Thanks for hosting this Blast from the Past, Kim! Island House isn’t too far in the distant past—just a year—but that was six books and two anthologies ago for me, so it definitely counts. It was also my first novel, so it holds a pretty special place in my heart.
Blurb: Unable to move on after the death of his lover, British expat Niall Ahern clings to Nolan’s dream of living in the Caribbean by moving to Tortola. Once there, he finds that not even the beauty of the island can fill the hole in his heart. Broke and spent in nearly every way imaginable, Niall wants out of the lonely, miserable, guilt-ridden life he’s carved out for himself. When Ethan Bettencourt, a wealthy tech guru, shows up in British Virgin Islands looking to purchase a second home, he gives Niall hope that he can move on. Both men fall hard and fast, but Niall finds piloting his yacht in the midst of a hurricane is nothing compared to weathering life’s simple misunderstandings. As their troubles come between them, Niall is left to wonder if he and Ethan are over before they’ve begun.
Ethan ends up being exactly what Niall needs, but it takes quite a bit for him to realize that. Along the way, Niall comes to terms with his grief over the loss of his partner and finally gives himself permission to move on.
Niall’s journey in Island House sets the theme for the Dropping Anchor series. Each book follows a different person in Niall’s small group of friends as he grows and matures. For Niall, it’s forgiving himself and learning to love again. For Ian in Finding Home, it’s finally settling down and becoming a responsible adult. And for Frank in Playing House, which comes out Dec. 22, it’s a late diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder and how that affects his relationship with his husband—and their prospects of starting a family.
Island House Excerpt:
The voice belonged to a tall, dark-haired man who would have been handsome save for the stubble covering his face. The rugged two-day growth transformed his slightly sharp features into something dangerous, and paired with his slight tan and blue eyes, the end result was nothing short of breathtakingly gorgeous. Were it not for the faded button-down and pair of tattered Dockers the man was wearing, Niall would have sworn he was an 18th century pirate somehow transported to the modern day.
Niall didn’t realize he’d been staring, until Jacks cleared his throat and stepped forward, hand outstretched to welcome the visitor. Niall swallowed, his already heat-flushed cheeks burning with the beginnings of a blush. He hadn’t reacted to a man like this since—well, since ever. Niall’s only serious relationship had been with a man he’d known since childhood, and it definitely hadn’t started with a spark of lust like this. He felt a familiar pang of guilt at the thought of finding a man other than Nolan attractive, though Nolan had been gone for years.
“Sorry?” Niall asked when it became clear the would-be pirate was talking to him again.
“I asked if you were Niall Ahern,” the man said, blue eyes narrowed slightly as he studied Niall. “He said he’d be here to pick me up—”
“Mr. Bettencourt!” Niall felt his stomach drop. Ethan Bettencourt was one of the world’s most sought-after software developers and technology consultants. He wore Armani suits and custom-made Italian shoes, not ancient Dockers and flip-flops. But as Niall stared at him, he could see the full lips and aquiline nose that had made Ethan fodder for gossip magazines across the world. It was definitely him.
“I’m so sorry, sir,” Niall said, rushing forward. He wasn’t sure if he should shake his hand or offer to take his luggage, and as a result he did neither, hand raised awkwardly in front of him as his mind tried to catch up and figure out what to do.
Bettencourt solved Niall’s dilemma by shifting his bag to his other hand and reaching out to take Niall’s half-raised hand. “Call me Ethan.”
The contact had Niall cringing inside, the cool skin of Ethan’s hand making him even more aware of his own sweaty palm.
“Of course,” Niall said, cursing himself for being so flustered. He’d never had this problem before when greeting important clients. Of course, he’d never had an important client who was as gorgeous as Ethan, nor one who could keep Niall’s business afloat for another year with a single transaction.
“Welcome to the islan’, Ethan,” Jacks said, sliding back into his put-on accent and into an easy conversation with Ethan about his flight and the weather forecast for the next few days. It bought Niall enough time to marshal his thoughts, and he made a mental note to buy Jacks a beer the next time he saw him at The Cab, the tiny bar where most of the locals gathered to get away from tourists.
“My car is just outside,” Niall said, reaching out with more grace this time to take Ethan’s bag. Ethan let him, his full lips quirking into a small smile that had Niall’s heart racing again. “I thought you might like a chance to settle in at the hotel. If you like, I can leave you with some of the information on the listings we’ll be looking at tomorrow.”
Ethan’s eyes narrowed slightly, and he dug in his pocket, pulling out a Blackberry that looked like it had been through a war zone. The screen was scuffed and the back was covered with scrapes and deep scratches. It was more suited to a rock climber or beach bum than a man who’d made his fortune in technology. Before Niall could say anything, Ethan had dialed and was pressing the phone against his ear, his tanned knuckles skimming his jaw.
“Explain to me why Mr. Ahern has no idea I’m staying with him for the duration of my trip to Tortola,” he barked into the phone without preamble, startling Niall with both the tone of his voice and the unexpected information.
Niall’s brow creased, his brain registering Ethan’s words as the other man lapsed into silence, apparently listening to whoever was on the other end of the phone. He’d had his office manager, Keandra, handle all the arrangements for Ethan’s visit. Niall had assumed she’d gotten Ethan a suite at Frenchman’s Lookout. It was standard operating procedure with their high-end clients, even though accommodations at the pricey resort cost Niall more than double his monthly mortgage on his boat and the office combined. The hotel gave him a bit of a discount, since he was a local, but still, it was a shock every time the bill came. Regardless, it was worth it. Even if he spent upward of $10,000 wining and dining a single client for a week.
“… absolutely not. I’ll fly back if that’s the case.”
Niall’s head flicked up at the finality in Ethan’s tone. He was obviously not happy with whatever the person on the other end of the battered cell phone was telling him. Niall swallowed, mentally inventorying the state of his house. He hadn’t been home in weeks, as per his usual September routine. It was the one month out of the year Niall decamped to his boat and lived on it full-time. His quick trip home to change into the suit he was wearing had been the first time he’d been in the bungalow since the beginning of the month. Niall made a quick mental study of the rooms, trying to picture whether he’d seen laundry strewn around the bathroom or plates cluttering the kitchen. He didn’t think there had been.
Niall wondered if he should pull out his own phone and call Keandra, but it was her afternoon off. He hated to bother her when she was out with her son. Between her job as Niall’s office manager and working second shift at The Cab, she didn’t have much time with Sebastian. He was brushing the top of his pocket to delve inside for his cell when Ethan made a disgusted noise and stabbed at a button on his phone, glaring at it for good measure before tossing it haphazardly on top of the suitcase he’d set on the terminal floor. No mystery to why it was so banged up, then, Niall thought absently as Ethan swung his black gaze over to focus on him.
“Apparently there has been a miscommunication.” Ethan ground his teeth together, the motion making the tendons in his neck stand out in a way Niall knew should have been off-putting but wasn’t. “Susannah somehow overlooked the arrangements your secretary sent her along with the appointment confirmation.”
Niall wondered if Susannah would still have a job when her boss returned to the mainland; Ethan was infamous for his hair-trigger temper and his exacting standards. Niall had done a fair bit of research on Ethan when he’d taken him on as a client, and one thing that had come up time and again was Ethan’s penchant for dramatics.
Niall felt for the secretary. It couldn’t be easy to work for someone as demanding as Ethan Bettencourt. He was beginning to find that out firsthand, and he’d only been in his employ for several minutes.
“I only have thirty-six hours to find a home, Ahern, and I don’t intend to waste any of them lounging poolside at whatever passes for a resort here,” Ethan snapped. Niall stiffened his spine at the insult. Tortola was the gem of the British Virgin Islands, a place he and Nolan had handpicked out of dozens of potential islands when they’d been looking for a place to start a business. He opened his mouth to respond, but Ethan was off and running again before Niall could form any words. “I’ll be staying with you. If you have a problem with that, I’ll find someone else to work with.”
Niall’s lips flattened at the threat. There were plenty of other firms here Ethan could give his business to; Niall knew that all too well. His tiny independent real estate firm hardly caught any of the multimillion-dollar action, and the thought of losing such a big client made his skin turn clammy under the weight of his heavy suit. He was sure Ethan knew he couldn’t afford to lose the commission; in fact, he wouldn’t put it past him to have picked Niall’s firm simply because he knew Niall’s desperation would make him agree to just about anything.
“You’d be much more comfortable at a hotel.” Niall ground the words out, forcing himself to smile.
Ethan studied him for a second before patting his pockets in search of his phone. Niall was about to point it out on his suitcase when Ethan pulled a slimmer, sleeker phone out of his shirt pocket. It was much more in line with what Niall had expected a man like Ethan to carry.
“Change in plans.” Just like before, Ethan didn’t pause for the person on the other end to get a greeting in. “Refuel the plane and have it ready for me in ten minutes.”
Niall’s eyes widened and he stepped forward slightly, panicked. “I—”
“Joe? Never mind.”
Niall watched Ethan end the call, Ethan’s full lips twisted into a smirk. It made Niall wonder if Ethan really would have left. The calculating gleam in the other man’s eyes made him pretty certain it hadn’t been an empty threat.
“You be needin’ a car, Mr. Niall?” Jacks’s voice took Niall off guard, and he shook his head slightly. He’d driven to the airport, as he was sure Jacks well knew. The parking lot wasn’t very big, and Jacks would have seen the familiar battered Mercedes when he parked his cab.
“No, Jacks. We’ll be fine,” Niall said. His brain felt woolly and like it was trying to catch up. He’d been in a fog ever since Ethan had stepped into the terminal, and he needed to shake it off.
“Storm’s comin’,” Jacks said, picking up Ethan’s bag and walking toward the exit as if Niall hadn’t spoken. For a second, he wondered if he hadn’t actually said the words out loud, but then Ethan turned toward him and arched an eyebrow.
“Right.” Niall jogged a few paces to catch up with Ethan and Jacks, the wind outside drawing his attention for the first time. It had kicked up considerably since he’d arrived at the airport. The tall palms were thrashing from side to side and the sky was an ominous shade of dark gray.
“Didn’t think Sookie was supposed to make landfall here,” Niall said, squinting at the clouds that seemed to be hovering unusually low.
“That’s Thalia.” Ethan shrugged when both Jacks and Niall looked surprised to hear him weigh in. “Sookie fell apart, but Thalia was right behind it. Looks like we won’t get so lucky with her.”
God, he hoped the storm didn’t actually hit, Niall thought sourly as he opened the trunk for Jacks. That’s all he needed, to be stuck in a tiny bungalow with his jackass of a client during a tropical storm.
Bru Baker is a freelance journalist who writes for newspapers and magazines. Fiction makes her happiest, whether it’s creating her own characters or getting caught up in someone else’s. She and her husband live in the Midwest with their two young children, whose antics make finding time to write difficult but never let life get boring.