Samantha O'Ryan had been eyeing half-naked, wet, glistening men for hours under the guise of teaching them to surf. They'd offered to pay her but, truthfully, she'd gotten the most out of the deal. She just loved being in the water, on her board. After she finished giving the group of college kids pointers, she walked down the beach and up the stairs to let herself into her outdoor cafe, where she went to work on her second love- creating fun, exotic sandwiches.
As she served her customers, she realized she had no plans after work, her favorite kind of evening. She could bodysurf by moonlight if she chose, or drive up Pacific Coast Highway as far as a tank of gas would take her… anything.
That was the beauty of being unencumbered.
Although she wouldn't mind being temporarily encumbered-for a night, that is. It had been a long dry spell without a guy around.
Her own fault.
'You sold everything.' Lorissa Barrett, her best friend and part-time server at the Wild Cherries cafe,
But Lorissa was right. Everything but the brownies were gone, including the new turkey-with-mango-spread special. Sam could drum up inventive stuff like that with ease, bake the most mouthwatering cookies on the planet, but she failed at brownies every single time. She knew why; she just didn't like to think about it.
'Sorry.' Looking anything but, Lorissa leaned against the counter, her amusement slowly fading.
'Uh-oh,' Sam said. 'What is it?'
They had a long history and knew each other better than anyone else did. 'If it's nothing, then stop staring at me like you're trying to get your nerve up for
Sam shrugged and turned back to cleaning the countertop.
Lorissa sighed. 'Okay, I have this favor.'
'Pass.' It was a hot one today, and Sam swiped at her forehead, then dusted off the display cases.
'You can't turn down a favor when you don't even know what it is.' Lorissa tossed back her long, red, wildly curly hair and pushed out her full, highly glossed lower lip in a pout that was extremely effective on men, but not on Sam.
'Sure I can. In fact, I just did.' Sam moved outside to the bright red plastic tables, wiping them down, lowering their red-and-white-striped umbrellas, all the while watching the sun slowly sink into the glorious Pacific Ocean. 'When you ask for a favor in the same tone you might mention a funeral, I know better than to even hesitate.' Sam stretched out the muscles in her neck and back, and thought a midnight swim later tonight might be just the thing she needed, especially in lieu of a man.
'You could at least let me tell you what the favor is.'
Lorissa rolled her eyes. 'The way you read my mind really creeps me out.'
'It doesn't take a psychic. You've got a hot new fling going with that rich Cole guy, and he keeps asking you to set up his friends with your friends.'
'I'm sorry. This is what happens when you're my
'Flattery will get you nowhere.' Sam shifted to the covered patio area and checked the tables there. All clean. 'You know I've been quite patient through all the hideous blind dates you've set me up with over the years. I'm not interested in trying another.'
'They haven't all been hideous.'
'I have two words for you-Toe Guy.'
'Okay, that one can be explained. I forgot your weird foot fetish, and how was I supposed to know about his accident with the lawn mower?'
'I don't want a date tonight.'
'Good. Because it's for tomorrow night.'
Sam walked back inside to the kitchen and looked around, cleaning up as she went. All she needed to do now was shut off the lights and she was done. She could head out… or simply go upstairs, where she had a nice little apartment. Little being the key word, of course, but she liked little, and the place was her own. She'd made it so. 'I'm busy tomorrow night.'
'Please, Sam. One date, that's all I'm asking.' Lorissa batted her long lashes over her light caramel eyes. 'Cole promises me this guy is rich.'
'And yet he can't get his own date.' Sam hit the switches and the main part of the cafe went dark. She locked the small kitchen and pulled the retractable gate around the patio area. 'What's wrong with that picture, Lorissa?'
'Listen.' Lorissa pressed her fingers to her temples, closing her eyes for a second. When she opened them, they were filled with emotion. 'I really like this one, Sammie.'
Sam took a good look at her. She'd known Lorissa twenty-odd years, since kindergarten. Together, they'd already been through so much: Lorissa's parents' nasty divorce, her mother's suicide when they'd been twelve, and a close friend's overdose at age thirteen. Then Sam losing her parents in a car wreck on the night of their eighth- grade graduation. Between them they'd racked up more mileage on the road of life than most others their age.
And they'd survived, each in her own way. Lorissa had stayed with her father and his new wife, trying junior college in San Diego but deciding higher learning wasn't for her. Now, she drew caricatures on the beach and was good enough to make a decent living at the local weekend Malibu craft fairs. She supplemented this income by serving weekdays at Wild Cherries-when she wasn't busy surfing.
As for Sam, she'd gone to live with Red, her mother's beach-bum brother, who'd had no more idea of what to do with a hurting kid than how to cope with his own grief. The car accident that had killed her parents had been her father's fault and by the time the dust had settled years later, Sam was left with little money. She'd already begun working at Red's place, Wild Cherries. Happy enough to have her friends, she'd lived in the moment-surfing in the mornings, working a shift for cranky uncle Red in the afternoons… an easy career choice.
During the few times she let herself think too much, she remembered her motto: Enjoy every little thing as it happens, appreciate all of it. She repeated that mantra often, because she knew that if she ever acknowledged all she'd been through, she'd drown. As a coping mechanism, it had worked.
And as the years passed, little changed. Red retired, and Sam scrimped, saved and went into debt to buy the business from him. Now, at twenty-six, things were good. Maybe she didn't often engage her emotions, but she didn't want to. She recognized that about herself and was smart enough to know she couldn't even skim that pool; it simply went too deep.