“Hey! What’d that sign ever do to you?”
One rock had already flown forward, dinging the corner, leaving a permanent mark in the painted ivy border that danced around the edge. Allie Dean jerked around, ready with her last piece of stone ammunition, half thinking of throwing it at the person who had interrupted her.
Until she saw who it was.
Oh, hell. Duncan Henry.
Of all the people she’d thought would leave Tempest on the first bus, Duncan Henry would have been at the top of the list. He was bound for bigger things, he’d always said, than this little spittoon of a town.
“So, are you mad at the sign or just looking for some target practice?” he asked.
“Darts,” Allie said, thinking fast, swiping at her face, erasing the tears as he approached. All six-foot-two of him, lean and rugged. Dark hair with piercing blue eyes set off by the blue in his shirt. He had a way of walking, of commanding each step, that flipped a switch in Allie. A switch she’d thought she’d turned off the minute she’d left Tempest.
Obviously, it had just been waiting for Duncan to walk back into her life.
“Darts?” he said.
“Yeah. I couldn’t resist the urge to hit a few bull’s-eyes.” She hid the second stone behind her back, her face hot.
Yeah, that was believable, considering the Swiss cheese she’d made of the welcome sign. If she hoped to make her time in Tempest work, she’d better beef up her lie-telling skills.
“New in town?”
She smiled. Friendly, out-of-town kind of smile. “Just arrived today.”
He considered her for a moment. Did he recognize her? She waited, heart beating, but no recognition dawned in his blue eyes.
“If you’re done beating up the sign,” he said, jerking his chin toward the stones littering the grass in the shadow of the sign, “would you, ah, be interested in getting a cup of coffee? I could show you around, give you the scoop,” he gestured toward the sign’s footnote, “no pun intended.”
Allie had to look twice to be sure she saw interest in Duncan Henry’s eyes, not the same twisted joke he’d played on her at the senior prom. The whole “pretend I’m interested and then dump the fat chick in the middle of Trig” thing.
But no, it was real, impossible-to-miss attraction. The kind that stirred an answering heat in her veins, the tribal music of desire.
In the last five years, she had met men—many of them—who had wanted to date her. Take her to bed.
Some even wanted to marry her. She’d dated several. Married one. And over the years, her confidence had built until she could handle herself pretty damned well in the male-female sexual dance.
But none of those men had lived in Tempest, Indiana.
And none of them had been Duncan Henry.
The only guy who had ever been nice to her at Tempest High. The only one who had made her believe that maybe—
maybe he’d cared no matter what she looked like.
“Uh…coffee?” she said.
“Yeah. Hot beverage, lots of caffeine, little nutritional value.” He grinned, the same familiar sexy grin that had flipped her stomach in high school every time he’d sat beside her in Algebra II or Trig and marveled over her ability to whip through an equation. Told her she was smart. Good with numbers. His saving grace.
That had been his nickname for her.
The memory hit her, fast, quick, darting in, overriding the pain of his senior-year betrayal. “Hey, Grace, how are you?” A smile, then him sliding in beside her, his book next to hers, two peas, same pod. Pencils twinning, her heart slamming in her chest, wondering if he would ever want more from her than help figuring out what X was.
She looked at him now and realized the power of his smile hadn’t dimmed over time. Something tingled in Allie’s gut and the first few words she meant to say got lost somewhere between her throat and her mouth. “Coffee sounds…good.”
No it doesn’t. She wouldn’t fall for Duncan Henry again like she had when she’d been twelve and trying on hormones with her training bra. She wanted closure. To show she was way beyond all that crap that had happened years ago.
Back in L.A., she’d told herself she was going to Tempest to find extras, to scout out a spooky house for the opening scene, a cornfield for the climactic moment. But she’d lied.
She’d come here for revenge. For a comeuppance.
And to prove to every resident of Tempest that losing one hundred and seventy pounds had made her into someone totally different. Someone who didn’t need the approval of a single damned soul in Tempest, Indiana.
Especially not Duncan Henry.
“There’s a diner right down the street,” Duncan said, “about five blocks—”
“Margie’s,” Allie finished, forgetting to play it dumb.
“You’ve been here before? Do you live in Tempest?” He bent forward, studying her, and for a second, Allie held her breath, sure that he would see past the size six dress and see the size twenty-six she used to be. That he wouldn’t see big green eyes deepened by colored contacts, but plain hazel ones hidden behind dark-rimmed glasses. That he’d miss the sleek blond hair, and instead glimpse the mousy, curly brown.
That he would see three times the woman before him, and that he would turn away—
But he didn’t. No spark of recognition showed in Duncan Henry’s blue eyes.
“No. I, ah, saw the sign advertising it on the road back there.” That much was true. The faded, peeling wooden billboard still read Margie’s Eats—Come In and Dine on a Dime. A friendly, perpetually young woman, presumably Margie, was smiling and holding a pie beside the words. Margie’s husband Dick had painted that sign back in nineteen seventy-four and it had stayed there, on the outskirts of town, ever since. Never getting a touch-up or a change, although Margie herself had always gone into the Curl Up ‘N’ Dye for regular tune-ups. Allie doubted anything on Margie’s menu went for a dime—if it ever had. There was no truth in advertising, at least not in Tempest.
People who met the real Margie, who had all the warmth of a porcupine getting a rectal exam, found that out pretty quick.
“I’ll take my car and follow you.” Allie sent him a smile, a little helpless-girl wave of her hand.
She needed the time to clear her head. Get out of the “Duncan Henry is the cutest thing on the entire planet” thinking and back into “I am a capable woman who is here for a purpose” mode.
“Sure.” Duncan tossed her another grin, then headed back behind her rented Taurus, climbing into a black Miata. He zipped away from the shoulder, spitting pebbles in his wake.
Allie turned back toward the welcome sign. She raised her arm, closed one eye. She let loose the last rock in her fist, watching with satisfaction as it landed squarely in the middle of the word Tempest, compressing the circle of the p like a well.
“Take that, Duncan Henry.” Then she climbed in her car and did the exact same thing he’d done to her seven years ago.
Blew him off.