Grant & Stephanie
Since he won the Academy Award for best original screenplay a few years ago, Grant McCarthy’s personal and professional lives have fallen apart. Abby, the woman he was supposed to marry, is engaged to someone else, and Grant is back at home on Gansett Island helping to run the family marina business while his father recovers from a serious injury. While all Grant’s focus should be on winning back the love of his life, pesky Stephanie, who runs the marina restaurant, is working her way under his skin and into his bed. As Tropical Storm Hailey cuts off Gansett Island from the mainland, Grant suspects Stephanie is hiding something big from her past. When he finds out what it is, what will be more important to him? Winning Abby back or helping Stephanie to right a terrible wrong?
Falling for Love
(Gansett Island Series, Book 4)
By Marie Force
This whole thing was Janey’s fault. If she hadn’t gotten married, Grant wouldn’t have had to watch his woman, wearing a slinky, sexy bridesmaid gown, prance around at the wedding with her new fiancé hanging all over her. If it hadn’t been for Janey and her stupid wedding, Grant wouldn’t have felt the need to make Abby jealous by dancing with Stephanie from the marina.
Too bad it hadn’t ended there. No, he’d had to make sure Abby was truly jealous by leaving with Stephanie. And now, as the hammer in his head reminded him of how much alcohol it had taken to get through the nuptials, the warm body sleeping next to him was an even bigger reminder of what a disaster last night had been.
Damn Janey and her damned wedding.
Grant was trying frantically to remember just how far things had gone with Stephanie. He was pretty sure there’d been some kissing in the cab on the way to his now-married sister’s place. Janey had traded him the use of her house in exchange for pet-sitting duties while she and Joe were on their honeymoon. Since their mother had been driving him crazy with questions about the mess he’d made of his life, it had seemed like a good deal at the time because it would get him out of his parents’ house. But now he was mad with his sister for getting married in the first place, and the sweet deal didn’t seem so sweet anymore.
He wished he could escape, but he couldn’t exactly leave his one-night stand in his sister’s bed. What to do?
Then the warm body stirred.
Grant stayed perfectly still, hoping she wouldn’t look at him or, God forbid, try to talk to him. He’d been with Abby so long he’d never had the chance to indulge in one-night stands. He had no idea what the etiquette was, and with a thousand hammers at work in his head, he had no desire to figure it out.
Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Stephanie—oh Jesus, she was totally naked—slide from the bed and get busy rounding up her clothes. Still pretending to be asleep, he caught glimpses of small breasts and pretty pink nipples that quickly had the attention of a part of him that didn’t know enough to fake sleep. As his cock rubbed against the sheet, he realized he was naked, too.
He was desperately trying to remember how he’d ended up naked in bed with Stephanie, but he couldn’t recall a single thing after being in the cab. Not that being naked with Stephanie hadn’t crossed his mind far too often in the last few weeks. . . He’d even bought condoms, just in case his horny body won the war with his better judgment. But he’d never expected to actually go through with it. Maybe he hadn’t. Maybe nothing actually happened. That was possible, right? Naked didn’t automatically mean sex, did it?
Shit, shit, shit! If Abby heard about this, he’d never get her back, not to mention what his father, who’d taken a special interest in Stephanie since she came to work for them, would have to say about it.
Stephanie turned her back to the bed to put on the formfitting black dress she’d worn to the wedding. Her pale skin was creamy white, and his eyes traveled from her shoulders to the two dimples at the bottom of her spine, above her firmly rounded ass. When he first met her, he’d thought she lacked curves. Boyish was the word he’d used to describe her. But now that he’d seen her naked, it was clear that her clothes had hidden small but rather interesting curves.
Not that he was interested in her curves. No, the only curves he craved were Abby’s, and somehow he had to figure out a way to get her back. First and foremost, he had to stop drinking. Booze—and Janey’s damned wedding—had landed him in bed with the wrong woman, and he couldn’t let that happen again. If he had any prayer of winning back Abby, he couldn’t get caught with another woman. Making Abby jealous was one thing, but his plan had clearly gone awry in a big way.
Stephanie never so much as glanced at the bed as she hooked her high-heeled sandals around her fingers and tiptoed from the room, closing the door behind her.
Grant let out a sigh of relief that he’d been spared the morning-after awkwardness. But then he remembered he was in charge of the family’s marina while his father recovered from a recent head injury and his brother tended to his pregnant wife. With Grant stuck running the docks and Stephanie managing the restaurant, he’d have to face her in a few short hours.
Groaning, he turned facedown on the bed and buried his face in the pillow. Something poked his belly, and he fumbled through the rumpled sheet to see what it was. When his hand landed on a torn condom wrapper, Grant’s heart nearly stopped beating.
“Shit, shit, shit!”
He’d rocked her world, and Stephanie would bet he didn’t even remember it. As she shivered in driving wind and cold rain on her way to McCarthy’s Gansett Island Marina, she relived the night with Grant McCarthy. Of course she’d figured out what he’d been up to at the wedding. He’d been using her to make Abby jealous. She’d also known he was drunk when they left and that he probably wouldn’t remember much of what happened between them.
Still, that didn’t stop her from taking full advantage of the opportunity for one night with the first guy she’d been attracted to in years. She was under no illusions that this was the start of something with him. He was in love with Abby and still hoping to reconcile with her, although Abby and her fiancé Cal had looked pretty darned cozy at the wedding.
If Stephanie were one to gamble, she’d bet on Abby being done with Grant, and him being the last one to realize it. But even knowing that, there was no way Stephanie was going to get all stupid over a guy who clearly wanted someone else. So they’d had sex. Big deal. Just because she hadn’t been with anyone in ages didn’t mean she was going to turn this into something it wasn’t and would never be.
A tooting horn caught her attention, and she stopped to find Mr. McCarthy’s best friend Ned Saunders pulling up to the curb in the beat-up woody station wagon that served as his cab.
“Jump in, gal. I’ll give ya a ride.”
Since she was soaked to the skin, Stephanie was thrilled to see the older man who hung around the marina every day. “Thanks, Ned,” she said as she slid into the front seat. The floor was littered with coffee cups and old newspapers.
“Sorry ’bout the mess,” he muttered.
“No problem. I’m happy to get out of the storm.”
“’Tis a doozy of a Nor’easter. Not seeing the newlyweds makin’ it off-island today.”
“That’s too bad. They’ll miss their flight, won’t they?”
“Looks that way.”
Stephanie appreciated that Ned didn’t mention anything about her obvious walk of shame. “How long is the storm supposed to last?”
“Coupla days at least.”
“The marina will be slow today,” Stephanie said, dreading a quiet day to spend alone with Grant.
Ned took the final turn that led to North Harbor. As they passed the McCarthy home, called “The White House” by locals, Stephanie looked away as memories of the night she’d spent with their son resurfaced. Mr. McCarthy had been so nice to her. She’d hate to do anything to mess that up.
“The boy’s confused,” Ned said, breaking the silence.
“Smartest kid I ever knew,” Ned continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “From the time he was first able to talk, he’s been asking questions, studying people, filing stuff away to use later in his stories. When it comes to people in his own life, though…well, sometimes he ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed.”
Stephanie’s entire body was on fire with mortification as she continued to stare out the window. How does he know? And what will he tell his best buddy, Grant’s dad?
“Don’t think he gets yet that it’s really over with Abby. When he finally catches a clue, I suspect it’s gonna hurt.”
Her mind raced as she hummed with tension. It was like he could see inside her or something!
“A nice girl like you would wanna watch herself in the midst of all that hurtin’.”
Her mouth fell open, but damn if she could find the words. Luckily, their arrival at McCarthy’s saved her from having to reply.
“Thanks for the ride,” Stephanie muttered, reaching for her wallet.
Ned’s hand on her arm stopped her from withdrawing money. “My pleasure, honey.”
Stephanie was mortified all over again when tears burned her eyes. She made her escape from the car, but the almost paternal way Ned had treated her stayed with her long after his car disappeared from view. It’d been a long time since anyone had showed her that kind of care or concern, and it had felt good.
A ringing cell phone woke Capt. Joe Cantrell the morning after his wedding. He wanted to grab the phone and toss it across the suite where he and Janey had spent their wedding night, but more than that, he wanted his lovely wife to sleep awhile longer.
After so many years of loving her from afar, thinking of her as his wife made him smile. He took the phone into the bathroom and closed the door. Seeing the office number on the caller ID further irritated him.
“This had better be good,” he grumbled into the phone.
“So sorry to bother you, Cap,” said Seamus O’Grady. Joe had hired Seamus to run the Gansett Island Ferry Company when he and Janey moved to Ohio so she could attend vet school. “Especially this morning.”
“What do you need?” Joe asked with unusual brusqueness.
“I wasn’t sure if you’d surfaced yet to take a look at the weather. Tropical Storm Hailey arrived overnight, and we’ve got a heck of a blow going on. I’m leaning toward stopping service for the rest of the day, but I know you and the wife are planning to take the ten-thirty boat off the island. Didn’t want to screw you up.”
As Seamus spoke, Joe went to the window and looked out over South Harbor. The wind and rain had whipped Gansett Sound into a froth of whitecaps, and the rain beat hard against the window. It was the kind of day they referred to as a barf-o-rama in the ferry business because they’d have to hose the vomit from the boats after each trip. “Go ahead and make the call,” Joe said.
“You sure about that, Cap?”
“Such is the chance we take making travel plans from an island, right?”
“Right you are. Don’t worry about a thing here. I gotcha covered. We’ll get you and the wife outta here as soon as we can. By the way, it was a great wedding.”
“Thanks, Seamus.” Joe ended the call and crept out of the bathroom.
“What’s wrong?” Janey asked. Her voice was husky and sleepy—and sexy as hell. She reached out a hand to him.
Joe tossed the phone into his suitcase and went to her.
She gave his hand a tug to draw him back into bed.
Feeling like the luckiest son of a bitch on the face of the earth to finally be married to the woman he’d loved for more than half his life, Joe snuggled into her warm embrace.
“Now tell me what’s wrong,” she said.
“There’s good news and bad news.” He kissed lips that were puffy and swollen from a night of passion. “The bad news is they’re shutting the ferries down because of the storm.”
Janey gasped. She’d been so looking forward to their honeymoon in Aruba, which they’d chosen because it was outside the hurricane belt. So much for that logic.
“How can there be good news after that?” she asked with her lip curling into the same pout she’d sported as a ten-year-old.
Joe maneuvered her so she was under him and brushed tangled blonde hair off her face. “The very good news is we don’t have to leave this bed today.”
Janey smiled up at him and ran her hands from his shoulders down his back and curved them over his ass, a move that always drove him crazy, as she well knew. “That’s very good news indeed.”
“I’ll get you there, baby,” he said as he dipped his head for a kiss. “Might take a day or two, but I’ll get you there.”
“Doesn’t matter where we are. As long as it’s just the two of us, that’s what matters.”
“Have I told you yet today that I love you love you?” he asked.
“Not yet,” she said, smiling at the reminder of how he’d once told her he wanted her to love him love him.
“Well, I do.”
“I think you need to prove it.” Flashing a coy grin, she lifted her hips against his erection, letting him know what she wanted.
“Again?” he asked, quirking an eyebrow in amusement. “No one told me I was marrying an insatiable wench.”
Janey laughed and guided him to exactly where she wanted him. “Better get used to it, buddy. You’re stuck with me now.”
He entered her in one smooth thrust. “Thank God for that.”
Driving wind and rain woke Mac McCarthy early on the morning after his sister’s wedding. His chest tightened with anxiety when it occurred to him that the storm had probably shut down the ferries for the day.
He glanced over at his wife, Maddie, sleeping on her side the way Dr. Cal had instructed to minimize the stress on the baby. The thought of being unable to get her help if she needed it made him crazy. A high-risk pregnancy on an island was a fool’s errand, but he’d had no luck convincing her to move their family to the mainland until the baby was born.
Hoping the weather wasn’t as bad as it sounded, Mac got up to look out the window. Sure enough, it was every bit as bad as it sounded. In the distance, he could see the ocean whipped into a frenzy. Rain was coming down sideways in the blustery wind. Running a hand over his chest, Mac wondered if he was having a heart attack. The tightness had been ever-present since the accident at the marina that left his father injured.
The accident had briefly put him in the hospital, too, which had stressed out Maddie. After she went into premature labor and was put on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy, she’d refused to leave their island home. Mac had no choice but to cede to her wishes.
Mac went to his dresser to retrieve his phone. A text message from the Gansett Island Ferry Company made it official: service was temporarily suspended. With the wind gusting to what sounded like at least fifty miles per hour, the airport would be closed, too. No way out, Mac thought as the pain in his chest intensified.
Nightmare scenarios such as this had driven him crazy for weeks now. Even when the ferries were running, it was a long hour to the mainland and then more time to get to a hospital. In the meantime, what if something happened that Cal couldn’t handle? What if Maddie needed something he couldn’t get for her? What if something happened to her—
He turned away from the window and went to her. “I thought you’d sleep awhile yet,” he said, smoothing a hand over her caramel-colored hair. “It’s early.”
“Why are you up?”
“The wind woke me.” His chest began to ache again as he wondered how long they’d be without ferry service. He turned on the bedside light so he could see her in the early morning gloom. “How do you feel?”
“Fat. Horrible.” Tears filled her golden eyes. “Hideous.”
“Aww, baby.” He crawled back into bed and drew her—as best he could—into his arms. They hadn’t been able to make love in weeks, which wasn’t doing much to help his overwhelming anxiety. “Don’t say that. You’re gorgeous, glowing and radiant.” How would they get through two more months of her being stuck in bed all day, every day?
“You have to say that. You did this to me.”
She was so petulant and cute that Mac laughed, even though he knew she wouldn’t appreciate it.
Fat tears spilled from her eyes and wet her cheeks. “It’s not funny.”
“I know,” he said, kissing away her tears. She’d been so happy and content yesterday at the wedding, surrounded by family and friends. The thought gave him an idea of how he could lift her spirits a bit before everyone scattered again after the storm let up.
Just as he was about to share his idea with her, the bedside light flickered and died.
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
~ Calvin Coolidge