Charlotte Madsen disembarked from the plane, taking a deep breath of the Hawaii air. Though she’d come from an island, this one felt completely different—exactly what she needed. She went down the skybridge, glad she didn’t have to walk straight into the airport. She wanted a view of this new place she was determined to make her new home.
An image of the beach house she’d bought, with its crumbling walls and broken windows, crept into her mind. The jungle had also tried to reclaim the house, one vine and one brick at a time.
She’d gotten the house for dirt cheap, which suited her needs as she started this new chapter of her life.
Not a new chapter, she told herself. A completely new volume needed to begin now that her husband—oops, ex-husband—had married his girlfriend only ten days after the divorce was final.
On the eleventh day after the divorce from her husband of eleven years, she’d bought a practically demolished beach house over five thousands miles from where she lived.
And now she was here, in Getaway Bay, to well, get away from everything and everyone she’d known in the last thirty-seven years.
She took a deep breath, her to-do list growing exponentially in her mind. First, luggage. She’d brought as much as she thought she’d need to get through the first two weeks. After that, she hoped to have a job and a way to buy whatever she hadn’t brought with her.
Thankfully, the beach house came “furnished,” which the seller had confirmed included a bed, a dining set, all appliances, and a sectional couch. So she’d at least have somewhere to sleep, eat, and watch TV on her first night on the island.
Not that Charlotte watched a lot of TV. In fact, she couldn’t stand sitting still, and the last seven hours she’d spent on the plane was enough to drive her to madness.
She tipped a man with a huge luggage cart, and he helped her heave her standard, black suitcases off the belt. She stood with them in the taxi line, the heat and humidity still pretty high though it was officially fall on the island. Perhaps Hawaii didn’t care what the calendar said.
When it was finally her turn, the cab driver helped her get all her bags in the trunk, and she sank into the back seat with a sigh. The corners of her lips pulled up, and she barely remembered what it felt like to smile.
But she’d done it. Despite what her mother had said. In spite of what her friends had counseled her to do. Charlotte had indeed sold the house she’d lived in for over a decade, nearly everything else she owned, and moved almost five thousand miles, literally from one side of the country to the other.
So while her heart had been through a shredder and then grilled into a lump of coal, she’d survived. The last four months had been one upheaval after another, starting with the words, “I want a divorce. I’ve met someone else.”
She wasn’t quite sure where the journey would end, but she rather liked the way she’d been welcomed to the island with “Aloha,” a smile, and a flower lei. She breathed in the heady perfume from the flowers and watched the brilliant blue water go by as the driver took her to her new home.
“This is where you’re living?” he asked as he pulled off the main highway and onto a dirt road.
“Is this Cinder Road?” Charlotte peered through the window, but she had no idea what she was looking for.
“Yes,” he said.
“Then this is it. I was told the house was at the end of the road, overlooking the bays.” Both bays, which apparently there were two in Getaway Bay. The main bay which was named after the island, and the east bay, which was starting to become as popular and well-developed as the one to the west.
The owner of the house had tried to get more for the views, but Charlotte’s real estate agent had talked him down. It hadn’t been that hard, because the property had been on the market for seven months, and Charlotte supposed she had one thing to be thankful for: She had gotten this place and the surrounding land for a killer deal.
The cab rumbled along, but the road seemed to go forever, finally turning a bit to reveal the two-story house Charlotte had seen online. “There it is.”
“Are you sure?” The driver leaned forward with both hands on the wheel, his voice absolutely dubious.
“Yes,” she said. “As close as you can get, please.” She pulled out her wallet and leafed through her remaining cash. Several twenties, a few tens, and a dozen hundreds she had concealed in the zippered pocket of her purse.
She had enough to tip this guy to help her get her bags at least inside the front door. Then…well, then Charlotte wasn’t entirely sure what she’d do. She had no car and no groceries. Would a pizza company deliver here? Could they even find it? While it was centrally located overlooking both bays, it wasn’t exactly in a populated area.
The cab eased to a stop behind an SUV, which set Charlotte’s heart to racing. “That’s odd,” she said. Maybe her real estate agent had decided to meet her. Amy had asked for her flight information, but Charlotte hadn’t heard anything else from her.
“What’s odd?” the driver asked. He turned to look at her with concern in his eyes. “Are you sure you want me to leave you here alone?”
Charlotte wasn’t sure of much anymore, but she nodded anyway. “If you could help me with the bags, I’d be grateful.” She held out a twenty-dollar bill between her fingers, and the driver got out of the car.
Taking another look at the huge, hulking black SUV, she determined that Amy would never drive such a thing. No, they hadn’t met in person, but Amy was an overly tan woman in her late forties, and Charlotte imagined her to drive a sporty, red convertible, not this three-ton monstrosity.
She got out of the cab and stretched her sore back. She’d skipped her beach yoga classes for the past four months, as they were simply too hard to attend with all of her friends. They flashed sad faces at her, asked about her ex and what she was going to do now, and Charlotte simply couldn’t handle it.
The amount of work this house required extended to the exterior, and Charlotte hoped she had enough knowledge and strength to get it all done. She’d done plenty of renovations on the interior of buildings, everything from the community center gym to individual rooms at one of the swankiest hotels off the coast of South Carolina, where she’d come from.
She also had experience in designing and re-doing landscapes, so she wasn’t worried about the weeds and wild grasses waving in the breeze coming off the bays. But she didn’t have much experience with roofs, or exterior stone, or gutters.
The driver stepped past the big SUV and deposited the first round of bags, returning for a second before Charlotte got herself in gear. She took out the key that had shown up in her mailbox two weeks ago and fitted it into the lock. With the door open, she heaved in the two bags the driver had brought up, and directed him to place the next two beside them.
When she had all her earthly belongings inside the house, she smiled, ran her hands through her shoulder-length hair, and thanked the driver.
He gave her one more look before pocketing his tip and heading back to his cab. She waited until the rumble of his motor couldn’t be heard any longer, and then she closed the door, sealing herself inside the house she’d bought sight-unseen.
“Okay.” She pushed her breath out and turned to face the rest of the house.
She’d taken one step when something clanged from further inside. “Hello?” she said, nowhere near loud enough for anyone to hear. Heck, she could barely hear herself.
Something hissed, and then the very human sound of a grunt followed. Charlotte’s heart ricocheted around inside her chest. There was someone inside her house.
She entered the kitchen and stepped around the bar to find a pair of masculine legs and a torso sticking out from underneath the sink. He wore jeans and work boots, and maybe the owner had hired a plumber to help get her off on the right foot.
“Come on,” he grumbled, clearly straining against something under the sink.
“Hello?” she said again—loud enough this time—at the same time whatever he was twisting gave against his strength. He yelped as water started spraying out from underneath the sink—and from the faucet.
The cold spray hit Charlotte in the face, and she cried out too, lifting her hands to shield her eyes in a natural reaction. She backed up, sputtering, as the man unfolded himself from beneath the sink and stood up.
“You didn’t turn off the water main?” she asked.
He glared at her, water dripping from the ends of his dark hair, his nose, and his chin. “Obviously.”
“I didn’t know where it was.”
Water continued to spray everywhere, and while Charlotte had been planning to replace the cabinets, she didn’t think she’d have to do it the very night she arrived.
“Do you know where it is?” he asked, a measure of hope in his voice.
“I just got here,” she said. “Of course I don’t know where the water main is.”
“Well, we have to do something.” His light blue T-shirt was soaking wet, sticking to impressive muscles in his arms and chest. Whoever this plumber was, Charlotte hoped she would have another need to call him.
He crawled back under the sink and started clanging around. The spray lessened by about half, and he groaned again, finally man-handling whatever connection was leaking into submission.
Charlotte wiped her face, her fingers coming away smeared with black. Her past self would’ve been mortified to be seen like this, but her Getaway Bay self didn’t care. She’d expected problems at her new house. She just hadn’t planned on them being two-hundred-twenty pounds of man-flesh. Dripping wet man-flesh.
She swallowed as the plumber got to his feet again. “Who are you?” she asked. Maybe she didn’t want to hire him again. A plumber who didn’t turn off the water before he started working didn’t seem all that professional.
“Dawson Dane,” he said, extending his soaking wet hand for her to shake. He wore a couple of days worth of hair on his face, and it had come in dark with flecks of gray, just like the hair on his head.
Oh, my. He was extremely good-looking, and his deep, brown eyes glinted with one of those Aloha greetings. “And you?”
“Charlotte Madsen,” she said, almost tripping over her new last name. Well, it was her old last name, but she hadn’t used it for a while, and she was still getting used to introducing herself with her maiden name.
She shook his hand, one more question to ask him. “What are you doing in my house, Dawson?”
He blinked, not bothering to wipe any water from his eyelashes. “I live here.”