Discover the new stand-alone romance from New York Times bestselling author, Melody Grace.
They say time heals a broken heart, but you just try and get over the love of your life when he’s the most famous man on the planet.
At least, that’s what it feels like when I turn on the car radio. Nothing is playing except his latest hit song.
“Bringing you back for your afternoon on 107 Hits, it’s the track everyone’s talking about, Finn McKay—”
“Next up, Everyday, from the new number one smash—”
“And straight to the top, for music’s own bad boy, Finn—”
I let out scream of frustration, and hit the wheel. My horn blasts, and the elderly woman on the crosswalk startles, dropping her grocery bags. Crap. “Sorry, Mrs. Carter!” I call out the window, ready to jump out and help.
She flips me the bird and keeps walking.
I head to work and hit the preset for the country station, figuring at least I’ll get some respite there. Maybe a good song about heartbreak, or murder — either will do. But it turns out the universe really is laughing at me right now.
“Did you see the big duet at the Grammys last week? Finn McKay and Carrie Underwood. So by special request, here’s his latest single, Everyday.”
There really is no escape. It was bad enough when he was the hot new artist on the verge. At least then I could ignore the gossip and pretend like his five minutes of fame would be up soon. But two years later, he shows no sign of running out of steam. If anything, he’s bigger than ever: two number one albums, a dozen hit singles, and his music in the background of every TV show and movie I try to see. This spring he’s been inescapable, staring back at me from billboards and on the cover of my favorite trashy magazines. Peak Finn. AKA, a constant reminder of the boy who shattered my heart and left town five years ago, stranding my sixteen-year old self without a word.
AKA, the reason I’ve developed a serious cookie dough habit, had to boycott my radio, and spend my evenings hate-browsing the latest gossip sites looking at photos of Finn with his latest supermodel girlfriend.
But hey, at least I’m not bitter.
Back at the Oak Harbor Realty office, I deliver a takeout box to co-worker and new best friend, Delilah, then sink into a chair at her desk.
Delilah takes one look in the lunch bag and makes a face. “Screw salad, I’ve got cupcakes!” She opens the box with a ‘ta-dah!’
“Fancy,” I whistle, looking back and forth between the virtuous container of lettuce, and the box of double-chocolate frosting. Who am I kidding? Cupcakes always win. I reach for one and sink my teeth into pure sugar rush heaven. “What’s the occasion?”
“I finally closed escrow for Shana Norton on that new townhouse in the harbor.”
I high five her. “Does this mean she’s going to tell Mr. Norton she’s leaving him yet?”
“Not sure,” Delilah grins. “I’m guessing the moving trucks will be a big clue.”
I laugh. “Want me to do the paperwork?”
“Would you?” Dee bats her eyelashes at me. “Pretty please.”
“Just add it to the pile.” I sigh dramatically, but I don’t mind really. I haven’t closed a deal myself in months, and sooner or later our boss is going to figure out that real estate and I just aren’t a good match. Delilah knows exactly what I’m thinking, because she gives me a look.
“You need to be out there, getting clients for yourself. You could make a great commission if you hustled a little harder.”
“Me and hustle don’t get along.” I focus on my cupcake. “We had a falling out years ago. It’s not speaking to me.”
“Liar. You hustled plenty at the animal shelter holiday fundraiser. You talked half the town into emptying their wallets.”
“That’s different!” I protest. “It’s a good cause. Who can say no to puppies?”
“Me,” Delilah curls her lip. “I never got the appeal. They’re all drooling and needy, and piss everywhere. They’re like a frat-boy on a Friday night.”
“Cruella,” I laugh.
She grabs a file from her desk. “Hustle or not, you’ve got an appointment this afternoon. Some mystery client looking for a rental. I told Marcie you’d take it.”
“But I’m not dressed for clients!” I look down at my laundry-day skirt – missing a button – and the shirt that, yup, now has a smear of chocolate frosting over my right boob. I start dabbing, but the stain only spreads. “Look what I’ve done now. You take them.”
“Nope. And I’m saying this as your friend, and not because I booked an early nail appointment,” Delilah grins. “Go on.” She shoves the file at me. “It’ll be good for you. Work the whole small-town girl charm. They’ll be eating out of your hand.”
“I’ll be eating what now?”
A familiar male voice comes from the doorway behind me. Blood rushes to my head. I freeze, my heart pounding.
It can’t be.
It can’t be.
Delilah lets out a shriek, and bounces out of her chair. “Holy shit, Finn! What are you doing here?”
I hear a warm chuckle as she launches himself at him. “Hey Dee.”
I can’t bring myself to turn around. My mind is racing to try and make sense of this. Finn McKay, here. Now.
Why? And why today of all days, when I’ve got a button missing from my shirt and frosting smeared all over my chin? Sure, I’ve pictured the time I would finally run into him again, but in those fantasies I was always looking fantastic, in some great, sexy outfit, out with friends, or – even better – a hot guy on my arm. Never mind the fact I haven’t been on a decent date in months. This was my fantasy, dammit. But it turns out real life is anything but a dream.
Bracing myself, I slowly swivel around. Maybe he isn’t hot anymore, I send up a silent prayer. Maybe those magazine shoots are photo-shopped, and in real life he’s skinny with a bad case of adult acne. Maybe—
He’s even more gorgeous in the flesh. All six feet of tanned, muscular flesh.
The Finn I knew was handsome, sure, but this is something else. His lithe build has filled out, body taut against a white tee that looks anything but plain, with dark jeans that hug his ass just so. His hair is longer now, pulled back in a low bun with gold glimmering through, and he’s got tattoos I’ve never seen curling down his muscular arms.
But it’s his eyes that still stop me in my tracks, blue and stormy as the December ocean. They meet mine across the room in a silent greeting.
I try to remember to breathe. Finn may have left a boy of nineteen, but he’s come back all man.
“What brings you back to town?” Delilah is still hanging off him, babbling at full-speed. “Wait, don’t tell me, you decided to bring your whole touring band for a special live show?” She looks around, on alert for a whole crew of hot, tattooed musicians, but Finn just chuckles.
“I’m not enough for you, sweetheart?”
“No man is,” she smirks. “God, look at you! How long’s it been now?”
Five years, I answer silently. Four years, eleven months, and sixteen days, but who’s counting?
“A good long while,” Finn answers easily, with that faint twang of Southern drawl soaking his words in sweet bourbon. He hugs her and stands back. “You’re looking good, Dee. How are things?”
“Oh, you know, the usual.” Delilah shrugs. “Breaking hearts, taking names.”
“I don’t doubt it.” Finn flashes her a grin, the kind of charming smile that let him get away with every reckless bad boy stunt, and left a string of damp panties and broken hearts through the halls of our high school.
That old familiar grin triggers something inside me. My brain unfreezes. I quickly choke down my mouthful of cupcake and try to discreetly wipe my face. Pull it together, I tell myself, but when Finn finally strolls over to my desk, nothing can prepare me for the rush of emotion.
“Eva.” He smiles. “It’s good to see you.”
Just saying his name again hurts my heart. I’ve spent years trying not to think of him, trying not to let his face creep back into my mind. It should have been easy to forget him; nobody knows what we shared, and there was nothing left to tie him to this town. But love doesn’t obey logic sometimes, and I’m ashamed to admit just how long it took me to get over him, how many restless nights I wasted to the memory of his kisses, the damp slide of his body against mine.
“What are you doing here?” My question comes out harsh, but luckily, Delilah is still in full flow.
“Yeah, aren’t you too much of a big shot for our little town?” she teases. “How come you’re gracing us with your presence after all these years?”
Finn gives an easy shrug. “I figured it would be a good place to get some R and R. I’ve been touring for two years straight. I need a break. Someplace to lay my head,” he adds, and Delilah snaps her fingers.
“You’re Eva’s new mystery client!”
“Wait, what?” My chest clenches.
“I just gave you the file. Lucky girl.” Delilah grins, and turns back to Finn. “Anyway, it was great seeing you. We’ll have to get a drink while you’re in town.”
“If you can fit me in your busy schedule,” he laughs.
This isn’t just a fly-in visit? “How long are you staying?” I ask, trying to keep my voice steady. “Just a week or two?”
“No. I’ll need somewhere for a month, at least.” Finn is watching me, and I swear, he smiles when I stop breathing. “I’ve got the rest of the day free to look at places with you.”
Finn. This afternoon. Alone.
“I’m kind of busy,” I protest weakly, my head spinning. I’m not prepared for this, not even close, but Finn looks pointedly around at the empty office. Oak Harbor isn’t exactly a fast-paced destination, especially before the summer season starts. Aside from Delilah and me, there’s only our boss Marcie around – and she’s napping at her desk in the back.
“Sure looks it,” he smirks.
My panic grows. “I have paperwork!”
Finn doesn’t even reply to that, he just gives me an amused look. “I’ll be in the car. You know, if you want to clean up.” He leans over and snags my half-eaten cupcake from the desk and takes a bite. “Mmm,” he sounds a low growl of satisfaction, slowly licking frosting from his thumb. My pulse kicks, just watching his mouth. “You always did have a sweet tooth.”
While I’m reeling, he gives me a wink and strolls back outside.
Delilah lets out a slow whistle and fans herself with a condo brochure. “Hello, lover.” She leans against the desk like she’s swooning. “The road’s been good to that boy. Real good.”
“I guess.” I grab the file, and pray we’ve got some decent listings. Hopefully, he’ll want the first place I show him, and this nightmare will be over in twenty minutes flat.
“Well, never let it be said I don’t make sacrifices for our friendship,” Delilah adds, dramatic. “I saw the way he was staring. He’s all yours.”
“What? No!” My head snaps up. “You’re wrong.”
“Mmhmm.” Delilah just laughs, and goes to rifle through her purse. “Come on, the man’s waiting. You can borrow my lipstick.”
Part of me wants to walk straight outside looking like this, to show Finn I don’t care at all, but the other part – the one still reeling from that smile – needs a moment to pull myself together. “Thanks,” I tell Delilah, and race to the bathroom. I slam the door, and face myself in the mirror.
I drag my hair up into a ponytail and quickly slick lipstick on – then blot it all off again. I can feel the storm of emotions whirling in my stomach, and I run the cold water to cool off my sweaty hands.
My reflection isn’t the problem; it’s the illegally hot guy waiting outside. It shouldn’t be a big deal. I used to have game, and flirt with cute strangers in bars all the time, but that was years ago. And besides, Finn isn’t a stranger – he knows me right down to the core.
Why is he back here, after all these years?
I close my eyes. Finn didn’t just leave town that night after graduation. He erased himself completely. No note, no calls, no casual updates online. He vanished so thoroughly, he didn’t even tell his father where he’d gone. I don’t blame him for that, since the two of them were never close. Lord knows Hank McKay wasn’t exactly the warm, fuzzy type. But still, how could he do that to me?
A tap at the door breaks through my thoughts. I startle, splashing water as Delilah’s voice comes. “I know it’s a lady’s right to keep a man waiting, but he’s been cooling his heels out there ten minutes now.”
I pause. Not for the first time, I wish we’d been closer friends back in high-school. Delilah was a year ahead of me, so she never knew what happened with Finn. Nobody did – we kept it secret. I didn’t want the small-town gossip, and sneaking around only made things more fun – and more lonely when he left. I didn’t reconnect with Dee until I moved back here after college, and by then, I didn’t want to drag the past up all over again. Now, I wish she knew the whole story, instead of expecting me to swoon and drool right along with her.
I shut off the faucet and open the door. “How do I look?” I ask, reluctant.
Delilah doesn’t do tact, but I must look pretty pathetic because she gives me a big grin. “Perfect! Irresistible! Now go get him.” She sends me off with a slap on my ass.
As I head back out front, I feel more like a sacrifice getting tossed to the lions. You can do this. You’re not a kid anymore, I tell myself, trying to pump myself up again. You’re a grown woman with class, and style, and you’ve got moves he’s never seen.
Not that I’m going to use them. What kind of asshole leaves and never even picks up the phone? I dial back every missed call, even when it’s a timeshare scam in Albuquerque. You’d think he could have returned a message from the girl he swore he’d love forever.
But when I open the door, and step outside, and find Finn by the curb, leaning again a classic grey Mustang – a molten-whiskey look in his blue eyes– I take it all back.
Is it too late to pick the lions?
“So what kind of property are you looking for?” I ask brightly, approaching him. I clutch my file to my chest like it could possibly shield me from that seductive smile and piercing eyes.
Finn doesn’t answer. He just opens the passenger door for me. “You cut your hair,” he remarks as I duck into the car.
“You didn’t,” I say pointedly.
“Touché.” He laughs, closing the door behind me and circling around to the driver’s side. I watch him, déjà vu rushing through me like a wildfire, hot and insistent. I must have sat in the passenger seat of his car a hundred times or more, all those late nights we’d slip away to the creek or out past the shoreline drive. I would have said once that it was my favorite place in the world, sitting right there beside him with my feet up on the dashboard, humming along to whatever old country songs his beat-up AM radio could pull from the wire.
“Nice upgrade, huh?” Finn must be reading my mind as he settles behind the wheel. “That old thing took me as far as Georgia before the engine crapped out on me in the middle of highway seventy-five.”
Georgia. I have to bite my tongue to keep from asking if that’s where he went. Instead, I pull out the first listing. “It’s waterfront, new build. Just take the beach road out past the harbor.”
“Yes ma’am.” Finn doesn’t seem shaken by my cool tone. He cruises through the center of town, one hand on the wheel, the other resting out of the open window. “So, you’re a realtor now? Somehow I didn’t picture you behind a desk selling condos.”
I shrug. “It’s a job. I work the office, mainly. Admin, phones. I was lucky Delilah got me the gig. She’s the real mastermind there.”
“Now that, I can picture. How’s the acting?” he asks, looking over. “I always wondered if I’d see your name up in lights on Broadway one of these days.”
I feel a pang, remembering my life in New York City after high-school – the one he knows nothing about. “I’m not doing it anymore. It was just a hobby,” I answer briskly. “So what are you looking for in a house?” I change the subject. “A dock? Outside space? Room for big parties?”
“I’ll know it when I see it.”
We keep driving. Oak Harbor is a small coastal community near the mouth of the Cape Fear River, with a bustling waterfront, cute clapboard houses, and a few stores and restaurants leading back from the rocky shoreline. It used to be an old fishing town, but these days, tourism is the main draw. People come from all over to fish off the boardwalk, take the ferry out to see the old lighthouse, and visit the wide Atlantic beaches just across the sound.
“This place hasn’t changed at all,” Finn remarks, looking outside as we cruise slowly along the sleepy main street.
“Small town life,” I shrug. “We got a new pizza place that stays open past ten on the weekends.”
“Living life on the edge.” Finn laughs. Our eyes catch. Electricity crackles, straight from his clear blue eyes down the back of my spine, and I feel the rush everywhere: hot and sweet, pulling low between my thighs.
I look away.
“How are your folks?” he asks, gripping the steering wheel with both hands now.
“Good.” I take a breath, calming myself. “My dad got a promotion to the head office in Savannah, so they’ve moved out there for six months, to see how they like the place.”
“And Lottie? She’s, what, nineteen now? She must be off at college.”
“No,” I answer quietly. “She’s here in town too.” I quickly change the subject away from my little sister. “It’s this turning, just up ahead.”
Finn follows my directions up to the first property: a boxy chrome and glass condo set on the waterfront, with a balcony looking straight out across the bay. He peers up at it over the steering wheel and shakes his head. “Not for me.”
“But you haven’t even seen inside,” I protest. “The view’s amazing.”
“I told you, I’ll know it when I see it.”
Finn looks at me again, and the intensity in his gaze is enough to make me wonder, why he’s back here of all places? He could be off relaxing in the Caribbean, or sunning himself on a private yacht. Why did he come to our little mom and pop shop instead of one of the big, flashy realtors up the coast? Why, even after everything he did, does my heart race, and my blood pump faster? Just one look from him could make all my heartbreak melt away.
He clears his throat, and starts the engine again. “Where to next?”
We visit another five houses, but Finn doesn’t even make it inside to look at half of them.
“Fame’s changed you.” I’m only half-kidding as we drive away from a great beach-front mansion I would kill to live in. “I guess you’re jaded by all the fancy hotels and private jets.”
“Sounds like someone’s been reading the tabloids.” Finn grins.
I flush. “I’ve seen a couple of things around. You know, in passing,” I add carefully. “That stuff’s not true is it?”
He gives me a wink. “Every word, sweetheart.”
I know he’s only teasing, but I still can’t help thinking of all the things I’ve read over the years, stories of Finn dating Hollywood actresses and frolicking backstage with sexy models. I block those images and sneak a look at him instead, that familiar profile and easy posture. His free hand taps out a rhythm on the window frame. He always did have restless hands; he used to say it’s why he first picked up a guitar. He would play for me, just idly strumming as we killed time on those hot, late nights, sprawled out in the grass miles outside of town, watching fireflies spiral in the midnight sky.
I suddenly get an idea. “I know the place,” I declare. “Take the highway north, just past the bridge.”
Finn does as I say, and soon, we’re pulling up the winding driveway of an old house backing onto the creek. We came here once, years ago. We wandered the empty, run-down rooms before sitting down by the dock, our feet dunked in the cool water. Now the house sits under shady cypress trees, the paint fresh and the front path newly mown.
“The Thomas mansion?” Finn asks, slowly getting out of the car. I scramble out too. “This place was falling apart the last time I saw it.”
“They finally sold it, a few years back. Some developer took it back to the studs, but they did a really nice job. It still has all the original floors, and that great porch wrapping around the back.”
I lead him up to the front door and step inside. I can already see it on his face, that this is the place, but still, I take him through the warm living areas, furnished with classic, beachy furniture, and out back, to where rhododendron bushes and rolling grass lead all the way down to the wide expanse of slow-winding creek.
Finn breathes in the salty marsh air and looks out over the water, like he’s already home. “I’ll take it.”
“Don’t you want to know how much it is?” I ask.
He shrugs, his big-shot lifestyle peeking through. “I’m sure it’ll be fine. Ask if they’ll lease it for a couple of months.”
I nod. It’s a big property to be rattling around all alone — but maybe he won’t be. I realize that for all I know, he could have a gorgeous, sexy girlfriend just waiting back at the hotel. “So, just so I know what to tell the owners…will you be staying here alone?” I ask, trying to be casual. The grin he gives me says I failed, miserably.
“I should have someone out next week.”
My heart sinks.
“To hook up the cable. I can’t be without my TV.”
Finn’s eyes gleam with humor. He’s teasing me, dammit.
“Great!” I refuse to show I’m ruffled. “Then we’re all set.”
I turn on my heel to head back out front, but Finn pauses. “Wait a second. Don’t you want to show me the rest of the property? Upstairs, all the bedrooms?”
Me and Finn, alone in a room with a king-sized bed? I’ve had dreams like that, and I know exactly how things wind up: the both of us tangled up naked, sweaty, and gasping with pleasure. But there are consequences to the most perfect moment of release – and I learned that lesson the hard way. “Sorry,” I reply, my cheeks burning. “I can’t stay. I have to be somewhere. I’m already running late.”
Finn drives us back to the office, still perfectly at ease. But as the miles pass, his nonchalance burns me. Since the moment he walked in he’s been behaving like everything’s fine between us, like it’s no big deal to just show up and act like nothing’s wrong. Or maybe it isn’t, to him. What happened between us may have made an indelible mark on my heart, but what if he barely gave it a second thought on his path to sold-out stadiums and number one hits?
My heart suddenly aches so much I want to cry. I need to get away, but I manage to hold it together until he pulls up outside the old carriage house, and I can climb out of the car on unsteady legs. “I’ll get the contract sent over right away,” I tell him.
“Don’t I get your number?”
I stare blankly.
Finn’s lips curl in a teasing smile. “For questions about the lease.”
“Oh. You can call the office. Delilah will be able to help you out. In fact, you probably won’t see me again. Like I said, I meanly deal with the admin.”
Finn gazes at me thoughtfully for a moment, so long I wonder if I still have frosting on my face. “I like it,” he says finally.
“Your hair. You always used to hide behind it,” he says, his smile slipping through my defenses all over again. “Now I can see your eyes.”
I can hear my heart pounding in my ears.
Oh no. Not this time.
I turn away and hurry up the steps without looking back, but I feel his gaze on me with every step. This doesn’t mean anything, I tell myself. Finn McKay is back in town, as gorgeous and charming as ever. But I’ve learned my lesson the hard way.
For the sake of my heart, I’m steering clear.
To be continued…
Want to know what happens next? HEARTBREAKER is available now on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, GooglePlay and Kobo.
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