Cassie Dunhill is sick of dating. It’s been ten years and it’s time, time to find The One. It’s either that or buy a fetching habit and veil and abandon the whole thing. But Cassie believes in love, and she’s not ready to give up yet.
Cassie and her best friends make a pact that the next date they go on will be their One Last First Date. The pressure is on to find Mr. Right, and Cassie’s the first to find him: Parker Hamilton. He’s good-looking, smart, cultured—and a doctor. Despite his obvious credentials, Cassie’s not taking any chances. She’s vetted Parker so thoroughly she could offer some pointers to the CIA. He passes with flying colors.
Things get complicated when Will Jordan, her irritating work colleague, muscles in on her dream job and her love life. Will is a typical guy, complete with nicknames for everyone, even Cassie. His good looks and relaxed and easy nature can be distracting. But Cassie can do without that kind of distraction right now, no matter how good Will looks with his shirt off.
“SO, WE ALL AGREE? We’re really doing this?” Marissa’s upturned face was illuminated by the crackling fire as the waves continued their dark, rhythmic pounding against the shore.
We stood in a tight little group, empty wine glasses discarded carelessly on a picnic blanket next to the glowing fire. I looked from one of my friends to the other. They were both smiling, their faces full of hope and excitement, their right hands placed on top of one another’s, awaiting mine.
I bit my lip as goosebumps rose on my bare legs in the late summer evening breeze. “After more than ten years of dating, we need to take things into our own hands.” I placed my hand on top of theirs. A surge of anticipation hit me, and my face broke into a grin. “Let’s do this.”
“Yes!” Paige cried, almost piercing my eardrum.
“Good,” Marissa added more calmly, nodding. “Let’s begin, then.” She cleared her throat. “We, the three present on this beach tonight, agree that—”
She was cut short by Paige. “Umm, Marissa?”
“What is it?” Marissa asked.
“It’s just . . . shouldn’t you name us?”
“To make it, you know, more official,” Paige replied.
We were still standing in the circle, our hands piled up on top of one another. My arm began to hurt.
Marissa rolled her eyes. “Okay, Paige. I’ll start again.” There was a sizeable note of irritation in her voice. Marissa cleared her throat once more, closing her eyes momentarily to collect her thoughts—and, perhaps, to try to remember our middle names.
“We, Marissa Jane Jones, Cassandra . . .”
“Clementine,” I whispered after a beat.
She shot me a surprised look. “Really? Pretty.”
I rolled my eyes. “Long story.”
She nodded. “Cassandra Clementine Dunhill, and Paige Prudence Miller, agree that—”
“Why does my name have to be last?” Paige interrupted again, sounding indignant, as she dropped her hand from ours.
I let out a frustrated breath. “Does it matter whose name comes first, Paige? It’s getting cold here.”
“Of course it matters, Cassie,” she insisted. “It won’t be real otherwise. Plus, Marissa always puts herself first. We need to be more . . . egalitarian.”
“Egalitarian?” Marissa questioned. “This isn’t some sort of committee, Paige. We’re just three friends on the beach, who have, quite possibly, had a little too much to drink and have decided to make a pact.”
There was a low rumble of thunder in the distance, diverting our attention. All three of us broke into nervous laughter as the wind picked up, whipping our hair around our faces. I glanced around the deserted beach. All we needed now was a cauldron on the fire and we’d look like a coven of witches, brewing up a spell.
Paige shrugged, looking wounded.
“I guess this was Paige’s idea,” I offered, ever the peacemaker.
Marissa’s hands shot up into the air in surrender. “Okay. Do you want to do it?”
Paige’s face beamed. “Yes, I do.” She smoothed her full skirt down and stuck her hand out in front of her.
Marissa and I added ours once more.
Paige looked from Marissa to me and back again. She tossed her dark hair in a dramatic fashion, and then began. “We, the three maidens of the beach—”
Marissa sniggered. Paige glared at her. Unperturbed, she continued, “The three maidens of the beach, Paige Prudence Miller, Cassie Clementine Dunhill, and Marissa Jane Jones—”
“—agree that the next date each of us goes on will be with the man we marry.”
A Girl Scout knot looped in my belly.
“We agree to this pact in the presence of the Goddess of the Beach,” Paige continued.
My eyes darted around, half expecting to see a goddess floating nearby. Hmm, definitely too much chardonnay for me tonight.
Marissa scoffed again. “I don’t remember agreeing to any goddess crap,” she protested.
“Just go with it, will you?” Paige replied, arching her eyebrows. “I know what I’m doing; this isn’t my first beach pact.”
I looked at Paige in surprise. “It’s not?”
Paige shook her head. “No.”
I let out a breath. Goddess or no goddess, I didn’t care; it was the pact that mattered to me—and meeting the man of my dreams. “I agree to the pact.”
“I agree to the pact, too,” Marissa said at length.
Paige held her chin high, a strange look on her face—perhaps triumph? Or solemnity? Or a combination of both. “Then, it is set.”
There was a sudden flash of lightning followed immediately by a loud crash of thunder. Marissa and I leaped a good four feet back from one another. Marissa fell on her butt, narrowly avoiding the fire. I stumbled but managed to right myself.
“What the heck was that?” Marissa exclaimed, pushing herself off the ground and brushing the sand off her jeans.
“Whatever it was, it scared the living daylights out of me.” I let out a short, sharp laugh, my heart pounding in my chest.
Paige remained standing stock still, a look of pure exhilaration on her pretty face as the wind whipped her hair and made her skirt billow around her. She looked like something out of Game of Thrones. “That, my friends, was the sealing of the pact. There’s no going back now.”
The sealing of the pact? I looked at her, wide-eyed, half expecting her to regale us with some lame ghost story, a flashlight illuminating her face in a prepubescent attempt to freak us out.
“Actually, I think it was that storm we’re expecting,” Marissa replied in her pragmatic way. She leaned down and scooped the picnic blanket and the empty bottle and glasses up. “We might need to take cover, girls.”
I looked up and scanned the dark night sky, shivering as the evening turned cold. A large blob of rain landed on my face. I blinked. Within a heartbeat, the heavens opened and the rain came pouring down on us. I pulled my hoodie up and made a dash for shelter, followed closely by a loudly protesting Marissa.
“No way am I getting wet,” she exclaimed, pulling her own hood up as protection from the elements.
“Wait! We haven’t finished!” Paige called out to us both, her voice thin through the growing storm. “Come on, you two. We have to do this right.”
I paused to squint back at her. She hadn’t moved from her spot by the dying fire. I glanced up at the house, the windows glowing with light. I let out a sigh. Warmth and dry clothes were so, so close. “Marissa! Let’s finish this off, then get back to the house, okay?” I called out.
“Have you seen what happens to my hair in the rain?” she called back.
“I’ll sort it out for you, I promise.” I clambered up the beach and grabbed her arm, pulling her back with me. She muttered something about hair straighteners and ice cream under her breath.
Once back by the smoking fire, Paige extended her now wet arm toward us once more.
“Make it quick,” Marissa warned.
We resumed our positions.
Another flash of lightning illuminated the beach as the waves crashed with force against the shore. When the thunder hit, my heart leaped into my mouth. This was like something out of a movie!
Paige continued in her Hammer House of Horrors voice, louder this time to be heard over the lashing wind and rain. “From this day forth, we, the maidens of the beach, have just One Last First Date.” She paused between each word, piercing us with her intense gaze.
“One last first date?” I questioned, panic inching its way up from my toes. In my bid to find Mr. Right, I’d been on so many dates I’d totally lost count. Having only one more really put the pressure on. It was going to have to be with the perfect guy. I swallowed.
“That’s right,” Paige replied, looking at me intently. “One Last First Date. We’ve got one shot at this, ladies.”
“Agreed,” Marissa said quickly, possibly more to get out of the rain and save her hair from the dreaded frizz than for any real desire to agree to Paige’s terms.
I chewed the inside of my mouth and glanced at both of my friends. One last first date meant whoever I next dated would end up being my husband. Either that or I’d become celibate, adopt seventeen cats, take to wearing ill-fitting mismatched clothes, and possibly smell a little funky to boot.
I chose dating.
“Cassie, come on!” Marissa urged, the rain still blobbing heavily down on us.
“Agreed,” I added as a surge of nerves, excitement—and hope—rose in my chest.
One Last First Date it was.
Say Hello to author Kate O’Keeffe.
Kate O’Keeffe is an award-nominated author of fun, feel-good romantic comedies. She lives and loves in beautiful New Zealand with her family, two scruffy dogs, and a cat who thinks he’s a scruffy dog too. He’s not: he’s a cat.
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