It’s all fun and games…until someone’s heart is broken.
They’re not kids anymore, but Milo Caro is certain that Colton Mathews will only see her as his best friend’s little sister for the rest of their lives. After all, he made that clear the night before she left for college. But four years later, her brother is getting married and Colt’s the best man—and guess who is the best man’s last-minute date?
Milo vows to use the wedding to either claim the smoldering firefighter’s heart or douse this torch for good. When Max—her best friend from college, who may be carrying a torch of his own—crashes the party, they devise a plan to make Colt see what he’s missing. But after Colt catches on, he decides to cook up his own revenge.
Now it’s personal. Colt and Milo are at war, and between Max’s questionable acting methods, an unfortunate trip to jail, and a maniacal fiancée, what could possibly go right?
“I can’t believe you’re really going to college, Milo.” Colton’s teasing smile flashed right in front of me, rendering me temporarily blind. Man, he was beautiful. His normally dark-brown hair had shots of gold from the summer sun. Dimples peeked out from his mega-white smile and I was pretty confident that I saw a twinkle in his green eyes meant just for me. He’d been home for two months since graduation and was already off saving the world one fire at a time. I watched his full lips curve around the mouth of his Corona. He and my brother Jason had organized a going-away party for me. Apparently me getting accepted into NYU was a big deal: they’d even gone so far as to get a Star Wars–themed cake from Dairy Queen and a princess tiara that said “Pretty” across it. It was always their joke with me. I was a complete and total tomboy—I loved picking fights and getting muddy—yet still demanded they treat me like a princess.
With a sigh I leaned back on the picnic blanket and looked up at the stars. My crown fell to the side of my head, causing my hair to fall all over my face. The party had been over for a few hours, leaving me, Colt, and Jason. I should have been happy: after all, who does that for their little sister? What brother would even care? Furthermore, the fact that it had all been Colt’s idea, someone who wasn’t even family, was huge. But . . . maybe that’s the part that left me feeling empty. I might as well be family to Colton. I was the little sister he’d never had—and secretly, I’d always wanted to be so much more.
“Aw, you messed up your hair,” Colton teased, lifting the crown with the tip of his finger and giving me a sexy wink.
“Whatever shall I do?” I huffed.
“I’ll save you.” His voice was just above a whisper. “I’ve always wanted to save a princess.”
“You did.” My grin was huge. “You saved me a least a hundred times when we were little—slew the dragon at the top of the stairs and did it all without getting a scratch.”
“Messy job.” He let out a long, exaggerated sigh. “I don’t know how I made it to my twenty-first birthday without getting singed.”
“Donald didn’t breathe fire. He was a fireless dragon, remember?”
“Oh, right.” His eyes twinkled. “How is the old dragon anyway?”
I shrugged and chewed on my lower lip. “Haven’t been in the attic since you guys left for school. I’ve been busy.”
“Too busy to play?”
I rolled my eyes. “Too busy graduating to play, yeah.”
“Where’s the fun in that?”
“Fun.” I snorted. “The last time I had fun was when we snuck into your parents’ pool and—” I clamped my mouth shut before the words could tumble out on their own. Crap. Crap. Crap.
“Skinny-dipped.” He finished my thought. “Yeah, that was a blast.”
“Hey, guys!” Jason called as he ran out of the house. “Dad needs me to grab Mom from work so I’ll be right back! Don’t do anything fun without me! I mean it!”
The loud roar from his truck drowned out our conversation for a brief second and then slowly dissipated as the vehicle barreled down the driveway.
“You thinking what I’m thinking?” Colton asked.
If his thoughts were along the line of finally getting him alone, away from my brother? “Absolutely.” I grinned as he grabbed my hand and helped me off the blanket.
“Come on. Let’s go have fun.”
Curious, I followed Colt as we ran through a few backyards and finally ended up at his house.
“What are we doing?” I asked in a hushed voice.
“Having fun.” I swear his grin made my heart almost stop. “Now strip, Milo, we don’t have all night and Jason’s going to be pissed he isn’t with us.”
Laughing, I took off my shirt and shorts—I’d spent years swimming with the guys in my sports bra and underwear, though as we got older it became weird, but only on my end. It felt strange to strip down to nothing, knowing that my feelings for Colton were very real whereas his were nonexistent. I mean, it was Colton. Sure, I had a crush on him, but he never, ever thought of me that way. Ever.
“Last one in’s a rotten—”
I didn’t hear him finish—but I did beat him into the water. His mom and stepdad’s pool was always my favorite place to swim. It had a little waterfall in the deep end that you could swim under that always made me think of fairy tales and the movies. Then again, that could be because every time I broke through the water it was Colton’s face I saw, and his smile that drew me. He was my own personal Prince Charming.
Laughing, Colton splashed around, then hauled himself out of the pool and did a cannonball right by my face. I was glad that it was dark—I must have been beet-red. Man, the guy was ripped.
“Wanna race?” he asked, out of breath.
“Wanna lose?” I countered.
“Um, it’s an everyday occurrence.” I swam over to the edge. “Ready, set—”
“—go!” He ran instead of swam and then dove under water.
Bastard! Arms burning, I tried to make it to the other end of the pool. I usually didn’t open my eyes under water, but this time I did to see where I was going.
His body was a blur in front of me. All I saw was hard-lined muscle.
I stopped right in front of him and jumped to the surface. “You cheated.”
“I like to call it winning.” He beamed triumphantly.
“Cheating.” My teeth ground together as I pushed against his chest. Laughing, he fell backward, pulling me with him. Our bodies ground together, heat against heat, skin against skin.
And suddenly sneaking away from Jason wasn’t funny anymore.
Neither of us was laughing.
His hands moved from my waist slowly up my body until they rested on my face. With a curse he pulled my head toward his. “We should . . .”
“Yeah,” I whispered.
Neither of us pulled away.
His lips brushed mine, just enough to make me strain toward him—I needed him like I needed air.
“Kids!” His stepdad’s voice rang through the night air. “You out here making noise?”
Colton pushed me away and I nearly hit my head on the waterfall rocks.
“Yeah, just . . . hanging out!” Colton called. “I’m with Jason’s sister.”
I froze. He’d never called me that before. He even said it in such a final way, as if that was all I would ever be. Period. My heart didn’t just sink . . . it shuddered, then combusted, as all the hopes I’d harbored since I was thirteen came to a crushing world-altering halt. My suspicions were finally confirmed. Out loud. On the day the boy I liked had thought enough to throw me a party.
The line had been drawn. And I might as well be on the other side of the universe.
That was the day I lost Colton Mathews—forever.
Four years later
I gripped the steering wheel with both hands. Actually, I would have gripped it with my teeth, toes, and ankles had my brain actually fired fast enough to send the message: Red alert! Red alert!
Instead, mouth dry, I just sat there like an idiot.
I couldn’t think of anything to say to make it better—anything. I couldn’t even give the guy a smile, which really was a shame considering it was my best asset.
“Milo!” Colton tapped the door of my light-blue Mercedes. “You look good.”
I blinked. Well, I thought I blinked, I wasn’t really sure. The car was still running, you’d think I would at least have enough sense to take my foot off the pedal and put it into park, but all I could do was stare. Fantastic. Twenty-one years old and still dealing with sweaty palms because Colton Mathews had said my name.
One thing I was sure of—my mouth was still hanging slightly ajar. Drool would soon follow and then Colton would have just one more reason to make fun of me—Jason’s little sister.
“You all right?” He leaned his muscled forearms against the open window and stuck his head in. Merciful God in heaven, he still smelled the same. His spicy cologne blending with his perfect tan skin would have made any girl pause, or swallow her tongue, or sweat; really, take your pick. “You do realize at some point you need to turn off the car and go inside the house, right, little girl?”
And there it was, I wasn’t any girl. To Colt, I was Jason’s little sister. Nothing more.
It didn’t matter that my boobs cheerfully filled out a C cup or that I’d had my braces off for over seven years. I still wasn’t a woman to him.
God must have taken pity on me, because for some reason, in that instant, when the smell of Acqua Di Gio floated into my car, I snapped out of my insane moment and smiled.
“Fine. Great. Awesome. Perfect. You?” Too many answers, Milo. Too many answers.
Colton chuckled. It was a deep chuckle. The type that makes girls sigh while simultaneously trying to figure out how to get out of their clothes and trap the man into marriage. Seriously. His smile was one that made girls want the condom to break.
Great, now I was thinking about condoms.
Condoms and Colton.
A barking dog interrupted my sexual daydreams. It was Max’s ringtone. “Um, one second.” I put up my finger and shooed Colton away from the window as I pressed “Answer” and let the window close. He smiled, seemingly amused, and leaned against the car.
“How goes the first day of childhood hell, my friend?”
“That depends,” I whispered into the phone, not taking my eyes off Colton as he stood facing the window. He was tall enough that I was basically staring at his lower abs and lower . . . body. Heat flooded my face, informing me without a doubt that crimson decorated my cheeks.
“Why are we whispering?” asked Max, my best friend from college.
“Because we are in the car.”
“You are in the car. I’m at Starbucks.”
“Whatever,” I conceded with a snort, waving my hand in the air flippantly. “And it’s not going well. In fact, I’m pretty sure Colton thinks I have a learning disability.”
“Why would he think that?”
I sighed into the phone and tried to concentrate on anything but the fact that Colton was standing a few inches away from me. So freaking close. “I kind of, sort of . . . blacked out when he was talking to me.”
“So where are you now?”
“We’ve established this. I’m in the car.”
Max sighed. “Then where’s Colton?”
“Outside the car.”
“I’m an idiot.” I groaned and smacked my hand against my forehead. “When the phone rang I closed the window to answer it but now he’s not moving.”
“Well . . .” Max cleared his throat. “I guess there are worse things in life than a hot guy standing outside your window, right?”
“Right.” My voice wavered. “But he’s like facing the door. All of him.”
“All of him?”
“His parts,” I clarified. Swear I felt my entire body go up in flames. Great, so now I was going to hell for looking at his parts. His very nice parts. His yummy, tight, straining—I needed to stop before I gave myself a stroke. “He’s facing the window and leaning against the car and I swear, Max, the whole front of his body is pressed up against . . . my car.”
“What?” I yelled.
“Well, you said his parts.”
“Not his parts-parts,” I clarified. Shoot me now. Could this conversation get any more awkward? “Never mind, I mean—oh, crap.”
“What? What’s happening?”
I could see Max now, coffee thrust in the air, pacing the Starbucks floor like a crazy person.
“He’s stretching across the car and—” I stopped mid-sentence. “Shit, my brother’s on the other side.”
“Let me get this straight.” Max chuckled. “You have your lifelong crush, who just so happens to be your brother’s best friend, on one side, his parts pressed firmly against your hot little Mercedes, and your brother, who has no idea of this sad infatuation, on the other side, making it possible for you to ogle his best friend’s goodies?”
“Yup.” My breathing picked up as I heard Colton laugh and then his front pressed against my door. “Good Lord, I’m sweating. He’s—”
“Please don’t finish that sentence. It makes me want to puke, and as much as you make fun of me for not having a girlfriend, it’s not because I prefer men, so please . . . spare me the details.”
“What?” My eyes were glued to Colton’s hot body as his stomach stretched across an eight-pack straight out of a glossy magazine cover.
“With what?” I whisper-yelled. “I have nothing to offer him!”
“It’s not like I want you to plant a chocolate trail from the ground to your lips, Milo.”
“I know that!” I snapped. “Besides, he’s allergic to chocolate.”
“Please tell me you don’t have his medical history memorized.”
“I don’t,” I lied, suddenly finding great interest in the black leather steering wheel while my shame increased. “Besides, it doesn’t matter. His Facebook profile says he likes blondes. I have dark hair.”
“I’m going to ignore the fact that you stalk him on Facebook and just help you fix the problem. So dye your hair.”
“Yeah, let me just get the hair dye from the backseat, Max!”
“Sheesh, touchy. You, my friend, need to get laid.”
“Tell me about it,” I muttered. “I’m the one stuck in the damn car with nothing but my Kindle[SBK4] and a prayer.”
“Your life makes me sad.”
“Again, with what?”
“I have no body.” I slumped against the seat in a pout. “Besides, I don’t know the first thing about seduction. And he hates me.”
“He doesn’t hate you.”
“I tried kissing him when I was sixteen and he laughed in my face.”
“To be fair, your skirt was tucked into your underwear.”
“Not the point!” I yelled for real this time. Why the heck had I drunk that entire bottle of wine and confessed all my embarrassing moments to Max? The terrible two outside my car began banging loudly on the windows. Great, I’d probably captured their attention when I raised my voice. And fantastic, the car began to move. I’d officially awakened the beasts.
“I’m in hell.”
“Well . . . ” Max laughed. “Don’t let the flames give you a sunburn. I gotta run, just saw my Starbucks barista . . . I will gain a date if it kills me! Oh, and good luck. You’ll need it.”
“Right.” I clicked end and shut off the car.
Nothing was going as planned—that was for sure.
Rachel Van Dyken is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author of regency and contemporary romances. When she's not writing you can find her drinking coffee at Starbucks and plotting her next book while watching The Bachelor.
She keeps her home in Idaho with her Husband and their snoring Boxer, Sir Winston Churchill. She loves to hear from readers! You can follow her writing journey at www.rachelvandykenauthor.com