When we heard that Lisa Marie Perry made the leap from category romance to standalone contemporary, we had to know more! Perry’s new Guilty Pleasures series takes place in an idyllic Cape Cod community and follows three incredibly cool heroines: an erotic cake baker, a boudoir photographer and a sex shop owner. Meant to Be Mine is the first in the series. It’s available for purchase tomorrow and we happen to have an excerpt and a two signed copies to give away!
An unexpected loss lands Sofia back in Cape Cod as the new owner of the town’s sex shop. Going home can always dredge up old memories and emotions, and when Sofia’s first love Burke comes roaring back into her life, she’s unable to resist …
Would Burke meet her partway? They had once been best friends. They were maddeningly attracted to each other now. Did that count for nothing when money and property ownership came into play?
The lighthouse rose into the night from rock and sand with a wildflower gate tracing its brick walkway. It wasn’t pristine. Made distinct by its ring of large blue diamond patterns painted over solid white, the lighthouse carried a gentle dullness—a weariness. It watched over the water and seemed to ask for absolutely nothing in return.
Was it a vista like this that slanted people’s reality and nudged them toward hasty romances and impossible dreams? Because as Sofia gazed at the small fenced house that stood close by, she thought she could fall in love here.
Salty air tickled her nose as she sped up the last hundred or so yards, focusing on the bike she saw ahead and the man standing beside it.
Burke’s leather jacket hung open, offering white cotton and hard muscle beneath. She toed the bike’s kickstand and went to him. The breeze ushered his clean scent straight to her and the arrow struck her every vulnerable point. Both her arms reached out, diving into the jacket to wrap around his waist. “Hi.”
“Hi.” Burke’s lips hovered at the top of her head and he dropped a kiss there. “No. Hell, no. That’s not good enough.”
A hug? A chaste kiss? Who were they lying to?
His hands stroked her, one and then the other, and when she raised her chin he caught her, turning her need into a vicious thing.
“Mmmm.” The frustrated sound was part sigh, part growl. Her teeth snapped his lip.
“Was that payback?” he groaned as their mouths slid together in a wet, hot dance. Their first kiss had ended in a bite, but this was different. They’d just begun.
“An accident. I can’t strategize right now. I just want you on me. In me.” Brazen words, but dragged up from a place of honesty. “Let me tell you something about my bucket list. The first goal is to own a business. I didn’t imagine Blush, but sometimes reality modifies dreams for the better.”
“What’s next on your list?”
“As I wrote it when I was nineteen? ‘Trade my V-card for lots of sex.’ ” She studied him for a reaction but no emotion slipped. “Angry sex, thank-you sex, birthday sex, morning sex, I-just-ate-a-good-piece-of-cake sex—I wanted it all and thought I’d be ready for it if I only got a chance to live. During that first post-transplant year I pushed myself to be strong. I kept at it, past the fifth year, past the tenth year, but yeah, in some ways I withdrew. My cardiologist and psychiatrist insist I’m good to go, and I’m aware of the risks…but I guess I didn’t want to challenge myself like that.”
“What’s different now?”
“The man. It’s different because it’s you. At the farmhouse you put your name on me. Why’d you do that?”
“Necessity. You’re a need to me, Sofia. Sex? I can give you that.” He bent his knees, putting himself at eye level with her. “But if it’s tied to promises or commitment or…”
So it was out there. She hadn’t imagined it. He’d spoken with a soft graveness, but she and the fireflies heard every syllable. “Promises and commitment aren’t on my bucket list.” But they sounded nice…felt like a dream. “It’s on you now, Burke.”
“On me,” he repeated, sounding skeptical, his frown unmistakable. He mounted his bike and she followed, down the trail to the wild grass on the sandy shore. Then he hopped off and beckoned her into his arms. “Get in the water. Naked.”
Sofia stepped back. Naked? “No.”
“What’s your excuse to withdraw this time?”
“Is closed.” Tugging down her jacket, he kissed her ear, and there was the brush of his scruff and the touch of his tongue on her skin. “Next excuse?”
“A storm’s on the way.”
“Forecast is for clear skies.” He unfastened her jeans, pushed them past her hips. “Try again.”
The forecast was wrong, but if she told him her scar said so, he might stop touching her, and she didn’t want that. His hard hands, the calluses on the pads of his fingers, thrilled her on contact. “The…” The fireflies are watching. My undies aren’t sexy. You’re too good at this. “The water’s cold,” she finally said.
Yes, the cold water. What would the shock of sudden submersion into the frigid Atlantic do to her system?
Burke gripped the crotch of her panties, pulling until the fabric put tight pressure directly onto her hypersensitive flesh.
Oh, God. Keep doing that.
He slid the panties down to tangle with her jeans and then his hand was back, stroking her thighs, gliding between them. “I’ll be in the water with you, Sofia. Wrap yourself around me if you wanna keep warm. When you get out, I’ll take one of those blankets you brought and put it around you.”
“An answer for everything,” she whispered as his other hand worked beneath her shirt and flicked open her bra. “Let me get it from here.”
Granting her privacy, he released her and peeled off his own clothes. Completely, gloriously nude, he began his trek through the damp sand to the dark water beyond.
“This wasn’t on the list.” A deep breath, then Sofia stripped and sprinted past him like a streaker, throwing herself into the water with a dramatic splash.
It covered her like ice chips, but it invigorated as she dipped beneath the surface and burst up, laughing. This was crazy, so crazy—
Burke dove, and the ripples carried to her, touching her skin, tickling her someplace deep, and God, she was happy.
Naked at the lighthouse, skinny-dipping in the Atlantic. Overhead the stars and clouds observed, withholding judgment. In front of her was a man who’d been her friend before but was someone entirely new now.
“C’mere,” he said, though it was he who swam closer. His gaze didn’t stray south to her scar. “If you say it’s okay for me to look, I will.”
She thought she could rise out of the water and reveal it, but would it be ungrateful to introduce ugliness on such a beautiful night? Swimming in the ocean naked was enough. So she kept it under the surface, pressing to him, giving him herself but denying him, too.
“Sofia, the question’s looping in my head, and I’ve got to…You said there’re added risks. What risks?”
He was her friend, and if he couldn’t handle this they both ought to know now. “Pregnancy. My doctors say I’m healthy enough to have sex, but pregnancy may put too much strain on my heart. Also, miscarriages. Preeclampsia.” When he frowned, silently asking for clarification, she gave the barest-bones explanation possible. “It spikes blood pressure, can do some nasty things to the kidneys. After my transplant there was a kidney issue, so renal dysfunction’s something my doctors don’t want to see.”
“Burke, it’s not an absolute.”
“You’ll need to be protected, every time.”
“Birth control’s not completely effective. Slim odds, but I could get pregnant someday. Slimmer odds, I could carry the baby to full term and survive.”
He pushed a hand through his damp, dark hair. “You’re not considering that.”
“I wouldn’t intentionally conceive, no, but if it happened I’d fight for that baby.”
“And risk your own life?”
“I beat the odds, Burke. I’m doing it now.” She tried to stop here, but the words tumbled out of her. “The average life expectancy of heart transplant recipients past ten years is barely above fifty percent. I’m on year twelve.”
The magnitude of it fell on them, pried them apart. He waded a few feet, turned his back to her. A strong, sturdy back, so fit to carry her if only he’d try. She almost asked him to, and started to go after him, but then he spoke.
“Average life expectancy. What’s that, an expiration date?” His voice was chipped in places, but it wasn’t the interference of wind.
It was fear.
“Every patient’s different. Worrying about this won’t benefit either of us.” How many lovers had seized opportunity in this very spot, beneath a lighthouse that had served as guardian to over a century’s worth of souls? Why couldn’t she and Burke join that number? “I’m not meant to live forever. No one is. I’m here now, though, and I want to enjoy the life I’ve got. Okay?”
“You tell me I could lose you at any time and then ask me if I’m okay with that? Really, Sofia?” The fear was prominent now, and her name sounded broken on his lips.
“Yeah. Just as your dangerous career can take you away from me at any time.” Still he didn’t turn back to her, and she cut through the water to the gritty sand. “It’s a risk and I want to try. Because it’s you, Burke. Because, damn it, you’ve always meant something to me.”
He caught up to her as she was pulling on her clothes. He snatched a blanket, ran it over his wet skin, and dressed quickly. “I always meant something? How’s that, when you went to New York and never picked up a phone to tell me you were all right?”
“You left Eaves, too.”
“Not right away. First I almost destroyed myself trying to detox. Then I got on the right track and was finally able to get my GED and get out. Stupid as it sounds, I waited years for just one goddamn call from you.”
“I called.” The admission took too much energy, and she dropped her shoulders. “Once. Right after the surgery. I called your dad’s house. I wanted to tell you…Nobody answered.”
“You gave me one chance to fix this. How’s that fair?”
“It wasn’t,” she allowed. “Maybe we needed that time and that space, Burke, to fix ourselves.”
“I’m clean and you’ve got a second heart, but we’re not fixed. We’re only coping.”
“Coping’s easier with someone to hold you up,” she said, pulling on her jacket and stepping into her shoes. “Sponsors and support groups are great. So is a friend who’s got no obligation but just cares and wants to help.”
“Don’t volunteer, Sofia. You can’t handle this.”
“Up to me to decide. I’ll try, for you. So what can you handle?” Gulping in the salt-tinged breeze, she climbed onto her bike.
Burke grabbed the bicycle to hold it still, but her feet were already on the pedals and she crashed into him. He bellowed a swearword.
“Are you okay?” She scrambled off and the bike fell to its side like a tipped cow. “Oh, no, you’re bleeding.”
Maybe they were hazardous to each other’s health.
Sofia dug a disinfectant square, a sample-size tube of antibacterial ointment, and a bandage from her tote bag. Carrying first aid supplies was an unbroken habit. Over the years she’d stopping packing masks and hydrogen peroxide, but some items remained handy. “I have painkillers.”
“No aspirin.” He took over, securing the bandage himself, then he helped her right the bicycle.
“It’s an over-the-counter. Nonnarcotic. It won’t trigger a relapse.”
“Sofia, I once swallowed a bottle’s worth of aspirin and chased it with gin.”
“That could’ve killed you.”
“I know. I knew it then, too.” He paused, and she heard what he didn’t say. I wanted it to kill me. “But I changed my mind about it, threw up, and whatever was left in my system made me sick as hell for days. So no aspirin for me. Appreciate the gesture, though.”
“I’m not an expert on marine careers,” she said, “but being a dockworker’s strenuous labor. What do you do about aches and sore everything?”
“Grin and bear it. Massage it out. I spent too many years numbing myself with drugs to go back to that.”
The fireflies had retreated and now clouds began to gather in the sky.
They should leave Bellini, but she wondered what had drawn him to marijuana and cocaine and whatever else he’d indulged in. “Why’d you start using? It had to hurt your dad to watch you deteriorate like that.”
“Don’t confuse Deacon with Finnegan. Deacon didn’t ‘watch’ me deteriorate. He prophesied it. I was exactly what my father said I’d be—a mistake.”
“Deacon said you were a mistake?”
“Sofia, the word he used is murderer.”
Meant to Be Mine will be available in digital and print tomorrow! Digital copies start at $6.99, grab your here: Amazon | BN | Kobo | iBooks | Google Play | Omni Lit, or find a print copy at your local bookstore on IndieBound.