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Mrs. Miller’s Lemon Bars

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• • • Something to Prove • • •

Something to Prove

“A heart-warming story about a bad girl returning to her small home town, finding romance, and discovering that you can go home again.  Loved it!” —  New York Times bestselling author Linda Howard

In the small waterfront town of Magnolia Beach, Alabama,  people may forgive, but they never forget—especially when it comes to scandalous reputations, juicy gossip, and a sexy new flame.

Former wild child Helena Wheeler was happy to leave behind her hometown—and her sordid past—for Atlanta twelve years ago. But when her grandmother suffers an injury, Helena has no choice but to return, even if it means facing down all the people who have shunned her.

Ryan Tanner went from being a football legend in high school to Magnolia Beach’s young, hot bachelor mayor. As a teenager, he never wanted anything to do with a girl like Helena. But when she hires Ryan to do some construction in her grandmother’s house, he finds that she’s grown up into a different person—one he quite likes.

For Helena, confronting her past has its share of surprises—and falling for the resident golden boy was definitely not on her to-do list. But will her reformed ways be enough to get her back in the town’s good graces, or will her reputation keep Helena and Ryan apart for good?

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“Well, well, well, the rumors are true. If it isn’t Hell-on-Wheels.”

Helena spun toward the amused baritone. She was getting much quicker at putting names to faces, but she wouldn’t have needed any help matching the twenty-year-old Ryan Tanner with the version standing in front of her now. Sun-streaked blond hair, strong jaw, green eyes with cute little crinkles from being outside . . . There was something just so damn wholesome about him that he could be the centerfold for Cute Boys Next Door magazine. In jeans, a black polo shirt, and work boots, he certainly didn’t look like he belonged in the mayor’s office, but it did give him an almost edgy sex appeal—not hurt at all by the way the sleeves of his shirt strained against his biceps.

Under different circumstances . . . hummina. But that mocking “Hell-on-Wheels” comment had her hackles up. “It’s just Helena these days.”

“I’m sure the chief will be glad to hear it. He’s new and all, but he’s very committed to keeping Magnolia Beach orderly and peaceful.”

And there it was. She’d rather hoped that Ryan had outgrown his holier-than-Helena attitude. Be an adult. Let it go. “I doubt I’ll have time to make his acquaintance, but please pass along my regards.”

Ryan walked around Julie’s desk and pulled some papers out of an in-box. “What brings you to the mayor’s office? I don’t think even you’ve been in town long enough to cause any trouble.”

Don’t take the bait. “I’m looking for you, actually.”

Ryan’s eyebrows went up in surprise. “Then maybe we should step into my office.”

“It’s not official Magnolia Beach business. I need to talk to you about my grandmother.”

His attitude changed. It was subtle, but it was there all the same. Ryan indicated she should go into his office anyway. Somehow, she’d been expecting it to be dated and stuck in time, but it was modern, with nice, but not-too-expensive-looking furniture. Ryan’s eyes were concerned as he asked, “How is Ms. Louise?”

There was something very heartening about how much everyone seemed to care about Grannie. Her hospital room had remained full of fresh flowers, and she’d had a steady stream of visitors at the convalescent center. That knowledge had helped mitigate her own guilt at not being able to be there every day.

Growing up, Helena never understood why Grannie loved living in Magnolia Beach, but then again, Grannie had never done anything to irritate the people. Well, besides having a hellion for a grandchild, of course. But even then, everyone had considered Helena to be Louise’s personal cross to bear and kept Grannie as a permanent fixture on the church’s prayer list for her patience and attempts to rein Helena in.

“She’s chomping at the bit to be released.”

“I’m not surprised. When will she be coming home?”

“Two, maybe three, weeks. That’s why I’m here.”

“So you’ll be staying awhile?” Ryan’s eyebrows went up again, as if he were calculating the cost of adding an additional officer or the possible property damage. Helena reminded herself not to be annoyed.

“A little while.” She sat in the guest chair in front of his desk. “Grannie is going to need a lot of help when she comes home. Which brings me back to you. She can’t come home until the house is ready for her. I need ramps built and one of those walk-in bathtubs installed downstairs. We need some grab bars, stuff like that throughout the house, because I don’t want her falling again.” Just the thought put a sick feeling in her stomach. “Grannie wants you, specifically, to do the work.”

Ryan leaned against his desk. “Tell Ms. Louise that I’m flattered.”

“But . . . ?” she prompted.

“No but. I’ll be happy to do it.”

“Great. That’s a big relief.” And it was. The construction on the house was the biggest weight on her shoulders right now. And since she really didn’t have the time to vet a parade of contractors, she’d go with Grannie’s assurance that he was the best in Magnolia Beach. “I have some errands to run this morning, but I’ll be home after that. You can come by anytime this afternoon or tonight to take a look and give me some estimates.”

Ryan pulled out his phone and checked something. “Sometime after five okay?”

“That’ll be great.” She started to offer the address, but caught herself. “I think you know how to get to the house.”

“That I do.” There was that smirk again.

Helena was desperate to ask him what was so damn funny, but she restrained herself. “Then I’ll see you this evening, Mayor Tanner.” She stood and hitched her bag over her shoulder.

He nodded, and Helena showed herself to the door. “Welcome back to Magnolia Beach, Hell-on-Wheels,” Ryan called from behind her. “Stay out of trouble, okay?”

She had to bite her tongue to keep from taking the bait this time. With a nod to Julie on her way out, she pushed through the glass doors and into the sunshine.

Lord have mercy. If this morning was the baseline for what life was going to be like for her the next few weeks . . .

Magnolia Beach had a lot of new businesses. She sincerely hoped one of them was a liquor store.

****

Ryan watched as Helena left in what could best be called a mild huff. Maybe he shouldn’t have needled her like that. It wasn’t his best move, but since the other choice had been to drop his tongue to his toes, he’d probably made the better choice out of self-preservation.

Helena had been the stuff of teenage fantasy: pretty, but not unapproachably beautiful, wild and possibly dangerous, inspiring fear and envy and disdain at the same time. She ran with a crowd of mostly older boys—many of them delinquents themselves—giving her a scary sharp edge and a mouth that could cut you down to size without missing a beat.

The combination had been both alluring and detracting, much talked about in locker rooms and over illicit beers on the beach. So while Helena might have inspired the fantasies and starred in the dreams of many Magnolia Beach boys, very few had had the courage to act. They all knew she was way out of their league. Hitting on Helena seemed like a good way to have your head handed back to you.

He’d managed to stay out of her direct line of fire—most of the time—mainly because they’d run in different social circles. And though those circles didn’t overlap, they did grate against each other pretty regularly with the expected antagonistic results. He knew Helena hadn’t cared for him back then, but any chance he might have ever had to change her mind had ended when she up and left with a deckhand from one of the charter boats.

She never came back. Until now.

That allure should have faded over time, so the fresh rush of temptation had rocked him back on his heels. She’d certainly grown up pretty—the big brown eyes and dark hair were just as he remembered, but there was something . . . softer about her. More approachable.

She’d been casually dressed—jeans, a V-neck tee that just hinted at cleavage, minimal makeup—but that didn’t have a girl-next-door effect. And the spike in his blood pressure wasn’t adolescent at all.

Damn.

Mrs. Miller’s Lemon Bars

Bottom Layer

1 cup flour

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup cold butter (unsalted)

Mix in food processor until crumbly. Press into a 8×8 dish. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes

Lemon Layer

2 eggs

1/3 cup lemon juice (for extra zing, add 1/4-1/2 tsp lemon zest)

1/4 tsp baking powder

1 cup sugar

2 Tbsp flour

Mix together in food processor and pour over crust. Bake at 350 for 18-22 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool before cutting. Dust with powdered sugar. Store in refrigerator.

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