Ignite (Wildwood #1)

By: Karen Erickson

Chapter One


SHE WASN’T AWARE they currently shared the same air.

Weston Gallagher stood in the back of the store, partially hidden by a towering display of Coke products. The beginning of summer meant every end cap in the supermarket was pushing snacks, beer, and soda. West had had no idea an endless stack of vivid red twelve-packs would make a damn good hiding place.

He also hadn’t planned on hiding in plain sight. He was a grown-ass man. If he wanted to pass by Harper Hill like she didn’t exist, he could. But he wasn’t that mean. She did exist. And damn she looked good.

Really good. Better than he remembered.

No one noticed him hovering on the other side of the stacks of Coke, peeking around them at the pretty woman oblivious to his presence. Most of the locals—the people he grew up with, the ones who’d known him since he’d toddled around in diapers and a dirty face—didn’t shop at the fancy new grocery store on the outskirts of town. That was for the deluge of tourists who invaded his hometown every summer. Eager to spend their hard-earned dollars on expensive groceries they could stock their rented cabins with, his mom had told him bitterly last time he talked to her on the phone.

All the locals loved to mock the tourists, but never too hard. They were the ones who kept the money streaming in most of the year.

Considering he sort of felt like a tourist since it had been years since he last set foot in Wildwood, he thought he’d avoid the reunion   show that his appearance at Gus’s Grocery would generate. That’s why he was shopping in such a generic location. So to see someone he knew—rather intimately, he might add—was shocking.

His hiding spot did have one advantage. It allowed him ample time to check Harper out. He hadn’t seen her in years beyond the occasional photo on social media—they weren’t friends on Facebook or anything crazy like that, but they did share a lot of mutual friends.

Like his younger sister, Wren, otherwise known as Harper’s best friend. Harper had been a part of his life for . . . most of his life. He remembered her as a little girl who knew how to work a trembling lower lip like nobody’s business. He remembered Harper as an awkward preteen with braces and a constant red zit on her chin. Then somehow, someway, she’d blossomed into this beautiful, curvy, sweet girl who always looked at him like she wanted to worship at his feet and gobble him up, all at the same time.

Scrubbing a hand over his face, West glanced down, trying to blot memories of Harper out of his brain by staring at the contents of his shopping cart instead. Beer. Ground beef for burgers since he was having his brothers over for dinner tonight. Chips. Cereal. Milk. Just the necessities for now. He was scheduled for work in two days and he’d be eating at the station most of the time anyway. If he was lucky and the season was extra busy, he’d get a lot of overtime and rarely be home.

Yeah, being a firefighter meant a season full of endless fires was a “good” fire season—financially only, of course. He wasn’t a fan of seeing death and destruction caused by a raging fire, but he did appreciate the adrenaline rush that filled him every time they loaded up the engine and took off to a call. Though now he was the one driving the engine, thanks to his promotion.

That’s why he was home. He’d gotten promoted and moved to a new ranger unit and station. He was back in Wildwood, ready to prove that he wasn’t Weston Gallagher, King Troublemaker anymore. He’d changed his wicked ways. He was solid; a hard worker, following in his father’s footsteps and ready to prove every single one of the residents wrong. He knew how they felt about him. How he’d left Wildwood with his proverbial tail tucked between his legs.

Well, no more. He was dependable. People could count on him. When he was younger, he never wanted that. It had felt like more responsibility than he couldn’t handle. He’d make a lot of mistakes then. He wanted to correct them.

Badly.

“Weston Gallagher? Is that really you?”

His spine stiffened at the sound of a familiar feminine voice coming from behind. Slowly he turned, hoping that Harper had snuck up behind him, though he knew deep down the voice didn’t sound like Harper’s. Still, he had high hopes. His heart was racing. His palms were sweaty.

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