The moment she drifted into his marina, Mark Castellani knew Gracie was different. Resisting the blond pixie's breezy approach to life is difficult, but Mark's had years of practice living for simple pleasures that don't extend beyond the next sunrise. Why long for anything lasting when he knows how quickly his whole world can be flipped upside down?
A bombshell long-lost memory finally explains why Gracie Rockwell never quite fit in with her boisterous family—she isn't a Rockwell, after all. Desperate for answers, she leaves her beloved Rocky Peak Lodge in search of the little boy who saved her so long ago. Did he grow up to be the gorgeous-but-guarded Mark Castellani? What does he know about her true origins? If only she could pry some answers from her enigmatic new boss—and get rid of her massive crush.
But while she's eager to uncover the past, he'd rather bury it forever. Mark was right—Gracie is the kind of trouble he never wanted. But she's exactly the trouble he needs.
Release date: March 5, 2019
Print pages: 298
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Although most of her job experience had involved scooping ice cream, Gracie Rockwell had always believed she’d make a good spy. People generally underestimated her because she was small and blond and unthreatening. They tended to open up to her about their life stories and their problems. She liked that; nothing gave her more joy than passing along a kind word and a smile with her favorite Rocky Peak Nugget ice cream cones.
But now, here at the Ocean Shores Marina, she had a very different agenda.
Here, she was spying for a reason. And her subject was not behaving like her customers back at Rocky Peak Lodge.
Mark Castellani wasn’t cooperating at all. He hadn’t spilled a single personal secret. He hadn’t once mentioned his childhood. He definitely hadn’t said anything about an incident in the woods of the Cascades when he was around six or so.
Gracie smiled at Dutch, the crusty old fisherman who’d just filled up the tank of his trawler. With his leathery skin and uncombed white hair, he reminded her of her father.
Or rather, the man she’d believed to be her father until about two months ago.
She skipped past the thought of Mad Max Rockwell. It hurt too much, and right now, she just wanted to find out the truth. Wallowing and being homesick and feeling betrayed wouldn’t help with that. Spying was her only hope right now.
“Good haul today?” she asked the fisherman as she ran his credit card through the reader.
“Not bad, not bad. Tell Castellani he needs to fix the ramp down at the end of the—”
“I’m already on it.”
The sound of Mark Castellani’s serious voice sent a whisper across her nerve endings, a kind of full-body alert. She turned carefully to face him, not wanting to betray how completely she was transfixed by him.
Not because of anything romantic, of course. But because he might be the clue to the mystery of her past, and that was all that mattered to her at the moment.
Then again, if she had to spy on someone, at least Mark was easy on the eyes. Dark hair with a slight curl, skin deeply tanned from all the time he spent in the sun, full lips, chiseled muscles, a brooding kind of charisma, charm when he bothered…honestly, it was a good thing she was determined to hang on to her neutral observer mentality.
The tool belt he wore didn’t make that any easier. Nor did the distracted smile he offered her, along with the insulated mug he kept with him as he worked. “Gracie, could you pour some more coffee in here? Two creams, skip the sugar.”
“Of course, boss, but I know how you take your coffee. You don’t have to repeat it every time. I have excellent short-term memory and occasionally mind-blowing long-term memory.”
Okay, that was probably too much information.
Ignoring his raised eyebrows, she turned her back to the two men and reached for the coffee machine that sat behind the counter. The marina sold most things that a boater could want—ice, bait, fishing supplies, fuel, marine paint, packaged donuts, snacks and, of course, coffee. The amount of coffee the fishermen and other boaters consumed could fill an entire hundred-foot yacht.
“Anything for you, Dutch?” Mark asked the fisherman.
“Nah, just get that ramp fixed, buddy. And maybe tell the girls not to sunbathe out there. Nearly slipped on a patch of suntan oil.”
Gracie bit her lip as she poured Mark’s coffee. She tried to school her guilty expression, without success.
A spark of amusement flashed in Mark’s eyes as he accepted his thermos from her. “I don’t usually get complaints about that, Dutch, but sure. I’ll spread the word. Anything else on your mind?”
Dutch grumbled a bit more when Gracie handed him his card and the receipt, which he crumpled up and shoved into his pocket. “Anything you can do about the price of fuel?”
Gracie wanted to mention that he should save his fuel receipts for his taxes, but she knew what would come next—a rant about the government, the oil companies, and anything else Dutch could think of. The man liked to complain. So she held her tongue, and he turned to go.
“See you tomorrow, Mr. Dutch,” she called after him. “I’ll bring you that book I mentioned.”
He waved at her, back already turned, and disappeared out the door, the jingle of bells announcing his departure.
Mark leaned one hip against the counter and cocked his head at her. “Book?” “
Yes. He was complaining about the seagulls, so I asked if he’d ever read Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Can you imagine, he didn’t even know what I was talking about? Anyway, I told him I’d bring him a copy. I think it really might change his entire perspective on seagulls.”
He studied her with quiet dark eyes, making color rise in her cheeks.
“Was that wrong? He didn’t seem to mind. He didn’t say no, but then again, that might have been because he swallowed his Nicorette gum. He’s trying to quit smoking, and honestly, I think that’s a good part of why he’s so grumpy.”
Mark gave a snort. “That man was born grumpy. None of your sweet smiles are going to change that.”
Wow, had her normally stern boss just given her a compliment? “You think my smiles are sweet? That’s such a nice thing to say.”
“I meant that you’re trying to sweeten Dutch up, and it’s not going to work.”
“Oh. So you don’t think my smiles are sweet enough?”
In the midst of taking a sip from his thermos, Mark choked slightly. “I don’t think this is a good topic of conversation.”
“Why not? You’re the one who brought it up.” He couldn’t deny that logic, could he? She smiled at him, more smugly than sweetly.
“No more sunbathing on the ramp,” he grumbled, almost as grouchy as Dutch had been.
“Just the ramp Dutch uses, or all of them? Because it seems like such a waste with all this glorious sunshine. And I only sunbathe during my breaks, or before work, or after work.”
Okay, it was true, she did a lot of sunbathing. But who could blame her? She’d never spent time in such a sunny climate as Southern California before. Sometimes she felt as if she was drunk on sunshine. She especially loved the way the sun’s rays bounced off the surface of the water in the marina and created little sparkling fairies of light. She could watch that for hours.
“You know, I’ve hired maybe fifteen cashiers in the time I’ve owned this marina, and you’re the only one who doesn’t take off like a shot at the end of the day. Don’t you have any clubbing to do after work?”
Her cheeks heated again. She wasn’t here to date anyone, she was here on a mission. And so far, she’d been too wary to explain that to him. “I don’t really know anyone around here.”
“That’s right, you’re new to the area. Where are you from again?”
“The Cascades,” she said, watching him carefully. “A little town called Rocky Peak, Washington.”
Had his expression hardened just a tiny bit? And if so, did it mean anything? Mark Castellani was so hard to read. He never talked about himself. All she knew was that he’d taken over Ocean Shores Marina from his uncle when he was only twenty, worked incredibly hard, and barely had time for his girlfriend.
She didn’t like thinking about the girlfriend part.
“That’s right, the lodge in the mountains,” he said.
“And so far from the ocean. So around here, I’m a fish out of water. I mean, near the water.” She gestured at the harbor.
He lifted one dark eyebrow at her. “You’re an odd girl, has anyone ever told you that?”
“Yes, most people have at some point. It doesn’t bother me at all.”
After another extended moment of study, he smiled. “That’s good. You’re comfortable with who you are. It’s too bad more people aren’t like you, Gracie Rockwell.”
With that, he adjusted his tool belt, lowered his sunglasses onto his nose, and headed for the door.
“Wait! Your phone.” He was always forgetting his cell phone. She handed it to him, and he set off again for the exit.
“Thanks. If anyone’s looking for me, I’ll be on ramp four, catering to Dutch’s every need.”
“And I won’t be,” she called after him. “I mean, I won’t be there in my bikini, and I won’t be leaving suntan oil on the wood.”
Laughing, shaking his head, he pushed open the door and disappeared.
Feeling almost dizzy, she rested her weight on the counter. Had Mark given her a compliment? Wow, she definitely hadn’t been ready for that. He was a pretty strict boss, and she’d made a ton of mistakes in the six weeks she’d been working here.
But even more than that—his comment struck right at the heart of her current crisis.
You’re comfortable with who you are.
That was exactly the problem. She didn’t know who she was anymore. All her life, she’d been Gracie Rockwell, youngest member of the Rockwell family, the one so attached to Rocky Peak Lodge that she’d never felt one iota of desire to leave.
Until various events had caused her old bassinet to be unearthed from storage. Right away, she’d gotten a weird feeling about it, but it wasn’t until she’d actually laid hands on it that a vision had flashed into her mind.
A memory, she’d known immediately. In the memory, she was just a baby, snuggled into that very same bassinet—handcrafted, with a handle made from twisted willows. How old? She didn’t know, but possibly only a few months.
A boy was with her. He’d carried the bassinet into the woods, running as fast as he could, bumping his shins against his burden.
Since she was a baby, her thoughts and perceptions were hazy and painted in broad brushstrokes. Love for the boy. Fear of whatever they were running from. Exhilaration from the fresh air she drew into her lungs. Fascination with the evergreens towering over them.
Even though she and the boy were fleeing something scary, the woods felt safe to her. A sense of comfort and welcome had embraced her along with the scent of pines. Those woods held magic.
And as soon as she’d heard the light voice of a woman humming as she walked through the woods, Gracie knew it meant salvation.
So she’d opened her mouth and cried out, even though the boy tried to shush her. He was fearful, but he was wrong. That woman would protect them and keep them safe. He’d find out soon enough.
Except he didn’t, because by the time the woman appeared over the bassinet, like a blond-haired angel, the boy was gone.
The vision ended after that, but it had detonated through her life like a grenade.
Amanda Rockwell, the woman she’d always thought was her mother, hadn’t given birth to her. She’d found her. In the woods. And she’d never said a single word about it to Gracie, which meant that Gracie’s entire life was built on a lie. She wasn’t a Rockwell, as she’d always thought. Max wasn’t her father. Kai, Griffin, Jake and Isabelle weren’t her brothers and sister. Rocky Peak Lodge wasn’t her real home.
She had no idea who she really was.
Soon after she’d remembered that scene in the woods, she’d left Rocky Peak Lodge, leaving behind a detailed note for her family. She still loved them, of course. She was a hundred percent sure that none of her brothers or her sister knew the truth. But Dad…
Mad Max Rockwell must have known. She wasn’t sure she could forgive that.
Even after Mom died in a car crash, he hadn’t thought it important to tell Gracie that Amanda wasn’t her birth mother. That bothered her so much. She deserved to know. It wouldn’t have made a difference in how much she’d loved Amanda. Why couldn’t he have just told her? Didn’t he trust her with the truth? Did he think she was a child who couldn’t handle it?
But all those angry tirades stayed in her head. She didn’t want to cause Max stress because he’d recently been diagnosed with a heart condition. So instead, she’d left a note that read…
Dear everyone. It’s about time I went off on my own and explored the world a little bit. Please don’t worry about me. I have my cell phone with me so you can always reach me. But I hope you will respect my desire for some space. I love you all. Gracie.
Of course, they’d all called her and peppered her with questions. She was the little sister, the baby of the family, the one they protected but didn’t necessarily take seriously. Patiently, she’d explained that she just needed an adventure.
“I’m traveling,” she’d told them. “Seeing the world, going where the wind blows. Don’t worry about me. I promise I’m fine.”
But she wasn’t doing any of that. Really, she’d undertaken a methodical hunt for the boy in her memory. That search had brought her here, to the Ocean Shores Marina, owned and operated by Mark Castellani. With his thick dark hair and tan skin, he looked so much like the boy in her memory that she’d nearly asked him about it in her interview.
The old Gracie would have. But the new Gracie was a lot more wary.
Her “father” had lied to Gracie her whole life. She wasn’t about to go trusting a stranger just because she felt such an immediate connection to him. Until now, she’d always relied on her instincts. She was famous in her family for her flashes of intuition. None of her brothers and sisters ever doubted her gut instincts.
But how could she trust herself now, when she didn’t even know who she really was?
Nope, “new Gracie” had to grow up fast. She had to be smart about this. She had to pick the right moment to start asking Mark questions. In the meantime, she’d keep perfecting her spy craft and, discreetly, work on her tan.
Just because she was on a mission didn’t mean she couldn’t bask in the sunshine.
Besides, ramp two had a perfect view of the entire marina. From her spot on her beach towel, she was able to keep a close eye on everything her stern and handsome boss did. She often sketched as she kept an eye on things. He made a great subject.
This hunt for her true origins definitely had its perks.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...