Resisting Her Rival

By: Sonya Weiss
a Stealing the Heart novel

Chapter One

“Of all the sneaky, ratty things to do, this ranks as the worst, Nick Coleman,” Abby Snyder said, exhaling slowly as she made the announcement in front of the mirror. Running the brush through her dark hair, she caught the angry flush on her cheeks and took a breath.

She didn’t normally have a problem keeping her temper under control. Calmness had been her goal ever since she’d heard the news, but so far she hadn’t been able to achieve it. It wasn’t that she couldn’t handle tough news or rough situations. She’d had more than her fair share of hard knocks.

Starting with the car accident that had claimed the lives of both of her parents when she was seventeen, followed by her short-lived, awful marriage, she’d learned that life didn’t play fair. That heartache was an equal opportunity emotion.

It had fallen on her shoulders to keep the family going. She hadn’t always known how to handle things after having such a big responsibility thrust on her, but she’d always tried to do right by those in her life. For her younger sisters, her biggest desire had been protecting them from anything that might cause them more pain.

When her sisters were teenagers, she’d warned them not to fall for any lines boys might give them. Over and again, she’d told them not to get tangled up thinking a boy with a reputation would ever change.

Yet here she was, her life turned upside down by a boy with a reputation. Except this wasn’t high school and Nick wasn’t a boy anymore.

At thirty-two, she definitely wasn’t that teenage girl she’d once been, either. But had she heeded the lecture she’d given her sisters, she wouldn’t have ended up having a one-night stand with the last man she’d ever pictured herself kissing much less doing the birthday suit tango with.

“And what a suit he had,” Abby muttered out loud.

Nick Coleman.

Images of him whispered through her mind with breath-catching attention, and Abby shivered again. His dark hair and dark eyes. That easy smile. That rock-hard body he still kept in Marine-ready condition. She hadn’t really spent time around him when he was in the service, but she could picture him with his dog tags hanging around his neck as he pushed his body to the limit and beyond.

Abby shivered. He had a way of leaning close, intently gazing at her as if she were the only woman he’d ever seen in his life. That night, his lips had curved with a promise he’d more than delivered.

In high school, she’d catch his eye, and the intensity she’d seen in the depths of his had caused her to entertain thoughts that took her pulse from zero to a hundred. She’d suspected getting close to him would shake her much-too-fragile life back then, that he could be the kind of guy to make her forget she had to be strong, so she’d avoided him.

Until that night three months ago.

Him pressing her against the wall had given new meaning to the phrase “between a rock and a hard place.” He’d touched the side of her neck, making her pulse zip along like an Amtrak at full throttle, but there was no way she would board that train. Again.

She could still recall the taste of the salt from the ocean breeze on his skin. Music had wafted in from somewhere across the sands, the melody so beautifully haunting it had made her heart swell.

If she closed her eyes and pictured the scene, she could almost smell the scented candles flickering by the bed, the vanilla tangled with cinnamon. Sweet and spice, a reminder of it all. His whispered, “Look at me, Abby,” as his need had collided with hers reverberated in her mind.

Breathing hard, Abby turned away from the mirror and fanned herself with her hand, not wanting to see the emotion clearly displayed on her face. The fear and the longing.

Nick was tough enough to fight through the walls she’d erected to keep her heart safe, and she’d promised herself she’d never go down that road ever again. Never be vulnerable. Ever.

Tossing the brush onto the neatly made bed, she scooped her hair into a short ponytail. Though her life no longer felt as fragile as it once had, she’d been right in believing Nick would shake it up.

She held herself just as responsible for that night as Nick. No matter how much he’d blown her preconceived notions about sex all to hell, she shouldn’t have lowered her guard. But she had and he’d stabbed her in the back. Damn him and those images of his flexed muscles that wanted to stay on instant replay in her mind.

Nerve endings tingling with the mental awareness, Abby avoided making eye contact with the mirror. Picking up the brush, she put it neatly on the antique dresser that once belonged to her grandmother and left her bedroom. She walked down the stairs she’d been meaning to refinish to search for her constantly misplaced car keys.

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