The Promise of Lightning, Book 2 in the Delaneys of Cambria series, is heading to Amazon and other book retailers in the next couple of weeks. I can’t wait to bring it to you, so in the meantime, here’s a look at the first chapter. I hope you enjoy Drew and Megan’s story
Drew McCray hated weddings.
First, they didn’t mean anything. You could take vows in front of a church full of people, and your wife could still run out with all of your stuff, leaving you with nothing but a broken coffeemaker and your memories.
Second, you had to smile and make nice with a bunch of strangers—or people who were worse than strangers—and eat overcooked pasta while the band played the Chicken Dance.
You didn’t want to get him started on the Chicken Dance.
So he was already predisposed to be grumpy as hell six months before, when his sister had announced her engagement and asked him to be in the wedding party. He’d hidden the grumpiness for her sake, though. That is, until she called eight days before the ceremony and told him about Wedding Week.
“What’s Wedding Week?” he asked her. He was standing in his workshop with a half-built sloop set up on pallets in front of him, his cellphone to his ear, the smell of sawdust in the air.
“It’s going to be fun!” Julia assured him, her voice annoyingly perky, especially at this time of the morning. “We’re going to have the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner, of course. And a party for the out-of-town guests. And the bachelor party. And kayaking! You love kayaking.”
He did love kayaking, but he wasn’t going to love doing it with Julia’s future in-laws, given his complicated and troubled past with the Delaneys.
That was a long story, and one he didn’t much like to think about. But the gist of it was, if he had a choice between spending an event-filled week with them or stabbing himself in the eye, he’d have to seriously think about how much he needed his binocular vision.
“Damn it, Julia. I can’t go to Cambria now. I’m busy. I’ll go for the wedding, like we’d planned.”
“You’re not busy,” she said.
“Well, that’s … how do you know if I’m busy?”
“Because when I talked to you yesterday, you said that you didn’t have much going on this week. You said the boat you’re working on isn’t a rush job, and you didn’t have any special plans, and you were just going to have a relaxing week.”
Had he said all that? Thinking back on it, he guessed he had. But when he’d said it, he hadn’t realized his sister was luring him into a trap—one that involved a bachelor party, kayaking, and probably even the damned Chicken Dance with a bunch of people who probably were hoping his kayak would sink to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
“Seriously? That’s what yesterday’s phone call was about? You were grilling me for information so you could spring Wedding Week on me?”
“I probably can’t even get a flight on such short notice.”
“I checked online, and there’s a flight from Victoria to San Luis Obispo tomorrow morning on Delta.” She sounded pleased with herself.
“Tomorrow morning,” he repeated. Then he was silent, brooding over the imminent loss of the quiet, uneventful week he’d had planned.
“Oh, come on, Drew. I know I should have told you earlier, but you’d have figured out a way to get out of it. And I need you there. You’re my brother, and I love you, and Dad isn’t here anymore, so …”
He closed his eyes and tipped back his head, letting out a sigh.
How was he supposed to say no, now that she’d played the Dead Father card?
“Will you do it?” she prompted him.
What else could he do? She was his sister. His fathers were gone—both his biological father and the man who’d raised him—and his relationship with his mother was difficult at best. Julia was all he had left.
“Oh! Thank you, Drew. Thank you! I’ll email you the flight information, and the itinerary for Wedding Week, and—”
“There’s an itinerary for Wedding Week?” He was already regretting having caved.
“It’s not a colonoscopy, Drew, it’s some parties and kayaking. It’s going to be fun!”
“Can I just have the damned colonoscopy instead? Because—”
“Drew. I’m happy. Let me be happy.”
And that settled it. Of course he wanted her to be happy. And of course he wouldn’t intentionally do anything to take that happiness away.
“Send me the information,” he said, then hung up the phone and slid it into the back pocket of his jeans.
He shot a glance at Eddie, the big tabby cat who’d adopted him a few weeks before. “I’m screwed, Eddie, aren’t I?”
Drew regretted that leaving early meant he’d have to put a hold on his current boat project—a custom sloop he was building for a local guy on Salt Spring Island.
When life got to be too difficult or too impossible to fathom—when family problems or the demands of an inheritance he didn’t know what to do with overwhelmed him—Drew built boats.
The boat-building had started as a hobby when he was a kid living in Montana with his parents and his sister. When Drew was about twelve, his father—or, at least, the man he’d then believed to be his father—had begun building a twelve-foot fishing boat from a kit in the family’s two-car garage.
After about a week of standing tentatively by while Andrew McCray began the painstaking process of laying out plans and patterns and cutting panels of wood out of teak, Drew asked if he could help.
What followed was a period of time Drew looked back on as one of the best in his life. He and Andrew worked side by side on the boat for months, when they weren’t occupied with work or school. Drew had learned about the tools, the materials, and, most importantly, the art of craftsmanship—the satisfaction of striving for excellence not because he’d be graded or judged on the end result, but for the sake of the thing itself.
And he’d learned about his dad, because they hadn’t just worked; they’d talked about things they somehow hadn’t been able to discuss with each other before. Andrew talked about his work as a repair technician for the telephone company, telling stories about his coworkers and his frustrations with his boss. Drew talked about school and his teachers and the girls he liked, and whether he should pursue football when he got to high school or let that slide so he could focus on his grades and still have time to be a kid and mess around with his friends.
When the boat was finished, there had been fishing trips on Ennis Lake. It embarrassed him now to think that sometimes he hadn’t wanted to go; at the time, he’d considered it childish and boring to have to spend time with his father when he could have been with his friends.
Now, he would have given ten years of his own life just to have his dad back long enough for one more day out on the lake beneath the puffy clouds, with the sounds of the birds and the insects in his ears.
He couldn’t have that, but he did have work that was a direct legacy from his father.
Drew had been building custom boats for a living since shortly after he’d graduated from high school. He’d started as an apprentice at a shop in Bozeman that made drift boats that could navigate the rivers of Montana.
While he was doing that, he was building a boat in his parents’ garage in his spare time. The first time he took the boat out onto the lake, another fisherman asked about it—and then offered to buy it.
He built another one and sold that, and another after that. Eventually, he realized he no longer needed to be anybody’s apprentice.
At the height of his business—before his ex-wife, Tessa, drove him into bankruptcy—he was renting workshop space five times the size of his parents’ garage, and he employed three people, including two builders and one sales guy.
The business was easy enough to move from Montana to Salt Spring Island, off the coast of Vancouver, when he’d needed a change of environment. Only now there were no regular employees, and there was no sales guy. There was only Drew, building boats small enough that he could manage alone or with part-time help that he brought in on an as-needed basis.
At first, working on such a small scale came from necessity. When Tessa had left him, she’d cleaned out the bank accounts and maxed out the credit cards. He couldn’t afford to pay anybody, and he couldn’t afford advertising. But now that money was no longer an issue—or at least, the lack of it wasn’t an issue—he kept doing what he was doing because it was peaceful, and because working alone amid the smells of sawdust and varnish gave him time to clear his head.
And right now, he really needed time to clear his head, because he was about to face more family complications than he knew what to do with.
While the idea of staying here and hiding out with his boats and his solitude was appealing, he didn’t want to disappoint his sister.
So he packed his stuff, scrambled around to acquire a cat carrier that would fit under an airline seat, left his home and his quiet island, cursed the gods for his circumstances, and caught the flight Julia had picked out for him.
If it all went as badly as he expected, he could always fake his own drowning during the kayaking trip.
Megan Scott thought, not for the first time, that she might have too many pets.
There was Bobby, the Maltese she’d had since she was in college; Sunshine, a golden retriever she’d adopted after he’d been hit by a car and then abandoned; Mr. Wiggles, an angora cat whose owner had wanted to put him down over a treatable health condition; Jerry, a three-legged hamster; and Sally Struthers, a guinea pig she’d agreed to provide a foster home for, but who’d charmed her way into becoming a permanent part of the family.
The thought that she’d gone overboard with the furry friends usually struck her at two times: when she was cleaning up after them, and when her boyfriend, Liam, was complaining about them.
“I get having a dog. Who doesn’t like to have a dog to come home to after work? But, Jesus. This place is like a petting zoo.” Scowling, he lifted Mr. Wiggles from his spot on the sofa and deposited him onto the floor, then sat in the space the cat had just vacated.
“Liam, you’re a rancher,” Megan pointed out to him, not unreasonably. “You’re around animals all day.”
“Yeah, but not in the house.” Mr. Wiggles was rubbing up against Liam’s leg, and Liam nudged him away with his foot.
“Okay, I can admit that it’s a lot for the space I’ve got. But I’ve had Bobby forever. And the rest …”
The rest of the animals all had been in dire circumstances when Megan had met them. What was she supposed to do? Let them suffer? Let them be put down, dying alone and unloved when they still had so much life left in them? She was a vet, for God’s sake. She’d taken an oath to protect the welfare of the animals in her care, to ease suffering. What else was she doing by providing a home to her pets, if not easing their suffering?
“Yeah, yeah,” Liam said, having heard it all before. “I guess it would make more sense if you had a bigger space.”
That part, at least, was hard to argue with. Megan’s house was a one-bedroom, one-bathroom cottage that barely could accommodate her own needs, let alone those of her animal companions.
“It is a little tight in here,” she admitted. The house had been built in the 1920s, a time when people had lower expectations in terms of square footage.
“If you’d consider moving in with me …”
Liam had initially broached the subject of the two of them moving in together months before, shortly after Liam’s brother Colin had become engaged. Megan supposed it was an issue of brotherly competition. She had been using various arguments to put him off, and she pulled out the best of those now.
“But, Liam, you live with your parents.”
He shrugged. “We’ve talked about this. I only live with them because it’s convenient to be there at the ranch. We can get our own place. Hell, we can have a place built on the property. Someplace big enough for your dogs and your cat and your damned guinea pig.” He grinned. “Your hamster can have its own room.”
He wasn’t exaggerating about the hamster room. Liam was a Delaney, and the Delaneys had serious money—enough that she’d be able to have whatever features she wanted in this hypothetical new house of theirs.
The only problem was, the main thing she wanted out of any new home was that Liam not be in it.
She’d been seeing Liam for two years, and over the past six months or so, she’d slowly come to the realization that she wanted to break things off.
She just hadn’t figured out how to do it.
An outsider observing the situation would have thought that the problem was Liam’s personality. He was temperamental and prickly, quick to anger and perpetually irritated. But what the outsider wouldn’t see was that Liam was also kind, honest, loyal, and willing to sacrifice anything for those he loved.
He was also sexy as hell.
That last part was what had gotten her into trouble, had gotten her hopelessly enmeshed in a relationship that just wasn’t working.
As for why it wasn’t working, that was more simple than any question of his temperament, or their compatibility, or the collective sum of his flaws and attributes.
What it came down to was that Megan’s heart just wasn’t in it. And that wasn’t something you could overcome through compromise; it wasn’t something you could smooth over with the help of a relationship counselor.
Her heart knew what it wanted, and it didn’t want Liam.
She’d been working her way up to telling him for months now, but she hadn’t been able to do it. And now, she really couldn’t do it until after the wedding. She was in the wedding party, and so was he. The potential awkwardness of both of them going through the activities of Wedding Week fresh from the emotional savagery of a breakup was something she couldn’t even contemplate.
So, she would have to wait. But as the wedding drew closer, Liam was becoming more and more determined to persuade her to take their relationship to the next level. Was that because he really wanted it? Or did he sense her pulling away? Was this his last-ditch attempt to grab onto her before it was too late?
She looked at him, at the way he was sprawled comfortably in her living room, his long legs stretched out in front of him, his arms spread along the back of the sofa, and she felt a genuine, warm bloom of affection. She loved him, she really did.
She just didn’t love him the way he needed her to. If she could have, she would have. God, it would have made things so much easier if she could just marry him, have his babies, live on the Delaney Ranch for the rest of her days in comfort, with a clear view of her place in the world.
She just couldn’t do it—and if she tried, it wouldn’t be fair to either one of them.
“Hey, Liam? I’m pretty tired. I think I’m just going to call it a night.” They’d gone to dinner at Robin’s and then had come back here, and from the looks of him, he intended to stay awhile. But right now, she just wanted to be alone, wanted to watch TV in her sweatpants and not think about the state of her love life.
“Yeah, I’m pretty tired, too,” he said agreeably. He got up and headed toward the bedroom.
“Yeah?” He turned back toward her.
“I think I’m going to just … you know. Sleep alone tonight. If it’s okay. I’ve got an early morning.”
And, oh, the look on his face. He looked like a kid who’d just opened the Christmas present he’d always wanted, and then had learned that it was intended for someone else.
He rallied admirably, though.
“Oh. Sure. Call me tomorrow?”
He went to kiss her, and she offered her cheek. And if he couldn’t read that one—couldn’t see that it meant trouble—then he wasn’t really trying.
“Is everything okay?” he asked.
“Well … call me.” He went out the front door and closed it behind him. When he was gone, she exhaled in relief.
If she weren’t such a wimp, she could fix this. Could let him go, so he could find someone who really did want all of the things he wanted.
After the wedding. I’ll wait until after the wedding, but no longer.
She scrubbed at her face with her hands, then felt Mr. Wiggles rubbing against her pant leg.
“He’s gone, you can get back on the sofa,” she told him.
The fluffy white cat leaped up onto the cushions, turned around a few times, and curled up into a ball of fur, purring contentedly. Megan wished there were something or someone in her life that could make her purr like that.