Sea Fever

Virginia Kantra

Children of the Sea 2
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Chapter 1

The night the only eligible man on the island got married, Regina Barone got drunk.

Getting laid would have been even better.

Regina looked from Bobby Kincaid, whose eyes had taken on the wet glaze of his beer bottle, to fifty-three-year-old Henry Tibbetts, who smelled like herring, and thought, Fat chance. Anyway, on an island with a year round population of eleven hundred, a drunken hook-up at a wedding reception could have serious consequences.

Regina knew all about consequences. She had Nick, didn't she?

The wedding tent's tiebacks fluttered in the breeze. Through the open sides, Regina could see the beach where the happy couple had exchanged their vows--a strip of shale, a tumble of rocks, a crescent of sand bordering the restless ocean.

Not your typical destination wedding. Maine, even Maine in August, was hardly St. Croix.

Regina hefted a tray of dirty glassware and then spotted her son, standing beside her mother at the edge of the dance floor, jigging from foot to foot.

She felt her mouth and shoulders relax. The glasses could wait.

Setting down her tray, she crossed the big white tent. "Hey, good-looking."

Eight-year-old Nick turned, and she saw herself in miniature: dark, Italian eyes, thin, expressive face, big mouth.

Regina held out both her hands. "Want to show me what you've got?"

Nick's initial wariness dissolved in a grin.

Antonia Barone took his hand. Her mother was in full Mayor Mode--a hard red slash of lipstick and her two-piece navy dress. "We were just about to leave," Antonia said.

Their eyes clashed.

"Ma. One dance."

"I thought you had work to do," Antonia said.

Ever since Regina had offered to cater this wedding, her mother had been bitching about her priorities. "It's under control."

"Do you still want me to watch him tonight?"

Regina suppressed a sigh. "Yeah. Thanks. But I'd like to have a moment first."

"Please, Nonna," Nick added.

"It's not my decision," Antonia said, her voice suggesting it damn well should be. "Do what you want. You always do."

"Not recently," Regina muttered as they moved away.

But for the next ten minutes, she enjoyed the sight of Nick hopping and sliding, clapping and turning, laughing and carrying on like any other eight-year-old.

The music shifted and slowed.

Couples took their turn on the floor.

And Regina, her sandal straps biting into her toes, delivered Nick back to her mother.

"Midnight for us, kiddo. You go home in the pumpkin coach with Grandma."

He tipped his head up to look at her. "What about you?"

Regina smoothed his dark hair back from his face, letting her hand rest a moment on his smooth cheek. "I've got to work."

He nodded. "Love you."

She felt a burst of maternal love under her breastbone like heartburn. "Love you."

She watched them leave the white rental tent and climb the hill toward the parking lot, her square mother and skinny son casting long shadows on the park grass. The setting sun lingered on the crest, firing the bushes to fuchsia and gold like the enchanted roses in a fairy tale.

It was one of those summer evenings, one of those days, that almost made Regina believe in happy endings.

Not for her, though. Never for her.

She sighed and turned back to the tent. Her feet hurt.

Mechanic Bobby Kincaid was tending bar for the free beer and as a favor to Cal. Bobby earned good money in his father's garage. These days every sixteen-year-old on the island with lobster money burning a hole in his pocket had to have a car. Or a pickup.

Regina sidestepped as Bobby attempted to grab her ass. Too bad he was such a jerk.

"Hi, Bobby." She snagged a bottle of sparkling wine from the ice-filled cooler and wrestled the wire cage around the cork. "Let's do a quick refill of all the glasses, and then I want those cake plates off the tables."

"Hey, now," rumbled a deep male voice behind her. "You're off duty."

Regina's heart beat faster. She turned. Strong, tanned hands, steady green eyes, and a limp he'd picked up in Iraq. Police Chief Caleb Hunter.

The groom.

Plucking the bottle of Prosecco from her grasp, Caleb filled a rented champagne flute and offered it to her. "You're a guest. We want you to enjoy yourself tonight."

"I am enjoying myself. Any chance to serve something besides red sauce and lobster rolls..."

"The menu's great," Cal said. "Everything's great. Those crab patties--"

"Mini blue crab cakes with chipotle aioli and roasted red pepper sauce," Regina said.

"--are really something. You did good." His eyes were warm.

Regina flushed all over at the compliment. She had done well. With less than a month to plan and prepare, with only a clueless bride and the groom's awkward sister for support, Regina had pulled off the wedding she'd never had. The rented tent was warm with lantern light, bright with delphinium, daisies, and sunflowers. Crisp white linens covered the picnic tables, and she'd dressed up the folding chairs from the community center with flowing bows.

The food--her food, mussels steamed in garlic and white wine, bruschetta topped with basil and tomatoes, smoked wild salmon with dilled creme fraiche--was a huge success.

"Thanks," she said. "I was thinking I might talk Ma into adding some of these appetizers to our regular menu. The mussels, maybe, or--"

"Great," Cal repeated, but he wasn't listening any longer. His gaze slid beyond her to his bride, Maggie, dancing with his father.

Margred's dark hair had slipped free of its pins to wave on her neck. She'd kicked off her shoes so that the hem of her flowing white dress dragged. She was looking up at Caleb's father, laughing as he executed a clumsy turn on the floor.

The naked intensity in Cal's eyes as he watched his wife closed Regina's throat.

In her entire life, no man had ever looked at her like that, as if she were the sun and the moon and his entire world wrapped up in one. If anyone ever did, she would jump him.

If Cal ever had--

But he hadn't. Wouldn't. Ever.

"Go dance," Regina said. "It's your wedding."

"Right," Caleb said, already moving.

He turned back a moment to smile at her and order, "No more work tonight. We hired the youth group to give you a break."

"You know you have to watch those church kids like a hawk," Regina called after him.

But that was just an excuse.

The truth was she would rather schlep glasses and scrape plates than have the same conversations she'd had before with the same people she'd known all her life. How's the weather? How's your mother? When are you getting married?

Oh, God.

She watched Cal circling the dance floor with his new bride--slowly, because of his limp--and emptiness caught her under the ribs, sharp as cramp.

Grabbing her glass and the open bottle of Prosecco, she walked away from it all, the music, the lights, and the dancing. Away from Bobby behind the bar and Caleb with his arms around Margred.

Regina's heels punched holes in the ragged strip of grass. Drawn by the rush and retreat of water on the rocks, she wobbled across the shale. A burst of foam ran toward her feet. She plopped onto an outcrop of granite to remove her sandals. Her bare toes flexed in the cool, coarse sand.

Ah. That was better.


She poured herself another glass of wine.

The level in the bottle fell as the moon rose, flat and bright. The sky deepened until it resembled the inside of a shell, purple and gray. Regina rolled her head to look at the stars, feeling the earth whirl around her.

"Careful." The deep male voice sounded amused.

She jerked upright. The contents of her glass sloshed. "Cal?"

"No. Disappointed?"

She'd spilled on her dress. Damn it.

Regina's gaze swung to the tent and then swept the shore, searching out the owner of that voice.

There, standing barefoot at the edge of the surf as if he'd just come out of the sea instead of simply wandering away from the wedding reception.

Her heart pounded. Her head buzzed from the wine.

Not Caleb. She squinted. He was too tall, too lean, too young, too...

His tie was loosened, his slacks rolled up. The gray light chased across his face, illuminating the long, narrow nose, the sculpted mouth, the eyes, dark and secret as sin.

Regina felt a pulse, a flutter, of pure feminine attraction and scowled. "I don't know what you're talking about."

He laughed softly, coming closer. "They look good together--Caleb and Margred."

She recognized him then. From the ceremony. "You're his brother. Dylan. The one who--"

Went away.

She'd heard stories. She was drunk, but she recalled the basics. How, twenty-five years ago, his mother had left the island, left her husband and Caleb and her infant daughter Lucy, taking with her the other son. This one.

"I thought you were older," Regina said.

He went very still in the moonlight. "You remember?"

Regina snorted. "Hardly. Since I was, like, four at the time." She plucked the wet silk from her breasts. She'd have to make a trip to the mainland now. There was no drycleaners on the island.

"Here." A flash, like a white flag in the dark, as he pulled out his handkerchief. A real gentleman.

And then his hand was on her chest, his fingers spanning the tiny gold cross that lay beneath her collarbone, the heel of his palm pressing the handkerchief right between her breasts. Warm. Intimate. Shocking.

Regina sucked in her breath. Not a gentleman at all. Asshole.

She knocked his wrist away. "I've got it."

Beneath the wet material, her nipples beaded. Could he see, in the dark? She mopped at her dress with his handkerchief. "What are you doing here?"

"I followed you."

If he hadn't just groped her breasts, she'd be flattered. "I meant, on the island."

"I was invited."

"To the wedding."

"Yes." He refilled her flute, emptying the bottle, and handed it to her.

The gesture reminded her sharply of his brother. Despite the breeze off the water, her face felt hot. She felt warm all over. She gulped her wine. "So, Caleb just looked you up? Hunted you down? After twenty-five years?"

"Something like that."

He folded his long body onto the rock beside her. His hip nudged her thigh. His hard, rounded shoulder brushed her shoulder. The warmth spread low in the pit of her stomach.

She cleared her throat. "What about your mother?"


Oops. Ouch. "Sorry."

Let it go, she told herself. She wasn't getting anywhere swapping dysfunctional family stories. Not that she wanted this to go anywhere, but--

"It's pretty strange that you never came back before," she said.

"You only think so because you never left."

She was stung. "I did, too. Right out of high school. Got a job washing dishes at Perfetto's in Boston until Puccini promoted me to prep cook."


"Alain Puccini's restaurant. You know. Food Network?"

"I take it I should be impressed."

"Damn straight." Pride and annoyance rose in her like the bubbles in the wine. She drained her glass. "He was going to make me his sous chef."

"But you came back. Why?"

Because Alain--the son-of-a-bitch--had knocked her up. She couldn't work kitchen hours with an infant, or pay a babysitter on a line cook's salary. Even after she'd forced Alain to take a paternity test, his court-ordered child support barely covered day care. His assets were tied up--hidden--in the restaurant.

But she didn't say that. Her son and her life were none of Dylan's business.

His thigh pressed warm against her leg.

Anyway, men looked at you differently when you had a kid. It had been a long time since she sat with a man in the moonlight.

Longer still since she'd had sex with one.

She looked at Dylan, lean and dark and dangerous and close, and felt attraction run along her veins like the spark on a detonator fuse.

She shook her head to clear it.

"Why did you?" She turned the question back on him.

His shoulder moved against hers as he shrugged. "I came for the wedding. I'm not staying."

Regina quelled an unreasonable disappointment.

So it didn't matter how he looked at her, really. She leaned down to dig the bottom of her glass into the sand. It didn't matter what he thought. After tonight, she'd never see him again. She could say anything she wanted. She could do...

Her breath caught in her throat. Anything she wanted.

She straightened, flushed and dizzy. Okay, that was the wine talking. Loneliness, and the wine. She wouldn't ever really--She couldn't actually be considering--

She stumbled to her feet.

"Easy." He caught her hand, supporting her.

"Not usually," she muttered.

His grip tightened as he stood. "What?"

She shook her head again, heat crawling in her face. "Nothing. Let me go. I need to take a walk."

"I'll go with you."

She wet her lips. "Bad idea."

He lifted an eyebrow. He did it beautifully. She wondered if he practiced in the mirror. "Better than you turning an ankle on those rocks."

"I'll be fine."

To anyone watching from the tent, they must look like lovers, standing hand in hand at the surf's edge. Her heart thumped. She tried to tug away.

His gaze dropped to their clasped hands. His fingers tightened. "You are warded."

She scowled at him, aroused and confused. "What are you talking about?"

He ran his thumb along the inside of her wrist, over her tattoo. Could he feel her pulse go wild? "This."

Regina swallowed, watching his thumb stroke over the dark lines, the pale skin. "My tatt? It's the Celtic sign for the triple goddess. A female empowerment thing."

"It is a triskelion." He traced the three flowing, connected spirals with his finger. "Earth, air, and sea, bound together in a circle. A powerful ward." He looked up at her, his eyes dark and serious.

Too serious. She felt a jolt in her stomach that might have been nerves or desire.

"So, I'm safe," she said breathlessly.

His beautiful mouth curved in the moonlight. "As safe as you want to be."

Goosebumps tingled along her arms. She shivered, as exposed as if she stood naked by a window.

"Safe works for me," she said. Or it had until recently. "I have responsibilities."

"Not any longer. Caleb told you not to work tonight."

Regina blinked. He'd heard that? He was watching her with his brother?

Caution flickered. She hadn't been aware of an audience. She hadn't been aware of him at all except as Caleb's brother, a tall, dark presence at the back of the wedding, on the edges of the celebration.

Her toes curled into the sand.

She was aware of him now. He was barely touching her, only that light grip on her wrist, and yet she felt the heat of him all along her body. His eyes glittered black in the moonlight, absorbing the light, absorbing the air, growing bigger, darker, enormous as he leaned close, closer, tempting her with that well-cut mouth, teasing her with the promise of his kiss. His breath skated across her lips. She tasted wine and something else--dark, salt, elusive--heard a rushing in her ears like the sea. She opened her mouth to breathe, and he bent over her and covered her mouth firmly, warmly, with his.

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