Awakening Beauty

By: Amy J. Fetzer
Chapter 1

It was moments like these that made Lane Douglas glad she'd changed her name. Elaina Honora Giovanni didn't get involved with the police. Police reports meant giving your ID and putting the incident on the blotter, and that was open season for the press.

There was one particular member of the press corps out there just waiting to read her name somewhere and come hunting like a wolf for its prey.

And something as simple as a car accident would be enough to lead him right to her.

When the sound of screeching tires, splashing water and a loud solid crunch had registered, Lane knew before she whipped around that her car was the victim.

Attacked by a low-slung, silver sports car.

The impact popped open the trunk of her car.

"Buona fortuna as usual, Elaina," she muttered to herself, dropping a box full of books on the porch of her shop, then rushing down the steps to the curb. Cold winter rain soaked through her clothes, matted her hair.

She could feel the tightly twisted bun on the top of her head sagging already.

Never good in a crisis, she looked first at the books in the trunk, then at the man still behind the wheel of his car. His loud cursing told her that he at least was uninjured. The car door opened and he climbed out, glaring at the damage before meeting her gaze.

"Are you all right?" he asked, and whipped out a cell phone.

"Fine, fine. I wasn't in the car, remember? Are you okay?" she shouted over the rain.

"Yes, dammit." He kicked the tire, then winced.

"Smart move," she said.

He smiled at her, tipping the phone away for a second. "Tyler. Tyler McKay."

She knew who he was. It was hard to live in Bradford, South Carolina, and not know the McKays. Rich, handsome and eligible didn't begin to describe Tyler. With dark hair and light-blue eyes, he was the most noticed man in town. And that wasn't even counting that long, lean body in a leather jacket and jeans.

She swung her gaze to their cars.

His hadn't fared well against hers.

The sports car looked like an accordion halfway through a song.

Then she noticed the rain pouring over the crushed metal of her trunk like a stream over rocks and dribbling onto the carton of books.

"Oh, no, my stock!"

He barely glanced at it, still talking into the phone. Then he closed the cell phone and observed, "They're ruined."

She glared at him. "Yes, thank you for pointing that out. What was your first clue?" She tried shutting the trunk, but the twisted metal refused to oblige.

He took off his jacket and like Sir Walter Raleigh, covered the books. "How's that?"

"A Band-Aid to a bleeding head wound."

"Gallantry is never appreciated."

"Perhaps when it's sincere it would be." She threw off his jacket and lifted out a soaked carton of books.

He picked up the other carton and walked behind her. "The cops will be here in a couple of minutes."

He probably pulled someone's chain for that quick service. When your family owned practically half the town, it wasn't hard. "Good." She unlocked the shop door and pushed inside.

"Look. It's my fault."

She paused at the doorway to look back at him. It was a mistake. He was too close, his front to her back, and she got a full dose of him in one flash. Vivid blue eyes pinned her, as if the chance to look at her would be snatched away any second and he needed to get in a good stare while he could. The little crinkles at the corners of his eyes spoke of countless smiles, and rainwater dripped off his dark hair onto his leather jacket.

When she caught a whiff of his warm woodsy cologne, Lane wanted to inhale deeply. Instead, she said, "The rain, the curve off Bay Street

and a slick road are to blame."

He grinned. "Does this mean I'm forgiven?" he said softly.

That smile lit something inside her and made her pulse jump hard. Her chilled skin was suddenly warmer, and ignoring the way she reacted to him wasn't as easy as she expected. He probably knew exactly the effect he had on a person. "Do you need my forgiveness?"

"No, but I'd like to have it. Being neighborly and all."

That smile came again and she hurried into the shop and set the box on the counter before looking at him again.

"Then, yes, you're forgiven. But I reserve the right to needle you." She smoothed her hair back off her face. Her glasses steamed up and slid down her nose. "Although since I didn't put any change in the parking meter, with my luck I'll be getting the ticket."

"You won't. I promise."

She arched a brow. "Falling on your sword for me? Now that's gallantry."

He smiled and Lane felt her insides shift and bow. This was so not good, she thought.

"And your name is?" he asked.

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