Sympathy For The Devil is Caleb Jackson’s story. Dive master, charter boat operator, one third of Jackson’s boat building enterprises – you may have met him in The Honeymoon Trap. He played the good brother in that story, and he can be a good brother. He tries to be.
He just doesn’t always succeed.
Have you ever done something you shouldn’t have? Ever screwed someone over and vowed never to do it again?
Welcome to Caleb’s world.
Eighteen-year-old Caleb Aaron Jackson had one older brother and one younger. Put them all together in a crowded room and he and his older brother Cutter invariably fought for the limelight. Set them to working together and he became a fast-talking peacemaker between free-wheeling Cutter and stubborn Eli. Peacemaking wasn’t exactly his forte but at least he got points for trying.
Along with the occasional shiner and a reputation as a troublemaker that he absolutely didn’t deserve.
Give it another two months and his final set of school exams would be over and he’d be joining Cutter and his father and grandfather in the family business. Boat builder, marina lackey, trawler fisherman, sports fishing guide, dive boat operator… he almost had his dive master certification already. Yacht broker… he had a hankering to get his hands on that part of the family business as well, although that might take a while given that he’d have to wait for his grandfather to step aside first. The old man could shake loose every bit of cash in a novice yachtsman’s wallet with impressive ease, throw in a second-hand ship’s bell while he was at it, and the buyer would still walk away well pleased.
Caleb could see some of those old bells now, piled haphazardly on a dusty storage shelf above a half-built galley kitchen that had come out of someone’s yacht. This was his grandfather’s storage area, the place where old ship fittings went to die. It was also the place where Caleb had come to hide from the party going on downstairs. Friday night parties at the marina were mostly Cutter’s doing, but a heap of Caleb’s friends were down there too, spilling out onto the jetty and mixing in just fine. With only eleven month’s age difference between him and Cutter and a bunch of common interests, their friendship groups tended to overlap.
So the party kicked on below him and Caleb would get back down there soon enough and stir up some fun, but for now the little storage room – with its bells and cobwebs – was his sanctuary.
It wasn’t normal, this bleak, black mood that had descended upon him tonight, along with an overwhelming need for solitude and more alcohol than was good for him. It wasn’t like him to brood. Life was shiny, his future assured. All it required of him was hard work, dedication and loyalty to family.
Above all, loyalty to family.
Which was why, when he looked up and saw Breanna Tucker standing in the doorway, his scowl deepened. “Party’s downstairs,” he offered curtly. “Cutter’s downstairs.”
This was pertinent information. Bree Tucker being Cutter’s girl and all.
But she didn’t head downstairs, instead she came over to where he sat sprawled on some old deck cushions and stood looking down at him, her expression unreadable. She glanced at the half-full bottle of scotch at his side and her eyebrow rose in silent query or maybe displeasure. He never knew what Breanna Tucker was thinking when she looked at him. He didn’t know why the laughing, fun-loving girl others knew her to be clammed up silent and uncertain whenever he was around.
Or maybe he did know.
Same reason he turned into a silent, brooding ass.
“You don’t like me,” she said.
“You’re Cutter’s girl, not mine. I don’t have to like you.”
“You watch me when you think no one’s looking.”
“What is it that you see?”
“I see Cutter’s girl. A pretty girl.” She was pretty, he’d give her that. Possibly even stunning – all long limbs, sun-browned skin, honey-streaked hair and the liveliest smile. She had eyes that saw too much and lips made for kissing.
Watching her and Cutter kiss could gut him faster than skilled hands could gut a fish. “Cutter’s downstairs,” he said again, a touch desperately this time. “You should be too.”
But she didn’t leave. “You’re beautiful, you know. All three of you Jackson boys are so impossibly photogenic. Eli and those eyes of his. Cutter’s smile. And you.”
She didn’t expand when it came to what she thought beautiful about him and maybe that was a good thing. “Those photos I took of the three of you unloading the morning catch… do you remember me taking them?”
He remembered. She’d been there waiting for them one morning, just on daybreak. Just ignore me, she’d said to him and he’d wished he could. Stop posing, she’d said to Cutter and Cutter had grinned, wide and wicked and she’d caught that smile on film, of course she had. That picture now had pride of place on the boat shed wall, along with a good one of Eli and their father emptying a bin full of prawns into the sorting grid.
Bree took his silence as an invite to stay. She settled down beside him on the cushions, picked up his whiskey and started drinking.
“Hey,” he protested and reached for the bottle in order to slow her down. “Easy, light-weight. It’s not water. Also… it’s mine.”
“You’re not going to drink it all,” she murmured, even as she shot him a sinner’s smile and licked a drop of stray bourbon from her lips. If she’d been his girl he’d have taken care of that perfectly placed stray droplet for her. As it was, he wrenched his gaze away from her lips and let her rest the bottle somewhere in her lap.
“I sent a dozen of those photos to an art school in Melbourne as part of my application for entry,” she said after a long minute’s silence. “I got in.”
“Congratulations.” He meant it. “They were good photos. Everyone loved them. My mother’s going to get the ones you gave to Cutter framed.”
“She hasn’t seen the best ones yet. No one has.”
“Why hide your best ones?”
“They were of you.”
He let that hang there. He didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing, and a frozen moment later she dropped her gaze to the bottle still cradled in her hands. “Now I just have to tell my parents that I applied and got in.”
“They don’t know you applied?”
“Thousands of people apply to get in to this course every year. Thirty people get accepted. It was such a long shot that I didn’t think it worth mentioning.”
“Won’t they be pleased for you?”
Bree shrugged eloquently, her bare shoulders dark against the snowy white of the sundress she’d thrown on over her butter-yellow bikini. “My parents think that photography is something you do on the side, not as a profession.”
Her mother was a solicitor, her father a doctor. Bree was their only kid. He could see how her choice to pursue photography might not fly in the Tucker household.
“Have you ever wanted something and thought it was out of reach only to find that it’s not?” she asked, her eyes faintly pleading. “Caleb, it’s right there in front of me… all I have to do is reach out and take it, and I’m scared I’m going to fail and I know it’s going to turn my world upside down but I want it so bad. Have you ever felt that way?”
He hadn’t. Not really. He shook his head. “My future’s mapped out for me and I like the shape of it.”
“The family business,” she murmured. “Jackson’s Marina, the next generation.”
“Yeah. I want this life. I love it. But you… if you want to be a photographer why not go after it? Have a little faith in yourself. The course selectors have faith in you.”
“Yeah, but what if it’s the wrong decision? What if it’s a mistake? I’ve been making a lot of those lately.”
“What kind of mistakes?”
“Keeping secrets. Not being entirely honest with myself.” Her gaze met his, naked and unguarded. “Wanting to be up here – with you – rather than down there with your brother.” She lifted the bottle to her lips again and his gaze got hopelessly snagged on the press of her lips against the opening. Again, he shot his hand out to slow her down.
“Enough,” he murmured gruffly. “Have you told Cutter you’re leaving?”
“In the morning. Cutter’s a great guy, don’t get me wrong. I’m going to miss him when I go and he’s going to miss me. I expect him to wait a full two weeks before he finds my replacement.”
“For you he might wait three,” Caleb offered, and she laughed, low and husky, the noise wrapping around them, drawing him ever closer to making a huge mistake of his own.
“You keep ignoring what I’m trying to tell you,” she said. “I wish I’d seen you first. Known you first. I wouldn’t have gone out with him if I’d met you first.”
“Bree, I can’t—”
“And now there’s no fixing it, because I know how close you and your brother are and I know you’re not going to make a move on me. Nothing’s going to happen between us. I’m just going to spend the rest of my life wishing that it had.”
She lifted the bottle and he stopped her, leaning forward and getting all up in her space as he took the whisky from her and set it out of the way. “You don’t need that.”
“Yeah, but I want it.” Her gaze skittered to his lips. “It’ll make me feel good about myself.”
“Not for long.”
“Doesn’t seem to have stopped you.”
She raised her hand, tentatively placing her palm over his heart, or thereabouts. His nipples pebbled instantly, he closed his eyes and fought for the control required to keep his hands to himself. Not that she afforded him a similar courtesy for she grew bolder, scraping the edge of her thumb across his nipple before moving on to his collarbone, up his neck to his jaw. She pressed the pad of her thumb to his bottom lip next and he took a ragged breath. He stayed motionless, not touching her, still not betraying his brother. But his forehead rested against hers and damned if he wasn’t trembling ever so slightly.
So was she.
Her thumb moved, a tiny drag across the flesh of his lip, a catch, soothed moments later by the soft swipe of her tongue. He would’ve liked to call the sound he made next a groan, except that it was most definitely a whimper. A tortured, breathless, broken whimper.
“Would it help if you closed your eyes and pretended I was someone else?” she whispered against his lips.
And then she wove her hands in his too shaggy hair and brought his lips down to hers and he let her be the aggressor for all of two seconds before he opened for her and took what he’d been dreaming of taking for the past six months. A kiss deep enough to drown in, a taste of the forbidden.
He’d never tasted anything sweeter.