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Lea Coll

First in Series E-Book Bundle

First in Series E-Book Bundle

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Each book kicks off a new series! The perfect introduction to Lea's charming small towns.

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Chapter 1 - Look Inside

There was some event at the harbor
front increasing foot traffic to stores and restaurants. At the end of Main
Street, sailboats bobbed in the harbor. It was a picture-perfect view. The heart of the historic district was the perfect location for my hardware store.

I weaved around a group laughing
and talking on the sidewalk and climbed the steps to the shared porch between my store and the one next door. There was a stack of boxes and packages in front of my shop door, and I needed to get them inside before someone tripped over

A burst of satisfaction shot
through me as I unlocked the door to my store. I was proud that I owned the building. Raised by a single mother, we’d only ever rented our various apartments and duplexes.

Propping it open, the smell of
cleaning products greeted me. My side of the building had sat empty for a few months, so the first thing I’d done after settling in was clean the space and air it out.

I carried as many boxes as I could
in one load before stacking them neatly inside. Heading back outside to get another, I slammed into something soft.

“Umph.” A woman bounced off me.

I dropped the box to grab her before
she fell, my hand closing around an elbow. “Sorry about that.”

Looking down, I sucked in a breath.
Dark wavy hair, large blue eyes, and red, pouty lips.

When she was steady, I stepped back, my gaze traveling unfettered from the bottoms of her curled hair to her bulky winter jacket, to her high heels, and—what was she wearing underneath?

“You coming from a wedding?” My
gaze flew from her getup back to her face.

She startled, looking at her
outfit. She threw a thumb over her shoulder in the direction of the harbor. “I wore it for the festival.”

“What is it?”

She blinked. “A dress.”

I shook my head, confused as to why she was wearing what looked to be a bridesmaid’s dress if she wasn’t coming
from a wedding on a Saturday afternoon. “No. What’s the event?”

She tipped her head to the side.
“The Bubbles and Tulle Festival.”

Her response didn’t clarify
anything for me. All I could imagine was little girls in tutus running around a bubble machine. Not this grown woman wearing a formal dress.

My heart thumped in my chest. There was something about her eyes—her plump lips. She looked familiar. I’d expected
to run into people I knew after moving back to my hometown but not so soon.

Then I remembered—she was my former tutor—the upperclassman I’d crushed on.

“Savannah St. James.” My lip curled
over her name. The last time we spoke popped into my head clear as if it happened yesterday.

She arched a single elegant brow.
“How do you know me?”

I chuckled without any humor. She
took up all my teenage brain space back then, and it figured I didn’t register as someone she even knew.

I shouldn’t have been surprised she
didn’t remember me. She was popular and smart. I wasn’t. “I was your student. You were my tutor.”

Her eyes widened in surprise, then
slowly narrowed in recognition. “Ethan?”

“That’s right.” I was irritated
that I was still attracted to her after all these years.

“How are you?” Her voice was soft, her expression genuine.

What I wanted to say was, fine,
and grab another box. Another part of me wanted to point out she’d broken my heart that day, and I’d never been the same since. My love life had been a string of bad decisions. But I couldn’t blame it all on her when I kept looking
for love in all the wrong places.

Instead, I grunted, then walked
back into the store, determined to block her out. I could pretend we hadn’t run into each other.

“Are you the new shop owner?” Her
voice followed me inside.

Turning to face her, I crossed my
arms over my chest. “I’m the new building owner.”

“Oh,” her eyes scanned the dingy
space. Suddenly nervous, she wrung her hands in front of her. “Are you opening a store in this space?”

I barely restrained myself from
rolling my eyes like a petulant teen. “That’s the idea.”

Her eyes darted around the space,
sizing it up. “What kind of store, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“As nice as it was to catch up” —which we hadn’t done at all, and I had no intentions of doing— “I have work to do.”

She blinked again, taking a step

I tried not to focus on her beauty.
Flipping a hand at her dress, I asked, “Why are you wearing that again?”

She fingered the full skirt. “For
the festival. You get dressed up in old prom and bridesmaid dresses” —she smiled— “and a few even wore wedding dresses. There was wine and dancing.”

Her shoulders relaxed slightly, her
eyes softening.

“Doesn’t sound like a good time to
me.” If that was the sort of event Annapolis was putting on, I was questioning whether locals and tourists would appreciate my modern hardware store.

She winced. “It was fun.”

When I remained silent, she
gestured at the storefront next door and said, “My mom’s covering the shop, so I should get back.”

Her mom’s shop? I remembered
Savannah’s mom owning a store downtown, but I never knew which one.

Pressure built inside me,
threatening to boil over. I’d come back to town, investing all my savings into this building, hoping I could make my business a success to support my mother
and sister. She backed away as I stalked toward her.

She bumped up against the wall. I
rested a hand above her head.

“Lilliane’s Closet is your store?” She must not have any business sense if she thought her window front was inviting in any customers. I
wanted the neighboring store gone as badly as I wanted to raise the rent on the upstairs tenant.

As I stood close to her, the smell
of her lavender perfume filled my nose.

“I work for my mom. It’s her
store.” She looked upset by that fact. Maybe she hated her mother’s decor as much as I did.

I shouldn’t care to know anything
about her. Why was she still in town when she’d always talked about moving away during our tutoring sessions? Why was she running her mother’s business when she’d told me over my books at my mother’s kitchen table she wanted to start her own one day?

I shook my head. I shouldn’t care
about the details. I didn’t want to care about her. “It’s cluttered. I can’t
even tell what you’re trying to sell. Antiques? Knickknacks?”

I wanted to push her away. I didn’t
want to be attracted to her.

She flushed. “My mom originally
sold clothes, then expanded to other things. I don’t remember you being so grumpy when we were kids.”

“A lot’s changed since then.” I bit
my cheek, not wanting to bring up exactly how she’d hurt me the last time we’d spoken.

She folded her arms over her chest,
her worry morphing into a little bravado I admired. “What are your plans for the building?”

“I’m opening a hardware store.”

She continued, seemingly unfazed by my announcement. “What about the apartment above the store?”

“Someone’s renting it for a steal.
As soon as the lease is up, I’ll raise the rent. An apartment like this, on
Main Street, within walking distance to the bars and restaurants and the harbor front, will bring a good price.”

She paled.

“Your shop doesn’t fit in with the
others on this street.” I’d visited when the building was for sale to make sure my idea for the store meshed with the other stores. The realtor, Juliana Breslin, assured me young people were buying up the historic homes and
renovating them.

I wanted to make sure there was a
market for the higher-end hardware I intended to carry. I wasn’t sure her store would attract the clientele I was looking for.

Now that I knew it was Savannah’s,
I was doubling down on that idea. I couldn’t have her working next door. Not when the sight of her set me on edge, flooding me with memories and emotions I didn’t want to remember.

She tilted her head to the side.
“Why do I get the impression you don’t like me?”

Biting back the truth—that being
near her made me want her again—I went inside, needing space. I ripped open a box, setting it aside without looking, then grabbed the next one. It was either rip open some boxes or kiss her like I’d always wanted to.

I didn’t think she’d appreciate

She was three years older, so I
waited until I graduated from high school before making my move.

When I’d asked her out, she’d
barely looked at me before she waved me off, saying she didn’t have time. At eighteen, it was a blow to my ego. I wasn’t expecting her to say yes, but I wasn’t prepared for her rejection, either.

“I’m trying to figure out what’s
changed. I don’t understand the animosity.”

I straightened, moving to where she
stood just inside the door. Her large blue eyes tracked my progress. I gripped the door frame above her head, leaning in slightly. Her breath hitched.

 Was she as affected by my presence as I was by
hers? “What’s going on is that I own this building. I’m opening a store, and yours isn’t in good shape. It’s nothing personal. It’s business.”

I didn’t want to like her. I didn’t
want to fall back into that easy friendship—the one that had lent itself to a teenage crush. I’d keep saying that until I got it, and she did, too.

“How do you know your clients won’t like my store?”

“I can tell.” I had good business
sense, and with just one look at her window, I knew she had one of those cluttered stores that tried to sell everything instead of focusing on one theme. Businesses like that were doomed to fail next to the newer and trendier boutiques popping up around town among the bakeries, fudge stores, and ice
cream shops.

Her eyes narrowed on mine. “Why are you opening a hardware store in the middle of town?”

She imagined a large supply store—the ones that moved out of small towns years ago to expand. I still remembered when one of the Craftsman stores was on Main. I’d loved that store growing up. It was a traditional hardware store with everything you’d need for home repair without the bulk items you’d find at a box store. I intended to sell similar items, along with higher-end tools homeowners would need for their renovations.

“I don’t need your approval to open
a store.” I pressed my lips tightly together. I’d been critical of her
business, but I wasn’t prepared for her opinion of mine. I wanted her to see me as something other than being younger than her and immature. I was a man—all
grown up—and, hopefully, capable of working near her without giving in to this attraction I couldn’t seem to shake.

Her face pinched in disapproval.
“You’re not who I remember.”

“You should remember that. I have a
lot to do if I want to open in a couple of weeks.” I didn’t want her coming
over. I didn’t want to be her friend. Not when my body wanted something more. Not when I needed my business to succeed to help my mother and sister. I’d dumped
my savings into this building, and I wouldn’t let her visionless store detract from my goal.

She held up her hands, backing
away. Lifting her skirt, she turned on one heel and crossed the small porch between our doors. The door opened with a tinkle of a bell before it slammed closed.

I couldn’t believe I’d left town
before college, reeling from her easy dismissal of me, only to return and buy the building housing her store.

It was inconvenient to be so close
to her again, but surely, I could resist this attraction. I needed to focus on why I’d come back to town—my mom and sister needed me. I needed the business to
be a success and wouldn’t let anyone stand in my way. Not even Savannah St. James, who was even more beautiful and alluring than she’d been in high school.

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