Today’s Sunday Snippet comes to us from Tracy Solheim and her new book Back to Before, which takes place in a small town in North Carolina. There is nothing better than small town romances, in my humble opinion, course I grew up in a small town America and so I have a soft spot for it.
Still flat on her back, Ginger carefully opened her eyes. Crouched next to her was a man dressed in khakis and a black golf shirt. Sunglasses dangled from a cord around his neck. She gazed up into his face and nearly lost her breath for a second time in as many minutes. He had the most amazing mouth. Sensuous lips that looked as if they smiled easily and often sat atop a broad chin with the hint of a dimple. Thick, brown hair, just days past the date of needing a trim, waved in the breeze. Hazel eyes, full of concern, gazed down at her.
“You okay?” Mr. Amazing Mouth asked.
Ginger nodded slightly, but before she could speak, the innkeeper called out.
“Don’t move her until you check her for injuries!”
Sitting up so quickly that she had to groan, Ginger tried to scoot away. Mr. Amazing Mouth’s close proximity was already doing crazy things to her body; she didn’t want to find out what would happen if he touched her.
Too late. He braced a hand on her shoulder to steady her and she felt the heat clear down to her fingertips.
“Whoa, there,” he said. “Take it slow.”
“Should I call the EMTs? Or maybe the sheriff?” The innkeeper stood on the veranda, a cell phone in her hand.
“Oh God,” Ginger mumbled. “That woman already doesn’t like me. Now she thinks I’ll break at the slightest fall.”
“She doesn’t dislike you.” His hand moved to her elbow as he helped her up. “She just thinks you’re a bit obsessed with food.”
Ginger’s head shot up as she gaped at him. Her cheeks grew warm with mortification at the thought of the innkeeper gossiping about her with the handsome stranger. He grinned back at her and another dimple appeared at the side of his now-even-more amazing mouth. The effect of his smile caused her to sway a little and his grip on her arm tightened.
“And she calls the sheriff about every little thing. They’re . . . involved.” He winked at her. Something about his expression gave Ginger the sense he was uncomfortable about the relationship, though. “You okay?” he asked again.
“Yeah.” Her voice wavered slightly. Stepping back, she pulled out of his grasp before reflexively rubbing the spot where his hand had been. Ginger bent down to retrieve the odds and ends that had spilled out of her bag as he reached over to pick up her sunglasses.
“Huh,” he said, handing them to her. “She was right about your eyes, though. They are unique.”
The comment wasn’t unfamiliar to her; her almond-shaped green eyes garnered many compliments through the years. But somehow, the way he’d said it felt almost . . . intimate. The dog suddenly reappeared, shattering the moment, which, technically, wasn’t a moment. Put a man with a sexy mouth in front of her and Ginger’s imagination tended to run wild. He was just a handsome stranger with an ill-behaved dog. The wife and two-point-five kids were probably waiting in the car.
“Midas.” He pointed toward the open door of his Jeep. “Car.” The dog looked at him solemnly before dropping its head and slowly padding over to the Jeep. An empty Jeep. Ginger surreptitiously glanced at his hands for a wedding ring. Her stomach did a happy dance when she didn’t see one. Not that an empty ring finger meant anything, but she did have eighty-four days to kill and a girl could dream.
“I’m really sorry about that,” he said. “He’s usually better behaved.”
“Well, maybe you shouldn’t reward him with a treat every time he knocks someone down.” She was amazed she was able to play it so cool in spite of her screaming pheromones.
One corner of the amazing mouth twitched. “He only gets a reward when he takes down a beautiful woman.”
Ginger kept the smile off her face, but it was hard to keep it out of her voice. “Ah, so you’re just using the dog as a tool to pick up women. Maybe I should alert the folks at PETA.”
He was grinning now, sexy laugh lines fanning out from his eyes. “There’s nothing unethical about his treatment. In fact, he’s rewarded like a king for his efforts.”
“Ahh,” Ginger teased. “Hence the name Midas.”
“Gorgeous and smart.” He folded his arms across his chest and took a half step closer. “He gets extra treats for such a rare find.”
Ginger was so captivated by their flirtatious exchange that she didn’t hear the innkeeper approach until the woman spoke beside her.
“Well, Gavin, did Miss Walsh break anything?” The innkeeper’s hand was still poised and ready to dial the cell phone.
“Nah, she’s just dusted up a bit.” He pointed to Ginger’s backside, which was covered in a layer of gravel dust. Ginger jumped back a step, swatting at the area he’d obviously been checking out.
“You can call off the cavalry, Mom. She isn’t going to sue.”
Mom?! Ginger looked from the innkeeper to Mr. Amazing Mouth, taking in the insignia on his golf shirt: McAlister Construction and Engineering. Cheese and crackers! He was the innkeeper’s son. She and Patricia McAlister hadn’t hit it off too well earlier that day. What had she told her son? That Ginger was “obsessed” with food?
Cheese and crackers with crap on top!
Making matters worse, McAlister Construction and Engineering was the firm handling the renovations, which would make Mr. Amazing Mouth the “hot contractor.” The hottie who wasn’t really flirting with her, but more likely buttering her up so she wouldn’t sue his mother. Fate was never kind enough to Ginger to actually put a handsome stranger in her path and make him attainable.
She pulled in a deep breath, shifting her messenger bag under her arm while she regrouped. Eighty-four more days, she silently reminded herself. It was better that she muscle through her stay in Chances Inlet without the complication of a small-town fling, anyway. If she and Diesel managed to pull this show off, she’d be on her way to restarting her career and avoiding the walk of shame back to her mother’s ballet company. Until then, she could put up with persnickety innkeepers who wanted to judge her and handsome strangers who weren’t above flirting for sport. The trick was to keep reminding herself their actions couldn’t hurt her. Even when they did.
Sliding her sunglasses up her nose, Ginger pasted on her sunniest soap opera smile. “No harm done, Mrs. McAlister. If you’ll excuse me, I have some work to do before the production meeting.” She moved to walk between them and up the inn steps, but Mr. Amazing Mouth, aka “the hottie,” aka Gavin McAlister blocked her way.
“Hey, don’t run off.” He took a tentative step toward Ginger. The concern was back in his eyes, but she was no longer mistaking it as concern for her. “Let me get you a cup of tea or something.”
“I thought you had a date in Wilmington?” His mother’s tone clearly indicated she’d rather her son go to Wilmington than spend time with Ginger.
Of course he has a date. Ginger silently chastised herself for her traitorous reaction to the guy.
Gavin shot the innkeeper a look as Ginger slipped past.
“Thank you anyway, but some other time,” Ginger said, climbing the veranda stairs. Judging by her body’s reaction to his touch just now, there couldn’t be another time, not if she wanted to maintain her composure while working around him every day. “Besides, you shouldn’t leave your dog in the car,” she teased, trying her best to sound indifferent. “Those PETA people tend to get really nasty about that.”
She left him standing at the bottom of the steps, his hands on his hips, as she entered the inn.
When his father’s sudden death puts his family’s construction business in serious debt, architect Gavin McAlister is forced to put his dream career in New York on hold. Making matters worse, his fiancée calls it quits. Desperate to return to his big-city life, he discovers an opportunity to save his family, one that has him reluctantly starring in a home restoration TV show.
Former soap star Ginger Walsh hopes this job as a TV makeup artist will lead to better things. So far it’s only brought her to a hamlet full of people who don’t like her—except Gavin. After a wild night out leads to Ginger waking up in Gavin’s loft—and the rest of town talking—the two of them soon wonder if getting back to before is what they want. Because being in each other’s arms certainly feels like what they need.