Read an Excerpt
Damn, she's still hot. Riley Kinnard gazed out the window of the airport van that had brought him from Tucson International to the house where he'd spent the first eighteen years of his life. Across the street, his former high school sweetheart was building a Christmas display in the yard, apparently ready to continue the tradition now that she'd bought the house from her folks. If he'd hoped to sort out his feelings before facing Hayden Manchester, he was out of luck.
Heading into the house without saying hello would be rude, not to mention cowardly. She knew he was coming home and had probably heard the shuttle, even though she continued wielding the hammer. As he climbed down from the van and walked around to the rear where his suitcase was stowed, he thought of what his mother had said on the phone. It's a shame we've booked this cruise right when you've scheduled a job interview. But if there's a chance you're moving back, it doesn't matter so much. We'll tell Hayden not to bother with the mail. If you should accidentally lock yourself out, remember that she has a key.
Of course she did. The Manchesters and the Kinnards had exchanged front-door keys thirty-five years ago when the subdivision was new. As a kid, Riley had been famous for locking himself out. Not Hayden. She did everything right. Near as Riley had ever been able to tell, Hayden was perfect.
She still was. Her glossy brown ponytail caught the afternoon sun as she raised one tanned, bare arm to bring the hammer down. Tall and athletic, she'd been a basketball star, a straight-A student, and his first love. Because Hayden had to lean over to wield the hammer, Riley had an excellent view of her assencased in tight denim capris. Just like in high school, that sight made his jaw clench against a surge of desire.
When he'd first discovered that Hayden had left L.A. and bought her parents' house when they moved to Washington State, he hadn't thought much about it. He and Hayden were ancient history. But ancient history was looking way better than he remembered.
The shuttle driver hauled Riley's suitcase out and set it on the asphalt. Riley was so absorbed in watching Hayden that he nearly let the driver get away without a tip. At the last minute he fumbled with his wallet and handed the guy a five. Shortly thereafter, the shuttle pulled away.
As if waiting for that, Hayden gave the plywood one last whack with the hammer, straightened and turned toward Riley. She dangled the hammer from her right hand and adjusted her designer shades with her left. "So what, you got sick of Chicago?"
No conversational niceties for Hayden. Obviously, even though it had been ten years, she was still pissed at him. Yes, she'd caught him kissing Lisa Trenton the night of their high school graduation party. He'd been slightly drunk and very stupid, but Hayden had been completely unforgiving when he'd tried to explain.
He'd thought that heartache was healed. Maybe not. He pushed his Ray-Bans against the bridge of his nose. "Chicago's great but the winters suck."
"Could've told you that." She swung the hammer idly by her side.
He laughed. Nothing had changed. Hayden still knew everything. "The work experience was awesome, but after five winters of ice and snow, I'm done. Speaking of relocation, what's a Hollywood set designer doing back in Tucson?" He was trying mightily not to ogle her chest.
She'd tied a carpenter's apron around her waist, which pulled her black tank top tight over her breasts. The shirt advertised the movie Transformers, and mechanical monsters had never looked so good. Hers were the first breasts he'd ever touched, and seeing them showcased in that snug tank shot him right back to his hormone-laden teen years.
"I travel for the job, anyway, so I decided I'd rather be based here than in L.A. My dad got a great job offer in Washington and they decided to move." She shrugged, which made her breasts shift invitingly. "I didn't want strangers living in my childhood home."
God, she was magnificent. With her high cheekbones and expressive mouth she could have been a model if she'd chosen that path.
He moved toward her without planning it, feeling a lot like an X-wing fighter caught in a Death Star tractor beam. "Yeah, that would be weird, not having Manchesters in that house." So she still had a sentimental streak. He wondered how sentimental she was about her old high school sweetheart. Probably not very, considering how they'd ended things, with her calling him a faithless bastard and him calling her a cold-hearted bitch.
He wished she'd take off the sunglasses. He'd always been able to tell a lot by looking into those big brown eyes. During sex they turned positively luminous with joy. But the last time he'd looked into them—had it really been ten years ago?— he'd seen nothing but the flames of fury.
Well, he sure as hell wasn't going to mention that incident. She'd been so sure of his guilt back then, and age hadn't seemed to soften her any. He didn't need to get hung up again on someone who was so quick to judge. Her unbending behavior still rankled, even now.
Shoving those feelings back into the box where he'd kept them for years, he gestured toward the structure she was building. "I see you're keeping up the tradition."
"Well, yeah." She glanced back at her work. "Mom and Dad are flying down on Christmas Eve day, and I couldn't let the front yard go undecorated, even if your parents aren't into it anymore."
"They told me they weren't doing much this year." Riley had been so involved with Hayden that he hadn't yet noticed his parents' home. Now that she'd mentioned it, he had to admit the place looked forlorn with nothing but three spiral white-light trees grouped on the lawn.
Not many places in Tucson had lawns anymore, with most people opting for cactus and gravel landscaping. The Manchesters and the Kinnards had kept the grass because it gave them the best base for their elaborate holiday constructions.
In times past, the Manchester-Kinnard Christmas decoration rivalry had reached epic proportions. The year Riley and Hayden were seniors, the Manchesters imported live animals for their nativity scene, and the Kinnards responded by getting the football team, including Riley, to dress up as tin soldiers and march around the yard with the Nutcracker Suite blaring. Cars lined up bumper-to-bumper on their street that holiday, and the rivalry ended up on the KGUN evening news.
Riley took stock of what Hayden had built so far. "Is that a bunkhouse?"
"Exactly. I'm going retro, Christmas in the Old West."
"Good idea. Shouldn't be too hard."
Her chin lifted defiantly. "That depends on how it's done."
If he didn't know better, he'd swear he just heard a gauntlet hit the ground. He wasn't picking it up. He had job interviews this week which he intended to ace so he could move back to sunny Tucson. His parents seemed happy with their spiral trees, which would look considerably better at night.
He smiled sweetly. "Knowing you, it'll be done perfectly." He might have allowed a trace of sarcasm into that remark. Old habits died hard.
"I plan on it."
From across the street, a V-8 revved up, causing Riley to look over and realize that his suitcase sat in the path of the oft-restored red Mustang backing out of his next-door neighbor's driveway. David Faulkner loved that car with a passion but he was the worst driver in the history of automobiles. He'd wrecked the Mustang more times than anyone could count. He'd once failed to notice a garbage truck when he backed out, so it was a solid bet he'd never see Riley's suitcase.
"'Scuse me." Riley sprinted across the street and snatched the suitcase out of the way just in time.
David slammed on the brakes. "Riley Kinnard! Your mother said you'd be in town this week. Welcome home!"
"Thanks, Mr. Faulkner." Riley noticed that his neighbor had a little gray going on at his temples and a few more laugh lines around his blue eyes, but otherwise he looked the same—great smile, wire-rimmed glasses, a lanky body that never seemed to gain weight. He and his wife both taught at the university.
"Hey, Riley, I'm only fifteen years older than you. Feel free to call me David so I don't feel like such a relic."
"Okay, sure." Riley wondered if he could do it. The Faul-kners had moved into the house as newlyweds when Riley was seven. Childless themselves, they'd spoiled the neighborhood kids rotten. Riley's parents had instructed him to call all adults by their last names, even if he knew their first names perfectly well, and that included the Faulkners.
"Listen, I'm sure your mom left you a refrigerator full of food," David said, "but Marlena and I would love to have you over for a meal while you're here."
"I'd love it." Riley had been hoping for an invite. Unless things had changed, the Faulkners put on an amazing spread. David's beer bread was legendary.
David leaned out of the car window and called over to Hayden. "You should come, too! Marlena hasn't finished pumping you about the stars you've met. How about tonight?"
Hayden hesitated just long enough for Riley to know she'd rather have a root canal than spend an evening with him. Apparently she held a grudge. What the hell, so did he. She'd broken his heart, which was a big deal when you were eighteen and in love for the first time. Or in lust. They'd had lots of sex their senior year, and great sex tended to blur the love/lust debate, especially at eighteen.
"I sort of had plans," Hayden said.
David flashed her a smile. "I have a slice of cheesecake with your name on it."
Hayden smiled back. "You know I can't resist your cheesecake. I'll cancel what I had scheduled. What can I bring?"
"Salacious stories about famous people. A night with you is better than an issue of The Enquirer."
Riley hadn't realized how much he'd wanted the evening to pan out until Hayden agreed to show up. He tried to convince himself his eagerness was all about nostalgia. His sister Ginny was eight years older, so he'd spent much of his early years running around the neighborhood with Hayden, who had no siblings. They'd scrounged scrap lumber to build forts in the desert, a desert that had since become a series of housing developments.
He credited those forts with inspiring his career as an architect. He wondered if they'd steered Hayden in the direction of movie set design. He'd never asked, but he'd like to. The Faulkners might provide a DMZ where he and Hayden could talk without sniping at each other or dredging up painful memories.
"Let's say six." David gave them each a wave before careening out onto the street and zooming off, tires squealing.
Riley shook his head. Even as a teenager, he'd never driven like that. But in a way, it was comforting to come home and discover David Faulkner continued to be a maniac behind the wheel and Hayden Manchester was determined to decorate her parents' front yard for the holidays. If he had any community spirit, he'd—nah. That was nuts. Just because he was already envisioning a plywood representation of the Chicago skyline with Santa's sleigh flying overhead didn't mean he had to do anything about it.
Damn, he was still hot. Hayden gave Riley a dismissive wave and returned to her construction zone as if he were no more than a minor interruption to her day. But inside, where Riley couldn't see, she was a mass of hormonal urges. If she'd had some vain hope that he'd gone bald or developed a paunch, that hope was dashed the minute he'd stepped out of the van.
Eyeing him while pretending to continue with her hammering hadn't been easy, but in Hollywood a person developed those skills. Celebrities were everywhere in L.A., and yet no one wanted to be caught looking. That would be totally uncool. So Hayden had perfected the art of watching without seeming to pay any attention at all.
Therefore she'd been completely aware of how great he looked in his jeans, dress shirt open at the neck, and black leather jacket. A guy like Riley, with football-star shoulders and narrow hips, could really pull off a combo like that. His hair was dark and thick, the way it had been when she used to bury her hands in it while he'd been deep inside her. Even though he'd kept his shades on today, she could easily recall the emerald green of his eyes.
Lying eyes, as it turned out. She'd been so sure of him, and then she'd caught him kissing Lisa Trenton and copping a feel, no less. Hayden had hidden her pain behind a wall of anger. How could he? She'd given him her virginity, and then she'd given him complete access to her body during their hot sessions in the back of his pickup.
She blushed to think of all the things she'd allowed under those starry desert skies. At a used bookstore he'd found a copy ofThe Joy of Sex and had coaxed her to try all sorts of positions. He'd also initiated her into the wonders of oral sex. True, she'd loved every minute of their experimentation and she'd soon begun paging through the book looking for ideas of her own.
They'd planned to enjoy another night of fun and games once they'd put in a token appearance at various graduation parties. Unfortunately, one of those appearances had involved a lip-lock and a grope with Lisa. Hayden had felt so deeply betrayed she'd barely been able to talk. But she'd made her point eventually—she and Riley were through. Over. Finished.
He'd tried to make some sort of lame excuse that Lisa had been the one to start it, but the sight of his mouth, which had been everywhere on her body, pressed hard against Lisa's mouth, plus the sight of his hand where it had no business being… that had been the ultimate insult. Hayden hadn't been able to get past it then, and she got cold chills when she thought about it now.
Not that she'd pined for him for ten years. Hollywood had its share of good-looking men, and she'd enjoyed herself. But no matter how hot the sex, she hadn't been able to recapture the sense of rightness she'd felt with Riley. She'd discovered a girl couldn't talk herself into being in love, and God knows she'd tried.