TEDDY HATED the beach. The only reason he had a beach house was because it was private, away from the city, and the deal had been fantastic when he bought it. He didn’t do water or sun or sand. Though he didn’t mind sitting in the shade under a large umbrella, reading a good book on a calm day in peace and quiet.
That would have worked out much better if the house next door that had been empty for years wasn’t suddenly occupied by a bunch of twentysomethings playing volleyball.
Not that they were being excessively loud or rowdy, but Teddy wanted the beach to himself his first full day moved in for good from the city. At least Mrs. Thompkins on the other side had the decency to only use her beach house for the house and never stepped foot near the water.
Teddy took a breath, rereading the same page for the fifth time, but whenever he started to digest it, a laugh or shout or groan as someone hit the sand pulled him right out again. It was a big area of the beach, but sound still carried.
Maybe today wasn’t the day to be reading outdoors. Those kids were probably college age, enjoying one of their mommies’ or daddies’ houses for the weekend. Teddy could read tomorrow. Or inside. He still had unpacking to do that he’d been putting off, as if finishing the last few boxes would put a stamp of finality on his situation.
Shifting once again in his beach chair, he winced. He needed to get a new one with more padding or that sat at a different angle to accommodate his hip. The surgery was healing well, but if he did even one thing wrong, it could mean complications or an infection. It was bad enough he couldn’t dance anymore.
Spending one night recovering at his apartment had only proven what he’d already known: if he had to be forced into early retirement, then he also had to get out of the city or he’d lose his mind.
“Nora, get back here!”
Not that those kids were helping any. Teddy made a concerted effort to block everything out and tried reading that same page again—when a volleyball rolled in front of his chair.
Followed by an explosion of sand coating his legs as a small white dog pounced on the ball like a martyr throwing themselves on a bomb.
“Nora. I am so sorry.”
The owner of the dog, the voice, and presumably the volleyball jogged into view. One of the kids, no doubt, who Teddy was about to lay into no matter how much this wasn’t anyone’s fault, when he looked up at the young man and….
Over six feet tall, long, lean, swimmer’s build, all very much on display since he was only wearing swim trunks. He was young but older than college age, with light scruff on his face, messy chestnut hair, ocean-colored eyes, and a dazzling smile.
“Hi, I’m Finn.” He hoisted his dog into one arm while reaching over Teddy’s beach chair with the other. He had a firm grip, too, great hands.
“Finn Archer. I moved in a few months ago. You just got in yesterday, right?”
A few months ago, which meant he was staying.
“Edmund Scofield. Pleasure to meet you.” Teddy fixed his face into as tight and uncordial an expression as he could, because he did not need some gorgeous young beach bunny imposing on his life right now. Turning to the side in his chair, he shook the sand from his legs.
“I am so sorry about that,” Finn said. “Nora just got excited when the ball took off.”
Why wasn’t he picking up the ball and going away? Teddy could see his tan line with how his shorts rode too low after chasing the furball.
Meanwhile, Nora wriggled in his arms and licked at his neck with unabashed joy. Teddy could understand the inclination, but he really did not need this.
“Mrs. Thompkins said you’re a dancer,” Finn said, holding firm as the good neighbor.
“Former.” Teddy dumped the sand out of his book.
“Right. Choreographer now?”
“Oh.” Finn fidgeted, maybe finally picking up on Teddy’s lack of engagement. “Needed a change of pace?”
“The pace changed for me.” Teddy stood with a grimace, hating how obvious it made his injury. “I’d prefer to keep dancing. My body disagrees.”
“Oh.” A somber nod was Finn’s response, which Teddy hated. Pity was always worse than ignorance, especially from someone young and virile. “Well, it is a body worth listening to.”
Teddy froze—just in time to see Finn’s eyes widen.
“I did not just say that. Please don’t hold it against me for any future friendship. I’m not actually that lame. I just meant our bodies tend to know what’s best for us.”
“And you’re what, a yoga instructor?” That would be so typical.
“Something like that.” Finn chuckled. “Actually, I’m—”
“Finn!” A female voice caused Finn to look back at his friends.
“Right. Sorry. Better get going.” Finally, he bent to retrieve the volleyball, still holding Nora with his other arm, and flashed Teddy another smile. “It was nice to meet you, Edmund.”
“Teddy,” Teddy said, because of course he felt compelled to correct him.
“Nice to meet you, Teddy.” Finn smiled wider, his blue-green eyes flicking down at the sand then back up with a bashful flutter before he was gone.
Teddy grabbed his book and shuffled inside, silently cursing the entire way.
“BECAUSE I said I’m fine,” Teddy growled into his cell phone.
If anyone was going to call like a doting parent, he’d thought it would be his mother—or his sister, Erina—not his best friend.
“I’m only saying,” Rick pushed on, “if you need company—”
“I just got here. I haven’t had time to feel lonely.” Teddy cringed as he turned on his electric kettle; he didn’t want Rick thinking he would get lonely just because everyone he knew and loved was still in the city.
“Erina had this idea—”
“I don’t even want to know—”
“—about you getting a pet or something.”
“A pet?” Teddy leaned against the kitchen island, thinking of Nora, the curly white menace from earlier. “You know I hate dogs.”
“No one hates dogs. You just don’t want the work.”
“Then get a cat. They take care of themselves most of the time.”
“Well….” Teddy did like cats but hadn’t had one since he was a kid. His apartment hadn’t allowed pets. He supposed it wouldn’t be terrible to have another heartbeat in the house. “How would I even go about that out here? No pet stores. The humane society?”
“I’ll give you one better. Your sis already did the research.”
Of course she had; Erina never could resist meddling.
“There’s a foster program out that way. Folks watch pets until they find a permanent home, then bring ’em right to your door. If it’s not a good match, they come back for it. Easy.”
That sounded reasonable, and it would keep Erina and Rick off his back. “Fine, have her send me the info, and I’ll think about it.”
“How else ya doing, buddy?” Rick asked.
“Sore.” Teddy rubbed his hip. It was time for more pain meds, but he hated taking them. He just wanted to get back to equilibrium. He refused to use the cane they’d given him except for when he first woke up in the morning. “But I’m fine, really. Just trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do next.”
“Hey, no brooding the first couple weeks. Only vacation.”
If this was a vacation, it wouldn’t hurt so much—physically or otherwise. “That would be easier if I didn’t start physical therapy next week.”
“Okay, a week’s worth of vacation. Then you can brood.”
Teddy snorted. Rick was a good friend. He had an imposing presence as a large, muscly type, but even as one of the best playwrights Teddy had ever met, he kept to smaller theaters, just enough to be known and comfortable. He always said that his true success was in still being happy with his husband of fifteen years.
Rick’s husband, Dan, was a good friend, too, though a little too motherly, for lack of a better word. He was an engineer, a wealthy one, yet he packed Rick’s lunch for him every day. Neither of them could ever understand what it was like to feel as lonely as Teddy did sometimes.
“I gotta go, Rick. All this exciting relaxing ahead, you know. No brooding, I promise.” The kettle was starting its war cry. Now that it was evening and Finn and his friends had gone inside, Teddy thought he’d give reading on the beach another shot with a hot cup of tea.
“All right. You be good, Teddy.”
His phone buzzed almost as soon as he clicked End Call. He thought Rick had forgotten something, until he saw it was a text.
From Stewart Hartley, the choreographer who’d replaced him. Hartley was brilliant and knew it and never failed to mention as much any time he could fit it into conversation. He was also ten years younger than Teddy.
The message was short: I need your help.
Teddy stared, amazed that Hartley would admit such a thing. He was midtext back, asking how he could be of assistance, when another message came through.
I can’t find anything in your office. Well, MY office now. Where did you keep your press contacts? It’s almost time for Spring Season!
He wasn’t looking for advice; he just wanted to rub it in that he was in and Teddy was out. Teddy had kept his press contacts in the back of the middle desk drawer, but they were also in the computer, and Hartley knew that.
Teddy responded back simply with the information, then shoved his phone in his pocket before reading any response. Maybe he was due for a little moping.
At least the waves were calm when he got outside, just that low, soothing whoosh. He sipped his tea, settled in comfortably, and got through several chapters of his book without realizing how late it had become.
Hibiscus tea was the kind he preferred before bed, which was probably why he fell asleep.
Waking with a start, chin on his chest, book in his lap, Teddy heard the faint sounds of laughter and music in the distance. Combined with the smoky scent in the air, Finn and his friends must be having a bonfire. Teddy had gotten some reading in, but now he needed to sleep for real. And pee. And—
“Ah!” he gasped when he tried to sit up.
He hadn’t taken his pain meds before going outside, only to fall asleep in his less than supportive beach chair, and now his hip was killing him.
“Hey, I didn’t realize you were still out here. I was just coming to knock on your door.” Finn appeared from around the umbrella, without the dog or volleyball but still in trunks with a loose button-up beach shirt covered in palm fronds. “We can turn the music down if— Are you okay?” His gaze darted to where Teddy clutched his hip and one arm of the beach chair.
Teddy could drop dead any time now. But he also couldn’t get up. “I forgot to take my pain medication, and now it hurts too much to move.”
“How long have you been there?” Finn’s eyebrows shot up. “That chair’s not at all conducive for—”
“—hip issues, especially after surgery, I know. I… fell asleep.” Because Teddy was an old man compared to this kid.
A warm smile lit up Finn’s face. “Surgery, huh? I was going to offer you a drink, see if you wanted to join us, but I guess I have to offer something else.” He came around the side of Teddy’s chair and squatted down.
“What are you doing?” Teddy leaned away from him.
“Getting you out of that chair. Now hang on to your book.”
But Finn’s arms were already scooping underneath him, giving an impressive heft of strength considering they weren’t that different in size, and lifting Teddy without causing a spike of pain, only a mild hiss.
“I got you. Is the door unlocked?” Finn asked as he started for the house. Teddy’s chair was set up close to the porch, but there was no way Finn’s friends weren’t seeing this if they were looking.
“Yes,” Teddy said, feeling utterly humiliated—and a little turned on by Finn’s proximity and firmness and beachy smell, which was just insult to injury when he had to pee. Why did Finn have to be so… all of this?
It was a sliding door, but only the screen door was closed, easy enough for Finn to push aside while carrying Teddy. “Sofa or bedroom?”
“Sofa,” Teddy said without hesitation. He drew the line at letting this gorgeous man into his bedroom the first day they met.
Thankfully, the sofa was close, large, and comfortable, and Teddy felt instantly at ease once Finn set him down.
“Are those your pills?” Finn walked to the kitchen island.
“I’ll get you some water. You should wait ten or fifteen minutes before you move, let them kick in, and take it slow. I can wait around if you—”
“No,” Teddy said, a little harried. He didn’t like being taken care of, especially by a beautiful stranger who only reminded him of what he’d lost. “I appreciate the offer and the… lift, but I’ll be fine.”
“What are neighbors for?” Finn said as he came back with a glass of water from the tap and the bottle of pills. “Though I guess I can’t offer you that drink anymore.”
Teddy downed the maximum dose with a thick swallow. “Not much of a drinker anyway.” His father had been a drinker, one of the many reasons his mother kicked him out years ago. “And the music is fine. I’ll be up for a while now. My own fault.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Finn crouched to his level, such ease to the movement like it was no effort at all. Teddy missed that. “How long ago was the surgery?”
“Less than a week.”
“You’re a rock star, then. Nothing to be ashamed of. But try to remember to take your pills and—”
“A new chair is already on its way. Geriatric approved,” Teddy said with a sneer.
Finn laughed. “I hardly think you qualify. What are you, thirty-five?”
Oh, he was a flatterer. Teddy could add about a decade to that. “And are you the baby-faced thirty-five-year-old type yourself or a bearded twenty-three?” Please don’t actually be college age, not that Teddy should care.
“More somewhere in between,” Finn said cryptically.
Late twenties, then, which wasn’t terribly young. Still too young for Teddy.
Finn grabbed a vibrating cell phone out of his pocket. His face flushed when he read the text.
“Something funny?” Teddy asked.
“Oh, uhh… one of my friends making a bad joke, wondering where I went.”
“How bad a joke?”
Finn’s smile turned embarrassed after he shot a text back. “He asked if I’d decided to role-play Florence Nightingale and sleep here tonight.”
Teddy laughed before he could stop himself. “And how’d you respond?”
“I said, yep, so if you could take care of breakfast for everyone tomorrow, that would be great.”
A fuller laugh left Teddy, and Finn joined him, so Teddy didn’t try to squelch it. “It was a rather dramatic exit we made. When you regale your friends with the tale, please make the injury something cooler than years of dance.”
“Black ops, got it.” Finn nodded. “But the details are classified.”
Dammit, why did he have to be so charming?
“I should…. But hey, do you have your cell phone on you?” Finn asked as he stood.
“Yes.” Teddy pulled it from his pocket, confused, and Finn plucked it from his fingers. He entered a number.
“There, now you can call me if you ever….“
“Fall down and can’t get up?”
That dimpled grin was the kind Teddy could get lost in. “If that’s the only reason you can think of.”
Fuck, why was he flirting? Teddy went entirely blank for what to say, which prompted Finn to look away with a bashful glance at the floor, then back at Teddy far too attractively.
“See you later, Teddy.”
Once Finn was out the door, Teddy fell back into the cushions with a groan. At least he had his book, because as much as he still had to pee, he wasn’t getting up from the sofa anytime soon.
He also had no idea what page he’d left off on.