Kate MacIntire steered her pale pink Cruiser down Ninth Street toward Seapoint Boulevard. It was early on a Sunday so the streets were quieter than normal. They would soon be full, however, with the hustle and bustle of tourists enjoying the gorgeous spring sunshine and ocean views of Silver Bay. The kind of day that meant lots of visitors to her shop.
Kate smiled. She’d moved from Boston to Silver Bay not long ago. She was still adjusting to small town life in California, that was for sure, but had opened her own interior design shop, Atmosphere, and was living happily on her own. Her own terms, her own choices, her own world. No one – and no man – to tell her what to do.
She loved riding her bike into town on the weekend. Sure, it took longer than driving her car, but she got to feel the wind in her hair and listen to the ocean waves nearby. Her flowered tulle skirt flowed in the breeze, as did the light cotton scarf looped around her neck, its yellow coloring like sunshine swirling about her. The floral perfume that filled the air from the flowerbeds lining the old Victorian homes along Ninth tickled her senses.
One house in particular was her favorite. She tapped the brakes on her bike and came to a stop, placing one foot on the ground to hold her steady while she sat and looked. It was smaller than the other homes on the block, with chipped paint and a wraparound porch. The house needed more than a little TLC. To the left of the front door a porch swing hung from chains, one side broken and resting forlorn.
Kate sighed. To the world this house looked broken-down and old. To her, it was charming and simply in need of her tender touch to bring it back to life. She loved her current place. She really did. A charming cottage she rented from a sweet older couple. But it wasn’t…hers. Something to start from scratch and build up with her own two hands. That was what she really wanted.
Lifting her foot, she moved her bike on down the sidewalk again. Maybe someday. For now, she had a business to run and clients to attend to. She received new calls every week from someone wanting help with decorating. No time to wallow in what wasn’t. Time to focus on what was right in front of her.
Which was Seapoint Boulevard. She turned her bike and pedaled toward her shop. Lost in thought, she didn’t hear the roar of the motorcycle until it was right up next to her. The sound, along with movement in her peripheral vision, caused her to lose her balance, her handlebars wiggling back and forth as she struggled to gain control. Her front tire ran straight into a parking meter and she toppled to the ground.
“Oh, for the love!”
Flat on her back on the sidewalk with her bike now on top of her, her skirt a tangled mess, and her knee oozing blood, she was sure this landed in her top five of most embarrassing moments.
“Holy crap! Are you okay?”
A man walked over to her and squatted down near her shoulder. Deep brown eyes searched hers. “Kate. Are you okay?”
Kate squeezed her eyes shut. Make that the most embarrassing moment she’d ever had. Jack Harden. Why did it have to be Jack that saw her?
“I’m fine,” she squeaked as she opened her eyes again.
“Here. Let me help you.” He stood and grabbed her bike by the frame. Careful of her legs, he lifted the bike off of her and leaned it against the evil parking meter that had jumped in her path. His black t-shirt, which showcased tattooed muscles, was not lost on her. Neither was the way he hoisted the bike as if it weighed nothing. Great. Now she was practically swooning. She must’ve hit her head on the sidewalk as well.
She leaned up onto her elbows, thanking God her skirt hadn’t flipped up over her head. She was a mess, but at least she wasn’t a half-naked mess.
“I’m fine. Really.” She sat up, putting a hand to her elbow. That had suffered some road rash as well, complete with a tear through her favorite cardigan. Ugh.
“Don’t get up just yet.” He moved back next to her again, squatting down and tucking a hair behind her ear that had strayed from her ponytail. A shiver ran through her. The good kind. Uh-oh. Swooning and shivering. Now she was really in trouble.
No. No men.
She scrambled to her feet. “I told you. I’m fine.”
Jack stood and took a step back as she pushed down her skirt and tried to smooth out her hair. Based on his grin, her attempt at composing herself wasn’t working.
“At least let me help you get cleaned up.”
Oh, no. No. No. That wasn’t happening. Kate grabbed her bike by the handlebars and started walking it down the sidewalk towards her store. He followed. His big black boots a stark contrast to her small feet on the sidewalk next to her, his silence more annoying than his insistence on helping her.
Kate leaned her bike against the window of Atmosphere and dug through the front bike basket for her keys. She turned the key in the lock and opened the door. “You really don’t need to help me. I’m a grown woman.”
His eyes twinkled. “That, I am well aware of.”
Oh, for the love, her body shivered again. Traitor.
“Where do you keep this?” He nodded towards her bike.
“In the back of the store. I can leave it here for a minute while I get Band-Aids.” She propped the front door open and stepped inside.
“Nice basket on the front.”
She turned and narrowed her eyes at him. “Don’t poke fun. I love my bike. And the basket.”
He put his hands up in mock surrender. “I wasn’t making fun. The yellow flowers tied to the front are my favorite. In fact, I think I need one for my bike as well.” He pointed his thumb over his shoulder.
Kate looked past him at the very motorcycle that had driven by her, frightening her into crashing.
“Ugh. I should’ve known it was you.” She huffed. She shook her head and went in search of a Band-Aid.
“It was me what?” The man had the nerve to not only follow her but also to act innocent.
She reached the break room in the back and pulled the first-aid kid from its place in the cupboard.
“You drove past me and that…menace of a machine of yours scared me to death. I lost control and crashed my bike.” She fussed with the kit, unable to get it open. Darn it all! Her morning had been going so perfect. As planned. In order. Now it was a mess. She hated mess. And those idiotic first-aid kits!
A strong arm reached around her, Jack’s warm chest brushing against her back. “Let me help you.”
Her shoulders sagged. “Fine,” she whispered.
He took the box from her, opening it with ease, of course, and set it down. He patted the counter. “Climb on up.”
Kate turned, eyed him, and then the spot where he’d patted. “I beg your pardon?”
“Climb on up here. I can’t very well tend to your knee if you’re standing.”
She crossed her arms and glared.
Before she could say “I don’t think so,” he grabbed her by the waist and set her on the counter, her only response a squeak of surprise.
“There. Much better.”
Jack bit his tongue so he wouldn’t laugh straight in Kate’s face. She’d crossed her arms again, as well as one leg over the other. The picture of prim and proper, despite blood running down her leg and a tear in the arm of her sweater. Her ponytail, always slicked back and perfect, he’d noticed, was mussed, wisps falling against her cheek on one side. His hand itched to tucked it behind her ear again like he’d done outside, but he held back, not quite sure he was ready for the jolt that hit him every time he was near this woman, let alone when he’d touched her.
He went to the sink and dampened a paper towel with cold water. He dabbed it on her knee, careful not to scrape at it and make it hurt more. She flinched at his initial touch but then relaxed.
“I told you I could do this myself.”
“Oh, I’m aware of how independent you are.” He opened a Band-Aid from the wrapper and pressed it gently over her cut. Placing a hand on either side of her, he leaned in. She pulled back, her head stopping when it reached the cabinet behind her. “But it really wouldn’t kill you to accept help every once in a while.”
He stepped back, tossed the Band-Aid wrapper in the trash, and crossed his arms over his chest. Why he was baiting her like this, he really had no clue. The one thing he was aware of was an intense desire to ruffle this woman ever since he’d laid eyes on her at his brother’s wedding last fall. He’d since moved back to Silver Bay and through mutual friends, and living in a small town, they’d hung out together at social events. Although she turned her nose up at him most of the time, she intrigued him. Pulled him in. Hell if he had any idea why. His best guess was the always put together Kate had a feisty side that hadn’t been unleashed in a while. The challenge of setting it free was all too enticing.
She hopped down from the counter, making her now eye level with his chest, which she promptly poked at with her perfectly manicured fingernail. “You know absolutely nothing about me, Jack Harden.” And with that, she stomped out of the room.
He shook his head. Women.
He followed her out the door and back into her shop. It was nice. Girly, but nice. She had good taste.
“Well?” She stood near the front door, hands on her hips.
“Well…” She looked baffled for a moment.
He sauntered towards her, the thud of his boots on the wood floor echoing in the quiet of the shop. He stopped close enough to where she had to crane her neck to look up at him.
Taking in a deep breath and letting it out, she seemed to find her resolve. And her voice.
“Well, aren’t you going to apologize?”
He took a step back. Was she crazy? “Apologize? For what? For helping you?”
“No.” She pointed out the door to his bike. “For almost running me down on that thing.”
He couldn’t help it. He laughed. A hearty one that came from the gut. He stepped towards her again, invading her space and enjoying the hitch in her breath from him doing so. “Honey, I don’t drive on the sidewalk. You were pedaling along just fine until you decided to run straight for that parking meter.”
Hands still on her hips, she narrowed her eyes. Oh, she was feisty, this one, and it turned him on something fierce. “I was pedaling along just fine until that noisy menace you ride came around the corner and scared me. You made me lose my balance. You owe me a sweater.”
She shoved her elbow in his face, showcasing the gash in said piece of clothing. A wave of her perfume floated towards him as well, messing with his senses. Everything about this buttoned-up fireball caused him to go haywire and rattle his brain.
He blinked and shook his head. Right. She’d just insulted his motorcycle. That brought him back to reality and cooled him off. It also pissed him off.
“I don’t owe you anything, honey. And word of advice, don’t insult a man’s motorcycle, especially after he helped peel you off the sidewalk.”
“Ugh!” Kate stomped her foot, like the mature adult she wasn’t being at the moment, and took a few steps back into the store, if anything to give herself some much needed breathing room. Everything about him ruffled her feathers and she loathed being ruffled. Her attraction to Jack was palpable and it scared the daylights out of her.
She looked back at him. The smirk on his face said he liked nothing more than ruffling her and boy if that didn’t make her more fired up. And yet, his brown eyes reminded her of chocolate, the buttery kind that melted on her tongue. She looked away, knowing the heat that warmed her cheeks was making her blush. Darn the man! He turned her upside down and sideways. She hated being off-kilter.
“Well, it’s been real and it’s been fun, but I can’t say it’s been real fun.” He took his sunglasses that were tucked in the front of his shirt and placed them on his face, merely adding to the whole smoldering, bad boy look he had going. His jeans hung loose on his hips, a silver chain swooping from his pocket to a belt loop. He was so male, so…primal against the backdrop of her shop. With flowing fabrics in pale hues and twinkle lights above the door and window, he was a dark mystery in her doorway, the epitome of everything she wasn’t looking for right now. And yet, there he stood, drawing her in, making her want things she hadn’t wanted in a long time.
She took a deep breath and let it out. She buried her face in her hands and then swept them over her hair.
Jack had started to turn towards the door but stopped. He turned back. “What was that?”
Was he baiting her again? She searched his face. No, he simply hadn’t heard her. “I said, I’m sorry.”
She sank down into a decorative accent chair near the wall by the door. So tired, she looked at her pink and black leopard flats, now scuffed from her tumble off her bike. She really was a nicer person than this. Jack just had a knack for pushing all her buttons. Good ones and bad. But he didn’t deserve her being snippy.
He walked back to her and crouched down, held her chin in his hand. His glasses sat tucked in the neck of his t-shirt again. “Hey. You okay?”
Man, if she didn’t want to melt into his arms and let him hold her. Just for a minute. For a moment to sense the support of another human being. Someone who wanted great things for her. Loved her.
Love? Wait. Where did that come from? She barely knew the man. He riled her up, sure, but…she shook her head. She needed a vacation.
She nodded, his hand dropping in front of him. That was good. The less touching the better.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I really am sorry.” She looked around. “I love my shop and my business but I’m just…tired. I’m sorry I took it out on you.”
“It’s okay. I hear ya. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry, too.” He took her hands in his and they stood together. “How about we start over.”
“Um. Okay.” Kate wasn’t sure what he meant by that and couldn’t focus well because her hands were still cradled in his.
“How about dinner Friday night?”
Definitely not her classiest response. But hey, he’d thrown her a curve ball.
He chuckled. “I’ll pick you up Friday night around seven.” He let go of her hands and put his glasses back on. Not before he winked at her though, making her sink back in the chair once more.
Again with the swooning. So pathetic. She definitely needed to work on that.
He strolled out of the shop, the bell above the door tinkling as he left.
End of Excerpt