You Again ONLY
Back in high school, Allie McBride thought the sun set around Sam Fratto’s smiles, even if they were only friends. Now she’s older, wiser, hotter, and teaching at the same school they grew up in. When Sam joins the faculty, she has a chance to make good on the crush that got away. But when a dead body turns up on school grounds, they realize there might be a murderer in their midst. The heat keeps getting hotter between Allie and Sam, but more might be in danger than their hearts…
The cute kid from high school is all grown up…
A family crisis brings true-crime writer Sam Fratto back to town after more than a decade’s absence. Teaching at his alma mater seems like a good way to pass the time—especially when he sees that Allie, the geeky, sweet-mannered girl from high school, has blossomed into the saucy teacher in the classroom next door. Too bad finding a dead body transforms his return into one of his true-crime books come to life. And when it seems the killer might be after Allie next, it’s up to him to keep her safe…
A killer determined to keep the past buried at any price…
As if dealing with the return of one ghost from her past wasn’t enough, it looks like the killer might be the person they least suspected. Someone from the past. Someone with something to hide. Someone who thinks Allie and Sam are getting a little too close to the truth. If Allie and Sam are going to get out of this alive, these two friends to lovers will have to work together…or die together…
Title: You Again
Author: Ashlee Mallory
Length: 246 pages
Release Date: March 2014
by Ashlee Mallory
Copyright © 2014 by Ashlee Mallory. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Salt Lake City, Utah
“I think I seem him!” Allie McBride’s sister rose on tiptoes, an action that seemed unnecessary in Allie’s opinion, since Laney already towered over most of the people around her at the Salt Lake International Airport terminal. “Wait.” Laney squinted again and heaved a loud sigh of disappointment. “No. Never mind.”
Allie groaned. That had been about the twelfth time in ten minutes that her sister had bellowed in her ear that their nephew was finally in sight. Each time she was wrong, Allie’s patience ebbed.
“Are you sure the message board said the plane has landed?” Allie glanced at her younger half-sister. It had been over an hour since Jared’s flight was scheduled to arrive, the delay not entirely surprising considering the heavy snowstorm raging outside.
“Of course.” Laney chewed on her bottom lip. “But…maybe I’ll go double check. I need to use the restroom anyway.”
Laney wandered away, and Allie brought her attention back to the top of the escalator, as did the rest of her family waiting alongside her. Well, almost everyone. Her ten-year old twin nephews were more interested in wrestling each other than paying attention to the faces of the arrivals, even though it had been two years since they’d seen their older brother while he completed his two-year LDS mission to Taiwan.
Why had she agreed to come to this thing again?
When Laney called earlier to see if she was coming, Allie had tried to pull the usual card—that she, unlike her stepmother and large extended family, wasn’t even Mormon. That hadn’t gone over well. Allie’s other standby excuse—that she didn’t want to keep her young daughter up too late on a school night—wasn’t available since Violet was at her father’s. Then Laney’d had to go and pull out the big guns. Guilt. After all, her sister didn’t have the luxury of four-wheel drive, and everyone knew she was a terrible driver. Especially in the snow. And so, family duty prevailed.
Laney owed her big time.
Allie focused on the faces of the new glut of arrivals lining up at the top of the escalator. First up, a cute family of four in T-shirts, shorts, and flip flops. Man, were they going to be stunned when they stepped outside and got a taste of what the first week of April looked like in Utah. Behind them was an older couple with their arms filled with gift bags that Allie guessed were probably for spoiling grandchildren. Next was a lone figure with dark brown hair and a duffel bag slung over his shoulder. He looked oddly familiar. But since he had about a decade on her nephew’s twenty-one years, he was unlikely their man.
And yet…there was something about him. Strong jaw, slightly off-center nose, thick wavy hair that begged to be—
Her breath caught in her throat.
Oh, dear God. It couldn’t be. Not here. Not now, of all times.
Not when she was surrounded by her mob of a family, wearing a poufy, white snow parka and clunky boots. Her hair—she brought her hands up. Yep. Styled in the efficient but plain ponytail she’d opted for as she raced out the door. Hardly the image of sexiness she would have envisioned for this moment.
She wiped her sweaty palms on the sides of her jeans while Sam Fratto’s achingly familiar figure drew closer. Though drawn and tired, he looked no less handsome now than he had in high school, a dozen years before. Once a stoic and slender eighteen-year old athlete, Sam still looked stoic and slender, but with broader shoulders and the confidence of a grown man who had moved past the doubts and self-consciousness of youth. Unfortunately, he still looked just as temptingly touchable as she’d always found him.
He was almost at the bottom of the elevator.
“It’s him!” This time, it was her stepmother, Peg, who had taken up the cry. “It’s Jared!”
Sure enough, Allie could see the tall, lanky figure of her nephew finally coming into view just above Sam’s broad shoulders. Immediately, the family’s hand-painted welcome signs thrust into the air as they waved them to get Jared’s attention.
But Allie was unable to tear her gaze away from Sam.
Which meant she didn’t see the twins barreling toward him until they were only a foot away. Sam easily stepped around the pair, even if the tight line around his mouth indicated frustration. He swung his gaze to her.
Hazel eyes she could never decide were sea green or stormy gray stared at her in clear judgment. She held her breath and waited for any sign of recognition.
Instead, his gaze jerked away, he strode past her, and was gone.
Her body wilted as the adrenaline that had peaked earlier was swept away with acute disappointment.
Sam had not even recognized her.
With a quick thanks to the woman behind the rental car counter, Sam Fratto turned and scanned the small baggage claim area of Salt Lake’s International Airport. It didn’t take him long to find the carousel slated for the incoming flight from Los Angeles, and he made his way over. He glanced at his watch. Probably not much longer. Dropping his duffel bag to the tiled floor, he leaned back against one of the pillars to wait.
A glance out the window at the snow falling thick and white to the ground told him that even though it was the first week of April, Mother Nature liked to keep everyone guessing. And it looked like the snow was sticking, too.
It had been a long time since Sam had been home. Too long.
“Beat you!” The shout was followed by the appearance of the two boys who had almost lunged into him at the bottom of the escalator. The little reunion he’d had the misfortune of running into on his arrival was now making its way to the same baggage claim area.
Hell. Maybe it hadn’t been long enough.
In any other airport, he would have assumed the cheering gaggle of people holding hand-made signs bright with glitter were waiting to greet some Hollywood A-lister or rock star. But considering he’d just arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah, he knew otherwise. And the first sign he had made out welcoming Elder Jared home from his mission confirmed Sam’s guess.
It was a welcome home crew.
A welcome home crew who wasn’t aware of the general rules of courtesy and had blocked access between the bottom of the escalator and the rest of the airport. A problem made worse when the two little spawns had nearly sent him sprawling on his ass.
But it wasn’t that he was brooding over now. It was the pretty blonde who had triggered a faint memory of someone or something he couldn’t quite recall.
Even though she’d stood at the back of the group, she had been hard to miss. Pretty and slim, it wasn’t like she was wearing anything flashy or provocative. In fact, just the opposite.
But there had been something in the way she stared at him… Maybe it was the way her blue eyes had widened as she spotted him, and her mouth had dropped open in surprise. It was almost as if…she knew him. She had to be mistaken. Not that he was being overly modest. He was a critically acclaimed true crime writer. But he’d never had anyone actually approach him to ask if he was the Sam Fratto who had written four novels—the last two of which had been New York Times Bestsellers.
As if cued into his thoughts, she appeared again with the rest of the boisterous group. Deep in conversation with an older, sixty-ish woman, she hadn’t noticed him yet. Whatever the lady was saying to her, from the roll of her eyes, the blonde was barely tolerating it. The older woman touched her ponytail in distaste and shook her head. He recognized the symptoms. Had to be the mother.
The blonde’s gaze shifted and met his. Again, her eyes opened a little wider, and her whole body froze. He glanced away to give them privacy and trained his eyes instead on the carousel, willing it to move as the noise from the group drew near.
A little boy, no more than two, had pulled away from everyone and made his way over to the moving conveyor, where he climbed up and tottered across the slanted surface. No one from the group even looked his way, even as a loud ringing sound announced the imminent arrival of the baggage. But instead of sliding to his butt or climbing off the carousel, the little boy kept on walking, his steps becoming more precarious.
And still no one from the group looked his way.
No. Wait. The blonde seemed to realize the situation and was walking toward the kid. But she was probably a good thirty feet away, twice his distance. The carousel started moving. The toddler faltered. His arms flew out in front of him and he tilted sideways, falling, his little body about to meet the shiny, hard floor. Sam lunged forward and grabbed him just before his head slammed into the ground.
“Dylan!” The blonde had reached his side and grabbed the small bundle from Sam’s arms, her voice breathless. “Thank God. Are you okay?”
But the little boy seemed impervious to the danger he had barely escaped and struggled until she relented and put him down. He ran back to the group.
“Thank you,” she said, and smiled, gratitude warming those baby blues. And suddenly he was hit again with the feeling that he knew her from somewhere. Whoever she was, she could easily disarm a guy with that warm smile and those shining eyes.
Hell, if he didn’t watch it, he’d be asking for her number, or something even more ridiculous. Get a grip. After all, this was the same woman who had been too preoccupied to safely supervise her kid. Probably most of the dozens running around here were hers—and a husband lurked somewhere out there as well.
“You really should take better care of your kid,” he managed to choke out. His voice, not exercised much over the past few hours, was gruff even to his own ears. “Airports aren’t playgrounds.”
Any gratitude quickly dissolved as her blue eyes narrowed to slits, and her face brightened considerably. Ahh, hell. He hadn’t meant to snipe at her. He was dead tired and just wanted to get in his rental and start navigating those icy roads for home.
He hoped he could keep his sanity for the next couple of months. So far, it wasn’t looking too good.
His black suitcase came into view, and with no small amount of relief, he headed over and pulled it off the carousel. His duffel was still on the floor by the pillar where he’d dropped it, and he went and grabbed it, too. The woman’s straight back was all he could see as she returned to her group, pony tail bouncing. He swept up his duffel and headed to the exit, still wondering why she seemed so familiar.
Ah, well. He hadn’t come home for touching reunions, anyway. And he sure as hell hadn’t come home for touching pretty blondes.
No matter how tempting the thought might be…
The snow that had pounded the Salt Lake Valley the previous evening had melted into a slushy mess around her ankles by the time Allie reached the school the next morning. She trudged through the muck, grateful for her spot at the front of the faculty parking lot that had taken seven years of teaching at St. Andrew’s Academy to earn.
Excitement blossomed in her chest when she saw the small construction contingent parked on the north side of the school. Hopefully, the storm wouldn’t delay the first day of construction on the school’s new peace garden, scheduled to start today. She probably should be grateful yesterday’s snowstorm had held off until after the morning’s ground breaking ceremony.
She stepped into the school’s foyer and was assailed by the aroma of today’s lunch, Chicken Parmesan, already wafting from the cafeteria—along with wet socks and someone’s generous application of baby powder perfume. After taking a moment to wipe her boots, she swept into the hallway and proceeded to the faculty lounge for another dose of morning caffeine.
The hallway teemed with kids amped up on Red Bull, hormones, and spring fever—despite the abysmal weather. Returning from a week-long spring break, they were livelier than usual for a Monday morning, which only made it more difficult to push through. She evaded a near collision with a freshman flipping a soccer ball into the air, giving him a stern look, but was too tired to follow up with more.
The raucousness of the hallway lowered to a dull roar when she crossed the threshold into the faculty lounge. She took a deep breath. Peace and quiet—relatively anyway. Now for more coffee.
With time to spare before her first class, she refilled her travel mug and stopped at the fridge to pour in her favorite creamer—salted caramel mocha—before finding a seat. As if on repeat, her mind played back the events of last night—and Sam Fratto’s unexpected and brief cameo.
Could he have been any more of a jerk? And why, after so many years, was her body’s first reaction to him so…immediate? So visceral? One glance at the man still sent her heart thumping madly, just as it had when she was a painfully shy, overweight sophomore nursing a gripping crush on the handsome senior.
She would have recognized him anywhere.
His face had never been pretty-boy handsome like many of the popular heartthrobs back in high school, but it had been rugged. Strong. With a jaw that would set in a stubborn line when he didn’t like what he’d heard, which, frankly, had been much of the time. He’d never been one to throw away his smiles—no matter how sexy she thought them—but it was when he turned those light hazel eyes in her direction that she would hold her breath. And melt just a little.
“Have you heard the news?” her friend Janine squealed, and slid into the seat next to her. Janine’s hands thrummed with excitement as they tapped the surface of the table. A drama teacher at the academy, her flair for drama was innate. Her burgundy colored, choppy, mid-length haircut was no exception. Allie smiled, took a sip of her coffee, and waited.
“Jeremy may have found a replacement for Carter. They’re in Jeremy’s office as we speak, discussing the details.”
“Thank God.” This was better news than Allie could have hoped for. Hastened by the heart attack he’d suffered over the Christmas holiday, Robert Carter had announced his early retirement from the St. Andrew’s English department at the first of the year. Effective immediately. A substitute had picked up most of his classes, but there were a couple that Allie’d had the bad luck of being assigned until they hired his replacement.
“And that’s not even the best part. I haven’t seen him, but from what Marie says, he’s pretty hot,” Janine gushed.
“Which is not the best thing to have in a high school teacher, if you ask me,” the algebra and calculus teacher, Claire, added in her no-nonsense tone and took a seat with them, a steaming mug of tea in her hands. As always, Claire looked fairly bright-eyed and chipper, despite the early hour. She’d also been at the academy for seven years and was turning twenty-nine next month—but tended to have the stodginess of a seventy-year old. She was also Allie’s best friend at St. Andrew’s. “The last thing we need is dozens of impressionable girls flocking to his classroom. Mark my words. Trouble.”
“He could be Brad Pitt for all I care,” Allie said. “So long as he takes Carter’s Advanced Media and Graphic Design class from me. When your students know more than you about a subject, that’s trouble. Last quarter was a nightmare.”
“Which is probably why Marie was here looking for you earlier,” Claire said, and tucked a strand of her long, shiny, chestnut hair behind an ear. “She mentioned Jeremy was hoping you had time to swing by his office before your first class.”
Allie glanced at the clock. She had about ten minutes. She rose reluctantly and sighed. “Thanks. I’d better go drop off my stuff and get out of these boots first.”
“When you meet him, scope out his finger for a ring,” Janine called to Allie’s back. “If Tim doesn’t get his crap together and propose soon, I might have to start broadening the field. Or at the least, get Tim to think I’m broadening it.”
Allie passed the table where Señoras Pena and Sanchez, the school’s Spanish teachers, were perched. She offered them a quick smile. The two women gave significant glances to each other before returning mild, sedate smiles. Allie was left with the distinct impression they’d been talking about her. Hailed as the queens of gossip at St. Andrew’s, the two still managed to keep private anything related to their own lives. Probably due to the fact they conversed in rapid Spanish, so not many could follow.
A few minutes later, her bags deposited in her room on the second floor and her boots exchanged for comfortable clogs, Allie headed down to the principal’s office. This was going to be fantastic. A new teacher to help pick up some of the classes that had been foisted on her last quarter.
Maria, Jeremy’s secretary, was nowhere in sight when Allie arrived, but she could hear voices coming from his office. The door was partially open. After hesitating for a moment, she went over. The least she could do was let them know she was here.
She raised her hand, ready to knock, when she heard her name mentioned inside. “Allie should be here anytime. She was a student here close to the time you were, if I’m not mistaken. Allison McBride?”
“The name rings a bell.” That voice was vaguely familiar…
“Hey, Allie,” Marie practically yelled from behind her. Allie squelched down a scream of surprise. Somehow Marie had returned without her hearing—which said a lot, considering the height of those heels. “I don’t know if Jeremy’s back or not, have you tried the door?”
She had no doubt that Marie’s boisterous greeting had reached the men inside the office. Warmth suffused her face. “I was about to try,” she managed, hoping not to sound guilty. She took a deep breath and knocked.
She pushed open the door, and Jeremy rose from behind the desk.
“Hey, Allie. Sam, let me introduce you to Allison McBride, one of your fellow English teachers here at St. Andrew’s.”
She felt a terrible foreboding as he stood and turned to face her.
Time seemed to stand still for a long, horrifying moment as she stared at Sam Fratto’s all-too-familiar mug. The same guy who’d been so rude to her at the airport last night. The same guy she’d spent too many delicious, angst-ridden nights in high school dreaming about. The same guy who’d split town the day after he graduated, never to return.
This was the new teacher? Sam?