In From Scratch, 30-year-old Lillie Turner thought she escaped her family diner when she traded in stained aprons and scuffed sneakers for pristine business suits and stylish stilettos. Living with her safe yet loving fiancé and working at one of the top consultant firms in Chicago, life is looking sunny side up. Until one phone call from her father sends her running home to Dallas to try and fight the life her father wants for her. And to make matters worse, she comes face to face with her scrumptious ex Nick, whom she never stopped loving. And she's just as affected by his presence as she was five years ago. Will Lillie's trip home reveal what she really wants out of life and make her stay in Dallas for good?
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Once the ingredients were dumped into the stand mixer, Nick scraped down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and secured the whisk attachment. He turned on the mixer and flipped it to the fastest whipping speed. Immediately, batter erupted out of the bowl. Springing into action, I grabbed the power cord and yanked it from the outlet before more damage could be done.
Batter was splattered everywhere—on the cabinets, the tile backsplash, the stovetop. Large blobs of it dripped off the counter and were landing in soupy puddles on the floor. When my gaze locked on Nick, I burst into giggles. I couldn't help it. He was coated in it.
Nick only stood there, a stunned expression on his face. Finally, he shook his head and said, "That was not supposed to happen." He pulled his polo shirt over his head, revealing a white cotton undershirt, and tossed it into the sink.
I threw a dish towel at his chest. "I told you tripling the recipe was a stupid idea. You should have taken my advice—"
"Your unsolicited advice," he interjected as he cleaned himself up.
"Does it matter? At least we would have something to show for it and the kitchen wouldn't look like a scene from Animal House," I said, then dipped my finger into one of the lumpy blobs on the counter and smeared it across his cheek.
Nick narrowed his eyes. "Wipe it off."
"Make me," I said with a wicked smile.
"Is that a challenge?"
"Maybe. What are you going to do about it?" I said, reaching up to spread more batter across his other cheek. Nick captured my wrist, his gaze intense, making my pulse race.
Then all at once we crashed together, two hormonal magnets colliding. Our mouths connected, and when our lips parted and tongues grazed against each other, I was gone, consumed by him. Nick pulled my waist against his, then lifted me up and placed me on the counter. My fingers curled into his shirtfront, tugging him even closer so that there was no room for a breath between us.
A car alarm blared somewhere outside, loud and angry, and we broke apart, gasping, our breathing erratic. Nick dropped his head to my shoulder and let out a soft laugh.
I ran my fingers through his hair and said, "I guess that's our cue to clean up this mess and finish the cake before my father comes home."
Wiggling out of his grasp, I hopped off the counter, readjusted my tank top, and smoothed down my hair. Then I walked over to the counter and found the recipe card so we could get started again.
Nick followed me. "I say we forget it," he said, reclaiming my waist, a mischievous grin on his face.
"Move around," Nick says. "It'll help flush out the lactic acid in your system."
I nod, too exhausted to reply, and walk back and forth with my fingers linked behind my head. A breeze washes over my face, cooling me, but still my lungs are screaming. I can't seem to suck in enough air.
Nick strides over to me. "You want your breathing to come from deep in your diaphragm. Right here," he says, placing one hand on the curve of my back and the other just below my rib cage, applying pressure. "Can you feel that?" His gaze rakes over my face, painfully slow, as though he's afraid to miss something.
Is he kidding? His palms are burning holes in my shirt, making me dizzy, and he wants to know if I can feel that? Suddenly I go from barely being able to retain oxygen in my lungs to a total inability to breathe at all. I should be shocked that after all this time a simple touch from him has the power to steal my breath, but after what happened between us at the Tipsy Teakettle, nothing surprises me anymore.
Stepping away, I pick up the water bottle lying on the ground by his feet and gulp some down, the liquid sloshing around in my stomach.
"Drink it slowly. Otherwise you'll throw up," he says, tugging on my ponytail. My heart trips in my chest at the way his voice dips with his playful scolding. Sticking out my tongue, I squirt some water at him and stretch my aching muscles. Nick does his own form of post run recovery, which involves some strange yoga poses mixed with light strength exercises. I squeeze my eyes shut when I hear him groan, the sound similar to those he once murmured during sex.
After he's done, he uses the hem of his T-shirt to wipe his neck and forehead. His chest expands and retracts with his breathing, his skin glistening. I swallow thickly, watching a bead of sweat travel down the length of his torso and absorb into his mesh shorts. Everything about Nick is corded muscle and hard, chiseled angles and lines. My eyes drop to his hands resting on his hips, and I have an overwhelming urge to feel them on me. My whole body clenches as I remember exactly what those fingers are capable of.
A dog barks, snapping me out of my haze. I focus on the college-age guy playing fetch with a golden retriever across the park and wait for my heart rate to return to normal.
"It's okay, you know."
"What is?" I ask.
"To check me out," Nick says, smug and without shame. "Don't think I didn't notice your little eye dance."
I balk. "I wasn't checking you out. You were doing those weird poses, and I was curious."
He laughs, deep and sexy, erasing all of my common sense. His soles scuff against the gravel as he saunters toward me. He stops and stands so close I can feel the heat radiating off his body and see the faint scar above his left eyebrow—a casualty from back in my diner days when I accidentally opened the freezer door into his face.
When he speaks, his words send a shiver down my spine. "You forget, Lillie, I know your blush."
My breath hitches, and his smile grows into that destructive grin that's always been deadly to me. I force my eyes away, over to the other side of the parking lot where a woman is adjusting a set of ankle weights, back to the guy still tossing a tennis ball with his dog, down at my grungy shoelaces, anywhere other than at him.
"At least I used to," Nick says, low and hoarse. "Before . . ."
He settles a hand on the crook of my neck, his thumb ghosting along my collarbone, and everything inside me ignites, alive and volatile. I look at him, and the intensity in his stare causes a fresh wave of heat to rush through me. I lean toward him, pulled by invisible fingers. His gaze flicks to my mouth, and as if on their own volition, my lips part. My breath comes in shallow gasps, my body humming in anticipation, waiting for him to pin me against my truck and kiss me the way he did at the Tipsy Teakettle. The way he used to.
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