The Sun Sets on The Chesapeake Diaries
In New York Times bestselling author Mariah Stewart's novel, up-and-coming artist Lisbeth Parker finally has a chance to show the folks back home what it means to leave Cannonball Island and make something of yourself. As a native whose stubborn father forbade her from befriending townies, Lis always felt like an outsider in St. Dennis. So while her work is on display in the local art gallery, she records her ailing centenarian great-grandmother's stories of the island's rich history and spearheads a fight for its survival.
Lis was Alec Jansen's secret dream girl growing up, even after she flat-out refused to be his prom date. Now the handsome environmental engineer and the whip-smart beauty are on opposite sides of a debate over the island's future. Hired to prove that developing the shore will have little impact on the area's natural integrity and huge gains for its economy, Alec is determined to change his alluring, headstrong rival's mind — and to win her heart.
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"See back there? In the corner?"
Alec stepped around her, looked closer, then crawled into the cubby. "It's a box," he told her. He handed it to Lis as he emerged.
The box was made of wood and had a scene painted on the lid. The colors had faded over the years but she could see one of the figures was a woman in a very fancy dress in the style of the pre-Civil War era. She opened the lid and stared at its contents.
"What is it?" Alec asked. "What's inside?"
"It looks like . . . jacks and a ball." She picked up the small silver play pieces.
"I played with those when I was a kid," Alec told her. "Cliff had a set."
"I wonder who these belonged to."
Lis folded her fingers over the pieces and felt the knobs dig into her palm. Alec leaned over her shoulder and pointed to the bottom of the box. "There's a piece of paper, there in the bottom."
Lis looked deeper into the box, then stuck her hand inside for the paper. It was yellowed and brittle, and she unfolded it carefully and started reading.
"This was Sarah's. My grandmother. See, she was playing with someone named Ceely and they were keeping score." She smiled. "Looks like Ceely was kicking her butt."
"Sarah wasn't much of a jacks player, but I guess she liked the game well enough to hold on to it."
"Wait till I show Gigi."
Lis was still smiling when she returned everything to the box and closed the lid.
She turned to Alec, the box in her hands, and was caught totally off guard when he leaned down and kissed her tentatively on the mouth. Her instincts took over, and she kissed him back without hesitation. She hadn't been expecting it, but somehow it seemed the most natural thing in the world.
His lips barely brushed hers at first, but she reached her arms around his neck to pull him closer. His lips were warm and soft, and she pulled him even closer. She wasn't prepared for the heat that rose between them or the jolt she felt straight to her toes. That wasn't her usual reaction to a first kiss, and it had taken her by surprise. The simple fact was that it had taken her breath away, and as much as she wanted more, she was the first to pull away.
"Been wanting to do that since fifth grade," he said.
"Fifth grade?" An eyebrow rose. "Fifth grade?"
"Yup. I noticed you the minute you walked into that classroom. I did everything but stand on my head to get you to notice me, but you never did."
"I did. I noticed."
"You had an odd way of showing it. I talked practically nonstop during class to John Beyer to get Mrs. Warner to move my desk away from his. But she only moved me two rows over. So I had to talk to Kate Drummond to get the teacher to move me again."
"You sat behind me. I remember that."
"That was my third move and I was afraid it was going to be to the principal's office, that maybe I'd overplayed my hand. But it turned out to be the last move, because I got what I wanted. It took me awhile — and I might add, several nights of extra homework —but it got me where I wanted to be." He whispered in her ear. "Pretty slick, right?"
"You thought that up all by yourself?"
"I did," he said solemnly. "But of course, that put me next to Cathy Shelburn, who thought I'd done all that to sit next to her, and she rigged the bottle at the next party, so I had to kiss her." He paused. "I pretended it was you."
"You played spin the bottle in fifth grade?"
"Well, yeah. Didn't you?"
"We must have all been socially delayed. I don't remember playing kissing games until seventh grade, and the games were short-lived because we all knew each other too well. It wasn't fun for anyone."
"Let me guess: You only went to parties on the island."
"I imagine you had a lot of time to make up for when you hit college. I'm sorry I wasn't there."
She disengaged her arms from around his neck. Her right hand still held the wooden box.
"I guess we should finish up here. Gigi's going to be wondering what's taking us so long." She took a step back.
"Okay." He exhaled a long breath. "So. Let's take a look at that foundation."
"Where are we?" She looked around for a street sign.
"We're on Lincoln Road."
"What's on Lincoln Road?"
He pulled into the driveway of a small house with a wraparound Victorian porch and a light shining brightly at the front door.
"Who lives here?"
"I do." Alec turned off the car and turned to face her, as if asking without words if she wanted to go inside and all that might follow.
"Yes," she said simply. "Yes."
"Totally. Absolutely." She opened her car door and got out, and stood on the sidewalk waiting for him to join her.
"No doubts?" He moved toward her.
"Not a one."
He reached for her hand and they walked up the front steps. Alec unlocked the front door and stepped aside so she could enter first.
"This is darling," she said when he turned on the lamp on the desk that stood just inside the hall.
"It was my uncle Cliff's," he told her. "He left it to me when he died."
She peeked through an archway off to the left. A fireplace filled one corner, and the room was slightly overfurnished.
"This was mostly Uncle Cliff's stuff in here. I have some things from my parents, but I've never been able to decide what to move out of here to make room for their things."
"It's a pretty room," she said. "That sofa — my dad's sister had one like that. Mohair, right? From the 1950s."
He moved closer and put his hands on her shoulders, and that slight touch brought her back into his arms. His lips all but devoured hers, his tongue filled her mouth, and she found it hard to breathe. The heat that flashed between them overwhelmed her, and when his lips began to trail her neck, she reached behind her and pulled down the zipper on her dress, then slid the silky fabric from her shoulders down to her waist. His hands were as hot to the touch as the skin on her body, and he backed her to the sofa and watched the dress sink to the ground. He tossed off his jacket as she unbuttoned his shirt, her eyes never leaving his. He finished undressing himself just as she did, and when she eased herself back onto the sofa, he asked, "Lis, are you —"
"Shut up, Alec."
And then his mouth and his hands were everywhere. His fingers toyed with her breasts while his lips traced a line from her throat before his mouth replaced his hands. The jolt that passed through her arched her back and caused her to cry out, the sensation was so overpowering. She was lost, and she knew it, and she wanted more, couldn't get enough of him. She raised her hips, inviting him in, desperate to have him inside her, and as he entered her she wrapped her legs around him, urging him to move with her. Their bodies rocked to the rhythm from the unheard music of the ages until her entire world exploded.
The waves of pleasure seemed to go on forever, but when she was finally able to speak, she cleared her throat and said, "That was one hell of a prom."
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