Sunday, December 18, 2011
In celebration of SMITTEN's official release date (tomorrow!), we're posting the first chapters to our stories. Hope you enjoy the sneak peak!
"All Along" By Denise Hunter
Mackenzie swept her hand over the old wall as if she could perceive the secrets
beneath it. Regardless of what the ugly wallpaper hid, in two months she’d be
living her dream.
should definitely take the walls down,” Griffen Parker said. He closed the
space between them and knocked on the drywall. “Bet there’s brick under there.”
met his clear blue eyes. A dark lock of hair fell over his forehead and battled
with his eyelashes.
planned on painting. You never know what’s behind these old walls. The only way
to find out is to knock them down, and once you do that, there’s no turning
be worse than this,” he said, running his hand over the Pepto-Bismol wallpaper.
“Besides, it’ll take forever to remove this stuff.”
was right about that, but she hated changing boats midstream. “I’ll think about
couldn’t believe the Palmer Building was all hers now. Well, hers and the
bank’s. There was so much work to do, and so many unknowns. She’d been planning
this forever, but that didn’t stop the worry from jangling on her nerves.
crossed the open space, her Merrell boots barely making a sound on the wooden
planks. “You don’t see a problem structurally with opening up the second floor?”
pocketed his hands in his vest coat. “Nope. The bones are solid.”
glanced around the space, her imagination kicking in. “I want lots of cubbies
place for everything.”
was going to take a lot of time. She hoped it wouldn’t put Griffen in a bind
with his other clients. She knew he’d do anything for her, but she’d never take
advantage of their friendship.
studied his face. He’d changed since he left Smitten three years earlier. His
hair was longer, dangling over his forehead and curling up on the ends. And he
always seemed to be sporting a five o’clock shadow. Probably didn’t have time
to shave, with all his projects.
sure you have time for all this—you’d tell me if you didn’t, right?”
cocked a grin. “Always have time for my favorite girl. I’ll finish the town’s
gazebo tomorrow, and I figured this project would be my last. I’m all yours for
the next two months.”
if you’re absolutely, positively sure . . .”
shot him a look, then returned to her perusal of her very own building. “That
would leave me a week to arrange the merchandise before the wedding. I’ll be
ready in plenty of time to assist the wedding guests with all their
already ordered everything from ski poles to canoes. Opened boxes filled her
spare rooms, and a variety of boats and bikes had usurped her car’s spot in the
garage. Each shipment filled her with excitement . . . and worry. What if this
whole plan was one massive failure? Please,
God. You know we’re trying to step out on faith here, right?
you’ll need new plumbing. And the heating system is archaic.”
write it up and give me a ballpark figure.” She nailed him with a look. “And be
fair. I’m not a charity case.”
tipped a grin her way. “Speaking of ballpark, I’ve been home for almost eight months,
and you haven’t even been over to shoot hoops yet. What’s up with that? What
d’ya say—have time for some one-on-one?” He put up an invisible shot. “My place
came with a court, you know.”
was renting the old Halverson place, which had been on the market since the
case you haven’t noticed, it’s winter. Besides, I’m having coffee with the
girls in a hour, and I was going to browse a new sporting goods catalog.”
plan.” He nudged her. “Come on, it’s almost forty, and the ground’s clear. We
have almost an hour of daylight, and you’ve been stuck behind a desk all day.”
any more,” she fairly sang. Today had been her last day as the receptionist for
Smitten Accounting. Her colleagues had ordered some chocolate heaven from Piece
of Cake to celebrate her new start.
pulled her toward the door. “You can catch me up on the scuttlebutt on the
flipped off the lights on her way out and pulled the old door with its wavy
paneled glass. The wreath bounced against the door as it hit the jamb.
the scuttlebutt,” she said, donning her Thinsulate gloves. “Natalie’s
practically engaged, Julia’s planning her wedding, Shelby and Nick are glued at
the hip, and I’ve become the resident town spinster.”
chuckled and ruffled her hair. “Aw, poor little Reese Cup. Feeling left out of
the lovers’ loop?”
took her knit cap from her pocket and pulled it on, sighing. “Nah, I’m happy
would’ve been the first married if things had been different. Her whole life
would be different if she and Sawyer had worked out. Reese Smitten. So it didn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Didn’t
matter now anyway. He was set to marry a Hollywood beauty and save the town of
Smitten in one fell swoop.
crossed the brick street, dodging the diagonally parked cars in front of
Smitten Hardware. The town was decked out for Christmas. Garlands spiraled up
street lamps and swagged across storefronts. Window boxes of poinsettias decked
the buildings, and sparkling new ornaments dangled from the newly planted pine
trees in the town square.
would all be gone by Sawyer’s wedding. The multicolored lights would be
replaced with twinkling white ones, and the poinsettias would be traded in for
artificial sprays of white peonies or something. What would it be like, seeing
Sawyer again, with someone else? Marrying someone else?
happened with you and Sawyer after I left? You never said.”
shrugged and turned a crooked grin on her, exhaling a puff of fog between them.
His nose was already pink.
of them, a couple turned into Natalie’s shop. Reese and Griffen continued to the
corner and turned up Maple, heading toward his place. She hadn’t forgotten his
question, and he knew her well enough to know she’d get back to it eventually.
She and Sawyer . . . it seemed
like a lifetime ago.
shrugged, picking up their conversation. “Once he won The Country’s Best, everything changed, you know? He was offered a
recording contract. He could hardly turn it down.” Realizing she was still
making excuses for him, she sighed. It didn’t help that his new fiancée, with
her blond hair and greenish eyes, looked a lot like his old one. Well. The
shorter, less glamorous version.
you couldn’t leave your mom.”
was all she had.” The Parkinson’s had already taken her mom’s mobility by then.
It had been the hardest thing she’d ever experienced, watching her mom waste
sorry I wasn’t here when she passed. You don’t know how much I regret that.”
okay. I had the girls. I was just worried when I couldn’t reach you.”
had been on a Habitat for Humanity project somewhere in Mexico, and she hadn’t
located him until after the funeral.
sorry.” He looked miserable.
she said, their favorite word from their high school days.
turned up his gravel lane and walked toward the two-story structure he’d
thing’s big enough for a family of ten.”
was available—and cheap. Besides, I always liked the old place. Who knows,
maybe I’ll buy it someday.”
planning on ten kids?”
want to start with a wife.”
plan on it.” He tossed her grin, and Reese felt a jolt at the thought of
Griffen with a wife. She’d been his for so long—okay, not his, but still. A wife wouldn’t appreciate another woman in his life,
even if they were just best buddies.
recalled the day last fall when she’d noticed him across the grocery store parking
lot. The attraction she’d felt before she’d recognized him, the comment she’d
made to Shelby. Even now, her face went ten degrees hotter. She glanced at
Griffen, hoping he’d attribute the flush of her cheeks to the cold.
slipped inside the detached garage and flipped a switch. The light by the door
flickered on with a buzz. She set down her purse and checked out the court, a
concrete slab with a wooden pole and a backboard that had seen better days. At
least the net was still there.
exited the building, dribbling the basketball toward the court. “Gotta warn
you. I’ve been practicing.”
pulled off her gloves and rubbed her hands together. She bent her knees in a
defensive position as he approached. “I’m so scared.”
should be.” He darted around her, but she blocked his path, waving her arms.
be a spinster, but I’m an active—”
sidestepped and made an easy layup. Swish.
jumped around her and grabbed the ball, swaggering back. “Like I said. Should I
take it down a notch for you?”
threw the ball, and she caught it at her chest, leveling him with a look as she
dribbled the ball out. “You’re gonna be the one begging for mercy, pal.”
minutes later their coats were discarded in a heap, they were fogging up the
court, and they were tied at sixteen. What Reese lacked in size, she made up
for in accuracy and speed.
put a guard on Griffen all the way to the basket. He put up a shot that banked
off the board and bounced on the rim before going in.
’Bout time,” she said. He’d missed his last three.
gave her ponytail a tug. “Still up by one, Reese Cup.”
dribbled the ball out then back toward him. “Not for long.”
crouched as she approached, his eyes on hers. She was going to dart around him
and go in for an easy layup.
swatted at the ball, and she dribbled it through her legs, catching it with her
swatted again, this time getting the prize.
growled as he checked the ball out, then got between him and the basket before
he could move in for an easy layup. She had to force the jump shot, his
weakness. She pressed in, squeezing. He couldn’t get around her, she was too
fast. Smallness had its advantages.
faked left, but she was there. He faked right. She chuckled. He spun and darted
forward. She was fast, right there in front of him, but he didn’t anticipate
body plunged into hers as he went in for the layup. She was falling backward.
He caught her around the waist, pulling her toward him. His feet tangled with
hers. She grabbed onto his shirt.
it was too late. They were both going down.
hit the ground hard. Griffen landed on her, and her breath left in one sudden
felt the fall a full second later.
Griffen slid off to the side.
sky overhead was darkening. The skeletal branch of an oak tree jutted across
the blue canvas.
you okay?” Griffen asked. “Reese?”
me a minute.” At least she hadn’t hit her head. Had she? Her backside killed.
Her shoulder blade hurt. Nothing too bad, she didn’t think.
her injuries, she became aware of Griffen’s body, still pressed against her
side. A strange sensation moved through her limbs, winging its way to her
stomach where a ribbon of warmth unfurled. Her heart thudded heavily in her
talk to me. Did you hit your head?” He propped his weight on his elbow and
brushed a loose strand of hair from her face.
sensation sent a shiver down her spine, and she realized with dismay that she
wanted him to touch her again.
Not. Fine. She met his eyes, dazed, confused, but not by the fall.
brows furrowed. “What hurts?”
closed her eyes before he could read what was there. Better he think her hurt
than crazy. And it was crazy. This was Griffen, for pity’s sake.
turned her face toward him. “Reese.”
brushed his hand away. “Quit. I’m fine.” She needed to leave, needed to ice her
head whether she’d hit it or not.
said I’m fine!” She pushed at him, and he rolled away, standing.
held out his hand, but she ignored it. No more touching. Not until she checked
into the psych ward. Man, she was such a freak. This was Griffen. She
rose gingerly to her feet, brushed the gravel bits from her palms.
sorry, Reese. Did you hit your head? Come inside, we’ll ice it.”
checked her watch. “I have to go.”
took her elbow. “You’re hurt.”
pulled away, glaring.
backed off, his eyes widening. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been so
sighed and waved him off, then went to gather her coat and purse. Twilight had
closed in and a cacophony of night sounds had begun. Or maybe that was in her
. . . ” She heard the worry in his voice and some part of her reacted to that.
turned, walking backwards. “It’s okay. I’m fine.” Now that she was putting
space between them. She held out her arms, exhibit A. “See?”
furrowed brow remained.
offered what she hoped was a normal smile. “See you Monday.”
watched Reese walk away until she faded into the darkness of Maple Street. He
picked up the basketball and slammed it into the cement, stopping the ball when
Why’d he have to take the stupid game so seriously? He never should’ve charged
into her like that. Now she was mad and probably hurt too.
walked to the garage, tossed the ball inside, and flipped off the light.
Darkness followed him as he retrieved his coat and entered his house through
the side entrance. He closed the door and leaned against it. His heart was
still racing, whether from the game, the fall, or what came after, who knew?
mind zipped through the conversations they’d had earlier. The renovation
project, her spinster comment . . . He wondered again if she still had feelings
for Sawyer. His attempt to draw her out had been pointless. She’d changed the
subject pretty quick.
hoped Reese wasn’t hurt. She was a tough girl, always had been. He’d seen her
play through a sprained wrist and even the flu once when the regional
championship was at stake.
if she’d hit her head? She’d had a dazed look in her eyes as she’d stared back
at him. Great. She might have a concussion, and he’d just let her walk back to
banged his head on the door behind him. Once, twice, three times. He’d give her
a few minutes to get to the coffee shop, then he’d text her and make sure she’d
thought he was so good, playing ball with her like the old days, teasing her,
taunting her. Then he’d trampled all over her like a big clumsy oaf. If he kept
that up she’d never figure it out.
that’s what he should do. Knock her down and bruise her up every time he saw
her. Then she’d never guess the truth: that he’d fallen madly, crazily, and
irrevocably in love with his best friend.
posted at 8:47 PM