Release Date: December 7th
Available: Love Lane Books
Christmas In The Sun (Sapphire Cay book 4) written with Meredith Russell
Return to Sapphire Cay for Christmas. Lucas and Dylan invite their friends to share in their Christmas celebrations on the island along with Lucas’s sister, Tasha, and her husband. Christmas is a time for family, forgiveness, and to look to the future, and this year Dylan has to face up to all three.
Unearthing the memories of two men in love, frozen in time and buried among the history of the island, Lucas and Dylan realize that sometimes loving someone is not always enough. It’s about being brave and taking the next step. To learn from the past to move forward.
Family has always been important to Lucas since his own was struck by tragedy. Though Dylan disapproves of his methods, Lucas has nothing but good intentions about wanting Dylan to reconcile with his father. The two Grey men haven’t spoken properly in years, their relationship strained by heartache and mistakes reaching back into Dylan’s childhood. Forgiveness is a hard thing to give and sometimes even harder to receive.
Kill me now. Lucas closed his eyes, counted to three, and hoped the chaos of the morning would have vanished when he opened them. The Lambert wedding had been their largest to date. Dylan and Scott had already headed out with the first boatload of guests and were due to return within the hour. Not soon enough as far as Lucas was concerned. He hit three in his count but couldn’t bring himself to open his eyes as he heard a squeal accompanied by something smashing.
Not the vase. Please not the vase. The jade-colored ornamental pot thing had belonged to his grandmother, and though he thought it was pretty damn ugly, it still held a place in his heart.
He opened his eyes to find his grandma’s vase still sitting on the table in the entrance. He looked beyond it at the last of the Lamberts’ party. There were eight guests left in the hotel, four of whom were…kids. He wasn’t sure he’d say he hated them, just that he wasn’t predisposed with the nurturing instinct to deal with energetic youngsters. When their parents had died, Tasha had been seventeen. She had been well on the way to having her own life, and his input had mostly become about his career and money as a means of supporting her.
The parent of the child closest to the terracotta pot that had been knocked over and now lay in several pieces on the floor reprimanded her son and looked apologetically toward Lucas. Before Lucas could muster the energy to deal with the broken pottery, Agnes, their housekeeper, appeared from out of nowhere, shooing the children away as she picked up the pieces of the pot and put them into a black bag. Lucas mouthed her a thank you.
“Everything okay?” Jamie said from behind him.
Lucas glanced over his shoulder and nodded. Everybody was checked out. It was just a case of waiting for Dylan to return with the Liberty. “Give it twenty and then we’ll usher them down to the pier.”
“Cool,” Jamie said. He rested his elbows on the front desk. “Edward’s waiting it out in his room.” He smirked as he gazed across the foyer. “Kids are apparently sticky.”
Laughing, Lucas rubbed at his shoulder. “Some are.” Tasha had had a friend back in college who’d had a little boy. Lucas came home one evening to find the pair visiting Tasha. The first thing the three-year-old boy had done was run up to Lucas and hug his leg, leaving a greasy handprint on his pants.
“I’m tempted to tell him I want to adopt just to see the look on his face.”
Lucas could only imagine how Edward would cope with fitting something as unpredictable as a child into his routines. A full-on meltdown was likely. “Start easy. Maybe fish.”
Jamie laughed and checked the time. “They should be on their way back by now. Did you discuss plans for a second boat yet?”
“New boat,” Lucas pointed out. A new, bigger boat was what Lucas had in mind, but Dylan was being incredibly stubborn over the Lady Liberty. It had gotten to the stage that not even a fresh coat of paint could disguise just how tired the Liberty was. Scott’d had to work on the old engine more and more in recent months, and Lucas waited for the day where sticking the proverbial Band-Aid on would no longer be good enough.
“You’ll never get him to part with Liberty,” Jamie stated. “I know it. You know it. Dominiq knows it.”
Lucas pressed his lips in a line and distracted himself from the sudden rise in noise with trying to figure out who was older, Dominiq or the Liberty. Fondness for the chef warmed his chest. He’d be sad to see him go at the end of the season. But it seemed Dominiq would be leaving the kitchen in equally capable hands. Adam had proved to be a breath of fresh air. The man was just as passionate about his food and organic produce, but he brought with him youth and his own ideas. It was interesting to watch the two men work together. Like a well-oiled machine, they knew exactly how to work as a team, each doing what they needed to produce exquisite meals for their guests. Everyone would miss Dominiq in the kitchen and the man himself was irreplaceable. He was like this huge teddy bear, good for a hug, but also wise and fatherly.
“Mommy, potty.” The youngest of the four children who had been running in crazy airplane circles stopped and did a strange dance.
“I need to get some air,” Lucas said. He patted Jamie on the back. “Hold the fort.” He didn’t give Jamie a chance to object before moved from behind the front desk and headed outside.
Taking a deep breath, Lucas looked out across the beach and to the sea. He squinted, looking for Lady Liberty on the horizon. He couldn’t wait for the wedding party to leave so they could start on their own plans for the holidays. He took the few steps to the path and then started a slow walk around the hotel. He couldn’t believe it was already the twenty-third of December. It seemed like just yesterday they were making plans to spend Christmas with friends and family. The Lamberts had opted for a white Christmas and had planned the second part of their honeymoon back in Vermont, which had given him and Dylan the opportunity to have a wedding-free Christmas for the first time in three years, with the next wedding not booked in until the thirtieth for the New Year.
Lucas took a right and detoured into what was now commonly known as Scott’s Garden. Scott had worked incredibly hard the last two seasons in order to get the overgrown garden back under control. He had cleared the paths from weeds, thinned out the borders, and trimmed back the trees. Flowers bloomed in a rainbow’s worth of colors, interspersed with the simple beauty of white blossoms. Lucas knew very little about plants and soil and shade, but he could appreciate the effort Scott had put in to make the garden as beautiful as it was.
Checking the time, he made his way through the garden and around the back of the hotel. Tasha and Liam’s flight would get in soon. They had caught up in August as they always did when he and Dylan returned to the mainland for a short while during the stormy season in the Bahamas. She had looked good, and there was no doubt she and Liam were as much in love as the day they married. Lucas was glad to be able to spend Christmas Day with her this year.
Lucas stopped on the patio and glanced at the hotel. He couldn’t see much through the sliding doors because of the reflection of the sun, but he could make out the low din of what he guessed was the sound of the children still playing.
Should he feel bad he had left Jamie in there alone? Yes. Did he? Hell, no. Lucas was sure he’d earned ten minutes of peace after the morning from hell. If it wasn’t children running circles round him, it was the adults in the party—a lost wedding band in twelve, guests expecting breakfast despite being almost an hour late, and the kleptomaniac in nine. Who would want to try and steal a kettle? He closed his eyes and rubbed the back of his neck. He smiled as he fingered the hair at his collar.
He wore his hair longer these days. For him it was a way to embrace his new life. He may be the levelheaded, often seen as the more boring of the pair of him and Dylan, but he was enjoying the freedom Sapphire Cay offered. No set hours, no ulcers, no stress. He sighed inwardly as he corrected himself. Some stress. It just wasn’t the same day-after-day pressure he’d experienced in his former life in contracts management. Here he had a life that wasn’t work, work, work twenty-four seven. He was tanned and healthy and slept peacefully each night beside the man he loved. The man he’d one day call husband.
Sunlight caught the silver band on his right hand. They hadn’t set a date yet, always too busy making other people’s dreams come true. Besides, there was no rush. He was happy as he was. They both were. They had committed to each other, had everything they needed. Their lives were perfect and switching a ring from his right hand to his left wasn’t going to change how much they loved each other.
Lucas jumped as there was a bang on the patio door. Oh dear. Jamie was pressed up against the window, his face squashed and his hands flat on the glass. Lucas quirked an eyebrow and watched as Jamie slid downward, a child at each leg squealing with delight. Lucas smirked. At least someone was enjoying themselves.
“You’ll be cleaning that,” he said and pointed at the smudged window.
Jamie leaned back and cupped his ears.
“The window,” Lucas said slowly and loudly. He pointed again and this time Jamie shrugged and grinned before being dragged away by the playing children. Lucas sighed. His gaze drifted to the gazebo standing a little way down from the patio and pool. Had they really trusted Jamie with rebuilding that? He laughed to himself and then headed toward the kitchen.
“Good morning,” Dominiq said cheerfully as Lucas stepped through the door into the back of the kitchen. “How are we this fine day?” If Lucas didn’t know better, he’d think Dominiq had been at the rum.
Lucas leaned back against the edge of the kitchen counter. “I’m great.”
“How are our guests?”
Dominiq laughed. “I look forward to sharing a boat ride with them.” He wiped his hands on his apron and then untied it. “So, we’ve prepped what we can for your dinner. Should help Adam out a little. He’ll make everything else fresh on the day.”
“Thanks,” Lucas said. “You are still welcome to join us if you want to. Your family, too.”
Shaking his head, Dominiq folded his apron and placed it on one of the breakfast bar stools. “I need to start to pull away. Break the ties.” He flashed a smile. “Hard enough thinking of leaving this place without settling in for a cozy Christmas.”
“There’s an easy solution to that,” Lucas said.
“And what’s that?” Dominiq asked.
“Don’t leave.” Since coming to the island, Dominiq had made it so easy and comfortable. As far as Lucas was concerned, Dominiq was Sapphire Cay and everything it stood for.
Dominiq chuckled. “Not sure young Adam would agree.” At that moment the door swung open and Adam walked in. He stopped as Lucas and Dominiq both looked at him.
“What?” Adam said and glanced over his shoulder as the door shut behind him.
“Talking about you, not to you,” Dominiq chimed. He gave Adam a big grin.
Adam seemed confused but shook it off and carried on. “I’ve got the list you wanted. Claude should have it all boxed up and ready for you, but if you can just check everything off for me that would great.”
“You ever cooked a turkey?” Lucas asked, taking the list and reading over the first few items. The ink smelled fresh and the paper was still warm from the printer.
“Not one to feed eight. Have you?” Adam asked. His eyes held a playful sparkle.
Lucas looked at Adam and color heated Adam’s cheeks. Lucas couldn’t help but grin. The man had grown in confidence since joining them at the hotel fulltime. He’d even taken the brave step of questioning one of Edward’s table arrangements last month. Lucas doubted he would again. Adam had learned his lesson with that one.
“Adam will do just fine,” Dominiq said proudly.
“I know he will,” Lucas said. He’d seen the dishes Adam had produced alongside Dominiq and also alone. He was sure Adam would do a great job. Lucas just wanted everything to be perfect. He hadn’t spent Christmas Day with Tasha in a long time. Even when he was back in his former life he always seemed to be distracted with work. “Just came over a little Edwardy there for a minute.” He glanced at his watch. “You about ready, Dom?”
“Sure. Just need to get my bags.”
“Okay. See you on the pier in twenty.” Lucas left Adam and Dominiq to finish up and headed back to the foyer. Stepping out of the kitchen, he stopped, closed his eyes, and shook his head. Lucas opened his eyes and stared at the scene. Jamie was lying on the floor bench-pressing one of the boys. Muscles rippled in Jamie’s strong arms as he lifted the boy up in the air, and the boy squirmed and kicked his legs as if he were swimming in some invisible sea. Lucas sighed and made his way to the front desk. Would this morning never end?
Dylan watched Lucas wave the last of the Lamberts to their limo and grinned in support when Lucas turned and faced him and let his game face drop in exhaustion. For very understandable reasons, this last wedding had been hard on Lucas. Dylan expected it was a combination of kids and that whole end-of-the-year feeling, and he’d said so to Lucas this morning. Both agreed they were lucky that they had no wedding over Christmas and now had days in front of them to chill with family and friends.
Lucas walked over, and as he walked he became more relaxed. It was intriguing to watch. What wasn’t so cool was that Lucas was rubbing his stomach, and not for the first time, Dylan was concerned about the whole ulcer thing. Too many weddings in succession. They didn’t need to do as many, and he resolved to talk about it to his fiancé when they got back to Sapphire Cay and had some quiet time. They needed to pick up Adam’s order from Claude but then had time to kill before Tasha and Liam arrived in Marsh Harbor. After that, it was back to the island to relax.
“You ready to go find Claude and the order?” Lucas asked. Dylan immediately stood and pulled his lover in close.
“You okay?” he asked quickly.
Lucas huffed a breath and buried his face in Dylan’s hair. “Tired,” he said. “I think we should make the island for adults only,” he added. Then he yawned widely. Dylan chuckled.
“Nah,” he began. “You’d miss all those sticky chocolate fingers and all that running around like mad from the little people.”
“I promise you I wouldn’t.”
Hand in hand, they strolled from the harbor and into the small town. Their order was ready in boxes, and due to the fact Adam appeared to have ordered enough food for an army, they borrowed a wheelbarrow and transported it down to the Liberty. Dylan jumped down into the boat, and one by one Lucas passed down the boxes. Dylan tied them in a balanced pattern around the boat, leaving room for his passengers to sit with their luggage, even though Lucas had told him Tasha said she was just bringing a bikini.
“I’ll go get a table,” Lucas called down. He didn’t really need to get a table; the café was small but there was always space. This side of the harbor was quiet and mostly for locals.
“Ice cream,” Dylan shouted back. “Give me five.”
He fiddled with straps, then stood back to look at the balance of the Liberty. He was experienced at fitting everything in after years of doing this job. Proud of his boat, he checked out Liberty and ignored the peeling paint on the stern and the worn wood of the pilot station. She’d weathered storms and heat, and she’d done well. Lucas had valid points as to why they should replace her, but Dylan couldn’t get his head around them. Well, apart from the luxury aspect. Lucas’s argument that people paid a lot of money for Sapphire Cay was easily countered by Dylan’s assertion that they would expect Caribbean rustic.
“He’ll make me replace you, girl,” Dylan muttered. “One day, you know, but we’ll fight it.” It didn’t strike him as odd that he was talking to a boat, but equally he hoped no one spotted him. With a sigh of resignation that this was probably Liberty’s last season, he climbed the ladder and up onto the harbor wall. The café was a few feet away, and from here they could watch the boats and kill time waiting for Tasha and Liam. And to top it off he would finally get to try Scott’s recommended chocolate ice cream sundae.
Lucas was already at a rickety table and slumped back in the chair with his eyes closed, and Dylan bypassed him to order the ice cream concoction and a cold drink of lemonade for his fiancé. Lucas needed something to cool him down and at the same time refresh him.
“With ya in a few,” the assistant said in a sing-song voice. “Take ya table,” he added with a wide grin.
Dylan crossed to Lucas and peered over the edge to check on Liberty. She sat, slowly moving in the gentle motion of the sea.
“Okay?” Lucas asked on another yawn.
“She’s fine,” Dylan said. He regretted saying it this way as soon as Lucas raised a single eyebrow in question. Instead of the usual teasing, Dylan decided to head it off at the pass. “When’re Tasha and Liam in?”
Lucas moved his head back to peer up at the sky. He’d not worn a watch since he’d decided to stay with Dylan. Even now Dylan was pleased to see Lucas was getting good at judging the time by how he felt—hungry, tired, or by the position of the sun in the sky or even the scents of the day in the air. Dylan loved that a small part of Lucas was relaxing, and he just wished Lucas would let that final knot of constant concern unravel in his chest.
Lucas frowned. “An hour.” He was clearly guessing. “Told them to meet us here.”
“I ordered you lemonade,” Dylan said.
“I wanted coffee,” Lucas protested.
Dylan wasn’t going to argue. Lucas hadn’t entirely cut down his coffee use, but he needed to be careful.
“Saw you rubbing your stomach,” Dylan said.
Lucas looked down at himself, and his eyes widened when he realized he was still doing it. Quickly, he moved his hand, but not before the damage had been done.
“I don’t know why…” he began. “I’m just tired. I got the all clear. I’m relaxing, I feel good.”
Dylan reached over and grasped Lucas’s other hand. “Let’s keep it that way, then.” He shuffled his chair closer and kissed Lucas firmly. He could sit here all day kissing Lucas. All day. A noise, shouting, barking, separated them, and Dylan glanced over at the intrusion into what had been a very nice kiss. He couldn’t see anything, but the barking had turned to whining and the shouts to laughter.
“Keep an eye on Liberty,” he said, and then before Lucas could say a word, Dylan was out of his seat and heading behind the café where the alleys converged to one single point with bins and recycling. At first he couldn’t see what was happening because a group of young kids were like a wall surrounding whatever was going on.
Then his height gave him the advantage, and he could see a dog cowering in the space between crates. One of the boys was poking it with a stick. He didn’t actually poke the dog each time, but clearly this had gone on for some time.
“Told ya he’d stop barking if we scared ’im,” the young boy said with a laugh. The rest of the group joined in with yays, although Dylan noticed a few were looking around fearfully and not really joining in.
“We should leave ’im,” one of those who wasn’t grinning like an idiot said.
Dylan waded in. “I think that’s a good idea,” he said firmly. He pushed himself between the kids and the dog. For a second Dylan thought he saw defiance in the kid with the stick—the thought process telegraphed on his face about whether he should poke Dylan. A simple move and the stick was in Dylan’s hand.
“What’s your name?” he asked. He wasn’t really expecting a reply. True to what he thought would happen, the kid sneered and scarpered along with his little friends. A few of the kids, the ones who hadn’t joined in, hovered uncertainly.
“Whose dog is this?” he asked them. They looked at each other as if they were weighing up what to say. “Whose dog?” he said again.
“No one’s,” one of the smallest kids said. “He’s on his own.”
“A stray?” Dylan summarized.
The kids dispersed without a backward glance. Seemed like now that an adult was here, they could leave the dog alone. Dylan spun on his foot and faced the dog. It appeared to be a mix, something between a terrier and an English bull dog. He couldn’t see any injuries, but the poor thing was painfully thin and his eyes downcast. Dylan moved and then cursed when the dog cowered and he realized he still had the damn stick in his hands. He carefully placed it where the dog could see what he had done, then gently went to his knees. The dog didn’t look rabid, and there was no sign of blood anywhere. He held out a hand but the dog shrank back instead of sniffing him.
“Damn stray,” the owner of the café snapped. He stood at the rear exit of the café with a basket of scraps and rubbish. He tipped the whole lot in a bin and cursed again. “Nothing but trouble, in my trash.”
“He’s probably hungry,” Dylan suggested reasonably.
“That’s maybe right, but I ain’t gonna feed him,” he said. “I got kids to feed first.”
Dylan didn’t want to ask if it was his kids that were poking at the dog. “Pass me some of the scraps,” he ordered. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a twenty and handed it up to the café owner. “I’ll pay for some meat and bread. Nothing too fatty or heavy. And a bowl of water.”
The café owner cursed and blustered, but he did as he was asked. Seemed money spoke here. Dylan watched the dog until he was sure the poor thing had eaten something and drunk some water. Then he patted it on the head and smiled when it pushed up into his hand. It didn’t wag its tail, but the butting of his head into Dylan’s hand was a sure sign that Dylan had done something right.
Torn, he knew he had to go back to Lucas, but at the corner he turned back to see the dog. It had gone. Disappeared. He should be pleased it wasn’t hanging about waiting for the kids to come back, but a part of him was sad that it had just gone.
When he got back, Lucas looked up from his lemonade. “Where’d you go?”
“Some kids were beating up on a dog. Poor thing.”
“Is it okay?” Lucas asked, concerned.
“Yeah, he’s gone now.”
Lucas tilted his head. “Did he have a white nose, with dark ears, pathetic eyes, and was kind of on the skinny side?”
“Yeah,” Dylan replied. “How did you…?” Catching on, he realized the dog was sitting next to him leaning against his chair, and hell, was that a wag in his tail?
“Seems like you’ve got a friend.”
“He’s a stray,” Dylan explained. He patted the dog’s head again, and this time he was rewarded by two wags of the little tail.
“What kind of dog is it?” Lucas asked with a frown. “Some kind of cross?”
“Maybe a mix way back. It’s a boy.” He scratched between the dog’s ears and smiled down at it.
“Probably got fleas and all sorts.”
“Seems pretty clean,” Dylan said. “Just really thin and a little undomesticated.”
Lucas shook his head. “No,” he said firmly.
“No, we don’t need a dog on the island.”
Dylan immediately felt defensive. “I didn’t say anything.”
Lucas smiled. “Not in words.”
“I know we don’t need a dog,” Dylan said carefully. “Hell, imagine if it was all up in the guests’ faces? Edward would have a cow if it caused chaos at a wedding. It would undoubtedly jump in the pool as well.” Dylan said all this, but all he could see was dark brown eyes looking up at him with adoration. He had to be sensible. “Shoo,” he finally said. “Off you go.”
At first the dog stared and didn’t move, but then with what looked like a huff of disappointment, it strolled away without a backward glance.
“We could get a cat maybe,” Lucas consoled him.
“I don’t like cats much,” Dylan said. “I always wanted a dog. Not that one though,” he hastened to add.
“You’re right,” Lucas agreed, although he had the same expression on his face that he often got when Dylan talked about his childhood—or lack of it. Kind of a combination of sadness and understanding.
“Lucas!” The name being called from across the way had Lucas standing and crossing to his sister in an instant. Dylan stayed where he was so he could watch over Liberty but was soon part of hugs and kisses when Tasha and Liam joined them at the table. With hellos and laughter, they all made it onto the boat, and soon they had pulled away from the harbor and were on their way to Sapphire Cay. A bark caught Dylan’s attention, and he looked back. The dog was standing on the wall looking down at them. The drop was maybe six feet and the dog appeared to be contemplating jumping. Dylan cut the engine in indecision as to what to do.
“You have got to be joking,” Lucas said in disbelief at the dog and what it was possibly planning to do. Dylan couldn’t agree with the sentiment more when, with a yip, the dog jumped in the water and disappeared below the surface.
“Jeez,” Liam said instantly. “Is it okay?”
“Oh god, that poor dog,” Tasha added.
It seemed like everyone was holding their collective breaths until abruptly the dog surfaced. As if it jumped six-foot walls into water every day, it began to paddle over to them. Dylan moved to the back of the boat between the luggage.
“What are you doing?” Lucas asked.
“It’s swimming over.”
Lucas looked at him with confusion in his eyes. Then realization flooded his expression followed quickly by acceptance and love.
“Best help him on board, then. Looks like we’ve got a dog.”