Alec Grayson returns home to Falcon, Alabama, to rebuild his life after a knee injury ended his NFL career. As the Falcon high school quarterback coach, Alec's love for the game is reignited. Meanwhile, he puts his hard-partying past and the betrayal of the people he trusted most behind him, and adopts a hard demeanor. That is, until a spitfire artist with soulful eyes and a body that haunts his dreams gets under his skin and threatens to crack his armor.
Lilliana Hancock is forced to leave her struggling-artist lifestyle in New York and return to Falcon after her father's unexpected death leaves her a decrepit family mansion. Determined to use her skills to turn the home into a successful bed and breakfast, Lilliana is stopped at every turn by the town contractor, who happens to be Alec, the gorgeous and arrogant jock to whom she lost her virginity in college. Except Alec doesn't remember, which infuriates her. Too bad she can't forget the way his body felt against hers or how his heated gaze follows her...
Will they be able to put their pasts behind them for a future together?
About the Author
Describing herself as a woman who does way too much and never wants to stop, Michele Dunaway is a best selling author and award-winning high school teacher. In addition to teaching English III, Michele advises the student newspaper and yearbook. She is a JEA Distinguished Yearbook Adviser, a Dow Jones News Fund Special Recognition Adviser and a Missouri High School Journalism Teacher of the Year. Proud mother of two daughters, Michele is an avid pet lover who shares her home with far too many rescued cats, who of course completely rule the roost.
An award-winning author, Laura Trentham was born and raised in a small town in Tennessee. Although, she loved English and reading in high school, she was convinced an English degree equated to starvation. She chose the next most logical major—Chemical Engineering—and worked in a hard hat and steel toed boots for several years.
She writes sexy, small town contemporaries and smoking hot Regency historicals. The first two books of her Falcon Football series were named Top Picks by RT Book Reviews magazine. Then He Kissed Me, a Cottonbloom novel, was named as one of Amazon’s best romances of 2016. When not lost in a cozy Southern town or Regency England, she's shuttling kids to soccer, helping with homework, and avoiding the Mt. Everest-sized pile of laundry that is almost as big as the to-be-read pile of books on her nightstand.
Read an Excerpt
Melting Into You
By Laura Trentham
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Laura Trentham
All rights reserved.
Falcon, Alabama, October
"Well now, I can't rightly figure it." Carl's muffled voice filled Lilliana Hancock with dark foreboding.
She stared at the three inches of plumber's crack sticking out from under her guest bathroom's bureau. Ironic, considering the man was her electrician. A not-so-great electrician who was doing her a huge favor and happened to be her third cousin, once removed.
"Alec Grayson will be here tomorrow to inspect. What can't you figure?"
Carl's gritty, smoke-roughened chuckle echoed off hot-pink tiles that made Lilliana long for a bottle of Pepto-Bismol. An ulcer seemed imminent.
He shimmied another inch of crack into view. "Can't figure why there are so many sets of wires."
Lilliana dropped her forehead into her palm and massaged her temples. Her headache didn't abate. "Forget it, Carl. Why don't you leave everything where it is? I appreciate you trying, I really do."
Carl crawled backward and stood, hiking his jeans up and over his belly. "Sorry, I couldn't be of more help." His expression was the definition of hangdog.
"Not your fault." She leaned in to kiss his cheek, the smell of nicotine strong on his collar. She'd be sure to send him a thank-you gift. Maybe a sturdy belt or a pair of industrial-strength suspenders. "I'm sure you have real work to do."
The rest of the electrical was in better shape — she didn't worry about the house burning down around her — but this bathroom was her nemesis. She hated everything about it. And Alec Grayson would make a beeline to it considering it was the epicenter of carnage when her friend Jessica Montgomery had fried half her hair off with a flatiron.
She'd informed Alec Grayson two weeks ago that the electrical work had been completed. A bald-faced lie. While her intentions had been honorable, her follow-through was questionable. Or maybe her motivation. How else to justify why Hancock House still wasn't ready to open as a B&B after two years of work?
After she saw Carl out the front door, Lilliana retreated to the airy bedroom she'd claimed as the master and threw herself crossways on the king-sized bed. A blue-and-green blocked fabric hung from the ten-foot-high curtain rods and decorated the dark-stained four-poster bed. The walls were painted a matching light blue. She'd designed and sewed everything herself. The room was her oasis and usually soothed her, but not today.
Hancock House looked fabulous, but the problems with the two-hundred-plus-year-old building weren't cosmetic. Outdated plumbing and electrical systems, termite damage, and mold in the attic from a chronically leaking roof made her compare the house to a hundred-year-old woman with osteoporosis. One wrong move and the entire thing could come crashing down.
Her family's homeplace was once a bustling planation and the center of Hancock County. On holidays, huge family gatherings had spilled onto the lawn. Her ancient, wrinkled, funny-smelling great-grandmother had owned the house then. Curtains stayed shut, plastic covered the couches, and lamps were unwelcome. The house had been dark, dusty, and creepy.
She and her cousins would scare the dickens out of each other by pretending to be the ghosts out of stories they'd heard all their lives. Even today, Lilliana didn't like to get up at night without turning a light on. The clanging and groaning of pipes took on a more sinister feel in the dark.
At first, inheriting the monstrosity from her father had seemed a godsend. She'd struggled in New York City after completing art school, working as a bartender at night and painting during the day. She couldn't afford to sleep, which was hard to come by anyway in the small apartment she shared with two other girls. But now she felt like Sisyphus, with Hancock House playing the part of her boulder.
A hint of Carl's nicotine clung to her hair, wrinkling her nose. She'd never smoked cigarettes, even as an excuse to take extra breaks as a bartender. But marijuana was a different story. Call it peer pressure or experimentation or youthful rebellion, but she'd smoked her fair share of pot in art school, occasionally indulging even after she'd left campus life behind. It had been a staple of most parties in her social circles in New York.
Fighting the temptation to curl up under the covers for a good cry, she crawled to the head of the bed and pulled an old-fashioned cigar box from the drawer in her nightstand. She slid her fingers under the false bottom and searched for the remains of her last joint. The last time she'd indulged was after her father's funeral, huddled in this same room after her family and her friends and the lawyers had gone.
Holding the inch-long, hand-rolled, half-smoked joint between her thumb and forefinger, she estimated she had only three or four draws left — enough to get mellow before calling Alec Grayson to cancel tomorrow's inspection. His self-important attitude would be easier to handle, and maybe the temptation to bait him as she was wont to do on occasion wouldn't be as strong.
Stepping onto the grandiose balcony outside her bedroom, she squatted down so no neighbors could see and lit the end. She pulled in a lungful and coughed, out of practice. After a smaller puff, her stomach quieted and her headache began to abate. The blue sky turned bluer, the green leaves of the magnolia tree at eye level turned glossier.
The sun was warm and soothing. She splayed her legs out and leaned against the balcony rails, sending pieces of stonework pebbling to the porch stairs directly below her. The sweet scent of the magnolias clashed with the pot.
"Adult and professional" should be her motto dealing with humorless, stoic Alec Grayson. Yet, around him, she reverted to the immature scorned teenager of a decade earlier.
White streaked from the magnolia tree toward the front of the house, offering a welcome distraction. Her cat. Well, not hers exactly, but one that had adopted the dank hollow under her porch. She'd named it Ghost.
Taking a last long drag, she stubbed the tiny remnant out with finality. Marijuana was a crutch, an escape, and one she wouldn't use again. Anyway, if she so much as put out one feeler to buy more, her aunt Esmerelda would be at her door with Preacher Higgs staging an intervention. Or maybe an exorcism. Cast out the evil spirits. She giggled as she stood and stretched.
As soon as she completed the half-finished commissioned portrait waiting in her workroom, she'd have the money to hire a real electrician. Then, she'd rub Alec Grayson's nose in the perfection of the wiring. In the meantime, she had a cat to coax.
Grabbing a can of tuna from the pantry, she pulled the tabbed top off and, as quietly as possible, headed out the back door and around to the porch. The October day held the remains of summer's heat, but with fall's decorative colors. It would be one of the last days for bare feet and shorts.
On hands and knees, she crawled between the bushes. "Here, kitty, kitty. Come on out, Ghost. I have a can of yumminess for you."
Eyes glowed through the rotting wooden lattice. She kept her movements slow even as her heart kicked into a higher gear and her singsong voice took on an urgency. "Come on kitty. I have a treat."
Ghost came toward her, but on its haunches, defensive and distrustful. Its fur was dirty and matted. Lilliana didn't move her body, only extended her offering of tuna, crooning nonsense.
A vehicle rumbled down her street. The cat's ears pricked up, and it vanished into the darkness. That was closest the cat had let her come. Crawling farther into the bushes, she slipped the can through a broken slat of the lattice.
A car door slammed, sounding close enough to be in her driveway. Shoes crunched on gravel. She shimmied backward, praying her shorts weren't riding as low as Carl's had been. A throat cleared, freezing her.
"Ms. Hancock?" The deep rumbly voice made her want to follow Ghost under the porch, spiders be damned.
She checked over her shoulder. Framing work boots and khakis was a white truck emblazoned with Grayson Construction in bold, black, unfrilly letters. What were Alec Grayson's long legs and truck doing here?
She hoped this was the start of a bad hallucination. Her short-shorts–covered ass in the air was probably not projecting "professional." She popped to her feet, brushing fallen leaves and dirt from her knees. Her ancient T-shirt's stretched-out neck fell off one shoulder. She adjusted it only to have it slide off the opposite one.
Alec's gaze dropped from her head to her toes and back up, no smile marring his unimpressed face. The sleeves of his plaid button-down were rolled up his forearms, and every time he tapped his paper-covered clipboard against his thigh, his arm muscle jumped. The effect was hypnotizing.
She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth and let it escape slowly. The rhythmic tapping stopped, breaking her trance. Her gaze shot up to his. She imagined herself shrinking to the size of a ladybug. Then she could fly away home. A giggle slipped out. Damn, she'd forgotten how irreverent she became after smoking pot. This man could make things difficult for her, and all she could do was laugh.
With the smile on her face at odds with everything else churning inside of her, she asked in a too-breathless voice, "What are you doing here?"
"We have an appointment. Don't you remember?" His deep voice came out clipped and fast. More like a Yankee than a born-and-bred Alabamian. Maybe it was the two years he'd spent playing football in Philadelphia. Although she'd spent five years in New York City and never shook her drawl.
"Our appointment is tomorrow. Thursday, the fourth."
"You have it half right. Our appointment is today. Wednesday, the fourth."
Her mind rolled slowly around the problem. She couldn't say with certainty she hadn't screwed up the day. When she was painting, time became irrelevant, her days running together. She didn't feel sharp enough to engage in the war of wits their encounters inevitably degenerated into. Could her timing to smoke the last of her marijuana be worse?
Unless her heretofore-absent fairy godmother appeared, pulled a wand out of her ass, and waved it around, she would never pass an inspection today. She needed more time.
"Actually, it's funny —" She laughed, but he didn't break into anything resembling an answering smile. Her laughter trailed off, birdsong filling the awkward silence. She cleared her throat before continuing. "I was going to call in a little bit and cancel."
His dark-brown brows cut nearly straight lines over his hazel eyes. Taken together with his prominent nose, thin lips, and strong wide jaw, he wasn't handsome in a male-model sense, but he was blatantly male. The type of man who was supremely capable and good at anything he put his hands to.
Good at anything he put his hands to. The unfortunate wording went on repeat in her head. One of his large, broad hands removed the pen from behind his ear and jotted a note on the clipboard. His nails were clean and short, but a couple of nicks and older, white scars peppered the back of his hand.
A fluttery, warm sensation settled in her lower belly. It always happened around him, and she usually amped up her resentment to mask the nerves. But with her usual defensives stripped away, she recognized the sensation for what it was — not nerves, but attraction. Inconvenient since she had vowed to hate him since college.
Not that he had a clue. The first time their paths had crossed in Falcon after her return from New York, the realization he didn't even remember her had reopened old wounds. Their one-night stand the only semester she'd spent at the University of Alabama loomed large in her memory. The hurt at being insignificant and unmemorable sharpened her tongue and strengthened her grudge. Seeing him so often around town and at games made it impossible for her to let it go like she should have years ago.
"Can I come in and get started?" The corners of his lips hitched upward in what might have been a weak smile, but made him look more like a predator ready to devour its prey.
She swallowed and clasped her hands together behind her back. "I would prefer to reschedule."
"I already initiated the inspection in the county computer system." He tilted his head and slid the pen back behind his ear. Cut short on the sides, his hair was longer on top and combed to one side in a straight thick wave. He looked like the preppy version of a kick-ass marine.
"Can't we please reschedule? There might be one or two small issues I still need to address." Her voice had taken on an unattractive plaintive tone. She hated asking anyone for help, especially him.
"Look, I can always enter a provisional report if I find something that needs fixin'. That way you'll know exactly what you need to do to pass on our reschedule." A sympathy-infused drawl replaced his earlier Yankee-like impatience.
Dangit, that was ... unexpected. Nice of him, if she wanted to give credit where it was due. Yet she hesitated with ingrained suspicion where he was concerned. "Okay. I suppose that would actually be helpful."
He turned back to his truck and hauled a tool bag over his shoulder. The discordant tink of metal against metal sounded with his every step. She brushed her hands over the back of her shorts and wondered if she had time to change out of her frumpy paint-splattered T-shirt and into the demure business skirt and heels Jessica had helped pick out for her.
She led him through the front door. Somehow, the cavernous two-story foyer seemed smaller with him standing at the foot of the staircase.
"You mind if I freshen up?" She was already five steps up and climbing.
He made notations on his clipboard, not sparing her a glance. "I don't require a babysitter, Ms. Hancock."
No way was she letting him loose unsupervised in her house. She ripped the ponytail holder out of her hair and ran a brush through the thick dark mass. Looking longingly at the black pencil skirt hanging on the door of her closet, she brushed her teeth and sprayed on some citrusy body spray. Color flushed her cheeks, and her eyes were slightly pink and glazed. She sharpened her focus, narrowing her gaze, but then ruined the effect with a spontaneous giggle. Geez, she was screwed.
As she reached the bottom of the stairs, she slowed to regulate her breathing. Beeps came from the living room. She tiptoed to the door and peeked in, not sure what she expected to catch Alec doing. Deliberately cutting wires while twirling a fake mustache and laughing maniacally?
Instead, she found him bent over a desk testing an outlet, his pants pulled snugly over the curve of his butt. Good Lord, it was outstanding. Buzzes and beeps from his equipment filled the silence. She moved closer. He straightened to make even more notations on the clipboard, and his glute flexed.
He looked up, his gaze meeting hers before trailing down her body and back up. Probably he was cataloguing all the deficiencies — her shortness, her sparkly purple toenails, and her decade-old oversized No Doubt–concert T-shirt — but her body thrummed with an inconvenient awareness.
Now — years later and sober — she wondered what would he be like in bed? Quick and a little bit rough but hotter than a wildfire? Or had he learned to take things slow?
Curiosity drew her another step closer to him. This time her gaze travelled an exploratory path down his body. A body that had aged little since college. He was the quintessential quarterback — tall and lean, but with broad shoulders and muscular legs. Yet, he did look immeasurably older. He'd shed the party-boy image he'd cultivated at Bama. But, there was something else. Something around his eyes that made him look older than his thirty-one years. Whatever it was incited a strange urge to hug him.
Before her marijuana-addled brain could act on the compulsion, she asked in a singsong voice, "So, how's it going?"
"Fine." He returned his attention to his clipboard, making notations in little boxes.
She wanted to touch him, feel the answering warmth in his body, wanted to push him back against the desk, press her softness against his hardness, muss his hair with her fingers.
What in the hell was wrong with her?
It had been too long since she'd gotten any action — even a kiss on a cheek. He possessed a virile, warm body with the correct appendages. Having any man who wasn't blood-related in her house would probably kick her libido into overdrive.
Excerpted from Melting Into You by Laura Trentham. Copyright © 2015 Laura Trentham. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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