Tue
Nov 1 2016 11:04am

Addison Fox Excerpt: At Last

Addison Fox

At Last by Addison Fox

Welcome to Park Heights, Brooklyn where three brothers discover the meaning of family, and taking a chance on love.

After a year of turmoil, Emma Vandenburg Bradley returned home to Park Heights to run her family’s business – a Brooklyn institution – Unity brewery. Still trying to get her feet back under her, she definitely doesn’t want to be on the spectacularly bad date that ends with getting caught in a bar fight and her high school crush coming to her rescue.

Nick Kelley’s career in the NFL was cut short, but now he has a successful bar in Brooklyn and his dream of buying the Unity brewery is about to come true. Until he realizes that the mystery woman he saved—and shared a steamy kiss with—is none other than his high school chemistry partner, Emma...who happens to be a part owner of Unity. And she’s not interested in selling her family’s legacy.

When Emma and Nick find themselves on opposing sides, both are willing to do anything to win. But as their connection grows deeper, they become torn: Can they choose between their love for Unity and their plans for the future—and for each other?

Get a sneak peek at Addison Fox's At Last (available November 1, 2016) with an exclusive excerpt of a selected scene.

Chapter One

The first thing he noticed was her legs.

Some men—most men, he quickly corrected himself—were breast men. Others liked asses. Even more were suckers for a red-hot pair of lips. While he enjoyed every part of a woman, he’d been a leg man since his twelve-year-old self had stayed up late one night, sick on the couch, and watched Julia Roberts strut her stuff down Rodeo Drive in a microscopic miniskirt and tank top in Pretty Woman.

Nick Kelley ran a hand over his stomach and fought the rising sense of interest. He’d watched the woman—who was she?—fake smile her way through her date’s dumb jokes, flirty smiles, and chair position that continued to move closer to hers.

Those killer legs were crossed, visible past the wooden legs of the table, topped off by what he fondly thought of as fuck-me heels. His mother would have smacked him in the head for that one—some thoughts were meant to be kept private for a reason—but he did his imagined penance by shifting his gaze to her face.

He’d looked at her when the pair had walked in, quickly cataloguing the fact he’d never seen either of them, before he’d amended the thought on the woman. She did look familiar, and it had nagged at him for the last hour why he couldn’t place her.

He knew she hadn’t been into the End Zone before, so why was he so convinced he knew her?

Long blonde hair waved down her back, and she wore a prim sweater set over a black pencil skirt. She was more librarian than bombshell, but hell if he wasn’t fascinated all the same.

As her uninterested brown eyes measured her date’s chair when it shifted another notch closer, Nick refocused on his work.

Not your problem, he mused to himself as he continued to build his final Guinness for the young financier he’d overheard bragging to his friends about his recent business trip to Dublin. The kid was buying and Nick pulled a pretty penny for the beers, so it was all in a night’s work.

And hell, everyone wanted bragging rights to something at twenty-five. He wasn’t even ten years past that mark, but he remembered the time well.

Finishing up the last build, he added the tab to the kid’s credit card and passed down the beers, satisfied to watch the lot of them—all in their Friday suits—traipse their way toward a knot of well-dressed young women.

Laughter and conversation echoed throughout the bar and that subtle lightness that meant summer was on its way hovered in the air. Memorial Day weekend was a week away, and he’d heard more than one conversation about reservations on the Hampton Jitney or houses down the Jersey Shore.

After he’d left Brooklyn for the NFL, he’d never have believed it, but Park Heights had come back, in a big way. What had been a crumbling old neighborhood had been reborn, as Manhattan’s young workforce tumbled over the bridges to live and play.

Hell, even his place was a story of bringing something back to life. The End Zone’s former owner, Chili Samuels, had practically gifted him the crumbling structure five years earlier. Although the old man had claimed it was because they went way back—Nick’s father having dragged him into Chili’s establishment through much of his youth—Nick knew better.

Other than great bones, the bar formerly known as Sam’s Place was nothing more than a dive, and Chili wanted nothing more than to get out from underneath it. Nick and his brothers had gutted the place practically down to the studs, then rebuilt everything from the ground up.

“We’re hot tonight.” Patty, his chief barmaid, sauntered up to the counter. Fifty if she was a day, her dark corkscrew curls hid a brain that could calculate a bar tab and tip at twenty paces, all while keeping exact count of how many drinks she’d served to each of her patrons.

“Yet you manage it like a pro.”

“Darlin’, I’ve been serving drinks since before I could have one myself. Nothing ruffles me.”

“Music to my ears.”

She grinned and patted her hair. “And yuppies with shiny credit cards, ordering high-end drinks, are music to mine.”

Nick shot her a wink, took her order for table twenty-five—refills he’d already committed to memory—and set about pouring wine and mixing a Sazerac. As he worked, his gaze drifted from the age-old dance going on with the young bucks and worked its way around the room in a steady progression.

He’d had the skill young and had further honed it during his years playing football. That ability to look, retain, and assess in rapid order. It was a quarterback’s bread-and-butter—the only way to ensure nearly every pass didn’t end up in your opponent’s hands—and he was damn good at reading his progressions.

Whether a natural skill or one he’d quickly developed because of his old man he didn’t know, but he had it.

His gaze settled once more on the blonde librarian, and he fought the nagging sense of familiarity that kept chewing at him. Was she a friend of one of his brothers? Although it seemed unlikely Fender would date a woman as buttoned up and polished as this one, Landon might know her. Was she one of his brother’s geek goddesses Nick had somehow forgotten?

“You got my Sazerac, Nicky?” Patty tossed a glance over her shoulder before lowering her voice. “The natives are restless tonight.”

“You know this one takes some time to make.” He nodded toward a glass already coated with Herbsaint before returning his attention to the bitters that finished off the drink.

“He’s so loaded he won’t notice if you skip the two-glass routine. Hell, he won’t notice if you just give him a glass of whiskey and be done.”

“You know who has his keys?”

“Already overheard his friend telling him this was the last round and that the car service was scheduled for ten.”

Nick glanced at his watch—estimated the guy could still do himself a fair amount of harm in the next thirty minutes—and eyed Patty. “See that Hector follows them out, will you?”

“You got it.”

“And send out two plates of potato skins on the house. It won’t sober him up, but it may slow him down a bit.”

“Will do.”

Nick handed over his masterpiece and reset the ingredients for the Sazerac on the back wall of the bar. He was a good bar owner—he didn’t rip off his patrons and he tried to watch out for their dumber choices—but he couldn’t fix how they’d feel the next morning.

As he turned back to face the room, Nick gave himself a moment. The bar was hopping tonight, and he couldn’t help but enjoy the view. This was his. The bar he’d built from scratch, sprouted from the seeds of professional football, after the actual dream of playing was ripped away from him.

This was good. Real and as solid as the teakwood under his fingertips.

And, in the five years since he’d opened the bar, it had become his new dream. One built as neatly with muscle and bone, sweat and labor, as football had been.

His gaze stopped once more on the pretty woman who’d captivated his attention all evening, her body language showing increasing disinterest. Her date’s chair had moved even closer, and Nick toyed briefly with heading over to say something to lighten the mood until a shout from the front door snagged his attention.

“Yo, boss!” Hector nodded toward the door and lifted a thumb. His head bouncer didn’t often ask for help, and Nick muttered a curse before he took off at a quick clip through the bar.

The sense of pride that had filled him as he gazed over what he’d built shifted, then swelled into something more.

This was his bar. His space. His rules.

And he protected what was his.

 

Emma Vandenburg Bradley shifted in her chair once more and tried to keep any note of encouragement from her words, facial expressions, or body language.

Not that her date seemed remotely aware of her lack of interest.

Pierce Summers was so into his retelling of his latest courtroom victory she was tempted to bust out a show tune or two just to see if she could shake his mind-numbing soliloquy. “My Favorite Things,” she thought, might do the trick. Raindrops on roses had already begun boring an earworm when the sound of a heavy tread had her turning in her chair.

A flock of nerves took wing in her stomach as Nick Kelley moved past her table, his long strides swift and determined as he headed for the front door. She fought to hold back the small sigh of feminine appreciation—it wouldn’t do to make Pierce think it was for him—but she was helpless to stop the swift kick of lust that tightened her tummy.

Nick Kelley had been tightening her tummy muscles—and several a few inches lower—since she was in high school. Fifteen years later, with a failed marriage under her belt, and the sure knowledge that professional athletes were not interested in quiet science types, it galled her to know nothing had changed.

“What do you say we get out of here?”

Emma keyed back into Pierce’s words—when had he stopped droning on about his case?—and fastened on her sweetest voice. Quiet, well-bred science types also didn’t like making anyone feel bad.

“Thanks for the evening, but I should get going. I had an early day at work today.”

“I thought your boss was more lenient than that.” His smile widened, and she wondered for a moment why there were no flutters in her stomach.

Not a single one.

Pierce was attractive. He had a good job and his mother had played bridge with her mother for years, so he was a known entity. There was nothing wrong with him.

Yet despite his most assured pedigree, she couldn’t conjure up an ounce of interest.

You’re cold, baby.

She pushed down on the words, unwilling to let them take root in her mind. She’d lived with the criticism for too long—lived with the sure knowledge she wasn’t enough. Instead, she pasted on a smile she didn’t feel and did her best to respond to Pierce’s lame joke. “My father’s the biggest clock-watcher there is. And he doesn’t just expect me to be in on time, but earlier than him.”

That megawatt smile didn’t dim. Instead Pierce pressed on, undeterred. “Set a second date, then. Tomorrow night?”

“Um. Well, you know. With just getting back into town, I’m still dealing with boxes and moving stuff.”

“On Saturday?”

“Well, every day until things are in order.” Emma thought of her small one-bedroom and how she’d already put everything to rights, but said nothing. If he was buying what she was selling, who was she to argue?

Pierce leaned forward and covered her hand with his. “I’ll call you then. We’ll figure something out.”

She nodded and already imagined how she’d dodge his call, a series of excuses already filling her mind.

And it was those very excuses—and the evidence of her old personality—that had fresh words spilling from her lips. “Thanks, really, Pierce. And I appreciate the lovely evening, but I don’t think we should go out again.”

His smile fell. “I see.”

“It’s been nice getting to know you better.”

“Yeah. You, too.” He stood and was already reaching for his jacket when she realized they’d not paid their tab. She did some quick math and reached for her purse, determined to show him she could pay her way.

When he made no move for his wallet, she gestured him on. “I’ll get this and I’m fine grabbing a cab.”

“Have a good night, Emma.”

“Yeah. You, too.”

She diligently ignored the tight knot in her throat as she dragged a few twenties from her wallet. She would not watch him leave. Hell, she was relieved he was leaving, so there was no reason to get upset about it.

Asshole.

“You get rid of that loser?”

Emma fought the hard laugh when she glanced up at their waitress. “Or he got rid of me.”

“Bastard left you with the tab?”

“I guess he figured he’d invested enough in a date going nowhere. Especially when I assured him there wouldn’t be a second one.”

“Rat bastard.” The woman’s dark curls shook along with her nodding head. “Don’t worry about the bill. It’s on the house.”

Emma glanced down at the bills—then back up at the grizzled smile—and handed over the cash. “Then this is yours. Thanks.”

“Nah, sweetie. You keep it.”

“I insist.” Emma foisted the bills off on her and stood, suddenly unwilling to stay a moment longer. Old memories snapped at her heels, and all she wanted was to get some fresh air and a cab. The fact that her latest humiliation had taken place in the middle of Nick Kelley’s bar was the icing on the cake of her monumentally shitty year.

Purse in hand, she wended her way through the bar. People laughed and talked, flirted and kissed. Each person she passed added further insult to her disappointing evening, and Emma pushed through the thick wooden front door with one goal in mind.

Do not cry. Do not cry. Do not

A heavy fist slammed into her eye, knocking her backward with the force of an oncoming F train.

Her last thought as her legs went out from under her was that it looked like her monumentally shitty year wasn’t quite done with her.

***
Copyright © 2016 by Addison Fox.
***
Learn more about or order a copy of At Last by Addison Fox, available November 1, 2016:

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Addison Fox can’t remember a time when words weren’t a part of her life. In addition to being an avid reader, she loves writing novels about strong-willed and exciting heroes and heroines – individuals who are meant for each other and who deserve their happy ever after. After she makes them work for it, of course!

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1 comment
Kareni
1. Kareni
Ouch! That said, I'd happily continue reading this. Thanks for the excerpt.
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