MUST LOVE MAYBE by Holly Cortelyou
A wounded man. A single mom. One summer love…maybe.
Get ready to swoon for Ben and Lily in the 5th book of the Cinnamon Bay Romances!
Here's a peek at the first two chapters:
WITH A PUFF of air, Lily Corwyn blew at the strand of hair tickling her nose. She twitched and wiggled, but still, the recalcitrant lock stuck. Ugh. By the tender, stiff feel of it, her nose and cheeks were burning in the strong July sunshine.
“Well, Leo, I should have worn a hat.” Lily nodded to the statue of Leo the Lionheart DeVane, the infamous pirate of the North Carolina coast. “I know better than to let the sun fry my skin.” Instead, her hair was piled in a loose, messy bun near the top of her head and unruly tendrils danced in the occasional breezes that squeezed between the tightly packed storefronts.
Her current pack of four dogs lay slumped at her feet in the midday heat with tongues lolling, but with their eyes busily tracking all the boardwalk’s activity. She let her gaze wander from each brightly painted shop along Cinnamon Bay’s oceanside boardwalk. The weather-worn wood planks squeaked and thunked under the weight of the shoppers, tourists, and beachgoers.
In the distance, under the Top This Pizzeria sign, her eyes locked on a pair of strong, manly shoulders encased in a sunny yellow Hawaiian-style shirt. He jumped straight up, extended a long, tanned arm, and captured a trio of pink balloons before they could escape into the summer sky. He’d just saved a child from suffering the misery of lost balloons.
It had been years since her girls had carried balloons down the boardwalk. She rather missed those simple days before the divorce, before the teenage years and boyfriend dramas, and way before the damn mall shooting stole the illusions of childhood from her oldest daughter. Lily willed her sorrow away. Wallowing in pity over the past would change nothing. She was lucky that Honor was alive and only had a lingering ache in her leg and in her heart.
At least Honor was relaxed enough to stroll through the shops of the seaside boardwalk with her little sister, Emmie, in tow. She envisioned her thirteen- and sixteen-year-old daughters arguing over which clothes to try on in the adorable Nature’s Way boho boutique behind her.
Lily shifted her weight from one hip to the other and wished the thin strap of the woven shopping basket wasn’t cutting quite so deeply into her arm. Two of the dogs at her feet yanked on their leashes, and the inquisitive Jack Russell terrier, Linus, jumped to his four paws at full alert as a group of noisy boys approached.
“Linus, sit,” she commanded, and the wiggling terrier whined a moment, then plunked his hindquarters down while the other three dogs tensed with perked ears and wide eyes. Lily motioned to Bella to lie back down and hoped it was enough to keep the rest calm. Bella was her dog, and she could trust the golden retriever to behave, but the other three were client’s dogs, and who knew if they truly had good manners.
The boys pushed and shoved at each other with laughs and a scattering of boyish curses. As if in slow motion, a flurry of ice cream cones and cups of soda pop flew through the air and landed on the wood planks in spectacular splashes and squelches.
A cold and gooey nightmare splattered across her legs and knees.
“Oh man!” Lily’s gaze fell to the colorful blobs now sliding down her shins.
“Jones, you jerk wad.”
Linus barked imperatively, and the pack of boys hustled off. The Jack Russell sat on his tiny haunches with a royal air while the other three pups sniffed at the blobs and puddles of ice cream and pop.
A wet dog tongue slurped along her leg.
“Gross, stop it.”
As if her words caught their attention, the rest of the dogs joined in to clean her legs of the sticky mess. Lily stamped her feet, but the canines persisted. She danced back and bumped into the outstretched arm of the Leo the Pirate.
A yellow shirt blurred in front of her, and a strong, muscled arm shot out and stopped her fall. Her gaze followed the muscled arm all the way up to a bright yellow shirt. Ah! The man from the balloon rescue.
A pair of twinkling, hazel eyes met hers, and a spark of recognition flared.
“Ben? Ben Aldaine?”
“In the flesh,” he said and flashed his charming lopsided, half grin.
Lily’s first instinct was to fling herself into the arms of her best bud from school, but with her arms and hands filled with leashes and shopping bags, that wasn’t happening. Darn it. Ben’s gaze roved over her as he smiled, and Lily cringed at what a train wreck she must appear. Her hair a rat’s nest and a hoard of beasts drooling on her legs. She only prayed that the humidity hadn’t smeared her mascara or left any damp spots on her tank top or shorts.
Ben, on the other hand, looked the picture of perfection as if he’d just come from a photo shoot for one of those coastal living magazines. Glossy, dark brown hair, sun-kissed skin, and a gorgeous square jaw with the merest hint of the dimple that she remembered. Ben Aldaine had been handsome as the boy across the street during high school, but he had grown into a broad-shouldered hunk.
“Don’t mind, um, me,” Lily said with a gesture at the canines. “This is my normal life.” She hoped he hadn’t heard her voice squeak. How had he gotten so gorgeous?
“I wondered if you needed rescuing from the flying ice cream cones,” Ben said, “but I think the dogs have it handled. All except for one spot.”
He leaned closer, stretched out that strong, muscled arm, and caressed her cheek with a quick stroke of a fingertip. Her eyes half closed, and her thoughts turned to hazy mush.
“See?” Ben showed off a dollop of vanilla ice cream that he’d wiped off her face.
“Oh! Thank you.” Either this was the best day of her life or the worst. She hadn’t seen him in some twenty years, and their little reunion had to happen when she was having a dairy disaster of a day, and then she’d almost swooned into his arms. Must be the heat and the humidity. After all, it was the hottest day of the year so far, and the sun was baking down on her. That had to be the reason she had little beads of sweat dripping down her back. It couldn’t possibly be that this model-worthy man had merely brushed her cheek.
“For old time’s sake, right?” His voice broke through her mental ramblings.
“You have a knack for saving damsels in distress,” Lily said. “That was you snagging that bunch of balloons a few minutes ago, right?”
“Guilty as charged.”
“I think I remember you saving my butt a few times,” Lily said as memories of Ben helping her study for English tests and even coming to her rescue when stranded after a painful breakup with her longtime boyfriend back in the day.
“I think you always returned the favor,” Ben said. “I recall some math homework where you saved my bacon.”
“Shall we call it even?”
“Absolutely.” Ben smiled that half smile that seemed even more adorable than she remembered. “It looks like life has been good to you. I didn’t think to see you here.”
“That’s a long story,” she said, “but in a nutshell, I moved back to Cinnamon Bay to help out my uncle who had some health issues a few years ago, and we ended up staying. I fell in love with the coast all over again.” That was the vaguest summary of the century. It skipped over a cheating spouse, mountains of tears, starting a business, a half-a-thousand dogs and cats, and two growing daughters.