Tyler Barnes can’t believe his eyes when Alexis MacAdams walks back into his life. His high school crush left Mangrove Island seventeen years ago and never looked back. He’s held on to the memory of her, even though she never gave him a second glance. Now Alexis is back for the holidays and Tyler is determined to make a lasting impression before she slips away again. He soon learns, however, that her broken heart needs to heal before he has a chance to win it. Can Tyler convince her to risk her heart for a second time?
Tyler paused to let the memory in. Even as a teenager, he’d admired her focus. She’d had a fiery determination that other girls lacked. He’d found her sexy as a teenager and he definitely found her sexy now.
“Fire in the belly?” she repeated.
“You were always on the go. Could never tell whether you were running toward something or away from it.”
She smiled wryly. “A bit of both, I would say.”
“So what do you do now?”
“I’m a whore,” she announced after a dramatic pause.
Tyler raised an eyebrow, waiting for her to elaborate. He was confident that Alexis MacAdams had not turned to prostitution.
“Well, I screw people for money. Same thing.”
He wagged a finger at her. “Ah, you must work for the government.”
“Close. Greedy, fat cat lawyer at your service.” She tilted her chin thoughtfully. “Actually, I’m not at your service, unless you own some multi-million dollar conglomerate that I’m not aware of.”
Tyler leaned forward and rested his elbows on the bar. “You had me at whore.”
Alexis’s faint smile broadened, her first genuine smile in a long while, and Tyler was glad to see the scowl dissipate. God, he remembered that smile. It was all he could do not to lean that little bit further and close the gap between them.
“So do you actually tend bar or are you here for window dressing?”
He snapped back to reality, drawing himself up to his full six feet. “I’m sorry, I’m neglecting your alcohol-related needs. Let me guess,” he said, assessing her. “Some kind of ‘tini. Appletini?”
“Isn’t that a risky way to ask for an order? Potentially insulting customers?”
“Am I wrong?” he asked, with a crooked smile.
He doubled over as if wounded. “Ouch. You’ve destroyed my average.”
“I’ve heard that a lot in bars.” The lie slid from her lips with ease. The truth was that Alexis rarely spent time in bars, even in her twenties when she was flush with cash and single. It suddenly dawned on her that, not only was he flirting with her, but she was flirting with him. In a bar. In her hometown. The moment felt surreal.
“No chaser?” he queried.
She cocked an eyebrow, challenging him. “I like to feel the burn.”
“An actual fire in the belly,” he mused. “I like it. Is Jameson all right?”
He poured her drink, added a drop of water, and slid it across the bar to her. “I have to admit, I’m relieved. I hate making those cocktails. Thankfully, most people on the island have simpler taste.”
“I’ve never been a cocktail girl. Too sweet.”
“Are you trying to tell me you’re not sweet?” he teased.
Alexis tasted the whiskey. It burned through her core and warmed her from the inside out. “I may be a lot of things, but I don’t think sweet has ever been on the list.”
Tyler didn’t doubt it. For him, her aloofness had been part of her charm. She may have been the girl in the next neighborhood, but she was far from the girl next door. He’d walked around in awe of her, which is probably why he’d never gathered the courage to ask her out. She hadn’t been accessible, partly because she seemed to exist in her own reality, and partly because he’d built her up in his mind to mythic proportions. Back then, simply spotting Alexis from a distance had turned him on. Seeing her seated directly across from him now had Tyler’s entire body humming.
Neve Cottrell is the author of contemporary romance novels. Long Way Home is the first book in her series on the residents of Mangrove Island. Neve began weaving tales as soon as she could talk, walking away with the coveted “Best Storyteller” award in preschool and she’s been writing ever since. When she’s not crafting sexy heartthrobs and happily-ever-afters, she can be found indulging her need for reality TV and wistfully flipping through home and garden magazines. Neve lives near the beach with her family. You can learn more about Neve on her website.