The Love Shack - By Christie Ridgway


FOR THE PAST decade, Gage Lowell had lived on risk the way other people sucked down caffeine. It had been his morning fix, his noonday pick-me-up, his after-dinner beverage with dessert. So the anticipation building in his belly as he approached beautiful but tranquil Crescent Cove didn’t make much sense.

It was no Durand Line, that porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan where he’d braved danger that ran the gamut from Taliban bullets to half-wild bulls. The natives were certain to be less suspicious than the Syrian rebels he’d photographed the spring before. And though the house he’d rented was situated on the sand, just steps away from the Pacific Ocean, not for a second did he suppose this vacation would end like the one he’d taken some years ago—with Gage running for his life and high ground, holding his cameras overhead.

Of course, that tsunami had come out of the blue.

But he really couldn’t see how this holiday would hold any such surprise.

Still, expectation continued to hum through his veins. “Stop here,” he said to his twin as the car turned onto the narrow road that led off the coastal highway. They’d come straight from the airport. “I’ll hoof it to the property management office for the keys. You drive my stuff to Beach House No. 9 and I’ll meet you there.”

Griffin frowned over at him. “What, I’m your bellboy now?” Though the sarcasm was typical brother bullshit, there was something in his expression that tickled Gage’s spine.

“What aren’t you telling me?” he asked.

His twin braked the car but didn’t answer. Up ahead were the first of the fifty or so eclectic cottages that made up the beachside community where the Lowell family had spent every summer until he’d turned fifteen. The dwellings’ designs were a little bit funky and a lot colorful, nestled in lush vegetation—palm trees, hibiscus bushes and various other flowering plants—that had originally been planted so that the two-mile-long curve of sand could serve as a variety of backdrops during the silent movie era: deserted island, cannibal-infested jungle, ancient Egypt.

It had been paradise for Gage, Griffin and the rest of their posse of kids who’d run wild every June through September.

Rolling down his window, Gage breathed deeply of the salt-and-sun-laden air and dismissed his disquiet. He had a few weeks to rest and recharge before his next assignment overseas, and Crescent Cove was the best place in the world for that. “It’s still got that ol’ magic, doesn’t it?” he murmured, reaching for the door handle.

“Wait,” Griffin said. “Maybe I should go with you to collect the keys.”

Uh-oh. Uneasiness kicked up again. “What’s going on?”

“Look. About Skye—”

“Don’t say any more,” Gage said, already irritated. The older by eleven minutes, Griffin often acted as if he were the much-wiser sibling. “I know her as well as you. Better than you.”

“You haven’t seen her since we were kids. You might be, uh, I don’t know, surprised by how she looks.”

“I don’t care how she looks,” Gage said, aware he sounded a little angry. What? His brother thought he had some shallow set of standards when it came to female companions? Okay, he supposed it could be true when it came to a certain kind of female companion, but that didn’t apply here.

“I’m not interested in her appearance.” Gage pressed his shoulder against the passenger door and pushed it open. “She’s not a woman to me.”

His brother might have mumbled, “Oh, hell,” but Gage was already on his way toward the footpath that would lead him straight to Skye Alexander.

He knew exactly where the property management office was, just as he knew all the cove’s other landmarks from his childhood explorations. Then, Skye’s father had been in charge, always dressed in his trademark khakis, wilted denim shirt and bush hat. Skye and her sister could often be found in his office, playing with paper dolls or with their shell collections, leaving Mrs. Alexander free to stay engrossed in her easel and paints.

Skye held her dad’s job now. Gage knew this, because they’d fallen into an accidental correspondence nearly a year ago. When planning his R & R a few months back, he’d thought of her and the cove and made a snap decision to rent the beach house where he’d spent those idyllic summers. To surprise his pen pal, he’d reserved it under a fictitious name.

He couldn’t wait for her reaction when she saw him.

His palms itched, and for a moment he regretted leaving his cameras packed in the car.