Love by Design
A Crystal Falls Novel
Noah Caldwell seems to have everything – a very successful architectural firm, more clients than he can handle, a beautiful new home and the cover of one of the top design magazines in the country. But none of it matters because he’s missing the one thing he really wants – Lily.
Lily Daly has said goodbye and good riddance to the man who broke her heart. She’s started a new life and a new interior design business, Daly Design. When a rich client calls, it seems her dreams are about to come true. Until she finds her ex-boyfriend Noah working the job as well.
Will Lily and Noah find a way to start again? Will they be able to build a second chance for themselves? Or will their differences be too much for them to overcome?
An Excerpt from Love by Design
A week ago, as Lydia had said goodbye to Lily outside of Plush, she’d given her a set of keys for the cabin along with a warm hug. It hadn’t quite seemed real to her until that moment, with the keys to someone else’s property in her hands, that she was actually working on her first real job as a business owner.
Finding a friend in Lydia had changed everything for her. She’d been determined from the beginning to make it work, but that first day with the surprise of Noah and the rudeness of her client had tested her. Knowing she would mostly be working with Lydia and that they had a similar eye for design made it all seem bearable. She thought she might even be able to tolerate Noah. Or at least find plenty of ways to avoid him.
Now, she hesitated at the door of the cabin before putting the key in the lock. This was it, her very first real job. She was determined to make it perfect. She readjusted the bag on her shoulder, heavy with samples and magazines, and turned the key, pushing the door open.
The cabin was musty and as she walked through the big, empty living area, the dust she kicked up made streaks in the late-afternoon sun. She’d hoped to time her visit so she would miss Noah and whatever crews were already working on the remodel and the complete quiet inside told her she’d done just that.
Her biggest challenge in designing was the fact that Noah was planning to change so much. She had no idea how the cabin would look when he was finished with it and it was hard to design the decor when she couldn’t visualize the finished product.
She knew she should just call Noah to see if she could get a copy of the remodel plans. It was what she would have done had she still worked at Blackwood. But so far she hadn’t worked up the courage to dial his number.
She set her bag down and went to the master bedroom. With any luck Noah would get the work started soon and she could at least make the most important room in the house perfect.
Lily was surprised to find the room empty of all the old furniture that had cluttered it only a week before, a gaping hole now cut in one exterior wall and covered with a sheet of plastic. Where the wall between the bedroom and bath had once been, only support beams remained. She’d heard Noah and Mrs. Upton talking about redoing the fireplace and it looked like he’d already gotten started on it.
She moved toward the missing exterior wall and looked out to the patch of grass below. She imagined the area in spring, flowers blooming, the trees putting on new leaves. She made a note to shop for an outdoor table and chairs, possibly some lights for the trees. It was the perfect place to sit with a morning cup of coffee. Or a glass of wine at twilight. The hole in the wall was wide and went all the way to the floor, just the size for double doors going out to the yard.
It would be beautiful when it was finished, she had no doubt. No matter how annoyed she was with Noah, the man had real taste. She’d seen many of his projects, both before and after—had worked on many as well—and knew that he had a magic touch when it came to buildings. It had been one of the sexiest things about him. When they’d been together she had loved to watch him work, bent over his drafting table at his apartment, lost in thought.
It would be easier to do her job if she saw his redesign plans. She frowned, wishing again that she could just get over it already and give Noah a call. It shouldn’t be this difficult to deal with him. She was the one who broke up with him, after all. And yet, as hard as it was for her to admit, she still struggled with feelings for him. She still missed him.
She was just coming out of the bedroom when she heard someone come through the front door.
“Hello?” she called. Although she knew she had every right to be there, she still felt embarrassed being in the cabin alone.
“It’s just me,” Noah replied.
He wore old jeans and a faded black t-shirt that stretched across his muscular chest. He wasn’t wearing glasses today and his laid-back look reminded her of many weekends with him, the two of them cuddled up on the couch or wrapped around each other in their tiny tent while they camped in the mountains. Love of the outdoors was one of the many things the two of them had in common and they spent many weekends during their summers together setting up tents, hiking the sides of mountains, making out under the stars with a campfire blazing nearby. The thought of them in the mountains made her blush—they hadn’t always been great together, but the sex had been unforgettable, almost uncontrollable. He’d somehow managed to make her feel at once like a wild thing and truly feminine.
“How’s it going?” he asked. He lay a set of blueprints on the counter and rolled them out.
“Fine, so far.”
“Did you see the master?”
“Yeah, you’ve gotten a lot done already.”
“I wanted to get it done quickly for you.” He looked up at her. When their eyes met she felt heat spread from her core through her entire body. She wished she wouldn’t have started thinking about making love to him. It was so hard to stop, once she started.
“Thanks.” Although she was itching to look at the plans, she kept to the other side of the room, not trusting herself with her own feelings or her body’s reckless arousal.
“I brought the final design plans. I thought you might want to see them.”
Damn. So much for staying away from him.
“Oh, yeah, sure.”
Lily came up beside him, trying to ignore the closeness of his body, and bent over the plans.
Noah turned sideways and leaned against the counter to make more room for her but kept his eyes only on her.
Lily flipped through the stack of drawings, carefully inspecting each area where he’d made changes.
“Wow, Noah, these are beautiful.” She glanced up at him and he smiled. His eyes on her made her hot all over. She gave him a quick smile in return and turned back to the plans.
“I especially love this new connection you’ve made to the master bath. The two-sided fireplace is really going to open that room up.”
As she studied his plans he eased away from the counter and stepped around behind her to look over her shoulder.
“The kitchen’s going to take the most work. The whole thing has to be gutted. But at least you won’t have to do much in the way of design work in here once I’m done.”
She didn’t realize Noah was so close until she turned and almost ran into his chest. He had her trapped against the old counter and she froze, wondering whether to stay where she was or duck sideways. She smelled the warm manliness of his body. He was so close that if she wanted to, she could lean ever so slightly and brush his neck with her lips. She remembered how much he used to like being kissed there.
His eyes turned slightly darker, more serious. He leaned in even closer and she lost her breath. In that moment, she wanted so badly to grab him, pull him into her, feel his strong hands on her skin. She closed her eyes.
“Lily,” he whispered, and her knees went weak. “I need to say something.”
She started to shake her head no but he grabbed her chin. Her eyes flew back open.
“I only want to say that I’m sorry about how everything turned out. That I still miss you.”
Her lips parted as his hand continued to hold her chin. She couldn’t tell what he was thinking as his gaze moved from her open mouth back to her eyes. He shifted the hand that held her jaw and ran the pad of his thump over her lips, very, very lightly.
“I should have said it a long time ago, and I’m sorry for that too.”
He rubbed her cheek with his knuckles and she shivered under his touch.
He stepped back suddenly, breaking the spell, and she felt her legs wobble. She reached a hand for the counter to steady herself. Her mind and heart were racing and she couldn’t think of a thing to say.
He watched her a minute more before stepping around her to the blueprints. “This is a copy of the plans, for you to take with you. I thought you might need it for the design work.”
His hand brushed hers as he reached down to wrap the papers up. A spark went through her and she shuddered. Say something, Lily. Come on.
He hesitated a moment longer, watching her with his steady green eyes, but she couldn’t will herself to say a thing. Her mind was blank—only her body had a response.
“I’ve got to go. I’ll see you around,” he told her as he wrapped the tube of papers with a rubber band and handed it to her.
She stood still as she watched him walk out the door and by the time she was finally ready to talk he was already pulling away.
Noah waited a minute in his truck before backing out of the drive, hoping for Lily to come after him, but she didn’t. He wasn’t sure what exactly he wanted from her after the apology, but shocked silence definitely wasn’t it.
He hadn’t expected her to be at the cabin so late. He was just going to drop the blueprints off with a note for her. But she’d been there and he’d surprised himself as much as he’d surprised her with his apology.
At least he wouldn’t lay awake at night torturing himself over that anymore. In the two weeks since he’d first seen her again, he’d been constantly over their breakup, worrying it like a festering wound, feeling like he should say something to her even though months had already passed and she seemed to be over him.
He’d thought he was over her too. But the more he thought about her and the more he shuffled through the empty house that was supposed to be theirs, the more he’d questioned just how over her he really was. And the way his body had responded to hers was telling. He hadn’t been able to keep his hands completely off her. Something about her pulled him in and he was incapable of fighting it.
He thought of her fingers, just a few moments before, as she’d flipped through his blueprints. So delicate, so feminine. Just like he remembered. As he’d let his gaze wander over the small freckles on the back of her hand he’d almost felt her shell-pink fingernails running through his hair. A shiver went up his spine now, just thinking about it.
When he’d stepped closer to her she’d gotten that endearing deer-in-the-headlights look that made him just want to scoop her up in his arms and nuzzle her. Yes, if his body was any indication, he wanted her back.
It was becoming easier and easier for him to push the fight out of his mind, to remember the good parts about being with Lily. But it was hard to tell if she’d been happy to hear the apology or if her anger just hadn’t caught up with her enough for her to rip into him again.
He started his truck but stayed parked a minute longer, looking at the cabin. Should I go back in there? Wait until she has something to say? More than anything, he wanted to know what she felt. He wanted to know if he was being crazy by drudging up these old feelings, if it was just a waste. Or if she had even an inkling of feeling for him still.
And if she did, what then? Would he want her back? After thinking it over for two weeks, he thought maybe he did. Sure, she’d embarrassed him. She’d said some awful, hurtful things and some of them had even been true. But was that enough to let her go from his life for good? The woman who he’d been so in love with only a few months before?
She could be stubborn and she knew how to use words as if they were the sharpest of knives. But he knew Lily had a lot of sweetness inside her too. He missed her laughter, the small kisses she used to plant on the side of his neck when he wasn’t looking, the way she would curl around him in bed. He missed talking to her about his work and hearing about her own. He would love to know all about her new business.
And if he had to put up with the occasional heated argument or stubbornness from her, wouldn’t that be a small price to pay?
Finally, when she still didn’t appear at the door, he backed his truck out of the drive and turned toward his big, empty house. She probably just needed time to think. He just hoped it wouldn’t be too long.