her to call him by his first name. Those little chats they had that meant so much to her obviously meant nothing to him. She’d learned long ago to stop reaching for things she could never have.
“Any chance I could get a refill?” he asked, interrupting her tumultuous thoughts. Didn’t even use her name. Did he even remember what it was?
“Sure, Dr. Rocklyn. Coming right up.” She grabbed the empty glass bottle from the bar in front of him and turned away to get a new one.
Hey, she was used to adding the word “pipe” to every one of her dreams.
* * *
Jeff parked in the pebbled driveway of the gable-roofed two-story cedar-shingled beach house in Bridgehampton. The beach house label bowed to the tradition of New York City’s high rollers keeping a summer home in the Hamptons, even though many were actually year-round homes now. And of course the fact that the Atlantic Ocean spanned the southern coast of Long Island with some of the most beautiful beaches anywhere.
Jeff normally had office hours on Wednesday nights until nine, and he had let Peyton think he couldn’t change that, telling her he would take her out for her birthday dinner tomorrow night. He wanted to surprise her, showing up tonight with her favorite Indian dishes, like murgh korma, plus a specially ordered double chocolate fudge birthday cake, a bottle of Dom Perignon—and the tickets for a flight to Paris.
He went in through the kitchen door so he could set down the packages of food. As he walked into the living room, he heard Peyton’s voice coming from upstairs—those moans she always made when they had sex. He snickered. Must be using her vibrator. He’d have to tease her about it, now that he knew how she occupied herself on the nights when he worked late.
Climbing the stairs, he was about to call out to her telling her she could put the vibrator away because the real deal was home. But then he heard it—another voice.
A man’s voice.
Jeff paused on the stairs, frozen in disbelief.
He’d never been the kind of person who rushed into anything. As a surgeon, that served him well. To be patient, to observe and be analytical. He quietly stepped into the hallway that led to the master bedroom, listening. Sure enough, he heard husky masculine moans and a few murmured “yeah, baby” phrases.
A surge of rage filled him, but he waited, thinking, debating how to handle this. Jeff wasn’t a combative sort of person. He had always been the one who broke up the fights his brothers got into, who tried to reason with the others and got out the first aid kit. He smirked now, remembering his brother Tucker telling him he needed to think less and act more. To stop using his brain all the time and start doing things that felt good.
And when he heard his fiancée whimper, “Gerald,” he knew exactly what would feel good right now.
Jeff stormed into the bedroom, grabbed the hulking guy on top of Peyton, and yanked him off the bed. As “Gerald” stumbled backwards, Jeff threw a punch that landed with a satisfying smack in the man’s sweaty face.
“Jeff, don’t!” Peyton shrieked, as he wound up for a second punch. “He’s an important—”
“I don’t give a damn who he is.” Jeff landed one to the guy’s ample midsection and watched him crumple to a squat, holding his belly. A thought flashed through Jeff’s mind that his wife could’ve picked someone more attractive. Except “attractive” to Peyton probably meant someone who could further her career.
“Stop!” she screamed. “He might sue or, or—”
“Or ruin your career? Hope he does, bitch. And if he dares to come after me, I’ll run him through the muck.” Seeing Peyton sitting there naked on the bed he’d once called his personal heaven, the sheets rumpled from the sex she was having with another man, a knife stabbed straight through his heart.
He turned away, unable to look anymore, but his voice was deadly firm as he said, “Get that bastard out of my house.”
“Jeff, I can expl—”
“You get out too.”
“You can’t kick me out. I pay some of the expenses here.”
“Yeah, right.” He snorted a laugh. When she moved in she had been doing a low-paying dermatology residency, and now that she had a real job, her salary always seemed to have other places to go. He’d never complained. He’d always liked being able to provide for her. But seeing this… “I can and I will. I want you gone by tomorrow or I’ll throw you out myself.”
“You’re overreacting as usual, Jeffrey. Tomorrow we can—”
“We’re done, Peyton.”
“You don’t mean that. Besides, everybody’s already talking about our wedding this summer.”
“There ain’t gonna be a wedding.”
She tsked. “Don’t be ridiculous. It’ll make us look like fools among our colleagues if you cancel the wedding. Your dad’s already invited half the North Fork population. And your mom and I have already planned—”
Jeff marched out of the room, slamming the bedroom door behind him.
Peyton’s voice rose to a fevered pitch and followed him down the stairs. “You can’t do this to me! You’ll be sorry!”
Jeff walked through the kitchen to grab his keys off the counter where he’d left them. Refusing to look at the bags of Indian takeout and the bakery box that sat on the table, he stomped out of the house and took off in his Mercedes Coupe—life as he knew it gone in an instant.