In a picturesque fishing village off the coast of Maine, twenty-six-year-old attorney Gina Gaynes has a thriving career and a bright future. The last man she wants to see is Rhyder Owens, a virile member of the yachting set, back in town to shake up her life again. She’s fought hard to forget what happened between them nine years ago. It hadn’t been love, it was raw desire. It wasn’t a marriage, it was a scandal. It ended not in bittersweet goodbyes, but with blackmail.
Now Rhyder is back to reclaim what he never should have let go. But Gina is not the girl he once knew, one given to impulsive fantasies. She’s no longer under the rule of a family who put them both through hell. She’s an independent, sophisticated woman who can’t be swayed by a bronze sculpture made of flesh and blood. And yet, locked in his embrace, her heart skips a beat. It’s making Gina wonder, maybe even hope, that the man who once seemed so wrong for her, could actually be the love of her life.
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The Americana Series: Maine
By Janet Dailey
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1978 Janet Dailey
All rights reserved.
GINA STARED in shocked disbelief. It couldn't be Rhyder! Not after all these years. It was impossible. But those were his blue eyes, startling and clear. Did he recognize her? The gold band of her grandmother's wedding ring felt cold, burning like ice around her finger.
Swiftly she turned away before he saw her and knelt in front of the shallow trough of stainless steel, raised by short legs above the firewood. The synthetic material of her scarlet jump suit didn't protect her knees from the gritty sand beneath them, but Gina was oblivious to the discomfort.
Her heart was pounding like a frightened rabbit's. She was hot and cold all at the same time. It was a mistake, an illusion. Her nerves clamored as she desperately tried to deny Rhyder's presence.
But she wasn't wrong. She couldn't make herself look again. The one glimpse of his tall, lithely muscled frame was enough. Not once in nine years had she ever mistaken anyone else for Rhyder, even briefly. There was no reason to pretend she might have done so now.
No, it was Rhyder, with his jet dark hair that waved crisply when it was ruffled by a sea breeze. Maturity had added to the hardness of his aquiline features, intensified the aloof bearing that bordered on arrogance. He was still deeply tanned by the sun, increasing the startling contrast of his blue eyes with his dark coloring.
Gina closed her eyes, dark lashes fluttering in memory. The years rolled away and she remembered her response to her grandfather's question the first time he had seen Rhyder, wanting to know who the man was that his young granddaughter was staring at.
"He's from away, summer mahogany," she had answered, falling into the idiomatic speech of her native Maine.
People who neither were born nor lived in Maine were never referred to as foreigners or "furriners," nor classified as outsiders. They were generalized as being "from away."
"Summer mahogany" was a category that indicated that Rhyder belonged to the yachting set. It was a descriptive and picturesque term, considering the sun-browned appearance of the boating crowd that descended on Maine in the summer. It separated them from the regular "summer complaints," an affectionate term for tourists who visited the coastal resorts of Maine.
For the impressionable sixteen-year-old girl that Gina had been nine years ago, summer mahogany became more than just a term. Rhyder personified summer mahogany, with his features appearing chiseled in hardwood and browned by the summertime sun. There had been a raw virility about him, a male vitality such as Gina had never encountered before—or since.
Until now, Gina trembled visibly. She wanted to run before another meeting with Rhyder was forced upon her, but she couldn't. Now that she was here, she had to stay. There was no plausible excuse she could make to leave the party.
"I know the breeze is brisk, but you surely can't be cold, Gina," a female voice chided.
Her head jerked toward the sound, her eyes snapping open, darkly turbulent like the churning green depths of the ocean. Quickly Gina masked the emotional upheaval within as she recognized Katherine Trent, Justin's sister.
"I was thinking of winter, I guess," Gina lied.
"It isn't even officially autumn yet. Don't be rushing the seasons." The admonishment was offered laughingly. "Want to give me a hand packing this?" Katherine pulled a large plastic bag toward the shallow trough, three-quarters full of water. "Justin has succeeded in getting detained by the late arrivals. He manages to do that at every clambake."
Gina smiled stiffly, but didn't comment. "I don't mind helping. Part of the fun of a clambake is the preparation."
Her hands were trembling as she reached into the bag containing the seaweed. Fortunately Katherine didn't seem to notice. Seaweed was added to the water in the trough.
"Most people are convinced that the fun is in eating." Katherine closed the plastic bag and turned to remove the burlap top, saturated with water, that covered the large drum filled with live lobsters.
Stacked on top of each other in the metal drum, the lobsters crawled around with difficulty. Their hard shells glistened in a dark green shade against the seaweed scattered among them. Wooden pegs forced their claws apart, eliminating the danger of physical injury as Gina and Katherine lifted the lobsters individually and set them in the trough of seaweed and water.
When the bottom was covered with lobsters, more seaweed was added, followed by another layer of lobster and more seaweed. The barrel drum was emptied and Katherine turned to the clams, already wrapped in cheesecloth sacks.
A few of the clambake guests drifted over to observe the preparations. Their casual interest heightened Gina's tension. The moment was approaching when she would have to face Rhyder. There were nearly thirty guests at the party and she couldn't hope to avoid him indefinitely.
Mentally she tried to brace herself for the meeting. There was always the slim chance he wouldn't recognize her. After all, she had been sixteen the last time he had seen her. Nine years would have altered her appearance more than they had altered his.
True, her hair was still dark, as midnight black as his, but it didn't fall in long silken strands between her shoulders. It was cut short, waving about her ears to add a touch of sophistication to her appearance. Her eyes remained ocean green, outlined by thick lashes, but were no longer trusting and innocent. Her curves were more womanly now, but her figure hadn't changed that much.
Gina sincerely doubted that he had forgotten her, any more than she had succeeded in forgetting him. Bitterly she resented his second intrusion in her life, and she guessed Rhyder would feel the same when he recognized her.
She stiffened at the sound of her name spoken by Justin Trent. A sixth sense warned her before she turned around that Rhyder was with him. A forced smile curved her mouth as she pivoted stiffly, carefully avoiding any glance at the man walking beside Justin. But she could feel the rake of narrowed blue eyes sweeping chillingly over her frame.
Her fingers closed tightly over the cheesecloth bag of clams as she fought the waves of panic rising inside her. If she had been given a year, she still would not have been prepared for this moment. Her composure was eggshell brittle, threatening to crack at the slightest jar.
"I've been looking for you." Justin slid an arm around the back of her waist. His hand tightened slightly on her hip in a faint caress.
"I've been right here all along." Her husky laughter sounded false as it echoed mockingly in her own ears. She tipped her head back to gaze into Justin's handsome face. "What do you want?"
His brown gaze lingered briefly on her curved lips, then shifted to the man watching them. "There's someone I want you to meet. Rhyder, this is—"
"There's no need for an introduction." The interruption was smooth and low as Gina was forced to acknowledge Rhyder with a look. The hard blue eyes sent a cold shaft of fear plunging down to her toes. "We are already acquainted, aren't we, Mrs. O—"
"The name is Gaynes," Gina broke in with a rush. "Miss Gina Gaynes." She underlined her single status.
A dark eyebrow flicked upward in sardonic mockery." My mistake."
"We all make them," she shrugged in an attempt at lightness.
But Gina and Rhyder knew secretly how accurate her response was, even though it was veiled in ambiguity. Electric currents vibrated the air between them. The high voltage was jarring her and Gina needed to end it.
"Who did you think Gina was?" A half smile of curiosity was in Justin's expression.
An aloof mask was drawn over the tanned features. "It doesn't matter." Rhyder let his gaze swing blandly to Justin. "I think you were going to offer me a drink, weren't you, before we were sidetracked by Miss Gaynes."
"Sure," Justin nodded, removing his arm from around Gina, pocketing his curiosity for the time being. "What will you have, Rhyder?"
"Wait here. I'll get it," he told him and moved toward the opposite side of the crowd.
Gina stood uncertainly for a moment in front of Rhyder, her fingers clenching and unclenching the bag of clams. His alert gaze picked up the nervous movement and she immediately stilled the betraying motion.
"Excuse me," she murmured stiffly, then turned away, taking the few steps necessary to carry the clams to the molding trough.
Rhyder followed leisurely. Gina tried to pretend he wasn't there as she again began to help Katherine, but she was disturbingly conscious of him. He stood apart, watching the preparations with absent interest.
There was little color in her cheeks as she spread another layer of seaweed over the clams while Katherine went after the sweet corn. When she returned with an armload of foil-wrapped ears, Gina took them from her and began woodenly distributing them atop the seaweed-covered clams. Katherine disappeared again for more corn.
An ear of corn rolled to the ground. Gina moved to retrieve it, but it was Rhyder's sun-browned hand that reached it first as he bent beside her. He didn't immediately offer it to her, forcing her to extend a hand, her gaze averted from his chiseled features.
"I wasn't aware you'd changed your name." Rhyder placed the ear of corn in her outstretched palm, speaking low and cynically for her hearing alone.
"I wasn't aware that it was any of your business," Gina retorted bitterly.
The creases around his mouth hardened. His cutting gaze slashed to the gold ring on her left hand. "What about that?" he challenged coldly.
"This?" She lifted her hand, letting the precious metal flash in the sunlight. "The truth is it's my grandmother's wedding ring, the only thing I have that was hers. I have to wear it on my left hand because it's a little too small for my right."
She straightened, feeling a glow of malicious satisfaction at his inability to dispute the truth. Before she could replace the ear of corn, his hand closed over the crook of her elbow. Anger smoldered in his gaze.
The harsh grip dug into her skin, but Gina didn't try to pull away. Her eyes were as cold and green as the winter sea when she lifted her contemptuous gaze to his.
"Let go of me." The order was issued in a demanding undertone. "Or would you rather I called for help?" They were brave words considering the hammering of her heart at the way he towered beside her.
But her words had the desired effect as Rhyder abruptly released her, his mouth twisting in a vicious, jeering line. "You still can't come up with anything more original after all these years, can you?"
Inwardly Gina flinched, but she turned away before Rhyder could see that his sarcastic gibe had hit its target. Justin and his sister arrived almost simultaneously.
There was someone else Justin wanted Rhyder to meet. After handing him the cold beer he had requested, Justin led Rhyder away, pausing to suggest that Gina accompany them. She refused, insisting she wanted to help Katherine.
Katherine was too preoccupied with the arranging of the sweet corn, potatoes, onions, sausage and hot dogs to notice Gina's unnatural silence as she assisted. For Gina, it was a relief when, the moistened burlap bags were tucked around the heaping mound of food and canvas covered the burlap. She didn't stay for the lighting of the fire beneath the shallow trough, hurrying to the beachside house with the excuse of washing her hands.
Almost the very instant she stepped inside the quiet house, reaction set in. Her legs trembled so badly she could hardly stand. She collapsed in the nearest chair, feeling nauseated, pain screaming in her temples. Her mind reeled as she tried to take in the implications of this second meeting.
Rhyder had been invited to the clambake by Justin. The two men were obviously on a first-name basis. Rationally, Gina knew the two facts did not mean the men were friends. Justin's gatherings were generally business and pleasure.
Since she could not recall Justin's ever mentioning Rhyder's name in the past—and that was certainly something that wouldn't have escaped her notice—it was possible that Justin was only now attempting to cultivate Rhyder's friendship for business purposes.
It seemed a logical explanation. And it would also provide a reason for Rhyder to be in Maine in September instead of summer. There was no comfort in that knowledge. Gina didn't want him involved even in the remotest sense with her life. She ran a shaky hand across her damp forehead and down a cool cheek. Her concern at the moment was in how long he would be staying.
The irony of the thought twisted her lips in humorless amusement. Nine years ago she had been concerned about the same thing for an entirely different reason. Nine years ago she had dreaded the day he would leave. Now it couldn't be soon enough.
Where was her sense of humor, Gina wondered. She should laugh at the situation instead of being unnerved by it. The nine-year-old episode should be part of the past, an experience to be filed away as part of growing up.
Summer mahogany. He had seemed like a god to her. The sea wind and sun had chiseled the masculine planes of his face in smooth and powerful lines. If Gina had been given to romantic flights of fantasy, she might have regarded him as a knight in shining armor. Perhaps in her subconscious, he had been.
At the time, Rhyder had simply been the most compelling man she had ever met, virtually the first man she had ever been aware of in a physical sense. His latent virility had awakened her femininity as none of the attention from boys in her age group had done. Rhyder had been twenty-six that summer nine years ago. His lifestyle alone set him apart from everyone else.
Within a few days after seeing him for the first time, Gina had begun subtly trying to attract his attention. Sometimes she was conscious of what she was doing, but mostly she was guided by instinct. Fate and a misbehaving engine in his sleek sailing yacht had put him into the port where her grandfather trapped lobsters. Gina had dozens of ready-made excuses for being around at any hour of the day.
From being a nodding acquaintance, she graduated into passing the time of day and on to chatting briefly. At sixteen, Gina was attractive and unconsciously alluring. The combination of long black hair and green eyes was eye-catching to any male. Rhyder wasn't an exception.
Gina had often seen his veiled gaze running over her face and figure in silent admiration. But he was also aware of her youth and the nearly ten-year difference in their ages.
She remembered the afternoon she had gone to the beach for a swim, with the full knowledge beforehand that Rhyder was there. In her effort to establish a more personal relationship, she discovered a streak of guile within herself that she hadn't known existed.
It enabled her to feign surprise when she saw him in the water, send him a friendly wave, and swim alone as if she didn't mind sharing the secluded cove with him. Later, when she had waded ashore, he was sunning himself on the sand, his muscled chest and legs already tanned a mahogany brown.
The sandy beach area of the cove was small, so it was perfectly natural that she had to sit within a few yards of him to dry herself off. His gaze had flicked to her briefly, faint amusement in the blue depths, as she toweled the excess water from her skin.
"It's a beautiful summer day, isn't it?" she had declared artlessly.
"Mmm," had been his sound of agreement, closing his eyes.
For a while Gina had said nothing, hoping to indicate a companionable silence. Then she asked with false idleness, "Have you repaired your motor yet?"
"I'll find out tomorrow," Rhyder had answered. "We're taking it out for a test run."
"We?" Gina had repeated blankly, then nodded understanding. "You're referring to Pete."
She hadn't figured out just exactly what relationship the man was to Rhyder. At times she thought he might be an employee, a deckhand or something. Other times they seemed like the best of friends.
Yet Pete didn't strike Gina as the outdoor sailing type, so if he was a friend, she couldn't imagine him volunteering to have a sailing vacation. He was more at home with books than he was with anything to do with the yacht.
Rhyder was lying on his back, arms raised to rest his head on his hands. He shifted slightly to allow his alert gaze to sweep over her, taking in the jutting firmness of her breasts beneath the one-piece bathing suit of canary yellow.
Excerpted from Summer Mahogany by Janet Dailey. Copyright © 1978 Janet Dailey. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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