March 15, 2016
Weston Gallagher is falling hard—for the wrong woman.
One night of passion has haunted him for years.
Now he’s got a second chance to get the girl of his dreams…but there’s just one problem:
She hates him.
Eight years after he stormed out of Wildwood, California, West has returned to his hometown as a firefighter. His friends and family are thrilled he’s back—with the exception of Harper Hill. His sister’s best friend is all grown up and in all the right ways. He knows she’s going to do everything she can to protect her heart and keep him at arm’s length, but West has other ideas.
He will win the girl that got away. No matter what it takes…
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She wasn’t aware they currently shared the same air.
Weston Gallagher stood in the back of the store, partially hidden by a towering display of Coke products. The beginning of summer meant every end cap in the supermarket was pushing snacks, beer, and soda. West had had no idea an endless stack of vivid red twelve-packs would make a damn good hiding place.
He also hadn’t planned on hiding in plain sight. He was a grown-ass man. If he wanted to pass by Harper Hill like she didn’t exist, he could. But he wasn’t that mean. She did exist. And damn she looked good.
Really good. Better than he remembered.
No one noticed him hovering on the other side of the stacks of Coke, peeking around them at the pretty woman oblivious to his presence. Most of the locals—the people he grew up with, the ones who’d known him since he’d toddled around in diapers and a dirty face—didn’t shop at the fancy new grocery store on the outskirts of town. That was for the deluge of tourists who invaded his hometown every summer. Eager to spend their hard-earned dollars on expensive groceries they could stock their rented cabins with, his mom had told him bitterly last time he talked to her on the phone.
All the locals loved to mock the tourists, but never too hard. They were the ones who kept the money streaming in most of the year.
Considering he sort of felt like a tourist since it had been years since he last set foot in Wildwood, he thought he’d avoid the reunion show that his appearance at Gus’s Grocery would generate. That’s why he was shopping in such a generic location. So to see someone he knew— rather intimately, he might add—was shocking.
His hiding spot did have one advantage. It allowed him ample time to check Harper out. He hadn’t seen her in years beyond the occasional photo on social media—they weren’t friends on Facebook or anything crazy like that, but they did share a lot of mutual friends.
Like his younger sister, Wren, otherwise known as Harper’s best friend. Harper had been a part of his life for . . . most of his life. He remembered her as a little girl who knew how to work a trembling lower lip like nobody’s business. He remembered Harper as an awkward preteen with braces and a constant red zit on her chin. Then somehow, someway, she’d blossomed into this beautiful, curvy, sweet girl who always looked at him like she wanted to worship at his feet and gobble him up, all at the same time.
Scrubbing a hand over his face, West glanced down, trying to blot memories of Harper out of his brain by staring at the contents of his shopping cart instead. Beer. Ground beef for burgers since he was having his brothers over for dinner tonight. Chips. Cereal. Milk. Just the necessities for now. He was scheduled for work in two days and he’d be eating at the station most of the time anyway. If he was lucky and the season was extra busy, he’d get a lot of overtime and rarely be home.
Yeah, being a firefighter meant a season full of endless fires was a “good” fire season— financially only, of course. He wasn’t a fan of seeing death and destruction caused by a raging fire, but he did appreciate the adrenaline rush that filled him every time they loaded up the engine and took off to a call. Though now he was the one driving the engine, thanks to his promotion.
That’s why he was home. He’d gotten promoted and moved to a new ranger unit and station. He was back in Wildwood, ready to prove that he wasn’t Weston Gallagher, King Troublemaker anymore. He’d changed his wicked ways. He was solid; a hard worker, following in his father’s footsteps and ready to prove every single one of the residents wrong. He knew how they felt about him. How he’d left Wildwood with his proverbial tail tucked between his legs.
Well, no more. He was dependable. People could count on him. When he was younger, he never wanted that. It had felt like more responsibility than he couldn’t handle. He’d make a lot of mistakes then. He wanted to correct them.
“Weston Gallagher? Is that really you?”
His spine stiffened at the sound of a familiar feminine voice coming from behind. Slowly he turned, hoping that Harper had snuck up behind him, though he knew deep down the voice didn’t sound like Harper’s. Still, he had high hopes. His heart was racing. His palms were sweaty.
Disappointment crashed over him mixed with the tiniest bit of relief. It wasn’t Harper but Delilah Moore, his ex-girlfriend from high school.
“I thought that was you!” Delilah rushed toward him, enveloping him in a warm hug. “Lane mentioned you were moving back this weekend.”
West frowned as he withdrew from her arms. Delilah talked to his big brother? Since when? “Lane told you?”
Her cheeks went a little pink as she nodded. “Everyone talks to Lane, West. He’s always out patrolling around, you know? Our public hero and all that jazz.”
West grimaced. His big brother could never do any wrong. Lane Gallagher was the oldest child and the perfect one of the Gallagher clan. The guy everyone looked up to, including West himself. He’d idolized his older brother . . . until he didn’t.
The constant comparisons had become too much. Too difficult to deal with, especially when everything went sideways. West had discovered it was a lot more fun to screw around and get in trouble than be good like Lane.
At one point during their teen years, Delilah had been his accomplice in getting into trouble. They’d had good times. Reckless and a little wild, though he’d always been the one who pushed her. But she soon tired of it. Tired of him.
He couldn’t blame her.
“Why are you here at the fancy supermarket, Dee?” He noticed her look of irritation at his using her old nickname, but that didn’t faze him. She’d get over it. They’d known each other long enough that he was sure she couldn’t stay irritated with him for too long.
“It’s the only place that has this particular brand of energy bars I like.” She held her shopping basket up. It was loaded with boxes and boxes of energy bars, all the same brand, but in a variety of flavors.
West frowned, quickly glancing over his shoulder to see if he could spot Harper. She was still standing by the frozen food section. “Why so many? You live on those things or what?” She’d never had to watch her figure from what he remembered. She was naturally slender and had danced her ass off most of her life.
“I need them for my students—we sell them along with other nutritious snacks that’ll give them fuel, not turn them sluggish.” At his confused look she continued. “I own the dance studio now. I bought it from Miss Lesandre a few years ago,” she said proudly, smiling at him.
“No shit?” He rubbed his chin, looking over his shoulder again. Harper had just been at the frozen foods section only moments ago and now she wasn’t. Where’d she go?
“Yeah. It’s been hard work but so rewarding. If you can’t make a living as a professional dancer, you may as well teach it, right? Though some of it’s a challenge. Like keeping the books.” She rolled her eyes. “I’m not so good with the business side. That’s where your sister comes in.”
“Wren?” His only sister had been born into a sea of brothers—three of them to be exact. And now she worked at a dance studio? How did he not know this? Granted, he hadn’t talked to her in a while. And by talk he meant text, since that was how he and Wren communicated lately, if at all. “What does she do there?”
She couldn’t be teaching classes because she’d never taken dance lessons a day in her life. She was too busy trying to keep up with her brothers to be bothered with girly stuff like ballet.
“She’s my business partner. It only happened a few months ago, but I’m so glad to have her help. I really needed it, and now we’re both invested in the business.” Delilah beamed, her eyes dancing with mischief. “Harper! Look who I just found.”
West’s heart bottomed out at the sound of her name, at the fact that she would know he was there. He kept his panicked gaze on Delilah a moment too long and her eyebrows drew together, like she had no idea what the problem could be.
Of course, she wouldn’t know. No one knew that once upon a time, many years ago, on a late summer night under a star-filled sky, he’d kissed Harper Hill for hours. Hours and hours. Long, tongue-filled kisses that had induced wandering hands and sighs full of longing. Oh, and the biggest case of blue balls West had ever endured in his life. That hours-long kissing session had been worth it though. Harper Hill had tasted just as good as he’d imagined. She’d melted in his arms, so responsive, so damn sweet . . .
And then he’d walked away like a complete jackass, never contacting her again. All along he’d known he was leaving. He’d completed two seasons at the Wildwood fire station straight out of high school. Put in for a promotion wherever he could, letting the lady in human resources know that he wanted the hell out of the ranger unit. Far away from his hometown, far away from his family, specifically his dad, so he could start fresh. He’d kissed Harper that night because he could. Because he desperately wanted to. Because he knew he wouldn’t have to face the consequences of his actions.
He’d moved out of Wildwood the next day and never looked back.
Not one of his finer moments. Did Wren know about his make-out session with Harper? Best friends shared everything, but he had a feeling Harper had never confided in hers about the two of them making out. After all, he was Wren’s big brother. At the time, Harper had been offlimits. Forbidden.
She still was. So much that he could hardly chance a look at her.
But he had to. Look. Just to see if she was as pretty as she’d been from far away when he’d lurked behind Coke boxes and stared at her.
Very slowly, very carefully, trying his best to keep his smile in place, he turned his head and met Harper’s gaze for the first time in what felt like forever.
His knees felt a little wobbly.
Harper was even more beautiful up close. Long hair the color of the sun riding low in the sky, reds and golden browns and strands of blonde that waved past her slim shoulders, with that cute little pert nose sprinkled with freckles. Freckles she’d always hated.
That one night, his last in his hometown, he’d done his damnedest to kiss every single one.
Her dark brown eyes flashed at him, and those perfect, delicious, bee-stung lips didn’t slide up in that natural sunny smile of hers. Harper Hill was friendly. Beyond friendly. The entire Hill family had a reputation to uphold in this town, and Harper was just as cheerful as all the rest of them. She had a natural way about her, drawing people in, always surrounded by friends—by people who wanted to be her friend, like it was a privilege to bask in her glory.
Right now though, she looked like she wanted to draw and quarter West. Maybe hang him up by his toes so he dangled above the ground, much like he remembered his dad and grandpa doing when they brought home a buck during hunting season.
Yeah. He’d never been one for blood sport as a kid or an adult. Harper though?
She appeared ready to shoot him dead with just the look in her pretty brown eyes.