RUCK MCKELVEY WOULDN'T have said that he had spent the last fifteen years dreaming about Carrie Spencer, but the day she blasted back into Paradise riding high and hard on her Harley, his hormones definitely stood up and took notice.
He watched from the front of Bob Verity's store as Carrie expertly swung the Harley in between his van and Bob's delivery truck, cut the engine and lifted off her helmet She hadn't changed one bit. She still had that long streaked blond hair, still favored tight T-shirts under an oversize leather jacket and poured-into jeans.
And she still had those luscious red lips, and she was still concealing her beautiful blue eyes behind sunglasses. Fifteen years ago, she had been gorgeous, popular, a top student, sought after, elusive and driven.
. Once upon a time, she had almost given herself to him. Almost. He had been the only one to ever get that close. But Carrie Spencer had been determined she wasn't going to get stuckânot with a guy, a romance, a marriage or a baby. She was made and meant for bigger and better things and she was going to get themâalone.
And now here Carrie was, as aggressive and confrontational as ever, a regular warrior princess off to conquer the provincials on her trusty mechanical steed.
Truck didn't know if he was amazed, amused or just plain annoyed. One thing he did know was that Carrie
Spencer was a walking conflagration in which a man could be consumed if he got too close.
He'd watched heads turn as she roared down Main Street. They all saw the legs, the hair, the go-to-hell determination. And they all wanted her, instantly, the way he did. Just the sight of Carrie was arousing him, and he had no control over it whatsoever. Even after all these years and all this time, he was unbearably and unbelievably right-out-to-there aroused and he still had the inexplicable primitive urge to conquer her.
Goddamn...goddamn...maybe it was unfinished business. Maybe it was pride, but Truck wanted her stillâagainst his will and against everything that made sense. And maybe, just maybe, he felt gratified by the way she was making a show of swinging her long legs over the seat because she knew he was watching her. He liked how her lips tightened and she lifted her chin as if she were going into battle. Maybe, Truck thought, it was war already.
There was no question Carrie knew exactly who he was. But she didn't hesitate as she stepped up onto the outdoor patio and around the spindly little tables and chairs set out for alfresco snacking. She tried to hide her dismay as she strode right up to where Truck stood with his arms crossed over his chest.
He was the last person she expected to see her first time back in town. Of
the people from her past to have to face right now. The one person, the one moment she wished she could erase forever.
It was true: your high school years were the ones closest to your heart; Carrie felt the pain and the past mingle together instantly. She felt seventeen again. Truck looked no different than he had looked fifteen years before: the long dark hair, the arresting features that had
only improved with age, the tight jeans, the boots, the dark T-shirt, the direct dark gaze that made you feel feminine and sexy.
Truck could have been waiting there just for her. Maybe she had shot back in time and fate was giving her another chance to play the scene the way she had rerun it endlessly in her mind for months and months after it happened.
But no. Fate had been kind. Because she hadn't succumbed to the sexual magnetism of the young Truck McKelvey, she'd been able to move to New York and make something of herself. She'd had a great job in advertising, great friends, a great life that hadn't included bad boys and babies.
How much she had learned about herself since then. But Truck already knew too much about her, and his bold assessing gaze told her that his memories hadn't been fleeting either, and that the sight of her had raised them right up under his skin all over again.
It was time to confront the enemy on his turf. Carrie wasn't scared of him. Or the past. Or her lightning-bolt feelings.
She took off her sunglasses, and her bright-blue gaze skewered him. “Truck.”
“Carrie,” he said coolly.
“Still here, I see.”
“So are you.”
That was too pointed a comment for Carrie's comfort. “Small world,” she murmured.
It hadn't taken thirty seconds. Truck felt like strangling her. She went past him into the store, and after a moment's hesitation, he turned to watch her through the screen door.
It was a huge old-fashioned convenience store, carrying everything from pizza to shampoo, newspapers, groceries, milk, juice, soda, beer and paperback novels. Carrie Spencer was picking up what looked like a month's worth of necessities in the grocery section: paper goods, ice, coffee, bottled water, soup, canned vegetables, batteries, bread, cold cuts...the kind of things she would buy if she meant to stay for a while.
“Carrie Spencer...!” Bob Verity came out from behind the counter. “How you doin'?”
She popped up from behind one of the shelf units with two packages of cookies in hand.
Who on earth was he...? Oh jeezâBob Verity...thirty pounds heavier.
“I'm okay, Bob. How about you?”
He took the cookies and placed them on the counter with the rest of her purchases. “Decent, decent. Stayin' long?”
“Need some R and R,” she said brightly, adding a big jar of peanut butter and a box of crackers to her pile. “It's a jungle out there.”
“Tell me about it. On vacation?”
“Kind of,” she said carefully. Bob had always been the town gossip. If you wanted everyone to know something, you told Bob. She could already see he was salivating to spread the news of her return. “Got this week's local paper?”
“It's a Saturday, Carrie, I'm usually sold out by Friday noon. I might have a copy back here though.” He ducked behind the counter to check.
“But summer residents couldn't all be up yet,” Carrie commented, taking a quart of milk and a gallon jug of juice out of the refrigerated section.
“Well, a fair number have come by already to reserve their papers. And now you. It's been a long time.”
“Since your mom died.”
“I know.” Carrie added a block of butter, a loaf of bread. She would make toast tomorrow morning. A tingling little memory.
Her mother had always made her toast in the morning
. Now why had she remembered that? Don't go there, she warned herself. She didn't want to think about her mother. Or talk about her. Or how long it had been.
“Always thought you should've rented the place out.”
“I didn't need to,” she said, keeping her voice neutral.
“I'm on vacation. I think that's it for today anyway.”
“Sure enough.” Bob began adding up her purchases.
Truck was leaning against the wall when she emerged with three bags in each hand.
“Need some help?”
“You have to work for tips now?” .
“At least I'm working. How about you?”
That got to her. It was as if everyone's radar was operating overtime. They could smell a tall tale a mile away. And she needed time to regroup and reconsider what her cover story was going to be.
“I'm on vacation. From that big city, big-time job. Remember ? I know I sent the announcement to the paper. Anyway, I think we can achieve some equanimity hereâI won't have to see you again, and you won't have to see me.”
“I wouldn't count on it,” he murmured.
“I am depending on it.”
“Oh, I think you will be depending on me, Carrie.”
“Not for anything I can think of in this lifetime,” she
snapped as she shoved forty dollars' worth of groceries into her saddlebags.
“Maybe there'll be something you can think of this weekend,” he suggested as she jammed her helmet down and revved the engine.
“Oh no, Truck McKelvey, the last thing I'll be thinking about this weekend is you,” Carrie retorted. Then she pushed the cycle out from between the two trucks, jammed her foot down on the accelerator and disappeared in a cloud of dust.
“Feisty li'l thing, ain't she?” Bob commented from behind the screen doors. “She ain't been down the Pond Road for years.”
“She's gonna die when she sees the house.”
“Well, I kept the roof intact at least,” Truck said. “I paid some kids to take off the snow every winter. I used to do it for her mother the year before she died. But that's about it I couldn't vouch for the plumbing or the electricity. I hope she remembers she's got to turn things on.”
“There's lots of things Carrie's got to remember,” Bob said thoughtfully. “What d'you suppose the real story is?”
“You heard herârest, relaxation, vacation.”
“Paradise, Maine, instead of Paris, France? I don't think so.”
“It works for me,” Truck said, opening the screen door and moving inside. “Speaking of which, I'm still working. Got the lunch order? I'm going down to Portland this afternoon to spec out a new job. I'll just take mine. You can have Danny pick up the rest.” Danny had worked with Truck over a year now and was shaping up to be a big help.
“Done and done,” Bob said. ”You gonna go and check on Carrie later?”
“Maybe,” Truck said noncommittally. Bob could sniff out carnal interest at forty paces. After overhearing that exchange between him and Carrie, the storekeeper was going to be expecting updates at the very least.
Truck had to throw him off the scent fast. “I'm not the only one who lives up the Pond Road,” he said pointedly.
“You're the closest. Besides, making sure Carrie. set tles in okay is the neighborly thing to do,” Bob said.
“If you're so concerned, you go pay her a visit.”
“Hell, I'd be useless. All I can bring her is popovers. I can't fix her plumbing. Plus, I'm married. Come on, Truck, aren't you curious at all about Carrie coming back to Paradise like this?”
“Nope,” Truck said, shrugging.
He tossed a five-dollar bill on the counter. “I'll see you tomorrow, probably,” he added, heading out the door.
Or maybe not. Maybe Bob knew him too well, but Truck wasn't looking for trouble. He was perfectly content with the way things were, and Carrie Spencer living down the road shouldn't make a damn bit of difference in his life.
They'd hated each other growing up, he and Carrie. Just hated each other.
Carrie had been an expert in evasive maneuvers, who'd known exactly how to get every guy in school panting after her without giving away the store.
He'd had no interest at all in playing games, especially her kind of game. But in senior year, something had changed. He had changed. Or maybe she had. All it had taken was one glanceâone sideswiping look of sexual
awareness between them. The sensation had been as direct as a bullet and equally as devastating. The tension between them had escalated day after day, week after week, as they'd circled each other warily. Their first kiss had been hot, wet, explosive. He'd wanted to live in her mouth forever. They'd spent hours together, and he'd learned her like a book. Every turn-on, every pleasure point. His hands, his mouth, his body had become intimate with her on every level but one.
But Truck had waited. He had reined in his overwhelming need to possess her, understanding instinctively that the waiting would heighten their ultimate joining into something out of this world. He'd felt as if he were preparing all his life for that one shattering moment And then, just when they'd been on the brink, poised, pulsating and bursting with need, she'd wrenched away from him, claiming she'd been using him just the way he'd been using her, and had announced she didn't want him after all. Truck remembered all of it as if it were yesterday as he sped down Route 1 toward Portland.
He had never felt like that about anyone, before or since. And he didn't want to, ever again. It used up too much energy. It was much easier to keep it casual and then walk away with no ties, no emotional upsets, no commitments. He had lived his life that way ever since he'd returned to take over the business, and he would have said he was a happy man. But he couldn't ignore that lingering feeling of overwhelming desire for Carrie that still lived on, after so many years.
Damn her. Damn her. Damn her.
He'd bet that Carrie's memories were damn selective and that none of them included him. Suddenly he felt the overpowering and irresistible male urge to heat
things up again and to make sure that this time she would never forget him.