And Then Forever (Excerpt)

Chapter One

Darcy Williams had come barreling into the world two weeks early, all lungs and legs and attitude, as her mother had often told everyone from the mailman to the checkout clerk. Darcy had been headstrong and stubborn, the kind of girl who spent more time in the principal’s office than in a classroom. From day one, her mother had thrown up her hands and given up trying to corral her wild child. Darcy didn’t care. She’d much rather make her own rules than live under someone else’s. Because if there was one thing she’d learned growing up in the historic and stodgy town of Plymouth, it was this: There were a lot of rules made by people with more money than sense.

Darcy had been labeled as one of those “wrong side of the tracks” girls, though there’d never been any real railroad tracks near her house, just a general sense of despair, as if even the houses had given up on living up to the lofty example set by the tony neighborhoods further north. When she’d been a little girl, Darcy hadn’t noticed that dividing line. It wasn’t until sixth grade that she noticed there was a whole other world outside her own, one where the boys wore khakis and blazers, and the girls sported shiny ribbons in their hair and shoes as pristine as newly painted walls. Then there’d been Darcy and her friends, wearing hand-me-downs and carrying peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in paper bags reused so often, they had permanent creases. The kids in their pressed shirts and shiny shoes didn’t understand—couldn’t possibly understand—what life was really like when you were living in a double-wide surrounded by weeds.

On the days when Darcy found her mother passed out in the recliner, an empty amber bottle on the folding table beside her, Darcy would hop on her bike, cut through the busy Plymouth tourist traffic, pedaling hard and fast, almost out of breath, until she reached the seawall that curved away from the Massachusetts coastline like an arm reaching into the sea. She would walk all the way to the end, past the spot where the tourists stopped—at the point where the wind and waves crashed over the rocky path and turned it treacherous. Darcy always ventured as far as she could, because there she knew she could see the very tip of Fortune’s Island, nestled in the crook of the elbow of Massachusetts, like a protected kitten.

Fortune’s Island was the forgotten stepchild of the islands surrounding the humble state where Pilgrims first landed. It lacked the uppercrust visitors of Martha’s Vineyard, and the haughty attitude of Nantucket. For generations Fortune’s Island had been one of the best kept secrets in Cape Cod Bay, far from the tourist traffic its southern cousins attracted.

Then Brewster Matheson came along, a self-made man who practically sweated money, and decided to turn Fortune’s Island into something worth visiting. He’d been named honorary mayor, renamed it from its old moniker of Gull Island, and been, for a time, revered as the island’s benefactor. For a while, the island had been theit place for the wealthy who lay on the beach and complained in weary tones about how commercial the Vineyard had become. Then, like all things “hot,” Fortune’s Island hit its peak as a destination, then began to fall off in favor of the next big thing.

Fortune’s Island never quite achieved Brewster’s vision, but it still did a reasonable amount of business, collecting its fair share of tourists in the peak season, and a regular round of residents who battened down the hatches in the winter, suffering through the gale force winds and whipping waves for the chance at another spectacular spring.

On those tearful afternoons when Darcy would run away from everything in her life that didn’t understand her, she would set her eyes on Fortune’s Island. She’d sit on the hard rock wall, staring out at the speck in the ocean, watching the ferry putter back and forth between Fortune’s Island and Plymouth Bay, and dream of escape. By the time she was seventeen, her mother had sat down at the kitchen table with a liter of scotch, a carton of Marlboros, and a pen, and finally given Darcy the one gift she wanted—a signature on the papers that would let Darcy graduate early and set her free.

A week later, Darcy had loaded everything she owned into the back of a Nissan hatchback older than she was, then caught the ferry to Fortune’s Island. She’d celebrated her eighteenth birthday on the island a month later and had been there ever since, seven-plus years of long, harsh winters bookended by spectacular springs and breathtaking falls. Her first job had been her only job—waitressing at The Love Shack, a glorified shed that sat twenty yards from where the ferry docked, and the best place to catch a party on Fortune’s Island, regardless of the date on the calendar.

That was where she was, pretty much every day of the week after four, working until closing. Anyone else would have developed the rocker lifestyle—sleeping till noon, then hurrying to get her crap together before her shift started—but Darcy had other priorities, ones she had never expected to have when she’d first crossed the ocean and landed here. But life had a way of throwing curveballs, and redirecting a person.

Her mother had resented being “chained to a job and a roof,” and told Darcy a thousand times that in the future, she too would resent those restrictions. Seven years ago, Darcy would have agreed. Then she got a taste of a life that was predictable, one where there was always a light welcoming her home at the end of the day. It wasn’t so bad. Not bad at all.

So these days, Darcy grabbed a handful of hours of sleep every night, the rare nap, and did her best to keep all those slippery balls of her world going in a constant juggle. It wasn’t the easiest existence, but it was the best one she knew how to have. She lived in a little house no bigger than a speck of dust on the curve of Fortune’s southern neck, far enough to get a little privacy from the tourists but close enough to walk to town and work. On the days when she worried that she was sagging her way toward thirty, she’d ride her bike and try to make a half-assed stab at exercise. She still had a bit of a rebellious streak, but for the most part kept herself in check and kept her crap together, because she had things in her life far more important than all those rules that used to seem so important to ignore.

Today was one of those days. It had been an oh-shit moment when she’d gotten out of the shower and caught her naked reflection in the bathroom mirror. Too many burgers after her shift, way too many beers in her early twenties, and a little laziness that crept into her days when the weather warmed and her beach chair beckoned.

Darcy wrestled her bike into the rusting, bent bike rack behind The Love Shack, ignoring the stench of the dumpster. She draped her lock over the frame, trying to make it look like she hadn’t forgotten the key again. Then she headed into the dim interior, her scuffed cowboy boots crunching on the sand that formed a perpetual path across the plank floors.

“Hey, Darce,” said Whit as she passed the hostess station. “You’re in early.”

Darcy leaned over and gave Whit a one-armed hug. When she’d moved here, Whit Matheson—a direct descendant of Brewster he was proud to say—and his wife Grace had become her defacto parents, and she loved them more than she loved pretty much anybody. They had two kids of their own, Jillian and Carter, who both worked at The Love Shack, and were the siblings Darcy had never had, complete with the teasing and kitschy Christmas gifts. If someone had asked her to draw a picture of the perfect family, it would be every last one of the Mathesons. They weren’t blood, but they might as well have been in Darcy’s book. “Couldn’t wait to see you, Whit.”

He chuckled at that. “Right. Wouldn’t have anything to do with the cake shipment that arrived from the mainland this afternoon, would it?”

Once a week, The Love Shack got a load of cakes from a small bakery over in Plymouth. They were like heaven on a plate, and the one indulgence Darcy figured was worth the bike ride. “Might have something to do with it.”

Whit nodded toward the swinging door at the back. “There’s already a slice in there with your name on it. Gracie set it aside first thing.”

Darcy gave Whit another hug and pressed a quick, loud kiss to his cheek. “And that’s why I love you two.”

“Quit sucking up,” Jillian said, as she sailed up to the hostess station and deposited a stack of menus in the bin. “You know you’re not in the will.”

Darcy grinned. “Who says you are?”

“DNA.” Jillian corralled Darcy with an arm around her shoulders and started walking with her toward the kitchen. The Love Shack was nearly ready for opening. The room was filled with wooden tables topped with freshly cleaned vinyl tablecloths and a collection of salt and pepper shakers that ranged from kissing frogs to nestled pairs of lovebirds. On the back wall, tattered and fading dollar bills decorated with dark black markers told the tale of hundreds of relationships, some over, some so fresh the ink had barely dried on the bill. Legend had it that if you put the name of your true love on a bill and stapled it to the wall, you’d guarantee a lifetime of happiness together. As far Darcy could tell, the legend’s rate of success was about 50/50, but that didn’t stop people from adding to the wall.

Somewhere in there, was one of Darcy’s own dollars, a crazy moment long in the past. Most days, she forgot about the bill, about her silly declaration scrawled across George Washington’s beatific face.

Today, for some reason, Darcy’s gaze strayed to the weathered buck stapled to the plank wall, one of dozens and dozens just like it. In the seven years it had been there, it had faded a bit, but the dark markered words seemed to still leap off the pale green background.

D Will Love K 4-Eva

She could still remember writing the words, in those days when she’d been foolish enough to believe that fairy tales came true for girls like her. Star-crossed lovers finding happiness and all that crap.

“So…tell me all about your date last night,” Jillian said.

“Didn’t happen.” Darcy shrugged. “I should have known better than to hook up with a lander.”

Landers. That’s what they called the people who lived a half-hour ferry ride away. It might as well have been a different world, far removed from the quirky island world that Darcy loved. The landers inhabited that khakis and shiny shoes world. The same group of wealthy people who populated the island during the summer months, to avoid the crowds in the Vineyard. For the most part, the landers stuck to their own little cliques, but every once in a while, one became human, as Darcy called it, and popped into The Love Shack.

“Besides, I don’t need a man in my life,” Darcy went on. “I have a big supply of batteries.”

Jillian laughed. “Honey, batteries don’t warm your bed at night.”

“They also don’t leave the toilet seat up and track dirt on my floors. Use ‘em, put ‘em back in the drawer and still have total domination over the remote control afterwards.” Darcy grinned.

“If the only thing you want to dominate is a remote control, then I think we better get you a date. Soon.” Jillian flashed her left hand and wiggled the finger and the diamond she’d sported for a year. “Nothing like a steady man in your life to keep you busy at night.”

Jillian’s fiancé was a singer in a local band that performed a few nights a week at The Love Shack. They’d been together for nearly eight years, though it seemed to Darcy if Zach was that into Jillian, he would have married her already. He’d spent a long time dithering about even getting a ring, and was stalling even more on a wedding date. Darcy liked men who knew what they wanted, who didn’t wander around a decision. A man who wouldn’t let her down when she needed him most. A man who could stand toe-to-toe with her. And at five-foot-seven, sometimes that alone was a challenge. “I don’t need a steady man. What I need right now is cake.”

“You and me, sister.” Jillian pushed on the swinging door that led to the kitchen. A second later, they had dished up two slices, then sat at the stainless steel counter in the kitchen and devoured them in blissful silence. That was the best thing about Jillian—she was the kind of friend who knew when to lend a listening ear and when to hand over a second fork and a heapload of sugar.

Grace came bustling into the kitchen, a sixty-year-old powerhouse at five-foot-two, with short curly gray hair and a sassy attitude ten feet tall. When a customer got out of line at The Love Shack, it was Grace who more often than not rebuked with a single stern look, and if that wasn’t enough, she’d send them packing. She was the kind of woman who believed in second chances, unfettered forgiveness and deep-seated love, and she was more mom to Darcy than her own mother ever had been. And now, it was too late to hope for that second chance.

“I see you girls found the cake delivery.” Grace grinned. “I helped myself to a piece earlier. It’s a wonder we ever have any left for the customers.”

“We’re saving the rest, we promise,” Darcy said.

“Only because it’s time to drag out the bathing suits again. That means we should be watching what we eat, at least until the summer ends.” Jillian sighed and pushed her empty plate away. “Four months of abstinence so we can have flat bellies, then we start the holiday eating frenzy.”

“My favorite time of year,” Darcy said. Especially because it was the time of year when Grace made her amazing salted caramel shortbreads, a treat reserved for Christmas. Darcy picked up the plates, and loaded them into the dishwasher. “Speaking of the season, it’s picked up a lot here the last few days.”

The season needed no explanation. It was the time of year when the tourists began to arrive, flooding Fortune’s Island like shells washed in by a storm. They were the bread-and-butter of the local economy, giving almost every business on the island the bulk of its annual income in a three-month window. From June to September, Fortune’s Island hummed with constant visitors, which meant The Love Shack would be humming, too. Not with the rich people who kept to the north, but with everyone else who rented the small cottages that dotted the southern end of the island. Darcy counted on the season for paying her bills, and maybe putting a little aside for a winter vacation when Fortune’s Island became a ghost town. She didn’t need much—never had, probably never would—and kept her expenses low. There was money enough, she’d always figured, when she needed it most. Darcy only had one priority, and as long as she had enough for that, everything else was gravy.

“Cooter told me he’s expecting full ferry loads from here till Monday. Lots of mainlanders coming over early for the Fourth.”

“Best get to work, then.” Darcy slid off the stool, grabbed her short black apron from a hook, and tucked an order pad and handful of pens in the front pocket. She and Jillian spent the next fifteen minutes checking all the tables, making sure the salt was full and the ketchup ready, until the first customers strolled in a little after four.

Darcy loved the rhythm of her job, the constant pace of taking orders, hurrying to the kitchen to give them to Lenny, the cook, then sliding a stack of plates onto one arm and hurrying back out again to deliver. Time passed quickly when The Love Shack was busy, the air filled with the sound of laughter and whatever pop tune someone had picked on the jukebox. It was predictable and hectic, two things that matched Darcy’s constant frenzied pace. And casual enough that she could stop in the middle and dance with a customer or take a quick turn on the stage with the band.

A college kid was leaning over the jukebox, arguing with his girlfriend about who John Lennon was, which just made Darcy shake her head and wonder about the fate of humanity when it was in the hands of kids who had no idea who the Beatles were.

The kid punched in a number and a second later, a Beyonce hit boomed from the jukebox’s speakers. Jillian spun away from the hostess station. “Come on, Darcy, dance with me!”

Jillian grabbed Darcy’s free hand, and the two of them fast-stepped in a quick circle by the jukebox. Darcy kept the tray balanced above her head on the other hand, keeping her steps sure and fast, the tray straight. A second later, two of their regular customers joined in, with the usual hooting and hollering that started a night at The Love Shack. The party was underway, before sundown—exactly how Darcy liked it. She loved the wild nights at The Love Shack, the way her job felt more like a constant celebration than work.

She spun one more time with Jillian, then they broke apart, laughing, and giving each other a last hip bump before heading off to their respective tables. Just as Darcy turned toward table seven, the door to the restaurant opened, and the last bit of afternoon sun hit the floor, flooding along the wood like an instant gold river.

And Kincaid Foster walked into Darcy’s life, as easily as he’d walked out of it. Just like that.

She’d have recognized him anywhere, even though it had been seven years since she’d seen him last. Her heart stopped, and the perpetual motion that made up Darcy’s life came to a halt.

“Waitress? Hey, is that my burger? I’d like to eat today, you know.”

The voice drew Darcy back to the present. To her job. To the tray balanced on one hand. To the food getting cold while she stood here, letting Kincaid Foster have some kind of effect on her. Which he no longer did. Not at all.

She spun to the right, deposited said burger in front of a burly guy with a beard, then headed over to table seven to take their drink orders. Still, her peripheral vision kept straying to Kincaid, watching as he waited for his eyes to adjust to the dim interior, then headed across the room to the bar. He never even looked her way once.

That stung a bit, she had to admit. They’d been something once—or at least she had thought they were, until Kincaid let her go as easily as letting the wind snatch away a tissue. She’d thought he would fight for her, that she meant more than that, but…

It had taken her a year to get over him, maybe more, but she was now.

Over him. For sure.

“Uh, what did you say you wanted to order again?” she asked the middle-aged couple seated at the four-top before her. She readied a pen and her order pad, but her gaze strayed again to Kincaid. Damn, he looked good.

Still tall, muscular, with the kind of broad shoulders that seemed to welcome a heavy load. His dark hair was a little long, and one wave hooked over his right brow. She knew his hazel eyes, knew them as well as her own, knew the definition of his hands, the way his smile could make an entire room disappear.

“Miss? Miss?”

Darcy turned back. Again. “Um, sorry. What can I get you?”

The woman’s face filled with annoyance. “A menu? You seated us and said you’d be right back with menus. That was ten minutes ago. Can’t tell you what we want to eat until we know what you have to eat.”

“Oh, oh, right, sorry.” Darcy snagged two menus from the hostess station and brought them back to the table. Then she beelined for the kitchen, her brain as frazzled as a summer storm.

Before Darcy got more than a foot inside the door, Jillian was grabbing her arm and hauling her to the side. “Did you see who just walked in?”>

Darcy scowled. Did the man wear a neon sign around his neck or something? “A whole bunch of customers waiting on food.”

“And Kincaid Foster.”

“I saw him.”

“And?”

“And he’s here.” She gave a casual shrug. “What’s the big deal?”

Jillian arched a brow. “You don’t care?”

“Of course not. He and I are in the past. Theway past. Hell, I was barely out of high school. I hardly remember him.”

“Uh-huh. Then why are you hiding out in the kitchen?”

“I’m not hiding out. I’m waiting for an order.” She leaned against the counter and feigned impatience with the kitchen staff. “For, uh, table seven.”

Jillian grinned. “You just seated table seven. They haven’t ordered yet.”

Darcy sighed. “Okay, yes, maybe I am taking a breather in here. I just didn’t expect to see him. Ever again.”

“His family does have a house on the island.”

“That they haven’t visited in more than a decade.” Not that Darcy had been paying attention. Not one bit.

“True.” Jillian crossed her arms. “Wonder why he’s back.”

“Well, I don’t.”

Lenny put a heaping plate of buffalo wings on the warming shelf. “Order up, Darce. Table four.”

Thank God. The last thing Darcy wanted to do was stand here discussing a man who was ancient history. They were over, done. Had been for a long damned time. He was probably married to some pretty little socialite who wore twinsets and dressed their four kids in matching outfits from some designer baby offshoot.       

She pushed the swinging door and headed out to the dining room. The party was ramping up as the room filled with college kids on summer break. They lingered around the jukebox in a pack, sipping at beers that dangled from their fingertips. The girls had on bikinis and sheer dresses, even though temperatures hadn’t quite hit the eighties yet. The boys hung a little behind the girls, watching their hips sway to the music.

An old Simple Plan song came on the jukebox, pounding out the lyrics to “Addicted,” with a heavy bass. For a second, Darcy was back in that summer after she graduated, that magical summer when it seemed like everything was going to be perfect.

That same summer when she’d scrawled a promise on a dollar bill, oblivious to how her life was going to change days later.

Darcy’s gaze shot to the bar, but Kincaid was sitting there, nursing a beer, his back to her. If he recognized the song on the juke, he gave no sign. She decided the song was just a coincidence, not some crazy sign.        

“Hey, darlin’, fancy seeing you here.” Joey Herman, who had been a customer almost as long as Darcy had been a waitress, draped an arm over her shoulder. He was tall, had those chiseled good looks that got him a date without much more effort than a smile, and an easygoing attitude that offered as much welcome as a fresh-baked loaf of bread. He was one of Darcy’s regulars, always opting to sit at table six, where he had a good view of the bar, and a close ear to the stage for the bands that came on weekends.

“You know I don’t want to be anywhere else.” Except tonight, with Kincaid Foster lingering in her peripheral vision like a bad dream.

“Good thing for me.” Joey gave her shoulder a little squeeze. “So when are we going to go out?”

She laughed. “When you quit asking me.”

Joey chuckled. He had a deep, infectious laugh, the kind that made others turn and look at them, as if they wondered what they were missing. “If I quit asking, that defeats the purpose of you realizing I’m your one true love.”

Joey was a nice guy, but also a notorious womanizer who might as well have your one true love printed on his business cards, given how often he used the phrase.

“Defeating your evil purposes is exactly my plan. Now, what do you want on your burger tonight?” As she spoke, Darcy stepped deftly to the left, grabbing some menus and slipping away from Joey in one move. She liked Joey, but refused to be his four hundredth date of the year. She knew how to flirt just enough to boost a tip, and when to pull back before someone got the wrong idea. Waitressing, she had learned early on, was a lot like dancing, with the fancy foot moves and the relationships that lasted no longer than a song.

And it was a dance Darcy liked. The kind with no commitment, no broken promises, no men in her life to screw up the very good thing she had going. She had everything figured out, or at least as close to that as she could get, and she wasn’t going to change that just because one man had arrived on Fortune’s Island.

The Simple Plan song gave way to one by Avril Lavigne, and she shifted her attention away from Kincaid, away from a past that was going to stay where it was, stuck to the wall, dusty and forgotten.

And Then Forever

And Then Forever

Author:
Series: Fortune's Island, Book 1
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Welcome to Fortune’s Island, where the only rule is to follow your heart. Love is an extravagance Darcy Williams can’t afford. She prefers the simple life, which includes waitressing at The Love Shack and avoiding temptation. But when a forbidden part of her past steps off the ferry, her safe, guarded existence is turned upside down. More info →
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