With: Adriana Locke
After being burned by her dream job in New York City, sports journalist Neely Kimber suddenly finds herself jobless and paying a long-overdue visit to her hometown in Tennessee. Her plan? Relax, reset, and head back up the corporate ladder. There’s just one unexpected step. Neely’s back in Dogwood Lane for barely a day when she sees the man she ran from nine years ago: the bad boy next door who was her first kiss, her first love, and her first heartbreak.
Devoted single dad Dane Madden knows he hurt Neely in the worst way. He’s got a lot to make up for. And as passionate as their reconnection is, it’s a lot to hope for. Having her back in his arms feels so right. But falling in love all over again with a woman who wants to live a world away is bound to go so wrong.
What’s it going to take for Neely to give him—and Dogwood Lane—just one more chance?
Exclusive Excerpt: Tumble by Adriana Locke
My brain goes dead. All coherent thoughts and processes come to a screeching halt. A low-keyed hum whispers through my head as I watch Dane Madden’s eyes sparkle. Flecks of golds and blues catch the light as the corners of his lips tug toward the ceiling.
No, no, no.
Self-preservation kicks in, and I take a step back. He takes one toward me.
“Hi, Neely.” His voice is grittier than I remember it. Deeper. Gravelly, even. The timber rushes across my skin without permission, slipping deep into my inner workings and flipping switches like it’s second nature. I can feel the struggle between us as we wrestle silently for control.
I clear my throat. “Hi, Dane.” My voice is even, practiced, and I send up a prayer of gratitude for the communication classes forced upon me in college.
His heavy brows, a shade darker than his sandy-colored hair, pull together. Back and forth goes his squared jawline as the hint of a smile disappears.
“Didn’t expect to see you here,” he says.
“That makes two of us.”
My breath is hot as it passes my lips, like his gaze actually upped the thermostat in my body. Moisture accumulates on my palms, and I slide them down my shorts as his attention is pulled away by the waitress. I vaguely hear him order coffee.
A heather-gray T-shirt stretches across his broad chest, hanging loose enough to not be pretentious but tight enough to skim the tapering of his waist. There’s a hole in one leg of his jeans a few inches below the pocket and a pair of dirty brown work boots on his feet.
He’s as different from the stockbroker at the deli as I could get. There’s a reason for that, I remind myself.
As my eyes travel up his abdomen and my brain attempts to use facts and logic to put out the fire starting to smolder in my core, Dane plucks my gaze out of the air with his own.
“What are you doing here?” he asks.
“That’s not what I meant,” he says, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat.
I struggle to take a lungful of air from beneath his gaze. “Am I not allowed here?”
“That’s not what I meant either.”
The lack of oxygen makes it difficult to come up with words. I just look at him like we should break into chatter about our lives, joke about things that used to make us laugh. Only we can’t. There’s a wall between us we can’t skirt. It’s built with just as many tears and just as much betrayal as it is any good times we shared.
I shift my weight, lift my chin, and feel my guard start to wane. My lips part to speak when I’m cut off by the sound of a high-pitched squeal.
“Neely! Is that you?”
I rip my eyes off Dane, and they settle on a set of bright-red curls. “Claire! Oh my gosh. How are you?” I pull her into a hug as she holds a cup out to the side in each hand.
“I’m so excited to see you, girl,” she says, a wide smile splitting her cheeks. “I haven’t seen you in, what? Ten years?”
“Close enough.” I laugh. “How are you? What have you been up to? Still seeing Happy?” I ask, pointing to his name tattooed on her wrist.
“Oh, hell no. That was a drunken mistake years ago. I just tell people I got it for my cheerful demeanor.” She sighs, rolling her eyes. “I have to jet to the back and help pack up an order for the fire department.” She hands Dane a cup. “This one’s for you. And this one,” she says, turning to me, “must be for you.”
“I didn’t order anything yet. I do want a cup of coffee, though. Black, please.”
She bites her lip. “Coffee. Black.” Nodding toward the cup, she extends her hand again. “Dane ordered it for you. Or I guess it was for you.”
I glance at Dane. He nods, tossing me a little smile that throws me. My insides flop like a fish out of water, one direction one second, another the next. My attention flips to him in an unguarded moment.
He takes a sip of his drink—coffee with two sugars and one creamer if he still takes it the same as before. To anyone watching, he’d seem cool and collected. I, however, see the fire hidden in his eyes. Feel the heat in his gaze. Hear the questions sitting on his tongue.
The last time we saw each other came with a finality that was as hard to accept as it was necessary. It came with more pain than anything I’ve ever endured on the gymnastics floor or in the business world. All the reasons why come flooding back as I feel him burn through my defenses.
Forcing a swallow, I make myself look at Claire. “How much is it?”
“Stick it on my tab,” Dane says.
“No. I’ll pay for it.” I put my hand into my pocket.
“If you think I’m taking your money when he’s standing there, you’ve forgotten where you are, Neely. I’m not getting on his bad side over a cup of coffee.” She shrugs. “Now take this. I need to get to the kitchen.”
She shoves the cup of coffee into my hand.
“Um, thanks,” I say, still uncertain whether to accept it or not. “Let me at least give you a tip.”
“I add ten percent on Dane’s bill every month. No worries.” She winks, moving to miss Dane’s shoulder bump. “Will you be in town long? I want to catch up.”
“Probably not. A couple of days at most.”
“Well, I’ll find you.” She glances toward the kitchen. “I really do gotta go. Talk to you soon.”
“Okay. Bye, Claire,” I say, giving her a little wave.
With each step she takes away from us, the air grows thicker. I used to know without looking when Dane walked into biology class. I swore the air changed. Standing this close to him now, I believe my assessment back then was probably true. The space around him is charged with some invisible, magnetic energy I can’t describe but pricks at the very fiber of my being.
USA Today bestselling author Adriana Locke lives and breathes books. After years of slightly obsessive relationships with the flawed bad boys dreamed up by other authors, she decided to create her own. She is the author of Tumble, the first novel in her Dogwood Lane series; the Exception series; the Gibson Brothers series; and the Landry Family series.
She resides in the Midwest with her husband, her sons, two dogs, two cats, and a bird. She spends a large amount of time playing with her kids, drinking coffee, and cooking. You can find her outside if the weather’s nice, and there’s always a piece of candy in her pocket. Besides cinnamon gummy bears, boxing, and random quotes, her next favorite thing is chatting with readers. She’d love to hear from you! Look for her at www.adrianalocke.com.
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