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YOURS AFTER DARK (Gansett Island, #20)
by Marie Force
He didn’t believe in love at first sight… Until it happened to him.
Finn McCarthy, the youngest of the McCarthy cousins, is at a crossroads. As the lease on his Gansett Island rental comes to an end, he’s making plans to return to his “real” life on the mainland. He’s enjoyed the nearly two years on Gansett with his boisterous fun-loving family, but it’s time to get back to the life he put on hold when he came to the island for his cousin’s wedding—and never left. With renovations to the Wayfarer, the family’s latest business endeavor, all but completed and the grand opening slated for Memorial Day weekend, the time is right to make a move. That is until he stops by the local salon for a quick trim that turns his life plan upside down…
Chloe Dennis, owner of the Curl Up and Dye Salon, is about to close the shop after another ordinary day when Finn McCarthy walks in and turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. Holy hotness! How has she never met the youngest of the McCarthys, and now that she has met him, why is it that she runs into him everywhere she goes?
Despite the undeniable sizzle of attraction between Finn and Chloe, she is dealing with life-changing news that makes her reluctant to get involved with anyone, let alone a man who plans to leave the island for good in two short weeks. Finn can’t understand why he reacts to Chloe the way he does or why she won’t give him a chance to see what they could be. When she makes it clear that it’s not going to happen between them, what else can he do but go forward with his plan to pack up and leave at the end of the month? Unless the push-pull of undeniable desire makes them forget the many reasons why this could be a bad idea…
Return to Gansett Island for another visit with all the series regulars and to find out if Finn and Chloe can overcome the obstacles that stand between them and the possibility of true love. Catch up with Mac, Maddie, Adam, Abby, Riley, Nikki, Blaine and Tiffany, attend Shane and Katie’s wedding, and find out what happens when Blaine’s troubled brother Deacon comes to the island. Get ready for another hot, sexy summer on Gansett Island!
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“What in the name of hell is on your head?”
Arriving to work slightly hungover and in bad need of coffee, Finn McCarthy ignored the question from his brother, Riley. Finn had forgotten to buy coffee—again—and had gone without this morning. Living alone sucked. Before his dad and Riley moved out, one of them had bought the coffee. Now he had to do it, and he never remembered it until he woke up late and realized he’d forgotten. Again.
Riley wasn’t giving up. “Hello?”
“What is what?” Finn choked back a yawn and tried to remember if he’d brushed his teeth before he left the house. He had, hadn’t he?
Riley stepped closer to him, boasting the freshly fucked look that had made Finn want to stab him more than once in the months since his brother moved in with Nikki. “That.” Riley pointed to the top of Finn’s head. “What is that?”
Finn had no idea what he was talking about until he reached up and encountered the lump of hair he’d secured with a rubber band to keep it out of his face.
Their cousin Shane joined them. “It’s a man bun, and it looks ridiculous.”
Riley, that asshole, busted up laughing. “What the hell is a man bun?”
“That.” Shane pointed to Finn’s head. “Is a man bun. They’re all the rage.”
Riley couldn’t stop laughing. He laughed so hard, he howled, while Finn prayed that his cousin Mac would bring coffee the way he did most days.
Thankfully, Mac walked into the Wayfarer a minute later with his business partner, Luke Harris, right behind him. And was that a tray of coffee Mac was carrying? Yes! “What’s so funny?”
“Finn has a man bun,” Shane said.
“And it looks ridiculous,” Riley added.
Finn stole one of the coffees and took a big sip. Ahhh, pure bliss. “There’s nowhere to get it cut out here.”
“Go see Chloe at the Curl Up and Dye,” Mac said.
“I don’t get my hair cut in salons,” Finn said disdainfully. “I go to barber shops, and there isn’t one on this island.”
“The way I see it,” Riley said, “if it’s a choice between a man bun or a salon, I’m choosing the salon every time.”
“The way I see it,” Finn said, “no one asked you.”
“Wait till Dad, Uncle Mac and Uncle Frank see the man bun.” Riley started laughing again. “I gotta get a picture so we can show them in case they miss it.” The bastard whipped his phone out and had the picture before Finn could react or turn away. That picture would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Maybe the guys were right—a salon was preferable to putting up with this bullshit. His hair had gotten so long, it was either restrain it or wear a hat to keep it out of his face. Hats annoyed him when he was working, so he’d grabbed a rubber band to contain it without a thought to what it might look like. Apparently, that had been a mistake.
Today, they were finishing up the shingling on the exterior of the Wayfarer, which was due to open in a couple of weeks. They were on track to meet the aggressive deadline Mac had set for the project and had turned the interior over to Nikki, the general manager. She and the team she’d hired over the last few months would be loading in furniture this week, setting up hotel rooms and the dining room, hanging wall art and making finishing touches ahead of the grand opening on Memorial Day weekend.
On Saturday of that weekend, the Wayfarer would host its first major event—the wedding reception of Shane and his fiancée, Katie Lawry. They’d joked that they were the guinea pigs to test out whether the McCarthy family’s latest Gansett Island business venture was ready for prime time. The day after the wedding, Finn’s famous cousin Evan McCarthy would headline the outdoor stage at the grand opening to the public.
So far, the Wayfarer was a huge hit, with Nikki reporting that the hotel was sold out for the summer and ten other weddings were already booked. That was what they wanted to hear. Each family member had a stake in the business—some bigger than others—but everyone had put something into his uncle Big Mac’s latest venture so they could all be owners. Finn was proud of the work they’d done to bring the old place back to life and even prouder of being part of something the family had done together.
Before going outside to get to work, Finn slathered sunscreen all over his face, neck and arms, gathered his nail gun and a ladder and followed the others to the scaffolding that was set up on the north side of the huge building they’d spent the winter renovating. They’d done a damned good job, if he said so himself.
With the end in sight, Finn was making plans to move to the mainland after almost two years on Gansett Island. It’d been fun to hang with the family for a couple of years, to see his father and brother fall in love with women Finn liked and respected and to be part of Mac’s construction company. But it was time to get back to his real life, and that wasn’t going to happen on a tiny island located off the southern coast of mainland Rhode Island.
He looked forward to skiing in the winter, driving the vintage Mustang he kept garaged at home and spending time with the friends he’d left behind. Not to mention taking his career to the next level with the large construction company he’d worked for in Stamford, Connecticut. There, he’d put his degree in civil engineering to good use. Here, he was banging nails. Not that he didn’t enjoy the work, but he hadn’t spent four excruciating years in college to end up a glorified carpenter.
Missy—or Melissa as she preferred to be called these days—his on-again-off-again girlfriend at home, was threatening to come fetch him if he wasn’t home by June, and he would save her the trip to Gansett by heading home right after the grand opening. After going round and round in his mind about how he felt about her during the time he’d been gone, he was actually looking forward to seeing her. Despite the tumultuous aspects of their five-year relationship, they’d had a lot of fun together, most of the time anyway. Since they’d been broken up during the time he was gone, he’d indulged in a few one-night stands here and there, but nothing of any consequence.
It was definitely time to go home and figure out whether they had what it took to go the distance together. His dad and Riley said absolutely not. They’d never liked Missy for him, but Finn was determined to make up his own mind about her after seeing what remained after the long time apart.
He would miss his brother, father, aunt, uncles and cousins, and he would really miss working with Riley, Mac, Shane and Luke. He’d miss the family gatherings, the fishing trips Big Mac liked to organize and the time with his favorite men in the world. He’d miss Riley’s girlfriend, Nikki, whom he called Nicholas while she called him Finnbar. The three of them had spent a lot of time together over the winter, and she’d become a good friend to him.
He liked being able to regularly see his cousins Janey and Laura and their kids, as well as Mac’s brood and now Adam’s little guy, Liam, too. Mac’s wife, Maddie, was expecting another baby, and he’d heard rumblings that his cousin Grant’s wife, Stephanie, might be pregnant, too. In addition, his cousin Mallory and her fiancé, Quinn, were talking about tying the knot at some point this summer.
Life on Gansett was rarely boring with the McCarthy family and their friends around to keep things interesting. It wasn’t like Finn was dying to get out of there, especially with the summer coming. That was the best time of year to be on the island. But he’d promised himself over the winter that once the Wayfarer was finished, he’d make a move.
The Wayfarer was almost done, and the lease at the house was up at the end of the month. It seemed like the universe was conspiring to tell him it was time to get back to reality.
Nikki had offered him the garage apartment at Eastward Look, her family’s home, if he wanted it. He was tempted to stay for the summer, but that would only prolong the inevitable.
No, he was going home at the end of the month. Tonight, he’d text his old boss in Stamford to let him know he’d be available in June, and he’d touch base with Missy, too. As he applied the nail gun to a row of shingles, he felt a sense of calm come over him. For so many months, the stay-or-go tug-of-war had raged in his mind while his family had pressured him to stay with them. He’d be the only member of the McCarthy family not living on Gansett, and while it was tempting to give in to the pressure from his family, he had goals and aspirations that couldn’t be achieved on the island.
Someday, he’d like to own his own company the way Mac did. Finn considered self-employment the holy grail, accountable to no one but yourself and your employees. Mac worked his ass off, but it seemed nice to be the boss. Finn thought he would like that—someday in the far-off future that would be much farther off if he stayed here than it would be if he went home to Connecticut.
The workday dragged. Shingling was boring, monotonous work that gave him too much time to think. He wanted out of his own thoughts for a while. “What’re you guys doing tonight?” he asked Riley as they helped the others clean up and shut down for the day.
“Not sure yet. Nik might be working late again.”
“I want to go out.”
“I’d be up for that. What do you feel like doing?”
“Drinking, raising hell, the usual.”
Riley smiled. “That’s your usual. Not mine anymore.”
“Oh, shut up. You’re not married yet.”
“Nope, but I’d like to be. Sooner rather than later.”
Finn stopped and took a closer look at his brother. “You’re serious.”
“Dead serious. In fact, I was going to ask if you’d help me pick out a ring.”
“Wow. This is huge.” While Finn was thrilled for his brother and Nikki, he couldn’t ignore the nagging ache that came with losing his best friend. As soon as he had that thought, he felt stupid. Riley was getting married, not dying, for Christ’s sake.
“You okay?” Riley gave him an odd look that had Finn pulling himself together.
“I’m happy for you, Ri. Nicholas is a great girl.”
“I love her.”
The stark simplicity of his brother’s statement stayed with Finn on the ride home. Riley had promised to text him after he caught up with Nikki about the plans for the evening. I love her. He puzzled over his brother’s heartfelt words while showering, and then while drinking a beer and eating his favorite after-work snack of corn chips and Cheez Whiz. I love her.
What must it be like to be so certain?
Had he ever said that about any woman, even Missy? Nope, and he wasn’t sure whether what he’d felt for Missy was love or lust or some weird combination of the two. One thing he knew for certain—he hadn’t had with her what Riley had with Nikki. The realization made him uneasy as he ran fingers through his unruly mop of hair, recalling that he’d planned to get a haircut.
He searched for the Curl Up and Dye salon’s number on his phone and put through a call.
A female voice answered. “Curl Up and Dye.”
“Hi there. What time do you close tonight?”
“Can you take a walk-in?”
“If you get here soon.”
“I’ll be right over.”
“What’s your name?”
“Got it. See you soon.”
He downed the rest of the beer and put the Cheez Whiz in the fridge next to the beer that was the only other thing in there. The meager contents of his fridge were further proof that he needed to get a life.
Since the salon was in town, he decided to walk rather than drive. As the season started to pick up steam with Gansett Island Race Week underway, parking in town could be hard to come by. A block from the salon, he noticed the dark purple paint and the sign with the catchy name painted in gold leaf. Two smiling, laughing women were leaving as he reached the door, and he held it for them.
One of them gave him the once-over as she went by. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure.” She was old enough to be his mother.
Inside the salon, the first thing he noticed was the rich scent of shampoo and the décor that consisted of golden wood floors, black leather chairs, chrome accents and mirrors all over the place.
“I’ll be right out.” The same distinctive voice he’d spoken to on the phone.
“Take your time.” Finn looked around at the glass shelves of products that promised shine, body, vibrancy and a variety of other things he never gave much thought to.
“You don’t need that.”
Finn looked up from the bottle he was studying to find the sexiest woman he’d ever laid eyes on looking at him in amusement. Shoulder-length dark hair streaked with dark purple, ears pierced multiple times each, her left arm boasting a colorful sleeve tattoo, a sparkling diamond stud in her nose and violet eyes that riveted him. He’d never seen eyes that color before. She wore a black sleeveless top over black skinny jeans that clung to curves that made his mouth go dry.
“You must be Finn?”
“Ah, yeah. That’s me.” He put the bottle on the shelf and managed to knock two others to the floor. As he bent to retrieve them, his head connected with hers in a painful smack that made him see stars. Fucking hell, that hurt! When he looked up, he found her rubbing the side of her head.
“Sorry about that.” He picked up the bottles and returned them to the shelf.
“You’ve got a hard head.” Her face flushed when she realized the double meaning behind her words.
A surge of heat to his groin caught him by surprise. It’d been so long since any woman had interested him, and he’d nearly given this one a concussion. “May I please request a do-over of the last minute?” He held out his hand. “I’m Finn McCarthy.”
She eyed his hand before she reached out to take it. “Chloe Dennis.”
The brush of her skin against his made his entire system go haywire. What the hell was that about? Stunned and unnerved by his reaction to her, he quickly retrieved his hand. “Do you have time for a quick haircut?”
“Sure, but with all that hair, it’s not going to be quick.”
“I can come back another time.”
“No, it’s fine.” She gestured to one of three black chairs positioned in front of a row of mirrors. “Have a seat.”
Finn headed for the chair she pointed to and sat, feeling out of sorts and off his game after the head bump. He wasn’t usually so clumsy or awkward around women, but he’d rarely encountered one like Chloe.
Goddess was the word that came to mind. She projected a cool, aloof aura of self-confidence, which he found incredibly sexy. He stared at her in the mirror as she approached the chair, and when she ran her fingers through his hair, he felt her touch in every corner of his body. Even the bottoms of his feet tingled with awareness.
“What’re you thinking?”
He didn’t dare answer that question.
“Short or on the longer side?”
God, she was talking about his hair, and his imagination had run away with him.
“Um, short enough that it’s not in my face at work, but not super short.”
“What do you do for work?”
“Construction for my cousin Mac.”
“Ahh, gotcha. He’s insane. In the best way, of course.”
Finn laughed. “That he is. He keeps us well entertained.” Finn would miss the older cousin he’d always looked up to. The ten years between them had all but disappeared in the time Finn had lived on Gansett Island. These days, Mac treated him more like a peer than a pesky baby cousin. Finn had learned a lot from Mac, both professionally and personally.
“You McCarthy men sure were blessed with great hair.”
Watching her run her fingers through his hair was one of the most erotic things Finn had ever experienced.
“I cut your dad, your uncles, your cousins. You guys could be shampoo models.”
Finn cleared a huge lump from his throat. “You think so?”
She met his gaze in the mirror. “I really do.”
Was it his imagination or did she look at him much longer than necessary? No, definitely not his imagination. He shifted in the seat, hoping she wouldn’t notice his embarrassing reaction to her. The movement startled her, and she looked away.
Nothing like this had ever happened in a barber shop.
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Marie Force is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 50 contemporary romances, including the Gansett Island Series, which has sold more than 3 million books, and the Fatal Series from Harlequin Books, which has sold 1.5 million books. In addition, she is the author of the Butler, Vermont Series, the Green Mountain Series and the erotic romance Quantum Series, written under the slightly modified name of M.S. Force. All together, her books have sold more than 5.5 million copies worldwide!
Her goals in life are simple—to finish raising two happy, healthy, productive young adults, to keep writing books for as long as she possibly can and to never be on a flight that makes the news.
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