Chapter 1, Play For Me
The screen door howled a rusty scream as Maisie pushed it open with her butt. She held a glass of lemonade in one hand and a huge chocolate chip cookie in the other, and forgot to use her foot to catch the offending door before it slammed shut. The resulting boom rattled the doorframe and her spine, and echoed up and down the quiet residential street.
She spun around and peered back inside the house, where Grandpa and Grandma were sitting side by side on the couch in the front room, doing their daily crossword puzzle together. They hadn't even flinched.
"You still haven't gotten the front door fixed?" Maisie asked.
Grandma finally looked up. "What was that?"
"I haven't been here in six years but I remember the screen door doing this back then. Why haven't you gotten it fixed?"
Looking at the peeling green paint around the windows, and the cracked, uneven driveway, maybe she shouldn't have been so direct. But come on, all this took was a little oil and a screwdriver.
Grandpa barely glanced over the top of his glasses. "To keep out burglars."
The absolute quiet of Gleann, New Hampshire pressed at Maisie's back. "What burglars?"
She blinked. "I don't get it."
He waved the gnarled hand that clutched a pen—because true crossword devotees only did them in pen—in her direction. "Nobody's ever going to try to sneak in with that noise."
"No one uses the front door anyway," Grandma added, "so we don't even notice."
"That doesn't make any—never mind." Maisie shook her head with a smile and headed over to the swing dangling near the porch stairs. The huge old house was wrapped in a wide porch; the stairs leading down to the yard were set in the far corner under a turreted peak, and the front door sat on the opposite end.
The familiarity of the swing came back to her in an instant. She sat eating the still-warm cookie, toeing the swing into gentle motion, and gazing down the tree-lined street in the historic 1800s-era neighborhood of the mountain town where she'd spent her early adolescent years.
So much had stayed exactly the same, but so many other things had changed. Things like the fact the massive company headquarters her own father had been instrumental in building was now a shell of glass and steel sitting on the outskirts of town.
The Hemmertex executives and their families were gone, taking with them an uncomfortable class divide she recalled so vividly. It's what had caused problems for her all those years ago—the partitioning of the monied, new, non-Scottish residents of Gleann, and the middle- and working-class families descended from the Scots who'd founded the town over two centuries ago.
It hadn't mattered that her father had grown up in Gleann; his wife and daughter were expected to be part of the new class. The "better" class. Maisie rolled her eyes at the memory.
Coming back to Gleann after college graduation to stay with her grandparents was not at all what she'd expected to be doing at this point in her life...but it was exactly what she needed.
A fresh start. A renewed focus.
She'd work at the Stone Pub for a couple of months, save up some money, work on her resume, and then find her career direction.
And absolutely no boys. Or guys. Or men. Nobody with a penis, actually.
This summer she was becoming a nun. Except for that whole religion part.
Ah yes, tiny Gleann was perfect for that.
More rocking, more eating and sipping. Then the giant rumble of an approaching vehicle punctured the sleepy Saturday morning.
A huge white pickup truck rolled down the street, its engine as loud as a taxiing airplane. It pulled into the driveway across from Grandma and Grandpa's Victorian house, then reversed and parked in front of the cute, vacant bungalow with the stone facade and overgrown front yard.
Green lettering stenciled on the side of the truck read MacDougall Landscape Design. There could be only one MacDougall in this town and that was Leith, Gleann's golden child—the older boy Maisie and all her friends had giggled and fawned over when they were eleven.
The truck engine cut and after a second the driver stepped out. It was not Leith MacDougall.
Thick black work boots. Black T-shirt with the sleeves ripped off, displaying arms with smooth, cut muscle and a deep tan. Baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes, the bill curled and frayed. His brown hair was on the longer side, a couple inches sticking out the back and covering his ears.
Of all the cursed things...There were not supposed to be hot guys in Gleann.
She told herself to stop looking, to put down the cookie and drink, to swallow back the sexual interest that was like a damned instinct, and go back inside. But she didn't.
The guy ambled to the back of the Bronco. Stained, worn jeans with a missing back pocket. He had a fantastic ass. Because of course he did.
And because she'd never been able to listen to herself, she quietly set down the lemonade and the cookie on the porch, and peered over the top of the hedges lining the wooden railing.
He flattened the hatch of his truck and reached inside, pulling out a wheelbarrow and a shovel. His T-shirt rode up a bit. His jeans dipped down. There was a hip bone and a glimpse of flat belly, and she groaned because that spot on a guy's body was her weakness.
He balanced the shovel in the wheelbarrow and rolled them both into the front yard of the bungalow, slightly favoring one leg. The truck now blocked her view. That would just never do.
She slid silently off the porch swing. Dropped to her hands and knees. And crawled toward the corner steps. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! She'd been strong for, like, two weeks, but now she simply couldn't help herself. If she could creep halfway down the steps and hide herself behind that one bush, she could pull down a few branches and get a good view of him as he stood in the middle of the yard, surveying the weed-filled flower beds along the foundation.
So that's exactly what she did.
He reached up and adjusted his cap, turning it backward. The movement bunched the muscles in his arms. Holy crap, this guy was hot. As he turned around in a slow circle, assessing the yard, she got an even better view of his face. Her age, just about. Perfect.
Wait. No. It wasn't.
She cringed, told herself to stand up and walk away. Damn fool body and brain, always wanting what was bad for them.
She moved aside another branch and continued to stare. Just looking, she reasoned. Nothing was going to happen. It was impossible for her to do something stupid. He didn't even know she was there.
There was something familiar about his face though, something she couldn't place. Had she known him once, before she'd been sent away from Gleann?
His hair was cool, the way it curled around his neck and the underside of the cap. It was surfer hair, here in the middle of the dry mountains. The kind of hair you could run your fingers through when his head was between your legs...
Oh Jesus, she had to stop. This summer was about getting away from the mistakes of her past, for figuring out her future. This summer was about taking care of Grandma and Grandpa—
As if on cue, the screen door on the far end of the porch screamed open and slammed shut. Through the porch railing and a small bald patch of branches, she could see Grandpa standing there scratching his head, making his white hair go all crazy. "Maisie?" he shouted.
The hot guy across the street looked up from where he'd stretched a tape measure down one section of grass. The metal tape snapped back into the holder and he called out, "Rafe? You okay?"
Shit. She was trapped. Caught on the steps out of her grandpa's sight while in a prime—and obvious—spying position.
"Yeah, I'm okay," Grandpa called back. "Just looking for Maisie."
Double shit. The landscaping guy jogged across the street and hopped up onto her grandparents' front yard. "Rafe." His voice was calm, but there was clear worry underneath it. "Didn't Maisie leave town years ago?"
She froze. How did this guy know that?
"No, no," Grandpa said, "she's back for the summer."
The hot guy halted on the grass. Just stopped walking like he'd hit a glass wall. "She is?"
He was less than ten feet from her now, just on the other side of the bush, hands in his pockets, looking up at her grandfather on the porch.
"She's helping me out at the Stone." Grandpa started walking toward the steps to go down to the yard. Oh no. "What're you doing across the street? Someone finally buy the place?"
"Yeah. Leith did."
"Really?" Shuffling old man footsteps getting closer. "A bona fide celebrity living across the street from me—Oh, there you are, Maisie."
She squeezed her eyes shut, willing this whole scene to just go poof. But when she opened them back up, there was Grandpa, holding his coffee mug, staring down at her, and saying in that too-loud old man voice, "What're you doing on the steps?"
(c) 2014 Hanna Martine