SOMETIMES LOVE IS STRONGER
Lindsey Morales is a beautiful, talented decorator with a popular lifestyle blog. She always knows just how to make things look perfect. But when it comes to her love life, there’s no design trick she can use to cover up the obvious: Her broken heart.
THE SECOND TIME AROUND
Eight years ago, Derek Walsh just wasn’t ready to choose a long-term relationship over his career. But now that the handsome, hot-shot architect has the chance to see Lindsey again—working with her to renovate an old farmhouse—he will do everything he can to repair the damage of the past. But is he finally ready to build a real future…if Lindsey is willing to take him back?
“Sexy and exciting...this is a book that makes falling in love even more fun.”—RT Book Reviews
About the Author
When she's not writing, cooking, or hanging out with her family, NICOLE MICHAELS is a portrait and wedding photographer. She enjoys writing love stories with happy endings and lives outside of Kansas City with her husband and three sons. Blame It on the Mistletoe is her first novel.
Read an Excerpt
Draw Me Close
By Nicole Michaels
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Nicole Michaels
All rights reserved.
It was bad enough being single on Valentine's Day, but Lindsey Morales was single, alone, and working. By her own choice, of course. Work was always her escape from the pressures of the world. Besides being incredibly broke, she had the additional pressures today of lacking heart-shaped candy, cards full of meaningless drivel, and overpriced flowers. Things she'd never received from a man on Valentine's Day before. But it was fine. Candy went straight to your thighs, meaningless drivel was, well ... meaningless, and flowers wilted and died. No reason to feel sorry for oneself. None at all.
Lindsey let out a sigh and stared through her windshield at the turn-of-the-century, light yellow farmhouse that she'd been hired to help renovate. The headlights of her SUV cut through the night, illuminating the wraparound porch. It was in the process of being rebuilt and everything was coming along nicely. She'd been very specific that it needed to look just like the original and thankfully her instructions had been followed. But it still ... needed something. Maybe a swing. Or a pair of rocking chairs. She would suggest that to her friend Anne, since this was going to be her house when the work was finished.
And what a gorgeous house it would be. The property was incredibly serene and beautiful. Although it was now dark, Lindsey had been here enough times to perfectly imagine the picturesque landscape. The big barn in the back that nestled up to a wide-open field and the mature line of trees that ran the perimeter of the extensive yard. It certainly would be lovely to wake up to that kind of beauty and peacefulness every morning.
Lindsey turned off her engine, collected her bag of home magazines and cutouts, laptop, the little cooler she'd packed for herself, and got out of the car.
The February wind was brutal, biting at her cheeks as she walked up the front porch steps. This morning's weather forecast had mentioned a cold front was moving in and that could mean snow — not her favorite. It wasn't even six in the evening, yet it was already pitch-black outside. Thankfully whoever had worked here last had left the porch light on. Lindsey laid down her cooler in order to pull the key from her jeans pocket and unlock the front door.
She stepped in and took a deep breath of paint fumes and pine, then went back for her things before shoving the door shut against the bitter cold. It had been nearly a week since her last visit and she was excited to see what had been done.
Flipping on the entryway light, she turned and took in the space with pleasure. It was spectacular. The stairs had been rebuilt with the bannister and spindles she and Anne had chosen, and the large entryway chandelier — full of vintage Swarovski crystals she'd repurposed — sparkled. Despite Lindsey's disdain for the contractor on the project, she had to admit that he knew what he was doing. Or at the very least he knew how to hire good tradesmen. It was difficult to give the man too much credit, even if it was due.
It wasn't that Lindsey had a problem with contractors on principle, just this one. She and Derek Walsh had a history, one she'd have preferred never to think of again. That was easier said than done, but not seeing his face helped. Hence the main reason for her nighttime Valentine session.
As she stood here, ready to do manual labor in jeans and an old T-shirt, he was probably wooing some unsuspecting woman with a fancy dinner and flowers. No doubt he was dressed to entice — easy to do for a wealthy man who was too handsome for his own good. She could imagine him in dress pants that perfectly molded his butt and a well-tailored suit jacket that hinted at barely restrained muscles. He probably had no use for sappy cards, chocolate, or overpriced bouquets. It wouldn't take much convincing to lure a woman back to his place.
Lindsey knew his routine all too well, and now that he was divorced it was probably serving him well once again. Men like Derek were exactly the reason Lindsey was better off working and not dating.
And she'd keep telling herself that until she believed it.
With one last glance around the entryway Lindsey headed down the little hallway toward the kitchen. She stopped and peeked into the living room. It was dark, but the hall light cast enough of a glow that she could see the progress. The old shag carpet was gone and the hard floors they'd found beneath had been sanded down and were ready for stain. The large marble mantel stood majestically at the far end of the room. It was one of both Lindsey and Anne's favorite things in the entire house. An original piece that Lindsey had covered in sticky notes that read DO NOT TOUCH.
She'd left similar sticky notes on other pieces, too. The bookcases in the upstairs hallway, the original pocket doors that led to the dining room, the upper cabinets in the kitchen, and of course all of the trim work and hardware.
The house was over a hundred years old, which made it special and incredibly unique. Not that there weren't other old houses, but homes of this era were not prefab, mass-produced, or worst of all ... modern. They were built with hard work, love, and attention to detail. Full of treasures that were worth preserving.
Lindsey was pretty certain that she and Derek didn't share this philosophy. This project wasn't the norm for the hotshot architect. He was used to building fancy office buildings with lots of metal and glass. Boring. Every time she came back to the house she was afraid he'd have approved the removal of one of the home's treasures and her sticky notes were her way to remind him that he was being watched.
The arrangement between the two of them, and of course their friends Anne and Mike, had been very clear. Being the general contractor, Derek would do the foundation work: structural, electric, plumbing, and so on. He was responsible for moving some walls, making everything safe, efficient, and sturdy. The crews he hired did the necessary work, then she'd come in and make it lovely.
Normally their two roles would be symbiotic, requiring lots of discussion and throwing ideas back and forth to come to a mutually agreeable plan of attack for the reno. However, that arrangement wasn't really ideal for Lindsey since she'd have preferred not to hear his voice again for as long as she lived. But so far it seemed the sticky notes and short-but-to-the-point e-mails were doing the trick. She was pleased. Along with getting her way, she was avoiding the man altogether.
Lindsey stepped into the kitchen, flipped on a light, and immediately grinned. The bottom cabinets were new and custom-made just for the space. They were currently unfinished, waiting to be painted and stained. But the uppers were the crowning jewels of the room. They were original to the home, and the white paint had aged and worn in just the right places to create a lovely patina. The same look that people scoured Pinterest to learn how to re-create on their eighties-era garage-sale finds. She appreciated that, heck she did it, too. Even sold pieces like that. But these cabinets were the real deal and she was in love with them. The juxtaposition of these originals with the newer lowers was going to be fabulous, especially when she reinstalled the bubbled glass doors. She could already imagine how Anne would fill them with beautiful dishes and glassware.
Running her hand along the roughened wood, Lindsey wondered about all the wonderful memories these cabinets had witnessed. The preparation of Christmas dinners, first-day-of- school breakfasts. Definitely days of sadness and despair. That was what she loved about old things, their stories. Knowing that these had been used for generations, served their owners well, made it her pleasure to give them a new life. A second chance. A light glaze would protect and polish the wood, hopefully helping it to last another hundred years.
Her eyes caught on a giant Ziploc bag resting on the cabinet shelf. She reached for it and read the sticky note at the top. DO NOT THROW THESE OUT!!!
It was one of hers, she'd left it on the original cabinet hardware. Written below it in a meticulous boxy handwriting that she knew all too well, she read, YOUR BOSSY VOICE IS SEXY.
Lindsey sucked in a shallow breath. This was another one of the reasons she'd avoided Derek. It may have been eight years since she'd been in love with him — give or take. But as much as she hated to admit it, she was not immune to his charms. Derek was potent. Dangerous.
Gently laying the bag on the counter, Lindsey allowed herself a minute to collect her thoughts. He was just messing with her and she couldn't let it be a distraction. It was time to get some things done. She settled her cooler on the island, which was currently two sawhorses covered with a large piece of thin plywood. That was another project she was rather excited about because she had big plans to surprise Anne with a custom island.
Opening the cooler, Lindsey pulled out the small feast she'd prepared for herself. Hummus and carrots, chicken salad on a croissant, peanut butter cookies, and three bottles of raspberry wheat beer. She might not be on a Valentine's date but that didn't mean a girl couldn't treat herself. Munching on a carrot, she arranged the rest of her spread to her liking.
Plugging headphones into her cellphone, she popped the top on her first beer and then loaded up her favorite Aerosmith playlist. Tonight's goal was all about taking precise measurements. Things like backsplash tile, stain, paint, even window treatments needed to be ordered.
One of the most exciting parts of the renovation was that the entire process was being featured on the lifestyle blog Lindsey contributed to with her two best friends. My Perfect Little Life had originally been started by Anne, the future homeowner. The next to join was Callie. She owned an adorable — and incredibly successful — bakery in town. Nearly two years ago they'd invited Lindsey to post about repurposing and crafting. She loved every minute of it, and in the past few years the blog had become extremely popular. Their loyal followers were invested and excited to watch "Anne's Dream House Renovation" continue to unfold.
"Cryin'" blasted away in her ears as she pulled out her tape measure. She hated using the thing, with its cheap metal case and flimsy tape. But currently it was all she had. Fine for carrying in her purse, but as soon as she could Lindsey had plans to invest in some nice tools.
Setting to work, Lindsey focused on measuring the space between the upper and lower cabinets. A beautiful glass tile would be nice. Or maybe a beveled white subway tile. She smiled as she imagined all of the possibilities. This was what brought her joy, taking something tired and worn, and making it beautiful. Hopefully this job would lead to others like it. When she was finished with this house, it was going to be spectacular. If she couldn't have her own happily ever after, then the least she could do was help her friends create theirs.
* * *
Derek Walsh wasn't in the habit of ambushing innocent women, but Lindsey Morales had left him little choice. She'd done everything short of seeking a restraining order to keep them from encountering each other during this project. After tonight that might be her next step, but that was a chance he was willing to take.
He'd been using the barn at the back of his friend Mike's property as his makeshift office while he oversaw the renovation, and tonight he'd hung around to do busywork.
Quietly he pulled the barn door shut and headed through the yard toward the front door of the house. He'd heard Lindsey pull up and go in about a half hour ago and he wondered what she might be doing right now. He was nearly aching to see her face, but more importantly the two of them needed to hash a few things out. At the very least he had some things he needed to say to her. Things he'd been too much of a coward to say eight years ago, and as much as he knew she would not want to listen, he was intent on them having a long talk. They owed it to each other.
It didn't surprise him that she'd chosen a holiday — and a Sunday night — to come out and work. She assumed that she'd have the place to herself. But when Mike let the news slip-on-purpose that she'd be here, Derek had quickly processed three thoughts. One, Mike was a really good friend. Two, why the hell didn't a gorgeous woman like Lindsey have plans on Valentine's Day? Third, thank God Lindsey didn't have plans on Valentine's Day. The thought of her out with another man ... well, his feelings on that were not something Derek was ready to process just yet.
A snowflake fell in Derek's path, glowing in the moonlight, as he made his way up the porch steps. The wind had picked up in the past hour and the screen door pushed against his hand as he lifted his key to the lock. The door opened at his slight touch and he frowned. How could she leave the door unlocked while she worked alone? Did she not watch the news? Or horror movies?
He stepped lightly into the entryway, not wanting to scare her. He wondered if he should call out her name, but before he could consider his next move, he heard ... singing.
A stupid grin spread across his face as he listened. Lindsey was no nightingale, but he was pretty damn sure she wasn't trying for great. Maybe a sweet voice lingered underneath there somewhere, but no, this was a woman who thought she was alone, trying to impress no one. He recognized the song instantly and it surprised him a little bit. Slowly he made his way down the long hallway, his body humming with the knowledge that she was near.
The first thing he saw when he peeked into the kitchen was her long brunette ponytail. He couldn't help remembering what it felt like between his fingers — so silky and thick. It was a living thing, her hair. He loved the way it complemented the warmth of her skin and her sparkling hazel eyes. Every inch of her was ingrained in his memory, always had been. That didn't say much for his ex-wife, but she'd never been Lindsey. No one had.
For a moment he stood watching her. Tight T-shirt, ass shifting in her jeans as she leaned across the countertop to hold her tape measure against the wall. He should look away, it would do him no good to remember all the ways he'd once wanted her. How beautiful that body looked bare. After many years of misery, he'd finally convinced himself that what he'd had with Lindsey was never meant to be. But goddamn, as he stood here drinking her in, he couldn't help imagining his hands on her body, the feel of backing her up firmly against him.
Derek ground his teeth down and forced the unwanted thoughts from his mind. He'd be lucky if Lindsey welcomed his offering of friendship, let alone his touch. So far she'd made it very clear that she was completely uninterested in speaking with him, but this avoidance business had to end. They were adults. Their best friends were getting married, so the least they could do was learn to be in the same room together.
The fact that he'd purposely spent more time on a job site than he ever did was the first sign that he was committed to seeing her. And yet she'd never showed, despite the fact that all of the aesthetic details were her job. They'd exchanged a couple of very curt e-mails in regard to her choices for lighting and trim pieces, but that was the only communication. Not good enough for him. That needed to end tonight.
Derek bit down hard on his bottom lip — holding in a laugh — as she belted out another line, doing her best Steven Tyler impersonation. He was going to have hell to pay when she realized he was standing here watching. Worth it.
Leaning against the door frame, he folded his arms across his chest as her humming echoed through the room and straight through his body. His lips quirked as she leaned down to scribble something onto a sticky note and then slapped it on the wall. Clearly she took as much pleasure in her little notes as he did.
His crew had gotten used to seeing little neon sticky notes all over the house with very brief, very bossy instructions. She used a lot of exclamation points. Things like DO NOT PAINT THIS!!!!!! or PLEASE MOVE THE ELECTRICAL OUTLET OVER HERE!!!!
He tilted his head and gazed at the makeshift island. She'd brought herself an entire meal. Beer included. Huh. Was she drunk? No, didn't seem to be drunk, just oblivious to the fact that she wasn't alone. He didn't like that thought, not at all.
Excerpted from Draw Me Close by Nicole Michaels. Copyright © 2016 Nicole Michaels. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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