Chapter One

It was 12:00, and though Ryan Atwood wanted to be far away from this house, this gated community, this town as soon as he could, he also could not deny the fact that he was hungry and on his way to becoming dehydrated. Summers in Southern California were his favorite time of year, but despite the central air cooling the house he was working in, his body was still slick and glistening with sweat and so hot he was miserable.

The work was not overly exerting, just time consuming and frankly uninteresting to Ryan. He did not work in construction, specializing in detail work for the upper classes of the beachside towns in the area, due to a general interest in the job, but, instead, he did it because it was the best thing he could do with no formal education. It paid well. He lived a comfortable life in Long Beach, but it bothered him as he walked about the house he would be working in for the next several weeks to think that no matter how hard he worked, no matter how many hours he put in, and no matter if he retired or not, he would never make enough money to afford the homes he worked on let alone the lifestyle the people had who resided in them.

It was only Monday, and already he could tell it was going to take forever for Friday afternoon to roll around. For the next several weeks, he was working on remodeling the kitchen of a Mr. Gerald Carnahan, president and CEO of some wealthy, successful company that meant utterly nothing to Ryan. He knew the type of man he was though and could sum his personality up in one word: workaholic. Although he was currently employed by him, Ryan had never spoken with the man. He had been contacted about the job by the man's secretary. When he arrived there, the said secretary had been waiting to give him a key to use at his disposal for when he would be working and disappeared before anything else was said. Directions for what he was to do were typed and organized on a word-processed list for him on the existing kitchen counter; custom cabinets, all new tile for the floor, counters, and backsplash, and not just any tile, but hand made, Italian pieces, each one individually crafted, new, state of the art, top of the line, designer appliances, and a mural for the walls and ceiling were all being installed. When he was finished with the kitchen it would be a work of art not a place to prepare food for a family, and there was no doubt in Ryan's mind that a family resided in this home.

Although he had not seen any of the members of the family, there were pictures of the man's children all around the house, two young boys. Guessing by their more recent pictures that he had seen, he thought they were close in age and probably around eight or nine. It was strange though, because, although there were many pictures of the two sons, there was not a single picture of their father or mother. He assumed the man was married, but what did he know, perhaps he was divorced or she had died. No matter what the story was, he just felt uncomfortable in the house. Depressed over the fact that he still had hours to go before he could leave and escape back into the real world outside of Newport Beach, Ryan sighed, grabbed his lunch from inside of the fridge, and made his way out back towards the patio.

The crystal clear, in ground, piano shaped swimming pool, complete with diving board, curving slide, and hot tub, looked very inviting to Ryan's over-heated body, but he pushed aside his impulse to strip down and take a quick dip, fearful that someone would unexpectedly show up and catch him. So, instead, sitting under a shade tree where he had a perfect view of the driveway and garage, he began to eat his lunch, constantly on the lookout for someone who could interrupt his few moments of peace. He ate quickly, packing up his wrappings when he was finished and putting them back in his brown paper sack to throw away when he went back into the house. Looking down at his watch he saw that it was only 12:15. The spot he was sitting in was comfortable and he did not feel like going back to work yet, so, closing his eyes, he leaned his head back against the tree and let his body relax. Not five minutes later though, his solitude was interrupted as he heard a vehicle pull up into the driveway.

The windows in the expensive, foreign SUV were tinted, so he could not see who, male or female, was driving, but his curiosity did not have to wait for long as the person quickly opened the door and got out. It was a woman, probably in her late 20's, and so, in all likelihood the wife of man he was working for and the mother of the children in all the pictures he had seen around the house. The first thought he had was, she's gorgeous, followed by, I hope she's just here on her lunch break and leaves soon. Unfortunately, that was impossible, and he learned it soon enough as she walked in front of the vehicle and he could see what she was wearing, jeans and a skimpy, low cut tank top, definitely not office wear appropriate and definitely appealing. Dude, she's married and technically your employer, Ryan chastised himself, but still it wouldn't hurt to look, would it. Before he could escape into the house though, she saw him watching her.

"Are you just going to sit there and stare or are you going to give me a hand with this," she asked in a very forthright and honest manner, something he found surprising and refreshing. Most of the women in this town never said what they meant or thought.

Jumping up, he jogged over to her side, "Sure."

Opening the hatch of the SUV, she revealed bag after bag of groceries, shocking Ryan. "What, is your maid on vacation?"

"Nope, no maid, just me. I do all the cooking, cleaning, shopping, and child rearing in this house, much to my husband's displeasure," she revealed. He assumed that she would stop talking then and there, that they would walk into the house together, carrying the groceries, and then she would leave him alone. He was wrong.

"I refused to let him hire help when all I do is sit at home all day. I'm perfectly capable of working, and, in fact, would love to, but no wife of his, my husband says, is going to work, especially if it's nothing prestigious like owning one's own company. I've tried to tell him that millions of people work and gain satisfaction from said work without having President and CEO attached to their name, but he doesn't listen to me. And it's not as if I want to work full time, part time would be great, just something to get me out of the house where I could meet new people; you know what I mean?"

Ryan didn't know how to respond. She obviously expected him to say something, so he just figured it would be easier to agree with her than to say anything else. "Um, yeah…. sure," he stuttered out flatly.

"When the boys were first born, it wasn't that bad, because I could take care of them all day, but once they both were in school, I was left alone here in this big, empty house. You can only scrub the tile floor in the kitchen, dust the mantles, and wash all the bedding so often, right?"

Again, she wanted him to say anything, but he couldn't. For some reason his tongue was completely twisted in knots, his palms were sweaty, and he could feel his face, especially his ears, blushing, so, incapable of speaking, he just nodded. The movement seemed to be enough for her, as she just continued on with her personal story.

"My Mother tried to get me to join her various social groups and charities, but I learned that lesson early in life and I stay away from women like that, but that makes me pretty lonely, because everyone in this town is just like my Mom, perhaps less intense and a little more scrupulous, but still similar. It's even worse now, because my husband insisted that the boys go to summer camp this year for their various sporting activities, so they're gone for the next three months."

As they entered the kitchen and put the bags down on the portions of the counter Ryan had not yet begun to demolish, he finally regained his ability to talk.

"What about your husband though, you have him for company, don't you?"

Without missing a beat, Marissa turned to the groceries as she replied to his question and began to put them away. "No, not really; I mean, he works a lot when he's in town and that isn't that often. I assume you spoke with his secretary about this job?" Without waiting for him to reply, as if she didn't even need his answer to confirm her suspicions, she continued. "Half the time when he needs to tell me something, he has her call. I swear I speak to her more than I do my actual husband…..but….I mean, it's okay; I understand." For the first time since she began talking, she remembered that she didn't know this man and that she was sharing intimate details about her life with him. True, she was an honest person, but there should be a line that a wife does not cross when she is talking about her husband and their relationship. "Don't get me wrong," she explained, "my husband is good to me. He takes care of me and the children; we never want for anything."

"Right," Ryan said while edging his way towards the open door that led back outside to the patio and garage. "I'm just going to go and get the rest of those bags for you."

"I'll help," she replied eagerly, rushing forward to join him, but he put his arms out to gently stop her, accidentally brushing his hand across her shoulder. It was several moments before either of them could speak. The tension and instant attraction that filled the spaces in between them was palpable. Shaking his head to clear the fog of desire away from his mind, Ryan broke the connection by taking his hand away and continuing his escape back outside. "No, it's alright," he explained, "I'll go ahead and get them while you start putting things away." Smiling weakly at her one last time before he turned around and ran out of the door, he left a very confused and shocked woman just standing in her over-sized kitchen staring after him.

Returning, laden down with more bags than any one person should ever carry, Ryan found the woman reaching up to put an item away on a high shelf, causing her shirt to rise a great deal and giving him a very generous view of her midriff. Of course, she'd have to be like that when I walked in, he thought to himself. Letting his eyes watch her greedily, he noticed that you would never be able to tell that she had two children by looking at her body. It was practically flawless, and it didn't look like it was the work of high-priced plastic surgeon. Dropping the bags wearily unto the counter, he startled her and she jumped around to face him, smiling at the sight of his face again.

"Thanks," she innocently said before moving towards the bags he had just put down to unload them as well. "My name is Marissa by the way."

"Ryan," he returned, "but I think I should call you Mrs. Carnahan."

Marissa turned to look at him, the disdain she felt for that name evident upon her face. "Please don't call me that. The only people who call me Mrs. Carnahan are those who either want something from me or just plain don't like me. I'm hoping you won't fit into either of those categories."

"Thanks, but no thanks; it wouldn't be professional of me to call you by your first name." As she went to protest, he held up his hand in a halting manor. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to work."

He thought she would just leave, go off to another part of the house, another of their many rooms, but she remained much to his displeasure. Ryan was a loner, an introvert, and he preferred to be left by himself much of the time. That's why he worked alone doing specialty jobs; he couldn't stand working with a crew of men. Their constant chatter and bragging annoyed him.

"That's fine, Ryan, go on ahead and do what you have to do. I'm about to make some lunch though, because I'm hungry. Would you like some?"

"I already ate," he said shortly, shooting down her offer without a second's hesitation.

His dismissive tone stung. Perhaps it was because she was not expecting him to treat her like that, he seemed so nice, or maybe it was because she was starving for attention and companionship, but whatever it was it bothered Marissa. She did not give up though. He was going to be here for a couple of weeks, five days a week, and that gave her an excellent opportunity for someone to talk to. Who knows, maybe they could even become friends. So, with that in mind, she continued to talk to him.

"So, Ryan, are you married, do you have any kids?"

His answer was simple. "No."

"No, you don't have any kids or no you're not married," she continued to push. The thought that he was single was an interesting one for her, an appealing one….not that she would act on it, but it was still nice to think about.

"No, I don't have kids, and, no, I'm not married," Ryan elaborated. Before she could ask him another question, he turned on a saw to continue working on the demotion of the existing kitchen cabinets – or at least the portion of the kitchen he was working on first. In order to be accommodating, he was trying to do as much of the work in stages so that the kitchen would never entirely be out of commission.

Marissa waited patiently, working on her lunch silently as Ryan continued to work. She watched him, unnoticed, as he labored away, the muscles in his well formed and built body tensing and tightening as he moved, and then pounced on the opportunity to talk to him again when the saw was turned off.

"Did you go to college," she asked him out of the blue as soon as silence once again took over the kitchen, making Ryan turn around to face her.

He was surprised by what he saw. She sat there with a foot-long sub, potato chips, and a pop in front of her at the kitchen table. Speaking up, he answered her question. "Nope."

"Me either," Marissa lamented. "I wanted to. I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life, but I still wanted to go, you know, join a sorority, make new friends, learn new things about myself, leave Newport, but my Mom insisted that I stay here, and when Gerry, that's my husband, proposed, it was always what my Mother wanted for me, so I said yes. Ten years later, here I am."

Ryan honestly didn't know how to respond to that. The fact that she let her Mother dictate her life so much was sad. It seemed as if she had never been allowed to do anything she ever wanted to do, as if her life was a script, she was the actress, and her Mom the playwright controlling her every word and action. Deciding that it was best to avoid the topic because he was afraid of saying too much and revealing what he really thought of her husband and mother, he just changed the subject. "What's all that," he said in a frustrated voice, pointing to the food in front of her. "I told you I already ate."

"Oh this," Marissa indicated as she looked down at the sandwich and chips, "oh, this isn't for you; this is my lunch."

"You eat," he shot back at her in a surprised tone. "I thought Newport women only pretended to eat." His annoyance with her came bubbling to the surface. All he wanted to do was work in peace and quiet and she wouldn't leave him alone, and the fact that he was attracted to her just made him even more frustrated. Perhaps if he made her mad, she would disappear. Quirking an eyebrow at her and speaking in a mock serious tone, he asked, "or is this the one meal you allow yourself a month? Perhaps you're just going to run and throw it up later?"

He turned back around believing he had finally pushed her to the edge and that she would leave him alone, but, apparently, she gave as good as she got. Shocking him, she sprang from the table and lunged in front of him, pointing an accusing finger into his chest as her sapphire eyes, most beautiful eyes he'd ever seenstop it Ryan, flashed dangerously at him.

"What the hell is your problem with me," she asked angrily. "I have been nothing but nice to you since the moment I saw you, and how do you treat me in return? First, you were rude and indifferent, ignoring me and refusing to hold an actual conversation with me, and now you're just cruel! As for your accusations, I'm not even going to dignify them with an answer!"

"Good then," he said as he side stepped away from her, "that means you can take your food and eat in the other room. I'm sure there's a really interesting soap opera on right now that you're missing, and then, once you leave, I can work without you constantly yapping in my ear!"

Moving back in front of him, once again, and pushing against his shoulders in an antagonizing manor, she continued to fight with him. "I wouldn't give you the satisfaction of leaving this room! Besides, someone has to make sure you don't slack off or steal anything. We have a lot of value stuff in this house, and someone with your background…."

"What's that supposed to mean," he cut her off, the anger still present in his voice, but she could see panic and fear in his eyes and hurt, as if he was not expecting her to say those things to him.

"Nothing, forget I said anything," she lied as she pushed her way past him, but this time, he would not let go of their argument. Taking her by the arm and twirling her around once again to face him, he moved in closer to her body as they matched each other glare for glare.

"You don't know anything about me, got it," Ryan ordered. If this was any other man in her life, Marissa would have been scared that they were going to hit her, something that was not a foreign experience for her. She had been slapped around more than once by the men she was involved with, but fear was the last thing she felt with Ryan standing so close to her. I want him. The thought soared through her mind, astonishing her and making her feel alive all at once; the attraction was utterly alien. With her high school boyfriends, with her husband, it had always been a chore to be intimate, but the only thing that she could think of as she watched Ryan's face, inches away from her own, was that she wanted him and she wanted him now. Before she could act upon her urges, he pulled away and turned his back on her ruining the moment.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, her voice barely audible. "I didn't mean anything by what I said. I just knew you weren't from around here, so I thought that I could touch a nerve with what I said. I wasn't thinking….obviously."

Making light of her apology, Ryan moved back to his work. "It's fine Mrs. Carnahan; you don't owe me any explanations. Like I said before, you're my employer and I'm your employee. This is why we shouldn't be talking to each other."

"But you're wrong," Marissa shot back, the emotion now returning to her voice as it grew in volume. "What's wrong with us being friends while you work here? I really don't have any friends, and, I'm guessing by your sparkling personality and superb conversation skills that you don't have many friends either." He went to interrupt her, but she just kept talking. "And I know what you're to say, that you like your life, you like being by yourself, but do you really? I used to tell myself that same thing, but then I realized that it was just an excuse and I just preferred being by myself than being with people I didn't like, and despite everything, I don't mind you."

"Wow, thanks for the compliment," Ryan replied sarcastically, folding his arms in front of his chest as he waited for her to finish with what she was saying.

"Well it's more than what you've given me so far," she shot back testily. "I know I can be annoying, that I'm nosey, and that I ask too many questions, but I'm just trying to find some common ground so that we have something to talk about for the next couple of weeks. You're going to be here everyday, and unless I have an errand to run, I spend all day here as well, so what do you say?"

Sticking her hand out for Ryan to shake it, she waited in vain as he just stared at her. "Mrs. Carnahan, please…." The fact that he called her by her married name again after she had spoken so honestly to him and offered her friendship up so easily was like a slap to the face. Not wanting to break down in front of him, she took the hand back that she had extended for him to shake and covered her mouth with it as she ran out of the kitchen, her lunch forgotten.

"Mrs. Carnahan," Ryan called after her retreating figure. "Marissa!" He didn't know what made him say her first name, to address her so personally, but it didn't matter. She was gone, off to some far off place in the house where she was no doubt crying. "Shit," he cursed before turning back to his work, his pride and lack of nerve keeping him from going after her. It's going to be a long few weeks, he silently said to himself, grimacing at the thought of it, as he gathered up a load of wood and went to throw it in the rented dumpster out back.

After Marissa had run out on Ryan, she had retreated to her bedroom. Because he was away so much, her husband kept his things in another room so that he would never wake her if he had to leave early or if he got home late. Once she was safely inside of her own private sanctuary, she almost immediately stopped crying and sat in front of her vanity and looked at herself in the mirror for hours, going over every last detail of her life. What she was thinking was crazy, she knew that, but she also couldn't deny the fact for the first time in years, she had found something….someone who excited her, someone she could have fun with.

Even after she had heard Ryan pull out of the driveway, she sat there. Finally, pushing herself up, she made her way to her closet, pulling out outfits she hadn't worn in years. Suddenly, she had a reason to wear them again.

Late that night, after having tried on and sorted through all the clothes she had removed from her wardrobe, she lay in bed, emotionally and physically exhausted. Despite the fact that she had neglected her daily chores, she still felt as if she had worked non-stop the entire afternoon.

The room was dark; she refused to turn on a light. The room was silent; she refused to turn on the tv or the radio. Her mind was spinning; she refused to stop it. She would be 30 years old that fall, and nothing had prepared her for this moment in her life. Tomorrow could not come fast enough.

Unfortunately for Marissa, her fantasies were interrupted by the annoying reminder that life did exist outside of her bedroom when the phone range. Answering it without looking at the caller ID, she already knew who was calling. No one else called so late.

"Hey Gerry," she greeted her husband with a less than enthused voice. "How's the trip so far?"

"Good, good," he responded back. Laughing silently to herself, Marissa realized that she didn't even know when her husband had left, where he had gone to this time, or when he would be back.

"And how are you," she asked, feigning interest.

His answer was brief, apathetic, "Fine." Instead of asking of her in return or even the kids, he immediately got to the point of his phone call. "How did the first day of the kitchen remodel go with…what was that guy's name again that I hired….."

"Ryan," Marissa answered for him, not even aware of the change in her tone from lethargic and bored to excited and dreamy. "It went well," she continued without giving her husband a chance to say anything. "He worked on the demolition today and even helped me carry in the groceries."

"If you would let me hire help you wouldn't have to carry in your own groceries," he chastised her like a little child. Sometimes she wondered if that was how he looked at her, like another one of his children, like someone else he was responsible for, someone else he had to take care of.

Annoyed, she snapped back, "Gerry, we're not getting into this again. Look, I'm tired and you're making me mad. Maybe we should just…."

Before she could say anything else though, he cut her off. "I've got to go Marissa. Call and give my secretary daily updates on the progress on the kitchen. I should be back in a few days but then I'll have to leave again. I'll call you with my flight information." With that, the line went dead and Marissa was once again left alone with her thoughts.

Stretching out her long, lithe limbs like a cat who had just licked the cream, she smiled to herself before settling back into the pillows to continue imagining many pleasant scenarios as slumber slowly overtook her for the night and pleasant dreams replaced her fantasies.

Ryan arrived home that evening around 6:00 after a very long day on the job. Once Marissa had left the kitchen, Ryan was able to work, and perhaps because he was so wired from the events that had transpired between them, he seemed to work even more furiously than normal. However, he still had not calmed down.

After jumping out of his pickup, he unlocked his front door and went immediately through the house to the backdoor in the kitchen to let the only thing he routinely looked forward to seeing daily back inside, his dog, a Golden Retriever named Q.

"Hey girl, sorry I'm late," Ryan apologized to his dog who had happily bounded her way to her owner to let him pet her affectionately. Moving to the fridge, Q never leaving his side, Ryan took out a bottle of water, opened it, and downed almost the entire thing. Sitting it down on the counter, he went over to the sink and filled up Q's water dish for her. Greedily, the dog lapped up the cool liquid. Walking into his living room, Ryan flipped on the tv, which was habitually tuned to ESPN News, to see the day's highlights and scores, but, unlike normal, he could not concentrate on what the sportscasters were saying. Finishing off his first bottle of water, he went back into the kitchen, reopened the fridge, pulled out another one, and grabbed an old box of pizza from a few nights previous and went back to settle down on the couch.

He ate in silence, Q eventually coming into the room and laying at his feet contentedly. Knowing that he'd never be able to sleep as agitated as he was, Ryan turned the tv back off, threw the now empty pizza box onto the coffee table, and stood up, making his way back to his bedroom where he changed his clothes quickly and grabbed Q's leash.

"Hey girl, you want to go for a run," Ryan asked his dog when he re-entered the living room?

Q did not have to be asked twice, and the two were quickly out the door together and in Ryan's pickup as they headed to the beach. This is what he did when he was having a particularly stressful or bad day; he and Q went for runs on the beach right at the surf's edge. They ran until they couldn't move any more, collapsed in the sand to rest before swimming in the ocean, and then finally, already exhausted, ran back to the truck to go home and fall into bed for the night.

And so, that's what they did, but, unlike most nights, it didn't help Ryan get any closer to being able to sleep. Q was zonked out beside him on the bed, actually taking up more space than Ryan was, slightly snoring, and totally oblivious to her owner's raging thoughts and troubled mind.

Getting out of bed, he made his way into his backyard and settled down on a chaise lounge. As he gazed up at the stars, so peaceful yet mysterious and frightening in an unknown sense, he couldn't help but think of Marissa. That's how he would describe her, peaceful to be with, but mysterious and frightening at the same time. But she was married, she was from Newport, and she annoyed the hell out of him sometimes. Sighing, knowing that in less than hour he had gotten himself into exactly the type of confusing situation he had always attempted to avoid, he swore to himself that he would not give in, that he would refuse to see the good, the beautiful, the magical in her and focus on her character imperfections…. if she had any, a little voice inside of his head taunted him.

Speaking out loud, his voice full of uncertainty, Ryan re-voiced his earlier concern, "it's going to be a long few weeks."