When Joshua Newton, prodigal son of one of New Milton’s elite, fell in love with ambitious young actor Finn Callaghan, his world finally made sense. With every stolen moment, soft touch and breathless kiss, they fell deeper in love.
Finn was his future…until he wasn’t.
Eight years later, Finn has returned to the seaside town where it all began. He’s on the brink of stardom, a far cry from the poor mechanic who spent one gorgeous summer falling in love on the beach.
The last thing he wants is a second chance with the man who broke his heart. Finn has spent a long time forgetting Joshua Newton—he certainly doesn’t plan to forgive him.
There was one last perfect day.
High in the dunes on the east side of the bay, in the secret hollow that had been their haven all summer, Joshua lay with his head in Finn’s lap and watched the gulls wheel across the evening sky.
Happy laughter drifted from the other end of the beach where the season’s last visitors kept a tenacious hold on summer. Joshua felt the same, all too aware that life after this magical few weeks might spin out from beneath his feet.
“When we’re in LA,” Finn promised, “we’ll hang out on the beach all year.”
Joshua gazed up at him, at his sun-kissed skin and the face he loved. Freckles danced across the bridge of his nose, his eyelashes tipped with gold from spending too long in the sun, and that perfect bow of a mouth curved into a warm smile. “You won’t have time for the beach,” Joshua said, finding a smile of his own. “You’ll be too busy being a big-shot actor.”
Finn gave a self-deprecating laugh, but Joshua saw the dream in his eyes. “Nah,” Finn said, shaking his head. “I mean the odds of that ever happening… You know.”
They’d been through it a hundred times, but Joshua could go through it a hundred times more. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for Finn Callaghan. Of all the unknowns ahead, Finn’s inevitable success was the one thing Joshua didn’t doubt. Sitting up, he settled himself next to Finn and dug his toes into warm sand, squinting out across the sun-burnished ocean. “The odds are crappy,” he acknowledged, “for most people—those who lack talent, drive, and movie-star good looks.”
“Dude,” Finn said, embarrassed and pleased all at once.
His unfeigned modesty made Joshua’s heart soften and he nudged his shoulder against Finn’s. “You’re the real deal,” he said. “You’re going to be a star, Finn, surrounded by beautiful people all day long, and I’ll probably never see you except at movie premieres.”
Finn leaned into him, shaking his head. “You’ll be too busy dazzling everyone at Colburn to have time for pointless things like movie premieres.”
“I’ll make time. Now and then. Only for the major movies, obviously. With the big stars.”
Finn scooped up a handful of sand and let it run through his fingers. “Only for the A-listers, huh?”
“That’s right. You’ll have to make it worth my while. I’ll expect at least, um…” He ran through his tiny list of movie stars and came up wanting. “Brad…”
After a beat Finn turned to look at him, one eyebrow lifted. “Pitt?”
“Right. Yes, him.”
“Because you liked him in…?”
Joshua narrowed his eyes. “That old movie. The one we watched in your trailer.”
“Uh-huh. Which one?”
Laughter gleamed behind Finn’s bright eyes. It made Joshua smile as he floundered. “Um… Titanic?”
Flinging his arms wide, he yelled, “I’m the king of the world!” He grinned at Finn. “Right?”
“Right.” Finn fought a smile. “Except that was DiCaprio, you doofus.”
Joshua laughed—as if he could tell them apart. As if he cared. He only had eyes for Finn.
“Whatever.” He flopped back onto the sand and gazed up at him. “You can introduce me to them both at some horrible Hollywood party you’ll be forced to attend.”
After a silent beat, Finn said, “Don’t want any of that without you, Josh.” He looked at him intently, in that way he had of making Joshua feel like the whole universe was spinning around them, as if they were right at the beating heart of it all. “Don’t want anything without you. You get that, right? You get that this—” he threaded their fingers together and held tight “—you and me? This is the real deal, Josh. I mean it. You’re it for me. You get that, right?”
“I do,” Joshua assured him. “These last couple months, this summer… Finn, it’s changed everything.”
Finn searched his eyes, a slight frown creasing his brow. “And what about your dad?”
“Soon.” He tensed guiltily. “I’ll tell him soon.”
“That’s what you said last week.”
“Tomorrow, then.” The prospect of telling his father about Finn, about his radical new plans for the future, had crouched like a storm on the horizon all summer. And no matter how hard he’d ignored it, it hadn’t gone away. He swallowed. “I’ll tell him tomorrow.”
“I don’t want to think about it now. I only want to think about us, Finn. Tell me about us.”
Finn’s expression warmed. “This is just the start for us, man. It’s like… It’s like we’re at the beginning of a road and it’s rolling out ahead of us, long and straight, and so fucking bright. I can see it, man. I can taste it.”
“Finn…” Joshua pulled him down next to him, touched their foreheads together. He wanted so much to see Finn’s gilded road, but when he closed his eyes all he could see was the gathering storm. “I love you,” he whispered urgently. “I love you more than anything, Finn. More than everything. Remember that.”
Finn smiled against his lips, trailed his fingers through Joshua’s hair and kissed him long and sweet. He smelled like sun cream and the ocean, like fresh air and summer. “This is the beginning, Josh. This is the beginning of everything for us.”
But of course it wasn’t. It was the end. It was the last golden hour of the last perfect day.
Autumn arrived with precocious zeal.
Cold rain rattled leaves from the trees, herding them into disconsolate piles in the old orchard. Joshua ignored them as he slammed the door on his rusted Honda Civic. Tucking his fingers into the pocket of his sweatshirt, he gazed up at Hanworth Hall. The Newton family mansion brooded in the dank fall morning, gazing back at him with vacant eyes. Many years ago he’d called this place home, but it had stopped being that long before he’d left and now it just looked austere and empty. He wished he cared more than he did.
His father’s Town Car lurked farther along the gravel drive, the waiting driver’s face lit blue by the screen of his smartphone. Joshua supposed his brother was using the car now. He shouldn’t have been surprised; like their father, Michael Newton had never suffered from an excess of shame. He noticed Aunt Ruth’s car parked farther down the drive and suppressed a sigh. It was a genuine gathering of the clan, then. With a sinking feeling, he made himself head inside.
The front door wasn’t locked, which was lucky because the staff had all been dismissed—more collateral damage from his father’s misdeeds—and Newtons didn’t generally carry keys to the family pile. He supposed the Realtor had one now and the thought provoked a grim smile. Michael would hate that.
The door opened silently on well-oiled hinges and Joshua closed it just as quietly, giving himself time to adjust to being back. It had been, what, seven years since he’d last set foot inside? It looked different now, just a shell of what it had once been. All the pictures and furniture in the hall had been packed up and shipped out, nothing personal remained. Soon, Hanworth Hall would be owned by someone else. The rooms he’d played in as a child would belong to other children and the grounds he’d once loved would be walked by other feet.
He felt some regret, now that he was here, but not a great deal. Mostly he just hoped that the sale would write off the bulk of the debt—at least the part owed to the innocent creditors—even if it couldn’t wipe away the disgrace.
Cold, he hunched deeper into his sweatshirt, running a hand through his mist-damp hair. He would have rather been anywhere but here: home in his one-bedroom cottage, at the school listening to seventh-grade violinists screech through “Au Clare De Lune,” or even working a shift at Dee’s for a little extra cash—anywhere but in this house with these people. But duty was duty, so here he was ready to do what needed to be done.
Voices drifted from the drawing room. Bracing himself, he headed toward the sound, his boots clumping softly on the polished wood floor. Four heads turned when he stepped into the room.
“Joshua.” Michael managed to make the greeting sound like an insult.
He nodded toward his brother, then to Isabelle, Michael’s wife. “Hello.” He smiled at Aunt Ruth who watched him with sympathy.
“Mr. Newton?” The other man, the one he didn’t recognize, stepped forward. “I’m Tim Dexter, the Realtor.” He held out his hand to shake. “Pleasure to meet you.”
Joshua smiled, glanced around at the others. “So…?”
“We’ve agreed on a buyer,” Michael announced, pleased. “We both need to sign the papers. Just a formality.”
“He’s a lawyer,” Isabelle offered. “The buyer. So it’s going to someone reputable.”
Joshua huffed a laugh. “You mean, unlike its previous owner?”
Isabelle glared. Michael just gave him an icy look, dismissive in its lack of passion, as if Joshua and his opinions didn’t matter anymore. Not that they ever had. “You only need to sign,” Michael said.
“I have no problem signing. The sooner we sell the better.”
Dexter led him over to the table and started setting out papers, little crosses marking where his signature was required. “All the proceeds will go to the creditors I’m afraid.”
Quite right, Joshua thought, but kept his thoughts to himself as he picked up the pen.
Aunt Ruth drifted past him, resting a supportive hand on his shoulder. To Michael, she said, “You’ll be living in the city now?”
“In the Park Avenue condo, yes. It’ll be easier to keep an eye on the business from there. I never understood our father’s obsession with this place; it’s so remote and the town is nothing.” With a smirk, he glanced at Isabelle. “It’s hardly the Hamptons.”
“I think he loved New Milton because your mother did,” Ruth said, and that shut him up.
Their aunt was much like her sister, their mother, in terms of looks if not temperament. Since their mother’s early death, Aunt Ruth had kept a watchful eye on the Newton boys but had always taken a particular interest in Joshua. He reminded her of her sister, she told him. She’d always had his best interests at heart, and he was grateful to her for that. He truly was. Only, Ruth’s idea of his best interests hadn’t always coincided with his own.
“So,” she carried on, “what else do you know of the purchaser?”
“Something of a rising star,” Michael said. “Made partner at Thompson Glass two years ago. Damn fine lawyer. Name’s Sean Callaghan.”
Joshua froze. The name was a coincidence, surely? It had to be. Even so his heart rattled away in his chest and his fingers stuck clammily to the pen. He put it down and wiped his hand on his jeans before continuing to sign.
“Brother’s a different sort, though.” Michael tugged at his cuffs and all but sniffed in disdain. “Some kind of actor, apparently. On television.”
The pen jerked halfway across the box Joshua was signing. It drew Ruth’s attention. She looked at him with a concerned frown and he dropped his gaze back to the paperwork, face burning. He hated that she knew what he was thinking.
He signed the rest of the papers quickly, his head full of memories he’d rather forget. Setting down the pen, he shoved his shaking hands into the pouch of his hoodie.
Sean Callaghan. Of all the impossible, agonizing coincidences.
“…think these country retreats are quite old-fashioned,” Isabelle was saying. “It’ll be so much more convenient to be in Manhattan.”
“Quite,” Ruth said, but her attention was fixed on Joshua. “And how about you? Will you be moving to New York too? You’re welcome to stay with me, but I know you don’t like the city.”
“I don’t,” he said, pleased that his voice didn’t shake, no trace of his distress on show. “Thank you for the offer, but I’m staying in New Milton for now.”
Ruth raised a sculpted eyebrow. “And you’re still…?”
“Teaching. Yes, I am.” Michael and Isabelle exchanged an expressive look. Joshua ignored them. “In fact,” he said, “I have a student in half an hour, so I’d better get going.”
That was a lie. He didn’t have another lesson until this afternoon, but he had no compunction about bending the truth for his family. His brother and father had made a career out of it, after all. “If there’s nothing else I’m needed for…?”
“Actually there is one thing.” Michael stepped forward, fishing a yellow sheet of paper out of a leather folder and holding it out to Joshua.
He took it, narrowing his eyes at the list of items: dresser (1), four-poster bed (3), armoire (2) and so on. He looked up. “What’s this?”
“It’s the contents of the house the buyer didn’t want included in the sale. Most of it’s in storage, but there are a couple of items still here—including the car collection. We need someone to oversee their disposal. And since you’ll be in the area…”
“You want me to sell our parents’ belongings?”
“It’s legally mandated,” Michael said, without a shred of embarrassment. “All proceeds to the creditors, naturally. You don’t mind, do you?”
“Of course he doesn’t,” Isabelle said. “It’s not like he’s got anything else to do.”
Joshua didn’t want to argue; he didn’t want to stay in the house for one minute longer. “I’ll do it. It’s fine.” He gave them both a steady look. “Goodbye, then,” he said and headed for the door.
“Joshua?” Michael took a couple steps toward him. “You haven’t been to see him.”
“You should. It’s difficult for him in that place.”
Joshua felt a hot flash of anger, of the shame and fury Michael didn’t seem to share. “It’s meant to be difficult. It’s prison.”
“But especially so, for him.”
“Well, he should have considered that before defrauding the government out of millions of tax dollars, shouldn’t he?”
“He’s still our father,” Michael said, with that cold voice he’d inherited.
Joshua shook his head. “He gave that right up a long time ago.” He spared one last look for the house they’d lost, a brief nod for Ruth, and then stalked back the way he’d come, through the echoing hallway and out the front door.
The gravel crunched beneath his boots and he sucked in a cold, damp breath as he slowed down. The rain had stopped, but everything dripped and the air was ripe with the loamy scent of grass and rotting leaves. A lump rose in his throat, taking him by surprise. But he supposed thishadbeen home once, despite everything, and it was lost to him now.
Whatever happened from this day on, he’d never be able to go home—even if he wanted to.
Sighing, he turned to find Aunt Ruth picking her way across the gravel in high heels. She looked ridiculous and out of place in her metropolitan chic. “I have to go,” he said.
“But are you alright? I mean about the brother moving here.”
He swallowed hard but didn’t feign ignorance. He didn’t want to talk about it, though.
Ruth tipped her head, touched his shoulder. “Oh, Joshua, still? It’s been eight years, darling. I’d have thought—”
“I’m fine,” he said, looking away from her concerned gaze. “It’s fine.”
“I’m surehewon’t come here,” she said, lowering her voice as if Michael might overhear. As if he’d care, even if he knew. “I’m sure you won’t have to see him.”
Joshua shook his head. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see Finn Callaghan again—he did. But he was afraid that Finn wouldn’t want to seehimagain, and he didn’t know whether he could handle how much that would hurt. “He’s probably forgotten all about me.”
“But you haven’t forgotten him.”
“No.” He dipped his eyes to the driveway, the gravel damp and glistening. “No, I don’t suppose I ever will.”
She squeezed his arm, more hesitant than she’d been eight years ago. Then she’d been so sure, so convinced she knew what was right—for him, for the family. Even for Finn. “I know it was difficult,” she said, fingers biting into his arm, “but I still believe you made the right decision. To give up everything you had—your education, your place in the business, your home—for…for a summer romance, Joshua? And with aman. It would have been foolish.”
Pressing his lips together, he resisted telling her that he’d long ago come to believe that there was nothing wrong with a little foolishness. But he’d learned that lesson too late and he couldn’t blame Ruth for having been cautious. She’d tried to do her best for him, tried to fill the gap his mother’s death had left behind.
“I understand,” he said, offering her the best smile he could muster. “And at the time, staying did feel like the responsible thing to do. But I—I suppose, given how things turned out, I wish I’d made a different choice.”
“How things turned out?” She dropped her hand from his shoulder.
He shrugged. “Well, look at me…” No direction, no ambition, and no career beyond a little peripatetic music teaching—certainly not the glittering future everyone had assumed would follow his Harvard MBA. No money, thanks to his father cutting him off when he finally came out, a year after ending things with Finn. And, while less pressing, no less disheartening, no relationship. Joshua remained chronically single.
“There’s still time,” Ruth said, encompassing his failure at life in one platitude. “Your life’s not over at thirty-one, you know.”
But he couldn’t agree with her optimism; his life had ended eight years ago—the day he chose his family over Finn Callaghan.
The day Finn walked out of his life and never looked back.