Authors: Nicole Helm
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #AcM
Forced proximity, natural attraction
Moving in with her brother isn’t what free-spirited Grace McKnight imagined doing at age thirty. But under the circumstances, it’s for the best. The complicating factor? Kyle Clark, her brother’s business partner—aka the most infuriatingly buttoned-up person Grace has ever met.
Living with Kyle causes as much friction as Grace expected. And plenty she didn’t. She and Kyle have more in common than she thought. Now, instead of pressing his buttons, she’d rather undo them. Only, getting closer to Kyle means discovering his darkest secrets, and convincing him—and herself—those secrets won’t tear them apart.
“I wish you wouldn’t push this.”
But Grace wanted to push. It was something far more appealing than dealing with the fact she hadn’t gotten over all her fears in seven long-ass years.
“I’m not pushing anything. If you don’t feel anything for me, walk away.”
Kyle didn’t. Indecision played all over his face. From what she knew about Kyle, she imagined there was quite the internal war going on inside that all-too-active brain of his, but she could wait it out.
She knew what his lips would feel like on hers, but just the faintest of touches. She had a vague sense of what he would taste like, but their kiss from a few days ago had been so brief, so totally on her that it was really just a teaser, an appetizer.
And now, she was really interested in the main course.
It’s rather surreal to sit down and write a “dear reader” letter for my very first Harlequin Superromance. I’ve been reading these from authors I greatly admire for years, and to now be one of them is...well, something I’m very, very proud of!
When I set out to write
Too Close to Resist,
I started pretty much as always—trying to write a story people can recognize or relate to. But I knew I wanted to do two things within that realm: first, I wanted to write two main characters who were fundamental opposites. As that idea grew, I realized I wanted them to have dealt with similar things in their pasts, and have that
those differences. So it wasn’t just that they had different personalities, they had completely different ways of dealing with traumatic events.
The second thing I knew, perhaps even before I knew who Grace and Kyle really were, was that I didn’t want the hero to swoop in and save the heroine in any situation. I wanted Grace, whatever danger might befall her, to be standing in that moment alone. There would be no white knight saving her, but a partner who would stand beside her in the aftermath. Support her and comfort her, but not “fix” anything for her.
I couldn’t be happier with how that turned out, or how much I love these two and the way they stand by each other. I hope you’ll enjoy them too!
P.S. Keep an eye out for my upcoming titles from Harlequin E, coming later this year!
Too Close to Resist
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nicole Helm grew up with her nose in a book and a dream of becoming a writer or an artist. When her middle school art teacher poked fun at her stick figure birds, she decided to focus on writing. Luckily, after a few failed career choices, a husband, and two kids, she gets to pursue that writing dream. She lives in Missouri with her husband and two young sons, and writes her books one baby’s nap at a time.
For my mom.
I’ve been waiting for the perfect book to dedicate to you. One that would mean something extra special, but as I thought about what that “extra special” might be, I realized, that was irrelevant. Every book I’ve written, every character I’ve come up with, goes back to you reading chapters out of
Little House on the Prairie
to me. Every heroine with a backbone, a strong belief in herself and a sense of humor is because you taught me those things just by being you. Thank you for everything, always.
doing this.” Grace McKnight sat in the passenger side of her brother’s truck and tried not to feel like a coward or a failure.
She wasn’t succeeding.
“Happy to do it.”
Grace fidgeted in her seat. Jacob’s good-natured acceptance of her proposal didn’t make this any easier. Nothing about Barry’s getting out of jail had made life easier. Nothing.
Seven years after he’d beaten her into a three-day coma, Barry was still influencing her life. No matter how Grace tried, she couldn’t find another alternative.
Going to live with her brother currently felt like the only option. Not only because of Barry and what he might do to the woman who’d testified against him, but also because living within walking distance of her parents was driving her insane, or at least turning her back into the jumpy weakling she’d been directly following her incident.
She couldn’t go back to being that person. So a little buffer from her parents was necessary, no matter how much it felt like running away.
Barry hadn’t even been released before Mom and Dad started hovering. Dropping in multiple times a day at the gas station where she worked—even when they should have been at work themselves. Bringing her dinner or breakfast at her tiny house a few streets over from theirs. Filling in every second of her life with false cheer and barely contained worry.
Grace couldn’t blame them, but she also couldn’t handle it. It was hard enough living with the fear that Barry would try to seek some kind of revenge. Her parents’ constant checking up and fake smiles, buying her alarms and talking to county deputies behind her back left her ready to head back to therapy.
She’d worked too hard and come too far to go back to being that woman who hid from everyone and everything.
So she’d stay with Jacob for a month or two, let her parents see that everything was all right. Give them some time to calm down and relax. If she lived with Jacob, they wouldn’t hover as much. Jacob had a security alarm, a roommate. Grace would be safe, constantly surrounded by Jacob or Kyle. They would believe she was safe and looked after. They wouldn’t be by her side constantly.
A few weeks and her parents would see that Barry’s being out of jail changed nothing. She could convince them. Had to. Because if she convinced them, she’d be that much closer to convincing herself.
And then maybe things could go back to normal.
Grace moved her gaze to her tattoo. A Native American morning star, it symbolized strength and courage. A nod to Grandma Davenport, the strongest woman Grace had ever known.
Symbols had strength. Grace had to believe they’d give her some. Even when this felt cowardly. Even when it felt as if she was giving up, she had to let that symbol give her some comfort.
She was doing what she had to do. For herself. For her parents. For the life she deserved. It wasn’t running away if it saved her sanity or kept her parents from worrying themselves into an early grave. Was it?
Grace took a deep breath and let it out, watching the small town of Carvelle fade away into cornfields and then into the larger town of Bluff City.
Grace preferred Carvelle’s small-town charm, and the ability to survive without a car because everything was within walking distance, but Bluff City had its moments. The Mississippi snaked below the town, calm and lazy. The sun was shining and even some of the deserted brick buildings along the riverfront looked pretty instead of dilapidated or flood worn.
Or maybe that was just her appreciation for the damaged and neglected.
Jacob’s house/office was an old Victorian nestled in the bluffs. Grace smiled as they approached the big building with curving edges and diamond windows. Five years had transformed it from a deserted, decaying eyesore to a shining white vision of the past. With the bluff to the side and the river beneath, it was downright gorgeous and a testament to the success of MC Restorations.
Her baby brother had built a business he loved. She tried not to let that be a source of bitterness for her. Sure, she spent forty hours a week cashiering at a gas station, but she also spent the rest of her free time happily painting. On occasion, she sold a piece, too.
She wasn’t an abysmal failure, and she wouldn’t let herself wallow in thinking she was.
Jacob pulled into the lot out back, and with the reality of the situation sitting in front of her, Grace tensed. Living with her brother was one thing; invading his business territory was another. Because Jacob didn’t live or work in this house alone.
“You never did tell me how you got Kyle to agree to this.” Jacob’s business partner and roommate, Kyle Clark, wasn’t her biggest fan. To put it mildly.
“He’s a decent guy, Grace. I know you two rub each other the wrong way, but he wasn’t going to say no to this.”
Grace stepped out of the car and looked up at the house that would be her home while she searched for some semblance of normal.
Yes, she and Kyle rubbed each other the wrong way. He was all repressed, cold impassiveness and she was, well, a normal human being with feelings. Feelings she expressed verbally and through her art.
She had no problem with people who were different from her, but Kyle was bound and determined to look down his nose at her and her choices. It never failed to rub her the wrong way.
Jacob gave her a nudge. “Come on. Let’s get you settled.”
It was cold enough to warrant wearing a coat, but Grace decided to tough it out without one. She hefted her bag onto her shoulder and pushed Jacob away from trying to carry her suitcase and painting-supply case.
They walked in the back entrance, which had once been meant for servants. The thought made Grace smile. She definitely belonged in the servants’ quarters.
“Oh, do me a favor, don’t tell Kyle about your gun. Not sure how well that one will go over.”
She patted her bag. “Keep ol’ Betsy on the down-low. Got it.” Not a problem. She didn’t go around announcing to the world that she could barely stand the thought of leaving her house unarmed. It wasn’t something she was proud of. Fear lived and breathed inside of her, but shame and determination kept it buried.
Grace followed Jacob up the back stairs to the room he’d earmarked for her.
He stopped at the top of the stairs. “I had Kelly come in and do the interior design for your room.”
“I told you not to do that.”
He shrugged, pushing the door open. “The more rooms we have to show what we can do, the better. I just rearranged the order a bit.”
“I’m sure Kyle loved that.” The minute Grace stepped into the room, she forgot all about Kyle and his OCD tendencies. “Jacob, this is gorgeous.” It was a tiny room—Grace had insisted on that. Not to mention its location had been the most practical choice in staying out of Jacob’s and Kyle’s hair. Their offices were on the other end of the long hallway.
Even if the room was tiny, it was absolutely perfect. She had a big window that overlooked the river. The light would be excellent to spend her mornings painting. The view was inspiring. Yeah, this was a little better than spending eight hours at Cabby’s, then going home and painting by unnatural light in the basement of her little house.
Not that she’d had time to paint with her parents’ constant hovering.
Grace took in the rest of the room. She’d expected the fuss and frills of the Victorian era, but it wasn’t like that at all. The walls were a deep green with a gleaming white trim. The full-size bed was covered in a floral-print bedspread, but the little violets were so tiny and pale lavender, it didn’t overwhelm the room. A small dresser stood in the corner with a ceramic lamp, delicately painted with more violets to match the bedspread. A lavender vase held a clutch of pink roses.
“I know it’s a little girlie with the flowers, but Kelly said an artist could appreciate a little girlie. Even you.”
Grace dumped her bags near the closet and grinned. No, she’d never been much of a girlie girl, but this was too pretty to resist. She was already planning out the colors she’d use to watercolor a hillside of violets to match the room.
“It’s perfect. Perfect.” She gave Jacob an impulsive squeeze. Leave it to her brother to make sure she wouldn’t want to leave anytime soon.
“I even had Kelly leave the walls bare so we could put up something you paint here. Artwork inspired by the room itself. Clients will eat that up.”
Grace was speechless and a little misty. She’d learned a lot in the past seven years, mainly how to protect herself, but she’d also learned firsthand that her little brother was one hell of a man when he wanted to be.
Grace turned and wrinkled her nose at Kyle standing in the doorway. It was a Saturday, and what was he wearing? Khakis and a button-up shirt. Who did that? If he ever deigned to wear jeans and a T-shirt, he might actually be kind of cute. In that preppy, brooding kind of way.
He’d filled out a bit since high school. Now instead of looking like a beanpole, he looked more as if he could be a marathon runner, lean but all muscle. He kept his blond hair cut very short, and his dark blue eyes always looked at her with the practiced disdain of royalty.
Which was crap because he was from Carvelle just like her and Jacob. Not only that, but he’d grown up in the trailer park while she and Jacob had lived in a small but cozy house in the nicer part of town thanks to two teacher parents.
But Kyle always went on about wine and opera and every pretentious thing under the sun with his clients, as though he was from somewhere cultured and fancy. He seemed to go out of his way to make people think he was something better, shinier and more important than a boy from a trailer park.
Grace wanted to feel sorry for him and what little she knew of his difficult childhood, but Kyle did everything in his power to pretend that his years in Carvelle didn’t exist.
It rankled Grace’s nerves the way he sneered at her choice of clothes, or her tattoo, or the colorful strands of her hair. He seemed on a mission to make her feel like the gum he’d scraped off the bottom of his shoe.
She didn’t deserve that treatment, and she’d never let him believe she did.
But he was agreeing to let her stay at his house. And she knew, mostly when her guidance counselor mother reminded her, that Kyle’s attitude had to stem from some kind of insecurity. So she would try to be nice.
His tone was bland. He sounded like a butler in one of those boring British movies where nothing happens and people just look at each other longingly.
Whatever, Mr. Khaki Pants.
“Thank you for letting me stay.” Her gratitude was sincere, even if he wasn’t one of her favorite people.
You’re here. Grace. Welcome. Of course.
Could the guy string more than two words together? Grace turned to the window and the pretty view below. It really was best now that he was so tight-lipped, because she had a bad habit of baiting him when he started talking about anything.
He shouldn’t bother her. Grace knew that, but it didn’t change the fact that he did. All that condescension and disapproval. It was human nature to want to be contrary, wasn’t it? She certainly wasn’t going to go the Kyle Clark route and dress and act like some kind of stuffy, repressed robot just because bad things happened.
No. She lived in the moment, for the moment, took everything she could from the moment. Screw rules. If she wanted her hair to be fuchsia, so be it. If she wanted to tattoo her face with an obscene picture, her prerogative. And if Mr. Stick-Up-His-Ass frowned upon it, she most certainly did not care.
Grace flipped her hair over her shoulder, hoping he noticed the cascade of color beneath the brown.
Mom’s voice reminded her to play nice, and Grace felt immediately contrite for her inner diatribe. Sore nerve? Ugh. The guy was doing her a favor; she was going to have to cut him some slack. Or just avoid him at all costs. But right now, avoidance wasn’t an option. “It’s a great room. You guys have accomplished a lot.”
Grace rolled her eyes at yet another two-word sentence, but she bit her tongue. No need to get off on the wrong foot her very first day.
Silence settled over the room and Grace sighed. “All right, let’s get this over with.” She could feel the pinned-up tension waving off Kyle and weighing heavily on the small corner room. She could ignore it, or they could all get it out of their systems so the next few weeks went smoothly.
“What?” Jacob and Kyle asked in unison.
“Mr. Stickler over there probably has a list of rules for me while I’m here. Probably wants me to sign a blood oath I’ll follow them, too.”
Jacob looked at Kyle, then the ceiling. Obviously she’d been right.
“It’s okay.” She hopped onto the pretty bed, stretched out. “Lay ’em on me.”
* * *
did have some ground rules for Grace, but even he wasn’t rude enough to bring them up the minute she arrived. Especially when she was staying with them for such...sensitive reasons.
But Grace embodied everything Kyle worked so hard to rise above. No, she didn’t just embody it, she embraced it. She flaunted it. He had a business to run in this house, and her image didn’t match.
And if he kept telling himself that, he could ignore that Grace always put him off-kilter. Always prompted more response out of him than he wanted to give.
“I’m sure you have something to say about my tattoo,” she offered. “You’re always sneering at it.”
He wanted to argue. He didn’t sneer at it, per se. It was just so bright and...visible. That was fine for Grace, it even kind of suited her, but Grace...Grace did not fit the ordered, muted world he wanted.
“Your tattoo is fine, but... Well, it’s an image thing. We routinely have clients taking tours of the house. While your room will be off-limits for the duration of your stay, we may ask you to vacate it for scheduled tours. The kitchen and TV room are within the common areas. It’s likely you’ll be seen. Some people are put off by tattoos.” Which was why no one ever saw his.