Former Army Ranger, Max Harper didn’t know the young woman playing fetch on the beach with his therapy dog—but he wanted to. From his first meeting with Holiday Jones, her fresh beauty and soft heart swept him away. The wounded veteran knew he wanted forever with Holiday. There is just one small problem. She thinks he’s someone he’s not. When his down-to-earth Holiday learns who Max really is, love might not be enough—for no matter how generous a woman’s heart, it’s difficult to forgive deception.
My playmate cocks his head, drops his driftwood and bounds toward a break in the sea grape hedge. As I watch, I see why. At the end of a path of pavers that run from the nearest big house to the beach, a man stands—tall and golden in a pair of long white cargo shorts and a ripped t-shirt that ends just above his midriff and has ‘Ranger Up’ emblazoned across the chest. A flash of light glints off one of those silent dog whistles on a cord around his neck. The sun backlights his silhouette and shadows his features. From the behavior of the Lab, this is the beloved owner.
He must be the caretaker. No one lives in these beach homes during the summer. They are boarded up with hurricane shutters over their windows and doors—like this one. I can see the massive shutters on the big house behind him from here. I raise my hand in a friendly wave and walk toward him. I want to tell him what a lovely dog he has and maybe make plans for another play-date.
“I love your dog,” I call. “What’s his name?”
As I get nearer, the man’s features become visible. Wow...seriously…wow. Six-three at least and spare, like a swimmer or a cyclist, with unkempt brown hair worn long and styled by the ocean breeze. A smile played at the corners of a full mouth on a tanned face striking in its masculine strength, but his eyes did me in. They never left mine and you knew, you just knew from the cautious pain dwelling inside those hazel depths—this gorgeous man had been terribly hurt. How? By what?
“Hi,” I chirp and give him a little wave. “My name’s Holiday Jones and I adore your dog. This is your dog, right?”
He grins revealing a mouth of even, perfectly white teeth and nods. “Yeah.” He holds out his hand. “Max.”
I return his grin and shake his hand. Okay, wow. Warm, elegant hands with a gentle grip. Soulful eyes. Handsome face. Below my navel, Miss Kitty does a happy dance. Carl, sweetie, I’m moving on.
“Well, Max, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I was having an epic sinking spell, think Titanic, until this guy turned up.” I leaned down to scruff the Lab behind the ears and looked up at his owner. “He lifted my spirits. It’s impossible to be in a bad mood around him.”
Max’s smile widened and he nodded.
“What’s his name?”
I tilt my head and cover the Lab’s ears with my hands. I try not to use bad language in front of impressionable youth and the pup’s too young to hear what I’m about to say. “Excuse me? As in the anagram, Situation Normal All Fucked Up?” I whisper.
Max’s smile spread to his eyes. “Yeah.”
“That’s a terrible name.”
Max lifted one shoulder in a shrug.
I straighten with a laugh. “Would you mind if I come back tomorrow to see Snafu? My days are free for a while and, well, he cheers me up.” I watch his mouth carefully form words.
“Sure. What time?”
I thought for moment. “Is 7:00 too early?”
His eyebrows flew up, but he shook his head. “No. 7:00 it is.”
“Thanks so much. See you tomorrow...Max, Snafu. I’ll bring a Frisbee. Does Snafu play Frisbee?” Max nods. “Great, good…and, ah…yeah, okay…tomorrow.” I wave and back away
grinning like a lunatic, unwilling to lose eye contact with this gorgeous man. Max watches right back until I have to turn toward the beach or risk looking totally ga-ga, smitten and seriously uncool. I walk a little way down the beach and glance back. I can’t help myself. I am totally ga-ga, uncool, smitten. I don’t care. Max and Snafu are walking toward the big house that overlooks this part of the beach. Max places each step with exaggerated care and my exuberant, boisterous playmate walks quietly at his side like a gray-muzzled pensioner. Hmm. Even the dog thinks Max is fragile. There’s a story here and I want to know what it is.