Home > Forever Mine (Hazel Island, #1)

Forever Mine (Hazel Island, #1)
Author: Iris Morland

 

Chapter One

 

 

Jack Benson considered his options: get up and leave without a word or suffer through the indignity currently being hoisted upon him.

"Come on, smile!" said Gigi, the woman he'd been seeing off and on for three months. "Why can't you ever smile for a picture, at least?"

Jack forced himself to smile. Apparently, that wasn't good enough for Gigi, because when she looked through the photos, she made annoyed noises at every single one.

Jack was a fisherman, for Christ's sake. He didn't give a shit about social media, and he sure as hell didn't give a shit about taking selfies, either.

Gigi, her mouth in a pretty pout, wrinkled her nose at him. "I can't post any of these. My friends don't believe that I even have a boyfriend."

Jack, lounging in his bed, sat up at that pronouncement. "Whoever said anything about 'boyfriend'?" he rumbled.

Gigi fluttered her eyelashes. "It's been four months."

As if time were the sole marker of a relationship. Jack had to restrain a snort. Gigi wasn't a bad sort. She was the type of woman he'd always preferred: pretty but easily bored. Because once these women got bored, they left. And that was how Jack liked things.

Jack wished he had a bottle of whiskey on his bedside table. Instead, he went to his tiny kitchen, made them both two mugs of coffee, and handed one to Gigi.

"Look." He cleared his throat. "I'm not a boyfriend kind of guy."

Gigi laughed. "Every guy says that."

"I'm not every guy."

She pouted again, not even touching the coffee he'd given her. "Do you have nothing else to say?"

"What do you want me to say?" Now he was just confused.

Gigi quickly bounced from his bed and slipped on her clothes, shooting him daggers as she did so.

"You know what I think?" she said tightly.

He didn't think it wise to reply to that question, either.

"I think you don't know what you want. Any guy would love to be with me, so it's not me. It's you. You're just messed up." Gigi grabbed her purse and, after she checked her hair in her compact, gave him the finger before flouncing out to her car.

Jack winced when he heard her tires peeling out. He just hoped she hadn't run over his freshly planted sod.

Pulling out a bottle of whiskey he stashed under his mattress, he poured some into his coffee. Then he did the same thing with Gigi's leftover mug.

 

 

Jack had worked as a fisherman on Hazel Island, a small island in Puget Sound, for over a decade. On his boat, the Perseverance, he was at home. He didn't have to deal with people demanding things from him that he didn't have. It was just him, the sea, and the stink of freshly caught fish.

Not that fresh fish should literally stink. He'd learned that quickly when he'd started. He'd been amazed to find that fish straight from the water smelled and tasted of the ocean itself. He never sold fish that actually stunk–only a hack who didn't care about his catch or his customers would do that.

Jack pulled in a net filled with salmon, the fish wiggling and flopping about in one last attempt at freedom. But the net was lighter than usual, and when he looked it over, he realized he hadn't caught nearly as many as he'd expected.

And the salmon—they were strangely small, not at all like he'd been used to catching over the years.

Jack used to catch crabs primarily. Within the last year, though, he'd begun fishing for salmon as his main source of income. Crab fishing in particular had started to dry up due to overfishing.

Although the waters around Hazel Island were vast, they only had a few different species of fish available for commercial fishing. When Jack had moved to the island, he hadn’t realized that there were better fishing grounds elsewhere in the Sound. At that point, though, he’d already felt at home on Hazel Island and hadn’t wanted to leave.

Jack grunted. There were ups and downs with this business: bad weather, bad catches. Some years, he struggled to keep up with all the fish he'd catch. Other years, it was like the entire ocean was devoid of life. Feast or famine–that was the life of a fisherman.

But it was always temporary. This, however... Jack had a sinking feeling in his gut that this was a bad omen. He’d naively assumed the overfishing wouldn't be an issue like it had with crabbing.

Based on this catch, he had a feeling he wasn’t going to be so lucky a second round.

By the time he returned to shore and began packing the salmon for sale with the help of a few guys he hired seasonally, he was in a dark mood. If the other guys noticed how pathetic this catch was, they didn't mention it.

Hazel Island was a sleepy town with no more than a thousand residents. The population swelled with tourists in the summer, but now that it was fall, the island activity had slowed down.

Jack made his usual stops at the various grocery stores and restaurants that bought salmon directly from him. His last stop was the Hazel Island bed and breakfast.

Gwen Parker, the owner, stepped outside the moment he turned off the engine of his truck. "Oh good, there you are! You're late," she teased.

Gwen had moved to Hazel Island five years ago to open her bed and breakfast. With her red hair, freckles, and wide smile, she'd quickly become a favorite in the community. She was always friendly, always willing to lend a hand or an ear. Her business had taken off and had yet to slow down. She'd somehow managed to draw in tourists for the rainy winter months when no one else on the island had done so.

Gwen Parker was a marvel that Jack did not understand one bit.

He looked at his watch. "I'm not late," he replied.

"You're usually here by eleven. It's eleven-thirty."

He looked around when he entered the kitchen of the bed and breakfast. Based on the quiet emanating from the dining room, they weren't busy.

"Sorry," he said gruffly. "I'll put these in the fridge."

He carried in Gwen's usual order, setting them in the same spot, something he'd done for five years.

When he returned outside, Gwen was standing by his truck, her head cocked to the side.

The sun had begun to shine through the clouds, and it made the strands of gold in Gwen's hair stand out. Jack had always wondered how many colors her hair held.

He'd wondered it, but he'd never, ever, attempted to see it for himself.

"You might be interested to hear Gigi came by this morning for some breakfast," said Gwen, her tone casual. "She seemed very put out. She asked for hash browns, which she never does."

Jack gritted his teeth. "So?"

"Aren't you two seeing each other?"

"No." He paused. "Not anymore."

"Ah. Well, she told Darla all about it, apparently. She was spitting mad. Said men were absolute beasts and she hoped a certain fisherman fell off his boat and drowned." Gwen's lips quirked. "I think you made her mad. I've never seen Gigi say anything mean about anyone. I think she's even nice to mosquitoes."

Jack let out a reluctant laugh. "I probably screwed that up," he admitted. He peered more closely at Gwen. "Since when do you care?"

Gwen seemed taken aback. "We're friends, aren't we? And I thought, you know, I could give you some advice—"

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