An exclusive sneak peek at the first chapter of Kate’s upcoming release
Don’t panic. Don’t panic.
I’ve got to keep it together.
I take a steadying breath as I glance over at him once more, and my heart leaps into my mouth.
Dang it! I’m panicking.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m trying to stay cool, calm, and collected. Really trying. But right now, my brain is sparking alert messages at multiple synapses, my heart is racing like it’s a greyhound at the track, and my urge to run is almost overwhelming.
He’s here. Right in front of me.
The one that got away.
The one I haven’t seen since…well, it’s been a while.
Almost twelve years, in fact.
I blink a few times, hoping he’s a mere figment of my imagination. That I’ve had too much champagne, despite the fact I know I’ve been sipping a lemonade all evening.
Perhaps I’ve somehow dreamt him up and he’s not really here in this room, mingling with the other wedding guests?
The thought has my hopes rising.
But each time I open my eyes, there he is, staring right back at me.
What’s more, he looks ridiculously handsome in a navy suit and tie, his crisp white shirt showing off his gorgeous olive complexion. His dark hair is longer than I remember, but his eyes are just as piercing, his features so familiar but somehow different. Grown up, I suppose.
There have got to be worse things in this life than the guy who stole your heart turning up out of the blue, right? Only, I’m finding it hard to think what, exactly.
Maybe having all your teeth pulled out by a jittery octogenarian with a pair of rusty pliers? Or giving birth to a set of 10-pound quadruplets on the dirt floor of an African hut with flies buzzing around your head and dung beetles dive bombing your face?
You see the thing is, Noah Grant may be the one that got away, but it’s me who let him go. Me who ended things with him.
Me who broke my own heart.
And right now, that past is about to walk across the room towards me. I’ve got no choice. Really, I don’t.
I do what any self-respecting coward would do.
There’s no time to even mutter a word to my friend, Lottie, or any of the other wedding guests. No time. I turn on my heel and stumble through the crowd in search of the exit. Luckily, since it’s my local pub, I know The Black Cat like the back of my hand, and before you can say the one that got away is back, I’ve made my way through the hot, aromatic kitchen and out into the warm summer evening in the alleyway.
I don’t pause to take in the less than salubrious sights.
I kick off my heels and collect them in one hand as I bunch up the long skirt of my Kate Middleton-inspired evening dress in the other. Without a backward glance, I sprint across the cobblestones, down the thin alleyway and out onto the adjacent street.
I don’t stop until I get several streets away, until I’m sure he’s not following me.
But then why would he follow me, the crazy ex-girlfriend who bolted at the first sight of him?
He’s probably back at the pub, smiling to himself as he shakes his head over what a lucky escape he had back then.
I reach a small park where I come to a stop, panting hard, my heart pounding so hard it’s in danger of bruising my ribs.
I can’t believe Noah is here. And he looked good. So good.
Too good, if you ask me.
I mean, of course he was always a thoroughly handsome guy. Even Prue agreed, despite what she referred to as his “rough and ready working-class roots.” So Prue. With his dark features, strong jawline, thick, scruffy hair, and deep, soulful eyes, he looks like he’s still in the great shape he was as a teenager.
Back when he took my breath away, that fateful day my car broke down when I was just seventeen.
It was the start of something big. Something I’ve never been able to get over.
Don’t get me wrong. I never believed in anything as wishy-washy as love at first sight. So not my style. I’m Tabitha Greene, queen of the sceptics, one snarky girl who doesn’t suffer fools.
But that day, on the quiet country lane lined with stone fences, the rolling green hills bathed in the soft summer sun, when he appeared in a pair of form-hugging jeans and T-shirt, his hair scruffy and sexy? Well, let’s just say this cynic became a believer, and I swear I began to fall for him before he’d even uttered a single word.
He was the local mechanic’s boy, an only child who would one day grow up to walk in his father’s footsteps. Grant Motors was not only his namesake, but his destiny too. We all knew it. He had his life mapped out for him—just like I did.
I might have been the girl from the Big House down the road, I might have come from another world, but that day on the country lane, none of that mattered.
I shake my head and huff out a breath. I refuse to go back there. I refuse to allow myself to feel those feelings. To remember what it was like to be with Noah Grant.
To want him again.
I’ve spent too many years trying to forget him.
Trying to forget that I threw it all away.
Only now that I’ve seen him once again, the one thing I’ve feared is banging loudly on my door, determined to break down my walls, determined to get in. The fear that has haunted me all this time.
I’m still not over Noah Grant.
I let out a light laugh as my car careens around a corner on the familiar narrow, winding country road. I’m enjoying the wind in my hair and the sense of total freedom that comes with being sixteen and having the whole summer before me—and in possession of my full driver’s licence and first ever car at that. Bliss!
I adore my yellow convertible VW Beetle with its bud vase on the dashboard, in which I always make sure to have my favourite flower.
It’s the little things, you know?
“And then he asked me whether I wanted to go out for supper,” Prue says, “and I looked at him and said, ‘Supper? Have you utterly lost your mind? I don’t like you and I’m fairly certain you don’t like me.’”
I flick my gaze briefly at my friend sitting in the passenger seat. Prudence Cosworth-Farnham—although I call her Prue because seriously, what a mouthful—and I have been friends since we suffered through Madam Jeanique’s French class at boarding school together. Now that summer’s here, we are planning on having some serious fun together, particularly since I just got my licence.
“That’s all very well and good Prue, but there’s one problem,” I tell her as I turn off one country lane and onto another. “You do like him, and you are fairly certain he likes you, and I’m absolutely certain you would love to have any meal with him.”
She beams at me. “That’s precisely why we kissed.”
“You kissed?” I guffaw, as my wheels roll over the grass verge and I narrowly miss scraping the side of the car against the stone fence that lines the road.
Prue grips the door handle.
“Oops. I’ll try harder to stay on the road, shall I?”
“Good plan,” she replies with a laugh. “Oh, Tabby, it was wonderful, just as I imagined,” Prue gushes. “His lips were soft and full and he smelt of a summer meadow.”
“Is that because you were in a summer meadow at the time?”
Prue crosses her arms across her chest and fixes me with her glare. “Don’t be so cynical. It was marvellous, and we’re going out again on Friday.” She gazes out the window. “Isn’t summer the best?”
“I imagine it is when you’re dating Angus Blyth-Jones, the most handsome and popular boy we know,” I reply with a sardonic smile.
“Oh, he is handsome, isn’t he? His father is the richest person in the country, after the Queen and a handful of others, you know. Isn’t that fantastic?”
My friend Prue is deeply impressed by wealth.
“So, it’ll be champagne and caviar for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for Prue from now on, will it?”
She lets out a contented sigh. “I can only hope.”
As I round the next corner, the road widens and I press my foot down on the accelerator pedal, telling her, “Hold onto your hat! We’re going to see what this baby can do.”
“Are you sure?” she asks, her voice tinged with concern.
But instead of lurching ahead, my car does the exact opposite, gradually slowing as though someone has ripped the power from its engine and it’s suddenly forgotten how to propel itself forward.
I pump the accelerator. Nothing. I pump it again. Still nothing. “Uh-oh.”
“What is it?”
The car slows, until it finally comes to a grinding halt, right in the middle of the quiet country lane. The engine cuts out, and the only sound is a chewing sound coming from a cow watching us from the adjacent field.
“What’s happened to your car?”
“I can see that. Try turning the key off and on again. See if that works.”
“It’s not a computer that needs rebooting.”
I do it anyway. I get nothing, not even the engine turning over.
“It’s completely dead.”
“You’ll need to look at the engine and find out what’s wrong.”
I give her a sideways glance. “How many engines have you fixed in your life?”
“The problem might be obvious. Something might have come loose, or a cap has fallen off, or something like that.”
I pull my lips into a dubious line. “I’m not sure caps falling off things in engines is such a common issue.”
“Come on. Let’s at least take a look.” Prue climbs out of the car. “Pop the bonnet, will you?”
I scan the dashboard. “How?”
“I don’t know. It’s your car.”
“I’ve had it for three days. You know that,” I reply in irritation, because where the heck is the bonnet popper button thingamajig when you actually need it?
“Come on, Tabby. We need to be at the party in less than half an hour,” Prue complains.
Finally, I locate a lever that has an image of a car with an open bonnet on it, and I pull. The bonnet makes a clicking sound, and I leap out of the car and pull it open, remembering how Mrs. Barton had taught us how to use the metal stick to hold it open in that boring Car Maintenance lesson last term—the lesson I now wish I’d paid significantly more attention to.
“You look like you know what you’re doing,” Prue says, as she and I both peer in at the hot engine, emitting a strong aroma of metal and petrol and…engine.
“Believe me, I don’t.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“I’ve got no idea.” I chew on the inside of my mouth as I regard it through an inexpert eye. Nothing’s steaming, nothing looks broken, and there are certainly no lids missing from anything.
“Maybe we should call someone,” I suggest.
“Good idea. Call your dad. He can pick us up and take us to the party.”
I collect my mobile from my handbag on the back seat and press my dad’s number. It doesn’t ring. I pull my brows together and look back at the screen. “Great. No service.”
“Give it to me.” Prue snatches the phone from my hand and paces the empty road, holding it up in the air and squinting at it.
“Nothing. Not even one solitary bar. What are we going to do?”
“We could walk?”
We both look down at our feet. We’re wearing high heeled strappy sandals, built for short, tottering walks and making our legs look good. Not traipsing along country lanes, miles from anywhere.
The cow in the field gazes at us, still chewing on her cud.
“What are you looking at?” I ask her peevishly.
There’s a roll of thunder as dark clouds appear over the horizon, a cool wind whipping up around us, coming out of seemingly nowhere.
“You have got to be kidding me,” I growl, as I shiver in my summer dress. I push out a defeated breath. “No car and no phone coverage mean we’re simply going to have to walk. We can’t wait here and expect some knight in shining armour to roll up and save us.”
“Or can we?”
“No, Prue, we can’t, no matter how many romcoms you’ve watched.”
Prue nudges me with her elbow. “Look.” She’s staring in the direction from which we came, and a new sound enters my consciousness. A low hum, like an engine. I turn to see a vehicle moving slowly towards us as it winds along the road.
“Oh, thank goodness!” I reach up and wave my arms in the air to signal to the driver.
“See? Knight in shining armour,” Prue says with a smirk.
As the vehicle comes to a stop, I let out a relieved puff of air. “It’s a truck. That’s a good sign.”
“A very good sign, babe. Let’s hope the guy driving is hot.”
As the words leave her mouth, the door to the truck swings open and down steps a young guy with tanned skin, tousled hair, and the kind of sexy confidence you get from knowing who you are and what you’re about. Wearing an ill-advised white T-shirt with smears of oil across the chest, his muscular arms look strong and dependable as he saunters towards us in a pair of slim-fitting jeans and sturdy work boots.
“Car trouble?” he asks in a deep, velvety, American voice, and as his eyes lock onto mine, my belly does a herculean flip.
I know him.
“Yeah. We, err, broke down,” I reply, my mind scrambling. He looks so familiar, different, like I know him from somewhere, but I can’t quite place him.
And then it clicks.
The boy who moved to Marlingworth from America when we were ten. The boy who put a warm, muddy worm down the back of my dress, making me scream.
Back then, he was the new boy with an accent I’d only ever heard on TV. Sure, he was cute, but there were only hints of the guy he’d turn into.
And now here he is, seven years later, looking every inch like a dependable and deeply sexy working-class hero, here to save us.
Really, it’s enough to make a girl swoon.
Not that I go for that kind of thing, you understand. I’m far too mature and sophisticated.
“I know you. You’re Tabitha Greene, right?” he asks.
“Noah?” I question.
His gaze intensifies for a beat before his face creases in recognition. “It’s been a while.”
“It has. It’s…been a long while. You…you grew up,” I say, and instantly regret it. I mean, who says something like that? An idiot, that’s who.
Noah’s mouth curves into a relaxed smile that somehow reaches inside of me and tugs at my belly. Hard. “I see you grew up, too,” he replies, his eyes skimming briefly over me, making every part of my body tingle.
I gesture at his truck. “No worms in there?”
He pulls his brows together. “Worms?”
“You put one down the back of my dress when we were ten.”
His lips curve into a sexy smile, and I swear, my heart skips a beat. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s fine,” I shrug, trying my best to appear as though standing on this country lane, talking to the hottest guy I’ve seen in the flesh in my life, is no big deal.
“No worms,” he tells me.
We stand and gaze at one another as a bunch of memories flood my mind. He was a cute ten-year-old when he arrived in the village. But now? Now he’s a tall, strong guy with bulging biceps and wide shoulders, his T-shirt doing little to conceal his taut chest and belly.
A guy who is currently staring at me as though he could devour me in one bite.
“Tabby? You know this guy?” Prue asks, snapping me out of my Noah Grant-induced daze. And oh, my, what a daze.
I offer her a sheepish grin, as I reluctantly pull my eyes from his. “I knew Noah before I left for boarding school. He’s from Marlingworth.”
“She used to tease me and the other boys,” Noah says.
Prue cocks an eyebrow. “That sounds like Tabby.”
My cheeks warm.
“How have you been?” I ask him. “It’s been, what? Seven years since I last saw you?”
“About that. I’ve been good. Life, you know? You?”
“Good. Great. Just finished school for the summer, which I imagine you have, too.”
“No, I left a while back.”
“Not much point in sticking around, really. I knew what I wanted to do with my life and I couldn’t see how algebra could help me in the real world.”
“No one can,” I reply, and we share a smile that sets my heart racing.
Wow. Noah Grant. Here. Looking like that.
Did I die and go to hot guy heaven?
I clear my throat. “Are you working for your dad?”
“Yeah. As you can see.” He gestures at the truck behind him, and for the first time I read the words Grant Motors written in bold navy lettering across the side.
“You’re a mechanic?”
“Training to be one.”
“You always wanted to take over your dad’s business, and now here you are doing it. It’s…impressive.”
Prue snorts beside me. Prue, the friend I had completely forgotten about while I basked in Noah’s attention.
I glare at her.
“What?” she asks innocently.
She knows what. She’s being a snob.
He nods at the bonnet, held in place by the metal rod. “You’ve broken down?”
“He’s awfully pretty, but not so bright,” Prue says as she taps the side of her head, but she says it so sweetly, I can tell Noah isn’t sure whether she’s serious or not.
I grind my teeth and glare at her. I know exactly how she means it.
“The car just sort of stopped for no reason,” I tell him. “It’s brand new, so I don’t know what’s going on. Do you think you could have a look at it for us?”
“Of course I can.” He saunters over to my car and I try my best not to notice how he moves. Okay, I don’t really try that hard. Or at all, really.
Sue me, the guy is ridiculously good to look at.
“Let me see.” He begins to check things in the engine.
“Close your mouth. You’re drooling,” Prue whispers, and I instantly clamp my mouth shut because she’s probably right.
We wait as he inspects the engine, leaning his hands on the edge of the car. After a while, he strides around to the driver’s side of the car, pulls the door open, and slips inside, his bulk filling the small space.
“Your boyhood friend grew up nicely,” Prue tells me, as she waggles her brows at me.
“Shh. He’ll hear you.”
“So what? He might be a bit of eye candy, but it’s not like he’s in your league, babe.”
I pull my brows together. “How so?”
“A trainee mechanic? Please. He’s no Magnus Gainsborough, that’s for certain.”
I think of Magnus with his ready smile and mop of pale blond hair. Although he’s as tall as Noah, he lacks his muscularity and presence—and Magnus sure as heck doesn’t look at me the way Noah did just now.
“Noah’s a great guy, and he’s trying to help us right now.”
“Just stating the facts, babe. You know you’re blushing?”
My hand flies to my cheeks. “No, I’m not. It’s hot in the sun, that’s all.”
As though to mock me, the dark clouds amassing above our heads rumble and a couple of large plops of rain fall on us.
Noah emerges from the car. “I’ve worked out the problem.”
“That was quick.”
“Wait here.” He goes over to his truck and pulls out a red can with a long spout, which he proceeds to pour into the tank of my car.
Realisation dawns on me. It’s official, I’m an idiot.
As Noah clicks the petrol cap into place, I say, “I was out of petrol, wasn’t I?”
“Oh, Tabby!” Prue complains.
He slides into the driver’s seat and turns the ignition. My car starts up immediately.
I scrunch my eyes shut in embarrassment.
“You’ve got enough to get to the nearest petrol station in Marlingworth.” He leaves the car running and climbs out, rising to his full height beside me.
My heart rate peaks as I stare up at him. “I’m really dumb, aren’t I?” I give him a self-deprecating smile, because running out of petrol on Day 3 of car ownership is nothing if not totally dumb.
His smile is soft and kind. “It’s an easy mistake to make.”
“Yeah, if you’re an imbecile,” Prue says, as she pulls the passenger door open and climbs in.
I raise my eyes to Noah’s once more and notice him watching me closely. There’s a softness in his eyes that has my throat drying.
“It was good to see you again,” he says.
As I gaze at him, my breath hitches in my throat.
I’ve never been one to believe in fairy tales. I’ve never even believed in happily ever afters. My parents’ marriage put paid to any fantasies about that many summers ago. But as I stand and gaze in Noah’s eyes on the country lane, with rain beginning to fall down around us and the cow with the big brown eyes observing our every move, I know I believe in fate.
Fate made me forget to put petrol in my car.
Fate had Noah driving down this country lane at the exact time I needed him.
Fate brought us together.
“Tell me if I’ve read this wrong, but would you like to get together later?” he asks.
“I’ve got a party with Prue and—” I press my lips together. What am I doing? I can blow off a party at Magnus Gainsborough’s place. He’s nothing to Noah.
“Hey, I just thought I’d ask.” He shoots me a smile and then turns to leave.
I place my hand on his arm and he looks back at me. “I’d love to get together with you.”
“Meet me under the old oak tree down by the river at eight?”
His face breaks into a smile that has me melting, and I smile back at him, my mind filled with the oddest thought that somehow I’m meant to be with Noah Grant forever.
And I couldn’t wait for forever to begin.
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