Publication date: December 14th 2021
Genres: Adult, Comedy, Contemporary, Romance
Hundreds of women have tried to win Derek over, but the only girl he’s loved is nowhere to be found…Derek Hardiman has been crowned a football prodigy—but success came at the cost of his dorky high school sweetheart, Mara Temple. A decade after she left town, he still can’t imagine marrying someone who isn’t her…Traveling for most of her twenties, Mara has returned home with a designer wardrobe, a sweet puppy, and a new last name. What better to keep her surly ex-boyfriend from recognizing her?
When Mara and Derek are thrown back into each other’s lives the obsession that began when they were teenagers returns in full force. Derek can hardly believe the goddess his once-awkward lover has become, and he’s determined to win her back. But Mara is determined not to give in to the hype surrounding her bachelor superstar ex. Unfortunately, Derek has always lived up to the hype. After all, a girl only has one daddy…
Should true love get a second chance?
Return All is a standalone second chance romance by critically acclaimed author Eve Dangerfield.
Derek moved toward her, getting bigger by the second. “Mara? Mara! It’s me!”
His eyes were wild, his face—his face looked different. His moustache was gone. Clean-shaven, he was more like the boy from school than ever, jogging toward her in a black hoodie as though this was Albury in 2011.
Mara lowered hands she hadn’t known she’d brought to her chest. “Hi.”
She said it so quietly he couldn’t have heard her, but his face lit up. Naked happiness so bright it was terrifying. She wanted to burrow into the ground like a scared rabbit.
Chase turned. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Derek didn’t even glance at him. His unworldly black eyes were locked on hers. Mara’s cunt contracted. He was going to pick her up. He was going to carry her away like a marauding conqueror. Then he didn’t. He pulled up, his body jolting. “Mara. I can’t believe it’s you.”
She stared up at him. Even in her fuchsia Attico pumps, she barely came to his shoulders. He’d grown since he was a teenager. Up close, his face was different too. There were lines around his eyes that weren’t visible in photos or on TV. Neither was the black stubble under his skin. The word rose unbidden, Daddy, and euphoria spread through Mara’s chest like honey.
“Hello? Asshole? Can you hear me?” Chase demanded.
Derek ignored him. His gaze dragged over her face, studying her as she studied him. She touched a hand to her lips. Had he noticed her injection? Her eyelashes? Her nose? The fact her ears no longer stuck out through her hair?
Then he shook his head. “You’re fucking stunning. You look so… I don’t know how to say it.”
Expensive. She looked expensive. Money had flowed into her life, glossing her rough parts, and buffing the bright places to a near-impossible shine. She looked like a rich girl. Mara stared at her toes. For years she’d dreamed of this moment, dreamed of him saying these things, but now he was here, and she wanted to hide.
“Mara… where have you been, baby?”
It was such a huge question, tied off with such a ridiculous pet name, Mara didn’t know how to answer. “Around. I guess.”
Derek’s face sagged. “But—”
Chase stepped between them. “Maybe I should have made this clearer at our meeting, stay the fuck away from us. Now leave or I’ll call the police.”
“One minute, mate.” Derek sidestepped Chase. “Your hair. When did you grow out your hair?”
Mara almost laughed. “When I was twenty. Derek, what are you doing here? Is this about the house?”
“The house? The fucking house?”
He took a step toward her, and Chase moved across, blocking him. “Talk with your words, Hardiman.”
Derek scowled but took a step backward. “I’ve been looking for you for years. I couldn’t find you anywhere.”
Mara felt a small streak of pride. She’d paid handsomely to keep her name out of Google search terms. It was nice to know it had worked. “I… got off social media.”
“Right.” Derek shoved his hands into his pockets. “Fuck. Well, I’m so sorry, baby. I’m sorry, for everything. I’m sorry we lost touch and…”
His words washed over Mara like dirty waves. So sorry. Lost touch. Baby. They meant nothing. They were just sounds crammed together. A woman in a gray coat ducked past them and she realised they were blocking the path. She turned her face away.
Chase glanced from her to Derek. “Okay, this has been sufficiently weird, but we need to get to work. Goodbye, Mr Hardiman. Don’t come here again.”
Chase slid his arm through hers and steered her around Derek and back toward HFA.
Derek’s voice stirred waters deep inside her. Places she’d allowed to crumble in the darkness of her twenties. She turned and found him staring desperately after her.
“He’s gonna follow us,” Chase muttered. “Keep walking. We’ll go upstairs—”
“Mara!” Derek’s voice was clear, a king calling across his hall. “Mara, we’re not done.”
She stopped as though he’d commanded it and Derek’s legs ate up the ground between them. “You. You’re the sexiest woman I’ve ever seen.”
She flushed, aware of Chase sputtering at her back. “Derek, I don’t know what to do.”
“So let me decide.”
Anger sizzled through her like hot oil. “Things aren’t the way they used to be.”
“Okay. I get that. You want me on my knees?”
“What?” she and Chase said together.
To her astonishment, Derek dropped like a stone onto the dirty footpath, cutting his height in half.
“For the love of Christ,” Chase groaned but Mara could only stare. Derek had always been unapologetic in his affection, but this was insane. He was a famous footballer and anyone could see him. How could he possibly be this desperate to speak to her? “Derek…”
“Give me your number.” He raised his tattooed palms as though in prayer. “Let me give you mine. I need to see you again.”
But you’re seeing me right now…
Chase touched her shoulder. “I’ll give you some privacy. But I’m right here.”
“Okay,” Mara whispered.
Derek watched Chase go, his gaze flicking back to hers as soon as he gauged Chase was far enough away.
“Baby,” his voice was gravel. “Baby, I want to kiss you. I am barely holding back right now.”
Mara knew that. She felt his energy vibrating out at her like orange heat. He wanted to snatch her up, crush her, take her down. Her body responded like warm paper desperate to curl into flame.
He smirked, so handsome, it almost stopped her heart. “It’s been too long, Little Miss.”
She stepped back. Little Miss. She called Pan that. But he had called her that. Not all the time. In bed. Pan. Pan was chewing away at Chase’s jumper upstairs. She needed to go to her. She needed to be with Pan. She took another step back. “I don’t know why you came, but I have to go.”
Derek stayed on his knees. “Give me your number. Or take mine. We’re not done, baby.”
Eve Dangerfield has loved romance novels ever since she first swiped her grandmother’s paperbacks. Now she writes her own stories about complicated women and gorgeous-but-slightly-tortured men. Her work has been described as 'genre-defying,' 'insanely hot,' and ‘the defibrillator contemporary romance needs right now'...and not just by herself or those who might need bone marrow... OTHER PEOPLE! She lives in Melbourne with her boy and a bunch of semi-dead plants. She can generally be found making a mess.
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