JESSICA AYERS COULD hold a note on her cello for thirty-eight seconds without ever breaking a sweat, but staring at the eBay auction on her iPhone as the last forty seconds ticked away had her hands sweating and her heart racing. She never knew seconds could pass so slowly. She’d been pacing the deck of her rented apartment in the Seaside cottage community in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, for forty-five minutes. This was her first time—and she was certain her last time—using the online auction site. She was the high bidder on a baseball that she was fairly certain was her father’s from when he was a boy.
“Come on. Come on. Come on.” Fifteen seconds. She clenched her eyes shut and squeezed the phone, as if she could will the win. It was only seven thirty in the morning, and already the sun had blazed a path through the trees. She was hot and frustrated, and after fighting with her orchestra manager for two weeks about taking a hiatus, and her mother for even longer about everything under the sun, she was ready to blow. She’d come to the Cape for a respite from playing in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, hoping to figure out if she was living her life to the fullest, or missing out on it altogether. Finding her father’s baseball autographed by Mickey Mantle was her self-imposed distraction to keep her mind off picking up the cello. She’d never imagined she’d find it a week into her vacation.
She opened her eyes and stared at the phone.
Five seconds. Four. Three.
A message flashed on the screen. You have been outbid by another bidder.
“What? No. No, no, no.” She pressed the bid icon, and nothing happened. She pressed it again, and again, her muscles tightening with each attempt. Another message flashed on the screen. Bidding for this item has ended.
She stared at the phone, unable to believe she’d been seconds away from winning what she was sure was her father’s baseball and had lost it. She hated phones. She hated eBay. She hated bidding against nonexistent people in tiny little stupid phones. She hated the whole thing so much she turned and hurled the phone over the deck.
That felt really, really good.
“Ouch! What the…” A deep male voice rose up to her.
Jessica crouched and peered between the balusters. Standing on the gravel road just a few feet from her building, in a pair of black running shorts and no shirt, was the nicest butt she’d ever seen, attached to a tanned back that was glistening with sweat and rippled with muscles. Holy moly, they didn’t make orchestra musicians with bodies like that. Not that she’d know, considering that they were always properly covered in black suits and white shirts, but could a body like that even be hidden?
He turned, one hand rubbing his unruly black hair as he looked up at the pitch pine trees.
Yeah, you won’t find the culprit there.
His eyes passed by her deck, and she cringed. At least he hadn’t seen her phone, which she spotted a few feet away, where it must have fallen after conking him on the head. His eyes dropped to the ground…and traveled directly to it.
Jessica ducked lower, watching his brows knit together, giving him a brooding, sexy look.
Please don’t see me. Please don’t see me.
He looked at the cottages to his left, then to the pool off to his right, and just as Jessica sighed with relief, he crossed the road toward the steps to her apartment. His eyes locked on her. He shaded them with his hand and looked down at the phone, then back up at her, and lifted the phone in the air.
“Is this yours?”
She debated staying there, crouched and peering between the railings like a child playing hide-and-seek, hoping he really couldn’t see her.
I’ve been seeked.
Darn it! She rose slowly to her feet. “My what?” She had no idea what she was going to say or do as the words flew from her mouth.
He laughed. God, he had a sexy laugh. “Your phone?”
He stood there looking amused and so damn sexy that Jessica couldn’t take her eyes off of him. “Why would that be mine? I don’t even have a phone.” Great. Now I’m a phone assaulter and a liar. She had no idea that being incredibly attracted to a man could couple with embarrassment and make her spew lies, as if she lied every day.
He looked back down at the phone and scratched his head. She wondered what he was thinking. That it fell from the sky? No one was that stupid, but she couldn’t own up to it now. She was in too deep. As he mounted the stairs, she got a good look at his chest, covered with a light dusting of hair, over muscles that bunched and rippled down his stomach, forming a V between his hips.
He stepped onto the deck and raked his hazel eyes down her body with the kind of smile that should have made her feel at ease and instead made her feel very naked. And hot. Definitely hot. Oh wait, he was hot. She was just bothered. Hot and bothered. Jesus, up close he was even more handsome than she imagined, with at least three days’ scruff peppering his strong chin and eyes that played hues of green and brown like a melody.
“Hi. I’m Jamie Reed.”
“How long are you renting?” He used his forearm to wipe his brow. She never knew sweating could look so sexy.
“For the summer.” She shifted her eyes to her phone. “What will you do with that phone?”
He looked down at it. “I guess that depends, doesn’t it?” The side of his mouth quirked up, making his handsome, rugged face look playful and sending her stomach into a tailspin.
Jessica needed and wanted playful in her too prim and proper life, but she needed her phone even more, in case her orchestra manager called.
“Let’s say it was my phone. Let’s say it slipped from my hand and fell over the deck, purely by accident.”
He stepped closer, and suddenly playful turned serious. His eyes went dark and seductive, in a way that bored right through her, both turning her on and calling her on her shit. He placed one big hand on the railing beside her and peered over the side. His brows lifted, and he stepped closer again. She inched backward until her back met the wooden rail. He smelled of power and sweat and something musky that made her insides quiver.
“That’s a hell of an accident.” His voice whispered over her skin.
Jessica could barely breathe, barely think with his eyes looking through her, and his crazy, sexy body so close made her sweat even more. The truth poured out like water from a faucet.
“Okay. I’m sorry. I did throw it, but it’s not my fault. Not really. It’s that stupid eBay site.” Her voice rose, and her frustration bubbled forth. “I don’t know how I could lose an auction in the last ten seconds. My bid held strong for forty-five minutes, and then out of the blue I lost it for five lousy dollars? And it was all because the stupid bid button was broken.” She sank down to a chair. “I’m sorry. I’m just upset.”
“So, let me get this straight. You lost a bid on eBay, so you threw your phone?” He lowered himself to the chair beside her, brow wrinkled in confusion, or maybe amusement. She couldn’t tell which.
“Yeah, I know. I know. I threw my phone. But it must be broken. I hate technology.”
“Technology is awesome. It’s not the phone’s fault you lost your bid. It’s called sniping, and lots of people do it.”
“Sniping?” She sighed. “I’m sorry. I know I sound whiny and bitchy, but I’m really not like this normally.”
He arched a brow and smiled, which made her smile, because of course he didn’t believe her. Who would? He didn’t know she was usually Miss Prim and Proper. He couldn’t know she never used words like stupid or even visited the eBay website until today.
“I swear I’m not. I’m just frustrated. I’ve been trying to find the baseball my father had as a kid. It was signed by Mickey Mantle, and somewhere along the line, his parents lost it. His sister had colored in the autograph with red ink, and I think I finally found it…and then lost it.”
“That’s a bummer. I can see why you’re upset. I’m sorry.”
“How can you be so nice after I beaned you with my phone?”
He shrugged. “I’ve been hit by worse. Here, let me show you some eBay tricks.” He scrolled through her apps, of which she had none other than what came with the phone. He drew his brows together. “Do you want me to download the eBay app?”
“The eBay app? I guess.”
He fiddled with her phone, then moved his chair closer to hers. “When you’re bidding on eBay and other people are bidding at the same time, you need to refresh your screen because bids don’t refresh quickly on all phones.” He continued explaining and showing her how to refresh her screen.
She only half listened. She simply didn’t get technology, and she was used to sitting next to men in suits and tuxedos, not half-naked men with Adonis-like bodies wearing nothing but a pair of shorts with all their masculinity on display. She could barely concentrate.
JAMIE COULD TELL by the look in Jessica’s eyes that she wasn’t paying attention. As the developer of OneClick, the world’s second-largest search engine, rivaling Google, he’d been in his fair share of meetings with foggy-eyed people who zoned out when he started with technical talk. But refreshing a screen was hardly technical, which meant that either beautiful Jessica was really a novice and had lived in a cave for the past ten years or she was playing him like a cheap guitar. She sure as hell didn’t look like she’d been living in a cave. She was about the hottest chick he’d seen in forever, sitting beside him in a canary-yellow bikini like it was the most comfortable thing in the world. Maybe she was a fashion model with handlers that did these kinds of things for her.
Her light brown hair brushed her thighs when she leaned forward, and her bright blue eyes, although looking a little lost at the moment, were strikingly sexy. She had a hot bod, with perfect, perky breasts, a trim waist, curvaceous hips, and legs that went on forever, but that didn’t change the fact that she’d tried to avoid admitting that the phone was hers. The last thing Jamie needed this summer was to be played, even by a beautiful woman like Jessica. This was his first summer off in eight years, and he intended to relax and spend time with his grandmother, Vera, who was in her mid-eighties and wasn’t getting any younger. If the right woman came along, and he had the time and interest, he’d enjoy her company, but he had no patience for games.
“Either your phone is new, or you don’t use many apps.”
“No. To be honest, I don’t even text very often. I’ve been kind of out of the swing of things in that arena for a while. And after this I’m not sure that I really want to dive in.”
He handed her the phone. “You can do this on your computer. Some people find that easier.”
She closed her eyes for a beat and cringed. “I get along with my computer even worse than I get along with my phone.”
He still couldn’t decide if she was playing him or not. She sounded sincere, and the look in her beautiful baby blues was as honest as he’d ever seen. Oh hell, he might as well offer to help.
“Then you’ve met just the right guy. I can give you a crash course in computers and phones.”
“I’ve taken up so much of your time already. I would feel guilty taking up any more on a beautiful day like today. But I really appreciate your offer.”
Are you blowing me off?
Jamie rose to his feet. “Okay, well, if you need any help, I’m in the cottage on the end with the deck out front and back. Stop by anytime.” He hesitated, knowing he should leave but wanting to stay and get to know her a little better. If she was playing him, she would’ve taken him up on his offer for sure.
Jessica rose to her feet, grabbed a towel from the back of her chair, and picked up a tote bag from beneath the table. “I’m heading to the pool, so I’ll walk down with you.”
They walked down to the pool together in silence, giving Jamie a chance to notice how nice she smelled. It took all of his focus not to run his eyes down her backside—he was dying to see her ass, but why rush things and make her uncomfortable? She’d walk into the pool and he’d have his chance.
Jessica dug through her tote bag. She placed a slender hand on her hip and sighed. “I forgot my key. Why do they keep the pool locked, anyway?”
He had no idea why, but she looked so curious that he made up a reason. “To keep the derelicts out.”
“Derelicts? Really? My friend suggested that I rent here. He said there was almost no crime on the Cape.”
Jamie wondered who her friend was. “We had some trouble with teenagers two summers ago, but other than that, your friend was right. There are no derelicts lurking about.”
“Oh, thank goodness. I didn’t think my coworker would lead me astray. I guess I’ll go get my key.”
She turned to leave and—holy hell—her bikini bottom was a thong. A thin piece of floss between two perfect ass cheeks. How had he missed that?
It was all he could do not to drool. “Nice suit,” he mumbled.
She looked over her shoulder. “Thanks! I saw the Thong Thursday flyer and thought, why not? I bought this suit when we were overseas and wore it there once. I brought it with me, but I never would have had the guts to wear it here, until I saw that you guys had an actual day for one.” She waved and disappeared up the steps to her apartment.
Jamie spun around and scanned the bulletin board where the pool rules were posted. A blue flyer had been tacked front and center: JOIN US FOR THONG THURSDAY!
Thank you, Bella.
Jamie jogged up to Bella’s cottage. The screen door was open.
“Bella?” Bella Abbascia owned the cottage across from the apartment Jessica was renting. Bella was the resident prankster. Her favorite person to play tricks on was Theresa Ottoline, the Seaside property manager. Theresa oversaw the homeowner association guidelines for the community—including the pool rules, which included a rule that clearly stated, No thongs on women or Speedos on men.
Her fiancé, Caden Grant, walked out of the bedroom in his police officer uniform. “Hey, Jamie. Come on in.”
Jamie stepped inside. “Hi. I wanted to thank your fiancée for Thong Thursday.”
Caden shook his head. “She did it, huh?”
“Hell, yes, she did it, and…” Jamie looked out the window at the big house where Jessica was renting. The house was owned by Theresa. The apartment Jessica rented had a separate entrance on the second floor.
“Did you see the new tenant? Jessica Ayers?” He whistled. “Hotter than hell.”
“I saw her sitting on her deck the other night when I pulled in, but I haven’t met her. Bella’s over at Amy’s with the girls.”
Evan, Caden’s mini-me teenage son, walked out of his bedroom. Evan was almost seventeen, and this year he’d cropped his chestnut hair short, like his father’s. Over the year he’d grown to six two. His square jaw and cleft chin, also like Caden’s, had lost all but the faintest trace of the boy he’d been two years earlier.
“Dude. You went running without me?” Evan, Caden, and their other buddy, Kurt Remington, whose fiancée, Leanna Bray, owned the cottage behind Bella and Caden, sometimes ran with Jamie in the mornings.
“Sorry, Ev. Vera wanted to get a jump on the day, so I went early.”
“That’s okay.” Evan glanced out the window in the kitchen and looked down by the pool, where Jessica was spreading a towel out on a lounge chair. “I was gonna go for a run, but if it’s Thong Thursday, I think I’ll go for a swim instead, then head over to TGG for the afternoon.” Evan had worked with Jamie for one summer, learning how to program computers, and he’d been working part-time at TGG, The Geeky Guys, ever since.
Jamie set a narrow-eyed stare on Evan.
“What?” Evan laughed.
“Behave,” Jamie said, before walking out the door. Christ, now I’m jealous of a kid? He glanced at the pool, tempted to put on his own suit and head down for a gawk and a swim. Instead, he headed across the gravel road to Amy Maples’s cottage.
“Hi, Jamie. Just in time for coffee.” Amy handed him a mug over the railing of her deck.
Jenna Ward, a big-busted brunette, and Bella, a tall, mouthy blonde, followed Amy out of her cottage. They wore sundresses over their bathing suits, their typical Cape attire. The Seaside cottages had been in their families for years, and Jamie had grown up spending summers with the girls and Leanna Bray, who owned the cottage beside Vera’s, and Tony Black, who owned the cottage on the other side of Leanna’s.
“Come on up here, big boy.” Bella waved him onto the deck and pulled out a chair.
“I owe you big-time, Bella.” He sat beside her and set his coffee on the glass table.
“Most people do,” she teased.
“I know I do.” Jenna had recently gotten engaged to Pete Lacroux, a local boat craftsman, who also handled maintenance for Seaside—and had been the object of Jenna’s secret crush for years. Bella and Amy had secretly broken things in Jenna’s cottage for several summers without Jenna knowing, to ensure that she and Pete would have reasons to be thrown together.
“Thong Thursday?” Jamie shook his head. “You are a goddess, Bella.”
She patted her thick blond hair. “Thank you for noticing.”
“Leanna is going to be so mad at you for doing that,” Jenna said. “She doesn’t think our men need to see butt floss on any of us.” Leanna ran a jam-making business out of Kurt’s bay-side property.
Bella swatted the air. “She’s staying at their bay house for a few days. She’ll miss it completely.” The lower Cape was a narrow peninsula that sprawled between Cape Cod Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The cottages were located between the two bodies of water, and both Kurt and Pete owned property on the bay. Caden and Bella had a house on a street around the corner from the bay, and all three couples spent most of their summers at Seaside and the rest of the year at their other homes.
Luscious Leanna’s Sweet Treats had really taken off in the last two years, and since her business was run from a cottage on their bay property, she was spending more and more time there.
“I’m sure Tony won’t complain,” Amy said with an eye roll that could have rocked the deck. Tony Black was a professional surfer and a motivational speaker, and Amy had been hot for him for about as long as Jenna had been lusting after Pete, but Tony had never made a move toward taking their relationship to the next level. Jamie didn’t get it. He’d seen Tony eyeing Amy, and Tony took care of her like she was his girlfriend. Amy was hot, smart, and obviously interested—Tony was a big, burly guy with a good head on his shoulders. They’d make a great pair.
“Speaking of Tony, I saw him leave early this morning. He’s spending the day at the ocean.” Jamie sipped his coffee.
“Good, then maybe he’ll miss the thong show, too.” Amy leaned over the table and lowered her voice. “Did you guys see the chick renting Theresa’s condo?”
“All I know is that she’s smokin’ hot and she doesn’t talk much.” Jenna was busy resituating the top of her sundress, pulled tightly across her enormous breasts.
“I don’t know what her deal is,” Bella said. “But she was yelling at her phone the other day.”
“You mean yelling on her phone,” Jenna corrected her.
“No, I mean at. She was staring at it, smacking it, and yelling at it.” Bella made a cuckoo motion with her finger beside her head.
Nothing new here from the girls. A little jealousy over the new hot chick. Jamie picked up his coffee mug. “Mind if I bring this back later? I have to get going. I’m running into Hyannis to pick up a few things. You guys need anything?”
The girls shook their heads.
“You’re willingly going to miss Thong Thursday?” Bella put her hand to his forehead. “You must be ill.”
No shit. “One look at my ass in a thong and she’ll be chasing me around the complex. I wouldn’t want to subject you three ladies to that. It could get ugly.” He smiled with the tease.
“Ha! Yeah, right. Like you’d ever wear a thong.” Jenna threw her head back with a loud laugh. “You’re just worried about sporting a woody down by the pool.”
She had him there.
“You’ve got woodies on the brain,” Jamie said. “Are you guys coming to Vera’s concert tonight?” Vera had played the violin professionally when she was younger, and this summer a group of older Wellfleet residents had put together a string quartet and invited Vera to play. They never saw much of a crowd, but it got her out of the house and playing for an audience again, which she enjoyed.
“I wouldn’t miss Vera’s concert,” Amy said.
“Bella and I are going over together because Caden’s taking someone’s shift and Pete’s hanging with his father tonight, working on a boat. I’ll ask Sky if she wants to come, too.” Sky was Pete’s sister. She’d come to the Cape last summer to run their father’s hardware store while he was in rehab, and she’d never gone back to New York other than to pack up her things. Now sober for almost a year, their father helped Pete with his boat-refinishing business.
“Vera will be glad to hear it, and she loves Pete’s sister.” He glanced down at the pool, then headed for his cottage.
“Wanna bet who’s gonna bang the new chick? Tony or Jamie?” Jenna’s voice trailed behind him.
Jamie slowed to hear the answer.
A crack of hand on skin told him that Amy had shut Jenna up with a friendly swat.