Read an ExcerptHOT DATE
By AMY GARVEY BRAVA BOOKS
Copyright © 2008 Amy Garvey
All right reserved.
When it came to making a fresh start of her life, Grace Lamb thought she was doing a damn good job-right up until the moment she missed a stop sign and crashed the ancient, borrowed VW bus she was driving into a Wrightsville Police Department cruiser with a sickening metallic thud.
It certainly wasn't the way she would have planned to arrive in her hometown after nearly ten years away, but beggars couldn't be choosers. Especially a beggar who had everything she owned crammed in the back of the bus, a scant thousand dollars in her wallet, and nothing more than an exhilarating eagerness to start over to convince her family and friends that she wasn't completely crazy.
Then Nick Griffin climbed out of the police car, long and lean, khaki and official and stern in his uniform, and she couldn't decide if her luck had carried only as far as brilliant spring weather, cheap gas, and a perfect mocha latte on the drive from Manhattan, or if it had just gotten better. The odds were good that Nick, of all people, wouldn't lock her up for reckless driving. But the odds were even better that Nick would at the very least give her an earful about traffic safety, not to mention her recklessness. He'd certainly had enough practice with the latter speech over the years.
Strangely, the idea of a good old-fashionedlecture from her brother's best friend was almost comforting. Nothing quite said "Wrightsville" like Nick and Grace squaring off.
She smiled when he wrenched open the door of the VW and peered inside, incredulous. "Grace?"
She waggled her fingers at him, trying for bright and breezy, as if running into him, literally this time, was an everyday occurrence. "Hey there, Nick! Um, long time no see?"
"Grace." Gold-flecked green eyes narrowed at her in a purely Nick combination of amazement and frustration. Nope, he hadn't changed much.
"I'm sorry, okay!" She climbed down from the bus's passenger seat, flinching when Nick reached out without warning and tipped her head up to squint at her face. "What are you doing?"
His voice was rough, deep, his mouth so close she could feel the ghost of his words on her skin. "You didn't hit your head, did you?"
"No!" She swatted his hand away, suddenly uncomfortably aware of how strong it was, and how warm his fingers were beneath her chin. It was just Nick, for heaven's sake, even if their position was strangely intimate for broad daylight in sleepy little Wrightsville.
Strangely intimate for them, anywhere. Nick was ... well, Nick. She'd known him forever, and sure, once he'd dragged her out of the pond in Fraser Park, and another time he'd carried her kicking and screaming down the ladder from the roof of her house, but that was when they were kids. When she was a kid, anyway.
And Nick was somehow a lot bigger than she'd remembered. Huge, in fact, somewhere in the neighborhood north of six feet, and in the kind of shape you didn't see very often on men not on TV. Beneath the plain khaki cotton, his arms and chest were taut with lean, defined muscle, and his gun belt hung from narrow hips above legs that seemed miles long.
"God, Nick," she said finally, digging to find her voice since she was oddly breathless, and wriggled out of his reach. "I didn't hit you that hard."
"I was wondering if you hit your head before you climbed in this ... thing, actually," he growled, waving a hand at the bus.
Which was, she had to admit, a little worse for the wear of thirty-plus years. In the sharp sunlight along River Road, every detail of the rusted, flaked paint was visible, a sickly tangerine now beside the clean gray-blue of the Delaware.
"It runs just fine," she said primly, twisting away from Nick's reach to round the front of the bus and examine the damage. It was worse than she'd imagined, considering that she couldn't have been driving more than thirty-five miles per hour at the time. Possibly forty. Forty-five at the outside. Oops.
"Yeah, well." Nick laughed, a rough, surprised bark of amusement in the quiet morning air, and followed her around to the front of the car. The cruiser didn't look much better, with the front right bumper dinged up and the headlight in a million glittering pieces on the pavement. "Like they said, Grace, cars don't crash, people crash them."
"No one says that." She smacked his arm without thinking, pure childhood reflex, and blushed hot when he arched a brow at her. "Sorry. You're not going to add assault to my charges, are you?"
"I may have a few inches on Tommy these days, but if I put his little sister in jail?" Nick shook his head with a grin. "I'm pretty sure he'd still kick my ass."
"True." She smiled back at him and was amazed to realize she was at a loss for words. He was squinting in the sunlight, his brow heavy over those green-gold eyes, and awareness curled in her stomach, lazy and sensual.
Wow. That was ... new.
A big blue SUV pulled up behind the cruiser and stopped, honking once. Nick waved and walked over to the car, his stride long and confident, which at least gave Grace a chance to catch her breath and try to convince her stuttering heart to slow down and behave.
This was absurd. She was just excited, a little nervous, high on possibility and the idea of a fresh start, even if she'd never imagined starting over in quiet, boring little Wrightsville, the town she'd been dying to leave ever since she'd been old enough to understand that roads led away from it.
As she leaned against the VW, breathing in the air's cool bite, she watched Nick direct the SUV around the tangled vehicles. She'd thought a lot about what moving home would be like, about old friends and second chances and possibilities she'd never considered.
But she'd never even imagined temptation, at least not with Nick Griffin in the same sentence.
By the time Nick moved the squad car to the shoulder and started up the chugging, shuddering VW bus to move it, too, he'd recovered from most of his surprise.
Okay, maybe not most, but a lot. Some, at least. And then he stepped out of the ancient vehicle and turned around to look at Grace leaning against a tree trunk on the riverbank-her dark curls blowing around her face, and her eyes hidden behind a pair of sunglasses-and a sucker punch of shock hit him in the gut all over again.
Grace Lamb was the last person he ever expected to see in Wrightsville outside of her obligatory Christmas visit to her dad. But here she was, live and in living color, the epitome of trouble on two legs.
Two legs, he realized, that had somehow gotten a lot longer in the years since he'd seen her last. Long, slim legs in faded jeans, with ridiculous bright pink boots on her feet.
He caught himself with a cough. Grace was his best friend Tommy's little sister. She didn't have ... legs. Well, yeah, of course she had legs, but not ... legs. Not like that, anyway. But that had definitely changed sometime in the past couple of years.
Running a stop sign and smacking into a police car, though, that was the Grace he had always known.
"Impulsive" was her middle name. Along with "reckless," "fearless," and, well, "distracted by whatever shiny new thing came along." Which wasn't a word, but whatever. It was still the truth.
Grace had once set her backyard on fire when she tried to start the grill to make lunch for her father. Another time she'd decided to try ice fishing on the pond, only to sink into the water once she started cutting through the pond's frozen skin. She'd tried to go blond, but she'd used household bleach on her dark curls, nearly choking herself on the fumes in the process.
And that was all before she was eleven.
The girl was a walking disaster, and always had been. Except she wasn't a girl anymore, and judging by the suitcases and boxes he could see through the VW's windows, she planned to be back in town for a while. Which was just frigging weird, because the one thing that Grace had always been was restless, to get out of Wrightsville most of all.
"Billy will be down any minute," he said as he walked back to her.
She tilted her head, looking up at him quizzically. "Billy?"
"Down at the precinct," Nick explained, settling his hips against the hood of the cruiser and crossing his arms over his chest. "I can't write up my own report, since I was involved."
"There's going to be a report?" She took off her sunglasses and turned horrified brown eyes on him. "It's just a little fender bender! Hardly worth mentioning, really. I can pay for the damage, and no one even has to know ..." She trailed off when he stared her down, arms still folded over his chest, immovable.
Leave it to Grace. Yeah, he'd taken care of the Great Microwave Disaster of 1988, and the time she'd lost the two Pomeranians she was dog sitting, but this was a little different. It was an official police vehicle, not his own battered Jeep, and Grace, well ... He shook his head. As far as he could tell, she had never really learned to anticipate consequences.
Like wearing jeans that looked molded to her hips, and a white blouse that didn't completely hide the outline of a lacy bra.
Not that he was looking. Definitely not. He swallowed back a growl of arousal and turned toward the VW, gesturing vaguely. "What is all that, Grace? What are you doing here?"
He'd forgotten how blinding her smile could be, and it surprised him all over again. He was still blinking at the brilliance of it when she said, "Coming home, of course."
His eyebrows nearly shot off the top of his head. "You're ... moving back here? To Wrightsville?"
"You don't have to say it like I just announced I'm having an alien love child and going on the talk show circuit." She frowned, the light in her eyes turning to smoke the way it always did when she was mad at him. Boy, was that look familiar.
"Doesn't Robert work in New York?" he asked, glancing at the old bus again. And why on earth was Grace driving that thing? He didn't know Robert well, or really at all, but he did know he wasn't the vintage hippie-chic type. "Commuting to Bucks County is an awful long trip."
"Robert won't be commuting." It was Grace's turn to fold her arms in front of her, but Nick was surprised to realize she didn't look upset. Instead, she was calm, almost peaceful. "Robert is moving to Chicago, to work for The Museum of Contemporary Art."
If his eyes widened any farther, they'd probably roll out of his head, Nick realized with a start. "And you're ...?"
"Not," she said simply, and gave him another smile. The sun gleamed on her hair. "I'm starting over, Nick. I'm getting a divorce, and I'm going to figure out a career, and I'm going to do it right here in Wrightsville."
Just when he'd convinced himself Wrightsville was getting a little boring, Nick told himself as he restrained a groan. Grace back in town, at loose ends, looking for work and maybe romance?
They were all doomed.
At least Billy, Nick's fellow officer, was understanding about her rather clumsy entrance back into town, Grace thought when he drove off almost an hour later. Especially since she hadn't thought to ask about insurance and registration for the car she'd borrowed and had to make an embarrassing emergency phone call to her friend Regina for a clue to where the VW's paperwork was kept.
All while Nick was scowling, shaking his head, and generally oozing exasperation. At least that made it easier to ignore how well his uniform fit on his long frame, and how good he looked a few years older, the smooth lines of his face sharper now, his skull clearly outlined beneath hair cut so short, she was pretty sure the barber had used clippers instead of scissors.
But she couldn't think about that. She wasn't even divorced yet, for one thing, and for another it was Nick. Nick. Not to mention the fact that she had things to do, plans to make. A life to figure out, for heaven's sake. Romance-or especially the good old-fashioned lusty fling variety-was out of the question. She didn't even have a place to live yet, much less a job.
She was just ... well, startled to see him, and to see him looking so honestly delicious, that was all. She hadn't run into Nick for a few years, and she was fairly certain that the last time was when they'd merely bumped into each other at the supermarket over the Christmas holiday, which wasn't exactly conducive to extended conversation. The supermarket at Christmastime always made Grace a little homicidal, actually. She'd probably been hoping to escape Nick's notice before she broke down and beat someone over the head with a carton of eggnog.
"Why are you doing this?" Nick said when she walked back to the old bus. He'd lost the scowl, but he didn't look much happier. Instead, he looked serious, and possibly uncomfortable. "I mean, really, how come? I thought you and Robert were happy."
She wrapped her arms around herself and leaned back against the decrepit old VW. "Robert was happy. I was ... comfortable."
There was that scowl again. It was sort of criminal that he looked so lickable when he did that, Grace decided. "What's the difference?" he said.
"Oh, my God, you are such a man." She rolled her eyes and held herself tighter. The breeze off the river was cool, and her shirt didn't provide much by way of warmth. "Happy is ... loving your life, being eager to get up in the morning. Comfortable is thinking, well, this doesn't suck, and it could be worse."
She shrugged. "It's okay, Nick." She laughed a little then, the morning's earlier lightness bubbling up inside her. "In fact, I'm happier now that I've left him than I have been in the last few years. Robert is a wonderful man, but he isn't the one, you know?" She snuck a glance at Nick, who was gazing out at the water thoughtfully. "You don't know. You man, you."
His laugh was gruff, sort of rusty, but it was sympathetic. "I guess I don't know, but I'm glad you're ... well, happy. Couldn't you be happy in a better car, though?"
"It's just for now," Grace said archly. If he kept up the smart-mouth remarks, it would be a lot easier to remind herself that she and Nick had always fought like dogs and cats, that he thought she was irresponsible and impulsive, and that she thought he was boring and too responsible for his own good.
And hot, a voice in her head whispered. Don't forget suddenly, incredibly, illegally hot.
"Who's Regina, anyway?" Nick asked, frowning at her again.
"My closest friend in the city," she told him, patting the mangled front of the bus with a ginger hand. "A wonderful, if slightly eccentric, woman who just happened to have a car I could borrow. I don't think she's driven it for a while, actually. God only knows what it costs her to keep it in a garage, even if the garage is in Hoboken."
Nick scoffed. "Couldn't you rent something? From this century, maybe?"
She gave him what she hoped was a withering look. For a cop, Nick had a lot to learn about tactful questioning. "I couldn't afford it. And I wasn't about to let Robert pay for it," she added before Nick could interrupt. "This is all me now. New start, new life."
She glared when Nick smirked. God, she remembered that look, older and wiser and incredibly superior in the face of what he thought was one of her impossible schemes. Tommy had always simply rolled his eyes and gone back to his car magazine, but Nick ... Nick liked to show her just what he thought about her plans. "So you're staying with your dad."
"Absolutely not," she snapped, and stalked over to the driver's side door of the VW. "I'm staying with Toby."
Nick raised his eyebrows when she added, under her breath, complete with a prayer to the gods of unconditional friendship, "Even if he doesn't know it yet."
The bell at Priest Antiques jangled when Grace pushed the door open and stepped inside. The big front room to the right, which had been the formal parlor before the house became a store, was as dim and cluttered as she remembered, as if the crisp afternoon sunshine wasn't allowed inside. But the dust and the quiet and the faint smell of age were comfortingly familiar. She'd spent a lot of time here with Toby in junior high and high school.
"Hello?" she called into the hallway that extended between two more rooms in the middle of the house. They were arranged roughly according to category, as always-furniture in the front room, glass and china and collectibles in the room to the left, and pretty much everything else in the third room. That one had always been her favorite. You could find everything from old bundles of love letters to Victorian Christmas ornaments to funky plastic jewelry from the 1970s in there.
Excerpted from HOT DATE by AMY GARVEY Copyright © 2008 by Amy Garvey. Excerpted by permission.
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