College senior Chloe Garrick travels halfway around the world to work in a French art studio. While spending a summer in southern France might be a dream to someone else, all she really wants is to go home to Lindsey Point, where her friends, family, and sorority sisters are enjoying beach bonfires and late-night parties without her.
Bodhi Lawson has mastered the art of living alone. Scarred by a fire as a boy, he’s grown used to the stares of strangers and the rejection of women, and living in a small French town suits him well. But when Chloe moves in next door, he finds himself opening up to the bubbly American in ways he never imagined.
At first, Chloe is counting the days until she can return to the States, but the more time she spends with Bodhi, the more she wants to know about the man behind the mask. When an unexpected tragedy summons her home, will Chloe and Bodhi retreat to the safety of the worlds they’ve always known, or take a chance and risk it all for love?
June 4, Marseilles Airport
Bodhi Lawson strode through the airport and scowled. Late spring in the French Riviera had turned beastly hot in a matter of days. This time last month, he’d still been wearing a wool cap and gloves on his walk to work. Today the air seemed to warp with the heat, and the pavement had shimmered under the tires of his Renault as he drove the fifty miles from Touciennes.
He checked his phone, then the arrival time of Flight 303 from New York City. Due in at nine, they’d been delayed almost two hours leaving the States. Now her ETA read 11:10.
“Excusez moi,” a woman said behind him. Bodhi glanced over his shoulder and stepped aside. The woman dropped her gaze, then lifted it again, as if to indicate she hadn’t seen his right cheek or been shocked by its appearance. He knew the reaction. He’d seen it a thousand times in the last fifteen years. Maybe more.
The scar had faded with time, but it still covered most of his face. He wondered what Chloe Garrick would think when she saw it. He wondered if she’d give him the same look, pity crossed with curiosity. Or if she’d smile too widely, to pretend it didn’t matter, or look deliberately at the other side of his face instead. Or ask him straight out what had happened, or say something about it being either a gift from God or an obstacle to make him a better person. Maybe she’d recommend a plastic surgeon, or tell him the scar gave him character. He’d experienced every possible reaction. Nothing would surprise him.
He checked his phone again: 10:50. That gave him about a half hour before she arrived. He ran one hand over his shaggy dark hair and ordered a double espresso from the closest coffee shop. He should be at work, dealing with overdue accounts and new clients who needed hand-holding and daily phone calls.
Why did I agree to this?
He paced the concourse and sipped his espresso. That answer was easy. The Lawsons were indebted to Heath Garrick, always had been, since the guy headed off a mortar attack thirty years ago somewhere in a forgotten, forsaken desert and saved Jackson’s life.
I’m alive today because of Heath, plain and simple. If his father had said it once, he’d said it a thousand times. Bodhi heard it in his dreams sometimes, and he wondered what it felt like to owe your life to someone else’s actions. To feel simultaneously that connected and that indebted to another person.
He checked the time again. Babysitting a college student wasn’t really his idea of how to spend the summer. Okay, maybe he wasn’t babysitting exactly, more like finding her an apartment and showing her around town, but still. His father had mentioned something about Chloe doing community service, which sounded a little fishy. Weren’t there plenty of places she could do that at home? I don’t have a lot of time off, he’d said the first time his father e-mailed with the request.
Can’t imagine it’ll take a lot of time. You told me the other apartment was vacant.
Yes, he had. And besides, it always came back to the debt. Heath could have asked Bodhi’s father for the moon, and they would have figured out a way to get it for him.
He headed for the gate and nearly collided with a little boy darting through the airport. The boy slid to a stop just in front of Bodhi’s legs, wheeled his arms for balance, and was about to fall when Bodhi reached down and steadied him.
“There you go.”
The boy stared at him with wide black eyes. A moment later, a woman with the same wide eyes hurried up to them, scolding the boy in French, but when she looked at Bodhi, the words died in her throat. Her gaze moved from his face to the back of his arm, and the same scarred, twisted flesh that covered his wrist all the way to his elbow. He usually wore long sleeves in public, just to avoid situations like this one, but this morning he’d forgotten.
“Merci,” she whispered, then took the boy by one hand and led him away.
“You’re welcome,” Bodhi said, but they’d already disappeared around a corner.
He stuffed both hands into his pockets and waited for the terminal door to open. He wondered what she looked like. Her name is Chloe, his father had e-mailed last week. Long blondish hair and thin, I think. Not like either of them had ever seen the girl in person, though Bodhi seemed to recall Christmas cards sent the last couple of years, now that Heath had settled down with a woman in a small Connecticut town. He’d also seen a few pictures of his father with Heath back when they were both deployed, so he supposed he’d just look for a female version of Heath at twenty-one. Dark blue eyes and a square jaw. Possibly tall, unless Chloe had inherited her height from her mother.
Then she appeared almost directly in front of him, and every thought went straight out of Bodhi’s head.
Dark blue eyes, yes. Almost navy blue, if he was looking at them right. And long enough. And now it was too long, and still he couldn’t tear his eyes from hers as she smiled up at him from a face that was breathtakingly gorgeous and curious and young.
“Are you Bodhi Lawson?”
He stuck out a hand for her to shake and realized that she hadn’t stared at his cheek, or his arm, or done anything except look up at him with those goddamned spellbinding eyes. A flicker of something appeared in them and was gone.
“I asked my dad what you looked like. Actually, I tried to stalk you online, but you’re not big on social media, I’m guessing. I couldn’t find a single picture.”
He shook his head and tried to follow her conversation.
“Anyway, you’re the only one here that kinda matches my dad’s description.” She stopped. “You are Bodhi Lawson, right?”
“Ah, yeah. You’re Chloe Garrick?”
Who else would she be? She nodded as he cleared his throat and tried to ignore the screaming electricity that soared from her hand to his and straight to his groin. She’s a college kid, he told himself. She’s Heath Garrick’s kid.
But none of that mattered in the few seconds they stood in the airport, palm to palm. The woman standing in front of him wasn’t a kid, not by any stretch of the imagination. She had curves and a knowing smile and a whisper of a scar herself, just along her hairline. Hips that invited a man’s touch, and lips he wouldn’t mind tasting, especially dipped in chocolate and wine. A scent like vanilla and hair that fell in loose waves around her shoulders. He had a sudden urge to wrap both hands inside it, breathe deeply, and never come up for air...
This book releases on October 23, readers, but you can pre-order it now if you'd like!