First Chapter Friday: The Last One


Come home to Love in a Small Town, stand-alone happily ever after romances with lots of heat and heart!

Welcome to Burton, Georgia, the farm community where the women are sassy, the men are sexy, and happily-ever-afters are a specialty of the house.

Meet Meghan and Sam . . .


When I signed up to spend my final summer of college teaching art to underserved kids, I wanted a chance to reinvent myself, to go somewhere new and different. I never thought I’d end up in a small town in Georgia, living on a farm . . . with a man who clearly wishes I were anywhere but there.

But here I am. And even if Sam Reynolds doesn’t like it, I can’t help my attraction to him. Maybe I don’t want to help it. His deep brown eyes and slow Southern-boy drawl just do something to me. Something real and deep and maybe a little scary.


I don’t need excitement, and I sure don’t want romance. Fun is out of the question for a guy like me. I’ve had to be the steady, responsible one since my parents died, and serious is my way of life.

When this fiery red-haired art student moves into my farmhouse, I won’t deny that I’m tempted by her. But giving in to temptation could mean radical change . . . maybe more than I can handle. Meghan makes me want to believe in crazy things like forever and happy endings.

She’s the last thing I expected. I’m the last one she needs. And this is just a summer fling.

Isn’t it?

All of the Love in a Small Town romances can be read on their own. While characters pop up in each other’s stories, you can begin reading any book and feel right at home!

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The white brick building looked a little dingy in the waning sunlight, but after the three-hour drive I’d just made, I was ready to kiss the cracked sidewalk that led to its door. I pulled my trusty blue Honda into the small parking lot and turned off the ignition. For a minute, I sat in the silent car, resting my forehead on the steering wheel. 

A loud bang on the roof made me jump, and I looked out the window at a familiar grinning face. 

Owen. Lovely. 

I opened the car door and swung my legs to the ground as Owen stepped aside, still resting his hand on the top of my car so that he stood over me. I tamped down my annoyance as his eyes swept down my body in an all too intimate way. 

“Hey, beautiful. Is this good timing, or what? I was just coming by to see if you were back yet.” 

“And here I am.” I stood up, forcing him to step back. “And yeah, it’s perfect timing because you can carry my bag.” I closed the door and looped my purse strap over my head. “It’s in the backseat.” 

Owen reached for the handle of the backseat door and pulled out my bright pink rolling suitcase. “Just the one? Weren’t you there for a week?” 

“Five days.” I clicked the lock on my key fob. “And I travel light.” 

“Yeah.” He extended the handle and started for the front of the building. “Don’t you want to know why I’m here?” 

I shrugged. “Not really.” 

In front of me, Owen’s back stiffened just enough for me to notice. He swiped back the long black hair that always seemed to hang in his eyes, and I caught the look on his face. I swallowed a sigh. He was annoying as hell, but he was still a friend, and he didn’t deserve to take the brunt of my mood. 

“Sorry. I’m tired. It was a long drive up from Florida.” I forced a smile as Owen held the door for me. “Tell me why you’re here.” 

Luckily Owen was the kind of guy who bounced back fast from a slight. “I came over to take you to the biggest party of the year. Oswald, Lloyd and Ziggy are throwing a kegger at their new place. Everyone’s going. You have an hour to get ready.” 

The wheels on my bag squeaked as he trailed it behind him across the small lobby. Out of habit, we ignored the slow-as-molasses-elevator in favor of the staircase. I gripped the banister and pulled myself up the steps. 

“I don’t know, Owen. I told you, I’m tired.”

“Aw, c’mon, Megs. You’ll feel better once we get there.”

I didn’t answer, and we climbed the rest of the way in silence broken only by our footsteps echoing against the cavernous walls. I opened the door at the top of the steps, holding it for Owen this time. My apartment was the second one to the left down the hall. 

The doorknob turned in my hand, and I shook my head. No matter how many times I warned her, Laura always forgot to lock the door. She was sitting on our hand-me-down couch, a sketch pad on her lap. Her blonde hair was piled high in a messy knot, and she bit her lip in concentration as her pencil moved across the paper. 

“Knock, knock, I’m an intruder. Thanks for leaving your door unlocked for me, lady.” I made my voice deep and tried to sound threatening. 

“Meghan!” She tossed her drawing aside and jumped to hug me. “You’re home. How was the drive?” 

“Long and monotonous, like it always is.” I lifted my purse over my head and hung it on the back of a kitchen chair. “How are things here?” 

“The same.” She glanced over my shoulder, and her left eyebrow rose. “Hey, Owen. Are you pulling bellhop duty tonight?” 

He propped my suitcase against the back of the sofa and dropped down into the fuzzy blue recliner. “Right place, right time. I’m trying to talk Megs into going to Oswald’s party tonight.” 

“Ah.” Laura met my eyes. “I heard about that. Dani and Ash are going.” That didn’t surprise me. They were neighbors and classmates of ours, and they’d never met a party they didn’t like. 

I sank down onto sofa and let my head fall against the cushion. “No offense, Owen, but I don’t want to go to some party where everyone’s going to be screaming and drunk. And there’re going to be so many people, no one’ll be able to move.” 

“But everyone’s going to be there. It’ll be epic.” He was trying to look confident and convincing, but I caught the hopeful pleading behind the bravado. It irritated the crap out of me. 

“Will there be dancing? ‘Cause that’s what I want to do. I want to dance. If I’m going to get my ass in gear to dress up and go out, it won’t be to get pawed by drunk boys and have beer spilled all over me. It’ll be to hit a decent dance floor. And I doubt that’s going to happen at Oswald’s party.” I opened one eye and fastened it on Owen. 

He shrugged. “Probably not, but hey, we could make it happen. They have a sound system, and we’ll plug in and clear a space.” He leaned forward, his blue eyes going soft and suggestive. “And I bet we could find a dark corner for some slow dancing. Some special slow dancing.” He winked. 

I thought I might gag. “God, Owen, is that all you think about? This—” I pointed at him and then at myself. “It happened once. Get over it. No repeat performances.” 

“Geez, Meghan, can’t you take a joke?” He huffed out what was supposed to pass for laughter. “I was just saying, it’s going to be a party you don’t want to miss. Everyone’s going to be talking about it for weeks.” 

Laura tucked her bare feet beneath her, curling up in the corner of the couch. “Actually, the girl who does my hair was telling me about this place that just opened in her hometown. It’s in … ummm … God, what was the name of the town?” She rolled her eyes up, thinking. “Burton. She said it’s like forty-five minutes southwest of the city, and this bar that opened has a huge dance floor and some killer local bands. The guy who owns it used to be in the music biz, so he gets all the best acts.” 

I brought my hand down onto my knee with a loud smack. “Sold! We’re going to—what was it? Burton? And we’re dancing.” 

Owen fell back in the recliner. “Seriously? You’re driving an hour to some Podunk town to hang with locals just because they have dancing?” 

“Yep.” I smiled at him. “You know me, Owen. Unpredictable.” 

He sighed, long and loud. “Well, I guess I can do that. I can’t believe I’m going to miss the biggest party of the year—” 

“Oh, no, my friend.” I shook my head. “This is a girls-only night. You go to Oswald’s and get wasted. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for you missing a fun time like that.” 

Owen frowned, and for the space of a breath, I thought I saw a flash of hurt in his eyes. But he recovered and shook his head. “Whatever.” He stood up and pulled keys from his pocket. “I’m gonna bounce. Later.” 

I watched until the door closed behind him, and then I let out a long breath. “Crap on a cracker, that boy wears me out. I’m not trying to be mean, you know? But he doesn’t seem to get subtle.” 

“Meghan Hawthorne, leaving broken hearts in her wake as usual.” Laura leaned over and bumped her shoulder against mine. “Owen’s a big boy. He’ll get over it.” She stretched her arms over her head. “So, were you serious about going out tonight? Or was that just to get Owen off your ass?” 

“Of course. I never kid around about dancing, you know that.” I shot her a look. “Why, you didn’t make up the whole thing about the bar, right?” 

Laura held up one hand. “Nope. Scout’s honor, Natalie told me.” 

“Okay. I need about an hour to get myself together.” I nudged her with my foot. “Get ready, bitch. Taking no prisoners tonight. We’re gonna dance the cowboys off the floor.” 

“Oh, joy.” She reached for her drawing pad and flipped it closed. “Bring ‘em on.” 

* * *

“I’ll be designated driver. From the look on your face when you got home, I think you need to let loose tonight.” Laura stepped out of our building’s front door, concentrating on her high-heels as she navigated the uneven sidewalk. 

I twirled car keys on my index finger. “Thanks, that sounds good. Want to take the Honda? Might be a little more dependable.” 

She tossed me a glance of mock indignation. “Are you insinuating that my car couldn’t make this trip?” 

“Not insinuating. Saying it loud. I love the Bug, but let’s face it, that car spends more time up on the mechanic’s lift than down on the road.” 

Laura sighed. “Sad but true. Okay, we’ll take your dependable car, and you can drive us out there, since I’ll be getting us home.” 

“It’s a deal.” I unlocked the Honda and wiggled into the driver’s seat. 

We maneuvered our way through the neat squares that made up so much of Savannah, out of the city and onto a two-lane country road. Laura had mapped directions on her phone. 

“So we stay on here for about twenty miles, and then we should see the place on the … it looks like the right.” 

“What’s it called again?” I set the cruise control, frowning a little at the hesitation I felt in the engine. 

“The Road Block. Where do they come up with these names?” 

“Who knows? If it’s serving up liquor and hot music, I don’t really care what it’s called. I need loud music and enough of a buzz that I don’t have to think about anything.” I caught Laura’s wince out of the corner of my eye. 

“What happened this week? In the Cove?” 

I grimaced. “Nothing happened. It’s all sunshine and roses. Joseph and Lindsay love running the Rip Tide, and Mom is thrilled about that. She and Uncle Logan are …” I lifted one shoulder. “You know. Sickeningly in love. She’s remodeling the kitchen at Uncle Logan’s house. Well, I guess it’s her house now, too.” 

“What about your house? I mean, where you lived before.” 

“Strangers are living there now. Mom rented it out.” I tried to keep my tone even, as if it didn’t matter to me, when it did matter. Very much.

“Well …” Laura’s voice was tentative. “At least she didn’t sell it. Didn’t you say she wanted to keep it in the family? That’s something.” 

“Yeah.” I rolled my eyes. “Not for me, though. It’s for Joseph and Lindsay, so one day when they have more kids, they’ll have a place to live.” I sniffed a little. I loved my brother, no question about that, and my new sister-in-law was great. But still, being at home in Crystal Cove, Florida made me feel like a fifth wheel lately. I was the only one in the family who hadn’t had a major life upheaval in the last six months, the only one still on the same boring path. It made me feel both a little self-righteous and left out all at once. 

“You know if you told your mom you wanted the house, she’d make sure you had it. Or at least she’d work it out between you and Joseph. I’m not taking sides.” She laid her hand on my arm, probably sensing that I was starting to bristle. “I’m just saying, if you look at it rationally, it makes sense. Joseph and Lindsay have the baby, and they’re married. It’s not unlikely that they’ll have another kid at some point, right? So, it would make sense for them to need a bigger place to live sooner than you.” 

“Because I’m the loser without a husband. Or a fiancé. Or even a boyfriend.” 

“That’s bullshit, Meggie.” Laura and I had been friends for almost four years, and she was one of the few people who could get away with calling me on my crap. “You don’t want that. Or at least that’s what you say all the time. You could have any guy at SCAD. I mean, Owen would probably propose if you so much as smiled at him.” 

“Owen,” I scoffed. “Yeah, because that’s who I want to spend my life with. A rich pretty-boy who’s only worried about the next party, the next good time.” 

“You’re not being fair to him. Owen’s a decent guy. He’s just not the right one for you.” 

“I’m starting to think the right one doesn’t exist.” I rubbed my thumbs over the rubber of the steering wheel. “Not that I’m looking. I don’t need permanent. I just need right now.” 

“That’s okay, because the right one is going to be the last one you’re looking for. Trust me.” 

“Whatever you say.” I knew it wasn’t any use to argue with Laura, who steadfastly believed in soul mates and true love. And why shouldn’t she? She’d been with her one-and-only since they were both fourteen years old.

“Did anything else happen while you were home? Seems like something’s bothering you.”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. It just feels like … everyone has a plan. They’re all moving forward in life. You know? Mom and Logan are buying a house in Siesta Bay—that’s the next town down the coast from the Cove—and they’re going to refurbish it and open another bed and breakfast. Mom’s still partly running the restaurant, and she and Uncle Logan are planning this month-long trip to Europe in the fall. Joseph and Lindsay are both in school and taking care of the baby and doing everything Mom isn’t at the Tide. It feels like I’m the only one still in limbo.” 

“Oh, Meggie, you’re not in limbo. You’ve still got another year of college. You’re not supposed to have all the answers yet.” 

“Yeah? Well, you’re the same age as me. But you’ve got a plan, too.” 

A faint pink tinged Laura’s cheeks. “I have an idea, yes. But I don’t have all the details ironed out.” 

“Bull, Laura.” I said it with a great deal of love in my voice. “You know as soon as Brian gets home, that engagement’s going to be official, and then you’re going to be the best damned Marine wife around. I know you have it worked out to do graphic art online from wherever he’s stationed. So don’t tell me you don’t have a plan.” 

“Nothing’s definite,” she mumbled, but she glanced away, out the window, and I knew I was right on target. 

We rode in silence for a little bit longer before I spoke again.

“I made a decision about this summer.” I hadn’t intended to tell anyone yet until the details were more definite, but suddenly, I wanted to have something to share about my future. “About what I’m going to do, I mean.” 

“I thought you were going back to the Cove and working at the Tide. Teaching some private art lessons on the side.” 

“That was before everything changed. I was only going back down there because I thought Mom would need me. She doesn’t anymore, not really. Uncle Logan tried to talk me into signing on to volunteer at the art museum in Jacksonville, but I don’t feel like spending the summer walking bored tourists around, pointing out the same shit to people who couldn’t care less. Plus, if I spend the summer in the Cove, I’ll end up sleeping with Drew again, and I don’t want to go back down that road.” My high school boyfriend had never left our hometown, and it was all too easy to fall into old habits when I was there for any length of time. 

“Okay. That’s valid. What’re you going to do, then? Are you staying in Savannah?” 

“No. I don’t know where I’m going to be, exactly. I signed up to work with ArtCorps.” 

Laura frowned. “I’ve heard that name, but what is it, exactly?” 

“Like the Peace Corps, sort of, but with art. Volunteers teach in areas where all the fine arts programs have been cut or lost funding. ArtCorps assigns art students to summer programs and schools, and we get to work with underprivileged kids.” 

She raised her eyebrows. “I thought you weren’t sure you wanted to teach.” 

I nodded. “I’m not sure, but I thought, what better way to figure out if I do? I mean, this is not going to be a cushy job, I know that. But if I can do it in that kind of environment—I figure it’ll be in a city somewhere—and if I enjoy it, I can be pretty certain about teaching anywhere.” 

“Yeah, that sounds like a great idea. I’m proud of you, Meghan.” She smiled at me. “Do you have any clue where you’ll be?” 

“Not yet. I put in for the Southwest, because I’ve never gotten to spend any time in that part of the country. There’s a lot of need in the area. And being far away from everyone and everything familiar just feels right, you know?” I glanced at Laura. “I can reinvent myself for the summer. I can go without wearing makeup, dress in old jeans and stuff … and I’m going to make it a male-free summer. No dating. No hookups. Nothing. I’m going to enjoy just being me and try to figure out what I want next.” 

“Hmm.” She stared straight ahead, but I caught a hint of a smile playing about her lips.

“What?” I demanded.

“Oh, nothing. Just that most of the time, when a girl says that, she ends up meeting the one.”

I stuck out my tongue at her. “Give it up, girlfriend. The whole true love deal isn’t happening for me. Not this summer, anyway. And look here, saved by the bell. Or at least the Road Block.” I smirked at her and turned into a parking lot that was full of cars and pick-up trucks. In the middle of the huge gravel lot rose a tall building made of rough-hewn boards, with the name of the bar spelled out in uneven neon letters on the side. 

I maneuvered the Honda around random clumps of people who were either loitering outside or making their way to the door. We found a spot in the back, far from the entrance. Laura looked around us, worry on her face. 

“It’s not too bad now, but coming out in the dark, walking back here is going to be a different story. I’m not sure about this.” 

“Oh, come on, Lo.” I teased her with the nickname that was the only one she tolerated. “We’re in the middle of the country. It’s a small town. We’ll be fine.” 

She didn’t look convinced, but she followed me toward the door behind a small group of girls. 

Inside, the place was dark and loud. There were people everywhere, sitting at the bar, around small tables and standing around the dance floor, which I was glad to see was as big as advertised. 

“What now?” Laura yelled into my ear. 

“Drink, then dance!” I answered, taking her hand and leading her to where the bartenders were trying to keep up with the orders. We stood waiting for a few minutes before one of them got to us. 

“What’ll it be, ladies?” He grinned, taking us in with an expression that was appreciative without being creepy. 

“Rum and Coke for me, just plain Coke for my DD, please.” 

“Designated drivers drink free.” He pulled up the soda hose and filled a glass, set it on a napkin, and slid it across to Laura. “Captain, darlin’?” 

“Please.” I watched him splash in the rum and then fill the glass with cola. I sipped and nodded, eyes closed. “Perfect. Can we run a tab without a credit card?” 

He hesitated. “We usually only do that for locals. But …” He winked. “I think you two seem trustworthy.” 

“Here.” I fished my credit card out of my purse and handed it to him. “On second thought, just use this.” 

He waved it away. “Nah, really. It’s cool.” 

I leaned onto the bar, pressing my arms to the sides of my chest so that my boobs popped out, accented by my V-neck shirt. “I appreciate you being nice, but by the end of the night, I might not be able to think straight enough to give this to you. So, do us both a favor and just take my card.” 

He skimmed his eyes down me, raking over my deep auburn curls, tight black shirt, and short denim skirt. He shook his head. “Whatever makes you happy, darlin’. But listen, you be careful out there. Nice folks around this area, but lots of out-of-towners here tonight. Stick close to your friend here.” He nodded at Laura.

“Thanks. Will do.” I turned in my seat and took a long drink, scanning the crowd. There was a wide variety of people, with some guys in cowboy hats and others in khakis and polo shirts. Girls in skirts as short as mine hung on men or chatted with friends. Up on a small stage, a group of musicians in jeans and flannel were unpacking instruments and setting up mics. 

Across the room, a guy sitting at a table with three of his friends caught my eye. He wore jeans and a gray T-shirt with his ancient-looking boots. He was drinking a long-neck, and a slow smile spread across his face as he looked me up and down. I kept my gaze on him as I brought my glass to my lips. 

“See that guy over there?” I spoke to Laura without looking at her, maintaining the eye-lock with Mr. Sexy Cowboy. “Once the music starts, he’s going to be over here, asking me to dance. Want to lay a bet on it?”

“Nah.” She shook her head as she followed my gaze. “No way. There’s smolder in those eyes, baby. I think you caught yourself a live one. So what are you planning to do with him?’ 

I smiled, sipped my drink, and pulled my shirt a little tighter. “Anything I want.”

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