Barefoot by the Sea


By Roxanne St. Claire

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“Pack this one in your beach bag and get ready for nonstop fun.” — Susan Mallery, New York Times bestselling author, on Barefoot in the Sand

A Barefoot Bay Novel

When you think you know your heart’s desire . . .

Tessa Galloway is a gifted nurturer-her verdant garden at Barefoot Bay’s new resort is living proof. If only the woman who can grow anything could grow what she wants most: a baby. Her friends think the right guy will come along, but Tessa doesn’t want to wait. All she needs is the perfect donor to make her dream come true. Then John Brown is hired at the resort. If anyone could make beautiful babies, it’s this gorgeous, mysterious man. So why does Tessa suddenly find herself wanting so much more?

Can you give up all your dreams for love?

It’s been three long years since John Brown had to leave his old life. Forced into the witness protection program, he’s desperate to be reunited with his toddler twins. When he gets that chance, there’s a catch-he must prove he’s got a steady job and a new wife. Landing a gig as a chef in Barefoot Bay is easy enough. And falling for lovely Tessa is even easier. The hard part? Can he win the heart of a woman who prizes honesty-when the truth may shatter it?


Chapter One

I suppose I could just walk up to a man and ask for sperm." Tessa picked up her bottle to punctuate the statement with a sip of cold beer, but froze midway as she took in the reaction around the booth. "Guys, that was a joke."

Her friends weren't laughing. Although the evening out at the local dive was supposed to be a business strategy session, the conversation had, of course, turned personal. After all, the four women might be partners in the Casa Blanca resort, but they were best friends long before that, and no topic was off limits. Not even this one.

"No harm in asking." Next to Tessa, Jocelyn leaned in to make her point over the din of the Toasted Pelican crowd. "They love to give that stuff away."

"Absolutely," Lacey agreed from across the table, her topaz eyes lit with enthusiasm instead of humor. "Knowing your donor takes all the guesswork out of it. What you see is what you get, unlike anonymous sperm."

"Sperrrrrm." Zoe made a disgusted face, her gaze drifting over the action in the bar. "Couldn't man's life force have a more inviting name? You know, like chocolate or Cabernet?"

"Baby juice?" Jocelyn suggested.

"Liquid gold," Lacey added.

"Nature's protein smoothie," Tessa said dryly.

That made Zoe laugh, but she didn't take her eyes off the crowd. "Says the organic girl."

Tessa waved her beer bottle to prove that she could have plenty of lapses in clean living and to move the conversation along to a more comfortable subject.

"We have bigger issues than my baby needs," she said, looking down at the paper Lacey had printed for them to read, the last line of the brutal review jumping off the page. "Did she really have to call the dining room 'as lively as a morgue'?"

Lacey sighed and pointed to the printout. "We can weather one bitter blogger."

"The Vixen of Vacation Vows is not one bitter blogger," Jocelyn said. "Vix is the bitter blogger, with thousands of hits a month. No one plans a destination wedding without checking her snark-fest—er, I mean reviews."

And what would those potential guests see when they searched Casa Blanca on Barefoot Bay? The words were still fresh in Tessa's mind. This sweet homegrown resort might conjure up images of Bogie and Bergman, but brides will be lost in a desert of disaster.

The review had made them all a little sick and scared. Especially Lacey, who slumped her chin into her palm. "If we don't hire a chef and start getting some positive buzz for Casa Blanca, the resort we spent the last two years of our lives building will never get in the black."

"How long until those wedding consultants can come for a preview?" Tessa asked.

Lacey lifted her head and gave a slow smile. "Eight months until the wedding consultants can get us on their schedule, and by then you can be good and pregnant."

"Or we can be good and out of business."

Lacey closed her eyes at the punch that had to hit her, the resort owner, even harder than the rest of them, who'd just invested and worked there.

Jocelyn waved off Lacey's blues. "Look, with the right chef, a few great events, and some powerful Internet reviews, this winter will have snowbirds flocking to Casa Blanca. When the wedding planners come next summer, we'll be ready to knock their socks off."

She paused long enough for the four of them to share a silent "We hope."

"But your baby dreams are as important as our resort dreams, Tess," Lacey continued. "It took you months to scour all those applications to find a surrogate who meets your exacting standards. What if she gets scooped up by someone else?"

"I hope she doesn't. I've put a deposit down and the clinic has scheduled a house visit and interview. Once they do the psych evaluation…" She paused, knowing that was where the process had fallen apart once before with her ex-husband, and it was the reason she'd never tried again. "I'll meet her and make a final decision. Obviously, I want the perfect surrogate mother as much as I want the perfect sperm donor."

"No one's perfect," Lacey shot back.

"You know what I mean." But did they know? None of these women had any idea how gut-wrenching and grueling infertility had been. "And the baby won't be perfect because these are my eggs, which I harvested already." Defensiveness lifted Tessa's voice as she raised her beer bottle. "Or else I wouldn't be drinking this."

"But you need to line up a donor," Lacey insisted.

"I'm thinking about that. I keep reading these horror stories about donors who lie or have six hundred kids running around and—"

"Didn't I tell you to stay off the Internet on this subject?" Lacey asked.

Tessa ignored the comment and took a sip of beer. "I just haven't made a decision how to handle that when it comes test-tube time."

"Ugh, test tubes are so clinical." Jocelyn groaned. "I still think you should try the old-fashioned way."

Of course they'd all think she should. Her best friends were falling in bed every night with the men they loved. Lacey had a baby, and Zoe's was due in five months. No doubt Jocelyn would be next.

"I tried the old-fashioned way for ten years with my ex-husband." Tessa fought to keep any bitterness out of her tone but might have failed. "And now he's the father of two kids, and I'm…" Alone. "Obviously not capable of getting pregnant by traditional methods."

"But Joss is right," Lacey insisted. "Maybe your infertility was Billy's fault."

Tessa angled her head and gave a "Get real" look. "Tell that to his children. Both of them."

"I'm only saying maybe you should try the traditional way," Jocelyn said. "There is such a thing as being inhospitable to certain sperm. It's an acid and pH-balance thing."

"I know all that." Tessa halted the conversation with a flat hand. "Billy and I were experts on the subject of fertility." Or futility, as he sarcastically called it. "I think the conversation was the only thing that kept us together so long. Once we gave up trying, our marriage fell apart."

Zoe pulled her gaze from the bar to give a cynical choke. "Yeah, 'cause it had nothing to do with him boning a twenty-two-year-old yoga instructor."

Well, there was that. Tessa studied the moon on her beer label but Jocelyn nudged her arm. "Tess, you need to make history, not change it."

"Ah, the life coach speaks."

"The life coach is correct," Lacey said. "When was the last time you had a date? Gave a guy a chance? When was the last time you even thought about getting intimate with a man instead of a test tube?"

"I'm going to assume that's a rhetorical question."

"How long?" they asked in unison.

"Obviously, I think about sex, since I have a pulse. But a date? No. Not since I found out Billy was doing more than the downward dog with a fertility goddess. So, three years at least."

They shared a suitably pitying look, further irritating Tessa. "Guys, we've been a little busy building a resort and I've started a functioning farmette from nothing."

"None of us has been too busy to fall in love," Jocelyn replied. "And, trust me, some of us did not have it on the to-do list."

Lacey leaned forward, tightening her grip on Tessa's hands. "She's right. Look at the three of us. We're living proof that love can happen when you least expect it."

Tessa looked to the ceiling and breathed a sigh, mining for patience. She didn't begrudge them their happiness, not one single bit. Since they'd met in college and especially since life and love had brought them all together in Barefoot Bay, these women had been sisters to Tessa. Their joy was her joy.

But staring all this love in the face every single day wasn't easy. And think if they did succeed in making Casa Blanca a premier destination-wedding resort. All the guests would be lovestruck, too. Oh, kill me now.

"We want you to be happy," Jocelyn said.

"And pregnant," Lacey added.

The din of Mimosa Key locals blowing off steam competed with an old Fleetwood Mac song on the jukebox, but none of it was loud enough to drown out Tessa's well-meaning friends. Or the truth.

"I don't believe the guy exists who could make me happy or pregnant," she finally admitted.

Lacey shook her head. "You don't know that. Someone amazing could be right around the corner."

"Someone amazing is right around the corner," Zoe whispered, pointing to the bar. "And I've been studying him for the last twenty minutes. Let me tell you, if that man right there can't make you happy or pregnant, then he can certainly make you scream for mercy. Probably a couple times a night."

Jocelyn swung out of the booth to peer into the crowd. "Whoa. Is that a scorpion tattooed on his neck?"

"Lovely." Tessa took a deep drink, refusing to look.

Lacey popped up to look over the back of their booth. "You mean that guy with the long hair and…damn. Those are some serious biceps. And triceps. And"—she squinted—"all ceps." She slowly dropped back into her seat. "Speaking of smokin'-hot bad-ass sex gods."

Tessa rolled her eyes again. "Excellent, since 'smokin'-hot bad-ass sex god' was at the top of my donor checklist."

Jocelyn took another look, and then turned back to face the booth, her eyes wide like she'd seen something unspeakable. "He certainly looks like he'd make a potent…protein smoothie."

Zoe's smile wavered. "And, oh wow, I think he's—"

"Enough," Tessa ordered. "I don't care if he looks like Channing Tatum's twin brother."

"He kinda does," Zoe said. "Only hotter. Is that even possible?"

They couldn't help it; they didn't know what it was like to be in her position. "Guys, I was kidding, okay? I'm not going to walk up to some guy and say—"

"You don't have to," Zoe said softly.

Tessa closed her eyes and raised her beer bottle in the air. "Hey, smokin'-hot bad-ass sex god with the long hair and deadly tattoos, can you fill 'er up with some of your potent liquid gold?"

Silence. Dead silence.

Tessa opened her eyes. She felt the presence more than saw it in her peripheral vision. Something smokin' hot, bad ass, and—

"Liquid Gold? Is that a local brew?"

Oh, man. Sex god was really kind of an understatement.


In Ian's experience, they didn't usually keep the best-looking one hidden like this. Normally, females used the real beauties as bait. But this girl hadn't even gone out of her way to check him out. And that made the sweet-faced beer drinker begging for action even more appealing.

The blonde who'd been staring at him for the last ten minutes wasn't his type. The one with the wild red curls sported a shiny gold wedding band, and the other one was a little too conservative for his tastes.

But the hottie tucked into the corner was just right, looking at him with wide eyes a shade darker than the amber beer bottle she slowly lowered to the table. She wore barely a hint of makeup, so Ian could see her creamy complexion deepen with a flush as they held eye contact for one heartbeat past casual.

"Beer's a good choice in a place like this," he said, rattling the ice in his rocks glass. "The scotch is watered-down piss."

Surprise flickered in her eyes. Because of the curse word, or had the pisswater been enough to bring out his accent? After all these years, he should know better than to slip and give away his British birth.

"What was that beer called again?" he asked.

"It was…a joke," she said, so softly he almost didn't hear her over the bar ruckus.

"Can I get you something else, then?"

"No, thanks. I'm…fine."

"You sure are."

The other three reacted instantly.

"We need to hit the ladies' room," one of the women said, sliding out to make room for him. "Coming, Zoe?"

The blonde scooted out, too. "We'll refresh the drinks." She turned to the redhead and gave a look with all the subtlety of a baseball bat. "Coming, Lacey?"

"Oh yeah." She nodded and gave an equally transparent raised eyebrow to the woman in the corner. "Hold the booth for us, Tessa. I'm sure we'll be a good long while."

Ian nodded his gratitude. "We'll guard it with our lives." He slid right into the vacated seat next to his doe-eyed target, trapping her in the corner and getting a whiff of something flowery and clean. "Tessa. Pretty. Short for something?"

Finally, she slid him a sideways look, long lashes tapering into the kind of distrustful gaze he'd been eliciting for a few years. If the tattoos, gym time, or total disregard for a haircut didn't scare them, the bike parked out front usually did.

"Just Tessa," she said as her friends disappeared into the bar, leaving laughter and chatter in their wake.

"Just Tessa," he repeated. Not to be funny, but because he'd want to remember the name tomorrow morning when he was rooting around the floor of her flat looking for his jeans. Apartment, dickhead, not flat.

"I'm John, by the way."

She hinted at a smile. "Hello, John Bytheway."

Cute. "John Brown."

"That sounds fake."

Because it is. "So tell me something about yourself, Tessa, other than the fact that you like"—he turned the beer bottle and read the label—"Belgian White Wheat Ale." Bloody Americans would buy anything they thought was from Europe.

"Blue Moon's my favorite…" She inched back. "Blue Moon," she said softly, her whole face lighting up in a way that took her from good-looking to gorgeous in the space of a second. "Maybe that's what Aunt Pasha meant."

"Who's Aunt Pasha?"

Her eyes twinkled with a secret. "A late, great fortune-teller."

He inched closer, letting his thigh press against hers and earning another sweet blush. "Did she see trouble in her crystal ball?"

"She saw…something."

"Whatever she saw, I hope it happens tonight." He gave her a slow once-over, enjoying a spark of electricity crackling between them as he admired her toned arms, freckle-dusted skin, and the alluring slope of small but appealing breasts under a simple white T-shirt. This one wasn't trying too hard to get attention, and he liked that. It reminded him of—

Don't go there.

"Are you staying in Mimosa Key?" she asked.

"At the moment." For the past month, since he had to tear-ass out of Singapore, he'd ridden around the state of Florida, finally finding his way over a bridge to this suitably out-of-the-way island. He'd checked in to the first motel he'd found and headed straight out the door for his numbing agents of choice: cheap scotch and a willing woman. He'd found one, and, with a little luck, was looking at the other. "You?"

"I live at the resort up the road in Barefoot Bay."

"You live on a resort?"

"I run the gardens."

That explained the sun-kissed skin and shapely shoulders.

"What do you do?" she asked.

"I don't run anything," he admitted. "I just run."

"From what?" She gave him a curious look and he cursed himself again. What was wrong with him tonight? The scotch mustn't be watered down enough.

Instead of answering, he stretched his hand around the back of the booth, letting his fingers graze her shoulder, getting a quick rise of chill bumps on her arm in response.

"You're pretty," he said, happy to note that this time his standard but woefully uncreative line was actually accurate. She was very pretty, in a simple, sweet, genuine way. Another thing that reminded him of—

"You didn't answer my question."

Because I'm still fucked up. "Because you're so pretty I forgot what you asked."

She looked skyward and fought a smile.

"What do you want to know, pretty Tessa?" Not that he'd tell her anything, ever.

"Why do you have a lethal insect tattooed on your neck?"

He angled his head to let her get a real good look, remembering the unspeakably dark night when he'd gotten the ink in some hellhole off Balestier Road.

"Do you have a death wish or something?" she prompted.

"Something." He slugged the rest of his scotch. "What about you?"

"Me?" She laughed softly, with a wry and ironic shake of her head. "Well, I don't wish for death."

He stole a look at her, lost for a second in the honesty in her eyes. Damn it, sometimes the small talk wasn't enough. Maybe this meaningless chatter was a necessary evil before getting a woman on her back, but for one brief instant, Ian ached for…more.

More information, more revelation, more than a quick screw to kill the pain for a very short while.

But John Brown couldn't have more. And Ian Browning best not forget that.

"Then what do you wish for?" he asked, the question proof that his mouth was ignoring the warnings in his head. Talk about sex, dumbshit. Not wishes.

"You want the truth?" She dropped her head back, her hair brushing his arm.

The truth was the last thing he wanted, or at least the last thing he was willing to give back. "Sure."

"The fact is, I'm wishing for a man."

Now we're talking. At least she had some common sense about what was going down here. He threaded his finger into her silky locks, gently turning her face toward his. "Looks like you found one."

"But I want something specific." In her eyes, he could see the flecks of gold—and a hell of a lot more. Goodness. Understanding. Truth. All things he could never reciprocate.

"Whatever floats your boat, Just Tessa. I can do slow and sweet or hard and fast." Her eyes flashed a little. "You can tie me up or take me down."

Another flash, this one more than surprised. Maybe she wasn't quite that adventurous.

"I'm yours for the night," he finished, coming closer.

He let his lips brush hers, tasting a hint of the ale and something warm and hopeful. Too bad, but he wasn't her hope, not by a long shot.

By the time she figured that out, he'd be long gone.

Chapter Two

Tessa closed her eyes and opened her mouth, certain the silken flick of this alluring stranger's tongue would shock some sense into her. His scotch-flavored kiss shocked a whole lot of things, but sense wasn't one of them.

Unless sense resided way, way low in her belly and whipped through her with a snap, crackle, and pop of arousal.

"Wanna get out of here?" he murmured.

She backed up to respond, maybe slow this train down, but he came with her, refusing to let their lips separate. Sense was derailed again.

"Or will your friends have me arrested?" he asked into the next kiss.

"Hard to say." The way they'd been talking, the girls were likely to shove Tessa into his car and say "Call us in the morning" instead of rescuing her from doing something really impulsive and stupid and…and…

His tongue trailed the roof of her mouth, sending an avalanche of chills down her spine.


He finally drew away, still so close that she couldn't focus on anything but the silvery blue of his eyes, the irises rimmed in a smoky charcoal, all fringed with thick black lashes that brushed together as he squinted at her. "I'd prefer they didn't have me arrested."

"I'd prefer not to take off with an ax murderer."

He twirled her hair around one finger, thumbing the nape of her neck with a maddeningly light touch. "I'm not an ax murderer." Though deep and rumbly, his voice had a strange flatness to it when he said that. "I'm a guy passing through town and you just admitted you're looking for a man."

She had, hadn't she?

"Not exactly a man…" She said vaguely, her brain finally engaging into something close to functional since the moment he'd approached the table and decomposed her gray matter.

"Then what exactly?"

"More like the essence of a man."

He lifted a brow and fought an amused smile. "What the hell is essence?"

Liquid gold. She tried to scoot back, but she hit the wall and he didn't give an inch.

"Can you do complicated?" she asked.

"No." Still holding her head with fingers tunneled into her hair, he took her chin in his other hand and turned her face away from him, leaning so close his lips grazed her ear. "You want me to tell you what I can do?"

She quivered at the warmth of his breath and the heat of his tone. She managed the slightest nod because, yes, please, every nerve in her body tingled in anticipation of what he could do.

"I can kiss you until you can't even remember your name…or mine."

John Brown. She couldn't forget that.

"And…" He dragged a fingertip under her chin and down her throat, a single stroke of fire, stopping right at the dip between her collarbones. With his thumb, he flicked at the neckline of her T-shirt. "I can strip you out of this top without ever taking my tongue out of your mouth."

That was…a good trick. Yep. She'd like to see that.

"And I could…" His finger dropped a few inches, settling on her breastbone. "I could lick a tattoo right across this sweet, sweet skin." He flicked her earlobe in case she hadn't figured out just how talented a tongue he had.

"And I could…" He took a quick pass right over her nipple with one fingertip, making her suck in a surprised breath as she budded like an acorn, her breasts already aching and heavy with need. "Suck on these tasty rosebuds until you melted like chocolate in the sun."

"Mmmm." She closed her eyes. "I like chocolate." And rosebuds. And this. She really liked this.

"Then we'll get some for you. You can eat it off my…body."

Silently, she closed her eyes and dug for composure, coming up with nothing but a helpless shudder.

He blew more warm breath into her ear. "Want to know what else I can do?"

"I'm actually…no, well, yeah. Okay."

He laughed softly. "How 'bout I show instead of tell you?"

The suggestion vibrated through her, tightening every muscle in her body, especially the ones between her legs. She tipped her head to get a look at his smoky eyes, the dark shadows of an unshaved face, the perfect bow of lips she'd already sampled and wanted to taste some more. "You better tell me first."

"Show." He closed in for a ferocious kiss, wild and hot, his tongue sliding right into her mouth as his finger continued straight down her body, between her breasts, over her stomach, and stopped right at the snap of her jeans.

"Um, we're in a bar," she murmured into his mouth.

"That can be changed."

Sense. Common freaking sense disappeared at the sight of him. Was this the desperate act of a woman craving sex so badly that she could have it in a bar booth…or was he so unspeakably attractive that she'd let him…


Was that the sound of her jeans or the last shreds of her dignity? "I think we should…take a breather here." She backed into the wall and he put his hand on her thigh.

"I'm breathing fine." He scooted his hand a little farther between her legs. And, God help her, she didn't push it away. Even though all she wanted was a sperm donor.

Right? Yes…and no. She wanted the sperm, but she also wanted a man. This man. She closed her eyes and tried to take a steadying breath, putting her hand on his but not exactly moving him off the thigh real estate. Damn, girl, talk about giving mixed messages.

She cleared her throat. "Like I said, it's complicated."

"Doesn't have to be."


  • "Plenty of heat, humor, and heart!"
    --- USA Today's Happy Ever After blog on Barefoot in the Sand
  • "Pack this one in your beach bag and get ready for nonstop fun."
    --- Susan Mallery, New York Times bestselling author, on Barefoot in the Sand
  • "St. Claire writes books that keep the reader engrossed in the story form cover to cover."
    --- Booklist
  • "St. Claire, as always, brings a scorching tear-up-the-sheets romance combined with a great story: dealing with real issues starring memorable characters in vivid scenes. Best of all, since this is book one in the Barefoot Bay series, there's more to come." (on Barefoot in the Sand)

RT Book Reviews

On Sale
Oct 29, 2013
Page Count
448 pages

Roxanne St. Claire

About the Author

Roxanne St. Claire is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than fifty novels of suspense and romance, including many popular series such as the Dogfather, Barefoot Bay, the Guardian Angelinos, and the Bullet Catchers. She has also penned numerous standalone books and two young adult novels.
In addition to being a ten-time nominee and one-time winner of Romance Writers of America prestigious RITA Award, Roxanne has won the National Reader's Choice Award for best romantic suspense four times, as well as the Daphne du Maurier Award, the HOLT Medallion, the Maggie, Booksellers Best, Book Buyers Best, the Award of Excellence, and many others. Her books have been translated into dozens of languages and one has been optioned for film.
Roxanne lives in Florida with her husband and adorable dog, and still tries to run the lives of her twenty-something kids.

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