Goodbye To You Excerpt
Lightning, like long skeletal fingers, streaked down from the heavens. Thunder boomed so close and loud, the panels of the window rattled, and an involuntary shudder found its way down Samantha Holt’s spine. Was it an omen? Perhaps. At one time, she would have believed so. At one time, she’d believed a lot of things—but not anymore. That was the past.
The sliding doors of the clinic mocked her unwillingness to leave. Once she walked out those doors, she would have to put the past behind her and start all over. She wasn’t so sure she wanted to do that. How was she supposed to forget and go on as if nothing had ever happened? As if there had never been a Michael in her life? The sting of ever-present tears pricked her lids, and she blinked them away.
“Just a few short steps and you’re free. Free to be whoever you choose to be from this moment forward.”
Although Dr. Stephen Montgomery stood a few feet away, his words still startled her. His deep voice, always welcoming and kind, drew her close. He’d been with her from the beginning when she was admitted to the hospital eight months before. Had it really been that long since Michael’s accident? Eight months?
“I can’t do it, Stephen. I can’t walk out that door today.”
“Why?” he asked, though she suspected he might already know the answer.
Indignation surged through her. The feeling of being misunderstood, mocked, and helpless all rolled about in her chest, nearly suffocating her. He only meant to help. She was intelligent enough to realize his aim. Still, it didn’t make her any less angry.
“Don’t pull that doctor BS on me. You damned well know why!” Anxiety began to build in her, making her edgy and raw. “I’m expected to go out into a world of people who saw—and will still see me—as a lunatic. They’ll watch me and wait for me to do something stupid again. How am I supposed to live under that kind of pressure? People judging me all the time?”
She gulped in a breath. “Also, I hate storms. I fucking hate lightning and thunder and the fear of being struck down.” Raging was her release when she was frightened, as Stephen was well aware. There wasn’t much he didn’t know about her. Sometimes, it frustrated the hell out of them both.
He gripped her arms, giving her a gentle shake. “Stop it, Samantha. You’ve come too far. Do you remember what it was like when you first arrived here? What you were like? You were practically catatonic. You had no will to live. Now that’s changed. You’re a living, feeling human being again. You’re experiencing fears and misgivings. That’s normal. That’s progress. You aren’t the empty shell you were.”
Her voice was a mere whisper as she said, “I’m scared.”
“I wish you could see yourself the way I see you. I’ve seen your passion for living spark back to life. You’re intelligent. Funny. I’ve caught glimpses of the person you want to become. The person we both know you can become. You only have to learn to believe in yourself again. No one can force you to do that in here. You have to pull that from deep within yourself.” Something flashed in his eyes, but it flitted away before she could interpret it. Something fierce. Intense. An emotion uncomfortable to witness. He dropped his arms and shifted his gaze to the window, watching nature’s light show. His voice was much softer when he said, “I believe in you, Samantha. Believe in yourself.”
“What if I can’t?” As she glanced around her, she saw none of the bustle of the hospital or the staff. She remembered another time, another place, another life…
Saturdays were always crowded in Flagler Beach. Finding a parking spot close to the pier was next to impossible, and Sammy had to walk quite a few blocks to where her friends converged. When she saw the group, she groaned aloud.
Rob Marks. Who the hell had invited him?
Sammy couldn’t catch a break. Rob was always hanging around, trying to get her to go out on a date. Whenever he was within ten feet of her, her skin would crawl and warning signals would light up her brain. The guy was bad news. Now, she would spend the day fighting the urge to wear a head-to-toe cover-up. Why he couldn’t accept no for an answer was beyond her. She wanted to wear a PSA sign stating, “No Means No!”
Sammy stopped on the boardwalk and scanned the group in hopes she’d find a friend to run interference for her. Someone jostled her on the steps.
“Stop hogging the stairs, Lil’ Bit.”
The rough voice elicited her scream, and she spun around. Without meaning to, she nailed her brother in the stomach with her oversized green-and-white-striped beach bag. If the “umph” she heard was any indication, she’d gotten him good.
“Jamie!” Unable to contain her bubbling joy, she flung her arms around him and hugged him tight.
As James spun her around, she caught her first glimpse of the man leaning against the railing. His casual stance, legs crossed at the ankles with hands resting behind him against the weathered wood, drew her full attention. Sammy might have warned the stranger to be careful of splinters if she could form a coherent sentence. As it was, she was gobsmacked.
“Damn! He’s hot!”
Both James and his friend burst out laughing at her blunder. She’d forgotten her filter and blurted it aloud. A warm flush started at her feet and moved to her face in point-six seconds. Sammy happened to be an all-over body blusher. It made for awkward moments such as these. One day, she would learn to think first and speak second, or at least she hoped she would.
“I mean it’s hot. Today. The sun.” It earned her another laugh from James at her expense. In an attempt to cover her slip, she turned back to her brother. “I thought you weren’t expected until later today?”
“We decided to take turns driving and pushed through the night.”
“Driving? Not flying?”
“No, we were hauling our bikes.” James bent to remove new-looking motorcycle boots. “Mom said we’d just missed you. We got to the house about five minutes after you left. I wanted to show you my new Harley, so Michael and I unloaded then came straight here. We figured we could sleep on the beach. What took you so long? Looks like we all arrived at the same time.”
“I didn’t realize yours were the bikes I heard when I pulled in.” The only thing that rivaled the sound of the waves crashing to the shore were the motorcyclists zooming up and down the coastal highway on their throaty Harleys.
Sammy laughed and held up the bundle dangling from her fingers. “Anyway, you know I can’t come to the beach without snacks and sunscreen. I had to pop in to the store. But now you're here, I have a favor. I need your friend to be my boyfriend.”
At the choking sound, she glanced at Michael, who went pale before turning a brilliant shade of red. At this rate, neither of them would need the sun, because they were getting enough color with her stupid mouth embarrassing them both.
“Yeah, no,” James stressed, pausing in stripping off his bike gear. “You’re jailbait.”
“Okay, A—you know I am perfectly legal. Only four years younger than you, I might add. B—it’s not like I want him forever.” Liar! She’d taken one look and was smitten, but they didn’t need to know that. “I just want him to pretend to be my boyfriend for today. It’s to keep one of the guys down there from bothering me.”
As if to emphasize her desperate need, Rob jogged up to where they gathered, and started his harassment of her. Okay, maybe he only intended to say hi, but she really didn’t like the guy. His creep factor was high and left her feeling as if a good skin scrubbing was in order. Rob breathing the same air as her felt like harassment.
Michael stepped forward and dropped his arm across her shoulders. The cold stare he focused on Rob was enough to give even the dullest-witted person a clue.
Sammy’s sigh was impossible to contain, and she beamed up at Michael. In that instant, she lost her heart completely. A jolt of recognition cemented her initial impression of when he’d first touched her. Nothing could explain the sense of familiarity he had created by putting his arm around her shoulders. A crystal-clear vision of the future formed in her mind. She was almost breathless with the knowledge that this man would be very important to her world. The butterflies in her belly seconded the impression.
Michael chose that moment to glance down and grin.
Her heart stuttered. The lethal combination of shaggy dark blond hair, warm-honey eyes, and dimples almost did her in. Those looks, along with his hard jawline and the two-day growth, turned Sammy’s knees to jello. The dude was seriously gorgeous.
“Who the hell are you?” Rob demanded.
Unfortunately, she’d given him more credit than was his due. Instead of respecting Sammy’s boundaries, Rob became belligerent. His attitude proved once and for all that he was dumber than a box of rocks.
The air became charged, and the change to Michael’s and James’s stances was downright aggressive. All that was left was for one of them to beat on his chest, neanderthal style.
She was a bit disappointed when it didn’t happen.
“Sammy’s boyfriend. Is there a problem?” Michael’s voice could only be described as Southern drawl laced with a hint of steel. Shivers skated along her spine when he spoke.
“I… she… we… no, no problem,” Rob stammered in his anger. The resentful glare he shot her way chilled her, and she almost felt sick to her stomach. A sharp pain caused her lower abdominal muscles to clench. Again with the premonitions. He intended to stir up mischief, and not the fun kind. Sooner rather than later, unless she missed her guess.
“Sammy, you watch yourself around him. I get the impression he’s the spiteful kind, out to cause trouble,” James warned when Rob took the hint and left. “I mean it. Be careful to never be alone with him.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice. He makes my skin crawl.” She snuggled closer into her new bodyguard because he hadn’t dropped his arm yet.
“For show.” She grinned up at him.
His answering grin and “uh huh” made her laugh.
“Don’t get too comfy, sis. We have to head back to school in a week, and you’re still jailbait.”
“I’m nineteen, you tool!”
Both men chuckled.
Once again, her body flushed in reaction.
Michael hadn’t given much thought to meeting Sammy. She was, after all, his best friend’s kid sister. Bro code meant hands-off. What he hadn’t expected—and what alarmed him—was the instant attraction he felt for her.
Normally, Michael was quiet by nature, so he suspected James hadn’t noticed when he was struck mute by Sammy’s natural beauty. It was as if her ice-blue eyes could see through him. See directly into his soul. He gave an internal shudder.
But with her hair so dark as to almost be black, lips made for nibbling kisses… No, it was better not to let his mind think about the pleasure to be found in those full pink lips of hers.
His immediate angry reaction to the guy who’d approached their group was disturbing. The urge to stake a claim and physically hurt the kid had been overpowering. Acting on instinct, Michael had thrown his arm around Sammy before her brother could take charge of the situation and send the little pissant packing. Michael hadn’t waited. He doubted he’d have been able to.
But he’d done it now. By declaring himself Sammy’s boyfriend, he had set himself up for a week of torture. Her curvy little body had him sweating faster than the Florida sun. There was little doubt he’d be in close proximity to her throughout the next ten days. James wouldn’t forego spending time with his beloved sister.
His friend’s “jailbait” comments were a definitive reminder for Michael to keep his hands to himself. The fierce stare James directed at him now required fast thinking. He was tired from the long drive and had nothing, so he simply shrugged. The dry look his friend shot him concurred with Michael’s inner voice that he was an idiot for getting involved. Also, he should’ve received a medal for the willpower it took not to watch Sammy’s pert little ass walk away.
“Come on, let’s strip down to our suits and enjoy the beach.”
Michael was never more glad to have James change the subject. He suspected the blonde hottie talking to Sammy provided the real reason. Unable to resist getting some of his own back, Michael said, “Now that sweet little thing talking to your sister? Son, she is jailbait.”
The fist to his arm wasn’t unexpected and would surely leave a bruise, but he couldn’t help his laughter.
A short time later, as he came out of the water, Michael noticed Sammy as she rested on her stomach and chatted with the young blonde. Feeling a bit mischievous, he stood over Sammy and shook like a dog, effectively soaking her. Her struggle to rise while maintaining control of the tiny bikini top—which she’d untied after lying down—gave him the much-needed time to escape.
Michael jogged backwards into the water up to his knees, just out of her reach. “Sammy Darlin’, don’t be mad. I was only having a bit of fun. You looked like you needed cooling off.” Laughing, he dodged this way and that with his body and words as she swung at him.
Sammy stopped her actions and nodded politely to someone behind him. Curious, he glanced over his right shoulder.
The running attack caught him off-guard, and the impact propelled him much farther back into the water. She accompanied her prize-winning tackle with a vicious pinch to his ass cheek. His yelp brought with it a mouthful of water.
When Michael surfaced, Sammy was floating on her back, kicking away from him. Wicked delight was written all over her face.
“Michael Darlin’, don’t be mad,” she mocked before she jackknifed and dove under as another wave crested.
He had to admire her. He truly did. She reminded him of a mermaid. Soft and sleek. Tempting and taunting… shit! He’d lost track of her while wrapped in his sexual fantasy.