Chapter One

The waves crashed lazily against the shore, the cool water dancing across her bare toes as she strolled along the water's edge. The sun was slowly setting, the bright orange orb connecting with the horizon and casting a brilliant glow upon the rippling waves. It was a beautiful sight to behold, so beautiful that even the most talented of artists could not capture all of its beauty.

And it was the mark of the end of her first day of summer vacation.

The skirt of her white sundress danced about her calves, a warm breeze flowing in from the ocean. She wrapped her arms around herself. Not because she was cold, but because the scene was so peaceful and serene that she felt like she would burst from the feeling in her stomach.

The feeling of her first summer of freedom.

For the first time in her life she was allowed to be free, to know what it was like to be a normal seventeen-year-old girl. Her mother and father had decided on a romantic vacation for two, sort of like a second honeymoon for the both of them and her brothers had all made plans while still away at college.

As for her… well, her grandparents had been her saviors.

They owned a beach house in Virginia Beach where they were so close to the ocean that all they had to do was step out onto their back porch and they were at the water's edge. And while her parents were away, they'd asked if she would like to join them and even possibly stay the entire summer if she'd liked.

She hadn't been able to pack fast enough and the trip down had felt like an eternity. But now that she was standing on the beach, the wind blowing through her hair and the feel of the water washing over her, she just knew that this was going to be the summer that would change her life forever.

"Heads up!" came a call from behind her, but she made no attempt to turn around or even more out of the way before something crashed into her.

Something hard and very heavy.

It crashed painfully into her left side, sending her flying into the surf. She screamed right before she landed in the knee-high water with a splash. And as if things couldn't get any worse, a wave chose that exact moment to wash over her. When she came back up, she was soaked from head to toe and her long blond tresses hung in front of her, blocking her assailant from view.

Fighting with the unruly locks until she was able to look at anything beside hair, she looked around for whatever had decided to run her over at full speed. She didn't know what she would have expected to find but this had definitely not been on her list of things it could have been.

"Are you okay?" the teenage boy looming above her asked, though by the look in his dazzling chocolate brown eyes, it was obvious that he was trying not to laugh. His bare, perfectly tanned shoulders shook slightly as he stared at her—drenched from head to toe—and tried to apologize. "Look, I'm sorry. Crash should know better than to throw it that hard. I thought you heard the warning." The tips of his ears turned bright pink in embarrassment. He could hear the snickers of laughing coming from behind him and knowing that his friends were laughing at his clumsiness.

Although, if it caused him to trip over pretty young girls like her more, it probably wouldn't be so bad. 'And this one probably looks just as pretty when she's dry. That steamed look on her face it very cute too,' he told himself with a smile.

"What warning?" She struggled to get to her feet, but her dress had absorbed so much water that she couldn't pull herself up. She only succeeded in creating more of a splash as she felt back down on her butt.

He offered his hand out to help pull her up. "I called for you to look out, but I guess you didn't hear me." His smile grew wider when she allowed him to help her up and took careful hold of her arms. He swallowed thickly as he felt the smoothness of her skin, a shock of electricity shooting through his entire body. He was struck dumb as their gazes locked.

She was just as shocked as he was, having felt that same jolt of energy shoot through her. She pulled her hands from his and just started at him. Her moth opened and closed, but no sound came out.

"I'm sorry," he apologized again, as if it would get her to speak again.

"I… I have to go," she quickly said before turning around and starting to run back to the beach house.

He stared after her as she ran, his brow creased in confusion. He'd had many reactions to his usual and charismatic charms, but turning tail and running was definitely a new one. "Huh," he wondered right before a heavy hand landed on his shoulder.

"And the great Sparky does it again," chuckled the tallest of the three, the hint of an accent coating his words.

"Sweeping the girls off their feet again, I see," chuckled the second the second-tallest with the blond hair. "Although, I think you might have zigged when you should have zagged."

"Says the man who on his last real date managed not only to spill his soup on the sheila he was with, but when he stood up to help her clean it off, he knocked over a waiter and sent an ice cream sundae into some poor unexpecting gramma's face."

"At least I didn't crash my car into a tree because he couldn't keep his eyes off of his date and on the road."

"Get nicked, Harvard!" the tall Australian growled with a shove.

"How many bones did she break again, Crash?" Harvard retaliated.

Crash gave his blond friend a dark look. "It was only one… though it was one of the hardest bones to break and it did require two months in a cast… and the sheila never did forgive me," he thought aloud. "But, that's beside the point!"

They both stopped their arguing and looked at Sparky. Usually by now, he would have broken up their little tiff and make them work off their frustration by throwing the football around again, but he just continued to stare off after the girl who was now long gone.

Harvard waved a hand in front of Sparky's face and with a resounding sigh, he mumbled, "Sparky has left the building."

"There was something strange about her," he mumbled when he realized his friends were trying to gain his attention.

"I'll say," Crash chuckled with a playful nudge to Sparky's shoulder. "I never met a woman who was immune to your charms before, Spark."

"It's not that. It's something else." But what that was, he just couldn't quite put his finger on. She had to have heard him call out, hadn't she?

"Well, let's not stand here burning daylight," Harvard griped as he picked up the dropped football and tossed it to Crash who quickly passed it to Sparky.

"C'mon Spark. Loser buys dinner."

That instantly got his head back in the game. He was determined to not lose again, especially with what Crash could pack away.

But still, deep down in the back of his mind, the girl lingered.

She ran until her lungs couldn't take anymore. Stopped when the beach house was in sight, she dropped to her knees and gasped for air. She instantly realized how bad of an idea that was, though. Her left side began to throb in pain. The impact had definitely been harder than she'd first thought and now she was paying the price for not paying attention in the first place.

"Suzie?" her grandmother asked as she stepped out onto the back patio and hurried down the steps to her granddaughter's side. She'd seen her running down the beach and didn't think anything of it until she saw her double over and clutch her side in pain.

Young hazel eyes met her own aged ones and quickly darted down to look at her lips. "Are you okay, sweetie?"

Suzie nodded as she fought to catch her breath. "I'm okay, Gramma," she smiled as brightly as she could, but there was no way the older woman was going to fall for it.

"Then please tell me: why you were running like the Devil, Himself was chasing after you?"

Suzie's cheeks turned bright red. The truth was too embarrassing and by this time, her grandfather had taken the opportunity to join them. She shifted her eyes from one to the other before she lowered them. "I… I had a run-in with this… these boys. That's all." She felt her grampa's hand rest upon her shoulder. She instantly responded by lifting her eyes.

"Did they hurt you?" was his first question.

She wished it hadn't been. "Not intentionally," she defended. Her grandfather was very protective of her and wouldn't let some boy get away with teasing her just because she wasn't like all of the other girls.

She saw a frown crease the corners of his mouth. "I mean, it was an accident. Neither of us was paying attention to where we were going. I was walking on the beach and he went to dive for a football one of his friends threw too hard. Honestly." She hoped they believed her. And why wouldn't they? It was after all the truth and she wasn't prone to lying. Yet something in the back of her mind held on tightly to one last bit of doubt.

A sense of relief flooded over her as she watched the older man's features soften. "Very well." He would accept her answer but the pain in her side had him worried. His wife seemed to have the same feeling if the frown on her lips was any indication. "Now, why don't we go inside and you let this old doctor take a look at that?" He smiled kindly at her as he motioned toward her side.

Suzie's smile was beaming as she nodded in agreement. She kept a hand against her ribcage as her grandmother helped her up the stairs to the desk and then into the house.