MILLS & BOON
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It was the Harley she noticed first. A bike like that was hard to miss in a sleepy, small town like Port Hope, Ontario. Sunlight flashed from the chrome, momentarily blinding Brittany Barton as she carried two orders of fries to the teenage girls at the front table. She squinted through the window. Several adolescent boys had noticed the bike, too. They clustered on the curb, trying to act cool as they postured for the girls who pretended not to be watching them.
What was it about a motorcycle, especially an in-your-face, old-school machine like a Harley-Davidson, that conjured up images of rebellion and adventure? Even a twenty-four-year-old woman who had been there, done that, and should know better wasn’t immune to the mystique, that lure of the open road. Brittany hated the way her pulse danced, and her breathing wasn’t quite steady, because of course it wasn’t the bike she reacted to, it was the memory of a particular boy who used to ride one.
It had been nearly eight years since she had seen Jesse Koostra. He’d been everything her mother had warned her about, the quintessential bad boy: tall, tough and wickedly handsome. He had a voice as sensual as dark chocolate that fuelled her dreams like the rumble of his Harley.
Countless summer nights she would lie awake in her bedroom under the eaves, restless and sweaty, listening to the crickets and the hum of mosquitoes on the screen while she waited to hear the distinctive echo of the engine as Jesse made his way home. His family lived a mile down the road from the Barton farm on a piece of land that was mostly swamp. Their yard and barns were crammed with vehicles in various states of disrepair. Old, rusted-out cars seemed to be the only crop his father raised. As for Jesse and his sister, they were allowed to grow wild.
Brittany had longed to be free like them, but she hadn’t had the nerve. Instead, she dutifully did her homework, weeded the garden and tended the chickens. She tried her best to live up to everyone’s expectations, all the while secretly yearning for the next time she would see Jesse.
Pathetic, wasn’t it? What was worse, the unrequited crush of her childhood years had so warped her mind that she later searched for a bad-boy like Jesse in every man she met.
Apparently, she was still doing it, because the longer she looked, the more it appeared as if the bike parked in front of the restaurant didn’t simply resemble Jesse’s, it was precisely like his, right down to the hand-painted wolf adorning the blue gas tank.
No. It couldn’t be his. He’d disappeared right after the trial.
The bell above the front entrance tinkled. Sunshine streamed past the man who stepped into the doorway, hiding his features in shadow.
But Brittany didn’t need to see his face. Her heart had already felt his presence.
“Hello-oo?” The sing-song question came from one of the girls at the window table. It was followed by a quick succession of finger-snaps and muffled giggles. “Those fries are for us, right?”
Brittany realized she was still holding the plates. Speechless. Frozen in place. Like an idiot. And all because Jesse Koostra stood less than six feet away.
Terrific. And here she’d believed that she’d come a long way in eight years.
She deposited the plates and pasted on a smile for the teenagers, but she could have saved the effort. They were no longer looking at her, or at their cooling French fries. Their attention had shifted to a point