The last thing Aspen expected was to end up returning to Winter Falls homeless, broke, and jobless at the age of thirty-three.
Not to worry. She’s only back until the insurance company decides she’s not an arsonist and pays her the money they owe her. Then, she’s outta there.
The people of Winter Falls feel differently. They’re determined she rekindle her romance with her first love, Lyric Alston, and stay forever. Not happening. The man broke her heart and she hasn’t forgotten.
But when Aspen calls Lyric out for what he did, he has no clue what she’s talking about. Did she get it wrong? Did she not see what she thought she saw?
Once Lyric realizes she didn’t abandon him, he goes all out to convince Aspen to stay in Winter Falls and give him a second chance. Did he forget she’s not here to stay?
Shit. Police lights in my rearview mirror is not the welcome home I was hoping for.
“Uh-oh, Waffles, the Fuzz is on our tail.”
My dog lifts his head, peers outside for a second, decides outside is not worth his time, gives a mini-woof, and goes back to his nap.
“I guess I’m on my own,” I mutter.
I check the speedometer, but I’m positive I wasn’t speeding. This piece of trash car can barely make it up to the speed limit without shimmying and shaking like it’s going to fall into pieces right in the middle of the road. I’d be a complete idiot to drive faster than absolutely necessary. And, despite current appearances, I am not a complete idiot.
Plus, I know once I pass the sign for Winter Falls – the world’s first carbon neutral town – I need to slow down or risk a ticket. There are no warnings for speeding in a town of people who think using fossil fuels is equivalent to mass murder. Decarbonization is serious business in these parts.
I pull to the shoulder and watch the police officer as he exits his vehicle and swaggers toward me. Oh my. The ugly uniform is doing nothing to hide the delicious thighs he’s sporting. My gaze roves higher to his narrow hips. Moving back to home – albeit temporarily – doesn’t seem so bad right now.
He stops next to my window and my gaze lifts until it hits his name badge. No. No. No. No. It can’t be. I force myself to continue raising my head until I can view his face. Damnit. It is. Lyric Alston. Town bad boy. Town hottie. And the boy who shattered my heart into a million pieces. Awesome. Freaking awesome.
“Roll down your window, Aspen!”
Oh, right. Lyric isn’t merely the ‘boy who shattered my heart’, he’s also the Chief of Police of Winter Falls, Colorado. Population – 1,001.
I start cranking the window down. No electric windows on this luxury vehicle of mine. Naturally, the stupid handle falls off in my hand, and I end up dropping it. Ugh! Can this day get any worse?
I bend over to search for the handle when my door unexpectedly opens, and I tumble out of the car into Lyric’s arms. I had to ask if this day could get any worse, didn’t I?
“Still haven’t learned to wear a seatbelt, Aspen?”
I shove him away and scramble to my feet. “I was wearing a seatbelt, officer,” I sneer. “I unhooked it when I came to a stop. I know better than to get trapped in a car during a traffic stop.”
He frowns. “Of course. How could I forget Winter Falls isn’t big enough for Aspen West? Only the city is good enough for you.”
I don’t respond. Why bother? We had this argument at least ten gazillion times after we graduated from college, and I wanted to move to New York City or Denver or anywhere but Winter Falls. Lyric had zero interest in moving. He was all set to settle down in our hometown, get married, and have a bunch of kids. The discussion of other possibilities was not on the table.
“Why’d you pull me over, Lyric?”
He taps the roof of the car. “This vehicle is not roadworthy.”
Tell me about it. I didn’t think I was going to manage the drive from Dallas to my hometown, but I didn’t have any money for anything better. As it is, I had to sell some of my jewelry to buy this piece of crap.
“You know vehicles with gasoline engines are strictly limited in Winter Falls.”
The joys of living in a carbon neutral town. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for green energy and saving the environment but being a savior of the planet is expensive. I would have had to sell all of my jewelry to afford an electric car and since I’m currently homeless, out of money, and out of a job, I had no intention of spending more money than was absolutely necessary.
“Can you give me a break this one time, Lyric?”
“It’s Chief Alston.”
“Really? You’re pulling rank on me right now?” I bite my tongue before I call him a fathead power abusing son of a goat farmer.
“It’s not pulling rank when it’s true.”
He leans over to peer into my backseat, and I block him. Everything I own is in this car. I left this town with hopes of taking the world by storm. I never expected to return ten years later while driving a thirty-year-old car with all of my possessions able to fit in its trunk and backseat. The last thing I need is for Lyric stupid head Alston to see me at my lowest.
I spot the orange stains on my yoga pants. Maybe that particular ship has already sailed.
“What’s going on, Miss Big City? Did you crash and burn?”
I flinch at the word burn. It’s a miracle I’m standing here alive and not burnt to a crisp. Lucky for me, Waffles needed to go out to pee at two o’clock in the morning. If he hadn’t? I shiver. I don’t want to think about what would have happened had I been in my apartment sleeping when the fire broke out.
As if he knows I’m thinking about him, my dog barks at me from the front passenger seat.
“Hold on, Waffles. We’ll go for a walk soon.”
“Waffles? You named your dog Waffles?”
Was Lyric always such a pain in the butt jerk? Was I too enamored with his brown, wavy locks of hair and sky-blue eyes that I ignored all the signs of him being a dickhead?
I cross my arms over my chest, and his eyes dip briefly to my breasts. Yep, I totally missed the signs of dickhead. Good thing I’m no longer sixteen and have built up immunity to broad-shouldered, narrow-waisted, strong-thighed men, who happen to be six-foot-three and eternally tan.
“For your information, Chief of Police who couldn’t find a clue if it hit him in the face, Waffles is a rescue. I found him behind my building. The sole way I could get his shaking, scared out of his mind, furry butt to come near me was to offer him waffles. Thus, Waffles.”
He grimaces. “Shit. You’re right. I’m sorry. And Waffles is adorable.”
You bet he is. He’s my baby.
“You took me by surprise is all. I didn’t expect you to be in town this time of year is all.”
Relief rushes through me. My family has kept my secret. It’s nothing short of a miracle. I half expected the entire town to be waiting to greet my return. No, not return. I’m not here for good. I’m not staying any longer than it takes for the insurance company to stop dragging its feet.
“Small town gossip has failed you, Chief.” I emphasize Chief and a muscle in his jaw spasms before he whips out his citation book and flips it open.
“I’m sorry, Aspen, but I’m going to have to write you a ticket for driving an unapproved gasoline engine vehicle.”
A ticket I won’t be able to afford. I knew using all my savings to expand my business and buy the café next door to the bookstore was a gamble. I just didn’t realize how big a gamble it would be until everything burned down.
“Can’t you give me a warning this one time, Chief?”
He shakes his head. “Policy says otherwise. No warnings for residents of Winter Falls.”
“I’m not technically a resident,” I’m quick to point out.
He rips the ticket off of the pad and holds it out to me. “You grew up here. You can’t claim to be ignorant of the rules.”
I bite my lip as I stare down at the ticket as if it’s a snake set on biting me and infecting me with its poison. I retreat a step. There’s got to be some way for me to get out of this. I’m not commemorating my return – however temporary it may be – home with a ticket.
I look around hoping the field surrounding town can offer me a solution to this problem. My gaze stops when I notice the Welcome to Winter Falls sign. I’m parked about twenty feet in front of it, meaning I’m not within the town limits.
I don’t bother trying to hide my grin. “I’m sorry, Chief, but I think I’m going to have to decline your ticket.”
He waves the ticket he’s still holding at me. “You can’t decline a ticket, Aspen. It doesn’t matter how much we meant to each other as kids.”
Meant? As in past tense? Ouch. My heart clenches, but I ignore it.
“I’m not trying to abuse our past relationship.” I point to the sign, and he swears under his breath.
“If I hadn’t stopped you, you would have driven straight past the sign.”
My grin widens. “But, thanks to you, I didn’t.”
“What are you going to do? You can’t leave your vehicle on the side of the road.”
Because he would take way too much pleasure in writing me a ticket for abandoning my vehicle. Not going to happen.
“I’ll call Basil to tow it.” Basil owns the only tow truck in town.
He rips the ticket in half. “You better call Basil. I won’t hesitate to write you another ticket.”
Of course, he won’t. I want to ask him who shoved the stick up his bum, but I think I’ve antagonized him enough for today especially since he currently looks ready to throw me into a jail cell.
“Have a good day, Chief. Thanks for stopping by to remind me of the town ordinances.”
I try to tone down my sarcasm, but judging by the thunder in Lyric’s face, I’m not entirely successful. Despite how he broke my heart when I left town after our college graduation, we’ve been civil to each other whenever I’ve been back home visiting my family. I have a sneaking suspicion our days of being civil have come to an end.
He tilts his hat. “Good day, Aspen.”
Despite what a rule following son of a gun he is, I can’t stop myself from watching him walk away. The way the muscles in his ass bunch as he moves should be illegal.
But it doesn’t matter how gorgeous Lyric Alston is, the man is not to be trusted. He’s a heartbreaker, and the last thing my heart needs right now is another break.