Moondance Beach (Bayberry Island)

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9781469280172: Moondance Beach (Bayberry Island)

In the latest Bayberry Island romance from New York Times bestselling author of The Sweetest Summer, it might take more than a magical mermaid statue to bring together a hard-headed Navy SEAL and the mysterious artist who’s loved him from afar....

Duncan Flynn long ago said goodbye to his hometown of Bayberry Island, Massachusetts, where a mermaid statue allegedly grants true love to the pure at heart. So when the injured Navy SEAL gets sent home—just in time to help his family prepare for the annual Mermaid Festival—he’s not in the mood to celebrate. Nor fall in love. But during a night run on the beach, a magnificently naked woman emerges from the surf who bears an uncanny resemblance to the mermaid in Fountain Square.

Adelena Silva’s otherworldly mermaid paintings have made her famous and wealthy, but Lena herself is a recluse—at least until Duncan Flynn comes home. She’s secretly loved him her whole life, and is determined not to let him get away again. But will revealing her truth win his heart, or cause Lena to lose him?

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About the Author:

Susan Donovan’s novels have won accolades for being witty, sexy, and entertaining. A former newspaper reporter with journalism degrees from Northwestern University, Susan is a USA Today and a New York Times extended list bestseller whose novels have been translated into dozens of languages. The author of Sea of Love, Susan is a two-time RITA Award finalist and her novel Take a Chance on Me was named Best Contemporary Romance of 2003 by RT Book Reviews magazine. She lives in Maryland with her family and assorted pets.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter Six

Lena tossed her wallet into her canvas bag and exited the farmers’ market near the public dock. Her mind was on the painting she’d been tinkering with all morning and her sudden desire to make grilled eggplant for dinner, an urge that, unfortunately, required a trip to town. She breathed in the cacophony of smells to be found on a summer day during high-tourist season—the briny sea and ferryboat diesel fumes mixed with fried clams, boardwalk fries, pizza, and sunshine—and headed toward her car in the public parking lot. Out of nowhere, her body began to buzz with awareness. Lena looked up. And spotted him.

Duncan towered above most everyone else on Main Street. He walked at a steady pace, with a strong stride. He was about half a block from the water and headed right toward her.

Lena slipped under the awning of Frankie’s Fish-n-Chips, pulled a bistro chair into the shade, and sat with her back against the restaurant’s cedar-shingled wall. Her heart was beating like crazy! What was she—eleven years old? She took a deep breath and told herself to calm down and blend in with the dozen or so tourists dining al fresco. She slumped in the chair and covered the lower part of her face with her shopping bag.

A mother of two glared at Lena, moving her chair to act as a buffer between Lena and her offspring. Good grief! Since when did a woman with a tote full of eggplant look like a threat? Especially in a place where festival-week tourists dress like zombie pirates just to go out for ice cream?

From the shadows, Lena watched Duncan approach the very doorway she’d just exited. It gave her chills to think that if she’d dawdled near the squash only two extra minutes she would have run right into him!

She sighed, resting her chin on her tote, simply enjoying the sight of him. The first and most important thing she noticed was that he had come a long way in the month he’d been home. Her mother had told her that when Duncan first arrived, he’d had trouble walking. Today he seemed steady and sure of himself, even in a crowd. On closer inspection, Lena did detect a slight limp, but only because she was looking for it.

It wouldn’t be much longer before he was ready to return to work, and the thought of that squeezed her heart.

It was embarrassing, but Lena wasn’t just examining his gait. The truth was that she had never, and would never, know a man as crazy sexy as Duncan Flynn. The only reason she wasn’t gawking in shock was because she’d caught a glimpse of Duncan last year during festival week, when she had stopped by the Safe Haven to pick up her mother. Duncan had been coming out the kitchen door with Clancy, and the two of them had been laughing. Lena had carefully backed away from the bed-and-breakfast so as not to draw attention to her car. She had noticed her hands were shaking.

“He looks like a movie star nowadays, doesn’t he?” her mother had commented.

Lena hadn’t answered.

Her mother had turned in the seat to look at her. “Don’t you think he looks like a movie star, menina?”

Lena had kept her eyes on the road.

“Lena?”

“Who are you talking about, Mother?”

Mellie had laughed all the way to the house.

Duncan was thirty-four now, six foot two, hard and chiseled and maybe just slightly leaner than she recalled him being the year before. Despite his injuries, he remained a study in masculine lines and motion, sleek and in control. It was no wonder a group of women had just stopped in their tracks and stared as he walked by.

He was that kind of gorgeous.

When Duncan disappeared into the market, Lena felt her body relax. There was no denying it. She was a coward. The reason she hadn’t run into Duncan in the month he’d been home was because she was afraid to. She had waited till the very end to stop by Frasier’s dinner party, in the hopes that Duncan would have already called it a night.

And just now she’d run away from him.

Lena gathered her tote and wound her way through the bistro tables, once again headed toward the parking lot. She longed to spend time with him, to hear him laugh and see him smile, but the truth was, she was too afraid to risk getting her bubble popped.

What if he was nothing like she’d built him up to be all these years? What if he was not the man of her imagination? What if she’d been wrong so long ago and had continued to be wrong every year since?

What if Duncan was not her one and only?

Duncan sat at the desk in his room at the Safe Haven, the only light coming from his laptop, his whole body nothing but a ball of frustration. He couldn’t keep putting this off. Duncan placed his fingers on the keys and forced himself to start writing.

July 28

Dear Nestor and Beth,

I think of you both every day, and I know I’ll be visiting you in San Diego soon. I’m headed to Little Creek next week to meet with Capt. Sinclair, my first official step toward getting back to active duty. I still have a ways to go before I can even think of passing my physical screening and dive medical, but I’m running again, and hope to start swimming in the choppy Atlantic soon. (No pansy pools for me!) As Justin used to say—“It ain’t a good swim unless you damn near drown.”

Duncan stopped typing. Would the Jaramillos want old jokes from their dead son? Would they hear Justin’s voice in their heads and laugh with him, or would they think Duncan was being flippant about death? Their only child’s death.

“Shit.”

He could change it later. Right now he needed to keep typing. It had been two months since the Jaramillos had come to visit him on the rehab unit at Walter Reed, and he hadn’t yet reached out to them. That was unacceptable.

As I continue to get stronger, my memories of the ambush become clearer. I believe it is my responsibility to share with you some of the details of that night, not because I want to cause you additional suffering, but because it is my duty, as Justin’s best friend and teammate, to share everything I know. I realize the Navy has given you an official report, but I am the only man on earth who can tell you about the last seconds of your son’s life. It was a promise we made to each other during Hell Week, when we both knew we would be among those going through. We said that if anything ever happened to one of us and the other survived, we would be the eyes and ears for our families. I am not a writer, but I will do my best to help bring you closure.

Duncan paused, his trembling fingers resting above the keyboard. He had to keep going. He owed them this.

Justin was on point for our eight-man insertion team that night. He never flinched, never hesitated. Your son was the most courageous man I’ve ever known, and he remained so all the way through the last seconds of his life. Even when he knew he was facing death, his concern was for his team.

We were dropped in a godforsaken stretch of rocky hills in the Middle of Nowhere, Kandahar Province. Our orders were to stake out a single-story shack that intel indicated was the hiding place of one of the region’s high-value terrorist targets. We’d been stalking him for six months. So with night-vision binocs, we lay on our bellies in the rocks until we could verify that the structure was occupied and our target was on the premises. We got the order from base to execute the mission, which was to take the target alive and kill his bodyguards and lower-level soldiers.

All these months later, we know the target had been tipped off and escaped via an underground tunnel—but not before the structure was rigged to explode upon our entrance.

I will never forget how it unfolded. Justin signaled for me to cover the rest of the squad while he took the front door with Mike and Scotty. He sent Terrence to the back, Paul and Jax around to the sides, and Simon, who was running coms, remained stationary behind a boulder just thirty feet from the structure.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wondered why Justin made that last-minute change to the mission profile and put me where he did. I should have been at his side, right there at the front door when they blew the lock and rammed it in.

But I was crouched behind an old burned-out Jeep parked about a hundred feet from the front door. I monitored the windows through my night-vision rifle sight, scanning back and forth, three windows in all. But I saw no movement. And just like that, a sick feeling flashed through me.

It was over in a split second. Everything happened at once—they popped the door; a tiny pinprick of red light flashed three times in the darkness; Justin screamed, “Get down!” A rolling wall of pressure and heat smacked me and sent me flying. The force of the explosion lifted the vehicle up in the air and tossed it on top of me. I was trapped under the weight, flames everywhere, debris flying over my head. I could not move. I strained and pulled, but I was trapped. I realized my skin was on fire under my vest. The pain in my left leg was brutal. But I knew it was my duty to find anyone alive from my team and get them out.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I failed Justin and all of my brothers and I’m sorry.

Duncan stared at his hands on the keys. Why were they covered in blood?

I’m trapped. Trapped. Trapped. Stinging pain. The metal taste of blood in my mouth. Still hearing shit hitting the ground in the distance. And then the faint sound of my name being called . . . “Flynn . . . Jesus, Flynn.” And then everything went silent . . . time passed . . . hours . . . Then there was the sound of the helo. Medics handling me. Shouting and screaming. A tourniquet on my leg and burn pads on my side. I kept asking, “Where are they? Where are they? Who survived?” And then nothing . . . not until I woke up in a recovery room in Germany.

Duncan pushed himself from the desk chair, sweat pooling in the hollow of his collarbones. He glanced outside—dark. How long had he been sitting there staring at the laptop screen, the words flowing in his head but not on the keyboard? It didn’t matter. He needed to get out of that room and get some air.

He laced up his running shoes and headed down the back steps to the kitchen, hoping to hell he didn’t run into any of the bed-and-breakfast’s guests. The place was filled to capacity with couples and families and would remain that way until fall.

Duncan moved without making a sound, down three flights of stairs, through the kitchen, out the side door, across the lawn, and down the beach access steps. His feet hit the sand. He jogged to the water’s edge, finding that sweet spot of hardened sand, not wet enough to collapse beneath his weight but not so loose that he couldn’t get traction. And he took off.

Within minutes, the rush of sea air into his lungs had cleared his mind. He told himself he was a world away from the blast, the blood, the pain, and the cries of his dying friend. That’s whose voice he heard. There was no question—Justin called out to him just before he died.

And Duncan had failed him.

He ran, directing his awareness down, down into his body, feeling the miraculous ease of movement he had that night. He decided to shoot for three miles, halfway down the public beach and back, which would be his longest run to date. Finally, all the hard work was paying off.

Duncan listened to the rhythmic thump of his stride on the sand, his perfectly timed breath, and felt the salty seawater spray against his face.

“Hey, sexy.”

A gaggle of junior high school girls lounged on beach towels, smoking cigarettes and looking for trouble. Duncan had a hard time understanding how parents could let girls that age go free range—it never ended well. He would never allow Serena or Christina to behave like that.

He ran right past them.

“Hey! We were talking to you, Gramps!” The girls burst out into a fit of giggles just before one of them said, “I don’t care how old he is—he is hot!”

Duncan chuckled to himself, keeping his focus on his run, which was a challenge since the beach was a teenage wasteland that night. He smelled pot about every ten yards. There were dozens of illegal beach fires and as many parties, with kids making out on blankets and beer cans clattering in trash bags. Everything from Latin dance music to pop country to hard-core rap was broadcast from portable speakers, so loud it could be heard over the roar of the sea. Duncan almost tripped over a lip-locked couple rolling around in the surf like they were gunning for a remake of From Here to Eternity.

He kept on, in search of silence and privacy, but it was nowhere to be found on the public beach. He slowed his run as he neared a newly built chain-link fence. A large white metal sign read, no trespassing. private beach. security cameras. A quick scan of the surroundings revealed that no such cameras existed, so Duncan hopped the fence. While suspended in the air, an instant before his feet hit the sand, he realized where he was. This was old Harry Rosterveen’s land, now Adelena Silva’s property, and she’d given it the ridiculous name of Moondance Beach. Too bad Sea Spray was already taken.

Though his only near-contact with her had been the night of Da’s ill-fated birthday dinner, she’d pop into his thoughts every now and then. How could she not? Her paintings were all over the Safe Haven. Once his mother discovered Duncan had removed that witchy-woman mermaid portrait from his room, she went and found him another one—even bigger and with even more naked flesh!—and slapped that sucker right up over the mantelpiece. “Maybe you’ll like this one better,” she said.

He didn’t.

Since Lena made her living painting mermaids, it was a sure bet she was just as flaky as his ma, but that didn’t mean she’d shoot Duncan for trespassing. Shy, artistic chicks weren’t usually the type to carry rifles.

After about ten more minutes of running, the exhaustion caught up to him. He’d run as far as he’d planned but had to get all the way back. So he slowed to a walk, waited for his pulse to return to normal, then plopped down in the sand for a stretch and a rest.

As much as he disliked them, he couldn’t really blame the tourists for coming here. Bayberry Island was a pretty place, and though he’d traveled most of Asia, Europe, and North and South America, he’d seen none prettier. Duncan lay back, tucked his arms behind his head, and indulged in a little stargazing. It was a perfect spot for it, with very little light pollution and a new moon. He could see the cloudy sweep of the Milky Way and a fiercely bright Jupiter taking center stage. The Big and Little Dippers hung suspended overhead. And suddenly, a meteor shower burst across the sky, shooting out from the constellation Aquarius and arcing overhead, flashing and diminishing as it dipped below the northwest horizon line.

And that’s when he noticed something moving.

Duncan’s gaze shot to the water, where he saw a great swish of a tail breaking the surface not twenty yards from shore. What was it—a dolphin? He blinked. Waited. Nothing. Wait. It hadn’t been a tail at all—the head and shoulders of a person now appeared above the waterline. His instinct was to jump int...

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