ick Santos was the boy whom mothers in Wolf River, Texas, warned their daughters about His smile alone could charm fire from the devil, but his eyes, Lord Almighty, those eyes. Dark, mysterious eyes that all but consumed. Stay away from the likes of
boy, mothers would say with a shake of a finger. Nick Santos was trouble with a capital
He was fast, he was bad, and after twelve long, lucrative years on the motorcycle racing circuit, he was back.
No one was more surprised than Nick at his return. He thought he'd only come back to Wolf River to see his best friend, Lucas Blackhawk, get married. There certainly hadn't been any plans to stick around. Nick Santos never stuck around. Never called any place home.
But now Nick realized that even before he'd returned
to Wolf River to be Lucas's best man, something had been quietly prodding him back here. Nothing he could name, just some invisible nudge, some unexplainable force that wouldn't let him be. He'd figured that once he came back, the feeling would pass faster than a Ferrari around a ten-wheeler on the open highway.
That was six months ago. He'd not only stuck around, but at the ripe old age of thirty-three, he'd quit the racing circuit and opened up his own business: Santos Custom Cycles. Not for moneyâhe had more of that than he knew what to do with. He didn't give two whits about the bottom line on his earnings statement. He simply enjoyed making things work, taking them apart, putting them back together again better than before. Machines fascinated him, and his ability to master them gave him a rush that racing once had before he'd burned out.
He might not race anymore, but he still had a way with motorcycles that bordered on the supernatural. There was nothing that Nick couldn't make a bike do. He had “the touch,” as the old-timers would say with reverence.
Of course, women said that about Nick, too.
He'd had little time for female companionship these past six months. His business had taken off the minute word had gotten out to the motorcycle community that four-time National Championship winner Nick Santos had opened up his own shop. Customers were lining up from all across the country to have Nick customize a bike for them. He barely had time to ride himself, let alone free time for...extracurricular activities.
Standing in front of the frozen food section at Bud and Joe's Market, Nick sighed at the pathetic state of
his romantic life. He considered the invitation for dinner that Sue Ann Finley had extended a few hours ago: red wine, juicy steak, Texas-size baked potato. And dessert, she'd murmured with a throaty whisper, was a surprise. As if he couldn't guess. He thought about the attractive brunette's lush body, her big brown eyes. On a whimper, he opened the freezer door and let the blast of cold slither through his jeans and flannel shirt.
But tempting as Sue Ann's offer was, he had a carburetor to rebuild and four cylinders to bore by nine o'clock tonight if he didn't want to deal with a screaming customer tomorrow. He hadn't been able to face one more takeout hamburger or pizza, so he'd decided that a frozen dinner was as close to a home-cooked meal as he was going to get.
And what choices he had. He frowned at the freezer case. Manly Man's Fried Chicken and Mashed Potatoes. Gideon's Gourmet Cheesy Chicken Pot Pie. Chef Richard's Macho Macaroni and Cheese. Frozen was quick and easy, and within his limited realm of cooking abilities, but it was also a far cry from that juicy steak and big steaming baked potato he'd been fantasizing about.
And speaking of fantasies...
He only caught a glimpse of hair the color of fall leaves as she turned the corner, but it was enough to tempt him away from the freezer aisle for a quick peek. He snatched a bag of chocolate chip cookies from the end display, then sauntered casually around the corner.
He'd been right about the hair. Deep red, it glittered with browns and golds and tumbled loosely around the shoulders of her cream silk blouse. Her waist would fit a man's hands perfectly, but then, so would her slender
hips and rounded bottom. The snug coffee-brown slacks she wore more than suggested long, curvy legs.
She stood no more than four feet away, in front of a six-foot-tall, circular display of canned green beans, a bright blue hand basket in the crook of her arm, her back to him as she studied a list in her hands.
Who was she? he wondered, moving closer as he feigned interest in a shelf of dried fruit. She couldn't live in Wolf River, he definitely would have spotted this woman before if she did.
He grabbed a bag of dried noodles from the end of the shelf so he could move closer, and that's when he caught her scent. Feminine. Seductive. Incredibly enticing. He reached for a bag of elbow macaroni and inched closer still.
, he prayed silently, anxious to see if the face matched the body.
And then she did turn around.
He forgot to breathe as he stared at her. The heartshaped face absolutely went with the body. Porcelain skin, upturned rosy lips, large expressive moss-green eyes that slowly lifted and looked at him.
When their eyes met, she went still. Her skin paled as she stared back.
She recognizes me
, he thought with smug confidence, then flashed the smile that had graced more than a few celebrity sports pages and conquered even the most resistant female.
“Hi,” he said with smooth charm. She seemed immobilized, and he took that as a positive sign. “I'm Nick Santos.”
Her eyes widened at his introduction, then her lips moved, but no sound came out. Without warning, she
whirled and ran smack dab into the tower of green beans.
The tower crumbled with a loud clatter. The woman went down with it; cans spilled over her, then rolled across the aisle in every direction.
Geez, he'd had all kinds of reactions from women, but never one quite like this.
Dismayed, Nick set his groceries down and knelt beside her. “Are you all right?'
She nodded, but refused to look at him, just waved him off. When he took hold of her shoulders to pull her up, she jumped in his hands as if he'd burned her.
“Maggie! Are you all right?”
George Kromby, the store manager and former high school classmate of Nick's, came running down the aisle, his white apron flapping like wings around his short, round body.
She glanced up sharply, and the look on her flushed face, one of utter despair and complete terror, baffled Nick. Certainly she wasn't afraid of him, was she? He didn't even know the woman.
Or did he?
There suddenly seemed something vaguely familiar about her, though he couldn't pinpoint what it was. The scent of her perfume and the feel of warm silk under his hands was making it difficult to concentrate.
“Maggie, are you hurt?” George knelt beside them.
“Fine. I'm fine.” Her words were strained, but there was a soft, husky tone to her voice that seeped into his already heated blood. He realized that he didn't want to let her go, but she twisted away from him and stood on her own. “I'm sorry, George. I wasn't watching where I was going.”
“I told Rickie that display was too high.” George fussed over her, gathering up her purse and basket as he criticized the clerk who'd built the skyscraper of green beans. Nick realized that the manager was just as captivated with the redhead as he was. Nick frowned at George, sending mental warnings that he'd seen her first.
“It was my fault completely. Please forgive my clumsiness.” Maggie smoothed the front of her slacks, then flashed George a smile that made him blush to the roots of his thinning brown hair. “I'm sorry, but I've got to get home.”
Without so much as a glance at Nick, she turned and disappeared down the soup aisle.
“Tell Mrs. Smith I said hello,” George called after her.
That woman, Maggie, was skinny little Margaret Smith, with the ragtop red hair and big glasses?
The last time he'd seen her was twelve years ago, just before he'd left Wolf River. He'd been working at the machine shop, and she'd come in with her father who'd needed the pistons of his 1956 Chevy bored. Nick had been twenty-one at the time, so she must have been about sixteen or seventeen. Margaret was the shyest girl he'd ever met. He'd always said hello to her, and she'd always mumbled a hello back, but never once did she actually look at him.
Obviously she was as shy now as she'd been growing up. She
wouldn't look at him, he thought to his annoyance, but he'd certainly looked at her. He just couldn't believe what he'd seen. Little Margaret Smith,
with a killer body and gorgeous face. If that didn't beat all.
Her perfume lingered in the air, and it suddenly dawned on Nick that both he and George were still staring in the direction of the aisle she'd vanished down.
Nick gave the other man a friendly slap on the back. “Hey, George, let me give you a hand here with these cans.”
“What?” George blinked, then looked at Nick. “Oh, ah, that's all right, Nick. I'll take care of it.”
“No problem.” Nick bent and reached for a can. “So, how are Mr. and Mrs. Smith?” he asked casually. “They still living over on Belview Avenue?”
Nodding, George scooped up several cans and began to stack them. “Mr. Smith went in for knee surgery last week. Maggie flew in from New York yesterday to give her mom a hand.”
So that's why he hadn't seen her before, Nick realized. She'd just got into town. Bad for Mr. Smith's knee, but good for him, Nick thought. “New York, huh? She work there?”
“Mrs. Smith says she's a journalist with some big newspaper.” George took pride in his job and meticulously straightened the cans to line up the labels. “Has her own column and everything.”
Nick spotted a credit card lying under a pile of cans and picked it up. “Margaret Hamilton.” Damn. She was married. “That must be her husband I saw waiting out front. Big guy with blond hair?”
“Maggie's divorced.” George glanced over his shoulder and frowned. “You fishin', Nick?”
Nick resisted the urge to grin at the good news, then slipped the credit card in his shirt pocket. “Nah, not
me, pal. Too busy for females right now.” Nick winked at George. “But you know how that is.”
“Yeah, right.” George rolled his puppy-dog eyes. “Just last night I had to tell Cindy Crawford I'd have to get back to her.”
“Iris Sweeney will be disappointed to hear that,” Nick said, deciding that a little matchmaking for George would not only boost the man's ego, but keep him from looking in other directions.
Nick nodded. “Just last week I heard her say you have the best-looking produce section she's ever seen.”
“No kidding?” George said with a quick grin, then cleared his throat and gave a reserved shrug of his shoulders. “I am rather proud of the organic vegetable display.”
“As you should be.” Nick hadn't seen a vegetable in weeks. Unless you counted tomatoes on pizza or lettuce on hamburgers. He doubted they were organic, though. On an impulse he snatched up two cans of green beans. “Gotta run, George. See you around.”
“Try a can of mushroom soup and cheese with those beans,” George called after him. “They make a great casserole.”
Five minutes later, his shopping done, carburetor and pistons forgotten, Nick roared out of Bud and Joe's parking lot and headed for Belview Avenue.
Nick Santos was back.
Still in a daze, Maggie had driven back to her parents' house and squeezed her compact rental into the garage beside her father's yacht-size 1977 Buick. The radio blasted a loud, heavy-metal song that she never
would have listened to under ordinary circumstances, but she'd been too shaken to even notice the earpiercing noise. She shut off the engine, but a loud roar still pounded in her head.
Nick Santos was back.
She wouldn't have believed it, except for the fact that he'd spoken to her and touched her.
, she closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. He'd actually touched her.
She was still too much in shock to even be embarrassed that she'd dived head first into a display of green beans and landed on her bottom. So much for conquering her childhood awkwardness, she thought dismally. So much for her five years as a confident, assertive journalist. One look at Nick Santos and it all went out the window.
If there was one person Maggie never expected to see againâone person she never
to see againâit was Nick Santos.
What was he doing here? She pressed her forehead to the steering wheel and let the wave of panic wash over her. Nick had left Wolf River twelve years ago, two years before she'd gone off to Boston for college. He'd become an overnight success with his racing. The media loved him, not only for his good looks and charm, but for his involvement with charities. She even remembered that several years ago he'd done a magazine spread for a blue jeans company and donated his endorsement to a children's charity.