Main It Happened One Summer: A Novel
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Super cute with a healthy relationship and wonderful pacing. Def 5/5 stars. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. It's a must read.
30 July 2021 (14:17)
I LOVE THIS ITS MY TOP FAV AT THE MOMENT SUCH GOOD GOOD RELATIONSHIP PROGRESSION AND GROWTH AND ITS SO SPICY PLEASE READ IT
03 August 2021 (14:08)
MY FAVOURITE BOOK EVER IDC THIS BOOK IS PERFECT. THE MAIN CHARACTERS DONT MAKE ME WANNA PUNCH MYSELF (out of cringiness) instead this book is literally perfect. I’m lowkey considering purchasing the actual book bc it’s that good. I think that really shows how worthy and amazing that book is if I’m willing to buy it instead of supporting it illegally LOL
14 August 2021 (14:13)
WOWWWW . DID I JUST READDD MY FAVOURITE BOOKK?? deff gonna suggest it . It's so good
13 September 2021 (19:13)
Saben cómo puedo leerlo en español??
23 September 2021 (17:41)
This is literally such a good read. 5/5 for me for sure. Brendan is literally the blueprint for the perfect man. I would marry him in a heartbeat. Definitely put it at the top of your TBR xx
10 October 2021 (17:32)
im genuinely a little shocked at the positive reviews on this book lmao… the male love interest was very unlikable to me and the way he described his physical attraction to piper was so objectifying and gross. they’re not toxic but i probably would’ve enjoyed this more if it was all in piper’s pov cuz the inside of that man’s head grosses me out. he’s such a heteronormative manly man. if u like a stereotypical masculine man that sexualizes women for just breathing you’ll probably enjoy this. i wasn’t going into this expecting a lot cuz i was in the mood for a shitty romcom but this was worse than i had prepared for lmao
18 October 2021 (22:01)
Honeyyyyyy, if u love romance books READ THIS. I cant get over how sweet and steamy this is. I mean Brendan was manly AH and I love that Piper got brains and a heart than the usual social media puffer fish. Now imma go fish for a Brendan in my sleep.
22 October 2021 (18:29)
Omg! I almost spend 43 dollars to buy this book but I love the book way more because it’s free ?❤️
23 October 2021 (07:17)
Cinderella socialite romance. Worth the read. It’s light and fluffy with some laughs thrown in amongst a small fishing village outside of Seattle.
30 October 2021 (03:23)
Wonderful and heart worming story ??? I'm in love
01 December 2021 (17:55)
Once again my expectations in men became higher, god Where am l supposed to find a Brendan??
02 December 2021 (17:37)
Contents Cover Title Page Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-One Chapter Twenty-Two Chapter Twenty-Three Chapter Twenty-Four Chapter Twenty-Five Chapter Twenty-Six Chapter Twenty-Seven Chapter Twenty-Eight Chapter Twenty-Nine Chapter Thirty Chapter Thirty-One Epilogue Acknowledgments About the Author Announcement Bonus Scene Also by Tessa Bailey Copyright About the Publisher Chapter One The unthinkable was happening. Her longest relationship on record . . . over in the blink of an eye. Three weeks of her life wasted. Piper Bellinger looked down at her lipstick-red, one-shoulder Valentino cocktail dress and tried to find the flaw but came up with nothing. Her tastefully tanned legs were polished to such a shine, she’d checked her teeth in them earlier. Nothing appeared amiss up top, either. She’d swiped the tape holding up her boobs while backstage at a runway show in Milan during fashion week—we’re talking the holy grail of tit tape—and those puppies were on point. Big enough to draw a man’s eye, small enough to achieve an athletic vibe in every fourth Instagram post. Versatility kept people interested. Satisfied that nothing concerning her appearance was glaringly out of place, Piper trailed her gaze up the pleated leg of Adrian’s classic Tom Ford suit made of the finest sharkskin wool, unable to quell a sigh over the luxurious peak lapels and monogrammed buttons. The way her boyfriend impatiently checked his Chopard watch and scanned the crowd over her shoulder only added to the bored-playboy effect. Hadn’t his cold unattainability attracted her to him in the first place? God, the night of their first meeting seemed like a hundred years ago. She’d had at least two facials since t; hen, right? What was time anymore? Piper could remember their introduction like it was yesterday. Adrian had saved her from stepping in vomit at Rumer Willis’s birthday party. As she’d stared up at his chiseled chin from her place in his arms, she’d been transported to Old Hollywood. A time of smoking jackets and women traipsing around in long, feathered robes. It was the beginning of her own classic love story. And now the credits were rolling. “I can’t believe you’re throwing it all away like this,” Piper whispered, pressing her champagne flute between her breasts. Maybe drawing his attention there would change his mind? “We’ve been through so much.” “Yeah, tons, right?” Adrian waved at someone across the rooftop, his expression letting whoever it was know that he’d be right with them. They’d come to the black, white, and red party together. A minor soiree to raise money for an indie movie project called Lifestyles of the Oppressed and Famous. The writer-director was a friend of Adrian’s, meaning most of the people at this gathering of Los Angeles elite were his acquaintances. Her girls weren’t even there to console her or facilitate a graceful exit. Adrian’s attention settled back on her reluctantly. “Wait, what were you saying?” Piper’s smile felt brittle, so she turned it up another watt, careful to keep it one crucial notch below manic. Chin up, woman. This wasn’t her first breakup, right? She’d done a lot of the dumping, often unexpectedly. This was a town of whims, after all. She’d never really noticed the pace of how things changed. Not until lately. At twenty-eight, Piper was not old. But she was one of the oldest women at this party. At every party she’d been to recently, come to think of it. Leaning on the glass railing that overlooked Melrose was an up-and-coming pop star who couldn’t be a day older than nineteen. She didn’t need tape from Milan to hold up her tits. They were light and springy with nipples that reminded Piper of the bottom of an ice cream cone. The host himself was twenty-two and embarking on a film career. This was Piper’s career. Partying. Being seen. Holding up the occasional teeth-whitening product and getting a few dollars for it. Not that she needed the money. At least, she didn’t think so. Everything she owned came from the swipe of a credit card, and it was a mystery what happened after that. She assumed the bill went to her stepfather’s email or something? Hopefully he wouldn’t be weird about the crotchless panties she’d ordered from Paris. “Piper? Hello?” Adrian swiped a hand in front of her face, and she realized how long she’d been staring at the pop star. Long enough that the songstress was glaring back. Piper smiled and waved at the girl, pointing sheepishly to her glass of champagne, before tuning back in to the conversation with Adrian. “Is this because I casually brought you up to my therapist? We didn’t go in depth or anything, I promise. Most of the time we just nap during my appointments.” He stared at her for several seconds. Honestly, it was kind of nice. It was the most attention she’d gotten from him since almost slipping in puke. “I’ve dated some airheads, Piper.” He sighed. “But you put them all to shame.” She kept her smile in place, though it took more determination than usual. People were watching. At that very moment, she was in the background of at least five selfies being captured around the roof, including one of Ansel Elgort. It would be a disaster if she let her sinking heart show on her face, especially when news of the breakup got out. “I don’t understand,” she said with a laugh, sweeping rose-gold hair over her shoulder. “Shocking,” he returned drily. “Look, babe. It was a fun three weeks. You’re a smoke show in a bikini.” He shrugged an elegant Tom Ford–clad shoulder. “I’m just trying to end this before it gets boring, you know?” Boring. Getting older. Not a director or a pop star. Just a pretty girl with a millionaire stepfather. Piper couldn’t think about that now, though. She just wanted to exit the party as inconspicuously as possible and go have a good cry. After she popped a Xanax and posted an inspirational quote on her IG feed, of course. It would confirm the breakup, but also allow her to control the narrative. Something about growth and loving herself, maybe? Her sister, Hannah, would have the perfect song lyric to include. She was always sitting around in a pile of vinyls, those giant, ugly headphones wrapped around her head. Damn, she wished she’d put more stock in Hannah’s opinion of Adrian. What had she said? Oh yeah. He’s like if someone drew eyes on a turnip. Once again, Piper had zoned out, and Adrian checked his watch for the second time. “Are we done here? I have to mingle.” “Oh. Yeah,” she rushed to say, her voice horrifyingly unnatural. “You couldn’t be more right about breaking things off before the boring blues strike. I didn’t think about it like that.” She clinked her champagne glass against his. “We’re consciously uncoupling. Très mature.” “Right. Call it whatever you want.” Adrian forced a wan smile. “Thanks for everything.” “No, thank you.” She pursed her lips, trying to appear as non-airhead-like as possible. “I’ve learned a lot about myself over the last three weeks.” “Come on, Piper.” Adrian laughed, scrutinizing her head to toe. “You play dress-up and spend your daddy’s money. You don’t have a reason to learn anything.” “Do I need a reason?” she asked lightly, lips still tilted at the corners. Annoyed at being waylaid, Adrian huffed a breath. “I guess not. But you definitely need a brain that functions beyond how many likes you can get on a picture of your rack. There’s more to life than that, Piper.” “Yes, I know,” she said, prodded by irritation—and more than a little bit of reluctant shame. “Life is what I’m documenting through photos. I—” “God.” He half groaned, half laughed. “Why are you forcing me to be an asshole?” Someone called his name from inside the penthouse, and he held up a finger, keeping his gaze locked on Piper. “There’s just nothing to you, okay? There are thousands of Piper Bellingers in this city. You’re just a way to pass the time.” He shrugged. “And your time has passed.” It was a miracle Piper kept her winning smile intact as Adrian sailed away, already calling out to his friends. Everyone on the roof deck was staring at her, whispering behind their hands, feeling sorry for her—of all the horrors. She saluted them with her glass, then realized it was empty. Setting it down on the tray of a passing waiter, she collected her Bottega Veneta satin knot clutch with all the dignity she could muster and glided through the throng of onlookers, blinking back the moisture in her eyes to bring the elevator call button into focus. When the doors finally hid her from view, she slumped back against the metal wall, taking deep breaths in through her nose, out through her mouth. Already the news that she’d been dumped by Adrian would be blasted across all the socials, maybe even with video included. Not even C-list celebrities would invite her to parties after this. She had a reputation as a good time. Someone to covet. An “it girl.” If she didn’t have her social status, what did she have? Piper pulled her phone out of her clutch and absently requested a luxury Uber, connecting her with a driver who was only five minutes away. Then she closed the app and pulled up her favorites list. Her thumb hovered over the name “Hannah” momentarily, but landed on “Kirby,” instead. Her friend answered on the first ring. “Oh my God, is it true you begged Adrian not to break up with you in front of Ansel Elgort?” It was worse than she thought. How many people had already tipped off TMZ? Tomorrow night at six thirty, they would be tossing her name around the newsroom while Harvey sipped from his reusable cup. “I didn’t beg Adrian to keep me. Come on, Kirby, you know me better than that.” “Bitch, I do. But I’m not everyone else. You need to do damage control. Do you have a publicist on retainer?” “Not anymore. Daniel said me going shopping doesn’t need a press release.” Kirby snorted. “Okay, boomer.” “But you’re right. I do need damage control.” The elevator doors opened, and Piper stepped off, clicking through the lobby in her red-soled pumps, eventually stepping out onto Wilshire, the warm July air drying the dampness in her eyes. The tall buildings of downtown Los Angeles reached up into the smoggy summer night sky, and she craned her neck to find the tops. “How late is the rooftop pool open at the Mondrian?” “You’re asking about hours of operation at a time like this?” Kirby griped, followed by the sound of her vape crackling in the background. “I don’t know, but it’s past midnight. If it’s not already closed, it will be soon.” A black Lincoln pulled up along the curb. After double-checking the license plate number, Piper climbed inside and shut the door. “Wouldn’t breaking into the pool and having the time of our lives be, like, the best way to fight fire with fire? Adrian would be the guy who broke up with a legend.” “Oh shit,” Kirby breathed. “You’re resurrecting Piper twenty fourteen.” This was the answer, wasn’t it? There was no better time in her life than the year she turned twenty-one and ran absolutely buck wild through Los Angeles, making herself famous for being famous in the process. She was just in a rut, that was all. Maybe it was time to reclaim her crown. Maybe then she wouldn’t hear Adrian’s words looping over and over again in the back of her head, forcing her to consider that he might be right. Am I just one of thousands? Or am I the girl who breaks into a pool for a swim at one o’clock in the morning? Piper nodded resolutely and leaned forward. “Can you take me to the Mondrian, instead, please?” Kirby hooted down the line. “I’ll meet you there.” “I’ve got a better idea.” Piper crossed her legs and fell back in the leather seat. “How about we have everyone meet us there?” Chapter Two Jail was a cold, dark place. Piper stood in the very center of the cell shivering and hugging her elbows so she wouldn’t accidentally touch anything that might require a tetanus shot. Until this moment, the word “torture” had only been a vague description of something she’d never understand. But trying to not pee in the moldy toilet after roughly six mixed drinks was a torment no woman should ever know. The late-night Coachella bathroom situation had nothing on this grimy metal throne that mocked her from the corner of the cell. “Excuse me?” Piper called, wobbling to the bars in her heels. There were no guards in sight, but she could hear the distinctive sounds of Candy Crush coming from nearby. “Hi, it’s me, Piper. Is there another bathroom I could use?” “No, princess,” a woman’s voice called back, sounding very bored. “There isn’t.” She bounced side to side, her bladder demanding to be evacuated. “Where do you go to the bathroom?” A snort. “Where the other non-criminals go.” Piper whined in her throat, although the lady guard went up a notch in her book for delivering such a savage response without hesitation. “I’m not a criminal,” Piper tried again. “This is all a misunderstanding.” A trill of laughter echoed down the drab hallway of the police station. How many times had she passed the station on North Wilcox? Now she was an inmate. But seriously, it had been one hell of a party. The guard slowly appeared in front of Piper’s cell, fingers tucked into her beige uniform pants. Beige. Whoever was at the helm of law enforcement fashion should be sentenced for cruel and unusual punishment. “You call two hundred people breaking into a hotel pool after hours a misunderstanding?” Piper crossed her legs and sucked in a breath through her nose. If she peed herself in Valentino, she would voluntarily remain in jail. “Would you believe the pool hours weren’t prominently posted?” “Is that the argument your expensive lawyer is going to use?” The guard shook her head, visibly amused. “Someone had to shatter the glass door to get inside and let all the other rich kids in. Who did that? The invisible man?” “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out,” Piper vowed solemnly. The guard sighed through a smile. “It’s too late for that, sweetheart. Your friend with the purple tips already named you as the ringleader.” Kirby. Had to be. No one else at the party had purple tips. At least, Piper didn’t think so. Somewhere between the chicken fights in the pool and the illegal firecrackers being set off, she’d kind of lost track of the incoming guests. She should have known better than to trust Kirby, though. She and Piper were friends, but not good enough for her to lie to the police. The foundation of their relationship was commenting on each other’s social media posts and enabling each other to make ridiculous purchases, like a four-thousand-dollar purse shaped like a tube of lipstick. Most times, those kinds of surface-level friendships were valuable, but not tonight. That’s why her one phone call had gone to Hannah. Speaking of whom, where was her little sister? She’d made that call an hour ago. Piper hopped side to side, dangerously close to using her hands to keep the urine contained. “Who is forcing you to wear beige pants?” she gasped. “Why aren’t they in here with me?” “Fine.” The guard flashed a palm. “On this we can agree.” “Literally any other color would be better. No pants would be better.” Trying to distract herself from the Chernobyl happening in her lower body, she rambled, as she was wont to do in uncomfortable situations. “You have a really cute figure, Officer, but it’s, like, a commandment that no one shall pull off nude khaki.” The other woman’s eyebrow arched. “You could.” “You’re right,” Piper sobbed. “I totally could.” The guard’s laugh faded into a sigh. “What were you thinking, inciting that chaos tonight?” Piper slumped a little. “My boyfriend dumped me. And he . . . didn’t even look me in the eye the whole time. I guess I just wanted to be seen. Acknowledged. Celebrated instead of . . . disregarded. You know?” “Scorned and acting like a fool. Can’t say I haven’t been there.” “Really?” Piper asked hopefully. “Sure. Who hasn’t put all their boyfriend’s clothes in the bathtub and poured bleach on top?” Piper thought of the Tom Ford suit turning splotchy, and shivered. “That’s cold,” she whispered. “Maybe I should have just slashed his tires. At least that’s legal.” “That’s . . . not legal.” “Oh.” Piper sent the guard an exaggerated wink. “Riiiight.” The woman shook her head, glancing up and down the hallway. “All right, look. It’s a quiet night. If you don’t give me any trouble, I’ll let you use the slightly less shitty bathroom.” “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you.” With her keys poised over the keyhole, the guard hit her with serious eyes. “I have a Taser.” Piper followed her savior down the hall to the bathroom, where she meticulously gathered the skirt of her Valentino and eased the unholy pressure in her bladder, moaning until the final drop fell. As she washed her hands in the small sink, her attention caught on the reflection in the mirror. Raccoon eyes looked back at her. Smeared lipstick, limp hair. Definitely a long way from where she’d begun the evening, but she couldn’t help but feel like a soldier returning from battle. She’d set out to divert attention from her breakup, hadn’t she? An LAPD helicopter circling overhead while she led a conga line had definitely reaffirmed her status as the reigning party queen of Los Angeles. Probably. They’d confiscated her phone during the whole mug shot/fingerprint thing, so she didn’t know what was happening on the internet. Her fingers were itching to tap some apps, and that’s exactly what she would do as soon as Hannah arrived to bail her out. She looked at her reflection, surprised to find the prospect of breaking the internet didn’t set her heart into a thrilling pitter-patter the way it did before. Was she broken? Piper snorted and pushed away from the sink, using an elbow to pull down the door handle upon leaving. Obviously the night had taken its toll—after all, it was nearly five o’clock in the morning. As soon as she got some sleep, she’d spend the day reveling in congratulatory texts and an inundation of new followers. All would be well. The guard cuffed Piper again and started to walk her back to the cell, just as another guard called down to them from the opposite end. “Yo, Lina. Bellinger made bail. Bring her down to processing.” Her arms flew up in victory. “Yes!” Lina laughed. “Come on, beauty queen.” Vigor restored, Piper skipped alongside the other woman. “Lina, huh? I owe you big-time.” She clutched her hands beneath her chin and gave her a winning pout. “Thank you for being so nice to me.” “Don’t read too much into it,” drawled the guard, though her expression was pleased. “I just wasn’t in the mood to clean up piss.” Piper laughed, allowing Lina to unlock the door at the end of the gray hallway. And there was Hannah in the processing area, wearing pajamas and a ball cap, filling out paperwork with her eyes half closed. Warmth wiggled into Piper’s chest at the sight of her younger sister. They were nothing alike, had even less in common, but there was no one else Piper would call in a pinch. Of the two sisters, Hannah was the dependable one, even though she had a lazy hippie side. Where Piper was taller, Hannah had been called a shrimp growing up and never quite hit the middle school growth spurt. At the moment, she kept her petite figure buried under a UCLA sweatshirt, her sandy-blond hair poking out around the blank red hat. “She clear?” Lina asked a thin-lipped man hunched behind the desk. He waved a hand without looking up. “Money solves everything.” Lina unlocked her cuffs once again, and she shot forward. “Hannnnns,” Piper whimpered, throwing her arms around her sister. “I’ll pay you back for this. I’ll do your chores for a week.” “We don’t have chores, you radish.” Hannah yawned, grinding a fist into her eye. “Why do you smell like incense?” “Oh.” Piper sniffed her shoulder. “I think the fortune-teller lit some.” Straightening, she squinted her eyes. “Not sure how she found out about the party.” Hannah gaped, seeming to awaken at least marginally, her hazel eyes a total contrast to Piper’s baby blues. “Did she happen to tell you there’s an angry stepfather in your future?” Piper winced. “Oof. I had a feeling I couldn’t avoid the wrath of Daniel Q. Bellinger.” She craned her neck to see if there was anyone retrieving her phone. “How did he find out?” “The news, Pipes. The news.” “Right.” She sighed, smoothing her hands down the rumpled skirt of her dress. “Nothing the lawyers can’t handle, right? Hopefully he’ll let me get in a shower and some sleep before one of his famous lectures. I’m a walking after photo.” “Shut up, you look great,” Hannah said, her lips twitching as she completed the paperwork with a flourish of her signature. “You always look great.” Piper did a little shimmy. “Bye, Lina!” Piper called on the way out of the station, her beloved phone cradled in her arms like a newborn, fingers vibrating with the need to swipe. She’d been directed to the back exit where Hannah could pull the car around. Protocol, they’d said. She took one step out the door and was surrounded by photographers. “Piper! Over here!” Her vanity screeched like a pterodactyl. Nerves swerved right and left in her belly, but she flashed them a quick smile and put her head down, clicking as fast as she could toward Hannah’s waiting Jeep. “Piper Bellinger!” one of the paparazzi shouted. “How was your night in jail?” “Do you regret wasting taxpayer money?” The toe of her high heel caught in a crack, and she almost sprawled face-first onto the asphalt but caught the edge of the door Hannah had pushed open, throwing herself into the passenger side. Closing the door helped cut off the shouted questions, but the last one she’d heard continued to blare in her mind. Wasting taxpayer money? She’d just thrown a party, right? Fine, it had taken a considerable amount of police officers to break it up, but like, this was Los Angeles. Weren’t the police just waiting around for stuff like this to happen? Okay, that sounded privileged and bratty even to her own ears. Suddenly she wasn’t so eager to check her social media. She wiped her sweating palms on her dress. “I wasn’t trying to put anyone out or waste money. I wasn’t thinking that far ahead,” Piper said quietly, twisting to face her sister as much as she could in a seat belt. “Is this bad, Hanns?” Hannah’s teeth were sunk into her lower lip, her hands on the wheel slowly navigating her way through the people frantically snapping Piper’s picture. “It’s not good,” she answered after a pause. “But hey, you used to pull stunts like this all the time, remember? The lawyers always find a way to spin it, and tomorrow they’ll be onto something else.” She reached out and tapped the touch screen, and a low melody flooded the car. “Check it out. I have the perfect song cued up for this moment.” The somber notes of “Prison Women” by REO Speedwagon floated out from the speakers. Piper’s skull thudded against the headrest. “Very funny.” She tapped her phone against her knee for a few seconds, before snapping her spine straight and opening Instagram. There it was. The picture she’d posted early this morning, at 2:42, accused the time stamp. Kirby, the traitorous wench, had snapped it using Piper’s phone. In the shot, Piper was perched on the shoulders of a man whose name she couldn’t recall—though she had a vague recollection of him claiming to play second string for the Lakers?—stripped down to panties and boob tape, but like, in an artistic way. Her Valentino dress was draped over a lounge chair in the background. Firecrackers went off around her like the Fourth of July, swathing Piper in sparkles and smoke. She looked like a goddess rising from an electric mist—and the picture was nearing a million likes. Telling herself not to, Piper tapped the highlighted section that would show her exactly who had liked the picture. Adrian wasn’t one of them. Which was fine. A million other people had, right? But they hadn’t spent three weeks with her. To them, she was just a two-dimensional image. If they spent more than three weeks with Piper, would they scroll past, too? Letting her sink into the blur of the thousand other girls just like her? “Hey,” Hannah said, pausing the song. “It’s going to be all right.” Piper’s laugh sounded forced, so she cut it short. “I know. It always turns out all right.” She pressed her lips together. “Want to hear about the wet boxers competition?” Chapter Three It was not all right, as it turned out. Nothing was. Not according to their stepfather, Daniel Bellinger, revered Academy Award–winning movie producer, philanthropist, and competitive yachtsman. Piper and Hannah had attempted to creep in through the catering entrance of their Bel-Air mansion. They’d moved in when Piper was four and Hannah two, after their mother married Daniel, and neither of them could remember living anywhere else. Every once in a while, when Piper caught a whiff of the ocean, her memory sent up a signal through the fog, reminding her of the Pacific Northwest town where she’d been born, but there was nothing substantial to cling to and it always drifted away before she could grasp on. Now, her stepfather’s wrath? She could fully grasp that. It was etched into the tanned lines of his famous face, in the disappointed headshakes he gave the sisters as they sat, side by side, on a couch in his home office. Behind him, awards gleamed on shelves, framed movie posters hung on walls, and the phone on his L-shaped desk lit up every two seconds, although he’d silenced it for the upcoming lecture. Their mother was at Pilates, and out of everything? That made Piper the most nervous. Maureen tended to have a calming effect on her husband—and he was anything but calm right now. “Um, Daniel?” Piper chanced brightly, tucking a piece of wilted hair behind her ear. “None of this is Hannah’s fault. Is it okay if she heads to bed?” “She stays.” He pinned Hannah with a stern look. “You were forbidden to bail her out and did it anyway.” Piper turned her astonishment on her sister. “You did what?” “What was I supposed to do?” Hannah whipped off her hat and wrung it between her knees. “Leave you there, Pipes?” “Yeah,” Piper said slowly, facing her stepfather with mounting horror. “What did you want her to do? Leave me there?” Agitated, Daniel shoved his fingers through his hair. “I thought you learned your lesson a long time ago, Piper. Or lessons, plural, rather. You were still flitting around to every goddamn party between here and the Valley, but you weren’t costing me money or making me look like a fucking idiot in the process.” “Ouch.” Piper sunk back into the couch cushions. “You don’t have to be mean.” “I don’t have to be—” Daniel made an exasperated sound and pinched the bridge of his nose. “You are twenty-eight years old, Piper, and you have done nothing with your life. Nothing. You’ve been afforded every opportunity, given anything your little heart could ask for, and all you have to show for it is a . . . a digital existence. It means nothing.” If that’s true, then I mean nothing, too. Piper snagged a pillow and held it over her roiling stomach, giving Hannah a grateful look when she reached over to rub her knee. “Daniel, I’m sorry. I had a bad breakup last night and I acted out. I won’t do anything like that ever again.” Daniel seemed to deflate a little, retreating to his desk to lean on the edge. “No one handed me anything in this business. I started as a page on the Paramount lot. Filling sandwich orders, fetching coffee. I was an errand boy while I worked my way through film school.” Piper nodded, doing her best to appear deeply interested, even though Daniel told this story at every dinner party and charity event. “I stayed ready, armed with knowledge and drive, just waiting for my opportunity, so I could seize it”—he snapped his fist closed—“and never look back.” “That’s when you were asked to run lines with Corbin Kidder,” Piper recited from memory. “Yes.” Her stepfather inclined his head, momentarily pleased to find out she’d been paying attention. “As the director looked on, I not only delivered the lines with passion and zeal, but I improved the tired text. Added my own flair.” “And you were brought on as a writer’s assistant.” Hannah sighed, winding her finger for him to wrap up the oft-repeated story. “For Kubrick himself.” He exhaled through his nose. “That’s right. And it brings me back to my original point.” A finger was wagged. “Piper, you’re too comfortable. At least Hannah earned a degree and is gainfully employed. Even if I called in favors to get her the location scout gig, at least she’s productive.” Hannah hunched her shoulders but said nothing. “Would you even care if opportunity came knocking on your door, Piper? You have no drive to go anywhere. Or do anything. Why would you when this life I’ve provided you is always here, rewarding your lack of ambition with comfort and an excuse to remain blissfully stagnant?” Piper stared up at the man she thought of as a father, stunned to find out he’d been seeing her in such a negative light. She’d grown up in Bel-Air. Vacationing and throwing pool parties and rubbing elbows with famous actors. This was the only life she knew. None of her friends worked. Only a handful of them had bothered with college. What was the point of a degree? To make money? They already had tons of it. If Daniel or her mother had ever encouraged her to do something else, she couldn’t remember any such conversation. Was motivation a thing that other people were simply born with? And when the time came to make their way in the world, they simply acted? Should she have been looking for a purpose this whole time? Weirdly, none of the inspirational quotes she’d posted in the past held the answer. “I love your mother very much,” Daniel continued, as if reading her mind. “Or I don’t think I would have been this patient for so long. But, Piper . . . you went too far this time.” Her eyes shot to his, her knees beginning to tremble. Had he ever used that resigned tone with her before? If so, she didn’t recall. “I did?” she whispered. Beside her, Hannah shifted, a sign she was picking up on the gravity of the moment, too. Daniel bobbed his head. “The owner of the Mondrian is financing my next film.” That news landed like a grenade in the center of the office. “He’s not happy about last night, to put it quite mildly. You made his hotel seem like it lacks security. You made it a laughingstock. And worse, you could have burned the goddamn place down.” He stared at her with hard eyes, letting it all sink in. “He’s threatened to pull the budget, Piper. It’s a very considerable amount. The movie will not get made without his contribution. At least not until I find another backer—and it could take me years in this economy.” “I’m sorry,” Piper breathed, the magnitude of what she’d done sinking her even farther into the couch cushions. Had she really blown a business deal for Daniel in the name of posting a revenge snap that would make her triumphant in a breakup? Was she that frivolous and stupid? Had Adrian been right? “I didn’t know. I . . . I had no idea who owned the hotel.” “No, of course not. Who cares who your actions affect, right, Piper?” “All right.” Hannah sat forward with a frown. “You don’t have to be so hard on her. She obviously realizes she made a mistake.” Daniel remained unfazed. “Well, it’s a mistake she’s going to answer for.” Piper and Hannah traded a glance. “What do you mean by”—Piper wiggled her fingers in the shape of air quotes—“‘answer for’?” Their stepfather took his time rounding his desk and opening the bottom filing drawer, hesitating only a moment before removing a manila folder. He tapped it steadily on his desk calendar, considering the nervous sisters through narrowed eyes. “We don’t talk a lot about your past. The time before I married your mother. I’ll admit that’s mostly because I’m selfish and I didn’t want reminders that she loved someone before me.” “Awww,” Piper said automatically. He ignored her. “As you know, your father was a fisherman. He lived in Westport, Washington, the same town where your mother was born. Quaint little place.” Piper started at the mention of her birth father. A king crab fisherman named Henry who’d died a young man, sucked down into the icy depths of the Bering Sea. Her eyes drifted to the window, to the world beyond, trying to remember what came before this swanky life to which she’d grown so accustomed. The landscape and color of the first four years of her life were elusive, but she could remember the outline of her father’s head. Could remember his cracking laugh, the smell of salt water on his skin. Could remember her mother’s laughter echoing in kind, warm and sweet. There was no way to wrap her head around that other time and place—how different it was from her current situation—and she’d tried many times. If Maureen hadn’t moved to Los Angeles as a grieving widow, armed with nothing more than good looks and being a dab hand at sewing, she never would have landed a job working in wardrobe on Daniel’s first film. He wouldn’t have fallen in love with her, and this lavish lifestyle of theirs would be nothing more than a dream, while Maureen existed in some other, unimaginable timeline. “Westport,” Hannah repeated, as if testing the word on her tongue. “Mom never told us the name.” “Yes, well. I can imagine everything that happened was painful for her.” He sniffed, tapping the edge of the folder again. “Obviously she’s fine now. Better than fine.” A beat passed. “The men in Westport . . . they head to the Bering Sea during king crab season, in search of their annual payday. But it’s not always reliable. Sometimes they catch very little and have to split a minor sum among a large crew. Because of this, your father also owned a small bar.” Piper’s lips edged up into a smile. This was the most anyone had ever spoken to her about their birth father, and the details . . . they were like coins dropping into an empty jar inside of her, slowly filling it up. She wanted more. She wanted to know everything about this man whom she could only remember for his boisterous laugh. Hannah cleared her throat, her thigh pressing against Piper’s. “Why are you telling us all of this now?” She chewed her lip. “What’s in the folder?” “The deed to the bar. He left the building to you girls in his will.” He set the folder down on his desk and flipped it open. “A long time ago, I put a custodian in place, to make sure it didn’t fall into disrepair, but truthfully, I’d forgotten all about it until now.” “Oh my God . . .” Hannah said under her breath, obviously predicting some outcome to this conversation that Piper was not yet grasping. “A-are you . . . ?” Daniel sighed in the wake of Hannah’s trailed-off question. “My investor is demanding a show of contrition for what you did, Piper. He’s a self-made man like me and would like nothing more than to stick it to me over my spoiled, rich-kid daughter.” Piper flinched, but he didn’t see it because he was scanning the contents of the file. “Normally I would tell anyone who demanded something from me to fuck off . . . but I can’t ignore my gut feeling that you need to learn to fend for yourself for a while.” “What do you mean by”—Piper did air quotes again—“‘fend’?” “I mean you’re getting out of your comfort zone. I mean you’re going to Westport.” Hannah’s mouth dropped open. Piper shot forward. “Wait. What? For how long? What am I supposed to do there?” She turned her panicked gaze on Hannah. “Does Mom know about this?” “Yes,” Maureen said from the office doorway. “She knows.” Piper whimpered into her wrist. “Three months, Pipes. You can make it that long. And I hope you would do it without hesitation, considering I’ll maintain my film budget by making these amends.” Daniel came around the desk and dropped the manila folder into Piper’s lap. She stared at it like one might a scuttling cockroach. “There is a small apartment above the bar. I’ve called ahead to make sure it’s cleaned. I’m setting up a debit account to get you started, but after that . . .” Oh, he looked way too pleased. “You’re on your own.” Mentally listing all of the galas and fashion shows that would happen over the course of three whole months, Piper got to her feet and sent her mother a pleading look. “Mom, you’re really going to let him send me away?” She was reeling. “What am I supposed to do? Like, fish for a living? I don’t even know how to make toast.” “I’m confident you’ll figure it out,” Maureen said softly, her expression sympathetic but firm. “This will be good for you. You’ll see. You might even learn something about yourself.” “No.” Piper shook her head. Didn’t last night yield the revelation that she was good for nothing but partying and looking hot? She didn’t have the survival skills for a life outside of these gates. But she could cope with that as long as everything stayed familiar. Out there, her ineptitude, her uselessness, would be glaring. “I—I’m not going.” “Then I’m not paying your legal fees,” Daniel said reluctantly. “I’m shaking,” Piper whispered, holding up a flat, quaking hand. “Look at me.” Hannah threw an arm around her sister. “I’m going with her.” Daniel did a double take. “What about your job? I pulled strings with Sergei to get you a coveted spot with the production company.” At the mention of Sergei, Hannah’s long-standing crush, Piper felt her sister’s split second of indecision. For the last year, the youngest Bellinger had been pining for the broody Hollywood upstart whose debut film, Nobody’s Baby, had taken the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Most of the ballads constantly blaring from Hannah’s room could be attributed to her deep infatuation. Her sister’s solidarity made Piper’s throat feel tight, but there was no way she’d allow her sins to banish her favorite person to Westport, too. Piper herself wasn’t even resigned to going yet. “Daniel will change his mind,” she whispered out of the side of her mouth to Hannah. “It’ll be fine.” “I will not,” Daniel boomed, looking offended. “You leave at the end of July.” Piper did a mental count. “That’s, like, only a few weeks from now!” “I’d tell you to use the time to tie up your affairs, but you don’t have any.” Maureen made a sound. “I think that’s enough, Daniel.” With a face full of censure, she corralled the stunned sisters out of the room. “Come on. Let’s take some time to process.” The three Bellinger women ascended the stairs together, climbing up to the third floor where Hannah’s and Piper’s bedrooms waited on opposite sides of the carpeted hall. They drifted into Piper’s room, settling her on the edge of the bed, and then stepped back to observe her as if they were medical students being asked to make a diagnosis. Hands on knees, Hannah analyzed her face. “How are you doing, Piper?” “Can you really not get him to change his mind, Mom?” Piper croaked. Maureen shook her head. “I’m sorry, sweetie.” Her mother fell onto the bed beside her, taking her limp hand. For long moments, she was quiet, clearly gearing up for something. “I think part of the reason I didn’t fight Daniel very hard on sending you to Westport is . . . well, I have a lot of guilt for keeping so much of your real father to myself. I was in so much pain for a long time. Bitter, too. And I bottled it all up, neglecting his memory in the process. That wasn’t right of me.” Her eyelids drifted down. “To go to Westport . . . is to meet your father, Piper. He is Westport. There’s so much more history . . . still living in that town than you know. That’s why I couldn’t stay after he died. He was surrounding me . . . and I was just so angry over the unfairness of it all. Not even my parents could get through to me.” “How long did they stay in Westport after you left?” Hannah asked, referring to the grandparents who visited them on occasion, though the visits had grown few and far between as the sisters got older. When Daniel officially adopted Piper and Hannah, their grandparents hadn’t seemed comfortable with the whole process, and the contact between them and Maureen had faded in degrees, even if they still spoke on holidays and birthdays. “Not long. They bought the ranch in Utah shortly after. Far from the water.” Maureen looked down at her hands. “The magic had gone out of the town for all of us, I think.” Piper could understand her mother’s reasoning. Could sympathize with the guilt. But her entire life was being uprooted for a man she didn’t know. Twenty-four years had gone by without a single word about Henry Cross. Her mother couldn’t expect her to jump all over the opportunity now because she’d decided it was time to dump the guilt. “This isn’t fair,” Piper groaned, falling backward on her bed, upsetting her ecru Millesimo bedsheets. Hannah sprawled out beside her, throwing an arm over Piper’s stomach. “It’s only three months,” Maureen said, rising and floating from the room. Just before she walked out, she turned back, hand poised on the doorframe. “Word to the wise, Piper. The men in Westport . . . they’re not what you’re used to. They’re unpolished and direct. Capable in a way the men of your acquaintance . . . aren’t.” Her gaze grew distant. “Their job is dangerous and they don’t care how much it scares you, they go back to the sea every time. They’ll always choose it over a woman. And they’d rather die doing what they love than be safe at home.” The uncharacteristic gravity in Maureen’s tone glued Piper to the bed. “Why are you telling me this?” Her mother lifted a delicate shoulder. “That danger in a man can be exciting to a woman. Until it’s not anymore. Then it’s shattering. Just keep that in mind if you feel . . . drawn in.” Maureen seemed like she wanted to say more, but she tapped the doorframe twice and went, leaving the two sisters staring after her. Piper reached back for a pillow and handed it to Hannah. “Smother me with this. Please. It’s the humane thing to do.” “I’m coming with you to Westport.” “No. What about your job? And Sergei?” Piper exhaled. “You have good things happening here, Hanns. I’ll find a way to cope.” She gave Hannah a mock serious face. “They must have sugar daddies in Westport, right?” “I’m definitely going with you.” Chapter Four Brendan Taggart was the first Westport resident to spot the women. He heard a car door slam out by the curb and slowly turned on the barrel that passed as a seat in No Name. His bottle of beer paused halfway to his mouth, the loud storytelling and music filling the bar fading away. Through the grubby window, Brendan watched the pair exit on opposite sides of a taxi and immediately wrote them off as clueless tourists who obviously had the wrong address. That is, until they started hauling suitcases out of the trunk. Seven, to be exact. He grunted. Sipped his beer. They were a ways off the beaten path. There wasn’t an inn for several blocks. On top of misjudging their destination, they were dressed for the beach at night, during a late-summer rain, no umbrella to speak of—and visibly confounded by their surroundings. It was the one in the floppy hat who caught his eye right away, purely because she looked the most ridiculous, a lipstick-shaped purse dangling from her forearm, wrists limp and drawn up to her shoulders, as if she was afraid to touch something. She tilted her head back and gazed up at the building and laughed. And that laugh turned into what looked like a sob, though he couldn’t hear it through the music and pane of glass. As soon as Brendan noticed the way the rain was molding the dress to Floppy Hat’s tits, he glanced away quickly, going back to what he’d been doing before. Pretending to be interested in Randy’s overboard story, even though he’d heard it eighty goddamn times. “The sea was boiling that day,” Randy said, in a voice equivalent to scrap metal being crushed. “We’d already hit our quota and then some, thanks to the captain over here.” He saluted Brendan with his frothy pint. “And there I was, on a deck slipperier than a duck’s ass, picturing the bathtub full of cash I’d be swimming in when we got home. We’re hauling in the final pot, and there it was, the biggest crab in the damn sea, the motherfucking grandpappy of all crabs, and he tells me with his beady little eyes that he ain’t going down without a fight. Noooo, sir.” Randy propped a leg up on the stool he’d been sitting on earlier, his craggy features arranged for maximum drama. He’d been working on Brendan’s boat longer than Brendan had been captaining it. Had seen more seasons than most of the crew combined. At the end of each one, he threw himself a retirement party. And then he showed up for the next season like clockwork, having spent every last dime of last year’s take. “When I tell you that sucker wrapped a leg around the arm of my slicker, right through the pot, the mesh, all of it, I’m not lying. He was hell-bent for leather. Time froze, ladies and gentlemen. The captain is yelling at me to haul in the pot, but hear me now, I was bamboozled. That crab put a spell on me—I’m telling you. And that’s when the wave hit, conjured by the crab himself. Nobody saw it coming, and just like that, I was tossed into the drink.” The man who was like a grandfather to Brendan took a pause to drain half his beer. “When they pulled me in . . .” He exhaled. “That crab was nowhere to be found.” The two people in the crowded bar who hadn’t already heard the legend laughed and applauded—and that was the moment Floppy Hat and the other one decided to make their entrance. Within seconds, it was quiet enough to hear a pin drop, and that didn’t surprise Brendan one bit. Westport was a tourist stop to be sure, but they didn’t get a lot of outsiders stumbling into No Name. It was an establishment that couldn’t be found on Yelp. Mainly because it was illegal. But it wasn’t only the shock of non-locals walking in and disrupting their Sunday-night bullshit session. No, it was the way they looked. Especially Floppy Hat, who walked in first, hitting the easy energy of the room with shock paddles. In her short, loose dress and sandals that wrapped around her calves, she could have stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine for all those . . . tight lines and smooth curves. Brendan could be objective about that. His brain could point out an attractive woman without him caring one way or the other. He set his beer down on the windowsill and crossed his arms, feeling a flash of annoyance at everyone’s stupefied expressions. Randy had rolled out the red carpet in the form of his tongue lolling out of his mouth, and the rest of the men were mentally preparing marriage proposals, by the look of it. “Little help with the luggage, Pipes?” called the second girl from the entrance, where she’d propped open the door with a hip, struggling under the weight of a suitcase. “Oh!” Floppy Hat whirled around, pink climbing the sides of her face—and hell, that was some face. No denying it, now that there wasn’t a dirty windowpane distorting it. Those were the kind of baby blues that made men sign their life away, to say nothing of that wide, stubborn upper lip. The combination rendered her guileless and seductive at the same time, and that was trouble Brendan wanted no part of. “Sorry, Hanns.” She winced. “I’ll go get the rest—” “I’ll get them,” at least nine men said at once, tripping over themselves to reach the door. One of them took the suitcase from Floppy Hat’s companion, while several others lunged into the rain, getting stuck side by side in the doorway. Half of those jackasses were on Brendan’s crew, and he almost disowned them right then and there. Within seconds—although not without some familiar bickering—all seven suitcases were piled in the middle of the bar, everyone standing around them expectantly. “What gentlemen! So polite and welcoming,” Floppy Hat crooned, hugging her bizarre handbag to her chest. “Thank you!” “Yes, thanks,” said the second girl quietly, drying the rain off her face with the sleeve of a UCLA sweatshirt. Los Angeles. Of course. “Uh, Pipes?” She turned in a circle, taking in their surroundings. “Are you sure this is the right place?” In response to her friend’s question, she seemed to notice where she was standing for the first time. Those eyes grew even bigger as she catalogued the interior of No Name and the people occupying it. Brendan knew what she was seeing, and already he resented the way she recoiled at the dust on the mismatched seats, the broken floorboards, the ancient fishing nets hanging from the rafters. The disappointment in the downturned corners of her mouth spoke volumes. Not good enough for you, baby? There’s the door. With prim movements, Pipes—keeper of ridiculous names and purses—snapped the handbag open and drew out a jewel-crusted phone, tapping the screen with a square red nail. “Is this . . . sixty-two North Forrest Street?” A chorus of yeses greeted the strangled question. “Then . . .” She turned to her friend, chest expanding on quick breaths. “Yes.” “Oh,” responded UCLA, before she cleared her throat, pasting a tense smile on a face that was pretty in a much subtler way than Pipes’s. “Um . . . sorry about the awkward entrance. We didn’t know anyone was going to be here.” She shifted her weight in boots that wouldn’t be good for anything but sitting down. “I’m Hannah Bellinger. This is my sister, Piper.” Piper. Not Pipes. Not that it was much of an improvement. The floppy hat came off, and Piper shook out her hair, as if they were in the middle of a photo shoot. She gave everyone a sheepish smile. “We own this place. Isn’t that crazy?” If Brendan thought their entrance had produced silence, it was nothing compared to this. Owned this place? No one owned No Name. It had been vacant since he was in grade school. Originally, the locals had pooled their money to stock the place with liquor and beer, so they’d have a place to come to escape the tourists during a particularly hellish summer. A decade had passed since then, but they’d kept coming, the regulars taking turns collecting dues once a week to keep the booze flowing. Brendan didn’t make it over too often, but he considered No Name to be theirs. All of theirs. These two out-of-towners walking in and claiming ownership didn’t sit right at all. Brendan liked routine. Liked things in their place. These two didn’t belong, especially Piper, who noticed him glowering and had the nerve to send him a pinky wave. Randy drew her attention away from Brendan with a baffled laugh. “How’s that now? You own No Name?” Hannah stepped up beside her sister. “That’s what you call it?” “Been calling it that for years,” Randy confirmed. One of Brendan’s deckhands, Sanders, disentangled himself from his wife and came forward. “Last owner of this place was a Cross.” Brendan noticed the slight tremor that passed through Piper at the name. “Yes,” Hannah said hesitantly. “We’re aware of that.” “Ooh!” Piper started scrolling through her phone again at the speed of light. “There’s a custodian named Tanner. Our stepdad has been paying him to keep this place clean.” Though her smile remained in place, her gaze crawled over the distinctly not clean bar. “Has he . . . been on vacation?” Irritation snuck up the back of Brendan’s neck. This was a proud town of long-standing traditions. Where the hell did this rich girl get off waltzing in and insulting his lifelong friends? His crew? Randy and Sanders traded a snort. “Tanner is over there,” Sanders said. The crowd parted to reveal their “custodian” slumped over the bar, passed out. “He’s been on vacation since two thousand and eight.” Everyone in the bar hoisted their beers and laughed at the joke, Brendan’s own lips twitching in amusement, even though his annoyance hadn’t ebbed. Not even a little bit. He retrieved his bottle of beer from the windowsill and took a pull, keeping his eyes on Piper. She seemed to feel his attention on her profile, because she turned with another one of those flirtatious smiles that definitely shouldn’t have caused a hot nudge in his lower body, especially considering he’d already decided he didn’t care for her. But then her gaze snagged on the wedding band he still wore around his ring finger—and she promptly looked away, her posture losing its playfulness. That’s right. Take it somewhere else. “I think I can clear up the confusion,” Hannah said, rubbing at the back of her neck. “Our father . . . was Henry Cross.” Shock drew Brendan’s eyebrows together. These girls were Henry Cross’s daughters? Brendan was too young to remember the man personally, but the story of Henry’s death was a legend, not unlike Randy’s evil crab story. It was uttered far less often lest it produce bad luck, whispered between the fishermen of Westport after too much liquor or a particularly rough day on the sea when the fear had taken hold. Henry Cross was the last man of the Westport crew to die while hunting the almighty king crab on the Bering Sea. There was a memorial dedicated to him on the harbor, a wreath placed on the pedestal every year on the anniversary of the sea taking him. It was not unusual for men to die during the season. King crab fishing was, by definition, the most dangerous job in the United States. Every fall, men lost their lives. But they hadn’t lost a Westport man in over two decades. Randy had dropped onto his stool, dumbfounded. “No. Are you . . . You ain’t Maureen’s girls, are you?” “Yes,” Piper said, her smile too engaged for Brendan’s peace of mind. “We are.” “Holy mackerel. I see the resemblance now. She used to bring you girls down to the docks, and you’d leave with pockets full of candy.” Randy’s attention swung to Brendan. “Your father-in-law is going to shit himself. Henry’s girls. Standing right here in his bar.” “Our bar,” Brendan corrected him quietly. Two words out of his mouth were all it took to drop a chill into the atmosphere. A couple of the locals shrunk back into their seats, drinks forgotten on the crates that served as tables. Brendan finished his beer calmly, giving Piper a challenging eyebrow raise over the glass neck. To her credit, she didn’t blanch like most people on the receiving end of one of his looks. A stony stare through the wheelhouse window could make a greenhorn shit himself. This girl only seemed to be evaluating him, that limp wrist once again drawn up against her shoulder, that long mane of golden-rosy-honey hair tossed back. “Aw. The deed says otherwise,” Piper said sweetly. “But don’t worry. We’ll only be killing your weirdly hostile vibe for three months. Then it’s back to LA.” If possible, everyone retreated farther into their seats. Except for Randy. He was finding the whole exchange hilarious, his smile so wide Brendan could count his teeth, three of which were gold. “Where are you staying?” Brendan asked. The sisters both pointed up at the ceiling. Brendan bit off a laugh. “Really?” Several patrons exchanged anxious glances. Someone even hopped up and tried to rouse Tanner at the bar, but it was nothing doing. This whole situation was absurd. If they thought the bar was in shambles, they hadn’t seen anything yet. They—especially her—wouldn’t last the night in Westport. At least not without checking in to one of the inns. Satisfied with that conclusion, Brendan set his beer aside and pushed himself to his feet, kind of enjoying the way Piper’s eyes widened when he reached his full height. For some reason, he was wary of getting too close to her. He sure as hell didn’t want to know what she smelled like. But he called himself an idiot for hesitating and strode forward, picking up a suitcase in each hand. “Well, then. Allow me to show you the accommodations.” Chapter Five Who the fuck. Even. Was this douche? Piper forced her chin up and followed the beast to the back of the bar—the bar which was essentially the size of her closet back in Bel-Air—and up a narrow staircase, Hannah in tow. God, he was freakishly big. Just to make it up the stairs, he had to bend down slightly, so his beanie-covered head wouldn’t hit the ceiling. For a split second, she’d found the silver-green eyes under the band of that beanie kind of captivating. His black beard was decently groomed. Full and close cropped. Those shoulders would have been seriously valuable in the chicken-fight competition a couple of weeks ago, to say nothing of the rest of him. He was large all around, and not even his beat-up sweatshirt could conceal the beefy musculature of his chest, arms. He’d been staring at her, so she’d done what she did best when a man seemed interested. She did a little stationary flossing. It was as natural as breathing, the subtle hip shift. Finding the light with her cheekbones, drawing attention to her mouth and sucking his soul out with her eyes. It was a maneuver she normally performed with a high success rate. Instead, he’d only looked pissed off. How was she supposed to know he was married? They’d walked into a crowd of two dozen people. Into her father’s bar, which had apparently been commandeered by a group of townies. There’d been a lot to take in at once, or she might have noticed the gold band. He’d seemed to purposefully flash it at her, and as she was definitely not the type to go after someone who was taken, she’d shut down her come-hither glance immediately. Piper rolled her shoulders back one by one and decided to try being friendly to the beast, at least one more time. It was kind of admirable of him, wasn’t it? To be aggressively faithful to his wife? If she ever got married someday, she hoped her husband would do the same. Once he realized she wasn’t trying to catch his eye, maybe he’d chill. She and Hannah would be living in Westport for ninety days. Making enemies right off the bat would suck. “Don’t we need to get an apartment key from Tanner?” Piper called up the stairs. “Nope,” he responded shortly. “No locks.” “Oh.” “The bar entrance has a lock,” he said, kicking open the apartment door and disappearing inside. “But almost everyone downstairs has a copy.” Piper chewed her lip. “That doesn’t seem very secure . . .” His derision was palpable. “Are you worried someone is going to break in and steal your lipstick purse?” Hannah sucked in a sharp breath. “He went there.” Tenaciously, Piper held on to her poise and joined him in the apartment. The light hadn’t been turned on yet, so she stepped aside to let Hannah in and waited, more grateful than ever that her sister was stubborn and refused to let her be banished to Westport alone. “I think we might have gotten off on the wrong foot,” Piper said to the man. Wherever he’d gone. “What did you say your name was?” “I didn’t,” came that mocking baritone from the dark. “It’s Brendan.” “Brendan—” The light flipped on. Piper gripped Hannah’s arm to keep from collapsing. Oh no. No no no. “Ohhhh fuuuuuck,” Hannah whispered beside her. There had to be some mistake. She’d googled Westport and done some nosing around, if minimally. Everywhere else was simply not Los Angeles, so what did it matter? Her search told her Westport was quaint and eclectic, located right on the cusp of the Pacific Ocean. A surfing destination. A cute village. She’d imagined an ocean view in a rustic but livable apartment, with lots of photo ops of her roughing it, with the hashtag #PNWBarbie. This was not that. Everything was in one room. There was a paper-thin partition blocking off the bathroom, but if she went three steps to the left, she’d be in the miniature kitchen. Three to the right, and she’d ram into the bunk bed. Bunk. Bed. Had she ever even seen one of those in real life? Brendan’s boots scuffed to a stop in front of the sisters. He crossed his arms over his wide chest and surveyed the apartment, his disposition suddenly jovial. “Second thoughts?” Piper’s eyes tracked along the ceiling, and she lost count of the cobwebs. There had to be an inch of grime on every surface—and she hadn’t even seen the bathroom yet. The one window looked directly at the brick wall of the building next door, so the musky odor couldn’t even be aired out. She started to tell Hannah they were leaving. They would take the pittance Daniel put in their debit accounts and use it to rent a car and drive back to Los Angeles. Depending on how much it cost to rent a car, that was. It could be a thousand dollars or fifty. She had no clue. Other people usually arranged these kinds of things for her. Maybe if they called Daniel and told him his custodian had been cashing a check and doing none of the work, he would relent and allow her and Hannah to return home. How could he say no? This place was unlivable. At least until it was scoured clean—and who was going to do that for them? Brendan’s unwavering gaze remained on her, waiting for her to crack. She was going to crack, right? Multiple voices drifted back to her, tightening the nape of her neck. You play dress-up and spend your daddy’s money. You don’t have a reason to learn anything. There’s just nothing to you, okay? You have no drive to go anywhere. Or do anything. Why would you when this life I’ve provided you is always here, rewarding your lack of ambition with comfort and an excuse to remain blissfully stagnant? Brendan’s smugness was suddenly cloying, like glue drying in her windpipe. How original. Another man who thought she was worthless? How positively breathtaking. He didn’t matter. His opinion was moot. Everyone’s low expectations of her were beginning to wear kind of thin, though. One look at her and this prick had become as dismissive of her abilities as her stepfather and her ex-boyfriend. What was it about her that courted such harsh judgment? Piper wasn’t sure, but after being dumped and banished to this murder hostel, she didn’t really feel like taking another lump, especially when it wasn’t warranted. One night. She could do one night. Couldn’t she? “We’re good, aren’t we, Hanns?” Piper said brightly. “We never got to do the whole summer-camp thing. It’ll be fun.” Piper glanced over at Hannah, relieved when her face warmed into a smile. “We’re good.” She sashayed across the space like she was surveying a million-dollar penthouse. “Very versatile. Cozy. Just needs a splash of paint.” “Mmmm,” Piper hummed in agreement, nodding and tapping a finger against her chin. “Form and function. That abandoned pallet in the corner will make a lovely display shelf for my shoe collection.” When she risked a look at Brendan, it stressed her out to find his superior smile hadn’t slipped an iota. Which was when she heard the scratching. It reminded her of a newspaper being crumpled in a fist. “What is that?” she asked. “Your other roommate.” Brendan tucked his tongue into his cheek, sauntered toward the exit. “One of several, I’m guessing.” No sooner had the words left his mouth than a rodent scurried across the floor, darting one way, then the other, his itty-bitty nose twitching. What was it? A mouse? Weren’t they supposed to be cute? Piper scrambled onto the top bunk with a yip, Hannah hot on her heels. They met in the middle and clung to each other, Piper trying not to gag. “Enjoy your night, ladies.” Brendan’s arrogant chuckle followed him out the door, his boots making the stairs groan on his way back down to the bar. “See you around. Maybe.” “Wait!” Gingerly, Piper climbed down off the bunk and shuddered her way out onto the landing where Brendan had paused, keeping her voice low. “You wouldn’t happen to know a good, um . . . exterminator slash housekeeper in the area, would you?” His derision was palpable. “No. We clean our own houses and catch our own vermin here.” “Catchy.” She checked around her ankles for hungry critters. “Put that on the town welcome sign and watch real estate prices soar.” “Real estate prices,” he echoed. “That kind of talk belongs in LA. Not here.” Piper rolled her eyes. “What is it like having such an accurate sense of where things belong? And who belongs where?” Still scouting for critters, she said absently, “I can be in a room full of people that I know and still not feel like I belong.” As she played that statement back to herself, Piper’s eyes snapped up to find Brendan frowning down at her. She started to smooth her blurted truth over with something light and diverting, but her exhaustion made it too much of an effort. “Anyway, thanks for the warm welcome, Mayor Doom and Gloom.” She retreated a step back into the apartment. “You’ve sure put me in my place.” He squinted an eye. “Hold on.” Weirdly, Piper held her breath, because it seemed like he was going to say something important. In fact, she kind of got the feeling he didn’t say much unless it was significant. But at the last second, he seemed to change his mind, dropping the thoughtful expression. “You’re not here to film a reality show or some shit, are you?” She slammed the door in his face. Chapter Six Brendan locked the door of his house and double-checked his watch. Eight fifteen, on the dot. As was a captain’s habit, he took a moment to judge the sky, the temperature, and the fog density. Smelled like the sun would burn the mist off by ten o’clock, keeping the early August heat minimal until he could finish his errands. He pulled on his beanie and took a left on foot toward West Ocean Avenue, traveling the same route he always did. Timing could make all the difference to a fisherman, and he liked to stay in practice, even on his off days. The shops were just opening, the squawking calls of hungry seagulls blending with bells tinkling as employees propped open doors. The drag of a chalkboard sign being hauled out to the curb advertising fresh catches, some of which Brendan’s crew had caught themselves on their last outing. Shopkeepers called lazy good mornings to each other. A couple of young kids lit cigarettes in a huddle outside the brewery, already dressed for the beach. Since they were nearing the end of tourist season, there were markdowns advertised everywhere. On fishing hats and postcards and lunch specials. He appreciated the cycle of things. Tradition. The reliability of weather changing, and the shifting seasons setting people about a routine. It was the consistency of this place. Enduring, just like the ocean he loved. He’d been born in Westport, and he never intended to leave. A ripple of aggravation fanned out beneath his skin when he recalled the night before. The stone tossed into the calm waters of how things were done. Outsiders didn’t simply show up and claim ownership of things here. In Westport, people worked for everything they had. Nothing was handed over without blood, sweat, and tears. The two girls didn’t strike him as people who had an appreciation for the place, the people, the past it was built on. The hard work it took to sustain a community on the whims of a volatile ocean—and do it well. Good thing they wouldn’t be sticking around for long. He’d be shocked if Piper made it through the night without checking in to the closest five-star hotel. I can be in a room full of people that I know and still not feel like I belong. Why did his mind refuse to let that drop? He’d gnawed it over for far too long last night, then again this morning. It didn’t fit. And he didn’t like things that didn’t fit. A beautiful girl—with admittedly sharp humor—like Piper could belong anywhere she chose, couldn’t she? Just not here. Brendan waited at a stoplight before crossing Montesano, breezing through the automatic door of the Shop’n Kart, the wrinkle of irritation smoothing itself out when he saw that everything was in its place. He waved at Carol, the usual register attendant. Paper gulls hung from the ceiling and blew around in the breeze he’d allowed inside. Not many people were in the store yet, which was why he liked to come early. No conversations or questions about the upcoming crab season. If he expected a big haul, the course he’d charted. If the crew of the Della Ray would beat out the Russians. Talking about his plans would only jinx them. As a seaman, Brendan was all about luck. He knew he could only control so much. He could construct a tight schedule, guide the boat in a direction of his choosing. But it was up to the ocean how and when she gave up her treasures. With crab season quickly approaching, he could only hope fortune would favor them once again, as it had the last eight years since he’d taken over from his father-in-law as captain. Brendan picked up a handcart and headed west, to the freezer aisle. He didn’t have a list and didn’t need one, since he got the same groceries every time. First things he’d grab were some frozen burger patties and then— “Siri, what should I make for dinner?” That voice, drifting over from the next aisle, made Brendan stop in his tracks. “Here’s what I found on the Web,” came the electronic reply. A whine followed. “Siri, what is an easy dinner?” He ground a fist into his forehead, listening to Piper speak to her phone as if it were a living, breathing human being. There was some frustrated muttering. “Siri, what is tarragon?” Brendan dragged a hand down his face. Who had let this girl child out into the world on her own without supervision? Frankly, he was kind of shocked to find her in a supermarket at all. Not to mention this early in the morning. But he wasn’t going to question her. He didn’t care about her explanation. There was a schedule to adhere to. He trudged on, ripping the burger patties out of the freezer and throwing them into the handcart. He turned to the other side of the lane and picked out his usual bread. No-frills wheat. He hesitated before turning down the next aisle, where Piper was still yacking at her phone . . . and couldn’t help but draw up short, a frown gathering his brows together. Who the fuck wore a sequined jumpsuit to the grocery store? At least, he thought it might be called a jumpsuit. It was one of those deals women wore in the summertime with the top attached to the bottom. Except this one had shorts that ended right below her tight ass and made her look like a goddamn disco ball. “Siri . . .” Her shoulders sagged, her handcart dangling from limp fingers. “What is a meal with two ingredients?” Brendan let out an inadvertent sigh, and with a toss of hair, she glanced up, blinking. He ignored the stab of awe in his chest. She’d gotten prettier overnight, damn her. With a roll of his shoulders, he tried to ease the tension bracketed by his rib cage. This girl probably inspired the same reaction in every man she ever came across. Even in the harsh supermarket lighting, he couldn’t pick out a single flaw. Didn’t want to look that closely. But he’d have to be dead not to. Might as well admit it. Piper’s body reminded him, for the first time in a long, long time, that he had needs that couldn’t be satisfied forever by his own hand. Add it to the list of reasons her stay in Westport couldn’t be over fast enough. “Still here?” Jaw bunched, Brendan tore his eyes away from her long, achingly smooth-looking legs and moved down the aisle, dropping pasta and a jar of sauce into his basket. “Thought you’d be long gone by now.” “Nope.” He could sense how pleased she was with herself as she fell into step beside him. “Looks like you’re stuck with me at least one more day.” He lobbed a box of rice into his basket. “Did you make peace with the mice horde?” “Yes. They’re making me a dress for the ball right now.” She paused, seeming to study him to see if he got the Cinderella reference. But he gave away nothing. “Um . . .” Did he just slow his step so she could keep up with him? Why? “Um, what?” To her credit, she didn’t bat an eyelash at his shitty tone. Her smile might have been a little brittle, but she kept it in place, chin up. “Look, I sense you’re in a hurry, but . . .” “I am.” That fire he’d seen in her eyes last night was back, flickering behind the baby blue. “Well, if you’re late for an appointment to go roll around in fish . . .” She leaned forward and sniffed. “Might as well cancel. You’re already nailing it.” “Welcome to Westport, honey. Everything smells like fish.” “Not me,” she said, cocking a hip. “Give it time.” He reached for a can of peas. “Matter of fact, don’t.” She threw the hand holding her phone, let it slap down against the outside of her thigh. “Wow. What is your problem with me?” “Bet you’re used to men falling all over themselves to make you happy, huh?” He tossed the can up in the air, caught it. “Sorry, I’m not going to be one of them.” For some reason, his statement had Piper’s head tipping back on a semi-hysterical laugh. “Yes. Men salivate to do my bidding.” She used her phone to gesture between them. “Is that all this is? You’re being rude to me because I’m spoiled?” Brendan leaned close. Close enough to watch her incredible lips part, to catch the scent of something blatantly feminine—not flowers. Smoky and sensual, yet somehow light. The fact that he wanted to get closer and inhale more pissed him off further. “I saw your judgment of this place before anyone else last night. The way you looked up at the building and laughed, like it was some cruel joke being played on you.” He paused. “It’s like this. On my boat, I have a crew, and each member has a family. A history. Those roots run all through the town. They’ve lived a lot of it inside No Name. And on the deck of my boat. Remembering the importance of each member of my crew and the people waiting on shore for them is my job. That makes this town my job. You wouldn’t understand the character it takes to make this place run. The persistence.” “No, I don’t,” she sputtered, losing some steam. “I’ve been here less than one day.” When sympathy—and a little regret over being so harsh—needled him in his middle, he knew it was time to move on. But when he turned the corner into the next aisle, she followed, trying to look like she knew what she was doing by putting apple cider vinegar and lima beans in her cart. “Jesus Christ.” He set his cart down and crossed his arms. “Just what the hell are you planning on making with that combination?” “Something to poison you with would be nice.” She gave him one last disgruntled look and stomped off, that work-of-art backside twitching all the way to the end of the aisle. “Thank you for being so neighborly. You know, you obviously love this place. Maybe you should try being a better representation of it.” All right. That got him. Brendan had been raised by a community. A village. By the time he was ten years old, he’d seen the inside of every house in Westport. Each and every resident was a friend of his parents. They babysat him, his parents returned the favor, and so on. His mother always brought a dish to celebrations when the men came back from sea, did the same for acquaintances who were sick. Kindness and generosity could be counted on. It had been a damn long while since he’d wondered what his mother would think of his behavior, but he thought of it now and grimaced. “Fuck,” he muttered, snatching up his basket and following Piper. Spoiled rich girl or not, she’d been right. About this one thing. As a resident of Westport, he wasn’t doing this place justice. But just like the rare times he got off course on the water, he could easily correct the path—and get the hell on with his day. “All right,” he said, coming up behind Piper in the baking aisle and watching her shoulder blades stiffen. “Based on the conversation you were having with your phone, it sounds like you’re looking for a quick meal. That right?” “Yes,” she mumbled without turning around. He waited for Piper to look at him, but she didn’t. And he definitely wasn’t impatient to see her face. Or anything like that. This close, he judged that the top of her head just about reached his shoulder, and felt another minor pang of regret for being a dick. “Italian’s easiest, if you don’t need it to be fancy.” Finally, she faced him, mid–eye roll. “I don’t need fancy. Anyway, it’s mostly . . .” She shook her head. “Never mind.” “What?” “It’s mostly for Hannah.” She fluttered her fingers to indicate the lined shelves. “The cooking. To thank her for coming with me. She didn’t have to. You’re not the only one with important people and roots. I have people who I want to look out for, too.” Brendan told himself he didn’t want to know anything about Piper. Why exactly she’d come, what she planned to do here. None of it. But his mouth was already moving. “Why are you in Westport, anyway? To sell the building?” She wrinkled her nose, considered his question. “I guess that’s an option. We haven’t really thought that far ahead.” “Think of all the giant hats you could buy.” “You know what, assho—” She turned on a heel and started to bail, but he caught her elbow to halt her progress. When she ripped out of his hold immediately and backed away with a censorious expression, it caught him off guard. At least until he noticed she was looking pointedly at his wedding ring. The temptation to put her misconception to rest was sudden and . . . alarming. “I’m not interested,” she said flatly. “I’m not, either.” Liar, accused the tripping of his pulse. “What you said before, about your sister being your roots. I get that.” He cleared his throat. “You’ve got other ones, too. Here in Westport. If you feel like bothering.” Her disapproval cleared slightly. “You mean my father.” “For a start, yes. I didn’t know him, but he’s part of this place. That means he’s part of us all. We don’t forget.” “There are barely any memories for me to forget,” she said. “I was four when we left, and after that . . . it wasn’t spoken about. Not because I wasn’t curious, but because it hurt our mother.” Her eyes flickered. “I remember his laugh, though. I . . . can hear it.” Brendan grunted, really beginning to wish he’d stepped back and considered her from more than one angle before going on the defensive. “There’s a memorial for him. Across from the museum, up on the harbor.” She blinked. “There is?” He nodded, surprised by the invitation to bring her there that nearly snuck out. “I’m almost scared to go look at it,” she said slowly to herself. “I’ve gotten so comfortable with what little memories I have. What if it triggers more?” The more minutes ticked past in Piper’s presence, the more he started to question his first impression of her. Was she actually an overindulged brat from the land of make-believe? He couldn’t help but catalogue everything else he knew about her. Such as, she wouldn’t pursue an unavailable man. Thought she couldn’t belong in a room full of people she knew. And she was in the store at eight thirty in the morning to buy ingredients to make a meal for her sister. So. Maybe not as selfish as he’d originally thought. Honestly, though. What the hell did his impression of her matter? She’d be gone soon. He wasn’t interested. End of. “Then I guess you’ll have to call your therapist. I’m sure you’ve got one.” “Two, if you count my backup,” she responded, chin raised. Brendan staved off his interest in inspecting the line of her throat by rooting around in his basket. “Look. Make your sister an easy Bolognese sauce.” He transferred his jar of marinara into her basket, along with the flute of pasta. “Come on.” He turned to make sure she was following on the way to the meat aisle, where he picked up a pound of ground beef and wedged it in along with her other purchases, which still included the lima beans and apple cider vinegar. He was kind of curious if she’d buy those two items just to be stubborn. Piper looked between him and the meat. “What do I do with that?” “Put a little olive oil on the pan, brown it up. Add some onions, mushrooms if you want. When it’s all cooked, add the sauce. Put it over pasta.” She stared at him like he’d just called a football play. “So like . . . everything stays in layers?” Piper murmured slowly, as if envisioning the actions in her head and finding it mind-blowingly stressful. “Or do I mix it all up?” Brendan took the sauce back out of her basket. “Here’s a better idea. Walk up to West Ocean and grab some takeout menus.” “No, wait!” They started a tug-of-war with the sauce jar. “I can do it.” “Be honest, you’ve never used a stove, honey,” he reminded her wryly. “And you can’t sell the building if you burn it down.” “I won’t.” She gave a closed-mouth scream. “God, I feel sorry for your wife.” His grip loosened automatically on the jar, and he snatched his hand back like he’d been burned. He started to respond, but there was something caught in his throat. “You should,” he said finally, his smile stiff. “She put up with a lot.” Piper paled, her eyes ticking to the center of his chest. “I didn’t mean . . . Is she . . . ?” “Yeah.” His tone was flat. “Gone.” “I’m sorry.” She closed her eyes, rocking back on her heels. “I want to curl up and die right now, if it makes you feel any better.” “Don’t. It’s fine.” Brendan coughed into his fist and stepped around her, intending to grab a few more things and check out. But he stopped before he could get too far. For some stupid reason, he didn’t want to leave her feeling guilty. There was no way she could have known. “Listen.” He nodded at her basket. “Don’t forget to have the fire department on speed dial.” After the briefest hesitation, Piper huffed at him. “Don’t forget to buy soap,” she said, waving a hand in front of her face. But he didn’t miss the gratitude in those baby blues. “See you around. Maybe.” “Probably not.” She shrugged. “We’ll see.” “Guess we will.” Fine. Done. Nothing more to say. It took him another handful of seconds to get moving. And hell if he didn’t smile on his way back up West Ocean. Chapter Seven After the groceries had been purchased and organized in the mini-fridge, the Bellinger sisters decided to go exploring—and escape the grunge of the upstairs apartment. Now Piper sat perched on the wooden railing overlooking the harbor, head tilted to allow the early afternoon breeze to lift the hair from her neck, sunshine painting her cheek. She looked inspired and well rested, fashion-forward in a scoop-back bodysuit and skinny jeans. Chloe ankle booties that said, I might go on one of these boats, but someone else will be doing the work. “Hanns,” she said out of the side of her mouth. “Lift the phone and angle it down.” “My arms are getting tired.” “One more. Go stand on that bench.” “Piper, I’ve gotten no fewer than forty shots of you looking like a goddess. How many options do you need?” She gave an exaggerated pout. “Please, Hannah. I’ll buy you an ice cream.” “I’m not a seven-year-old,” Hannah grumbled, climbing onto the stone bench. “I’m getting sprinkles.” “Ooh, that would be a cute picture of you!” “Yes,” her sister replied drily. “I’m sure all nineteen of my followers would love it.” “If you’d let me share just once—” “No way. We talked about this. Tip your head back.” Piper complied, and her sister snapped the pic. “I like being private. No sharing.” Piper swung herself off the rail, accepting her phone back from Hannah. “You’re just so cute, and everyone should know it.” “Uh-uh. Too much pressure.” “How?” “You’re probably so used to it by now, you don’t stop to think of how . . . all these strangers and their responses to your posts are determining your enjoyment. Like, are you even experiencing the harbor right now, or are you trying to come up with a caption?” “Oof. Below the belt.” She sniffed. “Is ‘Feeling a little nauti’ cute?” “Yes.” Hannah snorted. “But that doesn’t mean you can tag me.” “Fine.” Piper harrumphed and shoved her phone into her back pocket. “I’ll wait to post it so I won’t be checking for likes. I can’t get any reception, anyway. What should I look at with my eyeballs? What does reality have to offer me? Guide me, O wise one.” With an indulgent grin, Hannah locked her arm through Piper’s. They each got an ice cream from a small shop and headed toward the rows of moored fishing vessels. Seagulls circled ominously overhead, but after a while, the sight of them and their shrill calls became part of the scenery, and Piper stopped worrying about being shat on. It was a clammy August afternoon, and tourists in sandals and bucket hats shuffled past signs advertising whale watching and boarded boats that bobbed in the water. Others stood in circles on the edges of the docks dropping what looked like steel buckets into the blue. Piper noticed up ahead the white building proclaiming itself the maritime museum and recalled what Brendan had said about Henry Cross’s memorial. “Hey. Um . . . not to spring this on you, but apparently there’s a memorial for our father up here. Do you want to go look?” Hannah considered. “That’s going to be weird.” “So weird,” Piper agreed. “It would be weirder for his daughters not to visit, though.” She chewed her lip. “Let’s do it. If we wait, we’ll keep finding reasons to put it off.” “Would we?” Not for the first time today, it occurred to Piper how little they’d spoken about the weird elephant in the room. Also known as the blurry start of their lives. “Finding out about Henry is something you’d want to avoid?” “Isn’t it?” They traded a glance. “Maybe following Mom’s lead on this is just natural.” “Yeah.” Only it didn’t feel natural. It kind of felt like a chunk was missing from her memory. Or like there was a loose string in a sweater that she couldn’t ignore. Or like perhaps Brendan’s judgment had gotten to her in the supermarket. Her mother and grandparents had kept important details about Henry from her, but she could have found out about him on her own, right? Maybe this was her chance. “I think I want to go.” “Okay.” Her sister studied her. “Let’s do it.” Piper and Hannah continued along the harbor, scanning for the memorial. They returned the wave of an elderly man who sat on the museum lawn reading the paper. Shortly after, they spotted a brass statue outlined by the sea. Their steps slowed a little, but they kept going until they stopped in front of it. Gulls screeched around them, boats hummed in the distance, and life continued as usual while they stood in front of an artist’s rendering of their long-lost father. There he was. Henry Cross. He’d been standing there, immortalized, the whole time. A larger-than-life brass version of him, anyway. Maybe that’s why his frozen smile and the metal ripple of his fisherman’s jacket seemed so impersonal, foreign. Piper searched for some kind of connection inside of her, but couldn’t find it, and the guilt made her mouth dry. A plaque positioned at his feet read: Henry Cross. Deeply Missed, Forever Remembered. “He looks like a young Kevin Costner,” Piper murmured. Hannah huffed a sound. “Oh shit, he really does.” “You were right. This is weird.” Their hands met and clasped. “Let’s go. I have that Zoom call with Sergei in ten minutes, anyway.” Hannah had agreed to do some remote administrative work while in Westport, and she needed time to brush her hair and find a good background. Their pace brisk, the sisters turned down the street that would guide them back to No Name and their apartment, but neither spoke. Hannah seemed deep in thought, while Piper tried to contend with the guilt—and a mild sense of failure—that she hadn’t been . . . grabbed by her first encounter with Henry. Was she too shallow to feel anything? Or was the beginning of her life so far removed from her reality, she couldn’t reach it so many years later? Piper took a deep breath, her lungs rejoicing from the lack of smog. They passed fishermen as they walked, most of the men on the older side, and every single one of them gave the sisters a tip of the cap. Piper and Hannah smiled back. Even if they stayed a year in Westport, she’d probably never get used to the friendly ease of the locals, as they went around acknowledging other humans for no reason. There was something kind of nice about it, though she definitely preferred the bored indifference of Los Angeles. Definitely. There was also something to be said for not looking at her phone as she walked. If she’d been responding to comments on her post, she might have missed the woman putting fresh fish into the window of her shop, two seagulls fighting over a French fry, a toddler trundling out of a candy shop stuffing saltwater taffy into his mouth. Maybe she should try to put her phone down more often. Or at least take in the real moments when she could. When they reached No Name, Piper was surprised to find a man leaning up against the door. He appeared to be in his sixties, slightly round at the middle, a newsboy cap resting on top of his head. He watched them approach through narrowed eyes, a slight curve to his mouth. “Hi,” Hannah called, getting out her keys. “Can we help you?” The man pushed off the door, slapped a hand against his thigh. “Just came to see Henry and Maureen’s girls for myself, and there you are. How about that?” After living two decades without hearing her father’s name at all, it was a jolt to hear it out loud, have it connected with them. And their mother. “I’m Piper,” she said, smiling. “This is Hannah. And you’re . . . ?” “Mick Forrester,” he said affably, putting out his hand for a shake, giving each sister a hearty one. “I remember when you were knee high.” “Oh! It’s nice to meet you as adults.” She glanced at Hannah. “My sister has a work thing. But if you’d like to come in, I think there’s still some beer in one of the coolers.” “No, I couldn’t. I’m on my way to lunch with the old-timers.” He smoothed his thick-knuckled hands over his belly, as if pondering what he’d order to fill it. “Couldn’t let a day pass before I stopped by to say hello, see if you girls ended up favoring Maureen or Henry.” His eyes twinkled as he looked between them. “I’d have to say your mother, for sure. Lucky, that. No one wants to look like a weathered fisherman.” He laughed. “Although, Henry might have had that ocean-worn look about him, but, boy, your dad had a great laugh. Sometimes I swear I still hear it shaking the rafters of this place.” “Yeah.” Inwardly, Piper winced at this stranger having more substantial memories and feelings for her own father. “That’s kind of the only thing I remember.” “Shoot.” Hannah’s smile was tight. “I’m going to be late to the meeting. Pipes, you’ll fill me in?” “Will do. Good luck.” Piper waited until Hannah had disappeared, the sound of her running up the back stairs of No Name fading after a moment. “So, how did you know Henry?” Mick settled into himself, arms crossing over his chest. A classic storytelling stance. “We fished together. Worked our way up the ranks, side by side, from greenhorns to deckhands to crew, until eventually I bought the Della Ray and became my own captain.” Some of the luster dulled in his eyes. “Not to bring up a sad subject, Piper, but I was right there in the wheelhouse when we lost him. It was a dark day. I never had a better friend than Henry.” Piper laid a hand on his elbow. “I’m sorry.” “Hell, you’re his daughter.” He reared back. “I’m the one should be comforting you.” “I wish . . . Well, we don’t remember much about him at all. And our mother . . .” “She was hurting too much to fill in the blanks, I’m guessing. That’s not unusual, you know. Wives of fishermen come from tough stock. They have nerves of steel. My wife has them, passed them on to my daughter, Desiree.” He gave a nod. “You might have met her husband, Brendan, the other night when you arrived.” Desiree. That was Brendan’s late wife’s name? Just like that, she was real. Someone with a personality. Someone with a face, a voice, a presence. Sadness had turned down the sides of his mouth at the mention of his daughter. “Wives of fishermen are taught to lock up their fears, get on with it. No crying or complaining. Your mother rebelled against the norm a little, I suppose. Couldn’t find a way to cope with the loss, so she picked up and left. Started over in a place that wouldn’t remind her of Westport. Can’t say I wasn’t tempted a time or two to do the same after my daughter passed, but I found it was worth staying the course.” Piper’s throat felt tight. “I’m sorry. About your daughter.” Mick nodded once, weariness walking across his face. “Listen, I’ve got a lot more to tell you. Since you’re staying awhile, I figure we’ll have chances. A lot of us locals remember your father, and we never miss a chance to reminisce.” He took a piece of paper out of his back pocket, handed it over to Piper. An address was written on it, blunt but legible. “Speaking of locals, I figured there’s one who’d be more eager to catch up than any of us. This here is the address for Opal. I wasn’t sure if you’d had a chance to stop over and see her yet.” Was Opal a woman Piper was supposed to know? No clue. But after visiting Henry’s memorial and not being moved the way she should have been, she wasn’t up for admitting her cluelessness, on top of the lingering guilt. Plus, there was something else she’d been wondering about and didn’t want to miss her chance to ask. “Opal. Of course.” Piper folded up the piece of paper, debating whether or not she should ask her next question. “Mick . . . how exactly did Henry . . . ?” She sighed and started over. “We know it happened at sea, but we don’t know the details, really.” “Ah.” He removed his hat, pressed it to the center of his chest. “Rogue wave is what did it. He was standing there one minute, gone the next. She just snatched him right off the deck. We always thought he must have hit his head before going into the drink, because no one was a stronger swimmer than Henry. He had to be out cold when he went overboard. And that Bering Sea water is so damn frigid, there’s only a minute’s window before it sucks the breath right out of a man’s lungs.” A shudder caught her off guard, goose bumps lifting on every inch of her skin. “Oh my God,” she whispered, imagining the robust man made of brass being pitched over the side of a boat, sinking to the bottom of the ocean all alone. Cold. Did he wake up or just drift off? She hoped it was the latter. Oddly, her thoughts strayed to Brendan. Was he safe when he ventured out on the water? Was all fishing this dangerous? Or just crab fishing? “That’s terrible.” “Yeah.” Mick sighed and replaced his hat, reaching out to pat her awkwardly on the shoulder. Until he touched her, Piper didn’t realize her eyes were wet. “I promise I won’t make you cry every time I see you,” he said, obviously trying to lighten the mood. “Just once in a while?” She laughed. Amusement lit his eyes again. “Here now, listen. We’re having a little party on Friday night. Just us locals having some drinks, a potluck. Sharing memories. Consider yourself and Hannah invited.” He pointed toward the harbor. “Up that way, there’s a bar called Blow the Man Down. We’ll be in the party room downstairs, around eight in the evening. I hope we’ll see you there.” “I do love a party.” She winked at him, and he blushed. “All right, then.” He gave her the signature Westport hat tip. “Great meeting you, Piper. You have a good day now.” “You too, Mick.” “Henry Cross’s daughter,” he muttered, heading off. “Hell of a thing.” Piper stood and watched him walk for a little before going inside. She didn’t want to interrupt Hannah’s Zoom call, so she took a seat on one of the barrels, letting the quiet settle around her. And for the first time, No Name felt like a little more than four walls. Chapter Eight Later that night, Piper stared down at the package of ground beef and tried to gather the courage to touch it with her bare hands. “I can’t believe meat looks like brains before it’s been cooked. Does everyone know about this?” Hannah came up behind her sister, propping her chin on Piper’s shoulder. “You don’t have to do this, you know.” She thought of Brendan’s smug face. “Oh, yes I do.” She sighed, prodding the red blob with her index finger. “Even if we could find a way to stretch our budget to cover takeout for every night, you should have home-cooked meals.” Shifting side to side, she shook out her wrists, took in a bracing breath. “I’m the big sister, and I’m going to see that you’re properly nourished. Plus, you cleaned the toilet from hell. You’ve earned dinner and sainthood, as far as I’m concerned.” She sensed her sister’s shiver. “I can’t argue with that. There were stains in there dating back to the Carter administration.” After her work call, Hannah had tripped over to the hardware store for cleaning supplies. They’d found a broom, dustpan, and a few rags in a supply closet downstairs in the bar, but that was it. Meaning they’d been forced to spend a chunk of their budget on bleach, a mop, a bucket, paper towels, sponges, cleaning fluids, and steel wool to block the mouse holes. All eight of them. When they’d dragged the bunk bed away from the wall, the panel running along the bottom had resembled Swiss cheese. They’d been cleaning since midafternoon, and the studio, while still irreversibly grungy, looked a whole lot better. And Piper could admit to a certain satisfaction that came along with making her own progress. Being part of a before and after that didn’t involve makeup or working with a personal trainer. Not that she wanted to get used to cleaning. But still. It smelled like lemons now instead of rotting garbage, and the Bellinger sisters of Bel-Air were responsible. Nobody back home would believe it. Not to mention, her manicurist would shit a brick if she could see the chipped polish on Piper’s nails. As soon as they were settled, finding a full-service salon that did hair, nails, and waxing was top of the agenda. But first. Bolognese. Looking at the lined-up ingredients forced her to recall her impromptu morning shopping trip with Brendan. God, he’d been smug. Right up until she’d brought up his deceased wife. He hadn’t been smug then. More like distraught. How long had the woman been gone? If Brendan was still wearing his wedding ring, the death had to be recent. If so, he had a thundercloud attitude for a good reason. Despite her dislike of the burly, bearded fisherman, she couldn’t stave off a rush of sympathy for him. Maybe they could learn to wave and smile at each other on the street for the next three months. If growing up in Los Angeles had taught her anything, it was how to make a frenemy. Next time they crossed paths, she also wouldn’t mind telling him she’d mastered Bolognese and had moved on to soufflés and coq au vin. Who knew? Maybe cooking was her undiscovered calling. Piper turned the stove burner on, holding her breath as it clicked. Clicked some more. Flames shot out of the black wrought iron, and she yelped, stumbling backward into her sister, who thankfully steadied her. “Maybe you should tie your hair back?” Hannah suggested. “Fingers might be sacrificed tonight, but let’s not lose those effortless beach waves.” “Oh my God, you’re so right.” Piper exhaled, whipping the black band off her wrist and securing a neat ponytail. “Good looking out, Hanns.” “No problem.” “Okay, I’m just going to do it,” Piper said, holding her spread fingers above the beef. “He said to cook it on the pan until it turned brown. That doesn’t sound too hard.” “Who said?” “Oh.” She made a dismissive sound. “Brendan was in the supermarket this morning being a one-man asshole parade.” Closing her eyes, she picked up the meat and dropped the whole thing into the pan, a little alarmed by the loud sizzle that followed. “He’s a widower.” Hannah came around the side of the stove, propping an elbow on the wall that was much cleaner than it had been this morning. “How did you find that out?” “We were arguing. I said I felt sorry for his wife.” “D’oh.” Piper groaned while poking the meat with a rusty spatula. Was she, like, supposed to turn it over at some point? “I know. He kind of let me get away with sticking my foot in it, though. Which was surprising. He could have really laid on the guilt.” Piper chewed on her lip a moment. “Do I come across really spoiled?” Her sister reached up under her red ball cap to scratch her temple. “We’re both spoiled, Pipes, in the sense that we’ve been given everything we could want. But I don’t like that word, because it implies you’re . . . ruined. Like you have no good qualities. And you do.” She frowned. “Did he call you spoiled?” “It has been heavily implied.” Hannah sniffed. “I don’t like him.” “Me either. Especially his muscles. Yuck.” “There were definitely muscles,” Hannah agreed reluctantly. Then she hugged her middle and sighed, letting Piper know exactly whom she was thinking about. “He can’t compete with Sergei, though. Nobody can.” Realizing her hands were greasy from the meat, Piper reached over to the sink, which was right there, thanks to the kitchen being all of four feet wide, and rinsed her hands. She dried them on a cloth and set it down, then went back to prodding the meat. It was getting pretty brown, so she tossed in the onion slices, congratulating herself on being the next Giada. “You’ve always gone for the starving-artist boys,” she murmured to Hannah. “You like them tortured.” “Won’t deny it.” Hannah slipped off her hat and ran her fingers through her medium-length hair. Hair just as nice as Piper’s, but worn down far less often. A crime, to Piper’s way of thinking, but she’d realized a long time ago that Hannah was going to be Hannah—and she didn’t want to change a single thing about her sister. “Sergei is different, though. He’s not just pretending to be edgy, like the other directors I’ve worked with. His art is so bitt