The Ride of Our Lives
A 'Try Me' bonus scene
“It used to be.” Declan peered up at the brick mansion where he’d spent the first eighteen years of his life. The little shack he and Pearl had rented at Makaha for the last two months felt more like home than his parent’s house ever had. Chills ran down his spine as his gaze swept over the manicured lawn. “Maybe this is a bad idea,” he said.
Pearl squeezed his hand. “We don’t have to do it.”
Declan raised his chin, looking at the second-story window of his childhood bedroom. How many times had he climbed out of that window and shimmied down the nearby tree? More times than he could count. “It’s my money,” he said, pulling Pearl into his arms. “I’m going to get it.”
“This is your house?” Pearl asked.
Pearl tucked her head under his chin and wrapped her arms around his waist. “I love you even if you don’t have any money.”
Declan chuckled. “Thanks, eh?” He rested his chin on top of her head and breathed in the fruity scent of her shampoo. If only he could stay like this for a little while longer, he might gather the courage to walk up the front steps and knock on his parent’s door.
His conversation with his father last week had surprised him. He’d sworn he’d heard tears in the old man’s voice. Now he wasn’t so sure. Dread seeped through his veins, rendering him frozen to the spot.
The front door swung open. “Late as usual,” boomed a deep male voice.
Declan looked up and saw his older brother Nolan standing in the doorway. Nolan was a taller, thinner version of himself. They shared their mother’s fair coloring. Their blonde hair and blue eyes were the only things they had in common. Nolan worked in the family business of banking, and he thought surfing was nothing more than a hobby.
“Come inside.” Nolan stepped back into the foyer. “Mother’s got the air conditioner running.”
Declan released Pearl, but kept his hand on her lower back as they climbed the steps.
“Who’s this pretty thing?” Nolan asked, smiling broadly at Pearl.
Declan’s hand spread over Pearl’s back possessively. “This is my girlfriend Pearl Sunn,” Declan said. “Pearl, my brother Nolan.”
“Nice to meet you, Nolan.” Pearl stepped into the house. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Nolan’s laugh rumbled. “None of it’s true, I swear.”
He led the way down the hall. Declan felt like he’d stepped back in time. Everything was exactly the same. The same paintings adorned the walls. The same smell of floor wax hung in the air.
Pearl stopped in front of a portrait of Declan. Her smile beamed at him, filling him with light. “Aww, is that you?”
He’d been four years old with a mouth full of baby teeth and somber blue eyes. “Yeah, that’s me.”
“You’re so cute, but you look sad.”
“He didn’t want to wear that suit,” Nolan said. “Declan never liked doing what he was supposed to do.” Nolan’s blue gaze dropped slowly over the gentle curve of her hip in appreciation. “How did you get hooked up with my little brother?”
Pearl’s back stiffened under Declan’s hand. “We met surfing.”
Nolan gave an impatient shake of his head. “You two shacking up together like a couple of hippies?”
Declan pinned his brother with an intense glare. “I didn’t know you were going to be here tonight.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” Nolan said, leading the way into a sitting room. “I can’t wait to see you grovel at Father’s feet.”
Declan’s hand went to the back of his neck and rubbed the old injury. Pearl’s cool fingers settled over his, lacing their fingers together. She stepped closer to him, and he could feel the heat of her body.
She didn’t need to speak to convey her support. Pearl was there for him, no matter what. Groveling wasn’t his idea of a good time, but he would get down on his knees and beg for this woman at his side.
His inheritance was more than he could spend in three lifetimes. He’d never asked for it before, because he’d never wanted it. He made enough through endorsements and contest winnings to live the simple life he craved. But starting his own surf team was a big dream. It required big money.
He sucked in a sharp breath as they stepped into the formal room where his parents gathered before dinner. The familiarity of the room took him back in time. From the antique furniture to the red velvet curtains, everything looked exactly the same.
His father stood near the window, holding a highball glass in his hand. He wore a suit and tie, and appeared to be just as fit as always. His mother perched on the edge of a velvet loveseat that he’d been forbidden to touch as a child. She rose when she saw him, reaching for him with tears in her eyes.
His mother had always been thin, but she seemed fragile now as he folded her into his arms. She had tried her best to protect him from the brunt of his father’s anger, but it had never been enough.
“Declan.” Her voice caught on his name. “It’s so good to see you again.”
Declan kissed his mother’s cheek. Her skin was paper thin and smelled of powder. He felt the years melt away at the familiar scent. “It’s good to see you, too.” Stepping back, he reached for Pearl. “This is my girlfriend, Pearl.”
His mother smiled at Pearl, her blue eyes warm and welcoming. “Nice to meet you.”
Declan realized this was the first time he’d ever introduced his mother to a woman. He squeezed Pearl’s hand, and she squeezed back, her eyes finding his. They didn’t need to speak to convey their thoughts.
“How about a drink?” Nolan asked, going to stand behind the bar. “Whiskey, right?”
Saliva filled Declan’s mouth. He no longer counted the days since he’d had his last drink. It had been well over a year. “No thanks,” he said.
Nolan raised an eyebrow at Declan, then turned to Pearl. “How about the little lady? What’s your pleasure?”
Pearl shook her head, stepping closer to Declan’s side. “I’m fine, thank you.”
“Son,” his father said, addressing Nolan. “No need for drinks. Your brother is here for one reason.” His cool gray eyes landed on Declan. “He finally got the balls to ask for his money.”
Declan’s entire body tensed. “Hello, Father,” he ground out.
His father sighed and reached into his jacket pocket. “Let’s get this over with,” he said, drawing out a checkbook. “How much?”
Anger flooded Declan’s body, making his jaw clench. His father had always dismissed him. No one in his family had ever come to a single one of his contests. Even though the Duke was bigger than the World Series in Hawaii, he doubted his parents knew he’d won the contest. If his father asked what he planned to do with the money, Declan would not tell him it was to fund his own surfing team. He wouldn’t give his father the chance to stand in his way.
“One hundred thousand dollars,” he said, heart pounding in his throat. The money was his by birthright. His father couldn’t say no, but he could throw up some hurdles and make Declan’s life hell.
To his surprise, Teddy didn’t blink an eye. “Next time, meet me at the bank,” he said, bending to fill out the check. “We have papers to sign.”
A knot formed in his stomach. “That’s it?” he asked. He’d thought it would be so much harder. All he had to do was reach out and take the check. It seemed too good to be true.
“It’s been yours for five years,” his father said. “You should have grown a set of balls earlier.”
To his surprise, Declan didn’t feel anger at the insult. Instead, he pitied the man who would never get to know his own son. He took the check, folded it, and placed it in his wallet.
“Goodbye, Mother,” he said, embracing her again.
“You’re leaving already?”
“There’s no reason to stay.” He took Pearl’s hand, and together they left the room.
When they reached the front door, Pearl threw her arms around Declan’s neck. She tipped her head back to look at him. Her pretty brown eyes shimmered with tears. “I’ve never been prouder of you.”
A chuckle escaped his mouth. “I should beg more often,” he said, bending his neck to touch his lips to hers.
It should have been a quick kiss, but the feel of her soft lips made Declan linger. He framed Pearl’s face in his hands and kissed her slowly, savoring the taste of her lush mouth. Kissing Pearl in his childhood home felt sweetly forbidden. He’d never kissed a girl here before. It made him feel deliciously wicked. He slid his hands down her neck to caress her shoulders. Suddenly, his body hummed with need. He had a check for one hundred thousand dollars in his pocket and the most desirable woman in the world in his arms.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said.
As his hand closed over the doorknob, his mother’s voice rang through the hall. “Declan, wait!”
She hurried down the hall, a frown creasing her pale brow. He noticed how much she’d aged in the last few years. She’d always been thin, but now her dress hung on her frame. Her hair had gone from platinum blonde to stark white, and her blue eyes stood out against her colorless face.
“I have to show you something.”
His mother opened the door and went outside. She led the way to the garage where Declan’s father kept his car collection. The garage had been Declan’s favorite place as a child. He’d spent hours there with his father’s driver, tinkering under the hoods of the cars and learning how to fix anything with an engine.
Once inside the garage, Declan was immediately assaulted by all his favorite scents. Leather, oil, and fresh-cut wood perfumed the air.
He stood for a moment in the darkness, breathing in the memories.
His mother flipped a switch, and the overhead lights winked on no less than a million dollars of chrome and metal. The floor was black and white rubber tile arranged in a checkerboard pattern with a red racing stripe through the center. On either side of the aisle were his father’s most-prized possessions. There was a 1930s model Bentley, a silver Austin Healey, and a bright blue Pontiac GTO.
“Come see.” His mother led the way down the aisle between the cars.
Declan’s pulse sped up as he spotted a flash of red behind the Pontiac. He hurried down the aisle and stopped mid-stride when he saw the Corvette Stingray.
His Corvette Stingray.
He reached out and touched the cold metal, half expecting the Stingray to disappear. But the car wasn’t a mirage. He ran his hand along the hood, feeling for injuries. She was in perfect condition.
“Your father rebuilt this,” she said.
Declan traced the crease of the retractable headlamp, remembering the flash of light on the pole a moment before he’d slammed into it. He withdrew his hand as if he’d been shocked.
Pearl came to stand beside him. “This is your car?”
“She’s a beauty.”
Declan tore his eyes from the car to his mother. “Why?”
“Because he hoped you would come back.” She walked to the wall and pushed that opened the big bay door. Grabbing a set of keys off the pegboard, she walked back to Declan and kissed his cheek. “Please come back,” she said, placing the keys in his palm.
Declan swallowed the lump in his throat and kissed his mother back. Maybe he would come back.
His mother reached for Pearl’s hand. “Take care of him?”
Pearl smiled. “We’ll take care of each other.”
Declan stood looking at the car for a long moment after his mother was gone. He remembered the smooth shift of the gears and the powerful rumble of the engine. This car had been crushed two years ago. Nothing but a hunk of metal. Now, she looked good as new.
He reached for Pearl’s hand, lacing their fingers together. They had their entire future ahead of them. “You ready?”
Pearl held her other hand out, palm up. “Can I drive?”
Declan smiled and gave her the keys. He liked the idea of Pearl behind the wheel of the Stingray, taking them on the ride of their lives.