Title: A Reckless Heart
Author: Jennifer Wilck
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Meg Thurgood, former society girl, took the blame for her friend and paid a steep price. Now all she wants is solitude and a chance to rebuild her life. She thinks she's found that in an isolated house she rents from a mysterious stranger.
Simon McAlter has hidden in his house on the coast of Maine since a fire left him scarred. A successful landscape architect who conducts his business and teaches his classes remotely, he's lost his inspiration and is trying to pretend he's not lonely. Simon's new neighbor is more than he bargained for. When he learns Meg's secret, will he retreat into the shadows or will he learn to see past the surface and trust in Meg's love?
“Want to play a board game,” he asked after they ate as he loaded the dishwasher.
She arched her brow. “You have board games?”
She was right. He lived alone. Why would he have board games? His throat constricted at the memories of playing games on rainy evenings with his housekeeper, after she’d finished for the day and come here to her home. Like everyone else, she was gone, too. Only the games remained, unused in the cabinet.
Her hand was on his elbow. If he turned, he could take her in his arms... And she’d stopped talking, which meant she waited for an answer. He replayed her conversation in his mind, which he’d heard but not listened to due to the distraction of her lovely fingers. Right, board games.
“Most of the games are unused since I never have people over. Although I do play Scrabble online.”
She removed her hand. He wanted to pull it back. “Ah, so you’re good?” she said. Her voice regained the cadence he noticed today. If he were optimistic, he might think she was comfortable with him.
He closed the dishwasher and wiped the counter. “Not bad.”
“Let’s play...” She paused. When he turned to look, her gaze was focused on his hands.
Bracing himself on the counter, he took a deep breath. “We can, if you don’t mind helping me with the tiles.” The words were easier to utter than he expected, but they still left a bitter taste in his mouth.
She moved closer. “Like the nails, but without the hammer.” Her voice was gentle, and his skin warmed.
“I promise not to whack you with the tile holders.”
She bumped against him, and he smiled. “I’ll hold you to it,” she said. She cleared her throat. “My grandma taught me. I haven’t played in years, though.”
“They’re words. English. I doubt you forgot.”
She laughed. His insides warmed. He dimmed the lights in the living room, sat across from her, and arranged the board. It was tricky keeping his face from her. He focused on his tiles instead. He was a sloppy player. Unable to grasp an individual tile, he dragged them around and scooped them. He’d be lucky if he didn’t knock over his rack twelve times. Their fingers touched and sent zings of attraction along his arms. It added a whole new challenge to the game.
“So, your grandma taught you to play?” He seized on the first question he could think of, his voice raspy. “Where did she come from?”
“And you? Where do you come from?”
She knocked over her tiles.
This was new.
She fisted her hand and moved it to her lap. The unexpected motion drew his attention to her discomfort. “Oh, um...California.”
“Sorry, didn’t mean to pry.” He sighed. He’d ruined the easy mood.
She was quiet for a little, and he focused on his tiles. When it was his turn, he indicated to Meg the tiles he wanted to use. Her hands brushed his. He wanted to grab them to his lips and kiss them. He refrained. She removed the tiles from the tray, and he pushed them onto the board. B-R-A-V-E.
Her hands stilled. “So Claire told me you were raised here,” she said. “Have you lived here your entire life?”
His heartbeat raced. Why did Claire talk about him? She knew he didn’t discuss his past. Maybe it was why she mentioned it to Meg. “No.”
She played with her tiles before she put them on the board. A-V-O-I-D.
He wanted to laugh at the irony. Instead, he shook his head. He thought he heard her huff, but he couldn’t be sure.
“I can see we’re great conversationalists.” Her voice was quiet.
“Well, maybe we should start with the easy stuff first,” he said. “Like, what’s your favorite color?”
She pulled away in disbelief. “Just one? Pfft. The color of the ocean in the morning. A gray-blue with gold highlights from the sun.”
He pictured the image she painted, but added her to the mix. With her hair color, it would be stunning. He pushed his tiles onto the board. P-R-E-T-T-Y. He risked a glance her way—would she think he flirted with her? And would she like it?
She blushed. A small smile curved her lips, and he did an imaginary fist pump.
“What’s your favorite thing to do?” she asked.
He rested his hands on top of each other as he thought about her question. “Ever or during a specific time?”
His stomach tightened. Spend time with you. He shoved the thought aside. “Swim in the ocean, listen to music, create things of beauty.”
“Those are three things. I only asked for one.”
He shrugged. “You didn’t limit me.”
She added her tiles to the board. C-H-E-A-T.
“What’s your biggest regret?”
She settled into her seat. “Wow, you’re deep, aren’t you?”
“Is it a problem?”
She paused, then shook her head. “Not telling the truth.”
“You only get one question at a time.” Her hands were fisted on the table.
He wanted to reach for them and soothe her. “Says who?”
“I do.” She pointed at the board. Her proximity killed him. D-E-E-P. But he wanted to know more about her answer. “Why did you lie?”
“I didn’t have a choice, and you need to wait your turn.”
“My house, my rules.”
She stood, her body stiff, and her gaze shuttered. “I should get to bed.”
He rose from his chair. “No, wait. I didn’t mean to push you. Stay.”
She paused, her knuckles white as she grabbed onto the chair. He could almost see her try to make a decision. The seconds stretched, and when he didn’t think he could take anymore, she returned to her seat. “Fine, I’ll answer your questions. But you have to answer mine.”
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