Ignite, page 1
An Excerpt from Smolder
About the Author
An Excerpt from Hard Ever After by Laura Kaye
An Excerpt from Wild at Heart by T.J. Kline
An Excerpt from The Bride Wore Starlight by Lizbeth Selvig
About the Publisher
SHE WASN’T AWARE they currently shared the same air.
Weston Gallagher stood in the back of the store, partially hidden by a towering display of Coke products. The beginning of summer meant every end cap in the supermarket was pushing snacks, beer, and soda. West had had no idea an endless stack of vivid red twelve-packs would make a damn good hiding place.
He also hadn’t planned on hiding in plain sight. He was a grown-ass man. If he wanted to pass by Harper Hill like she didn’t exist, he could. But he wasn’t that mean. She did exist. And damn she looked good.
Really good. Better than he remembered.
No one noticed him hovering on the other side of the stacks of Coke, peeking around them at the pretty woman oblivious to his presence. Most of the locals—the people he grew up with, the ones who’d known him since he’d toddled around in diapers and a dirty face—didn’t shop at the fancy new grocery store on the outskirts of town. That was for the deluge of tourists who invaded his hometown every summer. Eager to spend their hard-earned dollars on expensive groceries they could stock their rented cabins with, his mom had told him bitterly last time he talked to her on the phone.
All the locals loved to mock the tourists, but never too hard. They were the ones who kept the money streaming in most of the year.
Considering he sort of felt like a tourist since it had been years since he last set foot in Wildwood, he thought he’d avoid the reunion show that his appearance at Gus’s Grocery would generate. That’s why he was shopping in such a generic location. So to see someone he knew—rather intimately, he might add—was shocking.
His hiding spot did have one advantage. It allowed him ample time to check Harper out. He hadn’t seen her in years beyond the occasional photo on social media—they weren’t friends on Facebook or anything crazy like that, but they did share a lot of mutual friends.
Like his younger sister, Wren, otherwise known as Harper’s best friend. Harper had been a part of his life for . . . most of his life. He remembered her as a little girl who knew how to work a trembling lower lip like nobody’s business. He remembered Harper as an awkward preteen with braces and a constant red zit on her chin. Then somehow, someway, she’d blossomed into this beautiful, curvy, sweet girl who always looked at him like she wanted to worship at his feet and gobble him up, all at the same time.
Scrubbing a hand over his face, West glanced down, trying to blot memories of Harper out of his brain by staring at the contents of his shopping cart instead. Beer. Ground beef for burgers since he was having his brothers over for dinner tonight. Chips. Cereal. Milk. Just the necessities for now. He was scheduled for work in two days and he’d be eating at the station most of the time anyway. If he was lucky and the season was extra busy, he’d get a lot of overtime and rarely be home.
Yeah, being a firefighter meant a season full of endless fires was a “good” fire season—financially only, of course. He wasn’t a fan of seeing death and destruction caused by a raging fire, but he did appreciate the adrenaline rush that filled him every time they loaded up the engine and took off to a call. Though now he was the one driving the engine, thanks to his promotion.
That’s why he was home. He’d gotten promoted and moved to a new ranger unit and station. He was back in Wildwood, ready to prove that he wasn’t Weston Gallagher, King Troublemaker anymore. He’d changed his wicked ways. He was solid; a hard worker, following in his father’s footsteps and ready to prove every single one of the residents wrong. He knew how they felt about him. How he’d left Wildwood with his proverbial tail tucked between his legs.
Well, no more. He was dependable. People could count on him. When he was younger, he never wanted that. It had felt like more responsibility than he couldn’t handle. He’d make a lot of mistakes then. He wanted to correct them.
“Weston Gallagher? Is that really you?”
His spine stiffened at the sound of a familiar feminine voice coming from behind. Slowly he turned, hoping that Harper had snuck up behind him, though he knew deep down the voice didn’t sound like Harper’s. Still, he had high hopes. His heart was racing. His palms were sweaty.
Disappointment crashed over him mixed with the tiniest bit of relief. It wasn’t Harper but Delilah Moore, his ex-girlfriend from high school.
“I thought that was you!” Delilah rushed toward him, enveloping him in a warm hug. “Lane mentioned you were moving back this weekend.”
West frowned as he withdrew from her arms. Delilah talked to his big brother? Since when? “Lane told you?”
Her cheeks went a little pink as she nodded. “Everyone talks to Lane, West. He’s always out patrolling around, you know? Our public hero and all that jazz.”
West grimaced. His big brother could never do any wrong. Lane Gallagher was the oldest child and the perfect one of the Gallagher clan. The guy everyone looked up to, including West himself. He’d idolized his older brother . . . until he didn’t.
The constant comparisons had become too much. Too difficult to deal with, especially when everything went sideways. West had discovered it was a lot more fun to screw around and get in trouble than be good like Lane.
At one point during their teen years, Delilah had been his accomplice in getting into trouble. They’d had good times. Reckless and a little wild, though he’d always been the one who pushed her. But she soon tired of it. Tired of him.
He couldn’t blame her.
“Why are you here at the fancy supermarket, Dee?” He noticed her look of irritation at his using her old nickname, but that didn’t faze him. She’d get over it. They’d known each other long enough that he was sure she couldn’t stay irritated with him for too long.
“It’s the only place that has this particular brand of energy bars I like.” She held her shopping basket up. It was loaded with boxes and boxes of energy bars, all the same brand, but in a variety of flavors.
West frowned, quickly glancing over his shoulder to see if he could spot Harper. She was still standing by the frozen food section. “Why so many? You live on those things or what?” She’d never had to watch her figure from what he remembered. She was naturally slender and had danced her ass off most of her life.
“I need them for my students—we sell them along with other nutritious snacks that’ll give them fuel, not turn them sluggish.” At his confused look she continued. “I own the dance studio now. I bought it from Miss Lesandre a few years ago,” she said proudly, smiling at him.
“No shit?” He rubbed his chin, looking over his shoulder again. Harper had just been at the frozen foods section only moments ago and now she wasn’t. Where’d she go?
“Yeah. It’s been hard work but so rewarding. If you can’t make a living as a professional dancer, you may as well teach it, right? Though some of it’s a challenge. Like keeping the books.” She rolled her eyes. “I’m not so good with the business side.
“Wren?” His only sister had been born into a sea of brothers—three of them to be exact. And now she worked at a dance studio? How did he not know this? Granted, he hadn’t talked to her in a while. And by talk he meant text, since that was how he and Wren communicated lately, if at all. “What does she do there?”
She couldn’t be teaching classes because she’d never taken dance lessons a day in her life. She was too busy trying to keep up with her brothers to be bothered with girly stuff like ballet.
“She’s my business partner. It only happened a few months ago, but I’m so glad to have her help. I really needed it, and now we’re both invested in the business.” Delilah beamed, her eyes dancing with mischief. “Harper! Look who I just found.”
West’s heart bottomed out at the sound of her name, at the fact that she would know he was there. He kept his panicked gaze on Delilah a moment too long and her eyebrows drew together, like she had no idea what the problem could be.
Of course, she wouldn’t know. No one knew that once upon a time, many years ago, on a late summer night under a star-filled sky, he’d kissed Harper Hill for hours. Hours and hours. Long, tongue-filled kisses that had induced wandering hands and sighs full of longing. Oh, and the biggest case of blue balls West had ever endured in his life. That hours-long kissing session had been worth it though. Harper Hill had tasted just as good as he’d imagined. She’d melted in his arms, so responsive, so damn sweet . . .
And then he’d walked away like a complete jackass, never contacting her again. All along he’d known he was leaving. He’d completed two seasons at the Wildwood fire station straight out of high school. Put in for a promotion wherever he could, letting the lady in human resources know that he wanted the hell out of the ranger unit. Far away from his hometown, far away from his family, specifically his dad, so he could start fresh. He’d kissed Harper that night because he could. Because he desperately wanted to. Because he knew he wouldn’t have to face the consequences of his actions.
He’d moved out of Wildwood the next day and never looked back.
Not one of his finer moments. Did Wren know about his make-out session with Harper? Best friends shared everything, but he had a feeling Harper had never confided in hers about the two of them making out. After all, he was Wren’s big brother. At the time, Harper had been off-limits. Forbidden.
She still was. So much that he could hardly chance a look at her.
But he had to. Look. Just to see if she was as pretty as she’d been from far away when he’d lurked behind Coke boxes and stared at her.
Very slowly, very carefully, trying his best to keep his smile in place, he turned his head and met Harper’s gaze for the first time in what felt like forever.
His knees felt a little wobbly.
Harper was even more beautiful up close. Long hair the color of the sun riding low in the sky, reds and golden browns and strands of blonde that waved past her slim shoulders, with that cute little pert nose sprinkled with freckles. Freckles she’d always hated.
That one night, his last in his hometown, he’d done his damnedest to kiss every single one.
Her dark brown eyes flashed at him, and those perfect, delicious, bee-stung lips didn’t slide up in that natural sunny smile of hers. Harper Hill was friendly. Beyond friendly. The entire Hill family had a reputation to uphold in this town, and Harper was just as cheerful as all the rest of them. She had a natural way about her, drawing people in, always surrounded by friends—by people who wanted to be her friend, like it was a privilege to bask in her glory.
Right now though, she looked like she wanted to draw and quarter West. Maybe hang him up by his toes so he dangled above the ground, much like he remembered his dad and grandpa doing when they brought home a buck during hunting season.
Yeah. He’d never been one for blood sport as a kid or an adult. Harper though?
She appeared ready to shoot him dead with just the look in her pretty brown eyes.
IT TOOK EVERYTHING within Harper Hill to draw herself up to her full height of a mighty five-foot-three and appear indifferent. Inside, she quivered like a leaf. After all, Weston Gallagher stood in front of her in the flesh, all six feet plus of him. And he looked so good, so ridiculously sexy, her stomach fluttered at the way he smiled at her all friendly like. As if the last time they’d seen each other they hadn’t had their tongues down each other’s throats. Or their hands all over each other’s bodies.
She felt her cheeks warm remembering all the places West had touched her.
“Hey, Harper,” he said, his voice deep and sure. She’d never forgotten the sound of his lazy drawl. How it seemed to ooze over her like warm, thick honey, making her languid and weak.
Not right now though. Nope, right now hearing him say her name, looking at her like they were old friends, maybe even mere acquaintances, made fire flash in her blood, setting its temperature to boiling.
“Weston Gallagher. I heard a bad rumor you were coming back to town,” Harper sniffed, offering him her best fake smile. The one she didn’t use very often because damn it, she was a nice person. Everyone said so. “Looks like it was true.”
Delilah gaped at her, her big brown eyes wide with disbelief. Harper was never unfriendly to anyone. Nice had been bred down into the very essence of her. The entire Hill family, since her great-grandparents moved to Wildwood ages ago, were known as the friendliest people in town. Wildwood’s own homegrown Welcome Wagon, not that anyone knew what a Welcome Wagon was anymore.
Harper did. She was queen of the Welcome Wagon now. Gracious and kind and, above all, accommodating.
Except when it came to Weston Gallagher.
“Good to see you, too, Harper. As always.” He gave her a salute, his smile actually growing into a full-blown grin, the cocky bastard. “You’re even prettier than I remembered.”
And with that, he turned tail, taking his cart along with him as he got the hell out of there.
“He didn’t even say good-bye,” Delilah grumped, sending Harper a look that was full of way too many questions. “What was that all about, girlfriend?”
Harper tilted her nose in the air. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Inside she still quaked with nerves. She’d seen West for the first time in years and hadn’t fallen apart. Hadn’t thrown herself at him either.
That was the best part. The part she’d worried about most of all. This had been some sort of test, running into him at the too-expensive supermarket in town. Besides, who shopped here? No one she knew.
“What are you doing here anyway?” she asked Delilah, spotting the reason as soon as she peeked inside the basket hanging from her arm. “Oh. The power bars.”
She was known as the health nut dance instructor around town, but everyone adored Delilah. What was not to adore? She was beautiful and spirited and moved with a natural grace that Harper could only hope to emulate. She’d taken dance with Delilah a long time ago, when they were little girls in matching black leotards and pale pink tights.
But that was years ago. Harper had never taken well to dance. Too awkward, too clumsy, too short. And she’d lost any glimmer of grace she’d picked up in ballet—not that it had been much.
“They’re the best on the market. But so expensive.” Delilah shook her head. “Why are you here?”
“They have Grandma’s favorite brand of coffee.” She gestured toward the cart, which was filled with two freshly ground bags of coffee and a few other items. “I have a feeling if I laid her out on an operating table and cut her open, she’d bleed brown.”
The look Delilah sent her said more than enough. She thought Harper was crazy. And she sort of was sometimes. It felt good, to say weird stuff. Out-of-character stuff.
Like being rude to Weston. She still couldn’t believe she’d had it in her, but wow, she was proud. He deserved it. Though it hadn’t seemed to bother him. She got the sense he found h
She shouldn’t care. She’d moved on from that one moment—or so she told herself. She had a special someone in her life and had for a while now. Roger was everything she’d looked for in a man. Steady, reliable, loyal. With a good job and a good head on his shoulders, he was attractive and considerate and respected. They’d been together for just over a year and their relationship was solid.
So why did seeing West make her feel all tingly inside?
“Why were you so rude to West?” Delilah asked point-blank, as if reading her mind.
Harper chewed her lower lip, contemplating how to answer. The truth was too . . . truthful. What made it worse? Delilah used to go with West. Yeah, yeah, it was a long time ago when they’d been in high school, but still. They’d both burned bright together, running through town like they owned it and causing a bunch of trouble before they split.
Harper wasn’t the type to poach on her friend’s boyfriends, past or present—and especially future. Thinking lusty thoughts about West was normal. Thinking she could turn a single kissing session with West into a relationship was a joke. He belonged to no one. He never really had.
That was what made him so appealing. Weston Gallagher was . . . wild. Untamed. To her younger, much more romantic heart, he’d been the sort to send her swooning. The fact that she knew the word swooning was a testament to how many romance novels she had devoured over the years, amazing books she’d snatched from her grandma’s hall closet. They’d filled her imagination with all sorts of unbelievably romantic things, and West had become the star in her overly imaginative fantasies.
She’d crushed on him since her early teens. And it hadn’t helped spending all her free time at the Gallagher household. She saw West constantly. He’d teased her. Tricked her. Made her smile. Made her laugh. Made her sigh in pure, teenage misery when he dated an endless list of girls who were never, ever her. Eventually she got over it and moved on, forging her own way. Though in the back of her mind, that little spark of lust she felt for West never burned out . . .
And that one night, when for some unexplained reason he’d noticed her—really noticed her—and proceeded to drive her out of her mind with his delicious, wondrous mouth, she’d thought they actually had the potential to be something. He’d drugged her with his mouth. His touch. It was like they couldn’t pry their lips from each other’s for at least two hours. Maybe longer.
KAREN ERICKSON SERIES:
Other author's books:
- My Favorite Mistake: A Tahoe Nights StoryEndless Nights: Vegas Nights, Book 3TangledLoving MindyCovetGame For Tonight (Entangled Brazen) (Game for It)Game for MarriageNeon Chaos
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