Two people who’ve always played at love discover the stakes are higher when they let down their guard and open their hearts…
Cassidy Arnez is an elementary school teacher with an enormous secret: a sexually adventurous online life that she leads under a foolproof alias. Her motto has always been to enjoy sex and the single life as much as possible. With a deadbeat dad and a brother who died in combat, she knows she can’t rely on any man to stick around.
Bryce Anderson enjoys his bachelor life as the CFO of a major cruise line, a position that gets him all the sun, sand, and women he could want. But he meets his match in Cass, who’s even less interested in commitment than he is, and her casual, confident sexuality turns him on more than anyone he’s ever met.
When a financial crisis at Cass’s school places her, and her coveted secret identity, at the center of a small town firestorm, she must decide whether she’ll let Bryce become the first man she’ll trust with both her secrets and her heart.
Savvy Tip of the Day:
You do not need anyone else to complete your life – not your professional life, not your personal life, not your sex life. You are perfectly okay all by yourself.
Cassidy Arnez yanked on a body-skimming black top and adjusted her silver-and-black lace bra. Her doorbell rang, and she glanced at the clock. With a little luck, in a few hours she’d be stretched out poolside, with a drink in hand and nothing but three days of cruising and sunshine ahead of her.
“Coming, I'm coming, hang on,” she called. She stuffed a floral bikini into her carry-on and dug through her drawer for mascara. “It’s open,” she added.
Cass’s best friend Louise walked inside the spacious apartment. “You’re not ready?”
Lou leaned in the bathroom doorway. “Traffic will be terrible if we don’t get to Tampa before four.”
“I wish you could come,” Cass said.
“Me too. But I need this temp job, especially in the middle of tax season.”
Cass finished her eye makeup and added some blush and lipstick. She wasn’t about to turn down a free cruise, even if she had to go solo.
“You look great,” Lou said, “even though you’re way overdressed for a cruise.”
Cass arched a brow, zipped her makeup bag, and placed it into the top of her open suitcase. “There’s no such thing.” She put her laptop into its black leather case and settled it into the suitcase. She grabbed the envelope that held a personal letter from the Cocktail Cruise Line, along with her boarding pass to the Spirit of the Sea. According to Lou, everyone who’d been on that fated cruise back in February, the first and last that featured the Charming Hearts speed dating service, had been given the same offer:
On behalf of the entire cruise line, we would like to offer you a complimentary four-day cruise anytime during the month of April or May…
Since spring break for the Hope’s Landing school district fell conveniently in the first week of April, here she was.
Cass stepped into black wedges and pulled on an over-sized floppy hat. She turned off the lights and slipped her purse over her shoulder. Then her gaze stopped at the picture hanging by the door, the way it always did. Cass and her twin brother Carlos stood arm in arm on the Hope's Landing High School football field, on the sunny afternoon of their graduation six years ago. Wide smiles and matching dimples. Rabbit ears made with their fingers over each other's heads, the way they'd always posed for pictures back then. Long, sweeping beams of June light surrounded them, casting shadows at their feet. Draped over the silver frame was Carlos's Purple Heart, given posthumously to the Arnez family almost two years ago.
Cass wrapped a rose-colored silk scarf around her neck and slipped on designer sunglasses. “I'm dressed like this because I never who I’ll run into,” she said to Lou, “or what might happen around the next corner.” She opened the door and rolled her suitcase down the sidewalk to Lou’s waiting car.
Or how many times she would learn to reapply makeup so the world didn't know she'd been crying, or the ways in which she could recreate herself in order to keep getting up every morning.
* * *
“I can’t make it to the game tonight.” Bryce Anderson shifted his cell phone from one ear to the other, thankful to be working from home today. He winced and rubbed his temples. Too many shots of tequila after glasses of champagne last night, celebrating at the office over the first quarter’s numbers. “I’m going on a four-day with the Spirit of the Sea.” He popped two aspirin and downed half a glass of water. Why the hell had the Florida sun decided to shine full strength this afternoon?
“Oh yeah,” his best friend Toby said. “Forgot. That’s a rough life you’ve got.”
Bryce grinned. Didn’t he know it. His family hadn’t handed him the CFO job at Cocktail Cruise Line, though; he’d had to earn it fair and square. An MBA and two years of experience working at one of the top firms in Miami had convinced both his father and his Uncle Max that he deserved to manage the cruise line’s money. He liked the job, and he was good at it. First quarter numbers through the roof. Cruising every so often was just a nice fringe benefit.
“You taking Sheila with you?”
“Nope. She can’t make it.” A cute redhead that he’d been seeing for a few weeks, Sheila was leaving tomorrow for a month-long motorcycle trip, and Bryce didn't do motorcycles. Or long-distance.
“All right, man. Call me when you’re back.”
“I will. See ya.” He clicked over to answer a number he didn't recognize. “Bryce Anderson.”
“Well, hello there.”
Not Sheila. Not the new secretary on the first floor of his office building either, though they’d been flirting on and off for the last month. Bryce flipped back through his recent dates but couldn't find a face that matched the lilting voice on the other end of the line. “Hi.”
“It's Theresa.” Pause. “From last night.”
He rolled his head from side to side. Last night after the office party, he'd hit a strip club with a couple of the other guys. He didn't recall giving his number to anyone, but his memory wasn’t always reliable, especially after tequila. “Hey, how are you?”
She laughed, and he got a vague memory of her face. Tiny frame, big hair, lots of makeup. Hour-glass figure. He couldn't recall anything else. “I'm still missing a shoe, but otherwise I'm fine.”
A shoe? He searched his brain and came up with nothing.
“Are you free tonight?” she asked. “I thought we could grab a drink.”
“Aw, I can't. I'm sorry. I’m actually leaving on a cruise in a couple of hours.”
She didn't laugh this time. “If you don't want to see me again, just say so.”
“I’m serious. I have to go for work.” He wondered if he’d even told Theresa where he worked or what he did. “I’m leaving today and coming back Sunday morning. If you want to get a drink next week sometime, though, that would be cool.”
“'Cool'?” She clicked her tongue, and Bryce got another quick recall of her face. Blue eyes and a smile he wouldn't mind seeing on the pillow beside him. On another day, or maybe in another life, when he didn't work eighteen-hour days, Theresa might be a nice girl to spend time with. But in the here and now, they didn't have a prayer. He could tell Theresa right now that coffee or no coffee, great sex or lukewarm, they'd be done within a month. She'd want a commitment, and he'd pull away.
It wouldn't work out.
It never did.
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