Title: Waypoint
Series: San Jose Romances #3
Published by: Jelly Bean Press Co
Release Date: 07/08/2016
Contributors: Heather Tullis
Genre: ,
Pages: 309
ISBN13: 978-1630340285

Sometimes the only way forward is going backward.

When Dani and Kyle meet at a movie theater, they make an instant connection and become inseparable, but just as life seems to be going smoothly, Dani is attacked, and Kyle’s dad is seriously injured in an accident. Despite the estrangement between Kyle and his father, Kyle steps in to run the family boat shop while his father recovers. When it becomes clear the accident was actually sabotage, and the culprit is just beginning, a race ensues to stop whoever is responsible before they can destroy everything.

Add on Goodreads

Also in this series:

Chapter 1

Dani glanced down the dark street in both directions, her eyes pausing on each face on the San Jose street. Though it was well after sundown, young couples strolled down the littered streets. A boy of about three ran past her, a few feet in front of a tired-looking woman who called for him to come back to her. Hardly anyone entered the old theater that specialized in old movies, but she got in line. Though everything had seemed fine, she couldn’t help glancing back over her shoulder before going inside the run-down building. Empty parking lots and dark streets always freaked her out so she jumped at shadows. She touched her shoulder to make sure the wad of tips she’d stashed in her bra after work was still intact and headed for the concession stand.

Armed with her soda and Raisinets, she turned and headed for the seats. The theater was predictably only half full and smelled of popcorn. Dani looked at the room with its old seats and sticky floors—not at all like the plush, shiny theaters popping up all over the city. But then, she wouldn’t have been able to find a showing of classic 1973 Soylent Green if she’d gone to one of those other theaters.

She found a mostly empty row and slid into a seat near the middle. Dani loved to people watch, and took a good look around her at the other theater patrons. Most of them were old enough to be her parents, but there were a number of hipsters sitting in the corner, sipping coffee and projecting an air of culture and self-importance.

She checked her classic Stuhrling Original women’s watch—which she’d picked up at a jeweler’s liquidation sale for a steal—and noticed there were still a few minutes to go before the opening credits started.

A man with the most impossibly perfect brown hair slid into her row and looked at her. “Are these seats taken?”

When she shook her head, he sat a couple of seats down. She couldn’t help but allow her eyes to linger over the tall, brown-eyed man. He was in his mid-twenties, wore a button-down white shirt like he’d come from a board room—though if he’d been wearing a tie earlier, it had been removed, and the two top shirt buttons were undone. He tossed popcorn kernels into his mouth, and a huge soda and a large box of Raisinets sat beside him. She shifted her own box of Raisinets to the side and took a sip of her diet soda, facing front again. At least he had good taste in movie snacks.

Dani wiggled her feet, enjoying the way they tingled, grateful to be off of them after a ten-hour shift of cutting and coloring hair. Her Doc. Marten ankle boots were insanely comfortable, but her feet could only be expected to take so much abuse.

“Been on your feet long?” the man beside her asked.

She glanced over, a little embarrassed he’d noticed the move. “Yeah. I have one of those jobs.” She flicked her eyes over him. He had a cleft in his chin, something she found strangely appealing, though she’d never felt that way about the feature on other guys. “You look like a salesman or junior executive.”

“Guilty as charged—I’m a salesman.”

“I hate to say this, but you look a tad out of place here.” Despite the wide range of audience members, he stood out in a crowd. But maybe it wasn’t entirely due to his clothing.

His eyebrows lifted. “You’re one to talk.” His eyes skimmed over her, undoubtedly taking in her short, curly blond hair, fresh manicure, and abundant costume jewelry. “I have a hard time believing you went begging for something to do tonight, so you came here out of desperation and loneliness.”

She laughed, despite the fact she usually didn’t speak with strange men when she went to the movies alone. “I had other options; I preferred to come here tonight.”

“What did you tell all the guys who asked you out?” he asked, his manner flirtatious. His voice became high-pitched like he mimicked her, “‘Sorry, Arnold, I’m going to an exclusive showing!’?”

Dani couldn’t help but laugh, even as she shook her head. “It was the girls at work I had to fib to. They think I’m curled up in a pair of sweats with a bowl of ice cream and a sappy old movie like Steel Magnolias.”

“I see. You’re one of those closet geeks. That’s okay, I promise I won’t let your secret out.” He winked.

Dani smiled back at him and was disappointed when the lights went down and the show started. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, but he settled into his seat to watch the movie. As the opening credits rolled, she couldn’t decide if she was more disappointed to have the conversation interrupted, or glad he wasn’t going to presume and move closer.

She turned her attention back to the screen, chiding herself for letting her mind wander, and prepared to be entertained.

Throughout the movie Dani was well aware the man laughed in all the right places—not that the movie was intended to be funny, but they found the same corny lines hilarious.

When the lights rose again, she tucked the half-empty box of Raisinets into her purse and rose, glad she’d come. She hadn’t been in the mood for a chick flick, and this had been both entertaining and intellectually stimulating.

The man stood as well, jamming all of his garbage into the otherwise-empty popcorn bucket. He glanced over at her. “How did you like it?”

“It was great, as always. It’s definitely more impressive on the big screen.”

“Agreed.” He hesitated for a moment. “Look, I never do this—really, I don’t—but would you like to go next door and get some ice cream or a soda or something? Then at least part of what you told your coworkers will be true.”

Normally she would have said no, but he was cute and entirely non-creepy, so she agreed. After all, it was next door—it wasn’t like she’d be getting into a stranger’s car. The street would be full of theater-goers exiting the building.

She followed him outside and they strolled down the sidewalk.

He played with the ripped ticket stub in his hands. “My name is Kade, by the way.”

“Danica, but I go by Dani.”

“I like that. Pretty. It fits you.”

Her smile was her only response to the compliment. “So, Kade, what kind of salesman are you?”

“Boats. I work for Silveridge Boats.” He dipped his hands into his back pocket and pulled out a wallet, extracting a business card.

Dani recognized the manufacturer logo and turned the card to the light to see his full name. “Kade Frame. Why boats?”

He shrugged one shoulder. “I grew up in a boat shop and couldn’t quite drag myself away from them, though I admit I preferred selling boats to consumers more than selling them to retailers, which is what I’m doing now.” They reached the diner and he held the door open for her, andthen followed behind. The diner’s décor was decades more recent than the theater’s had been, though the orange tables put it a solid twenty years behind the times. They picked a window booth and a waitress brought them menus.

“I’m going to have a late dinner, I’d be happy to buy if you’d like more than ice cream,” he offered.

“No, a sundae is plenty for me.” She looked at the menu and ordered a hot fudge, with extra fudge. Might as well go for broke as long as she was being bad, she figured.

When the waitress left, Kade turned back to Dani. “So what kind of job keeps you on your feet all day?” He lifted a palm to stop her from answering. “No wait, let me guess.” He put his hand on his chin and pulled a face like he was in deep thought. “High fashion? Retail?”

She laughed. “Nope, I’m a cosmetologist. I do hair all day—and I’m technically self-employed, so I suppose that means I’m a business woman.”

“A point so many people seem to miss.” He unrolled the paper napkin from around his silverware. “Do you ever get sick of hair?”

“Do you ever get sick of boats?” she countered.

A grin flashed across his mouth. “No, but I do get sick of people sometimes.”

Dani laughed. “You don’t know the half of it until you’ve cut hair for a living. It’s a good thing I love what I do, or I’d’ve given up years ago. I have this client who is never happy, no matter what I do, but she refuses to use anyone else.”

“At least you’ve found a productive way to counter that—I mean Soylent Green of course.” His eyes twinkled at her.

“If you’re advocating cannibalism as a way to combat client irritations, I know someone who can help you get through your emotional problems.”

“I’ll keep that in mind if I ever get desperate, but I was referring to watching the show, rather than a means of disposing of the body.”

His food and her ice cream arrived and they dove into a discussion about the movie, dissecting the plot and metaphors. The conversation segued into other movies and how they compared. They both had a soft spot for The Black Hole, which she’d seen at the same theater a few weeks earlier.

By the time he finished his food and she scraped the bottom of her ice cream dish, an hour had passed, and she didn’t want to go anywhere. They lingered over drinks and chatted.

Eventually she checked her watch and sighed. “I’m having a great time, but I ought to get going. I have an early start tomorrow doing hair for a client’s bridal pictures.”

Kade pulled out his wallet and threw some bills on the table, a generous tip, Dani noticed. Too few customers tipped well.

“Let me walk you to your car,” he said as he stood.

“Okay.” After an hour of talking with him, she felt comfortable with him. Dani took her purse and accompanied him out of the restaurant.

“You know, I almost went home tonight, grabbed a soda, and ordered in Chinese to watch a basketball game.” He sent her a sidelong glance. “I’m glad I didn’t.”

“Me too.” She couldn’t help but ask, “So, did you DVR the game?”

“Of course.”

“Who are you rooting for?” she asked, hoping he wasn’t a fan of the wrong side.

“The Kings, who are, unfortunately, not having an amazing season.”

She couldn’t agree more. “The coach needs to bench Shipley. I don’t know how he ever made the NBA.”

His smile grew and his eyebrows lifted in surprise. “You follow basketball, too?”

She shrugged. “It comes in handy to know a little about a lot of subjects.” She shook her head and decided to come clean. No need to hide the truth—he wasn’t Ronnie. “Actually I’ve always loved to watch basketball. The Kings were my dad’s favorite team when I was growing up, so I got plenty of exposure. I still take in a game now and then.”

Dani was surprised to find she wasn’t nervous in his presence, even in the dark parking lot. It had been a while since she had been so trusting of someone she had just met. They arrived at her car and stood staring at each other. There was no reason to linger, but she was reluctant to go. How could she feel so connected to him after such a short period of time? And despite his paying for her ice cream, he hadn’t even tried to hold her hand. Did he like her, or was he glad their time together was over? “I’m glad I met you tonight,” she said.

“Me too.” He set a hand on her side view mirror. “Would you think me pushy if I asked if I could call you sometime?”

Though caution was usually her motto, she agreed. But instead of rattling off her cell number, she produced one of her own business cards. Before he could take it, she pulled it back, a smile teasing her lips. “Wait, are you actually going to call me, or are you one of those guys who likes to collect phone numbers and toy with women’s emotions?”

That brought out another of his deep chuckles. “Don’t worry, you’ll hear from me.” He accepted the card, then stepped back, giving her room to turn and unlock her car door without feeling like he hovered over her shoulder.

She slid inside and locked the door, then rolled the window down a few inches. “I excited for your call.” The move felt so forward and flirty, despite the mildness of her statement that she could feel her heart pounding. Though she had mastered the art of light flirting—it came in handy when she had a guy in her chair at the salon—she rarely dated and normally would never have joined him for a post-movie snack. Something drew her to him, though, and she couldn’t say no.

He smiled and waved as she pulled away. Dani glanced back at him through her rearview mirror before she pulled out of the parking lot. He climbed into a green sedan only a couple of rows over from where she had parked.

That night before she went to bed, hating she had become so jaded, but wanting confirmation anyway, she opened her laptop. A reverse phone lookup on the number on his business card showed it really did go to the company he mentioned. Further search on the company’s website listed Kade’s name as one of the company reps, and even included a picture.

Not that Ronnie had lied about who he was—but her ex-boyfriend had lied about practically everything else, and she wouldn’t be so gullible again.

Secure that Kade was at least not lying about his identity, she prepared for bed.


“Thanks Mr. Wheeler, and I hope you enjoy your new rod and reel,” the man said as he waved the customer out the boat shop door. Looking around, he voided the purchase of the three-hundred-dollar deep-sea fishing equipment, and pocketed the cash Mr. Wheeler had paid with.

Jeff came in, his graying hair thinning on top and his eyes tired. “How’s it going? Did he buy the equipment?” He’d walked by when Mr. Wheeler had just arrived, so he’d known what the customer wanted.

“He’s going to think it over. You know he’ll be back though. He always is.” The man grinned at Jeff, hoping he didn’t notice the expensive gear missing for a few days. Jeff wasn’t nearly as detail oriented as he should be, but the clerk wasn’t about to say it. He had a pretty good deal here, and the extra cash came in very handy.

“We’re setting up a new boat in the show room. Come give us a hand.”

“Sure thing, Jeff.” Smiling, he followed him into the back. This was too easy.


Kade made himself wait until Monday to call Dani—Danica Andreason, her business card said. She had mentioned her appointment for Saturday morning, but he didn’t want to betray his eagerness to see her again by calling only hours after they met—then kicked himself all day Sunday for waiting. It had been a long time since a woman had intrigued him so much. He took a deep breath to brace himself and finally dialed her salon at eleven. He got a voicemail message stating they were closed on Sunday and Monday. He groaned and wished again that he’d called on Saturday like he’d wanted to do.

On Tuesday, he had better luck.

A perky voice answered, quoting the salon’s name.

“Hi, is Dani available?”

“She’s with a client right now. Do you need an appointment?”

He considered giving an excuse and calling her back later, but didn’t want to have to psych himself up for the call again—especially if she might be busy with another hair cut or something. “No, but could you leave her a message for me?”

“Sure, go ahead.”

He left his name and cell phone number, then hung up and tried to focus on his work while he waited. Despite his excitement about the newest boat specs, which had just come across his desk, focusing wasn’t easy.

He must have checked the clock every five minutes for the next two hours. Finally his phone rang with the salon’s number on it. “Hello?”

“Kade, it’s Dani. You called?”

“Yes. I hope you had a good weekend.” Lame, can’t you do better than that?

“I did. I caught up on all of those things around the house that never seem to get done.”

“Me too.” He leaned back in his chair and tapped a pen on the top of his desk, nerves shooting through him. “Hey, I wondered if you’d like to get some dinner tonight. Maybe we could swing by a Chinese place I know. Talk movies or something.” Idiot, she’s going to think it’s all you care about.

She paused for a moment and he wondered if he had totally misread her before. When she spoke, though, her voice was enthusiastic. “Sounds great, but I get out of here late tonight. It would be at least seven-thirty. Is that okay? I could meet you there.”

Relief poured through him—she hadn’t decided he was a dork. The fact that she’d returned his call hadn’t been enough reassurance. “Sure.” He rattled off the address. “I guess I’ll see you then.”

“See you.”

He hung up after he heard the click on her side of the line, grinned, then tried to settle down to work.


On their second date the moon shimmered through the telescope lens, taking on a mystical quality no photograph had ever managed to portray. Dani had never seen anything so beautiful and had to catch her breath in wonder.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Kade asked. “Doesn’t it make you think of Neil Armstrong and the moon landing? That must have been the most incredible day.”

“This is insane.” Dani kneeled back on her heels to look at him beside her, his features softened by the night. “You keep surprising me with new sides of yourself.” It was their second date, if you didn’t count when they met at the movie, which Dani didn’t, so she knew there was still plenty to learn about him.

“Well, I wouldn’t want to become too predictable.” He leaned toward her, his eyes intent on hers. “Where would be the fun in that?” His fingers lifted to brush lightly along her cheekbone as the crickets chirped in the background.

Why was she so drawn to this man? Her lips curved as she lifted her mouth to his and spoke in a whisper. “Oh, I think there’s an argument in favor of predictability too. Like right now.” They hovered there for several seconds before she closed the gap the rest of the way, pressing her lips to his, unable to stand the sweet tension rising between them. His mouth was soft and warm and so, so gentle. Unlike so many who rushed to take, to devour, his touch was teasing, sweet and giving. When his hand slid to her shoulder, drawing her closer, she was happy to comply.

They lingered over the kiss for a long, long moment, and when they pulled back, she hummed. “Mmm, nice.” It had been so long since she’d had anyone she wanted to kiss—none of the few men she’d been out with over the past year had even tempted her.

“I’m not being too forward for you?” he asked as his hand caressed her shoulder.

She’d never had any guy ask her something like that before—not for a simple…okay, not-so-simple kiss. “I don’t know. We might have to try it again so I can make up my mind.”

“If you need some convincing.” His lips curved as they met hers again.

Better and better, she thought as she wound her arms around his neck. Though a tiny voice hidden in the back corner of her mind cautioned her to be careful, go slow, she was able to ignore it. She hadn’t seen any of the warning signs so far.

When he moved away, it was with a murmured, “I was dying to kiss you the night we met.”

She smiled. “Yeah? You didn’t act like it.”

“You were a little skittish. I thought I was better off convincing you to go out with me first.”

“Good call.” Dani swallowed back the emotions rising inside her. She’d never felt so connected to a guy so fast before, and she wasn’t quite sure what to do about it now. Deciding she needed time to think it over before they took even one more step down the road they were on, she turned back to the telescope. “Have you ever used a bigger scope?”

“I have one at home strong enough to see the rings of Jupiter. Sometime we’ll have to head further out of the city, or I’ll borrow a boat and we can go out on the water where we don’t have so much light pollution. You won’t believe it.” He checked his watch, pushing a button to make the face light up. “We have a while before the Leonid meteor shower really gets going; let me show you some other things.” He started adjusting the telescope and she shifted out of the way.

“How did you get into astronomy?” Dani wanted to know what made Kade tick, how he was formed, what he thought about things. Maybe then she would dare trust him as much as her heart wanted her to.

He took a moment to answer. “When I was a kid my dad took me to a planetarium and we looked through one of those huge telescopes, the kind that can see Mercury like it’s across the room. It was so cool. I started talking about becoming an astronaut.”

She could imagine his youthful enthusiasm because he still had so much of it. “And yet you sell boats?”

He chuckled. “Yeah, it wasn’t long before I decided space flight wasn’t a great option. I actually get motion sick on planes, so living on a rocket or space station is definitely not in the cards for me. Besides, I’m too tall.”

“But you still keep up the hobby. Is this your telescope, or did you inherit it from your dad when you moved out on your own?”

“No, it’s mine.” His voice was a bit low and hard to hear. A moment later he moved away and gestured for her to look in the lens. “Check it out, it’s Pisces constellation.”

She put a hand on the eyepiece, but kept her gaze on Kade. Something wasn’t right here, and she had to understand it before she could really trust him. “Tell me about your family. I think we’ve talked about everything else out there. Do you and your dad still go star gazing together sometimes?”

He avoided meeting her eye, looking instead at the grass, and a nearby tree. “No. We haven’t done it in years. I don’t know if he even has the equipment anymore.” He brushed at his jeans, as if he’d gotten something on them.

He doesn’t know? What happened between them? She wanted to push harder, but since it seemed to be a sore spot, she turned the focus. “What does he do for a living? What about your mom? Do you have a brother or sister?”

“A brother. Jason’s in college and works in my dad’s boat shop. Mom’s always stayed at home. She loved to bake and was involved with some organizations around the neighborhood when I grew up. I swear she knew everyone and was always taking people goodies and staying to chat when they were having a rough time. She always had a smile for everyone and never complained about anything, no matter how rough things got.” Both laughter and tears filled his voice, making it husky.

“You’re talking about her like she’s gone.” An ache for her own loss rose in Dani’s chest. “Did she die?”

His head shook for a moment before he spoke aloud. “No. She’s still around. Doing well, from what I hear.” He picked a handful of grass from the ground beside them and threw it into the cool November breeze. “We’re not really in touch much anymore.”

When she saw the hurt on his face she lifted a hand to his cheek. She knew that ache. “I’m sorry. Do you want to talk about it?” She doubted he would, but she was dying to know what happened. It was too soon to push for answers though. They didn’t know each other well enough.

“Not tonight. Some other time.” He grabbed her hand and turned his face so he could brush a kiss on her palm. “Tell me about your family.”

“It’s just me and my older brother, and he lives in Oregon.” She tried to keep her voice light and even, but his emotions had touched off hers and she struggled to stay calm. “My dad died in an accident when I was seven. Mom never remarried. She said she’d never meet another man like him.” She shrugged as she held back her own longing for a love that strong. “She died of cancer when I was nineteen.” Dani had been enrolled in cosmetology school when her mom’s diagnosis came back: an inoperable brain tumor. Dani had postponed school and stayed to help out. She never regretted it—it was the best and worst time of her life. “She had treatments, but nothing helped. She only lived another six months.”

Dani thought of her brother Trent’s trial less than a year later, of how lonely she’d been since his incarceration, and felt her heart weep. She wasn’t ready to tell Kade about it, though.

“I’m sorry, honey.” He brushed away the tear on her cheek.

“I’d give anything to have either of my parents back.” She tried not to push him about what had happened with his family, but she couldn’t help but wonder how he could be happy knowing they were around, but not being in touch with them.


Chapter 2

 “Well, look whose honey is trying to soften her up?” Chelsea said as she walked over, carrying a vase of roses.

Dani looked up from her client and felt a flutter in her chest as she caught sight of the bouquet. A grin spilled onto her face as she thought of Kade. They’d been dating for a month, seeing each other two or three times a week and talking on the phone daily. It was amazing how important he’d become in her life. “Are those for me?”

“Who else? And you just went all gooey. When do we get to meet your Romeo, anyway?” Chelsea set the vase on the edge of the counter at Dani’s station and tweaked a couple of flowers. She met Dani’s eyes in the mirror. “I’m going to start thinking there’s something wrong with him if you don’t quit sneaking around.”

“We’re hardly sneaking. I told you all about him after our first date.” Dani focused back on the client to add the last couple of curls and tease out the new style. “What do you think?” she asked the woman.

“It’s perfect. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Dani removed the cape protecting the client’s clothes and checked to make sure there were no errant hair snips on her. “I hope you come back again.”

“You can be sure of it.” The client grabbed her purse and headed for the front counter to pay.

Dani knew she should sweep up immediately—she had another client waiting already—but she couldn’t help but take a moment to check out the roses. The petals were so soft and fragrant. She brushed her fingers against them and inhaled deeply, her nose close to the bloom so the chemical scent of the salon air wouldn’t interfere. And her heart melted a little more.

Chelsea plucked the card from the middle of the bouquet and handed it to her. “Read it. I’m dying to know what it says.”

You’re dying to know?” Dani shot her boss a look as she opened it.


The last month has been the best of my life. Happy anniversary.


She grinned stupidly and tucked the card back into the envelope before Chelsea could see it. He’d remembered. How many guys did that?

“What? You aren’t going to share?” Chelsea put one hand on her hip and pushed back the auburn twist of hair over her shoulder. She had the narrow face and high cheekbones most models would envy, but hardly seemed aware of it.

“Sorry, but no.” Dani slid the card into the back pocket of her jeans. “He was remembering our anniversary. We met a month ago today.” And she couldn’t be happier she had decided to go to the movie where she met him instead of the chick flick with her friends or staying home to witness the Kings’ spectacular loss to the Jazz.

Chelsea’s perfect eyebrows curved upward. “Friday night. A bunch of us are meeting for dinner and to go clubbing. You’re bringing him.”

Dani laughed. “Fine. Sounds great.” She had no idea if Kade liked to dance, but as long as they were together, she doubted he’d complain much.

* * *

 “Where are we going?” Dani asked as she followed Kade that Saturday, blindfolded and worried about tripping over the curb or something. She should have known better than to think he’d let her get hurt, though, as he warned her of every possible obstacle, keeping a firm hold on her elbow. She tried not to yawn. It had been a late night out with her coworkers the previous evening, and she hadn’t slept well after he dropped her off. It had been well worth it though as he’d gotten along great with her other friends.

“It’s a surprise,” was his cryptic answer. He was apparently rested and even happier than usual. She tried not to hold it against him.

“You’re full of surprises.”

“They’re what make life worth living,” he said. “Turn right.” He guided her around a corner of some kind. “We’re almost there.”

“You keep saying that.” Dani giggled, though, intrigued. Life never got dull with Kade around.

“Only because it’s true. Okay, three stairs here.”

She tested with her foot and found the step, then scaled them easily. “I get to pick the next date.”

“Are you going to take me to a wax museum where you can critique the statues’ haircuts again?”

She heard the grin in his voice, so she didn’t take offense. “I wasn’t that bad. It was just the one statue—seriously, it didn’t even resemble his hair in real life. I don’t know what the wax figure experts were thinking.” She heard the noise of a door opening, reached out, and touched the smooth glass as she walked through.

“Two please,” Kade said. The sounds of money changing hands and a cash register dinging reached Dani’s ears.

“Where are we?” she asked yet again. She could smell the ocean and hear the cry of gulls, along with a lapping sound of water hitting something—apparently they were closer to the ocean than she had realized.

“Wait for it.” He led back her down the stairs and along the street, which turned to wood under her feet—she could tell from the way the smacking sound of their shoes on concrete changed to clomping. When he stopped her and started to loosen the bandanna, Dani held her breath.

She opened her eyes and blinked slightly as a dock with a row of boats came into view. The boats appeared to be from different eras and were all different size and styles. “Wow.” It wasn’t what she had been expecting, but she was intrigued, and knew if he made such a big deal of it, there must be a reason he’d brought her.

“It’s the San Francisco National Maritime Museum. It’s one of my favorite places to visit. I’ve been coming here since I was six.” He took her by the hand and led her to the Bay Ark, a house boat, which was the first along the row. She marveled at the wood paneling in the living room of the Victorian relic, the reed organ, and fun classic furniture. It was tiny—like IKEA home tiny. She couldn’t imagine living in such a space for more than a week or two, but thought it would be fun for a couple out on a long weekend.

Kade checked his watch, then pulled out his phone and dialed. “Hey, where are you? Did you get here yet?”

Dani was surprised, as she hadn’t realized they were meeting someone. What was going on?

“Great, we’re getting on the Eureka next. We’ll catch you there.” He hung up and turned her toward the gangplank of a ferry.

“Who did you call?”

“My cousin. I thought it was past time you met someone from my family, since you keep hinting about it, and Kip and I haven’t gotten together for a while.”

He never mentioned his family, avoiding the subject whenever it came up, so this was an interesting development.

Dani smiled as he led her onto the ferry and started talking about a few of the more curious characteristics of this particular vessel. She loved watching the open, earnest look on his face, and felt her heart slide a little more into love with him.

They had taken a tour of the entire main deck when Kade grinned at a black-haired man and strawberry blonde woman approaching them. “Hey, Kip, how are you doing?” He released Dani’s hand to give the other man a handshake which turned into a backslapping hug. “About time you got here.”

“Sorry. We got caught up with stuff.” Kip sent his date a saucy wink and she smirked. “This is Larissa.”

 Kade introduced Kip and Dani.

“I’m pleased to meet you,” Dani greeted him.

“Likewise.” He took her hand in a shake and held onto it a bit longer than necessary as he studied her face with an expression of approval. “Kade always did have great taste in women.”

“Thank you.” Dani wasn’t sure if he was simply trying to flatter her or flirt. She glanced at his date, who didn’t seem the least fazed, and decided it must just be his way.

“So how long have you two been dating?” Kip asked.

Kade explained when and how they met and then Kip turned the topic to work. “Things at the shop have been busy lately. Still selling despite the economic downturn. How are things for you?”

Kade’s smile was tight. “Not as much as we’d like, but we’ll manage to hang on until the pendulum swings the other way. Spring orders are just around the corner.” He paused, swallowed hard. “How’s everyone at home?”

Kip’s expression softened. “Your dad’s doing well. You know him—always busy, always making plans. Les has moved to part time, though. He’s old enough to retire, but says he can’t sit at home or he’ll go crazy, so he works half days a few times a week. Jason works some, keeping his hand in while he goes to school.” His smile widened. “And your mom is as beautiful as ever.”

Kade’s returning smile was pained, a bit wistful, making Dani wonder again why he had to ask his cousin for updates instead of keeping in touch with his parents. It was obvious he still loved them, so what had happened to keep them apart?

He turned to her. “Kip works for my dad at his boat shop.” He glanced back at his cousin. “How long have you been there now?”

“About three years, since the fall after I finished college. It’s a great place to work.” He winced and looked apologetically at Kade.

Kade waved his hand slightly, as if saying not to worry about whatever faux pas Kip had made. He changed the subject to include the girls in the conversation, and turned the group down the deck of the ferry to continue the tour. Dani tried to nudge more information about Kade’s family from his cousin a few times, but he or Kade managed to get around the question.

When the group had visited most of the vessels and the park was about to close, they parted ways with Kip and his insipid date, who had mostly hung on his arm and look bored. He promised Kade he would keep in closer contact.

When they were farther away, Dani asked, “Why haven’t I met him before? You seem friendly.”

Kade gave a low chuckle. “We’ve always been a bit on the competitive side. It’s like we were always trying to see who knew more, did more, could jump farther, run faster. You know, stupid kid stuff.” He shrugged as they waited at the trolley stop. “We haven’t been in touch often, but he contacted me a while ago and we’ve sent a few emails. It was good to see him again.” He glanced over and must have seen her shiver because he slid an arm around her shoulder, pulling her against his chest.

Dani snuggled deeper into him to block out the cold breeze coming off the water. “Thanks for bringing me here tonight. It was interesting, getting to know more about you.” She touched his jaw with her fingertips, loving the prickly feeling of his five-o’clock shadow.

“You’re welcome. Thanks for being such a good sport.” His smile broadened. “I know it wasn’t at all what you were expecting when I put the blindfold on you.”

Their eyes met and she felt a zing of excitement. She lifted her mouth so he could brush his lips over hers. “What are you doing for Christmas?” she asked. It had been on her mind for a couple weeks, though she hadn’t dared bring it up before now. She had an invitation to go to her aunt’s house, but would rather be with him.

“Sitting at my apartment.” He curled a finger over her cheek. “Want to come over for presents? If you don’t have other plans, maybe we could spend the day together.”

Her thoughts exactly. “I’d love to.”

* * *

The jolly day arrived, filled with rain and wind. Dani had spent half the previous night preparing dishes for Christmas dinner, wanting the day to be special for them both. She arrived more than a little damp, with a cooler full of food, an enormous shoulder bag with gifts and holiday surprises, and hope in her heart.

They ate lots of delicious food, opened gifts, watched their favorite shows, and took a leisurely walk in the rain—with the aid of an umbrella. Before they knew it, dinner was long over and the hour grew late. “I guess it’s time for me to go.” She stretched her legs, but didn’t move out of the warmth of Kade arms.

He checked his watch. “I guess so. We both have to work tomorrow.”

“I wish the day had lasted a few more hours.” She clicked the remote, turning off the television as the final credits rolled for Miracle on 34th Street.

“It does—but we’re too responsible to take advantage of it.” He gave her shoulder a squeeze.

“I hate being responsible.” With a sigh, she pushed herself up and started gathering her things.

He helped her lug the cooler back to her car with a few of the remaining leftovers, and loaded it into her back seat.

She stood at the driver’s door after tossing her bag inside and turned to him. Kade straightened and shut the backdoor, then shifted close to her. “Thank you for spending the day with me. It’s been four years since I felt like I really celebrated Christmas. I’ve missed my family.” He set his hand on her shoulder, rubbed his thumb across the soft skin of her neck, so she shivered.

It had felt like Christmas again. “That makes two of us. It’s been seven years for me, and the last Christmas was a sad one, since Mom was not doing well. You’ve perked up the whole holiday season.” She felt her face heat as she saw his surprise.

“Why didn’t you get together with your brother? I’m not complaining, or anything, because I loved spending the day with you, but I wondered.”

She let out a low breath but kept her gaze steady on his. When Kade had asked her about her family the first time, she hadn’t been ready to explain, but now Dani thought this relationship could turn into something serious—maybe it already had—so it was time to be frank. Besides, not being totally forthcoming about Trent had stopped her from feeling like she could push him for details about his family. “A few years ago Trent worked as a mechanic in a shop north of the California border. He was assistant manager, he’d worked there since high school and he loved it.”

Kade took her hands when she paused, trying to find the words so he’d understand. “Someone had been using the place to stash their drugs. One of the guys was a dealer, and apparently he’d been selling out of the garage. He left an envelope there and asked Trent to give it to some guy when he came in. Trent did—and found out it contained drugs after he was arrested for dealing to a police officer. They found a ton more in the shop—almost ten grand in Vicodin.”

“How awful.” Kade squeezed her hands.

Tears ran down her cheeks now and she sniffed to stop her nose from running. She hated that. “He didn’t know anything about it, told the police everything he knew right from the beginning, but he carried this knife—it was a scary neighborhood, you know? So they got him for having a weapon too. Everything he did to try to cooperate made things worse. By the time he got a lawyer it was too late. The real drug dealer must have suspected he’d been made because he was long gone. I don’t think they ever caught him.”

“Oh, baby, I’m so sorry.” Kade wiped her tears and pulled her in for a hug. “When does Trent get out?”

“He’s up for parole next winter, but who knows if they’ll let him go.” She looked into Kade’s face and studied it, grateful he seemed calm about her revelation.

“You’ve been all alone. I’m sorry you’ve had it so hard.”

“It’s not nearly as hard for me as it’s been for Trent. Prison is a horrible place.” She shuddered when she thought about stories she’d heard from other people. Trent never told her anything bad, which almost made it worse, as her imagination ran wild.

 Kade held her tight for a long moment, his cheek pressed to hers. “I hope you know how much you’ve come to mean to me. The past six weeks have changed my life.”

“Has it only been that long?” Dani felt the tug of his fingers in her curls and slid her hands behind his neck, feeling better about it than before. “I can’t remember what it was like before you.” She had vague memories, but he filled her life with hope and banished the loneliness. After Ronnie and the guys she had dated since then she had started to think there weren’t any good guys left, but Kade had proved her wrong.

“Maybe you’ll manage if you try real hard,” he whispered as he bent his head to hers. “So you’ll be willing to put up with me when I’m being a bonehead.”

She smiled and closed the gap between them so their lips met.

* * *

 “Almost there.” Kade said into his walkie talkie while he watched the icon on his phone move across the screen. He zoomed out on the app tracking her phone’s location and checked to see how close she was to reaching the end of the treasure hunt.

“Kade, are you sure you can’t tell me the end point without putting me through all of this?” Dani asked. There was laughter in her voice, an edge of excitement.

He pressed the speak button again. “No way. Half the fun is in not knowing. How many more stops do you think I have left for you?”

“If this isn’t it, you better have a really great surprise waiting at the end,” she warned.

Kade thought her threatening tone was cute, but he wouldn’t admit it to her. He didn’t have a death wish. “Yeah? And if it is?”

“It still better be good.”

He chuckled and checked her location again. She was less than twenty yards away now. He had put the tracking app on her phone for this date, and it had been fun keeping tabs on her as she moved along the route he’d chosen.

He watched her stop in the pool of light against the growing darkness outside the doors of the Italian restaurant where he waited. She looked both directions, and then turned to peer through the front window. Her blonde hair was curled in ringlets all over her head, bouncing down to brush her shoulders and framing her pale blue eyes and sweet, pixie-ish face. She’d worked at the salon that day and the weariness showed, though her eyes were alight with interest.

She saw him and came through the glass doors. “Nice choice.”

Kade smiled and pulled her into his arms, loving that at five-foot ten, she was only a few inches shorter than himself. They were a perfect fit. “Happy birthday, Dani.”

“Thank you.” She lifted her head and pressed a kiss to his cheek. “I’m starved.”

“Good, the table’s ready for us.” He released her to face the hostess who waited to show them to their seats, where he had a large multi-colored bouquet of roses waiting.

She sat, smiling at the flowers, then leaned closer to take a large sniff, though the scent penetrated the air just fine from where he sat. “They’re beautiful, thank you. You’re always so sweet.”

He slid in beside her and put an arm around her shoulder. He had enjoyed the game and anticipation of planning the night and setting it up. It had been too long since he’d had anyone he cared about enough to make the effort. “You’re welcome.” He pulled out the menu and they studied it together. She spoke of the impromptu party they’d had for her at work, their plans for the weekend, and her curiosity about the tiny boxes she’d been collecting at each stop in his treasure hunt, though he’d instructed her not to open them.

Kade marveled that this happy, bright, bubbly woman wanted to be with him. On the outside, they had so little in common, but when they spent time together, it always felt right. He hadn’t felt this close to anyone, hadn’t dared let himself grow close, not since he’d been pushed away from his family. After they ordered, he slid a wrapped box to her.

Dani glanced at the small stack of packages she’d picked up along the route of her hunt. “There’s more?”

Kade grinned. “They all go together, but you should start with this one.”

She opened the box and removed a silver chain bracelet. “It’s nice.” Her voice expressed her puzzlement even better than the furrow growing between her eyes.

“Keep going.”

She opened one from the stack and pulled out a silver charm shaped like a box of Raisinets.

“To remember the day we met,” he said, and gestured for her to continue.

She unwrapped a curling iron, a mini book, a miniature police box reminiscent of Doctor Who, and a star. He took a moment to attach them to the bracelet he’d given her to hold the charms. “I wanted you to have a personalized reminder of the things you love and enjoy.”

“You seriously outdid yourself. Thank you.” She leaned over and kissed him.

“You’re welcome. Happy birthday.” He’d considered getting her a diamond ring, but decided she probably wouldn’t accept one. Not yet—though he hoped the day wouldn’t be too far away.

Read more by purchasing the book  at your favorite retailer.