The Beach by R.S. Grey



One





“Welcome to paradise!”

It’s the first thing I hear as I unfurl my limbs from the back of the taxi and stand to face the entrance of the hotel.

Paradise. Right.

I’ve been looking forward to this trip for months now. Tulum, Mexico, has been on my must-see destination list for years, and I finally convinced my friends to join me on vacation here. There was originally a whole group of us coming: my best friend, Natalie; her husband, Connor; and their daughter, Noelle. Then Natalie thought it’d be fun to add her brother, Noah, to the mix. After all, he’s best friends with Connor. It just made sense to include him.

I panicked at the prospect of Noah joining us, so I immediately invited my boyfriend, Von, as well.

We booked one of the hotel’s family villas. Three bedrooms, three bathrooms—lots of space to spread out and avoid my best friend’s hot older brother.

I thought I’d survive just fine, but then they started to drop like flies.

Connor had a last-minute work thing he couldn’t get out of.

Noelle came down with a double ear infection and Natalie didn’t feel safe traveling with her outside of the country, especially without Connor.

Von is…also not here.

So that leaves me and Noah.

On vacation together in a tropical paradise.

“Welcome to The Beach!” The hotel’s curbside attendant smiles and holds out a huge pink hibiscus, which he apparently wants me to tuck behind my ear based on his enthusiastic gestures. I do it, nestling it in my long blonde waves, even though it feels a little corny. I also accept the jalapeño margarita he hands me, warning myself to take it slow even though I’m tempted to shotgun the thing on the spot. I already had some drinks on the flight down from Boston in preparation for my inevitable face-off with Noah. If I don’t pace myself, it’ll end up being a face-plant.

“I’ve got your luggage,” the attendant tells me. “You can head into the lobby and check in.”

I nod and thank him for the help before ascending the shallow concrete steps toward the front of the hotel. Lush plants grow on the perimeter of the stairs, making it feel like I’m stepping into a treehouse rather than a five-star resort. The lobby has no walls. Instead, lightweight white linens drape down from the ceiling of the thatched-roof hut, tied up against the support posts to allow the ocean breeze to carry in off the water.

Rattan chairs pair with sofas and trendy coffee tables. The common area is filled with guests checking in and out, so I’m not immediately aware of Noah sitting on a chair facing me. Then I hear him call my name.

“Lindsey!”

My stomach squeezes tight as my gaze locks on him.

It never gets easier.

Looking at him, that is.

Natalie likens her brother’s appearance to a moody French model. She only means it to be teasing, but it is, in fact, heartbreakingly true. His cheekbones are almost obscenely chiseled, and his brows are as dark as his artfully tousled hair. He rises out of the seat, drawing a few curious stares as he walks toward me.

He’s wearing shorts and a loose white linen shirt with the top two buttons undone. A red hibiscus sits in his breast pocket, a splash of color that draws my attention only for a moment before I continue my quick perusal of him.

He shouldn’t already look so tan and handsome—we only just arrived here. Some of us are still one shade shy of eggshell.

He towers over me as he draws near, and I have to resist the urge to withdraw. My gaze focuses on his lips as he smiles.

We don’t touch.

We’re usually careful not to. At least I am.

“Did the attendant grab your luggage?” he asks, glancing behind me.

I nod. “Yes. Did you already check in?”

His dark eyes snap back to mine and seem to carry a sense of amusement when he replies, “I was waiting for you.”

So then we’re really going to do this.

Vacation together.

What could possibly go wrong?

Noah and I have known each other for years. He came into my life because of my friendship with his sister, and we also work at the same hospital, but not in the same department. He’s in plastics. I’m in OB. Our paths don’t cross all that often, but when they do, I notice. It’s impossible not to take note of Noah Martin.

I’ve had a schoolgirl crush on him since the first time we met, but I’ve never shared that with a soul, not even Natalie. Especially not Natalie. What would she do if she knew I harbored feelings for her brother? Sure, I tease her about how cute he is—it’d almost be weird if I didn’t—but I’ve never divulged my fantasies or the extremes my brain takes me to when I’m alone and lonely.