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By his own choice, Sam’s the most elusive bachelor in town, his walls of defense firmly in place. But when the feisty little brunette he dated in high school and college moves back, Sam needs to step up his game, stiffening those walls to concrete. True love? A forever union? What kind of idiot believes in that?


Catching a glimpse of Jess, who was about to enter the archway in which the mistletoe hung, Sam nearly tripped as he sprang off the couch and lunged toward the kitchen. The last thing he wanted was for her and Clark to meet under that stupid plant again. But now, here they stood, he and Jess, under the mistletoe. The urge to pull her into his arms and kiss her was unbearable. Did he dare do it? Why wasn’t Mary calling for a kiss like she did when Jess and Clark were under it? 

Sam risked a glance up, and then lowered his gaze to find a glint of desire in the bright, emerald gaze that clamped onto his. His breath hitched, and he froze in place, unsure of what to do. His lips screamed to touch her soft lips. His palms itched to cup her soft looking, milky white cheeks. 

Here’s your chance. Make a move you coward. 

Jess’ gaze darkened as her full lips parted. “It’s mistletoe.” 

“It is,” he responded, then he leaned forward and lightly pressed his mouth to hers. 

Adrenaline poured into his veins. His knees weakened. His body shook. He hadn’t been prepared for the incalculable depth of sensations that simple kiss would bring. 

Jess inched back but lingered. Did she want more from him? The fire in her eyes both thrilled and scared him. She did. 

Shit, what have I done? 

Sam stepped back, knowing if he rekindled their relationship he’d better be prepared to take that final step with her—marry her. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt her all over again. He loved her. He truly did, but the dark phobia overshadowing his thoughts of marriage—the until-death-do-you part kind, still crippled his ability to fathom that next step. 

The corners of Jess’ mouth quivered, but she managed to pull a smile. “Good night, Sam.”

She let him off the hook? Or had he read her wrong? Maybe that kiss didn’t impact her as much as it did him. She averted her gaze. 

Shame ripped through him, as it should. 

 * * * * 

Jessica buried her face in her pillow to muffle the sounds of her uncontrollable sobs. Moving home had been a mistake. Thinking she could live in the same small town with the man she loved, knowing he’d never have her was just stupid on her part. For a brief moment when their gazes met, she’d thought there’d been a reunited connection—a possibility he actually did love her and finally figured it out, that marriage could actually be a consideration. The current that sizzled through her when their lips touched, and the sparks that crackled between them when they lingered, holding their faces only centimeters from each other, reiterated the possibility. That simple, light kiss that turned her knees to jelly had to have meant something…but then Sam pulled away and looked at her as if he was repulsed by their kiss. 

Her breaths came harder, her tears faster. Over twenty years of her life had been spent lonely because the man she loved didn’t love her, and her undying love for him ruined any relationship she’d tried to have. Blaine, Darren, Steve—they had all been considerations at one point, but in the end, none of them measured up to Sam, at least the Sam she knew until that day on Nicolet Beach. 

What was wrong with her? Why couldn’t she love another man? Blane was a great guy with a good job. He was nice and good-looking to boot. But no, she’d turned down his sweet proposal within a half-beat of her heart, breaking his. Safe—he was too safe, comfortable, no spark. 

With Sam, when they were together—intimate—he lit her on fire. 

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