Lara Van Hulzen
Until I Met You
When his parents move to Silver Bay, California, Dominic Endicott, ever the dutiful son, packs up his life and heads to the small town. He sees it as temporary, appeasing his mother and making sure his dad's health is stable while Dominic keeps the family business running. Dominic planned on keeping his head down, focused only on working and spending time with his family. Until a beautiful brunette forces him to look up.
Local Chaplain and community center employee Rachel Anderson loves her little town that she's called home for the past year. Silver Bay is a far cry from her life growing up in LA, and that's perfectly fine with her. When she mistakes newcomer Dominic for her friend, Chet, her simple, curated life becomes complicated.
Thrown together to work on raising money for the town's community center, the sparks between Rachel and Dominic are too strong to ignore. But Dominic represents everything Rachel has been running from, while Rachel has Dominic rethinking his entire life plan. Can the two bridge the gap between their worlds and give love a chance?
It took effort for Dominic to stay focused on the conversation. The mayor and Hannah had their heads together over a list she was making, giving Dominic a minute to think through the short interaction with Rachel.
He was still wrapping his head around the fact that Rachel had flirted with him and had even winked, making her more appealing than ever.
Women flirted with him all the time, but this was different. For one, brief moment, Rachel had let go of the always-in-control demeanor she had going and been playful with a side of sass.
It was sexy and sweet at the same time, and Dominic wanted more of it.
So much more.
After his cheesy comment about the sweetness of coffee, combined with his not-so-smooth move at the bakery the other day, flirting from her was the last thing he expected. Or deserved, quite frankly. Dominic was known to be smooth and quick-witted, but Rachel had him tripping over every word he uttered. What sounded good in his head came out like a pickup line an eighth grader might use.
“So, this is good then,” Hannah was saying. “I will work with Eva on places in town donating food items and beverages to sell while you and Rachel can get going on finding volunteers to run the events and games.” Hannah pointed a finger back and forth at Dominic and Rachel. “We can use booths from past festivals so no need to build any, but we may need help moving those from storage, as well as setting up once we get closer.”
Everyone nodded in agreement, although Dominic noticed Rachel’s nod wasn’t enthusiastic. She still seemed to not know quite what to do with him yet. He had a few ideas, but his promise to Chet flashed through his mind. He had no intention of toying with Rachel in any way. He’d been legitimately offended when his brother had insinuated Dominic might do anything to hurt Rachel. Dominic had been a true gentleman with the women he’d dated in the past, and although rankled by his brother’s comments, he knew what Chet meant. Dominic didn’t do serious relationships. Mainly because work took up most of his time. Or maybe it was because he hadn’t met anyone that made him want one. Until now.
Was he drawn to Rachel because of a desire for something deeper than what he’d had in the past? Or did she just pique his interest more than most women?
Everyone said their good-byes, their marching orders given to them by Hannah. Dominic hugged his sister, shook the mayor’s hand, and waved to Hannah and Abby as they strolled away. He turned to see Rachel sitting at a picnic table. She had said her good-byes before him and must have snuck over there without him noticing. Her backpack sat beside her on the bench, her head bent over a notepad, one hand on the plastic cup of coffee he’d gotten her.
He tucked his legs under the table and sat on the bench across from her.
“How did you know what kind of coffee I like?” The genuine smile she gave him warmed his insides.
“Lucky guess.” He leaned in closer, his elbows on the table with his hands clasped in front of him. “And I may have bribed the barista at the coffee shop for information.”
“Or flirted it out of her.”
Oh yes, the sassy side of her was fast becoming something he enjoyed.
He shrugged. “Same thing…”
Rachel laughed. He tilted his head and soaked in the sound, only in that moment realizing it was the first time he’d heard her laugh. At the firehouse when they’d met, she was upset with him for fooling her into thinking he was Chet, and at the diner with Eva, she was so focused on keeping her composure, she’d barely smiled. Now, she had smiled and laughed. It was his lucky day.
He couldn’t help but notice how relaxed she was outdoors. Her eyes were bright, her cheeks rosy from the warmth of the day, and her shoulders relaxed. It was as if the sun melted away the layers she used to shield herself. But shield herself from what?
“I’m just taking some notes on all that Hannah said.” She tapped her notepad with the pen in her hand.
“Kicking it old school, huh?”
She shrugged. “Hannah may live and die by her tablet, but I have always loved pen and paper. There are actual studies that show a direct connection between the brain and the hand as you write…” She shook her head. “Sorry.”
“Sorry for what?”
“I tend to share random information I find interesting.”
“Which is awesome.”
She smiled. “Not everyone has that opinion.”
“Your opinion is the one that matters. If you find something interesting, then say it.”
She narrowed her eyes and shook her head but didn’t respond. Instead, she turned her attention to her notepad. “Historically, the fire department is a big part of moving the booths as well as setting up for festivals, so I’m guessing you’d be down for talking to Chet?”
“Sure. I’ll take a turn in the dunking booth as well.”
Her head snapped up from her paper with that, and again with the narrowing of the eyes.
“I understand you want to know more about me, but you don’t need to keep narrowing your eyes at me, sizing me up.” He leaned back and put his arms out. “If you want to know something, just ask.”
She set her pen down and leaned back as well. Crossing her arms in front of her, she said, “Okay. Why are you so dressed up for a meeting at a playground?”
He laughed out loud. “That was not at all a question I thought you’d lead with. Maybe I like to dress up when I hang from the jungle gym.”
Her eyebrows lifted, daring him to be serious.
He leaned toward her again. “Fine. If you must know, I had a video conference call before this, and with the business I do, a T-shirt and sport shorts is frowned upon. However, if you can keep a secret, I have been known to do those calls dressed appropriately up top, but sport shorts comfortable on the bottom.”
“That’s fair.” She chuckled and picked up her pen again.
“That’s it? That’s all you wanted to know about me?”
Once more, she tapped her pen on her notepad. “Weren’t you worried about your shoes when you stepped into the sandbox?”
What was with this woman and his clothing?
“I was not. They are just shoes, and come on, who can resist a sandbox? I mean, seriously.”
“Once a little boy, always a little boy.”
He had a sense there was more to that statement than she was letting on, but he decided not to dig into it right then.
“Hmph,” was her only reply. Along with continuing to write out a list on her paper.
“I’ll tell you what. I need to get going.”
“Another conference call?” she asked, not looking up.
“As a matter of fact, yes. Why don’t we get together this weekend?”
That got her to look at him.
“It seems we have a lot to discuss.” A glance down at what she was writing added to his comment. “Let’s set a time to do so.”
“Okay. Sunday afternoon works for me. I go to church in the morning and stay after for a bit to talk to people if they need me, but I’m free after that.”
“Perfect. Sunday it is.” He stood, untangling his legs from the picnic table bench. “Text me a place and time. I’m new here so I’ll have to trust your judgment.”
“How about the bakery? Cookies and coffee are a nice way to start a relationship, and someone sweet like me loves a good cookie.”
Did she just bat her eyelashes at him while tossing his two worst lines back at him?
Oh yes, this side of Rachel Anderson he was absolutely going to like getting to know better.
“The bakery it is.”