A Stories from the Shore Book
A second chance for romance on a scuba diving vacation plunges Anthony and Walter into deep waters—will they use love’s lifeline or go under alone?
Party guy Anthony Vallen believes in happy endings—just not for himself. He hits Key West for a vacation with friends, ready for some fun in the sun. To his horror, the owner of the local scuba dive shop is Walter Elkins—former scientist, meticulous control freak, and the guy who broke Anthony’s teenaged heart. Anthony throws up his shields with jokes and banter, but Walter draws him in by admiring him and listening to him like no one else has. Despite their painful past, Anthony’s defenses soften and his reasons for shunning romance no longer hold much water. But whether Walter will come on board remains to be seen. Walter has never gotten over brilliant, fun-loving Anthony, but he’s compelled to keep Anthony safe—not just from the ocean depths but from himself.
Soon Anthony and Walter are in over their heads, their love as unstoppable as the hurricane they find themselves in the middle of. To prevent their fears from pulling them under, Anthony needs to get serious—about his worth and his heart’s true desires, and Walter needs to trust—in himself, in fate, and in Anthony.
2nd in Series but can be read as a stand-alone.
Second Edition, revised and expanded.
- 3 To Be Read lists
Publisher: Independently Published
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Bad Breakup, Beach Romance, Love Can Heal / Redemption, Reunited and it Feels So Good, Second Chances, Uncommunicative Masculinity
Word Count: 67,000
Setting: USA, Florida, Key West
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Same Universe / Various Characters
I NEVER expected to find my second chance for love in a dive bar in Key West.
I was there on vacation with my cousin Jonathan and his awesomely hunky husband Marco. I take full credit for their relationship, by the way. If I hadn’t made up fake names and pushed Jonny to be his best self on that LGBTQ cruise last year, he’d still be hiding out on Cape Cod instead of married to the catch of the century. To be honest, I could never have imagined either me or Jonny snagging Marco Pellegrini. He was several rungs above both of us in sheer looks and accomplishments. But sweet? The man was a pussycat inside. Leave it to my equally sweet cousin to discover the real Marco and make him his. It was enough to make my inner romantic vomit rainbows and roses.READ MORE
Anyway, we were taking a much-needed vacay after working our butts off on the Pellegrini-Vallen Foundation for LGBTQ youth that we’d founded back in March, and Marco wanted to take Jonny scuba diving. I wasn’t averse to tagging along, even though I had no plans to strap an oxygen tank on my back and sink like a stone into the ocean deeps. No, thank you!
Sophia, Marco’s kickass sister, was with us. Some schmuck in New York had broken up with her, and I persuaded her to come along to keep me company and be my dancing partner. And besides, my heart could use a little shoring up too. Not because of some vile man, mind you—I never let anyone get close enough to hurt—but because I was facing the worst thing in the world in a few short weeks. My thirtieth birthday. The day I was to officially become decrepit and be forced to confront my life choices and wasted youth.
WE’D DUMPED our luggage off at our oceanfront condo, rented by the awesome Marco, and walked to Cap’n Otto’s, reportedly a great bar and made even greater by the fact that it wasn’t in Old Town where the tourists flocked, but was close to where we were staying. It was the beginning of October—early in the season—but the place was hopping. As we sashayed in, a collection of watercolors on the walls caught my eye and I stopped to check them out. All local artists. Whoever owned this place obviously was a patron of the arts, and as a would-be artist myself, I approved.
Despite it being outside of the tourist zone, Cap’n Otto’s had clearly been discovered by Key West’s LGBTQ contingent. Sophia had gravitated to the small dance floor, which was crowded with a motley assortment of mostly gay guys. I jumped right into the middle of things, shaking my booty—nicely showcased in tight canary yellow shorts, the color tying in deliciously with my tropical shirt covered in pink, blue, and yellow flowers. I looked cute, if I did say so myself. (And I did. Frequently.)
As Sophia and I boogied, I became aware of a guy shimmying near us, mostly because he was drop-dead gorgeous. His brown curls, sensitive features, and full lips were straight out of a painting by Botticelli, while his body was made of sin. His immaculate makeup (eyeliner, lip gloss) created an alluring feminine-masculine blend. As I stared, he caught my eye and threw me a lethal smile complete with some eyelash fluttering. I beamed in return, then resolutely turned my back on Baby Temptress, as I’d already dubbed him. Too young, too beautiful. He’d use me up and wear me out, then drop me like an over-the-hill anvil. Best not to even start.
Still, I couldn’t help glancing over at him as he gyrated into my peripheral vision. He smiled at my cavorting and ran his eyes over my body in blatant appreciation. When I shook my head at him, he laughed outright. Cheeky little bugger. I surrendered and shimmied closer. By that time, Sophia had left to order us drinks.
Soon, Botticelli Boy and I were matching moves. I tend to be a maniac on the dance floor, and this kid was keeping up. My fantasies of licking the sweat off his neck were interrupted by a shout from the bar.
My young admirer snapped out of his attempts at seduction and scowled in the direction of the voice. “All right, already!” He turned back to me. “Gotta go. My boring boss is putting me to work. What’s your name?”
“Anthony. And you’re Miles?”
“Yep. Will you be around for a while?”
“Good.” Miles gave me a dazzling smile that was more sin than angel and headed off toward the bar.
I followed his shapely form until Sophia was standing in front of me. “Getting right into the swim of things, I see.” She raised her eyebrows and glanced significantly in the direction Miles had gone.
“Nope. Too young.”
Sophia and I danced more, joined by Jonathan and Marco. Miles seemed to have disappeared completely, which was just as well. After a few more songs, Marco and Sophia went in pursuit of mudslides, a drink we’d all become addicted to on the cruise, while Jonny and I hit the head.
“Happy?” I asked Jonny as we were coming out of the restroom. It was a rhetorical question. Jonathan and Marco emitted enough joy vibes to light up the planet.
“Yes. And you don’t have to say it for the millionth time—I have you to thank.”
“Exactly. Let’s go drink a mudslide.”
“Hurry up, you two!” That was our ever-impatient Marco, always wanting to move things along.
“Keep your pants on, Pellegrini!” I called back as Jonathan laughed.
Two bartenders were working that night—a guy and a girl. I figured the guy must be Miles’s “boring boss.” As we reached the bar, I caught a glimpse of his thick dark hair and well-built body displayed nicely in tank top and shorts, but I didn’t recognize him until I saw his profile up close. I knew that nose and those lips. I’d know them anywhere. He turned, and his eyes met mine. For an interminable moment, he stared at me. Then he turned away abruptly, busying himself with the cash register on the back wall.
I clutched Jonathan’s arm and dragged him backward several steps.
“What gives?” Jonathan cast me an indulgent smile, used to my dramatic reactions.
“Look at the bartender,” I hissed.
“Huh?” Jonathan squinted over at the bar. “Who?”
“The bartender at the end. The guy. I think it’s Walter.”
“Walter? Who’s Walter?”
I wanted to slap him. Who’s Walter? Only my first (and last) true love. Only the boy who’d broken every tiny bit of my seventeen-year-old heart—smashed it to smithereens and then stomped all over it for good measure. Only the reason why, despite being a cheerleader for romance, I was alone, always the bridesmaid and never the bride.
“Walter Elkins, you fool,” I whispered. “From Franklin Prep?” Jonny’s blank expression made me want to murder him. “The first guy I ever—”
Marco and Sophia were ordering our drinks from the other bartender, a tough tattooed gal. Walter (if it really was him—I was praying I’d been mistaken) turned away to pull some draft beers, and I saw my chance for escape.
“Oh God, let’s get out of here.” I tugged on Jonathan’s arm. Even hanging around for Miles the Cutie wasn’t worth the sheer humiliation of coming face-to-face with my past.
Jonathan peered at the bar. “How can you be sure it’s him? Hasn’t it been, like, ten years?”
“Twelve, to be exact, but who’s counting?”
Marco turned and called to us. “Jonathan! Anthony! Mudslides await you!”
Shit, shit, shit. Marco would have to use our names at that exact moment. Walter wasn’t likely to recognize Jonathan, who’d left his nerdy persona behind over a year ago, but I looked pretty much exactly as I always had, even in twelfth grade. Blond, tall, skinny, and flamboyant as hell. I was sure Walter had recognized me in those few seconds our eyes had met. And was now ignoring me, giving me a sick sense of history repeating itself.
Sophia said something to Marco in her animated way, music pounded out of the speakers, Jonathan nudged me forward, and I was done. Dead meat. Crocodile fodder. My ghost was wafting to the bar behind which stood Walter Elkins, because the rest of me was disappearing into the worst memories of my life.
Cautious, contained and stoic Walter Elkins has a hero complex of sorts. Being able to protect those he loves is key, and his protective streak is a mile wide. And Anthony Vallen? “Even though emotions were my friends […] I didn’t have a stoic bone in my body.” Anthony is out and proud and loud. He’s the life of the party, he’s the hurricane that hits land and everyone has to batten down the hatches and ride out the storm.
Walter and Anthony were unlikely high-school boyfriends (“I brought him out of his shell, and he calmed me down. And he took me seriously. He listened to me in a way no one but Jonny ever had before.”) until Anthony almost drowns and Walter, hating he couldn’t keep Anthony safe, was unable to face him after that. Twelve years later, they meet again in Key West (where Walter now owns Back Bay Dive & Sail) when Anthony, Jonny, Marco and Marco’s sister Sophie go on a scuba-driving vacation.
What follows is a story of second chances, a hurricane, and some seriously hot sex because, hello, Walter for all his stoicism is hawt. Personally, I liked the Anthony and Walter’s dynamic. They just plain fit each other:
It had felt safe being around Walter. He’d taken care of everything, slowly and patiently. I could be my fluttery self—a butterfly flitting all over—because I knew he would be there when I needed to land.
I liked the idea, as Jonny says, “the universe brought you two together again for a reason. And I don’t believe it’s so you guys can screw it up a second time” and while declaring their love is easy, getting the rest of it right is a bit more of a struggle.
In Over Our Heads is a fun read, and I liked Walter and Anthony, as well as the secondary characters and I’m hoping we get another installment of the series featuring Walter’s brother Miles.
“Sometimes all you need is a second chance to get things right.”