It had been years since she’d seen two men this comfortable with each other, so at home. She didn’t even remember when the last time was. Then the taller and fairer of the two men said something his dark-haired companion found funny. He threw back his head in a laugh, and suddenly Gwyn recalled exactly when she’d last witnessed something like this.
“Yeah, Weidman, stop complaining. At least you have your hot girlfriend to keep you warm. Speaking of which, I’mma think I have to borrow her. You up for sharing?”
“No way,” she whispered, horrified, as the blood drained from her face so quickly she nearly passed out on the spot. “No fucking way. It can’t be.”
Gwyn had never been one to hesitate in the face of disaster. She jumped from her seat and grabbed the handle of the reception room door without waiting to learn whether her suspicions about the men’s identities were correct. Someone else could deal with this shit. Brenda, for example. Gwyn was almost positive her cousin was here somewhere tonight. She’d track her down and let her check them in. Or send them away? Oh yes. That would be even better. Although that option might take some explaining.
The door had other ideas about her leaving. It refused to open. No matter which way Gwyn turned the handle, the door didn’t budge. This is not happening, she thought as she started to panic. Behind her, two sets of footsteps crossed the lobby and stopped. She pushed at the door. Still nothing. Damn it!
“Miss?” A familiar voice spoke up behind her. “Miss, can you help us? Excuse me, miss?”
“Someone will be with you in a moment,” Gwyn said, attempting to make her voice as impersonal as possible as she continued to pull uselessly at the door.
A moment’s dead silence met her response. And then, “Gwyn
? Is that you
Gwyn took a deep breath. You can do this, she told herself firmly. Her “useless” Theatre Arts degree and the years she’d spent in amateur productions had to be good for something.
“What can I help you with?” she asked as she turned around. Two familiar faces stared at her—as though she
were the ghost.
Berke looked stricken. Cam’s mouth had dropped open. Gwyn smiled blandly back at them. Please say nothing. Please say you just got lost and need directions out of town. Please, please, do the decent thing and leave.
“Gwyn, it’s us,” Berke said.
Her gaze tracked blankly across their faces. “Is there something I can do for you?”
“Gwyn…” Berke said again in a heartrending tone that made her want to break character and kick him. Preferably down a flight of stairs.
“We, uh, have a reservation,” said Cam, who’d finally succeeded in getting his jaw back under control. Ooh. Give the boy a star.
“Oh yes? Well, let’s see now…” Gwyn glided back to the desk and slid gracefully onto the stool. She’d never in her life been more grateful to her Aunt Norah for having insisted all three of the cousins attend deportment classes as children. She opened the reservation calendar and stared sightlessly at her screen. “What name am I looking for?”
“It’s, uh, under Steiner?” Cam said.
Yes, of course it was.
Gwyn blinked furiously in an attempt not to frown. They’d been booked into the Captain’s Room for two nights. Whoever took this reservation was so fired. And yes, that was unfair and ridiculous and probably not even legal. She didn’t care. What the fuck was she supposed to do for the next two days—hide? No. Screw that. This was her
home. They didn’t get to come here and act surprised to see her
. Stupid bastards.
“I’ll need to see identification and a valid credit card.”
Cam fished them out and handed them to her. As she keyed the information in, she found herself babbling, making up fees and restrictions as she went. “There’s a key deposit that will be deducted from your bill when you check out. How many keys will you be wanting?”
“Okay, so, that’s two deposits each—one for each day of your stay. Plus there’ll be an additional amount added in the event you lose them both.”
“I’m sure we won’t.”
“I’m also placing a hold on your credit card against any damages to the room. That should be lifted within ten business days of checkout; if it’s not, you’ll have to take it up with your credit card company. Checkout is at nine a.m. If you’re more than an hour late, you’ll be charged for the extra day.”
a.m.? Isn’t that a little early?”
She smiled tightly. “Yes, it is. There are several other hotels in town, and they’re likely to have other hours. If you wish to cancel your reservation here, I’d be happy to waive the usual two-night cancellation fee. Should I do that now?”
The two men exchanged a look. “No,” Cam said grimly. “That’s all right.”
“Okay, so let me just add the nonoptional resort fee. Oh, and since you’ll be staying in a nonsmoking room, I also have to charge you a nonrefundable deposit in the event you smoke in the room.”
“Nonrefundable?”Berke’s voice was edged in disbelief. “But we don’t even smoke!”
Gwyn bit her tongue before she could ask when he’d quit. “As I said, if you’d like to cancel now…”
“No.” Cam growled. “We’ll take it.”
A shiver of something that was not, not, not
longing swept over Gwyn at the sound of that gravel-voiced tone. “Fine.”
She turned away from them to collect their keys and pull their paperwork from the printer. “Your room’s on the third floor. There’s no elevator. There’s a staircase directly behind you, and another at the end of the hall.”She turned back again and laid the keys and the paperwork on the counter. “Sign here and here. And here’s your receipt.”
Wordlessly, Cam grabbed the paper, pocketed both keys, and slung the strap of his overnight bag over his shoulder.
“Gwyn, I—” Berke tried again, but Cam interrupted him.
“Let’s go,” he said as he grabbed Berke’s arm and forcibly hauled him away.
“Have a nice stay,” Gwyn called after them in her perkiest voice. She stayed where she was and continued to smile maniacally until they’d disappeared from sight. Then she slumped forward, resting her head and arms on the desk. “Out of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world,” she said with a groan. Seriously, though. How was this even possible?
It was clear from the looks of shocked surprise on both their faces that they had not expected to see her here. And why was that? It’s not like they didn’t know her family owned this hotel. It wasn’t as though neither of them had ever been here before. They had. Berke a couple of times, Cam once. The only possible explanation was that, in the years between then and now, they’d completely forgotten her existence. Which was exactly what she’d have expected from Cam actually, and…it was fine. It was perfect, really, because she’d certainly forgotten all about them
Why, she couldn’t even remember the party where she’d met Berke, sometime during the first semester of her sophomore year of college. Halloween or homecoming—something like that. She’d fallen for him right away. He’d been gentle, unassuming, attentive, dependable, with a sense of humor she’d frequently found mystifying. He was exactly the kind of guy she’d seen herself settling down with, maybe five years down the line. Cam, on the other hand, was not.
He and Berke had been roommates freshman year and best friends ever since. Cam was every bit as handsome and charming as Berke, but the reason behind their friendship was a puzzle she’d never been able to decipher. The two of them weren’t really very much alike. Cam was loud where Berke was quiet, boisterous where Berke was laid-back. He was the bad boy to Berke’s good guy. And while Berke had always been something of a serial monogamist, as far as Gwyn knew, Cam had the dating habits of a bonobo chimp.
Before she quite knew how it happened, the three of them had become inseparable. Whenever they did anything involving a group, it was always Gwyn and Berke, and Cam and his flavor of the day. Although sometimes, a lot of the time, actually, it had just been Gwyn and Berke and Cam. And when Gwyn and Berke moved in together the following year, Cam had spent a lot of nights on their couch. The three of them had been friends. It never felt odd to have a male best friend or to spend so much of her time with two other people, because all her life she’d had Brenda and Luke.
She and Berke had talked about having children—in a “maybe someday” kind of way. They’d discussed their favorite seasons, their favorite movies, the relative merits of cats over dogs, city versus country, Star Wars
or Star Trek
. Most of those were not the kinds of thing she’d ever discussed with Cam. But if she were honest, she kind of liked the idea of being the only woman in his life as well.
Or, at least, the only woman who’d be more than a memory come morning.
And yes, she might have developed a tiny little crush on him. She might have suspected he had an even smaller one on her. But so what? Neither of them would ever have acted on it. Until that one weekend when all the rules were suspended. But up until then, things between them had been as close to perfect as anyone could want.
Things changed midway through Cam’s senior year, when he’d met Deana over winter break. They’d dated for most of January, much to Gwyn and Berke’s surprise. Before they could sort out their feelings or what this sudden expansion to their private club would mean, the questions became moot. Deana dumped Cam just a few days before Valentine’s Day.
According to Berke, Cam took the breakup hard. It was Berke’s idea that the three of them go away, that they find a place where Cam wouldn’t be bombarded by hearts and flowers and reminders of what he didn’t have. That’s when Gwyn remembered how deserted Atlas Beach always was in February.
She’d brought them here and opened up one of the rental units that were only ever used in summer, and the three of them settled in to spend Valentine’s Day all alone.
Valentine’s Day. Oh, holy shit.
The nickel dropped. The tumblers clicked into place. Her stomach turned over in a nauseating way. Were they freaking kidding her? They’d come here for Valentine’s Day? How dared they?
“Why’d you hafta go and fuck with his head like that? Was that really necessary?”
Gwyn jerked up straight in her seat and found herself staring into Cam’s angry blue eyes. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me.”
She favored him with her most glacial stare. “Did I?”
“Yeah. You did. And you can skip the Ice Princess routine. You forget, I know you too well for that.”
“C’mon, Gwyn. Don’t be like this. What’d the two of us ever do to you?”
She raised an eyebrow and waited. Three, two, one…
“Shit.” A bright red blush climbed Cam’s cheeks. He closed his eyes briefly. “Right. Poor word choice. But aside from that.”
Aside from that?
There was no “aside from that.” What could possibly be aside from everything
Cam sighed. “You broke his heart, Gwyn.”
was rich. “Did I?”
“He went out to look for you. I bet you didn’t even know that, did you? That morning, after you walked out, he went down to the beach, thinking he’d find you there.”
was hilarious. “Did he?”
“Would you fucking stop that?”
Gwyn frowned at him in confusion. “Stop what?”
“Did I, did you, did he, did they. It’s just… I think it’s creepy.”
“Do you?” Gwyn put up a hand to forestall his reply. Because this time she heard herself and, yeah, okay. It was creepy. “Okay. Point taken.” But too fucking bad. Deal with it.
“I don’t know what you expect me to say, Cam. It was a bit of a shock seeing you two here tonight. I wasn’t expecting it.”
“It was a shock for us too. We never thought…” His voice trailed away. Probably he’d caught sight of the look on her face, Gwyn suspected.
She clutched the triquetra at her throat, digging her fingertips into the points, hoping the teeny pain would take her mind off the ginormous wound his words had just opened up. “Of me, was that what you were going to say? You’re staying at my family’s hotel, yet the idea we might, possibly, run into each other never entered your head. Right?”
“I’m fucking this up again, aren’t I?”
“In a manner of speaking, yeah.”
“Look, come out with us tonight. The bar next door’s still there, right?”
Gwyn nodded. “It’s actually part of the hotel, so yes, it’s still there.” And Luke would almost certainly be there as well, so that was a big, fat oh hell no.
“Let us take you out for drinks. Give us a chance to catch up and…and maybe explain ourselves?”
“Drinks? Really? You think that’s
a good idea? After last time?”
“Okay, maybe not.” A hint of laughter lit Cam’s eyes as he said it, and one corner of his lip curled up in a ghost of a smile.
And, for an instant, all the old feelings came rushing back. Gwyn shook her head. “There’s no ‘maybe’ about it.”
“Dinner then. What time do you get off?”