The budding romance between Deannie Hale and local fisherman, Brock Sanderson, was cut short when Deannie left for her dreams, which she could only find in Hollywood. Their relationship ended on a rocky note, a tumultuous argument that ended with the future diva over the sailor’s knee. Still, Deannie followed her star, finding short-lived success as a recording star and actress, and Brock took to his other home, the sea.
Now, years later, Deannie is back in her hometown, that little oceanside village. Her grandparents, who raised her, have both died, and they’ve willed their landmark home and family business, a bar called the Tipsy Mermaid, to their beloved granddaughter.
Having had enough of her lonely life in Hollywood and New York, Deannie is happy to be home for good—until her heart remembers how much she loved Brock, who is now the captain of his own fishing boat. Brock has never forgotten Deannie, either, and he can no longer ignore their passion for each other. Yet can the handsome, stern captain tame his sweet but mischievous princess, who makes him long for her while he’s away, working at sea?
Disclaimer: A wonderful tale of a couple reunited, complete with hot love scenes and searing bottom warming, with a hard hand, wooden spoon, paint stirrer and, of course, a hairbrush.
That was exactly where it had taken place, except it had happened one sultry summer night. Fortunately, for Deannie Hale, there hadn’t been anyone else around that evening, when Brock Sanderson set her bottom on fire with a blistering spanking.
A spanking he had administered while she was draped over his knee. Besides hurting like crazy, it had been an embarrassing episode that she’d only confided to one person, and that had been years later.
She remembered the argument that had brought it on, though the truly memorable part was the shock of realizing he’d tugged down both her jeans and her panties. She was eighteen, he was twenty-one, and she was having her backside bared.
Brock had used his hand. She’d fought, kicked, and wailed, all to no avail. By the time he finally let her off his lap, her butt was tomato-red and felt like it had been the target of a hundred angry hornets.
That was the last time she ever saw the handsome, blond fisherman. Within a week—just about when sitting down became comfortable again, in fact—she was on a plane headed for New York City and every dream her heart had held dear.
* * *
Now, years later, it was easy to giggle at that memory.
Deannie had been driving past that area in her Honda when that part of the marina drew her attention. She had turned the car around on the boulevard, driven back and slowed down, getting out to see the spot.
The spot where the spanking of her life had taken place. Actually, that had been her first and only time over a man’s knee, getting her backside heated up but good. Brock had sat right there on that little wooden bench that looked out at the fishing boats in their slips.
She couldn’t resist taking a seat on the graffiti-covered bench. As she recalled, he’d been threatening for weeks to paddle her. A threat that she, as a saucy and headstrong teenager, hadn’t taken seriously at all. Not until he had her pinned face down across his lap, with her legs trapped between his, to keep her from kicking, while he peppered her butt cheeks with smacks that finally brought tears to her eyes.
“Yep. Those were the good old days,” she muttered under her breath and muffled a laugh.
In all honesty, she’d deserved that spanking. There was no way under that big, blue sky that she would have admitted to that back then, and especially not on that night, when she’d been so sore she’d had to sleep on her belly. Not only had she pushed Brock to the boiling point with her tantrums that night, but it was the last time she’d felt truly cared for by a man for many years afterwards.
A cool spring breeze slapped at her face, making her close up her unbuttoned navy blue pea jacket. Rising to her feet, Deannie strolled along the boardwalk, admiring the vessels secured to the dock.
She was thirty-six now. That meant Brock was thirty-nine. He was probably married by now and a father to a couple of kids. Maybe even four or five children. Brock had always liked kids; so had she, though those past years had left her no time for marriage or someone who would have called her “Mom.”
That was all right. Hopefully, he was happy. Certainly happier than she had been for all that time, those crazy years she’d spent in both New York and Los Angeles.
Fishermen and boats. As a girl growing up in that Massachusetts fishing village, both those things had been such integral threads in the fabric of her life. She breathed in the scent of saltwater and northern spring air, surprised by how sweetly she remembered both.
Some of the boats were new. Some, like the Coastal Duchess, had been sailing those waters for as far out as the Flemish Cap, for years. If she looked behind her, Deannie could see Flanagan’s Bar, the Shrimp Dish, and the Seafood Bisque House, all establishments that had been around since her childhood. Not to mention the one with which she shared a history, the Tipsy Mermaid. All in all, it wasn’t so bad being back home…though that wasn’t where she was supposed to be. But that was life, which ultimately hadn’t turned out anything at all the way Deannie Hale had planned.
But that’s all right. Not going to cry over spilled milk forever, she scolded herself.
With a sigh, she walked back to the Honda, intent on driving back to the house. There would be plenty of time for the business. Even before driving back from Manhattan, she’d decided she’d be taking it slow. Day by day. That was about all she could handle and certainly all anybody had the right to ask of her.
Besides, as soon as she received a decent enough offer, she’d already determined that she would be selling the business. What she would do about a job after that was anybody’s guess, but one thing was for certain, she was back in her hometown to stay this time.
If nothing else, it was nice owning and driving a car again. Living in New York for all those years, she hadn’t needed a car. Deannie had gotten along fine with the subway and buses.
Especially, since I never did get a personal driver. And I can count how many times I was driven around in a limo.
That had been the “plan,” if she could even call it that. The plan had been for her to become a big star. A household name. Somebody whose life was made up of designer clothes, an entourage, expensive jewels and other perks, like a personal chauffeur.
Here she was, years later, four years shy of her fortieth birthday, driving a used car and returning to the place where she’d grown up. The place she’d tried so hard to leave, back when she’d landed an agent, a recording contract, and even a part in a major motion picture. And, oh, yes, there’d been that TV show that had lasted for all of one season. In her defense, even though the critics had hated it, the show had had a loyal following, with fans writing in for a year, begging for the network to reconsider its decision to axe it.
We’re not in Hollywood anymore, Toto, she quipped to herself as she pulled into the familiar driveway. And this ain’t the Big Apple, either!
This was the house where she’d spent her childhood and most of her teen years. Once upon a time, the Hale house had been the biggest house in town. Lord knew, now there were way bigger houses in town. Much newer, too, and better maintained.
Deannie paused before entering. It wasn’t her grandmother’s fault the place needed so much work. Her grandfather, whom she’d affectionately called Grandpa Sol, had died several years earlier, and afterwards Grandma Magnolia had done the best she could with the place.
Still a magnificent house, too, even with that list of things that needed to be done. An old, white Victorian, with forest green trim that included the window shutters, it direly needed a new exterior paint job. The house boasted three spacious bedrooms, a large kitchen, a dining room, a library that had doubled as an office, a sun porch and two full baths.
Not to mention the acre-and-a-half that surrounded the place. It had been built in the late 1800s and, though it had been renovated over the years, still seriously needed updating.
Together with the business, it was one huge endeavor. Deannie had her work cut out for her. She was hoping and praying she’d be able to sell the house, too. A house that was designated as a landmark by the town. Selling it against the wishes of the town council? Definitely, she was in for some fun.
“Deannie? Deannie Hale? Oh, Lord, that can’t be you!”
It had been a long time since she’d heard that voice. Amazingly, it could still make her cringe. Inwardly, she berated herself for not having gone into the house sooner. She would have ensured avoiding that painful little reunion.
“Yesss, it is you! I’d heard you were back in town, visiting.” Out of the black Lexus stepped Sandra Farley, looking like she’d stopped by on her way to lunch at an upscale restaurant.
A Lexus. Deannie suppressed a groan. It figured her old high school rival would be driving a luxury car. She caught the momentary, turned-up-nose look Sandra gave Deannie’s humble Honda parked in front of the house.
“Sandra Farley. So good to see you!”
It wasn’t good to see her. Not at all. As a former actress, many moons ago, she could at least pretend it was good to see her again.
“It’s Sandra Hamlinnow, Deannie, honey. Mmmmmwaaaahh!” The perpetual thorn in Deannie Hale’s side—or pain in the butt, because that phrase worked equally as well—drew in closer and kissed the air. “So good to see you. I’m just tickled. Oh, a real movie star! And recording star! You had—what was it? That one song, right?”
“Yeah. That’s me. One-hit wonder!” Deannie used the term before Sandra could, if for no other reason to show the woman her catty remark hadn’t hurt.
Even though, in all honesty, it had. It cut right down to the core.
“Oh, listen to you! That was a great song, you know. God knows, they played it over and over and over and over again on the radio.” Sandra laughed and waved a hand in the air, displaying her 1990s French manicured acrylic nails. “We almost got so sick of it. Not me, of course. That was one of my favorite songs.”
I’m sure it was. Deannie only nodded, smiling as gracefully as possible.
She tried to hide her discomfort at seeing Sandra. Their rivalry at Jefferson High had been legendary. Downright epic. It looked like the woman had gotten some work done, because she definitely hadn’t had that same nose in high school. Deannie couldn’t remember Sandra’s boobs originally being that big, either, or her waist that tiny. The woman had collagen-filled lips and a startled expression that Deannie knew all too well, from her fellow performers, meant she’d had one too many face-lifts.
“Looks like you’ve done very well for yourself,” she tried complimenting her, hoping to stave off more underhanded sniping.
“Ah, well, you know. I’m in real estate now. My husband, too.” Sandra graced her with a toothy grin. Was that Chanel No. 5 she was wearing? “So how long are you staying? We’ve got to do lunch. Or drinks?”
“I’m—I’m not visiting. I’m here to stay.”
“Really? I didn’t know that!”
What, exactly, was that in Sandra Farley’s—or rather, Hamlin’s—eyes? A bitter sort of victorious expression, as if saying, So you’re not in Hollywood, huh? You’re right back here, right where you started from.
“Good. I’m so glad to hear that,” the woman purred. “It’s been so long since you came back here.”
“That’s true. But, you know, I didcome back some years ago. Last time, a couple of years ago, I flew Grandma Magnolia out to the city to be with me. And then I checked her into a place in Manhattan so I could be close to her. See her as much as possible.”
Something self-protective in Deannie made her question why she should be so earnest and open with a sworn enemy. Maybe, deep down, she wanted to convey to Sandra that her own life wasn’t so perfect, that the woman was wasting too much energy and time on jealousy.
“You’ve put on some weight over the years, too, huh?” her old rival asked with a saccharine smile. “That’s why they’re not knocking at your door anymore, I guess?”
Deannie recognized that for what it was: an invitation to sink down to Sandra’s level. Conversely, it was also telling in that, on some level, the woman was expecting her not tobe dragged into the fight. Which meant she knew she could get away with insulting her. Deannie decided neither action worked for her.
“You know, I was just thinking about Brock,” she sweetly changed the subject. “Brock Sanderson. How is he? He still around?”
Bullseye! Sandra wasn’t so cocky now. Her mouth visibly tightened.
“I don’t think that one will ever leave,” she said. “Or get married. With Brock, his mistress really is the sea. He’s a captain now, too.”
That news perked up Deannie’s ears. “He’s got his own boat now?”
“Yes, oh—what’s it called? The Sojourner. And he hires the guys to work for him, like captains here do. That’s the life he chose for himself. Brock Sanderson will be a fisherman until he dies.” The snooty woman sniffed. “Or lost at sea. Anyway, got to go. Oh—and here’s my card. Call me if you ever want to sell this old place. I know someone who’d be interested.”
Dream on! You’re not getting your grubby hands on my grandparents’ home.
But Sandra Hamlin did know of a prospective buyer. Maybe, Deannie considered, she would do well to swallow her pride and let the blonde-out-of-a-box sell the place for her. Deannie had pointedly noticed she hadn’t called the house an “eyesore.” She knew better than that.
Whether the hotshot real estate vixen liked it or not, the Hale home was a landmark. A beloved one.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Deannie mumbled out loud, securing the business card to the refrigerator with a magnet.
A magnet in the shape of a curvaceous mermaid. She smiled. She would forever miss Grandma Magnolia, who, before old age and illness had taken its toll, had been one of the sweetest, most fun people she had ever known.
The magnet was also, very affectionately, a nod to the family business.
Deannie consulted the grandfather clock in the hallway. An heirloom that her grandparents had loved. It was one of the few items she could never part with, no matter what happened to the house.
The clock also let her know that she had perhaps two hours to herself, at the most, before heading out to check on the business. Remarkably, it was another of the town’s well-loved landmarks.
She could put it off, naturally. Yet the sooner she got it out of the way, the better.
* * *
Deannie Hale was home, supposedly for good. If there was ever a reason to keep his distance from the Tipsy Mermaid, that was it. If nothing else, he could stay away for the first week or two. That would be the wise thing to do.
In the end, Brock Sanderson’s curiosity—and raw, unavoidable desire—beat out wisdom.
Not a desire, as in of a sexual nature. Or so he insisted to himself, as he stepped out of his SUV, closing the door behind him. More like the desire to see her again, if only because it had been so many years since they’d last seen each other. He breathed in the early summer air, tinged with its usual scent of the ocean.
The last time he’d seen Deannie had been stormy, to put it nicely. That was quite a long time ago. He had ended up making good, at last, on a much-repeated threat. He’d nearly worn out his hand on her naughty, then-eighteen-year-old backside.
That still made him grin. Impishly. Fondly. Even with a small bit of sadness.
It didn’t matter anymore. Really, his best bet was to turn around and go back home. He wasn’t much of a drinker, anyway, nor was he one to hang around a local drinking hole. Many of the men he worked with were young, but some still remembered he had a history with Deannie Hale. To say his reason for being there was obvious would have been an understatement.
But why was she back? Why wasn’t she out in Hollywood, married to some big-name movie star or director? Something along those lines? Brock knew her grandmother—Magnolia Hale, wonderful, regal lady, she was—had died. The whole town knew that.
“Hey, Skip—good to see ya!”
Brock stifled a groan. That was all he needed, though he’d expected to be seen by a fisherman. Or two.
Or fifteen. Or sixteen of them.
“How’s it goin, Lou?” he greeted the scruffy, bearded young man.
“Good. Wait ’til you see Deannie Hale!” Lou Rogers blew out a whistle. “If you don’t mind my saying, Skipper, the lady’s still a looker.”
The woman on Lou’s arm looked ticked-off right at that remark before she slapped the back of his head. Amused, Brock couldn’t help but smile.
“Oh, so she’s back?” He donned his most innocent look. “That’s right, I didhear something about that.”
“Yeah. She’s back. And she asked about you.” Lou grinned. “I told her she’s bound to see you. If you’re not out at sea, as usual. See ya soon.”
Brock gave a nod of his head. “See ya, man.”
Self-consciously, he touched his face. He’d shaved off his moustache and beard, which he’d worn for about a year. Not having shaved for a couple of days, he already had some stubble on his face. His hair was long, in need of a trim. Looking down at himself, he wished he’d worn something other than his gray shirt and black jeans.
Frustrated with himself, Brock shook his head and turned in the direction of his car.
There was no need for him to be going through all that craziness. It wasn’t like he was a twenty-one-year-old freshman anymore. Even worse, there was a good chance the lady wouldn’t even remember him. Although…he couldn’t see her having forgotten that spanking he’d given her. A good, solid spanking that had left her rear red and sore.
A spanking that, he had to add, Deannie Hale had very richly deserved.
But there had been good times between them, too. They were both young then, and the time they’d shared together hadn’t lasted for more than several months. Still, he hadn’t forgotten what he’d shared with that girl.
That settles it, he thought.
Taking a few deep, fortifying breaths, he went into the Tipsy Mermaid. What harm could it do? He would have a beer, maybe exchange some pleasantries with his old flame, and then head back home, falling asleep early. For all he knew, Hollywood had tainted her and she was nowhere near as lovely and beguiling as he remembered her being.
As soon as Brock stepped through those doors, that old familiar scene greeted him. Bruce Springsteen singing about having a “Hungry Heart” on the old-fashioned jukebox…fishermen and other locals, with their wives and girlfriends talking and laughing boisterously, covering every inch of the bar and at tables. The two pool tables were filled with rough-around-the-edges, burly types, and the bartender, Logan Gray, was busy at work, pouring beer from the tap. For some, he was uncapping Blue Moons and Coronas.
And there, standing near one end of the bar, was Deannie Hale. Looking better than she had a right to—certainly too pretty for Brock’s own good—in a pair of figure-hugging jeans and a clingy, red tank top. As soon as their gazes met, his heart sped up and the front of his pants tightened with arousal.
Leave. Leave now, he ordered himself.
But his feet wouldn’t budge.
“Brock?” he heard her call out his name.
“Yeah. Deannie!” he called back.
Deannie Hale. Movie star. The little young lady who sang, “Holding Out for the Best.” A princess in denim.
Before he knew it, she had glided across that room, wrapped her arms around his neck, and kissed him right on the cheek. Skinny, little Deannie wasn’t quite so skinny anymore. In fact, she filled out that top and those jeans with some sizzling, drive-a-man-crazy curves.
Not more than a moment later, the seaside bar erupted in cheers and applause.
“Well…hello to you, too,” he managed to say.
His throat was so dry. He could, at that moment, use a tall, strong swallow of something. Any adult beverage that was handy.
Deannie laughed, her green eyes dancing. She was quick to say, “Excuse me for being so forward, Brock. It’s just—it’s been so long.”
“Ah. Uh-huh. That’s true.” Brock spoke slowly, trying to make sure his tongue didn’t stumble all over his words. The last thing he wanted was to make a fool out of himself, particularly in front of the fishermen.
All of whom, it appeared, were packed into the Tipsy Mermaid that evening, much to his chagrin.
“I’m sorry about your Grandma Magnolia,” he told her.
“Well, thank you. I am, too. Although, I have to say, it was hard watching her at the end. That beautiful lady.”
Brock swallowed. For a second, it almost looked like she would break down and cry. He was never much good at dealing with a crying woman, so the best she could do was a few thoughtful taps on her arm.
“I was very sad to hear about your grandmother,” Brock said. “That was a fine lady. Your grandfather was a good man, too.”
“Thank you. I’m sorry, too. I’m relieved she’s not suffering anymore, but…” Deannie paused to take a breath. “It’s not the same without her.”
She seemed to force herself to brighten. “Have you got a few minutes for an old friend?”
“Great. Let’s have a drink. Hildy!” Turning at the waist, Deannie motioned to the young waitress. “Whenever you get a chance, honey, I’ll have a ginger ale. And for you, Brock?”
What he needed right then was a drink, yet he told her, “Ginger ale sounds good.”
“Let’s have some privacy. The applause is nice, but we’re not doing a curtain call tonight. Uh-uh.”
A girlish titter followed those words.
Privacy. As in, outside on the deck, where only a few people were gathered at three tables. Brock appreciated her suggestion to get away from the crowds, especially because that warm, little greeting was bound to bring gossip.
Gossip—but not ribbing. Or not too much ribbing, anyway. The fishermen who worked with him knew they could get away with some joking around; he did have a sense of humor, after all. But as captain, he also commanded a certain amount of respect from his men.
The same held true, as well, for any woman in his life. Hence, the reason a younger Deannie Hale had found herself in big trouble with him, resulting in having her tail heated up but good.
That same feminine rear was no less tantalizing now, years later. She had led the way out to the deck, which afforded him the view of her shapely, slightly chubby, jeans-clad bottom. When she walked, it still had that naughty jiggle to it and the hips that all-too-familiar, mesmerizing sway.
“I hope I’m not keeping you from meeting anyone,” she said.
“No. I was just coming in for a night cap,” he explained.
“A night cap? But you’re having ginger ale.”
“Because you’re having one, too.” Sheepishly, Brock smirked. “Old habits die hard, I guess.”
To his relief, she smiled fondly at him. “You don’t want to have a beer if all I’m having is ginger ale. Very gentlemanly of you. Maybe I should have challenged you to having tequila shots with me.”
“And you would probably win,” he said softly and leaned back against the deck railing. “A beer or two. That’s still my limit.”
“Nice to know.”
“So you’re here only for a while?” He shifted the conversation away from himself. “Or to stay?”
He tried to hide his reaction. “What about Hollywood? Music and all that? Your dreams?
“You know, Brock…” Deannie folded her arms on the railing, leaning forward. A breeze caught her hair and tossed it. Even without makeup, she was still pretty.
He recalled seeing her once on television. She was a regular on a TV show, too, briefly, but this was another time, another show. While channel surfing, he happened upon the red carpet arrivals for the Emmy Awards, and there she was. Deannie Hale, his old girlfriend, looking like something out of a painting. Her hair was longer then, a blondish-brown, and her makeup done just right. The reporter mentioned she was wearing a Versace gown and a diamond necklace with diamond chandelier earrings. Deannie had looked sexy and gorgeous.
And untouchable, where a Massachusetts sea captain was concerned.
“It almost feels like those dreams took place in another century,” she summarized at last.
“Oh, now, we’re not that old.” Brock pulled in closer to her to add, “You’re not, anyway.”
Her laughter was infectious. This was the other Deannie—that other part of her, made of pure honey. She could be difficult and impossible, too. He’d seen that side of her for certain.
“You’re only a couple years older than me,” she reminded him. “And you still look wonderful. But that time for me is over. And that’s fine. Things in life change. Now I have decisions to make.”
“About what to do with the house. And the Tipsy Mermaid. Hey—want to buy a local bar? Good view of the ocean. Lots of customers, locals.”
“I have my hands full with a fishing boat.” He frowned. “Why would you want to sell either of them? The house or the Tipsy Mermaid?”
“The house, for one thing, is too big for me. And this place…this was my grandparents’ business. I’d probably run it into the ground.”
Pausing, he took a sip of his soda. It wasn’t any of his business, really. The place now belonged to Deannie. She could do with it as she pleased.
Still, he found himself pointing out the obvious. “You’ve got good people working here. People you can trust. They’ve been running it ever since your grandmother got too sick to do it herself.”
“I’m sure the new owners will keep them on,” she said with a shrug.
“How do you know that for sure? The new owners could be the ones who run it into the ground. That’s happened, you know. And these are your grandparents’ employees. Your grandparents’ people.” Reluctantly, he backed off. After all, he’d said his piece. “But then I…shouldn’t really be trying to tell you what to do.”
“That’s all right. I forgive you. I know that comes with the territory, doesn’t it? A captain, you’re typically the one tossing around the orders.”
She was teasing him. Or was she discreetly putting him in his place? He raised his eyebrows at her, surprised to hear the silence broken by one of her playful giggles.
“I appreciate your advice,” Deannie assured him. “But I’m not moving fast on anything just yet. Have a lot of thinking to do. I have to get settled back here, too. Not everybody’s happy to see me back.”
“Oh? Somebody giving you trouble?”
“Not really. But they’re not that happy that I’m back. How about you?”
“How about me…what?”
Deannie pursed her lips. A naughty smile played on her mouth. “Nothing. I’d better get back to the office. Going through the bar’s books. Good to see you again, Brock.”
He fought off a sliver of disappointment. That was it? She was cutting their visit short so soon? Well, what had he expected? Years had passed since they’d last seen each other. What had he gone there hoping to find, besides a cordial visit with an old girlfriend?
Brock tried to keep his tone light, not too brusque as he pushed away from the railing. “Good to see you again, too, Deannie.”
“And maybe I’ll see you again by the docks? When you come back from one of your trips, you and your crew? Remember that?”
He almost hadn’t lingered for that last moment. Brock realized he would have missed that smile of hers, an irresistible and touching blend of sadness and seduction.
So now, he had his answer: Deannie was still beautiful, still captivating, and she could still make his head spin.
“‘Course, I remember,” he told her. “We’ll be going out in another week. We should be back the following Friday.”
“Good. Maybe I’ll see you then.”
Maybe. No promises. Then again, he wasn’t looking for promises, either, either to get them or give them himself.
“Maybe you will.” Fine. If she could be elusive, so could he.
With another smile, Deannie turned on her heel and headed in the direction of the office, which he knew, was beyond the kitchen door, to the rear of the establishment.
Not wanting to draw attention to himself or to put his pride on the line, he quickened his gait, making a beeline for the door.
It had been pleasant seeing Deannie again, though he didn’t expect her at the docks. Too much time had passed for that. She had her things to work out, namely the family homestead and the Tipsy Mermaid, and he had a commercial fishing business to run.
Even so, he knew no other woman had ever captured his heart like that one had, all those years ago. She had left him once before, he wouldn’t be left again. He preferred to be alone, just him and the sea, than to go through that a second time.
On the other hand, if something did happen, he and Deannie both knew that it would be on his terms this time.