Welcome to Redemption Series, Book 6
The Heart of the Matter
Allie folded her arms across her chest and lifted her chin while staring straight out the windshield. “There’s a lot you don’t know about me.”
Direct hit. He grimaced and put the truck back in drive so he could turn down her street. Despite it feeling like ninety-degrees in the truck with the heat blasting, her tone threatened to give him frostbite. And now they were at her house. He couldn’t let the night end like this, but she was already out of the truck and slammed the door before he shifted into park.
Opening his door, he called, “Allie, wait.”
House keys in hand, she whirled on her front porch as he approached, looking smaller than ever against the large columns supporting the overhead roof. “Don’t expect me to thank you for ruining my evening, Rick, because it’s not going to happen. Now go away.”
He ruined her evening? A defensive reply formed on his tongue until he remembered he still needed to apologize for his unintended insult. Before he could come up with those more difficult words, he saw her shiver again. So he said the first thing he could think of to get both of them inside her house.
“I was going to ask if I could use your bathroom.”
She turned to insert the key into the lock and spoke over her shoulder. “Use a tree.”
He let out a disbelieving laugh. “Oh, come on. I’m not Bennie.”
She opened the door and stepped inside. She wasn’t really going to leave him outside like the Bassett hound she dog-sat every week, was she? He cocked a brow and offered a hopeful smile to counter her glare.
Her shoulders dropped, and she huffed out an annoyed breath. “Fine. Come in.”
Boy, did he have his work cut out for him.
Allie hung up her jacket and rubbed her arms while waiting for Rick to exit the bathroom. The sooner he left, the sooner she could forget about the whole night and go back to avoiding him. It was always hard to see him, but at least she could be thankful he hadn’t had his beautiful little boy with him. Lukas looked exactly as she’d have pictured Rick at that age. Same dark hair and brown eyes and adorable as could be.
Anytime she saw them around town her heart constricted, making it hard to breathe as she hurried in the opposite direction. And the few times she hadn’t been able to force herself to leave right away, she saw how attentive he was to his perpetually-smiling son. He seemed like such a good dad.
Footsteps sounded on the hardwood floor. She straightened and shook off the longing, heart-warming, painful thoughts. She was still mad at him. Easy lay.
She should’ve smacked him for that crack.
He hesitated when he saw her still standing by the door. She hated that she noticed his hair looked black from the moisture of the melted snow. And Lord, was he tall up close. He stopped a few feet in front of her. She reached blindly for the door handle while trying to tear her gaze from eyes the color of the most decadent dark chocolate she could imagine.
He took another step closer and leaned forward. She shrank back while her heart beat a crazy rhythm in her chest. His warm hand closed over her cold one on the door knob, preventing her from opening it. A tingle worked its way up her arm even after she pulled away from his touch.
“I apologize for what I said earlier.”
Her stomach fluttered as his husky, baritone voice flowed over her. It took a second for his words to register, but the moment they did, she snapped back to reality.
“Just because I date a lot does not mean I sleep around.”
His gaze shifted away, along with his body. “I didn’t mean to imply that you did.”
“You did more than imply.”
“The words came out wrong.”
“And sometimes what a person actually thinks just pops right out.”
“No,” he denied, his jaw tight. “I was referring to the jerk you were with.”
“You don’t even know him,” she retorted. That she was sure of because she’d met Brent in her web-design class in Green Bay at the technical college last semester. Although with the way the evening had progressed, and after what Brent had said, she knew Rick was right about him, darn it.
“I know his kind.”
“Recognized a kindred spirit, is that it?”
His brows drew together. “That’s the second time you’ve said that and yet I haven’t done anything to you. What’s your problem with me?”
You’ve turned into a nice, responsible guy, you’re too good-looking, and you have what I want most and can never have.
Allie scoffed and raised her chin despite the sting of tears that threatened with the last thought. “As if you don’t know.”
He lifted his hands. “I really don’t. Since I came home two years ago you’ve barely said two words to me.”
“That’s because back in high school you were a jerk.”
His frown deepened. “I was?”
“You teased me every chance you got,” she accused. “Got all your party-animal jock buddies in on the act, too. In fact, you did such a good job that after you graduated, I still had three more years of that crap with the rest of the football team.”
“That was high school.”
“It was mean.” Allie bit her lip. Rick had never been as bad as the other guys…but maybe that was because he was the only one she pretended to laugh off?
“Seriously?” he asked after a long moment, his brows arched. “That’s why you avoid me—why you walk the other direction when you see me at the grocery store or on the sidewalk? Because you think I was mean to you back when we were in high school, over fifteen years ago?”
She glanced away. Sounded petty and absurd to her too, but it wasn’t like she could tell him the real reason why, so she kept her mouth shut.
“You want to know why I acted like that back then?”
The low question made her stomach lurch and brought her gaze back to his. Her heart started racing again, especially when he crowded her in the corner, darkening it with his shadow.
“Even as a freshman, you were the smartest person I knew. You were in all the college classes with me and got better grades than I did. Every time I opened my mouth around you, nothing came out right, and you’d give me this…look, and I felt stupid. Not the most mature way to handle it, but there you have it.”
Allie fought to keep her mouth from hanging open in surprise. She’d had no clue. In fact she’d always felt stupid around him.
He leaned closer. Palms and back flattened against the wall, she stared at his chest, unable to say a single word. Besides, if she looked up, she’d see his mouth so close to hers and want to rise on her tiptoes. He’d been drinking beer earlier, but now he smelled winter fresh.
He braced one hand against the wall beside her head. The other he tunneled through her hair to cup the back of her head while his thumb tipped her chin up.
Her heart banged into her ribs. Gum. He’d been chewing gum in the truck. She swallowed as if a piece were stuck in her own throat when his gaze locked with hers.
“And then there’s this. I’ve wanted to do this since the day you corrected Mr. Counsell’s equation in advanced chem the second week of class.”
She’d guessed he was going to kiss her, but, Oh, my, God, Rick Wilde was kissing her! She closed her eyes and savored the moment she’d waited for since grade school. The feel of his warm, firm lips on hers. His strong, calloused fingers caressing the nape of her neck.
The faint smell of the bar was quickly overwhelmed by his scent that rose up in the heat from his closeness. She inhaled woodsy scented soap mixed with the leather of his jacket, and no hint of overpowering cologne. Just clean, hot male.
As a first kiss went, it was pretty tame, but all the more remarkable for the fact that he simply explored the contours of her lips, almost as if tasting them, instead of trying to shove his tongue down her throat like Brent had earlier. It lived up to and far surpassed the many daydreams she’d had in high school.
She lifted her hands to pull him closer when a blast of frigid air blew through her thin nylon Packer jersey. When his lips left hers, and she sensed he’d drawn back, she opened her eyes to find him watching her. His thumb brushed softly across her cheek, then his hand dropped to his side.
“I am sorry about what I said earlier.” The sincerity in his gaze took her breath away. “And I’m sorry about high school, too. Goodnight, Allie.”
Hope you enjoyed the excerpt. If you wish to buy a copy, it's available at Amazon, and Smashwords in all e-book formats.
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Have a great 4th of July!!
Stacey Joy Netzel