Falling Fast # 1
By: Tina Wainscott
Releasing June 16, 2015
Fans of Jasinda Wilder and Colleen Hoover will adore this emotional new small-town romance—a smoldering tale of first love and long-awaited redemption from USA Today bestselling author Tina Wainscott.
Raleigh West works in an auto shop day and night, trying to put his broken past out of mind. It’s been seven years since the fiery crash that landed his teenage sweetheart in the hospital . . . and him in jail. In an instant, he lost everything: his passion for racing, his hope of escaping his father’s shameful legacy, and the only girl he ever loved. Raleigh hasn’t seen her since that awful night. Never got a chance to apologize. And never forgave himself, either.
When brave, beautiful Mia Wentworth returns to the Florida coast for the first time in what seems like forever, it’s not to see Raleigh. Even so, the moment she arrives she can feel his presence like a gust of wind that gives her goose bumps. Opening her heart to him again seems impossible. But staying away? That might be harder still. Lucky for them both, Mia’s never been the kind of woman to take the easy way out.
Today was the memorial service. She leaned closer to the mirror under the bright lights and applied a second coat of the thick makeup that covered the mottled skin along her right temple and down her jawline. There would be lots of people there, but she knew very few. Her heartbeat tripped at the thought of one of them.
She splayed her hand over her collarbone to calm her skittering pulse, the heel of her palm brushing against the scarred skin there. It nearly covered the divot-shaped scar left from the port during her cancer treatments. What would he think if he saw her like this, naked in the glaring light? Scarred skin covering her shoulder and arm all the way down to her hand. Down the side of her waist and hip. Her breasts rose and fell with her breaths at the thought of standing naked with him.
Or was that at the memory of the times she had been naked with him? Lying in his arms, their bodies plastered together. Moving in a rhythm as old as time, even if it had been brand-new for her. She had held on to those memories—the scents and sensations and soft laughter and the times they’d looked into each other’s eyes and the world had just stopped—during the pain and the surgeries and the rehab after the crash. They’d been her escape. Her lifeline.
She traced her finger along the scar across her stomach, now a soft, shiny arc. Raleigh had asked about it once, tracing it as she was doing now. She’d told him it was from a bicycle accident. She hadn’t been able to tell him about the malignant tumor, the first of many. Couldn’t face how his expression might change to pity.
But you lied to him.
She squeezed her eyes shut. Sheesh, she still hated herself for that. It was only supposed to be a summer romance. A flirtation. It wasn’t supposed to be . . . love.
“We have to leave!” her mom called.
“Coming!” Mia quickly dressed in linen pants and a beige top with sleeves cut long enough to cover the scars on her upper arms. She looked at the exposed scar tissue from her elbow down. Showing some scar tissue is nothing compared with what you’ve been through. You’ve faced long-assed needles, surgeries, death!
Not that her parents had ever discussed the mortality rate of alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma with her at the age of eight or ten or twelve . . . when she was first diagnosed and every time it had returned. But she knew by their reactions, by overheard conversations, that it was serious. Later, she’d found out that the survival rate was sixty to eighty percent, though she had been closer to sixty, given her circumstances.
With a deep breath, Mia headed to the door of the room where she’d always stayed during their visits. A room she hadn’t seen in seven years. A few phone calls, cards, a shared Christmas in Colorado—the extent of her connection with her grandmother since the crash.
She stepped into the living area, where her parents stopped and looked at her.
“You’re wearing light colors,” her mother said in her disappointed tone of voice.
“I told you, Nancy wouldn’t want people wearing black to her memorial. She said she always wore white or red to a memorial to celebrate life, not mourn it.”
“That’s just what people say when they talk about death. Besides, wearing black is the proper thing to do.” Her mother crossed her arms over her chest, waiting for Mia to dash into her room and change.
Her father glanced at his Rolex. “We don’t have time.”
Though Mia had her own car, she rode with her parents to the cemetery. Had her grandmother planned to pass during early summer, when the days were kissed by sunshine and light breezes? That would be just like her, to think of others. She had left instructions that her memorial—not a “funeral”—was to be held at the cemetery, not in a church. She hadn’t stepped foot inside a church in twenty years, as far as Mia knew.
“I don’t understand why she liked this place so much,” her mother said, looking around in disdain as they drove through the downtown area, with the old brick buildings claiming to be historic. “Then to insist on being buried here . . .”
Her father kept his eye on the road, his mouth a tight line the way it always was when she went on and on about his mother. “Mom wasn’t a city girl. She told me the moment she arrived in town for vacation she made up her mind that she wasn’t leaving.”
“Making us come down here to see her every year,” her mother groused.
Her father’s fingers gripped the wheel. “We haven’t been down in seven years.”
Because of Mia. At first, because she wasn’t in any condition to travel. Then it was that Grandma was “consorting”—Mia’s mother’s word—with the boy who had corrupted and disfigured their daughter.
At the time, Mia had been at a low point, having suffered through yet another surgery, with the prospect of continuing disfigurement. Grandma had called to say hello, then announced that she was putting Raleigh on the phone. Before he’d said more than a few words, Mia had blurted out that she couldn’t talk and hung up. A torrent of grief and regret poured from her, leaving her a sodden mess.
Through so much of her hospital stay and the pain, thinking about Raleigh had strengthened her. Hearing his voice, though, had knocked her completely off balance. The heartbreak had been so unexpected, so huge, that she hadn’t known how to process it. She had coping skills for facing surgery, facing her death and the deaths of the kids she got to know in the peds oncology ward. Counselors helped her with all of that. She had nothing when it came to losing love.
Later, she’d written a letter to Raleigh, sending it to her grandmother to give to him. She’d never heard back. Not that she blamed him. It was time to move on for both of them, she’d told herself.
Would he be at the memorial? Mia’s fingers involuntarily curled into her linen pants as she imagined seeing him. Her breath stopped. She needed to be prepared, just in case, so she let her mind conjure up a scenario. Seeing him in the crowd, wide shoulders filling out his shirt, face chiseled by the intervening years. Him striding close, gathering her hands in his, saying how much he missed her in that honey-rich voice. Her sinking against him, bracing his face in her hands, kissing him—
Whoa! Bad idea. Feelings from a long, long time ago. So no, amend that scenario.
He’s there, in oil-stained jeans, T-shirt tight over a beer belly, and a pregnant girlfriend. No, wife. Make him a little more respectable. But not totally. He ducks back to the car during the ceremony to sneak another drink of beer, leaving the wife standing awkwardly by herself.
Yeah, better. Much safer.
USA Today bestselling author Tina Wainscott has always loved the combination of romance and suspense, because nothing complements falling in love better than being hunted down. The author of more than thirty novels and novellas, Wainscott creates characters with baggage, past hurts, and vulnerabilities. They go through hell, find love, and, at the end, find peace in who they are and everything they’ve gone through. And isn’t that what everyone wants?