Six heart-pounding, toe-curling, swoony, sweep you off your feet crushes.
In Ocean Grove, a small town nestled by the Pacific, six couples struggle with family, friendship, and love.
Finley & the Foster Brother
Lucy & the Love Pact
Bea & the Bad Boy
Norah & the Nerd
Olivia & the Older Boy
Sabrina & the Secret Santa
Plus a bonus short story!
Sweet and wholesome reads for all ages!
There's nothing like falling in love for the first time.
Release date: December 1, 2019
Print pages: 1154
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Love in Ocean Grove: Complete Series Books 1-6
Anna Catherine Field
The cobblestone street still feels warm even though the sun fell behind the horizon fifteen minutes ago. School ended yesterday and my best friend Sophie and I are sitting on a bench, watching the boys skateboard across the basketball court.
“So my brother is leaving for Europe this weekend. After that, he says we can move in at any time,” she says, running her fingers along the row of hoops cuffing the shell of her ear.
“This summer is going to be epic,” I say, relying on our favorite word. “I asked my dad if he was okay with me going and he said fine.”
“He must really be out of it,” she says. “It’s unusual for him to say yes so easily.”
She’s right. Unlike Sophie’s mom, who doesn’t really care what she does, my dad is normally pretty over-protective. But ever since his accident at work and the trouble he’s had with his back, I think I’m more of a burden than anything else. With me out of his hair, he’ll have one less mouth to feed and worry about.
A black BMW pulls into a parking space nearby and we both watch with disgust as a group of preps from Grove Academy get out of the car. Even out of school uniform, they look and dress exactly the same. Same golden-tan skin, same collared shirts and expensive sunglasses hanging from their neck. Sneakers, shorts, watches. They’re little copies of one another with zero originality.
“Ugh,” Sophie says. “They’re the worst.”
“Totally the worst.”
A few are admittedly cute, but Sophie’s interest is fixated on Finn, who just wiped out on his skateboard on the court below.
“Have you kissed him yet?” I ask, picking at my nail polish.
“Nope.” She rests her chin on her hand and watches him. “I’m hoping when he hears I’m leaving town, he’ll be a little more motivated.”
Finn has had months to make a move on my best friend. She’s made it more than clear she’s interested. I keep my opinions about this to myself, though. What do I know? I haven’t kissed anyone.
“So,” she says, as though she read my mind. “Is this the summer Maya Sweeny gets her first kiss?”
“Sure, maybe some guy in L.A. will want to do the honors. It’s not like anyone around here is interested.”
My eyes follow the preps as they joke around in the parking lot. Half the town of Ocean Grove is like them. Rich and entitled. To them, dating someone like me would be considered slumming.
“Forget Ocean Grove. Forget small towns. Forget our past. By next week we’ll be living on our own and making our best life.” Sophie throws her arms around my shoulders and I lean in. We may not have much, but we’ve got one another.
As we squeeze one another, there’s no way I could know that my whole life would change in the next twenty-four hours, and not by moving to the bright lights of the big city. If I could have held on to that moment for just a bit longer I would have, because even if my life wasn’t perfect, everything was going to get worse.
The bell on the door chimes but I only vaguely hear it. The cup of ice cream, cookies ‘n cream, sits uneaten in the cup in front of me. It’s not my favorite flavor but I panicked when Mrs. Cortez asked me to order. Peanut Butter and Chocolate. That’s the one I like, especially from this shop, Ocean Grove Creamery. It has extra big pieces of peanut butter and my dad brought me here all the time, which made it kind of our “thing.” I’m not sure if I didn’t order it because he’s not here or because of why he’s not here.
The man that runs the shop, Mr. Meeks, hovers behind the counter, running the sink and cleaning up. We’re all locals in this small, quaint, beachside town known for amazing views, gorgeous weather, and expensive houses. I glance over at him to make sure he’s not listening. The last thing I need is for the whole world to know my business.
“I know this is a lot of changes all at once, Maya, but while your dad is getting the help he needs, we have to make the right decisions for you, too.”
“I wasn’t going to live here this summer anyway,” I say, pushing the ice cream away. “I’m almost eighteen, why can’t I just live on my own?”
“Because you aren’t eighteen. You’re still seventeen and currently a ward of the State until your father gets better.” The look in her eye tells me she knows that’s unlikely. We both know it. We’re not one of the wealthy families of Ocean Grove that can afford the best treatment. We’re the worker bees that live on the fringes, not part of the elite.
A year ago, I would have told you this situation was impossible. His habit started when he hurt his back on the construction site, but he’s healed now, and the pill popping hasn’t stopped. Nothing could make him stop. Not losing his job, not getting arrested, not losing me.
My father is a junkie.
Things had been bad for a while, but I was handling it. Getting to school, keeping up my grades, making sure we had food in the refrigerator. He’d received a settlement from the construction company when he was injured and we’d had money to float on for a while. But then the eviction notice arrived in the mail and I checked the bank account. That’s when I realized the money was gone. All fifty-thousand dollars.
I planned my escape—the summer down in L.A.--thinking maybe if I was gone, he could get back on his feet, but then he didn’t come home one night. That’s when Mrs. Cortez from the Department of Family Services showed up in her navy-blue pantsuit and disheveled bun. I’d spent the last two weeks at the Girls' Home by the Sea, waiting on the hearing. Today the judge declared my dad had to go to a treatment center for a minimum of sixty days, and since I have no other family around, I’m stuck with Family Services until he cleans up.
If he cleans up.
“I haven’t been able to find you an appropriate foster home yet, which means you’ll have to stay at the Girls' Home a little longer.”
“So I’ll just have to sit around the house all day?” It’s summer vacation. Obviously, my plans to spend the summer down in L.A. working, hanging out with Sophie, and trying to secure a boyfriend vanished the night dad was arrested and I got on the State’s radar.
“Actually, no. You’ll continue with your chores and household obligations. Go to group and any other household activities, but I thought maybe you’d like a job.”
I cross my arms over my chest. “What kind of job?”
“Actually,” she says, spreading her arms wide, “here.”
“Here? At the ice cream shop?” I glance around. Mr. Meeks is no longer behind the counter. We’re the only ones in the shop and he must assume we’re not going to steal all the pink plastic spoons.
“Yes.” She picks up her small cup of chocolate mint and takes a bite. “Mr. Meeks is a supporter of the Girls' Home, and when he has job openings he lets us know.”
“So it’s a charity job.”
She sighs and the fine lines near her eyes make her look more tired than she should for her age. “It’s not charity, Maya. It’s a job. That pays you real money and gives you work experience.”
The defiant side of me wants to say no. Do I look like the kind of girl that wants to work in an ice cream shop—wearing a pink and orange uniform? That’s super lame compared to my other plans. But that was before I found out how sick my dad really was. He’d hidden it well, and I don’t feel right leaving him in Ocean Grove like this. At least not right now, and maybe stashing away a little money before I take off makes sense anyway.
I adjust the black bands on my wrists and ask with an exasperated sigh, “So how much does scooping ice cream pay, anyway?”
* * *
The answer, I learn a few days later, is minimum wage plus tips.
Mr. Meeks seems excited to have me on board and I have to give him credit, he doesn’t blink at my black-dyed hair, the way I wear my make up (heavy and dark) or anything else about my appearance. He’s not old—around my Dad’s age, and during my interview he explains that he inherited the store from his father, who inherited it from his father. It’s not exactly in the same location, the original shop burned down in the fifties, but the small building that sits at the edge of the Ocean Beach Shopping district and the sandy dunes of the beach is a landmark in the community.
The worst part of the job is the outfit. Pink T-shirt with the same retro-style ice cream cone that’s been their logo for generations. Pink is not my color. I mean, I don’t hate it, but it doesn’t go with my normal style of black on black on black.
It’s not just the shirt. Since we’re at the beach, part of the uniform is a matching pair of pink shorts, a baseball cap with the logo on the front, and the option of pink or white sneakers. Mr. Meeks provides it all, thankfully, because I don’t have the money to purchase the Pepto-pink nightmare clothing.
I try to forget I’m dressed like cotton candy as Mr. Meeks trains me. We go over everything. Single scoops, doubles, triples, sundaes, banana splits, milkshakes, malts, Ocean Beach Blasts, toppings, samples, cleaning, attitude, and everything in between.
Who knew the ice cream business had so many rules?
He assists me with the first ten customers and when he seems confident I can handle an ice cream scoop on my own, he excuses himself to do some bookkeeping in the back.
“Call me if you need me,” he says in an unwaveringly supportive tone.
It feels dumb to wonder if I’m ready for this—like, am I actually ready to handle scooping ice cream alone, so I fake confidence and stand at the counter, waiting for the next customer.
Me being me, I don’t luck out with my first solo customer being a mom and her cute kid. It’s not some sweet old lady out for a treat. No, it’s a boy. Sorry, not a boy. An Abercrombie model? The new “it” guy on the CW? I don’t know who he is, but my skin prickles out of annoyance that rich, preppy boys not only win the trust fund lottery, they inherit Greek god-like good looks. I bet his dad isn’t addicted to pills and drying out in a state-funded program.
“Hi,” he says, easing up to the counter like he freaking owns the place. His eyes skim over me as if in assessment. Like I don’t know I look ridiculous. He does too…sort of, in a light blue polo that fits exactly so over his toned chest and shoulders. It contrasts perfectly off his warm, brown skin, obviously sun-kissed from days on yachts or playing golf. His shorts are plaid, hugging his hips exactly right. I take mental notes so that when I see Sophie later, we can mock his style mercilessly.
But for now, I do my job.
“Welcome to Ocean Grove Creamery, how can I serve you today?”
“Well,” his eyes drop from my face to the tiny tag over my heart, “Maya. I’d really love a chocolate shake. Extra thick.”
I hear him talking but I’m distracted by his lips. I’d never seen lips like his before. They're pink but a little red. Not chapped at all. The bottom lip is a little plumper than average. Is there an average for lip plumpness? They are really amazing lips that I assume--not that I’d know from personal experience--would be perfect for kissing.
“Hello?” He waves his hand in front of my face and I snap back to attention.
“Uh, you said, chocolate shake. Extra thick, right?”
“Yep.” He smiles and rests his hands on the counter. “Oh and make it a large.”
I turn and face the milkshake-making equipment and mentally run over what it takes to make an extra-thick shake. I mean, I know it’s just chocolate ice cream and milk. That’s all, but my mind swirls with all the information Mr. Meeks gave me that day, and I remember something about using the tiny scooper and not the large one and six scoops versus three and how much milk is that?
I should go get him.
I almost do it. I almost excuse myself and head to the back, but I look over my shoulder at Mr. Perfect Lips and see the smug look on his face and there is no way I’m going to go ask for help.
With false confidence, I pick up the tiny scoop and the silver milkshake cup and start balling ice cream. The boy watches me instead of looking at his phone or playing a game or taking photos for his ChattySnap account. He follows me over to the chocolate ice cream section, observing my moves.
“You’re new right?” he says, watching me fumble with the scoop.
“When did you start?”
Why is this ice cream so hard? I wet the scoop like Mr. Meeks showed me and go in again. “Uh, today, actually.” I glance up at him. “Can’t you tell?”
He laughs. It’s a nice laugh. “Actually, kind of.”
I continue working, managing to get my six scoops into the cup. Done with that, I drop the scoop in the little water trough and turn back to the machine. Milk. Right. I need milk.
“I think it’s down in that little refrigerator,” Mr. Perfect Lips announces, leaning over the counter.
“I know.” I grimace, thinking of the lesson about attitude I’d been given this morning. “Thank you, for pointing that out.”
Why this kid knows so much about milkshake making is a question for another time. He certainly doesn’t look like he eats a lot of junk food—there’s not an ounce of fat on him. Not even baby fat hanging around his cheeks. No, his cheeks are razor sharp. I get out the jug—it’s new and full—and lift it up to pour. The milk bubbles out too fast, sloshing against the side, but I manage to get it under control and feel a sense of pride. Yes. I feel pride over pouring milk. Sometimes a girl just needs a win.
The boy is quiet while I hook the silver cup to the blender, affixing the latch so it’s held tight.
“You know, I think—” I flip the switch, cutting him off. I really don’t need his advice on how to blend ice cream. I’ve got this.
The motor whirls and the little blade spins and I turn my back to the machine to give him a smirk of my own. He says something—I can’t hear him over the sound of the blender--but there’s a snap and a clang and I turn around just in time to get cold, wet chocolate sprayed all over my face and shirt.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” I shout at the machine, trying to find the switch with zero visibility. Suddenly there’s someone behind me, pushing me aside and turning off the machine.
“Did you jump over the counter?” I ask.
The next thing I feel is a cloth in my hands and a deep voice saying, “Here, wipe your face.”
“Do I have to?” I ask, feeling like if I hold back, I can pretend there isn’t chocolate everywhere and that the hottest guy I’ve ever seen didn’t just witness my most humiliating moment.
“Yeah, I think you do.” The cloth is taken out of my hands and I feel it gently wiping across my eyes, nose, and cheeks. I blink, feeling the sticky goo in my eyelashes.
The boy is also covered in chocolate but still looks gorgeous, like some kind of model selling mud facials. His shirt and shorts are ruined and his white sneakers look like a Jackson Pollock experiment. I take a good look around and mutter, “Un-freaking-believable. I’ll probably get fired.”
“Nah,” he says, walking past me and sticking his head down the hall toward the office where Mr. Meeks is obliviously working.
“Where are you going?” I ask.
He disappears but only for a moment, returning with a mop and a bucket. Mr. Meeks comes around the corner and his eyes widen in horror when he sees the mess all over the back of the counter.
“I’m so sorry,” I say, running over for the bucket. “It was my fault. I didn’t put the cup on the blender right and—”
“I told you that blender attachment was broken,” the kid says to Mr. Meeks.
My boss rests his hands on his hips. “You did. I’ll go call the repairman. Maya, no milkshakes until we get it fixed. Christian, help her clean that up, okay?” He pats the kid on the back and I tilt my head at the familiarity.
“Do you work here?” I ask.
He shrugs, rolling the bucket toward the sink. “Kind of.”
“What do you mean, 'kind of'?”
He drops the extendable nozzle into the bucket and offers me a sticky, ice cream-coated hand. “I’m Christian. Christian Meeks. This is my family’s store.”
The banging on the bathroom door does nothing to make me move any faster. We each get an allotted time and I traded Evie her thirty minutes to add to my thirty minutes so the dye would have time to set.
“Maya! Hurry up!”
“I have ten more minutes,” I call out, combing through my hair. I’d decided to add a streak of blue this time. I think it brings out my eyes.
There’s more huffing outside but I don’t budge. I learned quickly that the way to lose any credibility in this house is to let people take advantage of you. That means keeping an edge up all the time, not sharing desserts, and never handing over the remote control if you have it.
My hair is still wet when I leave the bathroom, but at least I cleaned up after myself, which is more than I can say for half these girls. You’d think a herd of goats lived in here.
I’m on my way to the room I share with two other girls—both my age. Lucy and Dana. Lucy’s this ethereal goddess that somehow found herself in this place. Long, naturally blonde hair, bright blue eyes. She’s a California dream. She’s not here for long, though. Some family over on the gated side of Ocean Grove want her to move in. Foster care win for the pretty girls.
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