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Olivia loved dogs, but that huge monstrosity galloping towards her was definitely not a mere dog. Before she could take action, she was whisked out of its way and unceremoniously dumped onto the hot sand centimeters out of the barking black beast’s path. Her breath caught as a big weight held her in place.
Olivia tasted grit in her dry mouth as something wet and rough sniffed at her cheek. “Off Spartacus,” someone called above her. Within seconds strong hands drew her to her feet as she saw the large dog and his owner continue on their way down the shore.
“Are you okay?” The deep voice held a certain urgency.
Her pride and ego were the only things that were hurt. Straightening, she flicked her hair out of her burning face and stared up at her tall, bearded savior. He was regarding her through the lenses of black-framed glasses, with a combination of concern and curiosity.
She nodded but no words came out.
The expression in the man’s striking green eyes suddenly changed. He let her go and his eyes widened. “I—I’m glad.” And added, “Olivia? Olivia Moore?”
Frowning, she nodded again and then recognition snatched her breath for the second time, the emotional impact even more powerful than her encounter with the hot sand.
“I’m Alexander, Alex Anderson.” His black beard and thick curly hair had changed his appearance, but as soon as she looked into those eyes again she knew him. Her best friend’s brother-in-law, who now lived in Greece. And worse, her secret, unrequited teenage crush. Well, not so secret….
This couldn’t be happening.
His earnest gaze boring into her, he said, “We knew each other when we worked on the gala—”
“I remember,” she said hastily. “Well, thanks for . . . you know.” She swept a trembling hand at nothing in particular.
Olivia stepped back, intent on getting away from him as quickly as possible without humiliating herself by breaking into a dead run.
Without warning, he grabbed her shoulders and pulled her hard against him again just as a bike whooshed inches away, its bell tinkling belatedly.
She felt the broad muscles hidden by Alexander’s baggy navy-blue sweatshirt. He smelled as fresh and welcoming as he had on that night when they had kissed and . . .
The night that had changed her life and he had disappeared without a word.
“Okay, I’m definitely not this unlucky, or this clumsy!”
As soon as she started to back away from him, desperate to be free of his touch, he released her. She would not think about how red her face and neck were right now against her darned red hair. Why was she born to love the sun and the beach when they made her appear like a cooked lobster no matter how much sun protection she used?
She picked up her large brimmed sun hat, dusted it off, and pulled her white muslin over-shirt closer around her body.
“Thanks again. Bye.”
“You’re welcome, but wait up. How have you been?”
“I don’t want to be rude, but I’d rather not chit-chat with the guy who stood me up on one of the most important nights in my life, especially after we…”
After they had made love and Alexander had told her he loved her.
What else had he said a lifetime ago in that huge hotel linen closet?
You make me so happy, Olivia. I could never imagine feeling like this about anyone in the world.
“What do you mean?” Alexander frowned, his dark brows like crows’ wings above his bright green eyes. “You’re the one who—”
“It doesn’t matter, honestly. Have a good life.” She turned, checked that nothing else was bearing down on her, and escaped towards the beach house, affectionately named the Ellis cottage. Renovating the quaint beach house was the reason she was back here in Wrightsville Beach. And she was on a deadline.
As he strode beside her, Alexander’s hand touched her forearm. She halted and glared at it until he released her. She turned to face him and found him studying her, his expression solemn.
“Olivia, I did not stand you up, and if you just stop a moment we can sort it out.”
Olivia stood still, worried her lower lip and was glad her hair covered most of her face and her curiosity.
He was probably in Wrightsville Beach visiting his family, which meant she would either have this conversation now or avoid him all over town.
Oh, did her best friend, Maria know that he was here? “Okay, I’m listening. But…” She glanced towards the nearby café, “I need some water.”
Weaving their way around the locals and jovial, tan tourists worshipping the sun they reached the popular Wilmington café. Olivia recoiled at the scent of hot dogs and deli sandwiches. Why had she delayed her daily jog to the middle of the morning? She liked the quiet of the early mornings with no temptation or distraction.
“May I get you something else?” When she shook her head Alexander nodded, handed her one bottle and paid for their waters before she got her change ready.
As they sat in the welcome shade under the sun-umbrella in the early May heat, Alexander studied her with those deep green eyes behind his glasses until she forgot what they had been talking about. His level gaze took her right back to that night. The tingles all over her body made her feel strangely lethargic and warm inside. She forced herself to focus on his words.
“Brittany told me that you were going to the gala with Brad,” he said quietly. “That you’d been trying to make him jealous.”
Stunned, she barely managed an indignant protest. “Me? With Brad? And Brittany and I were not the best of friends.” Understatement of the century. The blonde had disliked her on sight no matter how Olivia tried to win her over during their weeks working on the charity event together.
He nodded and glanced away for a moment, then shrugged. “I should have realized that, but…”
“How could you believe that Brad would even know I existed? He’d never be seen with a pudgy girl like me. And there was such a thing as the phone even in those days, you know.” Oh, God, she sounded like she still cared. She shrugged and drank some more of her ice cold water.
Studying his face she became certain they both knew that Brittany had been her nemesis and that it had been his excuse, his way out. Perhaps when the sexual haze had lifted he had thought it through and realized they shouldn’t have done anything in the first place.
“I’d hoped, I thought we’d go together, but…” Even as his voice trailed into silence, he scanned her face. She couldn’t tear her gaze away from that deep curiosity she remembered within those eyes…. that pulled her into his orbit.
“You left without saying a word, just disappearing to Greece.”
“I’m sorry.” He glanced away for a moment.
Despite her memories of his leaving and her disappointment and heartbreak, her thoughts took her back to their time together, and Olivia suddenly felt hungry, not for food but for his sweet, hesitant kisses that she still remembered so well. Even after nearly ten years.
She forced her attention away, focusing on a laughing toddler riding his tricycle up the path, his mother scurrying behind.
Aware of Alexander’s gaze still on her, she relented and offered him an olive branch.
“It was such a success, I wish you’d seen all our hard work come to fruition,” she admitted.
They had met when Aunt Jenny, her best friend’s grandmother, had organized the big event for the “Deaf and Blind Children” charity. When the tall, lanky and unassuming guy with slouching shoulders came to volunteer, Olivia immediately felt their shared kinship for helping others. And for not being eligible for the in-crowd.
“I’m so sorry I missed it. When I thought back I realized that you never told me that you loved me—” Did he actually blush? Olivia couldn’t tell through the beard, but just the tops of his cheeks seemed flushed as he continued, “And neither did you confirm that we would go together. But I should have—”
She shook her head. “It’s okay.” What else could she say?
You broke my naive little heart. I felt like an idiot for believing every word you said. I vowed never to trust any guy from then on…
“At least now I know why you didn’t attend. It was better that way in the long run. We were too young and we come from different worlds.” She stood up, tried to smile and failed.
“I don’t understand what you mean—”
“None of that matters. It was…good bumping into you, but I’ve got to go. I’m helping Maria redesign and update her grandmother’s beach house.”
The hint of amusement in his eyes and the slight curve of those sensuous lips—which had been the first to kiss hers—made her suddenly uneasy yet curious.
“Still helping others before helping yourself?”
Pushing away memories of the insistent dreams of their delicious kisses and union she concentrated on his words. “I’m an interior designer. It’s what I do for a living. And despite Maria being my best friend, I’m getting well paid.” So why did she feel like a defensive teenager, flushing and feeling the heat that had nothing to do with the North Carolina weather?
Remember you’re here to do a job and then move on, with no distractions. No meandering down any memory lane!
Even if he had meant his words of love at the time in that linen closet, he had still run. Had she thought he was different from any twenty-year-old with raging hormones? Maybe that was all it had been for them both.
“Great. I should have known you’d be the designer of Maria’s project. I hope we’ll bump—ah—see more of each other.”
Not if I can help it, she nearly said, but shut her mouth before the words came out.
“I thought you live in Greece now.” She felt her cheeks burn again, “Not that I’d asked or anything, it just came up in conversation.” She would rather eat scorpions than admit that Maria had updated her on all of her youngest brother-in-law’s work and romantic adventures until two years ago. When Sofia DeLongi had come into Alexander’s life, something had changed within Olivia.
Hope and naivety had fled.
Tall, stick-thin with glossy black hair that touched that pert derrière, Sofia, Olivia admitted to herself, was the perfect mate for Alexander. Clamping down, Olivia had finally stopped her best friend from elaborating on anything to do with him.
If not for her unavoidable surgery three and a half years ago, Olivia was certain she would have witnessed him with one of his earlier gorgeous girlfriends at Maria’s and Sloan’s wedding. Only Maria knew the true reason Olivia was absent on her best friend’s special day. And it had nothing to do with Alexander, or any other man. It was about survival.
“So I suppose you’re visiting family?” Olivia focused on the present.
“Yes.” He broke their eye contact, like he used to when they had first met. He had always been quiet but now seemed even more so. Inexplicably enigmatic and now even more sexy!
He had grown into a handsome man.
No matter how attractive he was in his understated and geeky way, she would not care why Alexander was here. He would probably return to his life in Greek paradise within a few days. They were no longer stupid, romantic youths who had shared a first kiss and lost their virginities to each other.
Alexander may have been her first love, but he certainly would not be her only love, she was sure. Now as a twenty-seven-year-old she had long discarded her rose-tinted glasses and saw the world clearly.
Her burgeoning career took up every waking moment and that was the way she liked her life.
She was determined to continue growing her brand and regain the industry’s trust after those few years of lost opportunities.
Alexander was part of her past, and that was where he would stay.
* * *
Alex could not believe how strangely he felt just by looking into Olivia’s large blue eyes. They seemed even more knowing yet reserved, and understandably so.
Olivia Moore was here now, when he needed peace and quiet and to think clearly. He felt like his twenty-year-old self; gawky, unsure of himself and unworthy of someone as lovely and generous as Olivia.
She appeared to be as gregariously colorful and full of life, with her burning red wavy hair and those huggable, sinfully delicious curves covered sensuously in a tight sports top, pants and over shirt.
Well, he was going to regroup and see how he could make this gift work to his advantage. He had been a coward all those years ago; he should have sought her out before or even during the gala and demanded answers from his first love.
But like his brothers had always teased him, he had turned chicken and run.
Unable to take his eyes off her, he heard her repeat how busy her life was, but all he could think about was the night before the gala, when their kisses had turned from explorative to explosive passion.
How alive he felt just remembering that time.
Ah, that large, warm hotel linen closet. Ever since that day, the lemony, lavender scents of fresh linens transported him back to their first time.
From the first moment he saw her, he had been attracted to her generous spirit. Then he could not resist that voluptuous body and those delicious breasts, which had driven him crazy.
But she had been adamant that she was an overweight geek.
Even when he had tried to tell her how beautiful she was, she hadn’t heard him. She never noticed how the other boys had stared at her, but he certainly had. Instead of confessing and repeating what he really felt about her mind and her delectable body, he had determined to prove to her how desirable she was.
Finally, as a naïve and shy twenty-year-old he had gotten carried away….And had ruined it all afterwards.
Now he was at the right place at the right time, here at the beach, where the fun-loving Aunt Jenny had first befriended him. Who would have guessed that Aunt Jenny’s granddaughter, Maria, would become his first sister-in-law?
Seeing Olivia here, he was glad to be back. His gut, which had helped and saved him many times in business over the past decade, told him that Maria—and somehow Aunt Jenny—were the reasons why he was here.
If his romantic sister-in-law had engineered his return to Wrightsville Beach to rekindle his romance with her best friend, he hoped it meant that Olivia was unattached.
Propelled by a force he could not resist he was determined to utilize all his business acumen and win her trust back. Perhaps he could ask some of his happily married brothers and their wives for some overdue advice about how he could get to know Olivia once more without screwing it up again.
uplifting and unforgettable romance and women’s fiction. Her powerful
stories are filled with passion without cultural borders, which will
take you to various exotic locales around the world. Her books focus
on the many facets of romantic relationships with strong and complex
young age, as she has lived in various parts of Europe and the
Mediterranean. Some of her favorite visited places are Austria,
France, the Middle East, Hawaii and Hong Kong. Her next planned
excursion is to Australia and New Zealand.
with all its history and lush, green landscapes. Her background in
English literature, writing and psychology help her create
well-rounded, unique characters.
own loving hero, she now lives – and happily writes – in Toronto, Canada.
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