The rich girl from Laguna Beach.
The Yorkshire boy who stole her heart and went off to war.
A love story that knows no boundaries.
Isla Maxwell wanted nothing more than to return home after a bitter break-up. With her parents disowning her, she has no one to turn to but her best friend in Laguna Beach. A fresh start is all she needs, and time to mend her broken heart.
What she didn’t expect was to return at the same time as Garrett Thorne–not only her first love, but someone she believed to have died while on active duty in Afghanistan. His return sparks a passion she never thought could be rekindled. While once lost and without hope, can they both face their inner demons and fears and finally find themselves again…this time, together?
Four years ago.
ISLA RAN FROM THE parking area and across the empty beach toward the water, snatching her cover-up off as Garrett chased her.
In a pink bikini, she screamed and laughed when she glanced behind her to see that he was right on her heels. She quickened her speed, the hot sand burning the soles of her feet as Garrett left his flip flops behind and took off his shirt.
She splashed across the shore and dove into the ocean once she could no longer feel the bottom, the rush of cool water swarmed around her.
She pulled her long brown hair from its ponytail and dove into the water. She smiled as Garrett followed her, reaching for her legs as she swam away.
When he grabbed her left leg and tickled her foot, she emerged from the water and gasped. She laughed into the air, closing her eyes against the bright sun that beamed down on them in the still crystal clear ocean. Life was perfect when they were together.
“Okay! Okay,” she said in between hysterical laughing as he continued tickling her. She ran her hands through his wavy brown hair and tugged at it. “You win!”
Garrett pulled her closer by her thighs and she wrapped them around his waist as he held her chest to chest in the water.
Breathless, Isla smiled at him, her cheeks reddening at how close they were.
“Say it,” he said, pressing his lips to hers.
Isla’s eyes closed as he kissed her. There was something about Garrett Thorne that made her forget her thoughts and words. Maybe it was the hint of a Yorkshire accent or the sexy tattoos that intrigued her. He was completely different from all of the other boys in Laguna Beach.
Her heart still raced from running but now melted as he let his hands lace into her hair.
“Say it,” he repeated in a whisper, holding her bottom lip between his teeth as his tongue traced her lip.
A shiver ran along her naked flesh and up her spine. She could feel his heart beating against hers as she opened her eyes. His olive green eyes peered into hers giving her butterflies.
Water dripped onto her lashes as she looked at him. “I love you too,” she said, her smile fading. The gravity of that statement slammed into her.
Isla didn’t say those words often. Her family wasn’t one for displays of affection of any sort, in public or in private, and the love word didn’t belong in their daily vocabulary.
So, saying it to the handsome young man that she’d been dating exclusively for most of her senior year scared her beyond belief. He scared her, but also made her feel things she’d never thought possible.
Garrett was different from the guys at her private school or the ones her father kept trying to set her up with. The Maxwell image was more important to her parents than Isla’s heart, and her heart belonged to a man who’s house cost less than her car.
Isla already knew that she’d give all of her wealth away to be with him.
He grinned and kissed her again. “Was that so hard?”
She clung to him, her arms around his neck. “Yes,” she said. “It was.”
“Why, Isla?” he asked in a whisper.
“Because love it dangerous,” she said. Her heart was open, more open than it had been since she was a child. She’d been hurt so much by her parents, boys, and the girls at school that she feared what someone as special as Garrett could do.
“Being in love makes you vulnerable. I don’t want to get hurt. Not by you, or anyone else.”
Garrett pulled away to face her. “I will never hurt you. You have to believe that.”
She tilted her head. “How do you know? You’re only nineteen and I’m about to turn eighteen. There are a lot of years ahead of us for you to hurt me.”
“True. There are also a lot of years ahead for me to love and cherish you.”
Isla grinned. “You English boys and your poetic words.”
He chuckled. “Every word I say is true, and I’ll show you.”
“I’ll hold you to that.” Isla nodded, and pushed away, swimming back to shore.
THE BUSY HIGHWAY LED ISLA away from Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base to the only place she knew to go.
The fact remained that although this was the place she’d grown up, it was also a harbor for her darkest days. She’d considered picking up her life and settling anywhere else but Laguna, but at that moment, she didn’t want to be alone.
The memories of Garrett were unbearable without any of the distractions she’d surrounded herself with.
The quiet road took her down a row of elaborate houses with glass walls that overlooked the beach, and tall palm trees that made the entire neighborhood look like a luxury resort. The smell of the ocean helped perk her up as she pulled her car into the driveway of her best friend, Robin’s beachfront house.
Isla stepped out of the car, purse in hand, and stood on the white cement. Her eyes closed as she tilted her head back and let the sun warm her face. Her heart was broken, but she would recover. She hoped.
Even as she thought that she would heal, there was a piece of her that would always be sore, and that was something Clark didn’t understand.
“Isla,” Robin called from her front door.
Isla’s eyes opened. As she looked to Robin, she lost her composure and covered her mouth as sobs threatened to break her into two.
Robin hurried down the driveway in a billowing pink dress. She collected Isla into her arms, kissing her forehead.
“Sweetheart,” she said, softly as she stroked Isla’s dark brown hair. “Let it out, doll. Let it all out.”
Isla buried her face into Robin’s and sobbed.
“Let’s go inside and have a drink,” Robin said, taking Isla’s hand and leading her up to the oceanfront beach house that stood just behind the rocks that led to the shore.
Isla allowed herself to be led away, not caring one bit who saw her cry as a group of women with strollers watched her from the street.
Once they were inside, Isla was appreciative of the cool air. It helped clear her mind as she sat down at Robin’s bar in a tall swivel stool. She glanced at the six windows that stretched from floor to ceiling, overlooking the water, and at the kitchen that Robin must have just gotten done.
Her home used to look more like a vacation rental, but it seemed she invested in some upgrades. Isla didn’t really care what it looked like, she just needed to stay somewhere and get back on her feet.
“Do you want a drink?”
Isla shrugged, sniffling. “What do you have?” She took off her sunglasses and wiped her eyes.
Robin glanced at the clock on her wall next to the fridge. “It’s 4pm. How about a shot of tequila?”
Isla slapped her hand on the countertop. “That’s my girl,” she said, smiling. “Bring it.”
She ran her hands through the tangles in her hair and they laughed as Robin took out two shot glasses. She pulled a frosty bottle of Patron from the freezer and poured the clear liquid into their glasses. Isla took hers and lifted it to the sky, tossing her long hair back.
“To best friends, new beginnings, and the beach.”
Robin clinked her glass to Isla’s. “I second all of that. Cheers.”
They drank the tequila. “Another,” Isla said, making a face as she held her glass toward Robin.
After her second shot, she exhaled and looked Robin straight on. “No more soldiers,” she said.
She glanced around, seeing that there were babyproofing products stacked against the pantry door. Boxes of baby gates caught Isla’s attention. “Are you pregnant?”
“No,” Robin said with a laugh. “Annie Johns came for a quick visit. She is looking for a babysitter and I offered to help her out. So, she brought over a bunch of baby proofing stuff.”
“Your old college roommate? That Annie?”
Robin nodded, her short blond curls bouncing with enthusiasm. “Yeah. Her kids are absolutely adorable.”
“I bet. Wow.” Isla scratched her forehead. “I can’t believe he signed up again.” She frowned. “I can’t believe I care so much. He was a jerk.”
“He was. You don’t need him.”
Isla shrugged. “I guess. He was a safe choice in a boyfriend.”
Isla pursed her lips. She didn’t have the energy to get into Clark’s faults. She just wanted to forget him.
“You broke your own rule,” Robin said, opening her fridge and pulling out a plastic bowl. She sat down beside Isla and opened a bag of veggie chips that had been sitting on the counter.
“I did,” Isla said with a sigh. She dipped her chip in the cool cucumber dip Robin pulled from the fridge. “You’d think I would have learned my lesson. There’s just something about soldiers that always did something to me. But, he at least kept me in check.”
“Kept you in check? Jesus, Isla. You make it sound like you’re liable to become Harley Quinn if some man doesn’t keep you focused. Come on, girl. You’re stronger than that. I know it.”
Isla pursed her lips. Robin didn’t understand. Isla had a problem, one that made her look more like a loose cannon than a broken young woman desperate for affection.
Robin tilted her head, her eyes narrowing in concern as she searched Isla’s. “I think just trying to find someone like Garrett.”
Isla’s face paled. Her stomach churned and she felt that she might be ill. The memories alone were enough to send her two years back when she’d nearly given up on life. When she’d lost him.
Her first love. Pain shot into her at hearing his name.
His olive green eyes haunted her dreams. They’d been high school sweethearts, determined to love one another until the day they died. Then, Garrett joined the army, just like his father and grandfather. The day he was deployed, Isla had felt warnings in her stomach. Warnings to Isla were always a form of premonition.
And she’d been right.
He never returned to her.
Isla squeezed her eyes shut. No man had ever come close to making her feel the things Garrett had once introduced her to.
Robin was right. Isla would give anything to find a man that was half as good as Garrett. After chatting online almost every night for months, he suddenly vanished and wasn’t heard from for two years.
“Don’t say his name,” Isla said. He was the one part of her heart that would always be sore. Nothing could repair that part that she saved for him. “You’re going to ruin the buzz the tequila is giving me, and I need this buzz, girl.”
Robin took her hand and Isla tensed. Her blue eyes looked into Isla’s. “Isla, I have something to tell you. I wanted to wait until you arrived so that I could tell you face to face.”
Isla could tell that whatever it was; it was big. “What?”
A faint smile came to Robin’s lips as she leaned toward Isla.
“Garrett Thorne came home yesterday.”