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Authors: Amity Hope

Burned

BOOK: Burned
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Burned

By

Amity Hope

Copyright
©
2016

All rights reserved. This work is protected under the US Copyright Act. It may not be reproduced in any manner without the consent of the publisher. The only exception is for brief quotations that may be used in reviews. Any other use is in direct violation of US copyright laws.

This book is a work of fiction. Any similarities to names, locations or events are coincidental.

Burned is a spin-off of Ditched. It can be read as a standalone.

Chapter 1

A girl should be able to lie on the beach without having some strange dog stick its nose in her business. My eyes flew open when the soggy, slobbery tongue slid across my bare thigh. I let out a shriek of disgust as I gave the mutt a swat. It trotted away, backtracking to its owner.

“Sorry about that!” he called.

The dog belonged to a guy that lived down the beach from Max’s beach house. Jarrett, with his floppy hair, looked like a stereotypical beach bum. He was new to town, here to go to school, and lived somewhere down the shoreline.

I waved, letting him know all was forgiven. Jarrett walked his dog on the beach often and most days didn’t bother with a leash. The dog was a mixed breed, as in so many mixes I couldn’t even begin to guess what his breeding was comprised of. His fur was dull brown and wiry. Like most dogs, he couldn’t understand that the world did not revolve around him. And no, I did not want to play.

I was relieved that this time I’d been able to so easily shoo him away.

I sighed as I settled my head back against the lounging chair. The day was warm and the sky a clear, cloudless blue. I’d just gotten home from work and this was my favorite way to unwind. I was soaking up the sun’s heat, though not its rays. I’d slathered myself with SPF 50, put on my bikini and pulled my chair down to the ocean’s edge.

I loved reveling in the sun’s warmth while I listened to the waves tumbling in.

It was truly the most peaceful place on earth.

Usually.

“Hey, Lanna.” I stifled a groan because I’d hoped Jarrett would continue on his way. I should’ve known he’d stop to chat. I peeled my eyes open again, rolling my head to the side to face him as I squinted at him through my sunglasses.

He grinned down at me. His floppy brown hair was blowing a bit in the breeze. As usual, he was shirtless, his washboard abs in plain view. His skin glowed with a golden tan. I always fought the urge to lecture him about the importance of wearing sun block. Though he was only a year younger than me, something about his happy go lucky attitude made him seem even younger than he was.

“Hi, Jarrett…and Rigley,” I said with a bit of aggravation. Now the dog seemed to think he had his owner’s permission to sniff me out. I squirmed in my chair, angling away from him. It didn’t help. He continued to invade my personal space.

“Quigley.”

“What?”

Jarrett jiggled the leash that he’d just attached, finally pulling the animal away from me. “It’s Quigley.”

The dog dropped onto his haunches. His tail wagged, spraying sand. His tongue lolled from his mouth, drooling saliva. His big brown eyes looked at me imploringly. I got the impression he was silently begging me to play.

I wasn’t interested. I had been enjoying my peace and quiet.

“Quigley, right,” I agreed. I thought Quigley sounded like a ridiculous name but who was I to judge? Then again, I thought as I eyed up the mongrel, the name really did suit him.

“So, you still liking Harmony Bay?” he asked, obviously just trying to make conversation.

I’d been in Harmony Bay for almost half a year. My best friend, Holly, and her boyfriend, Max, lived here. Max had grown up here and last summer, he’d moved back. Holly had come with him, initially for just a visit. But she’d decided to stay.

Apparently I was following in her footsteps because I had no intention of leaving this small, ocean side town anytime soon. My original intention was to stay for an extended vacation. But one month crept into another. Winter was well behind us and spring was too. Summer was speeding by and now fall would be here before we knew it.

And here I was, no more eager to leave than I had been the day I arrived. At first, I’d come here just to get away. There were things going on in my hometown of Chamberlain that I was trying to avoid. But the longer I was here, the more I was falling in love with the place. Now? Now I had no plans to leave.

Ever.

“Yes,” I finally said in answer to Jarrett’s question. “I still love it here.”

“Of course she loves it here. What’s not to love?” Holly asked.

I twisted my neck around to look at her. I hadn’t heard her approaching. I’d talked to her briefly when I’d gotten home. She had been in the middle of a project—she made some incredible jewelry—and I hadn’t wanted to sidetrack her. I realized she must be done for the day. She waved at me and grinned. Her sandy-blond hair was pulled into a ponytail. Sunglasses veiled her gray eyes.

“Hey, Jarrett,” she said in greeting.

Quigley wagged his shaggy tail as he tugged at his leash, trying to get closer to her. She gave him a strained smile as she subtly slid further away. Holly was not a dog lover, either.

“Holly,” he said, dragging out her name in the way he typically did. “What’s up?”

She shrugged as she came to stand beside us. “Just getting ready for our trip back to Minnesota.”

“Yeah? What’re you going back there for?”

“Max’s mom is getting married. We’re going back for the wedding and staying for a few weeks,” she explained.

Max’s family owned a vineyard and winery on the outskirts of town. It was the reason he’d moved back to Harmony Bay last year. He was going to school for winery and vineyard management. He still had a few more years left. Recently his grandparents, who owned Villette Vineyards, had insisted he work a little less. He was, after all, still in school. He had plenty of time to work later, after he had his degree they’d said.

At first, cutting back on hours had been hard on him. But eventually he seemed to accept it. Of course they’d insisted he take time off for his mother’s wedding—their ex-daughter-in-law—but he hadn’t expected them to be so insistent he take a few weeks off.

He’d finally agreed because Holly’s family was from Chamberlain. It would give them a chance to visit before school started up again. Once the semester was underway, they probably wouldn’t go back anytime soon.

“When are you leaving?” he asked.

“We fly out tomorrow afternoon,” she said. I knew she was raising her eyebrows behind her sunglasses when she looked at me. “That’s why we should finish packing.”

What she really meant was that I should
start
packing. I kept my expression impassive. Holly knew that I always over packed. I typically started packing days, sometimes weeks in advance. I realized I should’ve done that, to keep up the façade.

Jarrett turned to me. “You going too?”

I nodded, trying to look enthusiastic. “Sure am.” I was such a liar. Guilt coursed through me. I had never lied to Holly before. Another wave of guilt crashed over me when I realized that wasn’t
exactly
true. I had never lied to her outright, but I had lied by omission. In fact, I’d been lying by omission since I moved to Harmony Bay.

“It will be fun to catch up with friends and family,” Holly said.

Max, Holly, and I had been friends all through high school. Pair that with the fact that I was now rooming with Max and Holly, and it seemed his mom thought I was worthy of an invitation. I liked his mom well enough. She seemed like a great lady. I
should
be going to the wedding. Holly thought I was. But I wasn’t.

I couldn’t bear the thought of returning to my hometown.

Not for any reason.

Jarrett looked like maybe he was going to drop down onto the beach and make himself comfortable. That was my cue to leave. If he took a seat there was no telling how long he’d stay.

“In fact,” I lied—yet again—as I swung my legs around and dropped my feet into the sand, “Holly’s right. I should really get packing. I haven’t even started yet.”

“Oh, okay,” he said as he gave the dog’s leash a tug. He started backing away. “See you guys around then.”

“Bye,” Holly and I said in unison.

Jarrett and the dog took off, feet shuffling through the sand.

He didn’t have to get far before we knew he was out of earshot. Between the waves crashing against the sand and the breeze fluttering in our ears, most other sounds were drowned out.

“I saw him stop and thought I’d come rescue you,” Holly said. “He’s a nice guy but the last few times I came out here for some peace and quiet he just plopped down and stayed for a few hours.”

I laughed and said, “Yeah, he’s done that to me a few times too. Probably because he’s kind of new in town and still getting to know people.” I pulled my beach towel off the chair and flung it over my shoulder. I hadn’t planned on going in quite yet but now I felt obligated to pack—or at least pretend to.

The beach house was pale blue. It was flanked on one side by a hill, a house on the other. A white wooden fence afforded a bit of privacy on the occasions that the neighbors actually used the property. The beach was endless in both directions. In the evening, the sunsets were absolutely incredible.

The sun was behind us now and it cast long shadows in front of us. We probably looked like a mismatched pair. I towered over Holly by more than half a foot. That was only the start of our differences. Holly tended to be quiet, subtle, people pleasing. Me? I tended to be the opposite.

Or, at least in the past I had.

Regardless of our differences, our friendship had been cemented in the third grade. Our teacher had made us walk in alphabetical order everywhere. To the gym, the library, lunch, field trips. Even the bathroom.
Everywhere
. Holly Hannigan and Lanna Hartman. We stood directly behind Veronica Gallagher.

Even back then, I was taller than anyone else in class. I towered over the tallest boy. One morning Veronica started in, taunting me with her daily rendition of what she thought was oh-so-clever: “Lanna-Lanna-Lanna, shaped like a banana.”

At this point in my life, I could see how trite it all was. At nine? It had been traumatic. Devastating, even.

That particular morning, my mother had just announced to me that she was working her way into her second divorce. I had actually liked that step-dad. Unable to take even the slightest bit of mocking in my reduced mental state, I’d promptly burst into tears.

A pint-sized Holly then promptly punched Veronica in the nose.

Blood poured.

Tears were shed.

A trip to the principal’s office was had by all.

Including our parents.

Mrs. Hannigan—as Holly’s mom still insists I call her after all these years—has always disliked me. I’m pretty sure it stems back to that very incident. Despite Mrs. Hannigan’s disapproval, Holly’s been my best friend ever since.

“Are you excited to see your mom?” Holly asked as we traipsed into the house.

“I guess,” I answered with a non-committal shrug. She didn’t press me for further explanation. My mom and I had always had a strained relationship. My dad died a few months before I was born. Mom’s been searching for a replacement ever since. Sadly, she has yet to find someone she feels is sufficient for the job.

Not for lack of trying. Counting my dad, she’d been married five times. She had bounced into another marriage shortly after I moved to Harmony Bay. I hadn’t even met this particular stepdad and—to be honest, it wasn’t really a surprise—she had confided that she had filed for divorce from Rick already. It had been a while since I’d last spoken with her. Yes, I had a habit of avoiding her calls, her texts, her e-mails, her video chat requests.

Just
thinking
about my mom’s love life was exhausting. I certainly didn’t want to have to actually
talk
about it.

Holly didn’t bother to toss platitudes my way. It would have been ridiculous for her to say something like,
Well I bet your mom is excited to see you
. Or,
I’m sure your mom misses you
. We both knew that the truth was she probably barely noticed I was gone. I’d spent my freshman year of university in Australia. I could count on one hand the number of times we’d spoken during the time I’d been abroad.

If it weren’t for her last ex, Gerald, I’d probably be there still. But Gerald had decided to stick his nose in Mom’s finances. He’d convinced her that getting my education in another country was a frivolous expense. Mom, who was always easily swayed at the worst possible times, decided that she agreed.

She insisted that I come back.

So I had.

And now Gerald and his unwanted financial advice were already history.

I probably could’ve convinced my mom that she should let me go back.

I just didn’t have the desire anymore. Or the energy to plead my case.

At least I was away from Chamberlain.

“Lanna…?” Holly said, giving me the impression that it wasn’t the first time.

I leaned against the breakfast bar, propping myself on my elbows. “Yeah?”

“I was just saying that Mike’s picking us up at the airport tomorrow night, when we get in. He offered to drive you to your mom’s. That way you don’t have to count on her coming to get you.”

What Holly didn’t say was that then I wouldn’t have to worry about Mom
forgetting
to get me. Also meaning I wouldn’t have to count on taking a cab. It was nice of Max’s brother to make the offer.

BOOK: Burned
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