Clallam Bay (A Fresh Start #2)

Clallam Bay

A Fresh Start Series

Book Two

By L. C. Morgan

Copyright © 2016 by L. C. Morgan

All rights reserved

 

Disclaimer:
This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with others, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient.

 

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

The author acknowledges the trademark status and trademark owners of any wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction.

 

Warning:
This novel contains scenes of a sexual nature. This story is intended for adults over the age of eighteen. All characters portrayed are eighteen or older.

 

 

Edited and formatted by Rachel Lawrence

Cover design by Caitlin Beresford of Studio22 Covers

Chapter One

The drive from Chicago had been long and uneventful, much like my life, but with rows and rows of full, green trees leading the way. Not to say I’d never been given any direction. Growing up as an only child, I’d had more than my fair share. However, there came a time in every girl’s … woman’s life when her parents had to let go, give up control, and allow her to live hers. It was about time I started living mine. Only thing was, I wasn’t sure how much living I’d get done in the sleepy town of Clallam Bay.

A cloudy coastal community known for its fishing and logging, I supposed an occasional sunny day was the most excitement I could hope to come by. Added to that, my rental sat atop an unpaved, treacherous mountain, and I was in for some good times.

The house wasn’t hard to find on that short stretch of road. Surrounded by thick, green foliage, its whitewash finish stuck out like a sore thumb. The blue shutters quaintly matched the window boxes full of white daisies.

I climbed out of the car to take a nice, deep breath and help calm my nerves a little. The air was so much cleaner compared to the city. The perfect mixture of salty and sweet blowing in from the bay. It smelled just like the ocean. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” The feminine voice pulled my attention from the cliffs.

“Yes, very.”

The screen door creaked open to reveal a young woman I guessed to be in her late twenties. Her long, brown hair whipped listlessly in the wind, mirroring mine. While I wasn’t especially pale, her olive tone skin was at least a shade darker and made her white sweater pop.

“You actually lucked out.” Stepping out onto the porch, she shoved her hands into the front pockets of her jeans. “Not only does your rental have the best view, it’s got a new paint job, too. All thanks to the toss of a coin.”

I glanced at the only other house on the lot and cringed at the decaying boards. All rotted and graying, they were burdened with years of elemental wear. The steps were bowed, as if at any minute they could give underfoot.

Waving me up, she introduced herself as Sonia the landlord and at my service twenty-four seven since I happened to be her saving grace. Apparently, no one but my neighbor and I were willing to live a mile past nothing, atop a monstrous mountain in the middle of nowhere.

“I owe you big time, Hailey. Anything you need, anything at all, you let me know. As long as you make rent on time, we’ll get along just fine. Feel free to have a look around.”

Thanking her, I stepped farther inside, doing a full sweep of the living room. Three walls the color of almond creme encased a teal-blue couch and a wicker chaise lounge. The throw rug was woven with curved lines of fading blue hues, resembling the waves of the nearby ocean. All tying in loose pieces of knobby, natural wood.

It was perfect.

“The coffee table, two side tables, and bookcase were all handmade by my brother Sean. All the deadwood was picked from the beach out there. Beautiful, aren’t they?”

After giving her a smile, I turned back to peruse the mismatched books lazily leaning on the shelves. The spines were bent, but I wondered if she’d really read them or just grabbed an armful out of a thrift store bargain bin to use as props.

A loud crash came from outside. We looked at each other before filing out the front door to see what the commotion was all about.

“You’re a real asshole, Coll! You know that?” A busty redhead came barreling through the neighbor’s front door, shoes in hand, her slinky pink dress looking nice and rumpled. “Don’t call me anymore! You hear me? I never want to see you again!” The rest of the words she spewed were incomprehensible given the pitch of her screams.

The shirtless man who followed her out and onto the porch didn’t seem to pay her any mind, toasting us as he took a seat on the rocking chair and casually sipped from his coffee mug.

“Such an ass.” Sonia sighed then turned to usher me back into the house and away from the free show. One of which I hopefully wouldn’t get a repeat production. But I had a feeling I’d be seeing it again soon. Probably waking to it as well.

“He a friend of yours?” I peeked around her and out the side window to catch another eyeful of exposed tan skin and muscle.

Sighing, she motioned to follow her to the kitchen where I cozied into the corner cubby.

“I wouldn’t necessarily call us friends.” Folding onto the bench opposite me, she slid over a cup of tea. She took a small sip and cleared her throat before continuing. “We went to the same high school, but he was a couple years ahead of me. The same grade as my fiancé Jason. They’re friends. Have been since high school. Just your typical townies who couldn’t get out and ended up following in their fathers’ footsteps. Not that I have any place to talk since my dad was the same way. These two properties are the only good thing he left our family. I could sell them and skip town anytime, but I have Jason.” Shrugging, she rested her elbows on the table, palming the mug with both hands. “Anyway, back to your neighbor. Collin Locke, that’s his name. Coll for short. Asshole is what the local bait call him.”

“Local bait?”

“Yeah, the salmon sluts, the halibut whores,” she counted off. “You know, girls willing to lie on their backs and spread wide for the seasonal scum.”

I raised my brows, impressed with the imaginative alliteration but a little put off by the venom she bit into it. I was beginning to think she didn’t care much for the hard-working folk who kept this town afloat. No doubt there was a story there.

The remainder of my morning was like a crash course in Clallam Bay 101. Sonia knew a lot about the town. Even more of its scandals.

“I hear he’s got a new girl for every night he’s home. Jason says he’s no better when they’re out on the water. Disgusting, really.” She shook her head. “Well, I should get going, let you hop to it. School starts soon, yeah?”

She slid from the bench, and I followed her to the front door.

“Yep, Monday’s my first day.” My stomach flipped with the realization I had less than two days to prepare for my first job ever. As long as you didn’t count cataloging the library at my old high school or shadowing as an aid. Which I didn’t.

“Well, good luck.” After descending the stairs, she turned back to nod her head toward the neighboring porch. “If there’s any trouble, let me know. You shouldn’t see or hear much of him, though. He’s gone more than he’s not. Pretty sure they’re heading back out tomorrow.” With a wave, she plopped down into her car and drove off.

I sat on the porch swing, gazing from the cliffs to the source of my most recent entertainment. It was either the strong breeze or my inability to be discreet that caused him to retreat. Either way, he wasn’t out there much longer before he stood and stretched, downing the last of his drink as he playfully saluted me then disappeared inside the pitiful shack.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening unpacking. Luckily, Sonia had been kind enough to stock the kitchen, and I made a pot of vegetable soup before sitting down to eat and work on my lesson plans.

The rain was what woke me later that night. The
tap, tap, tapping
of tiny droplets splattering against my living room window. Peeling off the sheet of paper sticking to my cheek, I walked over to pry the painted seal open, grimacing when it squeaked. After a couple tries at keeping the pane from falling back down, I picked up a small piece of wood and nuzzled it into the frame to prop it open. Bending, I rested my chin on top of my folded arms, closed my eyes, and breathed in the wet earth.

Through the rhythmic splashes, the slam of a screen door sounded and my eyes snapped open to find my neighbor’s tall frame outlined in the blurry moonlight. Even at this ungodly hour his movements were lithe and concise, unhindered by the bulkiness of his hooded, gray sweatshirt and constricting, brown suspenders that hooked into a pair of baggy, orange overalls. The black beanie fit snugly on top of his head. My line of sight was cut off when he climbed into the cab of his rusted, red truck. I ducked out of the beam of his headlights to watch him retreat before heading to the bedroom.

I changed into some sweats and checked my phone, finding six missed calls: three from my mom and three from my friend Amber. I sent my mom a quick text to tell her I was alive and that I loved her before calling Amber back. It rang once and she answered.

“Oh my God, you’re alive!” she screamed into the receiver. I cringed, pulling the phone from my ear, but I could still hear her. “Is it everything you dreamed of?”

I looked around the periwinkle room. While it wasn’t home, it felt like a close second. It was comfortable, and pretty, and all mine for the time being.

“I guess you could say that.” My gaze settled out the window facing my neighbor’s. “It’s right by the beach. I can see the water from my front porch. So, that’s something.”

She oohed and awed and then let me know she was grabbing her laptop to book flights for her visit.

We talked until our conversation turned into mostly yawns. After hanging up, I lay there for a little while just thinking about the friends I’d left behind, how much I missed my family. But mostly I thought about my new neighbor, and why I hadn’t thought to tell Amber anything about him.

Chapter Two

“You ready for this?” Alyssa, the always helpful second grade teacher, asked as she poked her head in from the hallway. She was new to the neighborhood, too, and that made us kindred spirits if not instant best friends.

I waved her closer. Her tight black curls bounced as she walked over to my desk, her cocoa-colored skin glowing against her silk, teal green blouse.

To tell the truth, I wasn’t ready. Much like my first day, I was more than a little nervous. This was my first field trip as the grown-up in charge, and my stomach was in knots—as it rightfully should have been, seeing as I was entrusted with the well-being of twenty-some first graders.

“The way I look at it,” she whispered, leaning in close to keep the little ones from overhearing, “this is a treat for all of us. Not only do the kids get to learn and touch slimy, scaly things, which is their favorite thing to do, we get to gawk at all the eye candy who caught them, which incidentally, is my favorite thing to do.”

Grinning like a fool, she turned to face the class and sang out, “The ships are coming in today! Who’s ready to see the ships?” The class erupted, and she handed over a long line of braided twine, leaving me to try and calm the cute little terrors all by myself. “Come on, Teach. Let’s go!”

One by one, I instructed my students to hold onto the rope and that under no circumstances were they to let go. I repeated those same instructions as we marched down the hall, out the door, and all the way over to the harbor. Though it never failed, there was always that one kid.

“Bobby! Rope! Now!”

Scrounging for the line, he hovered his hand over the rope while smiling back at me.

“Hold on to it, please.”

It was a beautiful September day otherwise. Breezy and warm, not too cool in the shade. Stepping onto the pier, I shielded my eyes from the sun as it shimmered off the rippling wakes of water. I breathed in the salty scent blowing off the bay, scrunching my nose once I got a whiff of incoming fish.

The kids appreciated it all in their own way. The boys mimicking the seagulls’ squawk. The girls oohing and ahhing as the birds swooped down to scoop up fish and then soar over the waves.

While the captain of a commercial fishing boat told harrowing stories of the sea, Alyssa whispered in my ear, calling dibs on every manly fisherman within sight.

“Oh, two o’clock. What about that one?”

Lowering her hand with mine, I silently told her to stop pointing, and to calm the hell down. I knew where two o’clock was. That was the whole point of the clock system. I also knew it was him, the one who I was wondering if I would see today. He was wearing the same clothes as the night he’d left, but time had added a hint of scruff below that beanie.

“That’s him.”

“Who?”

“Him.” I gave her another look. “You know. Him.”

“Wait. Hold up. That’s him? Like, him, him? That”—taking another quick look, she pointed her thumb over her shoulder—“is the super slutty neighbor you told me about?”

My heart raced and I needlessly shushed her, both of us watching as he hoisted a big crate from the boat then set it back down on dry land before looking up to catch us staring. I quickly glanced away, grabbing Alyssa’s arm to pull her along with me and the kids.

“Yes, that’s him. And he probably thinks I’m a freak now, thank you very much. The last and only two times we’ve seen each other he’s caught me gawking at him. Probably gaping like a guppy.” A few of the kids giggled at my analogy, and I shot them a quick grin before turning my attention back to Alyssa. I peeked over her shoulder to find him gone.

“I wouldn’t worry about it. I doubt he even recognizes you. But if it’d make you feel better, we could do a house swap. You stay at my place. I’ll stay at yours. Huh? Right? Only I’ll be doing a lot more than staring, if you know what I mean.” She nudged me with her elbow. “You never know. The boy just may enjoy him a rich and flavorful bite of this chocolate.”

At the mention of chocolate, a handful of little ears perked up and the kids turned their attention to us. One in particular to tug on Alyssa’s skirt.

“Hey, I like chocolate, Miss Alyssa,” he said, and Alyssa bent down to ruffle his hair.

“Well, of course you do, Timmy.” Straightening, she shot me a look before glancing over my shoulder where my neighbor had recently stood. “Just about everybody does.”

While Alyssa tried to explain to the kids how she didn’t actually have any chocolate, I found my neighbor back at it, unloading more crates.

When he pushed the sleeves off his forearms to reveal a faded summer tan, I realized just how long he’d been gone out to sea. I wondered how long he’d be staying before heading back out. Would he be visiting family in between those infamous trysts of his? Would I catch another show? Even see him around? Maybe actually get to speak with him this time?

With all these thoughts running through my head, I didn’t hear Alyssa calling my name. Not until he looked up and smiled, offering me a fixed, open-hand wave. I returned the gesture before turning away.

Alyssa shouldered me once I rejoined the class and laughed. “Well, so much for him not recognizing you.”

A scream rang out from behind us. Alyssa and I whipped around to find Kaylee, one of my students, had strayed from the group and was on her hands and knees.

“You watch them. I’ll go get her,” Alyssa said and took off for the girl.

At the same time, my neighbor reached her side and helped her up. He dusted off her jeans then wiped away a tear, and my heart filled so full, I almost misted up myself.

Alyssa approached and the two spoke briefly before she grabbed his bicep in thanks then took Kaylee’s hand to lead her back to the group, a big smile on both their faces.

After I made sure Kaylee was okay, I shooed her off to hold on to the rope with the rest of the group.

“So, what was that?”

“What was what?” Alyssa asked, acting innocent.

“You know what.”

She playfully shouldered me. “I know. I know. I just couldn’t help myself. You’re the one who’s seen him with his shirt off. I just wanted to get a better idea of what you saw.”

I shook my head, barely keeping from laughing as we ushered the kids back toward the school where all I heard was Mr. Coll this and Mr. Coll that. I couldn’t blame the little girls for their crush. Especially little Kaylee. She had seen that infamous charm first hand.

*

“So, is it normal for him to get home this late?” Alyssa asked, spying out the window at my neighbor’s truck. When I didn’t answer right away, she turned to face me, nearly spilling her glass of wine all over the floor in the process.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“No.”

“And how is that exactly?”

“How is what exactly?” I asked.

She scoffed. “Hello. How is it that you don’t know?”

When I ignored her, she scoffed again, turning back to stare out the window at the truck. Or his house. Or him.

Only God knew what she was staring at or what she wanted from me. I barely saw the guy, let alone memorized his habits. We’d only co-existed between a few waves and nods since he’d been back. What did she expect? A time log of his daily activities?

“Well, he didn’t have a girl with him, so that’s something,” she said. “Something pretty significant from what I’ve heard. Has he brought any more girls home since he pulled in to port?”

I shrugged. “If he has, they’ve been civil about it.” I tapped my ear. “No screaming.” I actually hadn’t seen any girls coming or going since the day I’d moved in. There were a few times I’d heard the sound of his screen door squeaking in the wee hours of the morning. But that could have just been him. To know for sure, I would have had to care enough to get up and check, but I never did.

While Alyssa kept me informed that nothing was going on, I continued to stuff my face with Doritos. I had been stress eating them ever since the beginning of the school year—pretty much the moment I’d moved in—nearly adding on the ten pounds I never did in college. My routine workouts had been put on hold, the high replaced by the calculated execution of finding the best way to teach counting by twos. Besides, who had time for physical activities once they’d been granted the great responsibility of shaping young minds?

Stumbling over to the couch, Alyssa plopped down beside me. “You think he has diseases?”

I scowled from not only the question, but the cheap wine wafting off her breath. “Ew, Alyssa. Gross.”

“I know. I know. But, seriously …” She leaned in closer. “You think he has diseases?”

Giving her a look that clearly stated I’d rather not think or talk about it, I turned back to work on my lesson plan.

“I think he likes you.”

“Why? Did he say something?”

Alyssa shrugged. “No. It was just the way he waved at you that one time.”

I stopped mid-scribble. “That’s it? That’s all you’re basing this on? The way he waved at me?”

Alyssa took another sip then licked her lips. “Yeah. But how about the way he helped Kaylee up after she fell like that, though? Wasn’t that sweet?”

“Yes, it was very sweet.” I smiled at the memory. “Maybe you should run over there and offer him some of your chocolate for being so sweet,” I said, feeling a surprising pang of jealously at the thought.

“Hailey!”

“Then maybe I can get back to work.”

“Girl, no.” Holding her chest as if she’d swallowed wrong, she held up a finger. “First of all, nobody calls me that but me. Me and now little Timmy. Besides, I prefer my men how I do all my meat. Disease-free.” She barked a laugh, nearly spilling her wine on the couch, and I took her glass away.

“Okay, that’s it. I’m cutting you off.”

I went to get up, and Alyssa reached out for me. “No, don’t cut it off, Hailey. It’s all he has. It’s all he has!” She missed and did a face-plant on the couch instead.

When I came back from the kitchen she was snoring into the cushion. I covered her with a quilt then turned her head so she wouldn’t suffocate before making my way over to the window.

Just as I was about to pull the blinds, the security light next door kicked on, silhouetting my neighbor’s tall frame. Instead of slinking back, I watched him take a seat in his chair and rock back and forth. His fixed wave was what broke the hypnotic spell. I returned it before pulling the blinds and heading to bed, too tired to be embarrassed about being caught staring once again.

*

“So he’s been back how long now?” Sonia asked.

“Two weeks.”

“And he hasn’t spoken to you at all? Like, not at all. Just waves.”

“And nods.”

“Well.” Taking a drink of her tea, she shrugged. “I did say it kept pretty quiet around here.”

“It’s weird, isn’t it?”

Sonia made a face that disagreed. “What’s weird? The fact that he hasn’t taken time out of his busy schedule to bake you a casserole? No. He’s a guy. He’s Coll, the ultimate guy’s guy. I doubt he’s going to talk to you unless you go talk to him first. Maybe not even then. Not if you’re unwilling to put out.”

I nodded even though I doubted my new neighbor was really as shallow as she said and refrained from arguing the point any further. If Sonia was anything it was strong-willed. Challenging her debating skills required perseverance. I simply didn’t have the energy. I was too hungry.

“You want cheese on yours?”

Sonia’s brow rose in disbelief. “Are you kidding? Cheese is literally three out of the five things I’m allowed to eat. So, yes please. I want cheese. And make it a double.”

Half her sandwich was gone before the plate even hit the table. I sat down opposite the starving bride, defensively guarding my own plate as we looked over color swatches and discussed venues and flower arrangements.

I had only been here a week before Sonia had asked me to be her maid of honor. A request I’d found a little odd since we barely knew one another. But apparently she’d been serious when she told me other females tended to instinctively dislike her. A feeling she fully returned most of the time to pretty much everyone, except me and Bridgette—Sonia’s only friend from elementary school, but she had moved away years ago.

I couldn’t comprehend the reasoning for all the cattiness. All I knew was it had to be true because from the very first moment they’d met, Alyssa and Sonia couldn’t stand one another. A personality clash, Alyssa had claimed just before adding that Sonia—the smug ho—didn’t have one.

“So how’s your Mom and Dad? They taking the move any better?”

Biting into my sandwich, I shook my head. I’d almost forgotten how homesick I was until she reminded me.

“Still calling every day?”

Chewing slowly, I nodded.

“That sucks.”

I shrugged, taking another bite so I didn’t have to answer, because in all honesty, it didn’t bother me that they called every day. It was like having a little piece of home. But since Sonia came from a broken one, one where her fisherman father had abandoned them for something better—her words, not mine—I kept that to myself.

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