Sweet Water by Laurie Lewis College life could not heal the wounds an unstable home life inflicted upon programmer Olivia Morgan, until scholar Hudson Bauer welcomed her, introducing her to his friend, Jeff McAllister, with whom he was developing a college business. Olivia joined the project, and while she and Hudson dreamed of using their success to improve the world, Jeff set his sights on fortunes and on Olivia. On the most important night of Hudson’s life, Olivia and Jeff eloped, and upon hearing the news, Hudson leaves town, along with the company's first big contract and Olivia and Jeff's dreams. Olivia McAllister now holds billionaire entrepreneur Hudson Bauer responsible for all her losses, including her anemic marriage and the tragic accident that leaves her body battered, and her dreams of a family shattered. In desperate straits, she is forced to accept Hudson’s offer to recuperate at his parents’ empty house on Oregon’s Cannon Beach, but her return to the place where the three friends once summered casts new light on her hasty marriage, and on the enemy she once called friend. When Hudson offers Olivia a job doing humanitarian work, hope reawakens in her, along with memories of what she and Hudson almost had. But guilt over Jeff’s death leaves Olivia stuck between grief and the possibility of new love, forcing her to decide if she can embrace a future with a man she’s learned to hate, before Hudson walks away for the final time. 1. After a few frustrating minutes maneuvering the chair around the furniture, she managed to open the door but was wedged at an angle and stuck. With painful effort, she craned her neck and found Hudson and Laurel sitting at the kitchen table, flipping pages in the blue folder that held her discharge instructions. She studied the intense worry on Hudson’s face, his forehead resting in one hand as the other leafed through the notes. His face was leaner now, covered in dark, manly stubble. A few lines creased the edges of those dark eyes that seemed too intense for the once peaceful collegiate. She could see the young man she once knew in his upturned nose and in the way he sucked his cheeks in when he was deep in thought. His previous thin, youthful frame was muscled and moved with confidence now. They were the same height—five feet ten inches. Back in their college days, she enjoyed wearing heels and towering over him. He never minded nor did she. He was now the one towering over others in the corporate world. No longer equals, they were worlds apart, brought together only by pity. Or by guilt. She tried again to dislodge the chair, but the ruckus caught Hudson’s attention. He rose and took a few tentative steps in her direction. “May I help you?” he asked. His formal address was uttered with a softness that melted her pride. She nodded. So much about him was different. So much was yet the same. He had never cared for pretense. Comfortable clothes, serviceable shoes, soap, water, a neat haircut. These were Hudson’s fashion trademarks. His style had evolved. Hudson leaned over her to maneuver the wheels. The cologne he wore surprised her. Never a fan of guy perfume, as he called it, he acquiesced during a pre-graduation shopping trip to the mall. Olivia made him stop at the men’s fragrance counter so they could test a cologne she found in the fold of a magazine at a doctor’s office—Acqua Di Gio. She raved about the scent, but Hudson “didn’t think it was him.” She knew now that he had been right. This clean and woodsy scent suited him, taking her back to hikes shared with Hudson along the coastal trails, campfires on the beach, and the mingled aroma of woodland air and the sea. The muscles in his tanned forearms tensed and rippled as he gripped the wheels and forced them to turn. His hands surprised her. They were not the soft, manicured hands she would have expected from a business titan whose daily work involved lunch meetings and business negotiations. They were clean, but calloused, marred by recent scrapes and a few healed scars. Hudson was still a hands-on man. 2. The pair didn’t speak as Olivia drove across the beach that spread before the monolithic sea stack. Hudson walked slightly behind her, suffering as they retraced the steps where memories were made, leaving wounds that remained as raw as when she’d left. Olivia stopped when she came to a large outcropping of rock. “I love this place.” Hudson barely heard her above the sea sounds. Rather than reply, he stared at Haystack Rock, remaining silent. “Do you remember senior year when the three of us came down here at midnight to collect specimens for your biology final? It was low tide, and we had the entire marine garden to ourselves.” Oh, yes. He remembered everything about that night in explicit, agonizing detail. “Jeff said I could find lots of starfish in the caves, so I went because I wanted to surprise you, but the tide rolled in, and I became stranded. I was terrified.” Every muscle in Hudson’s body tensed in latent anger. He shoved his hands into his pants pockets and steeled himself for the telling of the story. “I tried wading back, but the current pushed me along like a cork. I thought for sure I was going to drown, especially when you ran back to your house. But you came back with a rope, hollering for me to stay put while you tied a line between one of the rocks on the shore and one near the Haystack. Then you pulled your way to me and back. You saved my life.” He felt the agonizing turn of the knife she’d inserted in his heart eight years ago when she married Jeff. Did she know what her words were doing to him? Against his better judgment, he fired one cruel shot her way. “And remind me where Jeff was during that rescue effort?” “He was … he was here … on the shore somewhere.” “I believe he was laughing at us, as I recall.” Olivia grew thoughtful. “Why are you saying that? I was trying to recall a good memory between us. Why bring Jeff into it?” “Why’d you bring this whole topic up at all? To preserve a memory? Then let’s keep it accurate. For the record, you ran off a few days later and married the guy who let you down.” He could almost hear her heart shatter. Olivia recoiled and fired back in a cold tone. “I think we were all pretty good at letting one another down, don’t you?” He jerked back at the accusation in her voice, burning his eyes into hers until she shrank under his stare like wax in a flame. “How did I let you down?” She took a deep breath. “I know we hurt you and ruined the team. I’m sorry. However naïve it sounds, it never occurred to me that you would leave.” Several seconds passed before she turned to face him. “It just happened. I know it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s the truth. I knew how Jeff treated me up to then, just tolerating me. But on the night he told me he loved me; it was different.” Her voice grew soft and oddly sad. “No one had ever kissed me or told me they loved me before. I got caught up in the magic of being wanted.” No one had ever told me they loved me before… The tender resonance of her voice read like a lie detector, confirming her words like the fatal testimony in a trial. No one … kissed me … told me … Remorse slammed him for fearing Liv’s attraction to Jeff but never having the courage to confront her about it. He had been a logical, tireless planner who misread the immediacy of her needs. Swallowing past a lump of choking regret, he shook his head and blew out a rush of air to silence his self-recriminations. “When was this magical, transformative evening?” 3. He stood and tucked the blanket roll under one arm while extending the other to Olivia. She accepted his offer, fitting into his support as if it was meant for her all along. She leaned on Hudson more heavily the further they went until he was bearing the majority of her weight by the time they reached the ancient cave. Two surfers in wetsuits were exiting the cavern and gathering up their boards as Hudson and Olivia arrived. They, too, had their eyes on the darkening sky, but they shifted their attention to the couple and down to Olivia’s legs. “Sprain?” the taller of the two asked. “More likely just muscle strain,” replied Hudson when Olivia failed to reply. “After we get our boards loaded, we can head back down and help carry her out.” Olivia stiffened at the thought of being hauled out by strangers like a sack of potatoes. Hudson made brief eye contact with her, evidently catching her mortification, and replied to their offer. “Thanks, but we’ve got it.” The shorter surfer glanced back at the dark cave and offered Hudson a knowing chuckle. “Gotcha.” In reply, Hudson shot him a look that ended his smirk, following up with a pseudo salute, effectually sending the dudes on their way. Alone now on the beach, Hudson led Olivia to the cave, which bore the signs of frequent use. The sandy floor was clean and cleared of debris, except for the pile of rounded rocks in the rear, smoothed and carried in by the tides. Kindling and small branches were stacked near the cave’s mouth, a few feet from where the remnants of someone’s fire still sat in a charred circle. Hudson untied the bedroll and several items fell onto the sand. Another good snap, and the blanket spread across the cave’s entrance. Hudson lowered her gently to the soft fabric. Relief filled her, and she leaned back and nestled into the soft sand. Her sigh brought the hint of a smile to Hudson’s beard-framed lips. It was short-lived. His face slackened as his dark, penetrating eyes fixed on her. His breathing seemed to stop, as did hers. Heat rose deep within her torso, spreading like fire through her face and neck from the intensity of his stare. A sheen of sweat broke out on her skin, and yet she shivered. She touched her face, expecting to feel the fire radiating there, but the motion seemed to break the moment. Without a word, Hudson took her empty water bottle and left, leaving her shaky and confused. As he departed, she shifted to watch him pick his way through the primitive beauty of the area, around scrub brush, through the teeming tidal pools, to a glorious waterfall spilling from the rock wall. Robinson Crusoe-esque with his rumpled clothes, his beard, and wild mop of tangled hair, Olivia was unable to tear her eyes from him. Gone was the shyness and gangly motions of his youth. The business titan who could buy or sell his own barrier reef or string of creature-filled islands now moved with confidence and care, as protective of a single mollusk or anemone as he had been as a beach-combing science student a decade ago. She wondered what made him that way. Clearly, the young man who had been everything to her back then was an even more splendid person now. The all-too-frequent burn of tears hit her again. Pepper had been on the money. Olivia had loved Hudson in college. If only he had been the one to propose instead of… Guilt tore at her over the thought. I am totally stunned at how much I loved this book. I pondered over the story for days--which I don't often do with this genre, and immediately started over to make sure I didn't miss anything and to enjoy the amazingly honorable Hudson. (Are there REALLY men like Hudson out there? One hopes, but ...) It is so refreshing to find a swoon-worthy clean romance! The mystery and characters gripped me from the very first page and held me captive till I devoured the book in one day. There were many levels of happy reading it! This is not the first book that I've read from this author( also known as L.C. Lewis), and let me say, she is a master at delivering powerful messages and pulling on the heart strings! Everything I've read of hers is AMAZING! Sweet Water touched me on so many levels, I really hope you’ll give it a read soon. I would not hesitate to recommend this story to any Romance reader. It’s deep, it’s touching and in many ways it’s real life.
Author Laurie LewisLaurie (L.C.) Lewis is Marylander—a weather-whining lover of crabs, American history, and the sea. Her women’s fiction novels, written as Laurie Lewis, include Unspoken (2004), The Dragons of Alsace Farm (2016) and Sweet Water (2017), books one and two in her Second Chance Romance Series, and Love on a Limb (2017), book one in her new Great Expectations Love Stories Series. Using the pen name L.C. Lewis, she wrote the five volumes of her award-winning FREE MEN and DREAMERS historical fiction series: Dark Sky at Dawn (2007), Twilight’s Last Gleaming (2008), Dawn’s Early Light (2009), Oh, Say Can You See? (2010), and In God is Our Trust, (2011). Please watch for her upcoming release, a remake of Awakening Avery, scheduled for a July 2018 release.
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