Determined Kisses (Love in Sandy Beach #4)

By: Jessica Gray

Love in Sandy Beach Book 4

Chapter 1

Hazel Mendes was exhausted. Physically and mentally. She’d just completed the grueling three-day drive from her hometown in Montana to Sandy Beach, Wisconsin.

She exited her vehicle and walked down to the shore. Her tiredness hung like a weight around her neck, dragging her down, and she felt so alone, she wondered if she’d ever feel right again. She wrapped her arms around herself, both to ward off the breeze, and in an attempt to connect with herself.

The sounds of the waves filtered into her thoughts, almost hypnotic in their consistency. She let them lull her into a trance-like state, not thinking, just being. She’d been thinking for far too long; now she wanted everything to go away.

She took off her shoes and stepped forward, feeling the sand and the cold water beneath her feet. Her gaze remained on the horizon, but without seeing the beauty of it. She took another few steps, the waves lightly foaming around her ankles. And still she moved forward.

One step. Two steps.

Hazel was oblivious to the fact that she walked deeper and deeper into the water, oblivious to the chill or the light wind whipping around her. It wasn’t until she was almost waist deep in the water that the surroundings started to register in her brain.

Her sodden sweater pulled her down, almost anchoring her in place. The muddy lake bottom sucked at her feet, and suddenly the effort to take another step was too much. She stopped.

The cold began to seep into her consciousness, causing her to shiver, but she didn’t care. She looked toward the horizon, wishing with all her heart that her mother would come back.

Three months. It had been three months since her mother had taken her last breath and left this pain-ridden world. Three months where Hazel had simply gone through the motions of being alive.

Thoughts of her mother brought the searing pain of loss back like a fist to her gut. She missed her so much. A wave of loneliness swamped her and she swayed slightly as her body rocked in the waves.

Her face was wet with tears as they fell from her eyes. If I just keep walking, it could all end. This pain could go away and I could be with Mom again.

She’d never thought of taking her own life before, but in this moment, it seemed so easy. Just a little further into the lake…

“Hey! Are you alright?”

The sound of a deep, masculine voice penetrated the fog of her brain. She slowly turned her head and saw a tall dark-haired man standing on the shore, watching her anxiously. He seemed worried about something. He must be worried about me.

Hazel responded his question with a shouted “Yes,” while her soul was screaming, No. I’m not all right. Nothing’s ever going to be all right ever again. Nothing is ever going to make this pain go away.

She closed her eyes for a moment and willed him away. It would be too embarrassing to have to answer to him about what she was doing. But when she opened her eyes, he was still there. More of a presence and more handsome than before.

Fatigue and cold overwhelmed her, and she knew she should move back to the shore. That would be the logical and prudent thing to do, and would stop the stranger from worrying about her.

But her legs wouldn’t obey her mind. It was as if she was frozen in place, her feet cemented to the lake bottom, her body unable to move. She tried once again to lift her left foot, but nothing happened. Her muscles had cramped in the cold water, and her immobility had done the rest.

The voice drew nearer. “Lady, what are you doing?”

What am I doing? Hazel blinked at the horizon, her mind racing with everything she still needed to do. She needed to find a place to sleep tonight. She allowed her eyes to close once more. The truck was almost out of fuel. She needed to…

“Hey,” the sexy voice called to her, now much closer than before. She opened her eyes and turned her head toward the sound. The voice belonged to the most attractive man she’d ever seen.

Tipping her head back, she estimated he was almost a foot taller than her own 5'5". Her eyes met a pair of worried dark brown eyes. They reminded her of melted chocolate, and the wavy locks of his dark brown hair falling across his forehead had her fingers itching to run through them.

She quickly raised her hands to her face, trying to wipe the tears away, but they kept flowing from a never-ending spring. It didn’t help at all. She inwardly cringed at the thought of the disaster her face must look like. Reddened and swelled-up eyes, and a running nose. No, she wasn’t a pretty crier.

The stranger offered her a handkerchief without saying a word and she took it to wipe her nose. She dropped her hands and noticed that he was standing in the water next to her, fully clothed. Just like her.

“I’m Ethan Paxton, by the way,” he said and held his hand out to her.

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