Pieces of Me

By: Jacquie Underdown

Pieces of Me

Jacquie Underdown

A story about starting fresh, letting go, and risking it all for love …

For Hannah, Mercy Island is a refuge, a new beginning, and a place to find safety in her own skin. Here, in this peaceful, beachside place, she will rediscover all those pieces of herself her abusive ex stole away. For Bear, Mercy Island is a prison, a backwater, a place he can’t wait to escape. Away, in the city, he’ll chase his dreams and lose the bad memories haunting him.

When Hannah’s home is damaged in an ugly storm, Bear offers his handyman services to repair it—a last job and a pretty girl to pass the time before he heads out. But Hannah is terrified to lose herself in another relationship, and Bear isn’t in it for the long haul.

However, their simmering sexual attraction refuses to be ignored, and just because love isn’t on the line doesn’t mean sex isn’t on the table. A no-strings-attached brief fling to curb the tension and take the edge off. No ties. No emotions. No pain.

But love has a way of coming in the windows, even when you’ve slammed the door, if only Hannah and Bear can stop looking to the past and find hope in their future.





Acknowledgements


Firstly, I’d like to thank Kate Cuthbert, along with the Harlequin and Escape team, for all your work behind the scenes to see Pieces of Me through to publication. A special mention of my marvellous editor, Brooke Moody, and my beta reader, Lea Darragh, for your input during the editing and revision phases. And, as always, thanks to my husband, Brad, for supporting me completely so that I can continue pursuing my passion—one day I’ll pay it forward.





For all of you who have had to discover your strength through adversity.







Chapter 1


Hannah

Change was terrifying, but only until it became the more appealing option. I had learnt that. I guess everyone learns that at some stage in their lives.

I breathed in, filling my lungs, fuelling my blood and bones with this warm air, thick with brine. It reminded me of my youth, when sea salt, carried on the wings of the wind, would lay upon my skin so thick, if I were to press the tip of my tongue to my arm or knee I could taste it.

For me, this air always went hand in hand with burning summer sun, quick bare feet on hot sand, and the scent of sunscreen. Today was no different. I had missed this smell, this town, the way I could always steal glimpses of the wide blue ocean bunted against the hazy horizon no matter where I was. And how I could meander along the wide roads unburdened with traffic, in no rush to get any place.

My chest squeezed tight and eyes blurred from tears. Shame was being downright intrusive today—dissonant to this little town where the sun shone on my flesh and the air kissed me with salty lips. Shame’s mouth was unforgiving and cruel.

I stopped and pressed a palm to my chest. Inclining my face to the warmth above, I breathed through pain, reminding myself that I didn’t need to feel these emotions, I’d simply done what I had to do to get away from him.

Penny pushed against my legs, her furry tail whipping my calves. I bent to pat her chest. ‘All right, all right. Impatient, aren’t you?’ Her tongue darted out of her mouth as she panted and looked up at me with amber eyes. ‘You’re going to have to get used to the slower pace here, Penny. We both are.’

I pulled on her leash and kept on back to the house. It was late afternoon. The blue expanse above was dappled by the branches of palms and, the further away I got from the eggshell sand that stretched forever in both directions, I was shaded by tall eucalypts. Penny had never felt sand beneath her paws before, nor trampled along the ocean’s edge. And it had been much too long for me. I wiggled my toes in my sandals, feeling the gritty remnants of the beach.

The waves were swelling when I left. Too big for a six-month-old Aussie Shepherd to navigate any longer without swallowing snoutfuls of brine. My weather app forecasted rain for this evening. The humidity clinging to my skin and clothes was a tell-tale indicator. Perhaps the growing swell was foreplay too.

A white ute with a surfboard strapped to the roof roared down the road towards the beach. I eyed the frame in the driver’s seat as the ute neared. He was relaxed, his elbow resting on the window ledge half out of the car, the other hand high on the steering wheel. The ute slowed as it neared. I could see him clearly through the windscreen. Couldn’t turn my gaze away from him. He’d lassoed me with his eyes—pale, set against his suntanned skin and dark, loose waves of hair that hung around his neck and ears.

What an impression on my senses this man made. I wondered why—how specifically—a stranger, by appearance alone, could reach inside and steal my wits. What was it about him, seen from a distance through a windscreen that connected with a deeper part of me? A hidden, unknowable biology.

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