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Sink or Swim (Beach Kingdom #3)
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Andrew Prince wakes up before everyone else. He schedules the bar shifts, demands perfection from Long Beach’s lifeguards—most of all himself—and makes sure the family debts are paid. His unfaltering worth ethic might leave him exhausted, but it comes with one advantage. It distracts him from the love he’s been harboring since childhood for the girl next door—who he cannot have.
Jiya Dalal has dreams. To fly a plane, see the world below…and prove irresistible to her best friend, Andrew. But she needs to be a good daughter first, which is becoming an increasingly difficult task, since her parents expect a good marriage and the man she loves with all her heart refuses to pursue the blistering connection between them. Just when she’s beginning to believe Andrew truly doesn’t want her, a moonlight tryst on the beach exposes his true feelings. But an echo from the past kept them apart before…and it’s only growing louder with every stolen kiss…
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Andrew woke up to the sound of crying.
Crying was nothing new in their house, but this was different. The sobs sounded lighter than his mother’s. Younger.
Heart seizing in his chest, Andrew threw himself out of bed, wincing when the bruise on his ribs connected with the bedside table. He only took a split second to acknowledge the pain, however, because the cries coming from outside his window were making him feel far worse than any bruise. Any injury. He’d put up with endless abuse from his old man if it meant she would stop crying.
Having reached the window in record time, Andrew dug his fingers beneath the rickety, wooden frame and heaved it up. “Jiya?” He stuck his head out into the darkness, finding her huddled below, a ball of white cotton and messy black hair. “What the hell is going on? Come here.”
She lifted her head, swiping at her eyes, and Andrew got lightheaded over the way moonlight bathed her face. God, she was so pretty. Too pretty to be crying.
“I can’t come in,” she said, sounding miserable. “Not anymore.”
“Why not?” Andrew barked, before softening his tone when it reminded him too much of his father. “Why not, Jiya?”
“My mother knows I’ve been coming over at night. She saw the grass stains on my nightgown and noticed I’ve been tired…”
Andrew swallowed hard. “I’m sorry I’ve been making you tired.”
“No.” Jiya shot to her feet. “No, I love coming over.”
“Oh.” He bit back a smile, even though the happiness her words brought him was ridiculous. Jiya came over on the nights his father stumbled home drunk, because she knew what it meant. Business at the bar wasn’t doing well, money was tight and their father always took it out on somebody. Andrew was the oldest son and he tried to get in the way of those swinging fists as often as he could, but sometimes they missed and found their mark on his mother instead. Those were the worst nights.
After all, his mother didn’t have a Jiya to come over and curl up beside him afterward. Or pat her back, whispering nothing was her fault. Andrew was the luckiest kid in Long Beach to have a friend like Jiya, but it sounded like those comforting moments in the dark were being taken away from him now.
Well, he’d be damned before she felt bad about it. Bad about anything.
“Hey.” Andrew climbed out the window and dropped down beside Jiya on the patch of land that separated their houses. “It’s okay. I’ll still see you at school. I’ll see you all the time.”
“It’s not the same.” Jiya pressed her lips together, cutting a furtive glance to the side. “My mother said I can’t just go around sneaking into boys’ bedrooms anymore, because…”
“I’m developing,” she whispered, looking horrified.
Of course, Andrew’s attention locked right in on her breasts, before he whipped his gaze up toward the sky. “Jesus Christ. I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry I’m developing?”
“No. I mean…yes.” He shifted on his bare feet, pretty confused by his reaction to Jiya’s changing body. Part of him was horrified on her behalf, the other part of him wondered what the growing part of her anatomy might feel like to the touch. Which filled him with a strange mixture of guilt and…something else. “What’s the right answer?”
He looked down in time to catch Jiya’s shrug. “Andrew?”
“You’re my best friend.”
With his heart pressed up against his jugular, hugging Jiya seemed like the only thing in the world to do—and he wanted to so badly. Always did. Andrew pulled her to his chest and settled his cheek on the top of her head. Just like any other time he held Jiya in his arms, a sense of rightness settled over him. What would she say if she knew his deepest, most private thoughts?
They were more like dreams, though, weren’t they?
Not a day passed without Andrew closing his eyes and imagining him and Jiya living in the same house, sharing food from the same fridge, watching television together at night until she fell asleep with her head on his shoulder.
Until then, he would protect her from everything. Hurt feelings, bad people, storms.
“You’re my best friend, too.”
Jiya sniffed. “You’re not going to treat me differently now that I’m a woman, are you?”
That weird something else feeling prodded him in the belly. “No?”
She looked up at him with a raised eyebrow.
Andrew cleared his throat hard. “No.”
Seeming satisfied, she settled back against him. He allowed himself to absorb her heat for a few more moments, before he urged her back toward her house. “I don’t want you getting in trouble again just for me.”
He knelt down with one knee bent, their usual way of boosting her back through her window. She rested a hand on his shoulder, preparing to climb in, but stopped, leaning down to kiss him on the cheek. “You’re worth it, Andrew.”