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When “Life Coach to the Stars” Jocelyn Bloom is embroiled in scandal, the only place she can hide is the one place she wishes she could forget. She left Barefoot Bay-and the boy next door who knew all her secrets-years ago. Now nothing about the tiny island off the coast of Florida is quite how she remembers it, especially Will Palmer. He’s even more gorgeous and tempting . . . and still capable of turning her world inside out.
But what if someone is waiting for you?
To Will Palmer, Guy Bloom is more than the elderly, senile neighbor he looks after-he’s the last connection to Jocelyn, the woman Will loved and lost. But the reunion with Jocelyn doesn’t go smoothly. Shocked by the change in her father’s personality, Jocelyn struggles to reconcile her dark childhood with the sweet, confused man who has grown close to Will. Jocelyn has guided countless clients to happiness-but can she escape the rainy days of her past for a new sunny future with Will?
Table of Contents
A Preview of Barefoot in the Sun
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Fifteen Years Later
The situation had gone way past dire.
Will stood in the living room of his next-door neighbor's house and surveyed the mess, the low, dull throbbing that had pounded at the base of his skull since he'd stopped by at lunchtime rapidly escalating into a screaming mother humper of a headache.
Son of a bitch, it was like a pack of wild dogs lived here instead of one confused, pathetic, and forgotten old man who couldn't remember his own name.
But he knew Will's name and used it often, in that shaky, feeble voice that threaded down the hall right now.
"William, is that you?"
"It's me, Guy." On a sigh that shuddered through his whole body, Will stepped over a pile of magazines that had been torn into a million pieces—the new scrapbooking project, no doubt—and picked up a basket of yarn with threads and spools stuffed inside. He put it on a table next to the remnants of the sandwich Will had made Guy for lunch, then headed down the hall.
"I decided to clean out this old closet," Guy called from one of the extra bedrooms.
This couldn't be good.
Shit. Clothes were strewn everywhere: men's suit jackets, women's dresses, kids' shorts, and a small mountain of worn shoes. Where the hell did he get all this crap? His wife had been dead ten years now. Hadn't he cleaned out anything?
"Guy, what are you doing?" Will fought to keep any anger out of his tone. If he so much as raised his voice by one decibel, Guy cried like a baby, and that ripped Will's heart into pieces.
"I saw a show called Clean House and got this idea." Guy stood in a walk-in closet holding a pile of what looked to be old blue jeans. His glasses were crooked, his white hair tufted and messy, his blue knit pullover stained from something red. Punch or Red Zinger tea, probably.
He'd made tea? "Did you remember to turn the stove off?"
"I might have. I was really enjoying this show on that decorating channel. Big black woman gettin' all in your face about cleaning up stuff." He grinned, his lemony teeth a testament to years of stinking up the local sheriff's office with the stench of Marlboros. And yet he lived while his wife had been the one buried by cancer. And his daughter…
Will pushed that thought out of his head.
"I think she was named Nicey. Smart lady."
Will just stared at him. "Who are you talking about?
"The lady on TV," Guy said. "She says the secret to happiness is a clean house."
Will glanced around at the piles of crap. "Looks like you're a long way from happiness in this house."
"That's the thing, Will! That's the thing about the show. This crew comes in and takes your house apart, sells your stuff in a yard sale, and cleans it so everything is perfect."
"Everything was perfect," Will said, picking up a bright-yellow dress sized for a young girl. Had he ever even seen Jocelyn in this dress? "Why do you still have this stuff?"
Guy gave him his blankest stare, and God knew he had a shitload of different blank stares. "I don't know, son."
Will had long ago stopped trying to convince the old man that was a misnomer. "C'mon, bud. Let's make you some dinner and get you situated for the night."
But Guy didn't move, just kept looking into the closet wistfully. "Funny, I couldn't find any of your old clothes. Just girl stuff. Your mother must have thrown them out before she died."
His mother had moved to Bend, Oregon, with his dad. "Yeah, she must have," he agreed.
"Do you think they'd come here, Will?"
"The Clean House people. They say if you want to be on the show, you just have to call them and tell them you want a clean house." He dragged out the words, mimicking an announcer. "Would you do that for me?"
"I'll look into it," he said vaguely, reaching to guide Guy away from the mess. "How 'bout I heat up that leftover spaghetti for you?"
"Will you call them?"
"Like I said—"
"Will you?" Eyes the steel gray of a cloudy sky narrowed behind crooked glasses on a bulbous nose.
"Why is it so important?"
"Because." Guy let out a long, sad sigh. "It's like starting over, and when I look through this stuff it just… makes me feel sad."
"Some memories do that," he said.
"Oh, William, I don't have any memories. I don't know what half this stuff is." He picked up a rose-patterned sweater that Will remembered seeing Mary Jo Bloom wear many years ago. "It all just reminds me that I don't remember. I want a fresh start. A clean house."
"I understand." He managed to get Guy down the hall with a gentle nudge.
As he sat down in his favorite recliner, Guy reached for Will's hand. "You'll call those people."
In the fridge Will found the Tupperware container of spaghetti, but his mind went back to the yellow dress upstairs.
The thought of Jocelyn pulled at his heart, making him twist the burner knob too hard. He dumped the lump of cold noodles into a pan, splattering the Ragu on his T-shirt.
"Where's the clicker?" Guy called, panic making his voice rise. "I can't find the clicker, William! What did you do with it?"
Will pulled open the dishwasher and rolled out the top rack, spying the remote instantly. At least it wasn't at the bottom of the trash, like last week.
"I've got it." He checked the pan of noodles and took the remote out to Guy, who'd given up and turned on the TV manually, stabbing at the volume button so the strains of Entertainment Tonight blared through the living room.
Again with the crap TV? Alzheimer's didn't just rob him of his memories, it changed every aspect of his personality. The bastard county sheriff had turned into a little old lady obsessed with celebrities and home crafts.
Will gently set the remote on Guy's armrest, getting a grateful smile and a pat on his hand.
"You're a good son, Will." Guy thumbed up the volume and the announcer's voice shook the speaker.
"… with more on this shocking breakup of Hollywood's happiest couple."
God help him, couldn't they watch ESPN for just one lousy dinner? But the trash TV blared with an excited announcer's voice, hammering at his headache.
"TMZ has identified the 'other woman' in the stunning divorce of Miles Thayer and Coco Kirkman as a life coach by the name of Jocelyn Bloom."
Will froze, then spun around to see the TV, with a "What the hell?" of disbelief trapped in his throat.
"Known as a 'life coach to the stars,' Jocelyn Bloom has been working for Coco Kirkman for over a year, giving her daily access and, evidently, much more, to Coco's movie-star husband, Miles Thayer."
Will just stared, blinked, then took a step closer. The picture was grainy, taken by a powerful lens at a long distance, but not blurry enough to cast any doubt that he was looking at the woman he'd been thinking about a few seconds ago. Ebony hair pulled tight off her delicate features, giant dark eyes, narrow shoulders taut and stiff.
Jocelyn broke up a marriage?
"TMZ has published a series of texts sent between Jocelyn Bloom and Miles Thayer," the announcer continued, his voice full of barely restrained joy. "The most salacious texts detailed sexual acts—"
Will lurched toward the chair, grabbing the remote to thumb the Mute button.
Guy looked stunned. "That's the good part!"
Will opened his mouth to argue, but a change in the screen snagged his attention. This shot was closer and clearer and, holy shit, she looked good. Better than ever, in fact. "You know who they're talking about?" he asked Guy.
"Some movie stars. Who cares? I like that stuff."
"Some movie stars and…" Your daughter. "No one you recognized?"
Guy snorted. "I don't know those people's names, Will. I barely know my own. What does salacious mean, anyway?" He tried to get the remote.
"It means…" Things he didn't want to think about Jocelyn doing with anyone. "Sexy."
"I can take the dirty stuff, pal. I'm too old for it to have any effect." Guy managed to grab the remote and get the sound right back. Unable to help himself, Will turned back to the TV.
"Jocelyn Bloom has yet to talk to the media," the reporter said. "Or issue a statement to deny the accusations. Right now all we know about this woman is that she is a certified life coach and counts Coco Kirkman among a long list of wealthy and well-known clients."
Will looked hard at Guy once more, but the older man just stared at the TV without so much as a flicker of recognition.
"What the hell's a life coach, anyway?" Guy asked with a soft harrumph. "Sounds like an excuse to pick rich people's pockets and bust up their marriages." He punched up the volume.
Was that who Jocelyn Bloom had become?
"According to an attorney for Coco Kirkman, Ms. Bloom has been a close confidante for well over a year, and during that time, she has been frequently an overnight guest of the couple."
Will's stomach tightened as he forced himself to leave the room.
"Fuck!" Smoke and the smell of charred food filled the kitchen, and he lunged for the pot handle to slide the scorched spaghetti off the burner. "God damn it all!"
As he shook his hand more out of sheer rage than any real pain, a string of new curses fell from his lips. Pulling it together, he stirred the spaghetti and folded the bits of black into the noodles. Guy'd never notice a burned dinner. Hell, Guy would probably never notice dinner.
Forcing the image of a girl he once loved out of his head, Will put the food on a plate and carried it into the living room, where, thank Christ, Guy had switched to a game show.
"Where's yours?" Guy asked as he straightened his chair so he could reach the TV table. "Come and spin the wheel of fortune with me."
When Will had returned to Mimosa Key, he'd tried to hate the old coot, he really had. But over time, well, shit, how can you hate a guy who had no memory of what a nasty prick he'd ever been? The worst thing Guy Bloom did now was start and never finish a shit-ton of craft projects.
"Not tonight, Guy. I have some work to do."
"You worked all day." There was a tinge of sadness in his voice, enough to tweak Will's guilt. Guy was lonely, plain and simple, and Will was all he had.
"Just have to check my e-mail and pay some bills." Because who else was going to pay Guy's bills? He glanced at the TV, his mind's eye still seeing Jocelyn's beautiful features instead of an aging game-show hostess prancing across the screen.
"I'll check on you later, Guy." Meaning he'd be sure the old man got in bed and had a light on and didn't mistake his own reflection for a burglar.
Before Guy could ask him to stay, Will slipped out, crossing the patio and the small lawn that separated the houses. Inside, he dropped into a kitchen chair and stared at the pile of Guy's mail. Doctors' bills, insurance bills, pharmacy bills, and more doctors' bills. All to keep Guy relatively stable. A losing battle, on every front.
And the cost of private nursing? Astronomical.
Will knew exactly how much money Guy had; he wrote out the checks every month. The account just got smaller and smaller. Stabbing his hair, he blew out a breath, imagining just how much money Jocelyn charged as a life coach. How much she'd get for selling her story about sex with Miles Thayer to some tabloid.
Didn't matter. As far as anyone knew, Jocelyn had been home exactly three times in fifteen years after… that night. He'd heard she came home for her mother's funeral almost ten years ago and once, about a year ago, after the hurricane wiped out Barefoot Bay, Will had seen her at a Mimosa Key town council meeting. But the minute she'd laid eyes on him she disappeared again. And although he wasn't there, he'd heard she'd made it to Lacey and Clay Walker's beach wedding.
Now she lived in another world, three thousand miles away, breaking up movie-star marriages. Funny, he was the one who was supposed to have become rich and famous, while she'd wanted to live in a comfy house in the country, if he recalled her childhood dreams correctly.
Fifteen years and a lot of water had passed under that burned bridge. And he couldn't exactly blame her. Or call her for help. Or even, as much as he tried, forget her.
And God knows he'd tried.
Jocelyn did everything she could to get comfortable, but it just wasn't going to happen on a cross-country flight. She shifted in the plane seat, her back and bottom numb, her head on fire from the itchy wig, her hand throbbing from filling three notebooks for a grand total of… too many lists to count.
The lists gave her some measure of peace, but not much. Each had a title and a theme, a strategy with potential action items, and those all had priority ratings, a deadline, and, of course, her very favorite form of punctuation: the check mark.
So far, only one action item was checked, although it was more of a survival technique than anything strategic: Get out of L.A. and hide.
Nor was her destination exactly her first choice on a list of possible hiding places, but all her wealthy friends and clients—owners of multiple chalets in Aspen and getaways in Italy—had been conveniently unavailable. No surprise, really.
But Lacey had come through, of course, as the truest of true friends. When she'd suggested that Jocelyn take refuge at Casa Blanca, Lacey's partially built resort in Barefoot Bay, there'd been no hesitation. Jocelyn needed sanctuary from this personal storm, a place to avoid the media and figure out just where to take her life from here.
Funny that such a decision had to be made on the island of Mimosa Key, but beggars and homewreckers couldn't afford to be choosy.
Except that Jocelyn was neither.
Two seats away, a young woman skimmed the pages of People magazine, blind to the fact that the "other woman" in Miles Thayer's broken marriage was sitting a foot away, sipping water and wishing it was something stronger.
Jocelyn stole a few glances at the pages as she closed her notebooks and tucked them into her bag, narrowing her eyes at the image of Coco Kirkman on the cover of the magazine.
That defenseless shadow in her eyes had served her well in front of the camera, making her an empathetic character no matter who she played. That vulnerability had attracted Jocelyn, too, reminding her of another woman who needed a little help developing a spine. Coco was a young, talented, still-fixable version of Mary Jo Bloom, but, once again, Jocelyn had failed to make that fix.
Leaning against the glass, Jocelyn peered down at the swampy Everglades of Florida's southwest coast, the lush, tropical wetlands so different from what was now her home state. California was brown most of the year, horribly overpopulated and packed with people who thought they were rare birds, not real rare birds.
But this? This little corner on the Gulf of Mexico was home. A shitty home full of heartaches and bad memories, but it was home. And if her dear friend from college hadn't also lived on this island, she'd never, ever have come back here again.
And that might be sad, because Mimosa Key, for all its dark memories, was a pretty place. Especially Barefoot Bay. The picturesque inlet on the north end if the island was far away enough from those memories that Jocelyn could feel safe and secure. Relatively.
As the plane came to a stop and the deboarding announcements were made, the woman flipped the magazine onto the empty seat between them. "Feel free to take it," she said to Jocelyn, giving her a quick look.
For a moment, Jocelyn tensed, expecting shocked recognition. Oh my God, you're the chick who had an affair with Miles Thayer!
But there was only a cool smile, and Jocelyn's gaze dropped to the blaring, glaring lies across the cover.
Coco Is Crushed! Sexy Life Coach Steals an American Angel's Husband!
"No, thanks," Jocelyn replied, turning away.
At the medley of snapping seat belts and clattering overhead bins, Jocelyn tugged the long blonde wig and adjusted her sunglasses, not caring that the sun had already set here on the East Coast. If she could fit a hat over the stupid wig, she'd have worn that, too.
The regional airport was small, and she spotted Lacey and Tessa right past Security, standing close and peering over heads to find her. Lacey looked as radiant as she had the day Casa Blanca's groundbreaking ceremony had turned into her impromptu wedding to Clay Walker. Her reddish-blond curls framed her freckled face, a slight frown pulling as she scanned the crowd.
Next to her, Tessa looked relaxed if not radiant, tanned from hours in the gardens, toned from her uber-healthy lifestyle. Her deep brown eyes passed right over Jocelyn.
Only when Jocelyn dragged her carry-on in front of them and slowly raised her glasses did they gasp with recognition.
"Oh my God," Tessa said.
Jocelyn put her hand over Lacey's mouth. "Shhh. Let's cut out of here, stat."
"I didn't even recognize you." Tessa reached for a strand of wig hair, but Jocelyn ducked.
"Exactly. C'mon, move it."
Lacey put her arm around Jocelyn and Tessa grabbed the rolling bag, both of them flanking her like bodyguards.
"There are no paparazzi in the airport," Lacey assured her, moving so slowly that Jocelyn wanted to scream. "And certainly none in Mimosa Key."
"Which is why I'm here," Jocelyn said. "We can skip Baggage. I've got everything here. Let's go."
"Can't." Tessa moved even more slowly, nudging them all away from the exit.
"Must," Jocelyn shot back. "I gotta get this wig off."
"Over here," Lacey said. "She's already landed."
"Who's already landed?" The airport wasn't that big, but it felt like she was crossing the Sahara from one gate to the next.
"You really think Zoe Tamarin could stand for the three of us to be together and not get in on it?" Tessa asked, her expression changing as she pointed to more people deplaning a few gates away. "There she is. Spent a fortune she doesn't have to fly direct from Phoenix and time her arrival with yours."
Instantly Jocelyn spotted Zoe, with her wild blonde waves and sunny smile, weaving through the crowd, waving madly. As much as Jocelyn feared Zoe would suddenly scream her name, the fact that the four of them were together sent a shudder of sheer joy through her. She'd pay Zoe for the plane ticket, and it would be well worth the cost.
"Woo-hoo! I made it!" Zoe practically danced through the crowds, her jade green eyes sparkling as she locked on Tessa and Lacey. Thankfully, she didn't even notice or recognize Jocelyn.
Lacey moved ahead, reaching Zoe first, hugging her and whispering in her ear. Instantly, Zoe's head popped up and she zeroed in on Jocelyn.
She stared, raised one eyebrow, then just shook her head as she approached Jocelyn and Tessa. Reaching out for a hug, she folded Jocelyn in her arms.
"That wig is so fake I can't even joke about it," she murmured in Jocelyn's ear.
"But you will." She hugged her friend. "Thanks, Zoe. I'm glad you're here."
Zoe fluffed some strands of Jocelyn's wig and rolled her eyes. "As if I'd miss this." She turned her attention to Tessa; once again there was a shower of squeals and hugs. "I'm glad you called me," Zoe said to Tessa, wrapping them all into a group hug. "We come together when there's trouble, right? That's what we did for Lace after the shit storm. Now that's what we do for you… during the shit storm." She leaned in and whispered, "Seriously, Miles Thayer, Joss? He's so not your type."
Jocelyn just closed her eyes. "For the love of God, can we please get in the car so I can get this thing off my head."
A man passed and took a long look at Jocelyn, making her cringe and drag the sunglasses down for coverage. "Did you see him stare at me?"
"That's how all men look at blondes," Zoe assured her, linking arms and nudging Jocelyn forward. "Especially fake ones."
Jocelyn kept the sunglasses on until they were in Lacey's car. Then she ripped off the wig and scratched her scalp, yanking at the clip that held her long hair in a tight knot. "Oh my God, that feels good."
Lacey grinned into the rearview mirror. "There's our Joss again."
"Give me this thing." Next to her, Tessa snagged the wig. "You don't need this here, okay? No reporters, no paparazzi, no one to hide from."
Well, there was at least one person to hide from. "Depends. Where did you decide I'm staying, Lace?" Last year when she'd come to help Lacey rebuild her life, she'd stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Naples and while her friends didn't exactly understand her adamant decision not to go to certain parts of Mimosa Key, they'd abided by it. She couldn't do that now; the media would be all over her in a hotel that public.
"Zoe's staying with me in the house I rent in Pleasure Pointe," Tessa said.
Too close for comfort. "I'm not staying there," Jocelyn replied quickly.
"We know," Lacey assured her. "You're staying in Barefoot Bay."
"So speaketh the former dormitory resident adviser and elder statesmen of the group," Zoe said.
"Two years. Not that elder," Lacey shot back.
"One year married to the younger man and she's a teenager again. All right, woman." Zoe turned in the passenger seat to face Jocelyn in the back. "Dish."
Where she was staying was an easy topic compared to this one. They'd want the truth, and it would be tricky. But she was ready. "There's nothing to dish."
Again, Zoe gave a signature eye roll. "Come on, Joss. Miles Thayer? He's like the hottest human on earth. I want gory details, including size, stamina, and any kinky shit."
"Zoe," the other two said.
But Jocelyn just shook her head. "All right, ladies. Listen to me. I'm going to say this once and once only. I did not sleep with Miles Thayer. I barely speak to Miles Thayer, and when I do, there's not the remotest molecule of affection or attraction between us. I hate Miles Thayer and, if you want to know the truth, so does Coco Kirkman."
They all just stared at her.
"Why?" Tessa asked.
"I'm not going to say," Jocelyn said, her voice taut. "And if I can't count on you three not to believe the crap in the tabloids, then turn around and take me back to the airport. I'll hide somewhere else."
Tessa put her hand on Jocelyn's arm. "You can count on us," she said. "You can also count on Zoe being crass and thinking exclusively about sex."
"There was no sex. Sorry to disappoint you, Zoe. And none of this leaves the car, got it?"
"I'm not disappointed," Zoe assured her. "I'm proud of you for resisting his hotness. But if there was no sex, really, why is Coco claiming you broke up her marriage?"
Jocelyn dropped back on the seat, letting out a long, slow breath. "It's complicated," she said, the vague tone getting a quick, suspicious look from Tessa. "But Coco wants out of the marriage and this… is her way."
"Her way?" Lacey's voice rose with incredulity. "Why not just file for divorce? It's Hollywood, for heaven's sake. Why throw it all on you?"
Because Coco's shoulders weren't strong enough to handle the repercussions. And this was the only way.
"She needs to put the blame on someone other than herself," Jocelyn said, conjuring up her best shrink-like tone.
"Okay, but that doesn't explain why you don't publicly deny every word," Tessa demanded.
"Really publicly," Zoe added. "Like a billboard on Sunset Boulevard." She boxed her hands as if she were reading the headline. "I Am not a Marriage-Wrecker."
"But I am a life coach," Jocelyn said. "And billboards on Sunset Boulevard are as fake and cheesy as the rest of that town. But with my job comes certain ethics about privacy. I know stuff."
"So she makes you her fall guy?" Tessa asked. "I don't get it."
And they wouldn't, until they understood what "stuff" Jocelyn knew. And if they knew that, then…
"Look, guys, I don't want to talk about it. I just need to breathe and think and hide."
Tessa snorted. "Which, knowing you, will make you batshit crazy in two days."
Jocelyn smiled at her, not denying the truth of that. But every single client had put her on hold—or fired her last week. "Anything for me to do at Casa Blanca?"
"The resort's barely built," Lacey said. "So unless you're handy with a hammer, you're going to have to work in the food gardens with Tess."
She held up her thumb. "Totally brown. Unless your plants need life management."
"You know, Joss," Lacey said. "I've been doing all this research on high-end resorts and some of the best ones offer life coaching to their clients. Do you think you could help me figure out how I can incorporate that into my menu of services?"
"I'd love to." She leaned forward and put a hand on Lacey's shoulders. "By the way, marriage really suits you, girl. You are quite literally glowing."
She laughed. "That's because when Clay kicks me out of the construction trailer, I get to 'research' spas and their treatments. Doesn't suck."
"Don't listen to her," Tessa said. "She's madly in love and it shows."
Lacey grinned. "He's awesome, as you guys know. How can I ever thank you all enough for talking me into the hot young architect?"
"Like we had to do a lot of convincing," Zoe said with a laugh.
All the way over the causeway and up to Barefoot Bay, they chattered about Lacey's first year of happy marriage, her challenges with a teenage daughter, and the resort they'd all invested in financially and emotionally.
For the first time in over a week, Jocelyn felt certain this trip had been a very good idea. Even when they passed Center Street and she glanced to the south and memories threatened, she ignored them.
There would be absolutely no reason to see her father while she was here, none at all. So she didn't bother to bring him up and, being the friends they were, neither did the girls.
How long would that last?
Something was different at Casa Blanca. Will could practically smell a change in the salty air of Barefoot Bay the minute he climbed out of his truck in front of the resort's construction trailer. The Gulf of Mexico was dead calm, the water a deep cobalt blue as the sun made its first appearance over the foliage along the eastern border of the resort's property line. The construction parking lot was empty, of course, and the structures stood silent in various degrees of completion.
- "St. Claire writes books that keep the reader engrossed in the story form cover to cover."—Booklist
"On the fast track to making her name a household one."
"Pack this one in your beach bag and get ready for nonstop fun."
- "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 30, 2012
- Page Count
- 448 pages