Brady Littleton has left his reckless youth behind to become a man his brothers can count on. When the family dive shop needs to expand, he’s got the answer: buy the Christmas shop next door. Except the retiring owner’s goddaughter, Kylie Waters, has come back to town. She was Brady’s first kiss—his first everything—and she doesn’t want to sell. He’s got a solution to that too. Whoever makes the most sales by Christmas Day can take over the shop, fair and square.
Kylie resolved to put the youngest, wildest Littleton brother out of her head when he abruptly ended their relationship years ago. But the steady, gorgeous man he’s become is impossible to ignore. Especially once reminiscing leads to a kiss as hot and heady as mulled wine. Their deal means that one of them is going to lose out on a dream…unless Christmas Day brings the gift of a sweet, surprising second chance…
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, New York Times bestselling author
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The bell dinged from Southern Dive's door, and immediately, Brady Littleton's dude intuition perked up. He set down the black pen he'd been tapping against the packing slip from that morning's delivery and peered over. A slow smile curled his lips at the sight of the blonde walking through the door. Nice rack, tan skin, a look that said she knew her way around a boat ... and a man. Maybe a water skier, maybe a diver.
Maybe someone interested in a certain single business owner.
The woman was one of many to catch Brady's eye this week, all in an effort to get his mind off the approaching date. Like always, the holidays reminded him of the single time in his life that he'd been happy, truly happy ... and how it had all disappeared.
Thankfully, the shop was busy for fall, which helped keep his mind off the past and focused on the present and future. Online orders had picked up, and that coupled with increased foot traffic in the store, and Brady suspected Southern Dive would have its busiest holiday season ever.
Take today. It was two o'clock on a Thursday afternoon, and so far, more people had shopped in Southern Dive than all of last week. Brady made a mental note to ask his brother, Charlie, if he'd advertised on social media or used his giant Instagram following to push a sale. His past as a corporate sales analyst made it hard for him to ignore sales changes like these. He liked to track trends, uncover the whys, and then implement policy that would help those sales remain consistent.
But that would be work for later tonight, when Brady was alone in his house, watching some game he didn't care about, a to-go box on the table because he hated making dinner for one. For now, Brady had his sights on other things. Specifically, the leggy blonde. Perhaps tonight he could order dinner for two.
He walked around the hand-built wooden counter against the left-hand wall of the shop and started toward the blonde. She wore black leggings, a long, red plaid shirt that she'd rolled to her elbows, and brown duck boots unlaced at the top. Her face glowed in a way that hinted at light makeup, and as he neared, he caught the telltale shine on her lips from lip gloss.
God, he loved lip gloss. It had a wet, flirty vibe to it that lipstick couldn't match. A put-together woman with goals and expectations wore lipstick. He knew. He'd met many of those kinds of women back in his corporate days, and while there was nothing wrong with put-together, he preferred fun and carefree. And a fun, carefree woman wore lip gloss.
"Looking for something in particular?" he asked, flashing a crooked grin. It was a trademark move, one that had served him well in his twenty-nine years.
The blonde paused midway to a wetsuit and glanced over. She blinked, taking him in, then flashed her own smile, and he knew he had her.
Brady understood his strengths, and his face had always been one of them.
"Nice shirt," she said, eyeing his T-shirt.
Charlie had started designing T-shirts a year before, and now they received as many orders for his classic designs as anything else. Today, Brady sported a shirt that read: just breathin', drinkin' & fishin'.
The blonde scanned the shop before focusing back on Brady, her smile returning like she couldn't help it if she tried. Yeah, he definitely had her. "Do you sell those here?"
"In fact, we do. Is this for you or a friend?" Brady directed her over to the shelf of T-shirts, hundreds of then tucked into tiny cubbies. They had forty different designs on the floor, more still in the stockroom in the back. "A boyfriend, maybe?" He winked, and her cheeks flushed.
"No boyfriend. I'm shopping for a birthday present for my dad."
"In that case, I can help you."
She grinned wider, settling into their flirtation. "So you couldn't help me if I were here for a boyfriend?"
A car door closed outside, and Brady suspected at least one of his brothers was there to go over their plans for an expansion. A plan Brady had been working on for months and had finally come to fruition, thanks to Ms. Franny May's supposed retirement.
"I'd help, but not so personally. And I probably wouldn't offer you a buy one get one fifty percent off deal so you could get this one for yourself." He took out a long-sleeve Southern Dive shirt, bright pink with white letters. It was a popular one for ladies who came through the shop. "You know, so you can remember me when you're wearing it."
She took a step toward him and braced herself against the shelf as she looked up at him. "I don't think I'll need anything to help me remember you, but I'd love to give you my number so you can be sure to remember me."
Brady bit his lip and stared at the blonde, yet another move that never failed him, and pulled his phone from his back pocket. "What's your name, sweetheart?"
He froze, his phone's screen still dark, as the name settled uncomfortably in his mind. Brady, Brantley. The names were so similar, and with his dark blond hair and her light blond hair, people could make the assumption that they were siblings. Like brother and sister. Shit, now he'd pictured her as his sister. This wasn't going to work at all.
Charlie came in at that moment, followed by his other brother, Zac, and Brady had his save. He quickly typed in the number he had no intention of calling. "Feel free to take your time. Register's right up there." He pointed to the front of the store. "Gotta catch up with my brothers, but give me a yell if you need anything." He winked, because that was his thing, and she grinned back.
"I'll be sure to do that."
A few more customers came in, creating a much-needed distraction so he could get to the counter and try to talk to his brothers.
"Meet a new one?" Charlie asked as he set down his laptop, opened it up, and began checking his various social media accounts. He was the creative one out of the three brothers and had generously agreed to carry his best-selling T-shirt line at the shop instead of on his own. It was a selfless act, something common with Charlie.
"New shirt?" Brady asked him, hoping to avoid the conversation about the blonde and the reason why Brady wouldn't — couldn't — call her.
Charlie glanced down at his long-sleeve gray shirt, likely forgetting what he'd put on that morning. It had a skeletal horse with wings in the center. Nothing fancy. He paired the shirt with cargo shorts and flip-flops, because Charlie would rather get frostbite than switch from his beach wear to winter wear. A part of him would always live on some island in the Keys, not a care in the world.
"One of my suppliers sent it for me to test out," Charlie said. "Now, don't change the subject. Thought I saw you flirting with that lady, then all of a sudden you freaked out. Again."
"Yeah, Charlie's right. This is becoming a trend," Zac, his other brother, said, chiming in now. Like Brady, he wore one of Charlie's designs, this one a fish trapped in a net, and jeans. His light brown hair stuck off his head in spikes. Brady contemplated calling out his hair gel obsession, but that would only give his brothers more motivation to harass him.
"What is it this time?" Charlie asked, refusing to let it go. "Split ends?"
"What? No, it's not split ends." Brady busied himself with a water bottle and a cap that refused to unscrew. He set the bottle down before he slammed it in aggravation, which confirmed to his brothers that something was up.
And something was up. Majorly up. Brady just didn't know what had caused it. Sure, this time of year always brought on dark thoughts, but this was more than all that emotional crap.
It all started with a dream. A horrible dream. The kind of dream that felt an awful lot like happiness, which were always the worst kind. And those types of horrible dreams always featured the same person.
After that, Brady couldn't get his brain to stop thinking about her, couldn't make himself think about another woman. So instead of enjoying a woman the way a man should enjoy her, the way she deserved to be enjoyed, every woman he met left his world as abruptly as she entered it.
Sure, he was nitpicky at times, but he was a few months away from turning thirty, and now wasn't the time to waste on useless women. He had to focus on his family and their business if he hoped to win back his family's trust and respect.
"If not her hair, then what?" Zac asked.
Brady shook his head. "You're annoying as all hell, you know that?"
"Yeah, well, you love me, so spill it. What's wrong with her?" He eyed the blonde, and Brady followed his gaze, only to catch her looking at him before glancing away.
The problem is she isn't Ky —
Not going there. Not at all going there. And if he couldn't admit the truth, he'd have to offer up the next closest thing.
"Her name's Brantley."
Charlie stared at him. "And ...?"
"Brantley. Like Brady. It's like freaking sibling names or something."
"Did you just say that our names sound like sibling names?"
Brady turned around to find Brantley standing at the register, two shirts and a pullover in hand. She made good choices, which impressed Brady until he thought of her name again and he cringed.
"Heard that did you?" he asked with a laugh, hoping if he laughed it off she wouldn't be too upset. Then again, what did he care? He had no intention of seeing her ever again, but he didn't want to give the shop or Charlie's shirts a bad rap.
"Let me guess? You're one of those guys who finds something wrong in every woman you meet, all because you have some age-old fixation on a woman you can't really have." She stared at Brady and both his brothers faced him, Charlie's eyebrows raised, and he seriously considered telling them to go to hell, but then that damn reputation thing and all.
"I ..." Brady started, but before he could say anything else Charlie stepped up to help Brantley check out.
"Just these, then?" Charlie asked. He pushed Brady back, and Zac grabbed his shoulder and directed him toward the back.
"Hey, brother, need you to look at something in the stockroom."
Charlie bagged up Brantley's purchases, and slowly the guilt in Brady's chest spread. Why did he get himself into these messes?
The stockroom smelled like a combination of a basement and cleaning products. It was organized in row after row of metal shelves, each with different inventory stacked and labeled with item number, name, and inventory count. Brady implemented an inventory management system a few years ago, but he still preferred to keep a hand count of all stocked items.
"All right, new rule," Zac said, once they were safely inside the stockroom. "No hitting on women who come into the shop. You're going to screw over half our customers."
"I didn't screw her. I didn't even go out with her. She gave me her number, but then she said her name and ..."
"And what?" Zac grinned, which said he and Charlie had talked about this little quirk of his and analyzed all the reasons Brady was this side of crazy.
"You heard me in there. There's no need to explain further."
"So you're ditching women because of their name now? What if that was your future wife back there?"
Brady cocked his head, because there was only one future wife for him, and she walked away a long damn time ago.
Relenting, Zac crossed his arms, but continued to watch his brother. Something a lot like concern crossed his face. "All right, so maybe not your future wife, but hell man, you can't just ask for a woman's number, then not call her."
Brady resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Zac had always been the good brother, the one to never step too far out of line, particularly when it came to women. Something told Brady that Zac raising a daughter had something to do with his weird need to be overly chivalrous, but he knew better than to suggest as much.
"Hey, at least I didn't sleep with her then not call."
Zac opened his mouth to argue, but closed it back and shook his head. "I'm not even going there. Just try to choose women who are not customers, okay?"
"Not a problem," Brady said, and he meant it. At this point, he wondered if he would ever find a woman who could interest him on any real level.
"Onto business," Zac said. "Have you set up that meeting with Franny yet?"
A rumbling sounded from outside, followed by a woman cursing, and they both glanced over to the back door.
"You hear that?"
Zac waved it off. "Yeah, probably Annie-Jean bringing in stuff to the bakery. I'll check with her in a second. Back to the question — have you set up the meeting with Franny?"
Ms. Franny May ran the Christmas shop next door to Southern Dive. She was long past retirement age, and it was no secret that she struggled to keep the business afloat. So when the Littleton brothers decided to expand, it made sense to reach out to Franny first. They hoped to buy her building, which Franny had owned since forever, and convert it into a shipping location for the shop. Maybe even add bait and tackle for local fishermen. They weren't sure what all they could do with it, but their store was becoming more and more retail and less and less dive lessons, so it made sense to get some extra space. And if all went as planned, Franny's Christmas shop would be theirs in no time.
"Meeting with her in half an hour, actually. You planning on joining?"
Zac shook his head. "Nah, you might be pond scum with women, but you're our numbers man. Plus, Franny's always liked you best."
Brady glanced at the door, hoping his brother wouldn't delve into why Franny had always liked him. Or how much time he'd spent at Franny's shop when he was a teenager. It wasn't a part of his past that he liked to discuss or even think about, which was why he'd put off the meeting for nearly a month. He didn't want to deal with all the questions that were sure to pop up from Franny — nor the questions he'd want to ask her about a certain goddaughter.
"Right. Well, I'm going to go check on Annie-Jean. You going out front?"
Brady nodded. "Yeah, hopefully it's safe now."
Zac disappeared out the back door, and Brady turned around to grab some coffee before going to talk to Franny. He needed all the liquid courage he could get, and Franny would give him the side-eye if he showed up smelling like beer. Coffee would have to do.
He peeked out the storage room door to find the shop empty except for Charlie.
"You're safe to come out," Charlie called. "All victims of your attention have left the building."
"Funny," Brady said as he pushed out the door, a box of keychains and magnets in hand to replenish the depleted stock by the register.
"Well, she did tell me to tell you not to call her and to lose her number."
"Ah." Brady went to work putting keychains on their rightful hooks on the front of the counter. "Probably deserved that."
"Yeah." Charlie paused long enough that Brady looked up.
"Nothing, it's just ..."
"Just spill it."
"Have you talked to her recently?"
Brady laughed sarcastically. Even his brothers wouldn't use her name. "Recently? That suggests that I've talked to her at all since she left. Nah, man, she called a 'see ya' and never looked back."
His eyes lifted to find his brother staring at him with the same pity he wore every time they talked about Brady's one and only serious girlfriend. "Take those sad puppy dog eyes elsewhere. I'm fine."
Charlie nodded slowly. "Sure you are. Hey, where are you going?"
"Gotta meeting with Franny," Brady answered, already across the store to the exit.
"Thought that wasn't for another half hour."
Brady flashed his brother a grin to cover up how uncomfortable he felt inside. "Some of us prefer to be early." The excuse was weak, but the alternative wasn't an option. Thinking about her was hard. Talking about her? Agonizing. Why put himself through that shit?
"You're avoiding the subject," Charlie called as Brady slipped outside.
Kylie Waters tucked her brown hair back behind her ears, leaned down to grab a box of ornaments, and immediately the wild curls fell back into her face.
"Geez Louise," she huffed, then shook her head to move the spiraling strands from her eyes, which they refused to do, because her hair cooperated with her about as much as her life these days. Hence her return to Crestler's Key in the first place.
Excerpted from "Merrily in Love"
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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