SIDESWIPED by Lia Riley (June 30, 2015; Forever Trade Paperback; Off the Map #2)
It was only meant to last the summer . . .
Talia Stolfi has seen more than her share of loss in her twenty-one years. But then fate brought her Bran Lockhart, and her dark world was suddenly and spectacularly illuminated. So if being with Bran means leaving her colorless SoCal life for rugged and wild Australia, then that’s what she’ll do. But as much as Talia longs to give herself over completely to a new beginning, the fears of her past are still lurking in the shadows.
Bran Lockhart knows that living without the beautiful girl who stole his heart will be torment, so he’ll take whatever time with her he can. But even though she has packed up her life in California and is back in his arms for the time being, she can’t stay forever. And the remaining time they have together is ticking by way too fast. Though fate seems determined to tear them apart, they won’t give up without a fight-because while time may have limits, their love is infinite . . .
An hour later I’m zipping the back of Talia’s wet suit at the edge of the tide line. Moonlight glimmers on the black water. The waves line up perfectly, peeling clean. I breathe deep, savoring the air’s briny tang and the musty smell of decomposing kelp. My awareness is sharpened by anticipation, the five senses amplified by the dark.
Talia shuffles at my side, getting antsy.
“You sure about this?”
“Yes. Well, sure enough.”
Another set breaks. The conditions are choice. If she changes her mind, I might need to have a ride—a quick one.
Maybe two, tops.
“What’s that noise?” She stills. “There it is again. Can you hear it?”
I concentrate and smile when a sound like a wheezing donkey drifts from beyond the breakers. “Fairy penguin.”
“Shut up! There are penguins around here?”
“Sure. In the summer they build burrows in the scrub along the coast. If you stand outside a colony right after sunset, things get pretty noisy.”
“Penguins.” She almost whispers the word. “That’s so cool.”
The wash races over the sand and breaks across our toes. I figure out a plan of attack. “We’ll paddle to the left shoulder where the wave’s less steep. Stick with me, okay?” No one else is out and my voice feels extra loud even though I’m speaking quiet.
“Have you ever been to Rome?” She takes my hand.
“No, not yet.”
“Me neither. But I can’t imagine the Sistine Chapel being more amazing than this.”
Besides the moon, there’s zero light pollution. The Milky Way arches in a dazzling band across the sky’s apex. Individual stars are indistinguishable in the brilliant haze.
She squeezes my hand in reply.
We paddle out.
“Whoa!” She pushes her chest up to better peer over her board’s tip. Around us the water casts a luminous green-blue light.
“Phosphorescence. Cool, eh? It’s blooming phytoplankton, caused by this marine species of dinoflagellates releasing enzymes that—”
“That’s enough, Sid the Science Kid. Let me retain this fairy kingdom illusion a little while longer.”
“Science is cool, Captain.”
“I never said— Oh, crap!”
Instead of duck-diving under the incoming wave, the water wall pounds her in the face. She breaks through the other side, coughing out a lung.
“We can head back to shore, don’t have to—”
“I’m fine. Please. There’s a wave coming. I can feel the pull. Can you?”
“You want it?”
“It’s all yours.”
I take off on a left break and fly down the smooth face. For a few perfect seconds, I’m right here in the moment. Rational thought is eclipsed and with it the aggravating confusion of having everything: Talia, Tasmania, honors, and still hungering for more like a greedy bastard. I paddle back to her.
“You looked great.”
“That was good.”
She sits, bobbing lightly. “It’s not as freaky out here as I imagined.”
“Fucking hell, Captain. You said you weren’t scared.”
“No, I never did. I’m scared by everything. But I want to do this.”
We’re quiet. A few more waves come but I let them go, happy to be with my girl, the stars, and the radiant water.
Hard not to believe in magic on such a night.
She clears her throat. “About what happened back at the house…if this is going to work, you can’t shut me out. You’re not just a you anymore; we’re an us. We have to be there for each other.”
I bob on my board and drag my fingers through the water. The phosphorescence lights from my touch. Finally I speak. “Karma’s got this mate; he’s on the crew of a Sea Alliance vessel. There’s an opening for a gig, with voyages to Japan and Antarctica.”
“You want to go for it?” I can’t decipher her expression.
I almost say no, but honesty’s easier in the anonymous dark. “Yeah, kinda. But I want to be with you more.”
“Oh, Bran, that’s way too much pressure.”
“What do you mean?”
“Imagine coming home in a few months and I’m all vegged on the couch, watching awful reality television. Will you think to yourself, ‘I could be gallantly defending the high seas but instead I’m attached to this boring anchor’?”
“Life with you is bound to be a lot of things, but boring isn’t the first depiction that springs to mind.”
“But life isn’t always night surfing. I…I can’t compete against a fantasy.”
“I never said you had to.”
“Isn’t supporting the other’s goals a fundamental part of the good girlfriend/boyfriend job description? I mean, say I always wanted to volunteer in Africa? Join the Peace Corps.”
“I used to toy around with the idea. Now? I’m not sure but I don’t want to close myself off to opportunities.”
“We can travel through Africa someday.”
“Peace Corps is one of my dreams, not yours. I want you to have the freedom to pursue your own happiness.”
“You make me happy.” I strike my words like flint before sucking in a rough breath. “Look, I’m not a guy cut out for the long-distance thing. I hated every second we were apart the last two months.”
“Bran…” She reaches out her hand and I take hold. “I won’t let go.”
“Me neither.” I scrutinize the sky, heart clanging. Everything appears so deceptively still. In reality, the Earth careens through space. Talia and I, we’re little specks of cosmic dust in the grand scheme. It wouldn’t take much to blow away from each other.
“But in the future—”
“I hear what you’re saying and I appreciate the support. But the only future I’m willing to discuss is the one where it’s me and you—together.”
Better to orbit far away from black holes.
UPSIDE DOWN by Lia Riley (May 12, 2015; Forever Trade Paperback; Off the Map #1)
Twenty-one-year-old Natalia Stolfi is saying good-bye to the past-and turning her life upside down with a trip to the land down under. For the next six months, she’ll act like a carefree exchange student, not a girl sinking under the weight of painful memories. Everything is going according to plan until she meets a brooding surfer with hypnotic green eyes and the troubling ability to see straight through her act.Bran Lockhart is having the worst year on record. After the girl of his dreams turned into a nightmare, he moved back home to Melbourne to piece his life together. Yet no amount of disappointment could blind him to the pretty California girl who gets past all his defenses. He’s never wanted anyone the way he wants Talia. But when Bran gets a stark reminder of why he stopped believing in love, he and Talia must decide if what they have is once in a lifetime . . . or if they were meant to live a world apart.
Talia Stolfi is deeply in love with the brooding Aussie surfer who stole her heart-but their infrequent letters only get her so far. While she fulfills her dream of being in the Peace Corps, a dangerous condition jeopardizes her life . . . and threatens to shatter her heart.After nearly losing Talia forever, Bran Lockhart sailed to the stormy seas at the ends of the earth. Deep down, he knows that all roads worth traveling lead back to the beautiful California girl with the sunny smile. There’s no denying that he belongs with her, but to have her by his side means Bran must dare to do something he’s never done before: hope. Everything they’ve fought for has come down to this moment. Can Talia and Bran discover the courage to claim their future and learn that sometimes, in order to earn true love, you need to venture off the map?