And she still remembered who’d won the contest: Rafe Sullivan.
Brook had had the world’s biggest crush on him. Even at eight years old, she’d been able to recognize pure male beauty in the fourteen-year-old. His three brothers were also good looking, as was their sister and her friend, Mia, but Rafe had been special. He’d laughed louder and had been more willing to take a risk than his siblings.
Rafe Sullivan had been the most carefree—the most wonderfully wild—person she’d ever known.
The truck’s tires peeling out of the gravel driveway pulled her from her musings. She hadn’t seen the Sullivans in more than fifteen years. One summer they’d been there, the next they’d been gone and a boring older couple had taken their place. No more cannonballs off the dock, no more bonfires with her friends next door, no more hikes into the mountains around the lake where they pretended to be adventuring professors like Indiana Jones. The past few years, the house had been used as a vacation rental. Most of the temporary tenants had been perfectly fine, but none stayed long enough for her to become friends with, and the final tenants had been horrible. Loud, obnoxious, and more intent on partying than enjoying the lake. She’d been glad to see the For Sale sign go up. Hopefully, she’d end up with another family next door that truly appreciated all the lake had to offer.
It was late enough that the sun was about to set, and if she didn’t get into the lake soon, it would be too cold for her to stay in very long. In typical Pacific Northwest fashion, there was a slightly cool breeze in the air despite the fact that it had been a sunny day.
She loved being in the water so much that she grinned even as the cold shock had her moving into a fast breast stroke intended to get her heart pumping and her body temperature up. Within seconds, she was lost to everything but the glorious sensation of swimming through the clean, clear water. A fish swam beneath her, and she felt like she was in heaven.
She’d swum past half a dozen docks when she suddenly realized what the problem was with her latest recipe. She’d been planning to call her new chocolate collection Summer’s Pleasures, but given a little distance from her kitchen, she finally saw that she’d been too literal.
Wasn’t part of the joy of summer the memory of how cold winter had been? Just the slightest hint of that coolness—a pinch of mint, maybe?—would be the ideal way to highlight the lavender she’d chosen as the perfect taste of summer.
Swimming even faster now, she turned back toward her house. She couldn’t wait to try out her new idea to see if it worked. When she reached her dock, she grabbed hold of the wooden ladder on the side and quickly climbed out. Slicking her long hair back out of her eyes, she hurried to get back to her kitchen and was nearly to the front porch when she heard another loud engine pull up behind the cabin next door.
A lone man had just ridden up on his motorcycle, the ends of his dark hair whipping out from beneath his helmet.
Now that, thought Brooke with immediate female appreciation, is what wild and free looks like.
Her parents had taught her it wasn’t polite to stare, but she couldn’t remember why that admonition mattered as she watched the man pull off his helmet and run a large hand through his hair. She couldn’t see his face yet, but she didn’t need to see his features to know just how good looking he was. His shoulders were incredibly broad, and even from a distance she could see how big—and how capable—his hands were where he gripped the handlebars.
She was so busy reeling from a blast of pure lust for the stranger as he stepped away from his motorcycle that it took her a moment longer than it should have to realize that he wasn’t a stranger after all.
"Rafe?" His name came out as little more than a stunned whisper. "Is that really you?"
Her question was loud enough that he finally turned to face her. Only, instead of responding, he didn’t say a word, didn’t even move.
All he did was stare, but it was okay because she was busy staring right back.
People often said memories made things sweeter than they actually were. But Brooke now knew that wasn’t true at all. Not only had she not embellished how good looking Rafe Sullivan was over the years that they’d been apart, but, if anything, her recollections had sorely underplayed just how gorgeous he truly was.
His hair was dark and just a little too long, his skin was tanned, his jaw was dark with stubble, and he was so big and tall that she knew she’d have to stand on her tippy-toes and wrap her arms around his neck to kiss him.
The thought of doing something like that had her body instantly going warm all over despite the cool breeze on her wet skin. She’d been little more than a child the first time she remembered setting eyes on Rafe, but even then, he’d stood out from the rest of his siblings as more fun. More daring. And infinitely more beautiful.
When he still didn’t say anything, she took a step in his direction. "It’s me, Rafe. Brooke Jansen. Remember?"
Finally, the intensity of his dark gaze shifted into one of recognition. "Little Brooke," he said in a low voice that rippled over her, "how could I forget you?"
She had spent far too many years squashing her wild impulses. But following a wild impulse wasn’t what sent her straight into the arms of her favorite Sullivan without a second thought. It was pure happiness at finally seeing him again.
He caught her against his chest as she hugged him tight. He smelled so good and the bare patch of skin above his T-shirt was so warm despite the cool evening air that she couldn't resist burying her face against him. As she held on tight, she felt safer than she had in years. She’d lost too many of her favorite people from childhood, and was infinitely grateful to be given the precious gift of one of them back in her life.