Farming family land on sunny Crestler’s Key, the sweet, sexy Littleton brothers are notorious bachelors. But all that will change when the right woman comes along . . .
There aren’t many things Charlie Littleton values more than his lifelong friendship with his buddy Lucas, currently home from a tour in Iraq. But when he discovers that Lucas’s younger sister, Lila, is back to assist the town’s overburdened veterinarian, Charlie is torn. She’s no longer the skinny, awkward kid he remembers, but a gorgeous woman—one Lucas would never approve of him dating. When Lucas asks him to watch out for Lila when he’s called to duty again, Charlie can’t say no—but he can’t pretend it’s easy to ignore his feelings either.
As a teen, Lila crushed on Charlie—hard—and the man he’s grown up to be is even more wonderful than she dreamed. Relationships are a tricky business, though, and too much history is at stake to risk one now. But every moment they’re together is heated by their simmering attraction—and one day an impulsive kiss leads to much more. What’s tangled in a matter of loyalty soon becomes a question of the kind of love worth chasing . . .
Praise for Melissa West’s Racing Hearts
“An emotional story filled with heart, humor, and second chances, Racing Hearts is a love letter to small towns, southern pride, and the heartbeat of all tight communities—its strong families. I laughed, I cried, and I never wanted to leave. An incredible story!” –Rachel Harris, &emdash;New York Times bestselling author
About the Author
Connect with Melissa at www.melissawestauthor.com or on Twitter @MB_West.
Read an Excerpt
By Melissa West
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Melissa West
All rights reserved.
"Nah-ah, boy, you better take that dog on out of here."
Charlie Littleton tightened his hold on Henry's leash and shot Patty a look. "You know he doesn't bark."
The bakery owner placed a hand on her hip and cocked it for effect. Like always, she wore an apron with the AJ&P Bakery yellow-and-blue logo on it, though you could scarcely see it through the flour and spices smeared across the apron.
"Right," Patty said now. "A dog that don't bark. Is that sort of like a man who don't eat? Because as far as I'm concerned that's a fictional being. Like the dog. But if you do find a man who will share his sandwich, you be sure to point him in my direction, okay? But seeing as how that man don't exist, kind of like that nonbarking dog don't exist, I don't expect you to be introducing me to him anytime soon." She winked at him and clucked her tongue. "Now, you take that cute bottom of yours out of here, leave the dog in your truck, then come back and I'll make you a roast beef with extra au jus."
Charlie peered around the bakery, the smells of fresh baked bread and toasted hot sandwiches hitting his nose. His stomach grumbled. Of course, the small bakery and sandwich shop was packed today, half the town there to witness Charlie getting put in his place. A part of him wanted to remind Patty that his family's farm supplied most of her produce and could just as easily refuse to deliver, but he'd learned long ago to retreat slowly and carefully when dealing with the bakery owner.
"Fine, but I'm holding you to that extra au jus."
Patty flashed him a grin. "It'll be waiting for you, honey." Then she waved her hand through the air in a sign that he better get moving, and then she went to greet someone else. Someone without a dog.
Resigned, Charlie pushed out of the glass door and eyed his old Husky. "Sorry, boy. I'll bring you some leftovers, though." He unlocked his Silverado, cranked the truck, and rolled down the windows. It was a mild sixty out in Crestler's Key, Kentucky, a perfect early spring day, but Henry meant more to him than most of the people in the town, and if he was going to be forced to stay in Charlie's truck, then he'd do it with a nice breeze.
With a long glance down Main Street at the row of shops — Southern Dive, his family's sports and outdoors shop at the very end — Charlie couldn't help wondering if he was making the right decisions in his life.
He'd moved back to Crestler's Key after living in the Florida Keys for five years. There, he'd operated a small scuba diving business, his life as much under water as above it. And he loved every moment of it. Then there were the women, too many to count, always around, always eager to occupy a little bit of his time. He'd been content with that life, never asking for more and never wanting it. He was a typical twenty-something and enjoyed every bit of his young age.
Then he met Jade, and hell if he didn't fall hook, line, and sinker.
Still to this day, years later, he remembered with painful clarity her walking down the dock at the marina and stopping outside his houseboat, long sun-bleached blond hair and even longer legs. She was beautiful in that natural, God-made way — his kryptonite, when it came to women, so all it took was one look and he was gone.
It took mere days, maybe even hours, for her to rope him into her world. She had innocence behind that beauty that he couldn't refuse, and weeks passed with them tangled in each other's arms, a new kind of happiness swirling in Charlie's chest. She would never fill the spot someone else had once filled, someone he was never allowed to care for, someone he told himself he could — would — forget, but Jade made him feel good. They meshed together perfectly, peanut butter and freaking jelly.
Until that fateful day when he woke to discover she'd taken everything he owned. His dog. His wallet, which she used to drain his checking account. His prized possessions. Even the coin collection his grandfather had left him. Every. Single. Thing. Hell, if he hadn't been on the houseboat, he felt sure she'd have sailed off with it, too.
And while, yeah, the money thing sucked, and the coin collection sucked even more, what really dropped him into the depression bucket was losing his old dog, Rocky.
He'd rescued Rocky as a puppy from the pound, more mutt than anything, and with a broken left leg. Thousands of dollars in vet bills later, and that dog was his only friend down there. And his idiotic self had let some vixen walk in and steal him.
The thought brought on a fresh wave of guilt, and he contemplated going to talk to Patty again, convince her that they could sit out on the back patio, but then he'd been through this argument with her before. Besides, this was Crestler's Key, not Florida, and he knew everyone in town. No one would take his dog.
Still, just to be safe, he hit the locks on his truck twice, before heading back into AJ&P, determined to rehash this with Patty before he left if she hoped to continue to get discounted produce from the farm.
"There you are, cute bottom."
Grimacing, Charlie pivoted to find his best friend, Lucas, already seated at one of the white-washed wooden tables, a giant smirk on his face. "Funny," Charlie said. "You know, I was excited to see you and then you had to go and open that big mouth." The men laughed, then hugged, because it'd been too damn long.
They took their seats and Lucas joked, "Thought you were going to cry there when she said you couldn't bring Henry in here."
Charlie peeked out the window at his truck before returning his gaze to his friend. "Well, she ought to remember who's supplying all her produce."
"So you're going to hold her produce ransom until she lets you bring in your dog? Dude, you need a chick in your life. Stat."
Charlie laughed, until he glanced around and noticed several of the women he'd dated off and on eating at the bakery, half of them glaring at him. "Yeah ... think I'll pass on that one. Thanks, though."
"What's the deal with your insane overprotectiveness of Henry anyway? He's a giant dog. He can take care of himself."
Yeah, well, Rocky had been a big dog, too, and that didn't save him from that thieving witch of a woman. Charlie had searched for the dog for nearly a year, all to no avail. Jade was probably halfway across the world now, with his money and his coin collection and his dog. Damn woman. No, damn women. They were more trouble than they would ever be worth.
Lucas continued to stare at him with a questioning look, but all Charlie could say was the same excuse he always said. Because no one, not Lucas, not his brothers Zac or Brady, no one knew about Jade or what she'd done to him. The humiliation would be too much.
"Henry had a rough childhood. Gotta protect the boy now."
MaryAnn, one of AJ&P's waitresses, came over then to get their order, and Lucas smiled a little too wide at his former high-school flame before clearing his throat and trying for mock-cool. Charlie suppressed a grin. Mary Ann, with her wavy blond hair and deep brown eyes, still looked exactly as she did in high school. And just like in high school, she was still 100 percent in love with Lucas. "Hey, there," Mary Ann said, matching his smile. "I didn't know you were home."
Lucas shrugged. "Three-day leave before going back."
"When is your tour over?" she asked, her eyes filling with a bit of hope that she probably wished wasn't there. She and Lucas had mutually ended their relationship when she realized he intended to be a career soldier, and having lost her brother in Iraq, she said she couldn't live that life. It was a mature decision, they had both said, but now ten years later, they both still looked like they regretted it. And come to think of it, Charlie couldn't remember a single woman Lucas had dated seriously since ending things with MaryAnn.
With another careful glance at his old girlfriend, Lucas relaxed into his chair, the single thing between them now back front and center. "Three months, then I'll have a few weeks off, before another one."
Mary Ann nodded slowly, and then flipped her attention over to Charlie for the first time, like she couldn't bear to look at Lucas another second. "Your regular?"
"Yeah, though Patty promised extra au jus if I left Henry in the truck."
"What's up with you and that dog?"
Lucas laughed. "Didn't you know? He's married to that dog. Papers and all."
Both Mary Ann and Lucas laughed, until they made eye contact with each other and both went mum. She took their order and sauntered off, her shoulders drooped a little, and Charlie couldn't stand it anymore.
"What?" Lucas asked.
Charlie deadpanned. "What? Are you freaking kidding me? The whole town could feel that tension. Why not try?" Lucas took a drink of his sweet tea, set it down, then did it again, like he wasn't ready to speak yet. Or maybe he didn't know what to say. "She made her intentions clear years ago. Her mind's not changing."
"She's older now. Y'all were teenagers then. Maybe she wants you to make the first move."
"Says the dude who hasn't been on a real date since ..." Lucas cocked his head. "Come to think of it, I don't think you've ever been on a real date."
"Whatever. I date."
"Sure you do," Lucas said, relaxing now that the spotlight wasn't on him. "You sound just like Lila, always deflecting."
And just like that, just the mention of her name, and Charlie sat up taller, eager to hear anything that might have to do with Lucas's little sister. "What's up with Lila these days? Still in vet school?" He thought of Lucas's only sister, two years younger and forever tagging along with the two boys when they were kids. She'd always been pretty in a sweet, natural way, her smile and laugh infectious. Charlie looked after her when Lucas left for basic, but then Charlie moved to the Keys and Lila moved away to college, and he hadn't seen her since.
"Actually she finished school. Went to work in Charlotte for a while, but she moved back to town a week ago." He took another drink of his tea, his look distant now, and Charlie got the distinct impression that Lucas was keeping something from him.
"Why'd she move back to town?" Charlie asked. He wondered what Lila looked like now, if she'd kept her black hair cropped short like she had when she was little. But then most women changed their hair all the time, so it could be long now — beautiful. She probably had men waiting in lines to get her attention, that bright smile of hers forever turning the eye of everyone she passed. It had certainly caught his eye.
Lucas shrugged. "Work stuff."
Mary Ann returned then with their food, saving Lucas from explaining, but something was definitely going on. Still, it wasn't Charlie's business, and he was never one to pry.
"She ever marry?" All right, so maybe he was one to pry.
"Nah, not her thing."
Charlie perked up at the thought, his heart light — happy. Wow, Lila wasn't married. He'd expected her to be —
But before he could finish the thought, Lucas pointed at him. "Don't even think about it."
Charlie threw up his hands. "Think about what?"
"Lila. And you. You and Lila."
A sarcastic laugh broke from his lips, despite the uneasiness in his chest. "You go insane again? This is me. She's like a little sister to me."
Lucas settled in his chair again, but his face was still tense. "Right ... just like the last time. My thoughts on this haven't changed."
Cringing, Charlie thought of that fateful day in high school when he'd asked Lucas about his sister. It was a simple question — Is Lila around? Three words, nothing more. He and Lucas had always been best friends, but somewhere along the way, Charlie started noticing Lila more and more. Curious where she was, how she was doing. But needless to say, the conversation with his friend didn't go well. Lucas went ballistic, shouting all the reasons Charlie wasn't to touch his sister, and their friendship meant enough to him that he didn't.
"Relax, man. I'm not going after your sister."
Besides, Lila was the furthest thing from Charlie's type now. He wasn't into doctors or the professional type. Lucas had nothing to worry about. Nothing. But still, he couldn't deny that he was curious what adult Lila looked like and whether she would remember the time they'd almost ...
No, surely not.
Even if he would never forget.
* * *
Lila Jacobs sat in her new Honda Pilot, which wasn't new at all, because while she was the new vet at Crestler's Key Animal Hospital, she had not received her first check, which was bound to be super-laughable anyway.
Kind of like her agreeing to work with Dr. Baxter, the town's sole vet and the grumpiest man on the planet.
She pressed her head to the steering wheel and tried to remember that she was awesome. Intelligent. Driven. Kind. Occasionally funny. She was more than capable of walking into Crestler's Key Animal Hospital and helping Dr. Baxter, a giant smile on her face the entire time. Even though he was paying her half what she could make elsewhere. And even though during the interview he kept reminding her that she was his assistant. Assistant. "Not the doctor; that's me," he had said. It took all her strength not to point out that she too was a doctor, despite the assistant title he'd given her. Not that there was anything wrong with an assistant. Assistants were great, tremendously valuable people. But she wasn't one of them. Surely, she had clarified that point, told him she would assist him with patients, but not be his admin assistant, right?
Come to think of it, Lila couldn't remember exactly what they'd gone over during the interview, and now she feared what she had agreed to in her excitement to get a new job far, far away from Charlotte. Finding a job in her hometown couldn't have been more perfect. She'd see her brother when he was home, her old friends, and maybe someone else, someone who likely would still look at her like a little sister.
The thought made Lila's already nervous stomach rumble.
One thing at a time, and for now, she needed to get out of her SUV and walk into Dr. Baxter's office, assistant or not, and show that she wasn't the same little girl who used to run after her brother and Charlie.
"Deep breath, deep breath."
Lila glanced in the rearview mirror to check her makeup, which consisted of no more than mascara and lipgloss — well, tinted Chapstick, but that was something.
She reached for her work tote when a knock on her window caused her to jump back. A memory slipped into her mind, but before it could take shape, she shook her head and pushed it away. This was Crestler's Key, after all, her home. Not the city, where shadows chased you and it was hard to walk anywhere without looking over your shoulder. But then it hadn't always been that way, only after ...
No. I won't think about that anymore.
Another knock, softer this time, had her rolling down the window to find the front-desk manager, Tracy, standing outside her door.
"Hi, Tracy," she said. "Did you need something?"
Tracy wore a turquoise blue T-shirt with the Crestler's Key Animal Hospital logo on the front left pocket — an outline of a kitten on one side of the words, a puppy on the other — and white capris. Like always, she was smiling.
"Hey there, honey. Saw you out here and didn't know if you were waiting on something or what. But you do know that you don't need a key to come on inside, right? At least not at this hour." The older lady released a loud laugh as though she'd said something especially funny, causing Lila to release her own loud laugh, though it sounded less like a laugh and more like a cackle. Both women went silent.
"Right, sorry. I was just reading over a few things." Lila motioned around her, where not a single piece of paper, brochure, or pamphlet could be found. She frowned. Damn inability to lie. Even at twenty-eight Lila still couldn't lie without fearing her mother was somewhere around, all too ready to pop her hand with a ruler.
"All right then. We'll just be inside if you need us for anything. Take all the time you need. Doc Baxter isn't back yet, anyway."
"Really? Where is he?" Lila asked, this new piece of information giving her a bit of confidence. It wasn't that Dr. Baxter was a mean man. He wasn't mean ... exactly. He was simply old and very, very set in his ways. And a little on the anal side. Okay, a lot on the anal side. Which meant he would expect Lila to do things his way, and only his way, and the problem with that was that Lila had previously worked with a very new-age, advanced vet in Charlotte, who loved to test new things and loved to give their staff opportunities to learn and grow.
Excerpted from Chasing Love by Melissa West. Copyright © 2017 Melissa West. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Melissa West is a new author to me, and I am so happy I found her! I enjoyed her voice, the way she told the story and the many different elements that the story was made of, and in such a clever way twined together. The characters are complicated, with inner depth, strengths, and weaknesses, people I wanted to get to know and spend time with. The small town has its crazy and its sweet, with firm family bonds, and people who look after you. I love Charlie Littleton, he is a hot alpha mixed with a sweet guy, who is humble, loyal, and always wants to do the right thing. He won me over with his protective love towards his dog, and from there it was just one swoon moment after another. His feelings towards Lila are profound, honorable yet passionate. Even though Lucas was being a brick about Charlie's feelings towards Lila, I had to admire Charlie's honesty and loyalty towards Lucas. Lila has always had feelings towards Charlie, even before she knew what those feelings meant. He holds a special place in her heart and getting to know him as an adult is just making those feelings to root even more deep-seated. Lila is fighting against the demons she faced in Charlotte, part of that danger making its way to the story as well. She is starting a new job, in a new place to live, a new chapter in life with old baggage weighing her down. I liked the humor, the one-liners, that burst out at the most unexpected moments, I was laughing out loud while reading in a public place. I enjoyed the way the story is built, how it flows effortlessly, stealing your mind away. The romance is ardent and so solid, Lila and Charlie has a great foundation to build upon a relationship. There is a bit drama, a bit trouble, even malice and danger. I highly recommend adding Chasing Love to your summer reading list! ~ Four Spoons with a teaspoon on the side
A lovely addition to this series! Melissa West delivers once again with a sweet and swoon worthy romance. I adored everything about Chasing Love and couldn't get enough of Charlie and Lila together. Their story hit all the marks for me. It was sweet and sexy with a little bit of drama and suspense along the way. Chasing Love was a quick and easy read for me. I couldn't help but fall in love with the characters and their story. Chasing Love is a great read to just spend the day getting lost in. I can't wait to see where this series is going to go next!
I enjoyed the other book on this series, so I was eager to get to this one. I loved Lila and Charlie. I'm a huge fan of the bff's little sister plot line and these two were adorable. She's sassy and he's swoony and their scenes together were so sweet. I especially liked that they had such a long history and love for each other. Much like the previous book, the synopsis doesn't talk about the dark story thread. In this one, Lila was kidnapped while on a date, kept in a dark room, and assaulted. It does state that she wasn't raped but says that he had touched her. So FYI on that. Overall, it was a quick, cute, and mostly fluffy read. The inevitable break up and tension didn't last long and the ending/epilogue were perfect. I can't wait to read the next book. **Huge thanks to Lyrical Shine for providing the arc free of charge**
This is an excellent addition to the series. It's a very well done best friend's sister story. Charlie and Lila are great characters and I really respected how adamant Charlie was about nothing happening between them until he had a chance to talk to his friend/her brother Lucas. Unfortunately Lucas is on deployment in Iraq so waiting was the only option. Sexual tension is rampant making for some fun witty banter between these two. The story is a quick easy read that will definitely leave you smiling. I highly recommend this one.