Hardy Boys: The Liars' Club
Frank Hardy threaded his way through the crowd of partiers, past the fire pit and as close to the water's edge as he could get without getting hit by a wave. He settled himself in the sand with the moon behind him then visually located his brother through all the hubbub. Joe had his guitar out and he was talking with his bandmates and then all eyes were on him the second he sang that first note.
It was still so intriguing to watch, to see how he captivated an audience with just a few words and a genuine smile. So far away from the gangly, shy boy who had first come to stay at the beach house ten years ago. Now he had grown into his skin. He was confident and open. He had a razor sharp wit and knack for making conversation. Girl or guy, young or old, stranger or friend – Joe could and did talk to anyone and everyone.
It was a talent Frank sometimes envied. Oh sure, he could hold his own at a party but people didn't gravitate toward him, the way they gravitated toward Joe. Like now. Everyone at the beach was looking his way; Rudy, the first timer who had never seen the ocean before, Liz who lived at the beach year round, her roommates and the couple from London on their first visit to the states. Most of the others were summer pals. Regulars who rented the same beach houses the same two weeks in July year after year. Frank knew a little about each of them but he didn't know any of them well.
They were all dancing and clapping and enjoying the sight of Joe putting on a show. Frank would never admit it out loud, but he was proud of his little brother and that's what he was thinking when Barbie Banning fell into his lap. Literally.
"I am such a klutz!" She struggled as if to extradite herself from him but it was clearly an excuse to put her hands where they didn't belong. She twisted sideways mashing her chest against his and her hand grabbed hold in a way that made him gasp sharply under his breath.
"Barbie, I'd like to keep that if you don't mind."
She pushed out her rosy lower lip and tipped her head forward so they were nose to nose. "I was kind of hoping you'd share it with me."
Before he could formulate an answer, someone else beat him to it.
"Excuse me, sweetie, but you're parked in my spot."
Frank tipped his head back and saw a shark's smile on the face of one very lovely lady. Ryan Canuso filled out a bikini better than any of the other girls on the beach. She was tall, tan and with a mane of golden brown hair that Frank could get lost in - had gotten lost in, a dozen times since he'd met her a week ago.
"I was just keeping you spot warm," said Barbie as she accepted Ryan's offer of a hand up.
"Not necessary. After an hour with me, he's warm for the rest of the night."
Frank shivered and it wasn't because of the cool ocean breeze. Ryan extended her hand to him. "Up."
"Yes, m'am." He took her hand but his own legs did most of the work. As soon as he was vertical, she slipped into his arms and kissed him on the lips. A small gesture, but it set him off like a match on a strike strip.
Joe and the band slowed the tempo just then with a sultry version of "Under the Boardwalk" and Frank made a mental note to thank his brother later. Right now he was enjoying the feel of Ryan swaying against him in time with the music. They moved away from the crowd and the fire, half dancing and half just caught up in the friction between them. Frank buried his face in her hair, so soft and silky and smelling like fruit and sea air. The skin at her neck smelled of coco butter and tasted like a sweet dessert. He kissed her throat, scrapped his teeth over her ear, then their mouths met and it was as if they were starving for each other.
Frank's promise to stay and listen to Joe sing flew away like a startled seagull when she whispered in his ear, "Let's find someplace more private."
It took every ounce of strength he had to step back from her but knowing where this was going made it all right. He took her by the hand and led her down the beach toward the rocks and the pier. The fast walk became a run and soon the sounds of the music and the party were washed away by the sound of the ocean.
They had to step into an incoming wave in order to skirt a rocky barrier and then they were under the protection of the pier. It was darker than Frank would have liked under there. He wished there was more moon so he could see her as he made love to her, but there was less chance of being interrupted here than on the open beach.
"Perfect," Ryan whispered, then shed the thin cover-up she wore over her bathing suit. She pulled off Frank's t-shirt leaving him with just his swim trunks, but the way he was feeling he knew those would soon be gone, too. He dropped to his knees in the cool sand and brought her to him with his hands on her hips. His lips were in line with the low rise of her bikini bottom and he kissed her there revealing in how close he was to what he wanted.
She moaned and thrust her hips into him as her fingers knotted in his hair. She had control of him with that, keeping his face to her when he attempted to lean back. "Not yet." And she might have meant it to sound like an order but it came out all breathy, and needy and wanton.
The ache in his belly was approaching unbearable, but he wasn't ready for it to end, even if she said let's go right now. Better to make it last. Better to draw it out until he thought he'd go mad from her touch.
He sat back on his heels and she loosened her hold to allow it. His lips left hot marks along her inner thigh and soon she was shaking too hard to stay standing. She collapsed into him and they both fell back into the sand.
"So beautiful," Frank murmured between kisses. "I want you so much I can't think straight."
"Don't think, just do. No stopping this time."
That was music to ears but there was one little problem. "We can't. Not here. I don't have any protection on me."
"Doesn't matter." Her hand closed over him to make it clear. "I'm on the pill. It's fine. Please. I want you to make love to me."
And that was all the permission he needed. He got her out of her bathing suit bottom with one hand, then she did most of the work on his swim trunks. Then it was all skin on skin. The cool night air quickly turned as warm as the mid-day sun as they moved against each other in a different sort of dance. She started out beneath him, her nails raking his back with every thrust. In the back of his mind, Frank worried that he was hurting her since he could hardly control the speed and depth. He was muscular and athletic but so was she. She took it and begged for more, faster, harder, deeper and when he reached his limit he rolled to his back and let her takeover on top.
Ryan could give it as hard as she took it and Frank had the vague thought that he'd be well and truly bruised come morning. It was a state he was used to, but normally getting there wasn't this much fun. She shifted suddenly and the wave tore through him. He arched up into her as his fingers dug into her thighs. Then she collapsed on top of him and they stayed that way, his heavy breathing lifting and dropping her like the hills on a roller coaster.
She spoke, but he couldn't hear her past the buzzing in his ears and when she climbed off of him he tried to protest but his brain couldn't form the words. He closed his eyes and when he opened them again she was dressed. She tossed his trunks at him then ran off. Obviously he was supposed to follow but his body had other ideas. Where the hell did she find the strength after that workout?
Groaning out loud, Frank struggled to stand, then pulled on his trunks. There was sand in places you didn't want sand to be and he was dying for a shower. . .and a bed. Right now, it was a toss-up between the two. He snatched up his t-shirt, shook it out then put it on as he walked back toward the ocean. He saw Ryan after he came around the rock jetty. She was walking along water's edge, her cover-up flapping behind her like wings. Frank shivered and this time it was from the cold night air.
Joe was still singing, but now he was accompanied by a half-drunk chorus of rowdy partiers. Frank caught his eye and Joe shook his head. Probably in response to him leaving mid-concert again or maybe he could see it all on his brother's face.
He caught up to Ryan just then, turned her around and kissed her gently.
"Walk me home?"
"Sure." Frank slipped his arm around her waist and together they climbed up the dunes to the line of beachfront apartments. Ryan, Barbie, Liz and her friend Helen were sharing the rent on place two doors down from Frank and Joe. The house in between had the couple from London and their friend, while Joes bandmates occupied the rental on the other side along with Frank's surfing buddies.
"I feel like we're living in an Annette and Frankie movie," he said when they reached her door. "Only you'd have to be the exotic vixen from Hollywood come to steal Frankie away." he expected her to laugh but instead he saw a faraway look in her eye. Not good. "Hey, whatcha thinking?"
"That life's not a movie." She kissed him quickly. "See you in the morning."
Any thought that they might go another round vanished when she stepped inside and closed the door.
Joe was performing to a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden when he was rudely interrupted by a very cheery and annoying brother.
"It's a beautiful, bright and sunny day, little bro and the waves are calling your name."
"Calling your name," Joe mumbled. "They don't know my name." He yanked the pillow over his head to block out both Frank and the sunlight.
"You're going to miss seeing Liz in a tight wetsuit."
That image almost made him come out from under.
"And you're going to miss seeing your big brother show Peter and Logan who's really king of the surf."
A pillow smacked him on the back. Hard. "You're the only person I know who vacations at the beach but never goes near the water."
"Hey, I saw Jaws. Twice."
"Fine. Miss out on all the fun. I guess I'll see you at lunch then."
"Lunch," Joe repeated and seconds later he was back on that stage singing to a screaming crowd made up of nothing but hot, young women.
The next time Joe woke up it was after 9:00. He rolled out of bed, took his time in the bathroom then pulled on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. Next, he poured himself a glass of juice, grabbed a muffin from the box they'd bought yesterday and headed out to the patio. From here, he could see Frank and the others riding the waves.
Logan was bigger than Frank, so it was easy to pick him out even at a distance. Liz, the only girl in the pack, was also easy to spot. Peter and Frank were almost interchangeable so at times, it was only the color of their wetsuits that allowed Joe to tell them apart.
He settled into a chair and kicked his feet up on the low railing enjoying the sound and smell of the surf. Even though they lived near the ocean all year round, the ocean at the beach had its own special rhythm that was both exciting and relaxing at the same time. And then suddenly Frank disappeared from view. Joe sat up in his seat and focused on the water until he saw the ocean spit his brother back on to the beach. Frank sat there for a moment, then stood and picked up his board.
Joe was about to sit back again, when he saw Frank stumble. Probably just stepped on a shell or got his foot stuck in the sucking sand. Surely nothing to be worried about. Still, Joe noticed something off about the way Frank climbed back on his board and paddled out to sea.
What he needed was a closer look. What he needed was his binoculars. Joe got up and turned to go back inside and that was when he saw the envelope taped to the sliding glass door. His name was printed on the front in neat, block letters.
Forgetting the binoculars, he tore the envelope off the glass then broke open the seal. Inside was a single folded piece of paper and a handwritten message.
Welcome to the Liars' Club. Find out who has the most to hide and maybe I'll let Frank survive.
Joe whipped his head around toward the ocean. It took all of two seconds to locate his brother among the other surfers but they were the longest two seconds of his life.
But that did little to quell the pain in his stomach.
He reread the note as if he might find something he'd missed the first time. There was nothing to miss. It was clear and simple. Find the liar and save Frank's life.
Maybe it was a joke. A mystery game dreamed up by their friends as a way of teasing them about their adventures. Logan liked to ride them both, calling them Sherlock Holmes and Watson and only yesterday, Liz had asked them to find her missing locket.
It had to be a game. He was sure it was a game, until Frank got hit by a huge wave and this time he didn't come up.