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Unexpectedly Yours

By:Coleen Kwan

Unexpectedly Yours - Coleen Kwan
Chapter One

The police officer tapped on Derek’s car window.

Blowing out a breath, Derek lowered the window. “Evening, Officer.” Damn. A cop pulling him over. Just what he needed on his first day back in Pine Falls.

“Driver’s license, registration, and insurance, please.”

Derek handed him the documents without a word.

“Well, well, if it isn’t Derek Carmichael.” The cop leaned in closer. He didn’t exactly look pleased.

Derek sighed. He thought he’d recognized the dour, grizzled cop. “Officer Grady. So what’ve I done this time?”

The officer frowned at him. “You ran a stop sign back there.”

“I did?” Derek blinked. “Sorry, I had a lot on my mind.”

“That’s no excuse.”

Derek’s frustration rose again. Why had he let his crotchety grandpa get to him? Grandpa Otto had never welcomed his presence, not back when his mom had dumped him here at the age of fourteen, and not today when Derek had arrived after a long drive from L.A. Otto had recently broken a bone but insisted he didn’t need Derek, that he could take care of himself just fine despite his right leg being encased in plaster. Then he’d proceeded to criticize everything Derek attempted to do for him.

“So what’re you doing back in Pine Falls?” The police officer eyed him suspiciously.

“Visiting my grandfather,” Derek said.

He’d held his tongue when his grandfather complained that he’d heated the soup all wrong, that he made too much racket in the kitchen, that he took up too much space on the couch. He’d gritted his teeth when Otto had criticized Derek’s sneakers, haircut, shirt. But then he’d started a rambling snark over Derek’s “fancy-schmancy” L.A. lifestyle now he was a TV star. That was when Derek had left the house, on the verge of losing his cool, and gotten into his SUV, hoping a drive would calm him down. Unfortunately his ride had only lasted five blocks.

It seemed fitting that the cop had pulled him over right outside the Willmetts’ house. He and Caleb Willmett had become friends in junior high when they’d both been busted for smoking behind the gym sheds. Derek soon discovered a haven at the Willmetts’, but this evening the neat, three-story house was dark and clearly no one was home.

The police officer glanced at Derek as he wrote on his pad. “You’re on that home renovation show, aren’t you? My wife watches it all the time.”

“Yeah? That’s good to know.”

“She can’t believe you’re the same teenage punk I hauled home to your granddaddy more’n a couple of times.”

Derek kept his mouth shut. He hadn’t broken the law in a while, but here in his rustic hometown in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, people had long memories.

A car coming from the opposite direction slowed as it drew level with Derek’s.

“Derek?” A shocked female voice rose in the warm summer evening.

His heart jolted as he stared at the woman in the other car. “Hannah.”

Holy Christ. Hannah. Caleb’s older sister. He hadn’t expected to see her in Pine Falls; he’d assumed she was still in Florida. But here she was in the flesh, just a few feet away, so close he could almost touch her. And he’d heard through Caleb that she wasn’t married to that jerk anymore. Something restless churned in him at the thought.

“What’s going on?” Hannah asked, still sounding faint with shock.

“Ma’am, you’re blocking traffic,” the officer grumbled, though there wasn’t another vehicle in sight.

Hannah swung her car into the driveway of the Willmetts’ house, got out, and hurried over just as Officer Grady finished writing out the citation and passed the pad to Derek for his signature.

“Have a nice day,” the officer said as he handed Derek his copy.

Yeah, right. Derek tossed aside the piece of paper as soon as the officer had walked back to his cruiser.

Hannah leaned in at the driver’s window, her eyes wide with disbelief. “Oh my God, it really is you.”

“Looks like it.” His nerves were jumping all over the place as he got out of his SUV.

She clapped a hand to her cheek. “Oh, wow. I can’t believe it.” Her bright gaze darted over him. “You look so different. So…grown up.”

He was twenty-four. He sure hoped he’d grown up. But seeing Hannah for the first time in six years, he suddenly felt like the gangly, monosyllabic teenager he’d once been around her.

The first time he’d met Hannah, she’d breezed into the kitchen like spring sunshine, wisps of dark blonde hair escaping from her ponytail, face fresh and glowing. She’d opened the oven and pulled out a freshly baked pecan pie as if by magic, and just like that he was a goner. At nineteen, she was five years his senior, in charge of the Willmett household—that consisted of Frank, her divorced dad; Caleb; and Grandpa Joe—and dating a pre-med student while holding down a job as a nursing assistant. She was way out of his league. But that hadn’t stopped him from crushing hard on her. A crush he’d kept buried all these years.

He cleared his throat. “Thanks, I think.”

She laughed. “I meant it as a compliment, silly.” She peered at him more closely and tapped her chin. “Wow, that’s some serious designer stubble you’ve got going there. Or are you trying to grow a beard?”

Trying to grow a beard? Jeez, she sure knew how to make him feel fourteen again.

He stuck out his chest. “Hey, this stuff sprouts out every day like ragweed. It’s tough keeping it under control.”

She smiled, her eyes radiant. “Well, it’s great seeing you again.”

He drank in her smile. They could have met in better circumstances, but she was here, not thousands of miles away. For the life of him, he couldn’t stop staring at her. It appeared the secret crush he’d had for her had never died, only grown stronger.

“You look good.”

She shrugged, self-deprecating as always. “So what’s with the police pulling you over?”

He ran his fingers through his hair, reluctant to tell her. “I, uh, ran a stop sign. I was kind of preoccupied.”

“I didn’t realize you were back in Pine Falls.”

“Just got in this afternoon. My granddad broke his leg last week and refuses to go to a rehab center, so I’m here to check up on him.”

“Sorry to hear that.” Crossing her arms, she studied him for a moment. “Knowing Otto, I suppose he didn’t like you trying to help. Is that why you took a drive and didn’t notice the stop sign?”

He nodded. No need to explain his grandfather to Hannah. He’d never talked about his granddad or his home life to anyone, not even to someone as sympathetic as Hannah, and she’d never tried to pry. She’d just let him be and treated him as part of the family, which was all he’d wanted.

“Do you want to come inside?” she asked. “You know my dad remarried, don’t you? He and Rosalind are away on vacation, so I’m all on my own here.”

“Yeah, sure,” he said quickly, trying not to sound too eager.

As Derek followed Hannah inside, he reflected that she sounded lonely about being in the house by herself. Well, if she wanted company tonight, he was more than happy to oblige.

She led him into the large, old-fashioned kitchen, where he automatically parked himself at the familiar pine table. This was where he’d spent a large amount of his teenage years, both he and Caleb wolfing down the food Hannah prepared for them.

She washed her hands at the sink, then headed for the refrigerator. “I’m making myself a turkey sandwich,” she said. “Want one too?”

He hadn’t eaten since midday; his grandfather’s antics had irritated his appetite away, but now he was starving. “That’d be great.” He rose to his feet. “But let me help you.”

She blinked up at him. Now that he was six foot three and one eighty pounds, Hannah seemed smaller and fragile, and he felt like a lumbering giant next to her.

“Uh, that’s okay,” she said. “You sit down. It won’t take me long to put two sandwiches together.”

He reseated himself. At least sitting at the table gave him an opportunity to study her freely. She had definitely lost a few pounds. Her loose-fitting lavender scrubs revealed a slender figure. Her wavy, mid-length, honey-colored hair was caught up in a casual ponytail, a few stray tendrils curling against the delicate curve of her nape.

She wasn’t a girl anymore, but there was a softness to her, a vulnerability that made her seem younger than before. Maybe that was because he’d grown and matured, and the five-year gap between them didn’t seem as big as before. They were both adults now, both single, and he couldn’t keep his eyes off her.

“No horse feed in your sandwich, right?” Hannah tilted her head at him.

“Huh?”

“Alfalfa sprouts. You always hated them.”

“Oh. Yeah, but I eat ’em now.”

“You do?” She raised her eyebrows. “Wow, you’ve changed. You used to think they were disgusting.”

“Hey, I even drink wheatgrass these days.”

“That’s L.A. for you. Okay, I’m putting horse feed in yours.” A minute later she set the sandwich before him. “Here you go.”

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