The loud rumble of the baby blue Volkswagen Beetle quieted as Peyton Kerr pressed against the brake pedal. Stoney Creek’s Main Street was cute and quaint, with boutique shops lining the skinny road where cars were parked without much space in between them. Through her open window, she tasted the salt in the air coming off the Atlantic Ocean and drove by a young man packing large containers with live lobsters into the back of his old Chevy pickup. On the next corner was a ticket booth for the lighthouse boat tours. Stoney Creek was a far cry from the bright lights, skyscrapers, and pungent busy city aroma that Seattle carried, but it was also a most welcome change.
People came to Stoney Creek for the picturesque views of the coastline on the bay. They climbed the mountain that overlooked the town and the ocean. They ate fresh fish at the restaurants near the marina, walked the beaches, and sailed the open waters. Peyton came for those reasons too. Well, and a laundry list of others, including that Stoney Creek was the last vacation spot she visited with her late husband, Adam, just over a year ago. She’d been her happiest here. They swam the waters, ate too much, laughed hard enough to cry. That’s what brought her back to the small Maine town. She’d left Seattle a heartbroken twenty-six-year-old widow, and she returned to Stoney Creek determined to find happiness here again.
Her heart clenched at the reminder of all she’d lost, threatening to expose all the weak spots. She forced the emotion back with a deep swallow, refusing to go to the dark place again. The past was behind her. That’s where it’d stay.
Up ahead, Peyton recognized the dark-haired slender woman waiting beneath a withered store sign as Isabella, her real estate agent. Peyton squeezed her used—but new to her—car into one of the parking spots.
Before she could even get out, Isabella was already at the passenger-side door. “You made it.”
“I’m so glad to finally be here.” Peyton smiled, turning off the car and exiting. She’d done a nine-hour flight with a layover in Philadelphia, then landed at the Portland International Jetport. That’s where she found her new car, which she thought suited small-town living. After a good night’s sleep in Portland, she drove three hours, taking the scenic drive along the coast to her fresh start. “Thanks for meeting me.”
“It’s no problem. I’ve got your keys here for both your house and your shop.” Isabella reached into her purse, then handed Peyton two sets of keys. “You’re all set to move in and open shop.” She handed her a slew of business cards. “I’ve given you some names of handymen around town if you want to give the store a makeover.”
Peyton glanced up at the old sign again and took in the cracked windowpane and peeling white paint on the exterior. Both the shop and her new lake house needed work, but so did she. “Great,” Peyton said, feeling like a fish out of water. “Thank you so much for everything. You’ve been so helpful.”
“Call if you need anything.” Isabella smiled and, shocking Peyton, threw her arms around her like they were friends. “You’re going to love it here.” With a final wave, she was off, practically skipping her way down the sidewalk.
Okay, so the people were the nice, touchy-feely sort.
Peyton turned back to her new shop and exhaled the breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding. Set in a historic redbrick building, in between Whiskey Blues, a jazz club on the right, and an empty store on the left, was her little lingerie shop with the French-style storefront. Two large display windows hugged the dark maple door with the original brass handle. The store might not be much in size, but the charm of the shop made up for it.
It was also 100 percent hers. Paid for with the insurance money from Adam’s death. Two weeks ago, in her lowest of lows, a Facebook ad for the Stoney Creek B&B, where she and Adam had stayed at when they’d vacationed there, had popped up on her screen. After that, she’d fallen down the Internet hole until she discovered the local lingerie shop was for sale. Everything from there happened so fast; she’d up and bought the shop on a total whim. Because if anything could make her feel happy again, it would be found in the place she felt the happiest. She also kept thinking that if she could make other women feel beautiful, then she’d feel that way again too.
This past year, she had no reason to wear gorgeous lingerie, let alone find a reason to get out of bed. She wore cotton bras and underwear for comfort. But she’d had a blast selling lingerie during her nursing school days. She couldn’t help but think that buying a lingerie shop was a good step forward to finding the fun parts of herself that had disappeared with Adam’s death.
Sure, she knew her mental state was hanging in the balance of her new life and her new shop. She couldn’t fail. Not because of the money. Adam had left her in good shape financially. But she couldn’t fail because this was all she had. There was nothing else giving her a purpose. And she was done playing the victim. She was also done simply surviving. She’d already been doing that in spades in Seattle. She wanted to breathe. To live.
And that’s why she’d left Seattle and her parents. She’d given up her nursing career in the ER at Seattle’s General Hospital, and she’d dumped every cent she received from Adam’s insurance money into this shop and her little house on the lake.
Was she crazy?
Oh, yeah, she was totally batshit nuts.
She glanced down at the house keys in her hand. All of her belongings would be shipped tomorrow, so tonight she planned to stay at the Stoney Creek B&B a couple blocks down Main Street.
“Are you the new owner?”
Peyton turned around, finding an older couple smiling at her. “Yes, I am.”
“Oh, so lovely to hear,” the woman said, her arm wrapped in her husband’s. “We need more young business owners coming in and keeping our downtown alive.” She offered her hand. “I’m Marjorie, and this is Joe.”
Peyton returned Marjorie’s handshake and then shook Joe’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you both. I’m Peyton.” When she drew her hand away, her stomach suddenly rumbled loudly. “I’m sorry about that. Apparently, I’m starving.”
Joe’s amber eyes crinkled with his warm smile. “The bar next door has one of the best fish sandwiches in town.”
“That sounds delicious.” Peyton returned the smile, feeling the tightness in her chest begin to dissolve. “I’ll be sure to check it out. Thanks.”
“Enjoy your evening, Peyton,” Marjorie said. With a final wave, they continued on their walk.
When Peyton’s stomach growled again, she headed for the bar, thinking a drink along with food sounded like the next best step forward. She didn’t see any parking signs, figuring she could leave her car there for the night.
She grabbed her purse from the car, locked the doors and entered the bar. From its original flagstone walls and restored burgundy velvet chairs to the gold accents, the bar was pure class. Four large crystal chandeliers gave the space a warm, inviting feel, and round tables surrounded the black shiny stage, where a man had his head bowed over the piano he played.
Peyton headed for the bar that had three men drinking beers. She hastily moved to the other side, keeping her distance from anyone of the opposite sex. Even the hot guy with the dark hair and muscular biceps who held her gaze, the side of his mouth curving sensually. Actually, especially because of that. She needed to find herself again, not find herself in anyone’s bed.
When she slid onto the stool, a friendly voice said, “You’re new here.”
Peyton glanced up, finding a slim, long-haired brunette wearing a black T-shirt that read whiskey blues across her chest. The bright pink lipstick she wore made her big blue eyes pop.
“Yup, I’m brand spanking new.” Peyton smiled, offering her hand. “I bought the store next door.”
“Did you?” The woman returned the handshake. “Well, that makes us friends already, then.”
Peyton laughed. “And here I was thinking making new friends was going to be hard.” She placed her hands back onto her purse. “I’m Peyton.”
“Kinsley,” the woman said, grabbing a martini glass. “Lucky for you, I own this place, which means I can call it a night and celebrate us being neighbors.” She gestured at the glass. “Chocolate martinis sound okay?”
“Sounds divine,” Peyton said, her mouth watering. She definitely wanted a fish sandwich, but a little liquid love first didn’t hurt. Besides, she hoped the drink would help dissolve the lump in her throat. She questioned her sanity, uprooting her life and leaving her family behind. But she couldn’t have stayed in Seattle another day. Seattle belonged to her and Adam. She needed to belong without him. Adam was gone. He wasn’t coming back.
Kinsley finished pouring two glasses, then held hers up. “To new friendships and new beginnings.”
Peyton lifted her glass. “Cheers to that!”
Before long, one glass turned into two glasses, and Peyton’s belly felt warm, her smile easy, the fish sandwich long forgotten. She spoke of Seattle, leaving out all the personal parts, keeping those secrets locked up tight. And Kinsley shared life in Stoney Creek, the fun places to go, the sights to see.
“I make a damn fine martini,” Kinsley said, licking the chocolate flakes off her upper lip. She placed her empty glass behind the bar. “Give me a couple minutes, then we’ll Uber it to this new house of yours on the lake and grab some takeout on the way. I gotta see this place. It sounds amazing.”
Sure, Kinsley was a stranger, but something about her laidback way put Peyton at ease. “Deal.” Peyton took another sip of her drink, watching Kinsley leave the bar and move into the back room, feeling happier than she’d felt in an entire year.
Something warm suddenly brushed against Peyton’s arm, making her shiver. She turned as Mr. Crooked Smile sat on the stool next to her. He was tall—around six foot two, pure muscle, an all-around fine specimen of a man. His intense blue eyes that appeared nearly gray in the low lighting held hers, and his five-o’clock shadow brought her attention to his totally kissable lips. He wore a navy-blue T-shirt that stretched across his chest, showcasing hard biceps, and jeans that hugged his thick thighs.
“Hi.” He grinned, voice as smooth as melted chocolate. And she really liked chocolate. A lot.
She took in the hard masculine lines of his face, softened a little by the strands of dark hair falling across his forehead. “I’m new here, opening the shop next door,” she babbled.
“Ah, the lingerie shop,” he said, his eyes dancing at whatever was crossing her expression. “Tonight’s a celebration, then?”
God, she must have looked like she wanted to eat him. Well, she did, so whatever. Obviously, the martinis without food had been a terrible idea. “That’s right,” she said, lifting her chin, trying not to look as rattled by this guy or as tipsy as she felt.
His arm brushed against hers again—clearly intentional this time—and she shivered, hearing her own hitching breath. His gaze went red hot, those deep eyes turning darker, examining her deeper. She swallowed, trying to calm her puckering nipples and the building heat between her thighs.
What. The. Hell?
“Um, excuse me.” She slid off the stool and stumbled in the process. After she laughed at herself and hid her gaze from him, she beelined it toward the bathroom across the bar. Once inside, she turned on the water and placed her hands underneath to cool off. She looked into the mirror, finding her cheeks flushed, her eyes glossy and full of heat. Maybe those chocolate martinis had an aphrodisiac effect. Because . . . holy hell!
She stayed in the bathroom probably longer than necessary. When she came out, she nearly walked into Mr. Crooked Smile. He caught her by the waist to steady her, and when his hands tightened on her hips something overcame her, an emotion she could not control. His touch was warm and strong, and his potent stare pulled her in until she looked into his eyes intimately.
He arched an eyebrow. “All right?”
“Why are you waiting here for me?” she managed.
His smile was gentle and sweet, and on a big tough guy looked mouthwateringly delicious. “You’ve been in there a while. Feeling okay?”
She stared at him. For some reason she was immensely touched by his kindness, and she suddenly couldn’t remember all the reasons she didn’t want a man in her life. “God, you’re so hot.” She grabbed his face and kissed him. Passionately. With tongue.
A low masculine sound that tickled her in the best places rose from deep in his chest. Then her back hit the wall. Hard. Shock and desire flooded her as he threaded one hand into her hair, then claimed her mouth. Owned it, with every hard press of his lips and swirl of his tongue.
When she began nearly climbing up his body, a moment of clarity hit her, and she broke away with a gasp. “What in the hell are we doing?” she asked, staring at his mouth, and wanting desperately to have more of it. “You’re a stranger.” A naughty stranger.
“I believe you kissed me,” he said in a voice so low goose bumps rose on her arms, and a smile so sexy it should come with a warning label. “And were doing a fine job of it.”
Still in the man’s arms, Peyton turned, finding Kinsley staring at them with her arms folded.
“So,” Kinsley said with a sly smile. “I see you’ve met my brother, Boone.”