I was taken aback for a second. He was staring at me like he knew me, even though I’d never seen him before. Then again, I was sure I’d been staring at him in the same way. That feeling of knowing. He knew me, I knew him, and who the hell knows how that was possible.
His eyes were brown—are brown—dark with currents of gold and amber, giving them beautiful clarity. Slightly almond shaped. His brows were also dark, arched, adding to the intensity of his gaze. He’s the type of guy whose eyes latch onto you, dig deep, trying to sift through the files of your life, see who you really are.
“How did you know?” he asked, a full-on Australian accent rumbling through his gruff voice. It made my stomach flip, my core smolder. How deed you now, is what it sounded like. Funny how I stopped hearing the accent after time.
I gave a half shrug and looked back to the party. More people had flooded the room, mingling around the appetizers. My mother was in the corner, a crowd of politicians around her. She didn’t see me. She never did.
“Because I think I’d rather be in the middle of Lake Michigan too,” I told him, “then be stuck here with all these people.”
“These people,” he repeated. My focus was drawn to his lips, full, wide, tilting up into a smirk. Beneath them was a strong chin and even sharper jaw, dusted with a five o’clock shadow that seemed permanent, like the man couldn’t get a clean shave even if he tried. “How do you know I’m not one of these people?”
“Because you’re over here and not over there. How come you keep answering my questions with more questions?”
He studied me for a moment. My blood pounded in my head and I felt a giddy kind of thrill at how this was progressing. If anything, I was proud for holding my own with this handsome stranger. He was the first man I ever really felt at ease with.
He cleared his throat, offered me a quick smile before he nodded at the lake, his hands sliding into his pockets. “She almost looks like the ocean, doesn’t she?”
“Not quite the same as Australia, I would imagine.”
“No hiding this accent, is there?” He glanced at me and stuck out his hand, which I shook for a moment, warm palm to warm palm. “I’m Logan Shephard. Australian. And the reason I’m here is because I was invited by a friend of mine. I’m only in town for a few days and he didn’t want to go alone. He’s over there.” He nodded at a tall man in the corner, listening intently to another man.
“Warren Jones,” he said, as if I should know him. Perhaps I should. He probably thought I was one of them. “He’s local and the key piece to my investment.”
I wasn’t one for business talk—I never had anything to contribute other than lamenting student loans—but I wanted him to keep talking. “What’s your investment?”
“Starting my own hotel,” he said. “In Hawaii. Have you ever been there?”
“Once. When I was eight. I think we were in Honolulu. I remember a city, anyway. Waikiki Beach.”
“This hotel is in Kauai. The Garden Isle. Went there once after college and couldn’t get it out of my mind.”
I didn’t know the right things to say. I wanted to ask more about the hotel, what it means when you have an investor, but I didn’t want to appear dumb. I kept my mouth shut.
“You haven’t introduced yourself,” he said. “Protecting a secret identity?”
I smiled, close-lipped. “Not really. I’m Veronica Locke. American. And I unfortunately I don’t have much else to add to that.”
“Locke?” he repeated, eyes darting to my mother. “Are you the daughter of the deputy mayor, Rose Locke?”
“One of them,” I told him.
He nodded quickly. “I see. No wonder you’d rather be in the middle of the bloody lake. I bet you have to do this stuff all the time.”
“It’s not so bad.” I took a sip of my drink so I didn’t have to say anything more and looked away at the crowd. The bubbles teased my nose, making my eyes water.
I could feel his gaze on me as he spoke. “I’m sure you have plenty more to say about yourself though. Where do you work? Student?”
“Culinary arts,” I told him. “I’m one of those crazy people who dream of being a chef one day.”
He frowned. “Why is that crazy?”
I gave him a look, forgetting that most people have no idea how hard it is. “Because it’s a long road, long hours, and nothing is guaranteed. People think being a chef is easy. They see Gordon Ramsey or Nigella Lawson and think it’s all fame and food and money and they have no idea what it’s really like. I’m not even out of school and already I feel half-beaten.”