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Chapter One



“You do realize that you’re about to start a major shit storm today, right?”

Kyle Coleman shifted his attention to Nolan Roberts, the man sitting in the passenger seat of his truck and his best friend since childhood. “Yes, I’m well aware that I’m about to piss off a certain someone who has no idea another person is interested in the run-down building next to her father’s market,” he replied to his friend, his tone droll. “Just like I know you’re dying to witness everyone’s shocked reaction when they realize who purchased the place, so don’t fucking pretend you’re accompanying me because you enjoy my sparkling personality.”

Nolan merely smirked in response, silently admitting culpability.

When Kyle had mentioned attending today’s public auction to Nolan, his friend had insisted on accompanying him. Not for moral support. No, Nolan’s interest was all about witnessing the controversial purchase Kyle intended to make today. No matter the cost. Which meant outbidding Ella Fisher for the commercial piece of property she was also interested in. And because Kyle didn’t want to give his rival any advance notice that she had competition for the building, Ella had no clue she was about to be blindsided.

Admittedly, a part of him felt guilty about the element of surprise he had in his favor, and there was no doubt in his mind Ella was going to be livid when he won the auction. But business was business, and Kyle wasn’t about to treat this deal any differently just because he shared a tempestuous past with the woman who wanted the same piece of real estate that he did.

So, yeah, a major shit storm was about to touch down in his old hometown, as Nolan had so eloquently stated.

After his pronouncement, Nolan left Kyle to his thoughts as he continued to drive. He hit the outskirts of town, well aware that his brand-new, shiny red Ford F-250 was turning curious heads as he slowly drove the speed limit along the main street—appropriately named Main St.—which led through his hometown of Woodmont, Illinois, population 956, according to the welcome sign posted just outside the city limits. Considering the wide-eyed stares as he passed the various stores and the people strolling along the sidewalk, you’d think that he was driving a Bentley instead. But he knew the unique color of his truck, not to mention the rumbling sound of his diesel engine, was enough to alert everyone in town that an outsider was driving through.

He gripped his fingers tighter on the steering wheel as he headed toward his destination. For his entire childhood, he’d felt like an outsider in this small community, so why would this situation be any different? Ten years ago, he’d left Woodmont as a dirt-poor kid determined to be something better than his drunk, verbally abusive father, and today he was a successful multimillionaire and part owner of Premier Realty.

His position within the company wasn’t to sell houses and other real estate assets. He bought them. Old, run-down properties and structures that he and one of his partners, Connor, restored. Once they were finished with the improvements, the realty part of the company resold the place for a hefty profit. In the reality television world, he was labeled a “flipper”—and he fucking hated that term—but his professional business card billed him as a residential and commercial redeveloper.

But what he’d achieved an hour away in Chicago didn’t change the way a lot of the townsfolk still viewed him, thanks to his father’s belligerent personality and his brother’s list of transgressions that had somehow painted him with the same tainted brush and as one of the no-good Coleman brothers.

He’d like to believe that time had changed the town’s perspective of him, and for the most part, they treated him cordially and civilly, but he’d come to accept that there was one family in particular who would never welcome him with open arms. Yeah, his brother had burned that bridge long ago, and Kyle had been stupid enough to add fuel to the fire that had cost him the girl he’d been crazy in love with. A few unfiltered, hurtful comments spoken in frustration and anger had earned him a sharp slap to the face and a get out of my life response that still had the ability to make his stomach clench when he thought about everything he’d lost.

Ella Fisher was, and always would be, the one he’d let slip through his fingers. Obeying those words and walking away from her was his biggest regret, even if he’d told himself, repeatedly, that it was for the best. That a future together would never have worked out for them. Not after what his brother, Todd, had done to Ella’s sister. And not when her father had made it more than clear that Kyle wasn’t good enough for his daughter.

Over the past ten years, Kyle had come and gone from Woodmont on a regular basis, at least a few times a month, because his mother still lived here, while his townhouse was in Chicago. After his drunk of a father died and Todd ended up in jail on a manslaughter charge, Kyle made sure that his mother was taken care of and that the house his father had let fall apart was completely restored, since his mother refused to move or leave the small town.

But visiting his mother didn’t require him to interact with the residents since Patricia Coleman lived on the outskirts, which enabled him to avoid the main part of town and the possibility of running into Ella Fisher. Thanks to his mother’s tendency to keep him abreast of everyone’s business in town, the last Kyle heard, Ella had been engaged to a guy they’d gone to high school with after dating him for three years—the news of which had induced a gut-punch sensation in the pit of his belly.

Except Ella had never made it to the altar—the wedding had been called off a few months before the big day nearly a year ago. They were no longer a couple, and Kyle hated that a part of him was relieved, even though he knew there was no chance in hell that he and Ella could ever be what they once were. Unfortunately, no other woman had come close to replacing what he’d once felt for the girl he’d left behind.

Despite his mother’s updates, it had been a few years since he’d seen Ella in person, but as he drove past the five-and-dime, then the Family Diner, where his mother had worked all his life—and still did, despite him providing her with enough money to retire on—Kyle realized that was all about to change.

“I have to admit I’m a little curious to see how everything plays out today,” Nolan said, once again breaking into his thoughts. “Something like this is as exciting as it gets around here, and I’d rather see it happen live and in person than read it on the front page of the weekly gazette tomorrow or hear about it through gossip from one of my clients at the office,” he said of the accounting business Nolan had taken over when his father had retired.

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