WEDDING AT WHITE SANDS
Allie St. James, Private Investigator, needs the case of the century to pay her bills. She doesnt need a seven-year-old client who claims someones trying to kill his father. Falling victim to the childs gap-toothed smile, Allie investigates, landing her at a corrupt Florida Keys resort and into a mock marriage with the boys uptight, way too attractive father.
Allie wants to be a police officer like her stepfather and stepbrothers. Unable to conform to constraining rules, she has opened a private investigation agency. The business also advances her more personal crusade of tracking deadbeat dads. Through this, she hopes to exorcise ghosts of her real father, a man stingy with his emotions if not his money.
Single parent Jake Larson lost his wife in a car accident that left him with injuries ending his career as an agent for the Air Forces Office of Special Investigations. A reserved man even before the accident, Jake has rebuilt his life, controlling pain at the cost of further suppressing his emotions. When White Sands Resort scams his parents, Jake readily agrees to assist state police in their investigation an opportunity to repay his parents for their help during his recovery and a chance to recapture his lost dream of days as an agent.
After young Robbie Larson tries to "hire" Allie, she blasts into Larson Investment Corporation looking for the man who lets his son run loose after school. Shes had enough of fathers too preoccupied with business to care for their children. Further, professional curiosity compels her to check out the boys concerns.
Her righteous indignation takes a momentary backseat to shock when she stumbles into the company weight room. With a house full of brothers, Allie has seen more than a few bare, male chests. But never has she seen a pair of pecs like the rippling muscles on the guy pumping iron. She hopes to wrangle some information from the enticing source, while possibly sneaking a covert peek.
Knocked flat by the spitfire who steps in to take the place of his spotter, Jake knows better than to tangle with her. Emotional women like Allie St. James are an open invitation to mayhem. His life is already stretched to the limit caring for his son. He needs to focus on justice for his parents. Discovering Allies a private eye sets off Jakes mental alarms, leading him to withhold his identity until he can determine her agenda.
Later, Allies snooping in the main office is interrupted by the boss himself - the mystery hunk from the weight room. Angry, and more than a little muddled, Jake isnt quite sure how to handle someone who refuses to respect order and rules. Too bad Allie St. James was such a disorganized whirlwind and mad as spit or Jake might have found her wild curls impossible to resist. Determined to regain control, he advises her to make an appointment.
No one pushes Allie aside! If hed been upholding his parental responsibilities, she wouldnt have even been in his office in the first place. Jake is unsettled by the news that his son has been aware of Jakes secretive meetings with the plainclothes, gun-toting detective. Jake offers an impromptu cover story to pacify Allie so he can check on his child.
Allie is surprised by more than Jakes identity. He also has a limp, something she hadnt realized earlier. Additional insights like the tender look in his eyes when he speaks of his son, a slight wince when his dead wife is mentioned, show her intriguing layers to Jakes personality. Allie cant help but think he might have been easier to resist when half-naked in the weight room.
Her prying in Jakes office uncovers information linking him to her case involving a resort owner in the Keys who hides assets from his ex-wife. Couldnt anyone else see what scum the resort mogul was? Shed already approached her cop brother with her suspicions, only to have her concerns dismissed. Allie wonders why Jake would do business with such slime. How disappointing that under all those muscles hes bottom line myopic like her father.
As Allie leaves the building, she finds her tires have been slashed. A death threat waits in her car, shaking her calm more than she cares to admit. She wonders if a trip to the Keys might keep her out of harms way, while furthering her work. She owes little Robbie and her other client her best effort.
Certainly her insatiable desire to learn more about the uptight body builder has nothing to do with her plans.
After reassuring his son, Jake leaves for White Sands, eager to infiltrate the resort community and slip back into his old role of investigator. His relief lasts until he reaches his rental car where Allie awaits him, seemingly in need of a ride.
Her tale of woe over stolen credit cards and cash is paper-thin. She winces with guilt over duping Jake, but convinces herself this provides the best way to keep tabs on him for Robbie.
Allies constant chatter mingles with her even more disturbing floral scent. She threatens more than his chance to recapture a lost dream, endangering his very peace of mind! However, Jakes sense of honor wont allow him to leave a woman stranded in a parking lot, especially one as drop dead gorgeous as Allie.
When they arrive at the resort, Allie dons her wide-eyed, undercover persona that always lures suspects into spilling secrets. She discovers that her free-spirited approach has the side benefit of irritating Mr. Uptight Larson. Each glare from him offers a reminder of why she should ignore the tenacious attraction. Opposites may attract, but not always in a positive way.
Escorting Allie into the resort, Jake cringes, seeing his low profile pitched overboard. How can she strike up conversations with strangers? Hum to elevator music? Jerk his stomach into a triple knot with her hundred watt smile?
His terse request that she tone down her antics sparks old resentments in Allie, bringing memories of being her fathers unwanted embarrassment from a previous marriage. No way will she fade into the background. When the desk clerk asks for Allies confirmation number, Allie cant resist the chance for a final jab at Mr. No Scene. She plants a kiss on Jake and tells the clerk her new husband has taken care of everything.
Befuddled by the assault on his libido, Jake scrambles for a rebuttal. His retort dies a pitiful death when he sees the grinning resort owner, the very man from whom Jake hopes to extract information. Unwilling to risk another outburst from Allie, Jake grits his teeth and registers the happy newlyweds, Mr. and Mrs. Larson. At least he can watch over her since she seems determined to stay.
In their room, Jake and Allie have it out, their tempers fueled by simmering desire. Allie explains shes hot on the trail of a delinquent dad. She cant leave now. She concludes by telling Jake of the death threats that loom back home.
A man bound by rules doesnt stand a chance against a street fighter like Allie. Jake relents, offering her a free bed and an opportunity to finish her work if she will leave him alone. If only he could ignore her tempting body curled asleep across the room. Already the lure of her effervescent spirit threatens to batter down his rigid walls of self-control.
The next day, Allie parks herself by the pool, allowing Jake to complete his meetings. After he reports the progress of his investigation to his police contact, Jake rejoins Allie to maintain their newlywed cover. Certainly not because he hungers for her unrestrained smile. Her joy in the simple and unexpected brings Jake a levity he has never experienced. Life is a serious, sometimes tragic business to Jake, after all.
Jake is surprised to find Allie not lazing, but using the time to gather information. Her guileless act has the resort owners girlfriend sharing her life story. Jake cant help but respect Allies artful manner, different from his own, yet effective none the less.
After a successful afternoon, Allie senses a loss of attention from the woman shes interrogating. Every female at the pool has her eyes trained on Jake! How dare they ogle her husband? They dont know the marriage is a sham. She has to admit, his limp doesnt impede his athleticism.
The faded scars on his ankle and leg hint at the pain he must have undergone, possibly still endures. Having heard her brothers whine over even a bee sting, she wonders if theres more to Jake than she originally thought. Allie admires the way he has channeled himself to live life to the fullest within his restrictions, opting for sports like swimming and weight lifting. Her scatter gun approach to life has cost her opportunities, like a coveted slot at the police academy.
That evening, tension threads through the romantic honeymoon suite. Allie decides a walk along the beach will provide a distraction from this man who is so totally unsuitable for her. Jake is amazed to hear himself offering to accompany her. Like the other strolling couples, Allie and Jake hold hands, both grateful for the excuse to touch without risk.
Allie shares childhood memories of trailing her rowdy brothers. Jake talks of his son, and Allie realizes hes not a distant father at all. While he may be reserved, his devotion to his child is obvious. Which Jake is real? The contemplative, powerful man she shares a room with, or the cold, driven professional too much like her father?
The next days agenda for all the White Sands honeymooners ends in a shocker for Jake and Allie. The couples are expected to participate in an oceanside vows renewal led by the resort owner and his girlfriend. Unable to risk blowing their cover, Allie and Jake join the other guests. Allie knows it isnt legal, yet the words feel surprisingly natural.
Is she doomed to replay her mothers legacy by falling for a man afraid to show his feelings? How can they find an enduring meeting point, he the immovable shore, she the churning sea?
Jake balks at the unrestrained emotion shining from Allies eyes. Hes attracted to her, even admires her, but he cant spend his life with a hurricane, even one as charming as Allie. She would need, expect, too much from him. He hadnt been able to loosen the hold on his control and tell his late wife he loved her, a guilty memory that haunts him. Allie deserves better, would demand more.
This time, Jake suggests the late night walk. The last thing he wants is to be alone with his new "bride" and a heart shaped bed. Remembered vows echo along with the rolling surf as Allie and Jake share a moonlit kiss. Passion washes away Jakes reserve and Allies resolve, unleashing a torrent of passion.
Realizing that Allie is too vulnerable, Jake pulls away. Allie perceives his hesitation as a crushing rejection.
As she stumbles back into their room, two thugs step from the shadows, under orders from the boss to "silence" Allie and Jake. While Jake and Allie land more than a few punches of their own, they are overpowered when a third gunman joins the fight.
Never has Jake felt his limitations so strongly. He also feels the overwhelming responsibility for his loss of control. Had he kept his emotions in check, he would have seen the men coming. He should never have agreed to Allies impromptu charade.
The crooks toss Allie and Jake into a speedboat, planning to shoot them before dumping their bodies in the ocean. In a frantic struggle, Jake and Allie manage to leap overboard unscathed but miles from shore. Only through Jakes single-minded focus and strength as a swimmer do they reach safety.
In a devastating revelation, Allie finds that Jakes reserve, a trait she has so scorned, saves them. Her impulsiveness has almost caused his death. She feared him not being the right kind of man for her, never considering she might be the wrong kind of woman for him.
Jake contacts his police connection back in their small town of Fort Walton Beach. Allie and Jake learn they have both been hunting the same man. The resort owner has been using his business, and even his girlfriends account, to funnel money into Caribbean banks. It turns out Allies policeman brother took her tip seriously after all, launching an investigation with Jakes assistance.
Allies initial joy upon discovering Jake isnt a part of shady business dealings fades. She knows a reserved man like Jake could never love a free-spirit like her, and she cant settle for less than his heart.
With no excuse to stay together, Allie and Jake say their goodbyes. Hes glad for a return to peace. Isnt he? She wont miss Mr. No Scene. Will she?
Of course she will.
Remembering their struggle to survive, Allie realizes her lifelong defiance of rules has been her way of rebelling against her father. She knows the time has come to grow up. Jake has taught her the value of channeling strengths to overcome weaknesses.
She re-applies and is accepted to the police academy. The structure of the force will give her the focus she needs to use her creative abilities as a detective. However, her success is hollow without Jake, the only man she has ever loved.
Back home, life is quiet for Jake. Too quiet. When he meets Allie during their depositions in the White Sands case, he finds her more restrained. He longs for the warmth of a smile she no longer shares with him. If he is the shore and she the ocean, then surely her leaving has eroded the boundaries protecting his heart.
Allie and Jake return to South Florida to finish compiling the case against the resort owner. Compelled by nostalgia, she walks through the late night tide, a place where the very different ocean and shore could meet.
Jake joins her. He too has felt the tantalizing draw of memories from their time together. In a secluded cabana, Jake and Allie share a moment of passion, desperate to recapture the magic they found together months earlier.
After they make love, Allie urges him to reconcile his past. Jake can see the merit of her suggestion to add an investigative division to his company, more effectively blending his current business with his previous profession. Her emotional expectations, on the other hand, seem impossible to fulfill.
She presses Jake to admit he loved his first wife and feels guilty about her death. Allie insists that only then will he be able to love her as well, not more, but equally. While he has tried to show how much needs her, Jake cant loosen the holds on his control to give her the overt tenderness she craves.
Although she senses there may be more to Jakes feelings than he is willing to admit, Allie knows she can never be the peaceful partner he appears to want. Without acceptance of each others differences, their fragile relationship will whither. She will not repeat her mothers mistake by entering a marriage destined to fail.
Jake makes a stab at offering a simple, day at a time, relationship, yet Allie cant help wanting more. Fearing there is no hope for them, Jake and Allie indulge in a final tender moment, a regret shadowed substitute for a true wedding night.
The next morning, Jake prepares himself for the pain of seeing Allie one last time. Pain? He has always mastered lifes disappointments, controlling pain. Hasnt he? Jake realizes that perhaps he could learn from Allie about facing problems head on. He has prided himself on meticulously rebuilding his life. Yet, has he truly reconciled his past, or merely buried it behind a wall of reserve to protect himself from the risk of failing another woman?
His thoughts are interrupted by a call. If he wants to see Allie and Robbie alive, he will forget about testifying. The caller tells Jake to meet him with ransom money in hand. No doubt hes walking into a trap, but what choice does he have? Images of losing his son, of Allies vibrant spirit extinguished, rattle Jake, unleashing a rush of love for them both.
He loves Allie. Not the woman he once wanted her to be, but exactly as she is, light and laughter in his stark world.
Jake is taken to a sailboat where Allie and Robbie are being held. Two henchmen guard them, while the real boss looks on the resort owners girlfriend who has been the source of the death threats against Allie. No doubt, the gunmen plan to take the money and dump all three into the water. Jake and Allie almost died the first time they were thrown into the Atlantic. They wont make it to shore with a seven year old in tow.
Once again faced with losing the woman he loves, Jake refuses to fail again. He wont squander the chance to tell Allie how he feels. If only they can survive. He pitches the ransom money into the water as a distraction. Jake and Allie disable everyone but the boss. In the tussle, Robbie is pushed into the ocean.
With a split second glance, Allie and Jake know their roles, combining their individual strengths into an effective partnership. Jake dives in to save his son. Officer Allie St. James tackles the last of their captors, a piece of cake after playing football with her brothers.
Safely aboard a coast guard cutter, Jake and Allie share a blanket while Robbie plays on deck. As Jake speaks the words of love she longs to hear, instead Allie focuses on the tangible proof of raw emotion in his eyes. How could she have ever thought him cold and unaccepting? Now free of her past, she can recognize the truth. He isnt like her father at all. Jake churns with undercurrents stronger than any she ever imagined, feelings more powerful and special than theatrical speeches.
They seal their vows of love with a kiss. Two parts of a whole, the ocean meeting the shore, Allie and Jake watch the sunsets benediction as their marriage becomes reality in their hearts.
Copyright: Catherine Mann
WEDDING AT WHITE SANDS by Catherine Mann
Silhouette Intimate Moments #1158