…Probably because the creep liked the thought of my slaving over a hot stove.
And other places I refused to imagine.
I had no place to prep. Most of my counters were crowded with too many papers and folders. They were the final piece in my puzzle—the crown of my yearlong investigation of Nolan that would prove his involvement in the fire. It took a while to find, but I finally had the blueprints, plans, and engineering schematics Nolan commissioned for my shop. The plans were delivered the week he made the offer on my property. Public record was a funny thing, and having a former classmate on the inside of the busiest engineering firm in the county helped when I needed more information.
The engineers designed plans for Nolan’s renovation and reconstruction of Sweet Nibbles from bakery to a trendy bed-and-breakfast. If nothing else, the plans were presumptuous, the makings of a man used to getting what he wanted when he wanted it. Had I agreed to the sale, he’d have taken his first reservation for the inn the night I signed the transfer. But I refused him and his perverted proposal, and my store burned to the ground.
I spun sugar for a living, but when the licorice whip needed to crack, I was all business. It took me a year, but I’d prove Nolan belonged behind bars. Then, nothing would stop me from getting my shop back.
Except a knock at the door.
I dove over the papers, shoving them in the first available hiding space…which happened to be my refrigerator. I edged the milk and a couple containers of yogurt out of the way and jammed my future legal case beside the week-old lunch meat.
Damn, Delta. It was just like her to be too sweet to let me spend a weekend alone. She stayed with me every Friday since the break-up, since the trials started and he was gone. I loved having her around, but tonight was a date with two dozen oatmeal raisin cookies before moving to nut horns and the pecan tassies before the…
The knocking thudded louder, insistent. A fist punished the door frame. I bit my lip.
That wasn’t Delta.
I edged close, flinching as the pounding shook the door. Almost angry.
But who would be angry? My stomach clenched. The reaction was ridiculous. Nothing bad ever happened in our sugar-starved little town.
Nothing except arson.
Nothing except almost losing my life in a terrible fire.
But who was counting?
The slamming practically jarred my teeth. Something wasn’t right. I should have dialed the police or called someone for help.
Instead, I opened the door and made the biggest mistake of my life.
He waited on my porch. Silent. Staring.
Maddox was free.
And he’d come for me.
Chapter Two – Josie
Nothing I did could save me from him now.
My breath caught somewhere between my chest and the imagined words I’d whispered to him in the worst moments of my loneliness.
The last time I saw Maddox, the police were shoving him into their cruiser. The EMTs hid me in the ambulance. I didn’t remember much. My shop was burning. Granddad was already in transit. And the love of my life stared at me, his eyes blazing as fierce and hot as the flames that consumed my world.
He’d saved me from the fire.
And then they took him to jail.
Maddox stood in my doorway, as huge and intimidating as I remembered. His leather jacket clung to his body, so much bigger than the last time I saw him. He’d bulked up in jail. Massively. The town feared him when he was just lean muscle and attitude. Now he grew silent and imposing.
He was still the most amazingly beautiful man I’d ever seen.
And he couldn’t be here. Not now. Not when I was so close. It’d ruin everything and jeopardize everyone.
Tears prickled my eyes, but not out of relief. Not because my fractured heart healed itself as the man who controlled its every beat replaced the scattered pieces with the only thing more dangerous than his presence.
If he was back, then none of us were safe.
“Maddox?” I didn’t recognize my voice. Didn’t recognize the word on my lips.
It wasn’t possible.
But I was so glad it was…and I was terrified of what would happen.
Maddox’s voice seared through me, igniting everything I’d buried deep down, hidden in ash and misery. The word sizzled through me. Hot.
If fire came to life, it’d take the form of Andrew Maddox. Someone violent when uncontrolled, beautiful when tamed, and unpredictable and strong, even as the world attempted to extinguish it.
Once upon a time…his touch warmed my every chill. The intensity of his stare could suck the air from the room. In his darkest moments, his midnight eyes trapped me in desire.
Then, I never wanted to be apart from him. Now, I couldn’t let him near. Losing him wasn’t a punishing burn. That loneliness was cold. I lived in isolation and longed for the strike of a match.