For Allie Baxter, love was never something she had to worry about. She was loved by her friends, her family, her husband … until the day it was ripped away. Losing love was the deepest pain Allie had ever endured, and it was an agony she vowed to avoid feeling ever again. Crippled with guilt over her loss, for five years Allie served her self-appointed exile from the daily comforts offered by friends and family, only to return and attempt to fit herself back into their open arms—even if she knew she didn’t deserve it. Mike Lawson was not something Allie expected; the love of a man was not something Allie was prepared to want. The spark of desire that had long ago died inside her suddenly returned, bringing the memories of her pain with it. She swore she would never allow herself to love again … but how long could love be resisted?
Allie stepped out her front door and immediately missed the cool air-conditioned condo she just left. It took a moment to adjust to the heat in the air as she locked her front door. Southern California may not be hot and humid like the east coast, but this was a hot for San Diego in June. It should make for long afternoon at her nephews outdoor graduation. She was making her way down the steps when she heard her neighbor’s voice, “Well don’t you clean up nice.” She wasn’t expecting to run into Mike Lawson just yet, so it caught her totally off guard and she stopped abruptly. If she were being completely honest with herself, she had hoped to avoid him entirely—forever would be good—but since they were neighbors, it wasn’t a realistic expectation. Her need to avoid him and all of his hotness was becoming a strong necessity for her self-preservation.
His ability to melt her with only a smile was beginning to wear her down. Her only defense against him was to be snarky. Pulling her I’m-the-queen-bitch persona tightly around her, she turned to him, cocked her hip, and placed her fist appropriately as she said, “That implies that you think I look like shit the rest of the time, Lawson. You really need to work on how to compliment a lady.” Raising her eyebrows at him in challenge, she continued while gesturing to her entire body, “I’ll have you know, this is just another level of fabulous I'm demonstrating here.”
The man had the nerve to throw a huge grin her way, once again showing her that he was not fazed in the slightest by her snarky attitude. Just another reason to stay the hell away from the man, she thought as she finished making her way down the steps. It was becoming harder to ignore him on a physical level. Not to mention the fact that he made her belly flutter and her heart rate pick up when she saw him. Every time she thought about his effect on her, it pissed her off. She knew it was paramount to resist him at all costs.
What she really needed to do was move the hell out of the condo near his. The problem with that was, she loved her new place. Well, it wasn’t hers yet, but she planned on making an offer when the landlord’s lease was up. Even though she only found this place because of Mike, she secretly hoped he would randomly up and move, solving her problem immediately. She really wanted to stay there. It finally felt that she had come to a point where she was okay being alone, and she wasn’t living with a ghost anymore. It was almost like she had moved on … maybe a little bit … almost. But just because she felt that way, didn’t mean that she had moved on, moved on. That wasn’t about to happen, may never happen ever again … she couldn’t let it.
Her thoughts were interrupted by McHottness himself when he fell into step next to her and said, “Maybe so, but then how else would I get that fire snapping in your eyes? Mission accomplished if you ask me.” Shocked by his blatant admittance that he was trying to rile her up, she swung her head his direction to say something when he winked at her. Once again shocking her and rendering her temporarily speechless. She was this close to kicking him in the shin when he continued, “I take it you are on your way to the graduation as well. Want a lift?”
Thankful for his question to bring her out of her shocked moment, she said. “A lift? It’s more like a hoist. I need a damn trampoline to get up into that truck of yours.” And as if the great Gods of Nastiness were smiling down on her, she snatched the opportunity to up her game from snarky to bitchy. “Just what kind of message are you trying to put out there anyway? Everyone knows a big truck like that only says the owner suffers from little dick complex.”
They were walking and had made their way around back to where the garages were located so she didn’t see, only heard him huff a laugh before saying. “There certainly is no little dick to have a complex about. I assure you …” He mumbled something at the end, but she didn’t catch it. Not wanting to prolong the conversation she ignored the desire to ask him to repeat himself. Pointing her keys at the shiny red Mini-Cooper to unlock it when Mike popped the bottom of her outstretched hand, causing her keys to fly up in the air.
As soon as they were airborne, he reached out and grabbed them before she could process what was happening. Shocked again, she looked over at him only to see that damn smile once more before snarling at him, “What the hell did you do that for?”
“I offered you a ride, you didn’t decline, only mocked my truck. Therefore, by not rejecting it, you inadvertently accepted it.” He shrugged, smiled bigger, and finished with, “Well, at least in my book you did, so get in the truck, Baxter.” Turning away from her, he walked toward his truck, her keys in hand. Still a little startled at his maneuver to get her keys, yet slightly impressed since it was something she would do, she stood there and watched as he made his way to the oversized truck. When he stopped at the passenger door and looked back at her, he laughed and said, “Oh come on, I’ll give you a boost. And I won’t even try to look up your skirt … scouts’ honor.”
Shaking her head, she made her way toward him as she grumbled, “Is that the box-car-building kind of scout or the cookie-peddling ones? I bet you probably looked great in that green sash.” Tossing her purse on the floorboard of the truck, she reached up and grabbed the handle to lift herself in but turned her head and looked back at him over her shoulder. “I bet the little beret looked good, too.”
Feeling like she had been bitchy enough to make him not want to have her for company, she turned back to the open truck door. Preparing to jump in, she let out a squeal when Mike’s big hands wrapped around her waist and hefted her effortlessly into the cab. Turning quickly to glare down at him for doing such a thing, she only met his intent stare as he said, “I look good in anything I wear sweetheart. Now buckle up, wouldn’t want you to fall out or anything.” And then he closed the door.
Melanie is an amazing mother of four, an awesome and tolerant wife to one, and nurse to many. If you don’t believe her, just ask anyone in her family, they know what to say. She is also a devoted chauffeur, the keeper of missing socks, a genius according to a six year old, the coolest soccer uniform coordinator according to a twelve year old, and the best damn ‘mac-n-cheese-with-cut-up-hot-dog maker in the whole world. Well that last title isn’t really official, but it’s still pretty cool to be called it.
When not being ordered around by any of the kids, you can find her with her nose in a book or on the sideline of a soccer game cheering on one team or another. But that’s mostly because she has a thing for the coach. When she is not doing all of the above, you can find her obsessed with a group of fictional characters all vying for a spot on the page of whatever she’s working on. It’s a fun and crazy life to lead, but wouldn’t have it any other way.