Lone Oak Feud*
*Previously published as The Boy Next Door
Also available in paperback format exclusively from Harlequin
Lone Oak, Kansas-a place where
old animosities never died...
In Lone Oak, Rundles and Salingers don't mix. Not since the tragic accident involving Zach Rundle's brother and Lindsey Salinger's mother. But when the well-being of Zach's five-year-old nephew is at stake, Zach and Lindsey are unwillingly dragged together again.
At first, Zach thinks the social worker is stirring up the old feud. But once he's back he realizes that's the last thing on her mind. Before long, the attraction they'd felt twelve years ago returns, too.
Could a child's needs bring them together? More important-would it help keep them together?
What if you discovered that all you ever wanted were the things you left behind?
(of previously published edition)
"THE BOY NEXT DOOR is a heart-wrenching novel of two families caught up in bitterness and blame. Amy Knupp skillfully tells their story with such realism that it is like watching the drama unfold in your own neighborhood. A strong story line, genuine characters and compassionate hero and heroine make for an unforgettable read."
--Donna, Cataromance, 5 stars
"In The Boy Next Door, Amy Knupp accurately describes the tension between two people dealing with a long-ago tragedy. Her characters are both complex and likable, a combination that's not always easy to achieve."
--Alexandria Kay, Romantic Times, 4 stars
"THE BOY NEXT DOOR is a very character-driven story that tackles some tough issues but also uses fun, levity, and love to create a more balanced and hopeful story. Ms. Knupp is sure to garner some new fans with this rewarding family-orientated love story."
--Sarah, Romance Junkies
"THE BOY NEXT DOOR was an engaging book, with characters that were believable and the romance was right on the mark.
--Marie, Loves Romances, 4 hearts
"Amy Knupp due to her powerful cast...provides a deep family drama."
(from original version; final edited edition may differ slightly)
Lindsey’s heart restarted as the driver got out and slammed the door. She glanced around to make sure Owen hadn’t emerged from hiding and witnessed her nearly becoming a pancake. She was relieved to see no sign of him.
Her relief smacked into a brick wall as Zach Rundle strode around the front of the truck toward the side of the driveway where she’d scrambled.
She felt herself shrink and stepped back as he approached. He was...bigger than she remembered. Broader. More muscular. Taller.
She could tell herself until she was dizzy from lack of air that he wasn’t more appealing than she recalled...but she’d be flat-out lying.
He wasn’t GQ-handsome. He was more of a dark-haired, tough, I’ll-do-what-I-please kind of man, but it looked good on him. Something about it attracted her. Or it would if it wasn’t Zach Rundle.
He gave off an air of boldness, as if he knew he could handle anything—and maybe had during his lifetime. She knew his childhood hadn’t been particularly rosy, but he definitely didn’t look any worse for the wear.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Just perfect, thanks.”
“Sorry about that. I wasn’t expecting anyone on the driveway.”
“So I noticed. There’s a child living here, you know.”
He started to respond, then closed his mouth.
The moment she’d dreaded for years was finally here, and it was every bit as awkward as she’d imagined. Worse. Because he was being nice.
She wished she could forget about how he’d humiliated her years ago. How he’d sent her away. But sixteen was an age where girls were easily scarred by rejection. Here it was, twelve years later, and his still stung.
Lindsey’s mouth was suddenly parched. She moistened her lips. “Thanks for coming so quickly--“
“You didn’t give me much choice, did you?” His tone carried a hint of annoyance.
She straightened and inched forward. “Believe me, if I wasn’t tremendously concerned about your nephew, I would never have called you.”
He sized her up, seemingly trying to decipher her motives, as if she were hiding something. The only thing she hoped to hide was how he made her feel like she’d been shot back in time more than twelve years.
Zach stepped forward, not taking his eyes off Lindsey. It was a stare-down. She definitely had the advantage on that one, as he felt slightly off-balance just being close to her.
She was still a beauty. Still had the looks of the town sweetheart, of the girl who could do no wrong. Heart-shaped face with skin like fresh peaches and cream, brown eyes with a glimmer of spirit in them, prominent cheekbones and long brown hair that’d been tossed around by the wind. The only thing missing was that damnable dimple. As long as she didn’t smile, he’d be okay. And at the present moment, she didn’t seem much in a smiling mood.
“I’m still trying to figure out why you did call me. Why would you care about anyone in my family?” He kept his voice steady. No need to show how unraveled he felt.
She whipped her hair back behind her shoulder, clueing him in to the fact that she was upset. Welcome to the club.
“Your grandma could have a serious problem. Dementia. Alzheimer’s. Something entirely different. Family members are often the last to admit there’s anything wrong.”
What kind of psycho-babble was she rattling on about? What did she know about families and dementia and...and then it hit him. She was a social worker of some kind. He remembered hearing it vaguely—one of the thousands of downfalls of coming from a town too small to piss in—you heard stuff you didn’t want to know about people you tried not to think about, even once you’d moved on.
“We don’t need social services, so you can quit hovering like a vulture, waiting to swoop in.”
Her eyes flashed with emotion. “My job has nothing to do with my concern for that boy. He’s a sweet child who deserves more than he might possibly be getting.”
A dark-haired kid popped out of the bush at the end of the driveway and came barreling toward them. “You didn’t find me! I’m gonna make it to base!” he sing-songed as he zipped past.
Lindsey took off after him, letting him beat her. Once they hit the back steps, they both collapsed in laughter.
“I winned! I winned!” The kid Zach assumed was Owen bounced on the bottom step, pleased with himself. Lindsey congratulated him with a hug. Zach could tell she was used to being with kids. The total opposite of him.
“You’re too good for me, Owen,” she said. “That was a tricky hiding spot.”
She gave Owen a high five. Zach felt like an outsider standing outside the home where he’d grown up.
He watched the kid with concealed interest, unable to fully grasp he was Josh’s flesh and blood. Zach’s nephew. Owen seemed full of energy and in no danger. He was scrawny, but then, Zach and Josh had both been rail-thin as kids, too.
Lindsey, on the other hand, wasn’t rail-thin. Her modest curves and tiny waist were apparent through the snug fit of her sweater and jeans. She was a far cry from the teenaged girl who’d approached him in the backyard shop. He’d been turned on by her then, but this version of Lindsey threatened to send his thoughts in all kinds of directions he hadn’t allowed them to go for a long time.
Zach had grown up, gotten serious. Figured out the important things in his life, and a woman wasn’t one of them. He was more interested in practical, uncomplicated things, like his career. He was no longer a sucker for a pretty face or a fantasy-inspiring body. Especially not one with such a load of emotional baggage, who lived in a godforsaken place he would never call home again.
The back door was out of sight from where he stood, but Zach heard the old screen door squeak open.
“Owen! Come over here! Salinger girl, get your skinny butt off my property!”
Lindsey’s eyes closed and he could see her take a deep breath even from where he stood. She didn’t give his grandma a glance, but bent down to Owen. “See you, kiddo. I had fun playing with you.” She smiled warmly at the boy, giving no obvious sign of being bothered by the scolding.
He couldn’t help but notice the contrast between how she handled herself now and how she used to burst into tears with very little provocation—he’d witnessed it several times from afar. Gone was the girl who wore her heart on her sleeve. In her place was...definitely a woman.
He tore his attention from any thought of her as the opposite sex. She was simply the nagging inconvenience that had dragged him from his life in Wichita for a few days.
Zach strode up the driveway toward the back door, and their eyes locked. For an instant. Sparks of challenge and, dammit, attraction, shot between them. She pivoted and walked toward the sidewalk. Once she’d passed him, he turned around to check out the skinny butt his grandma had mentioned. Then he turned away, reminding himself he didn’t want to think of her that way.