“Now there’s a sight for sore eyes,” Billy Lawler said, sounding, for once, completely sincere.
Zach Harper glanced back at him. Billy stood at the wheel of the yacht they were sailing back to Lansing Is- land, gray hair spiking from the salt spray. He wore an old CloudFest T-shirt and a manic grin.
Billy adjusted course and pointed past Zach. “Home sweet home.”
Zach rolled his eyes and turned back to study the view that lay ahead of the boat. Cloud Bay. A small town on a small island. But it nestled around a very pretty harbor and yes, with the boats that were bobbing around in the sunshine, backed by the town and the hills beyond, it looked like it had been staged for the perfect tourist snap. Cozy. Welcoming. Pity that the reception waiting for him once he set foot back on Lansing might not be quite so friendly.
“Home sweet freakin’ home,” Eli Lawler, seated beside him on the bench below the wheel, muttered.
Zach nodded in agreement. “How long since you’ve been back?”
Eli pushed his sunglasses up his nose. “Couple of years, maybe? I think we had Thanksgiving at Danny’s. When was that?”
“Dude, that was nearly six years ago.”
“Nah.” Eli frowned and shifted his right foot— currently encased in some sort of complicated-looking medical boot—a little. “Can’t be.”
“Not a date I’m likely to forget,” Zach said.
Eli cursed. “Sorry. I forgot.”
That had been the first Thanksgiving after Zach’s dad, Grey Harper—rock god, legend, less-than-perfect father—had died. Danny Ryan, who’d been the guitarist in Blacklight, the band Grey and Billy and Shane King and he had formed over thirty years ago, had insisted on holding Thanksgiving at his place on the island.
He’d probably been thinking that it would be easier on the three Harpers—Zach and his half sisters Faith and Mina—to spend the holiday somewhere less familiar than their own house. But the truth was that Danny’s house was just as haunted with memories of Grey as their own had been. Danny had done his best and all the other Blacklight families had showed up but it had been a subdued holiday. After that, Faith’s mom, Lou had insisted that the four of them get off the island for Christmas. They’d gone to Tuscany, somewhere they’d never gone with Grey. It had been a little easier that way, but still not great.
Grey Harper, hard as he had been to live with at times, left a big hole behind him. He’d also cast a long shadow, musically. One that Zach had been trying to fight his way out from under for nearly ten years now.
Leaving Lansing Island behind had been a first step. He’d spent less and less time here as the years passed.
But now he was back. About to confront some of the things he’d left behind.
Which included Faith and Mina.
“You think they’ll be rolling out the red carpet for you?” Eli asked, staring at the rapidly approaching island. “Mina might. Think Faith is more likely to set the dogs on me.” Not that he knew whether or not Faith had dogs right now. Grey had collected stray animals, but surely they’d all passed away by now. Mina would have told him if Faith had bought a dog. Of course, Stewie, Mina’s big yellow lab could probably do some damage if he decided he didn’t like someone. Not that Stewie ever did. Zach folded his arms, trying to ignore the growing desire to ask Billy to turn the yacht around and take him back to the mainland. Not an option. So he was just going to have to man up and face his sisters.
“You still haven’t patched things up with her?” Eli said. “You didn’t tell me that.”
“You’ve been a little busy recovering from nearly killing yourself coming off that damn bike of yours,” Zach pointed out. “Didn’t seem like the time to share.” “I don’t know,” Eli said easily. “Watching you fuck things up is always kind of entertaining.”
“Right back at ya,” Zach said.
The boat hit a wake trail left by a smaller craft and bounced. Eli winced and sucked in a breath, lifting his injured foot off the deck.
“How are you holding up?” Zach asked.
“Kind of wishing we’d opted for that chopper,” Eli said.
Billy hadn’t wanted to take the ferry—the island’s sole form of connection with the California coast— claiming he didn’t want to deal with fans. He and Eli had been heading for the island when Zach had announced he was heading home to Lansing. Billy had talked Eli into spending a couple of months on the is- land to complete his rehab. They’d offered Zach a ride.
Eli had vetoed the helicopter idea.
Zach wasn’t sure if it was because of his injuries or because his best friend had never really liked helicopters since the first time Grey had taken them on a sight-seeing flight over Hawaii and the pilot had decided to play a little game of “impress the rock star client” with some acrobatic moves. Grey had loved it. Zach had thought it was pretty cool too. Eli, on the other hand, had lost his lunch all over the chopper’s cabin.
“Won’t be long now,” Zach said. “We can always get a cab from town up to the house.” Billy’s master plan was to moor at the harbor, stock up on groceries at Cloud Bay, and then sail the rest of the way around the island to where the Blacklight guys had all bought land and built houses after the album they’d recorded on the island had turned into their first multi-platinum all those years ago. Why, when Cloud Bay’s stores were perfectly happy to deliver—after all, the island wasn’t that big—Zach wasn’t sure. Maybe Billy just wanted to show off his new boat.
“I might take you up on that,” Eli said as the yacht bounced again. He braced himself with his right hand; the left was bandaged halfway up his arm. It was supposed to be in a sling but Eli kept slipping it free, claiming his shoulder ached.
The boat jolted a third time. This time, water sprayed over the side of the yacht, half-drenching them both.
“Dad, I’d prefer to arrive un-drowned,” Eli called up to Billy.
“You’re not going to melt, princess,” Billy yelled back.
Zach grinned. It was mid-May and the California weather was warm enough that getting wet didn’t bother him much. And he was starting to realize just how much he’d missed Eli’s company. Zach had spent a big chunk of the last three years touring with his band, Fringe Dweller. The relentless schedule didn’t leave a lot of time for friends and family. Or hadn’t until two weeks ago when their lead singer, Ryder Lange, had suddenly announced he was taking a year off to “find himself”— whatever the fuck that meant. In Ryder’s case, it wasn’t code for going to rehab, as it often was for other musicians. But Zach hadn’t been able to get the reason out of him and neither had anyone else in the band. They’d played the last two shows on the tour they’d been finishing in a stew of seething resentment and then they’d gone their separate ways.
Fucking Ryder. Always a drama queen. Zach had joined Fringe Dweller as a fill-in guitarist. He’d stuck. But Ryder and he had never truly become friends. Probably because Ryder belonged to the “I’m the lead singer and I run the band” school of musicians. They worked well together and stayed out of each other’s way the rest of the time. But pulling this crap was just not cool. Not when it looked like they were finally building to something bigger.
Not cool at all.
And now, thanks to Ryder, he was back on Lansing. Home sweet freakin’ home indeed.
Holy crap, Zach Harper. Leah Santelli stared out the window of The Last Crumb, where she was waiting in line for a sugar fix and her second coffee of the morning.
Then she stepped a little closer to the glass so she could watch as the man who wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near Lansing kept walking down Main Street toward the bakery.
Double holy crap.
It was definitely Zach. It wasn’t as though you could mistake the guy. At least, she couldn’t. She doubted any other woman with working eyeballs could either.
One long tall streak of trouble. Too talented and too hot for his own good. His hair was longer, falling around his face, and he wore sunglasses, hiding the amazing gray-green eyes he shared with his sisters, courtesy of their father Grey, but there was no mistaking that loose- hipped stride. Or those shoulders. Or the three guitars tattooed on his right forearm.
“Born to prowl.” She’d heard one of her mom’s friends call Zach that once at a party. And maybe she’d been more basing that off her assessment of Grey, who was born to do many things, prowling definitely among them, and had perfected his rock-god persona many years earlier—but she had been right. Like father, like son, maybe.
Zach kind of glided across the earth, moving like a cat who knew he was king of the jungle, and not much caring about those left stumbling around in his wake when he left.
Once upon a time, Leah had been one of those left behind.
But not any more.
She rubbed the spot on her nger where the missing weight of her recently discarded wedding ring still bugged her. She’d moved on from Zach Harper. Turned out she hadn’t exactly chosen the perfect man to do it with but that wasn’t anybody’s fault. Her marriage to Joey Nelson had kind of faded away, ending not with screaming fights and tears but with Joey announcing that he wasn’t happy, that he’d met someone else, and with Leah realizing that she felt more relieved than any other emotion when he did so.
So they’d divorced. And she’d nally pitched her wedding ring and her engagement ring into the sea one night six months ago after she and Faith had been drink- ing champagne and she’d been cursing men—even the friendliest of divorces came with some pain after all. She hadn’t thought she’d miss them.
But she did.
Every now and then she’d look down at that nger and wonder how she’d screwed things up. Twenty-eight years old and one marriage down. Not exactly her life plan.
Zach and Eli—God, Eli as well—were almost at the bakery now. Eli had his left arm in a sling and was limp- ing in a walking boot, looking too thin. Right. He’d crashed his motorcycle. Faith had told her he’d banged himself up pretty good. But he was laughing at something Zach said, and Zach was grinning—dammit, that smile should be outlawed. And dammit, she was staring and they’d be able to see her any second. She ducked back out of sight, heart pounding.
Dealing with Zach took some prep time. She hadn’t seen Faith’s brother very often since Grey Harper had died. Zach hadn’t been back to Lansing much over the last six or so years. But the few times he had come home, she’d learned that she needed to steel her defenses when it came to him.
Because he was still funny and charming and well, to be honest, smoking hot, but none of those things had been appropriate to think about when she’d been married to Joey. And now she wasn’t married to Joey and they still weren’t appropriate to think about. Because Zach Harper was born to prowl and born to leave and she wasn’t going to let him wreck her a second time.
What she was going to do was call his sister and nd out what the heck he was doing here and why the hell Faith hadn’t told her he was coming.
But not here in the middle of Stella’s bakery with six other people ready to listen in on the conversation.
She’d grown up in Cloud Bay and yet there were still times when small-town life annoyed the crap out of her. Mostly when it involved everyone knowing your business.
Not that Zach was her business.