Welcome to Paradise

By: Elle Kennedy

Dedication


To al the smal -towners out there. Hope your town is as scandalous as Paradise…





Chapter One


“So are you going?”

Nate Bishop col ected Lexie’s empty beer bottle and tossed it into the empties bin underneath the walnut bar counter. He didn’t bother asking for clarification about the random question she’d hurled his way. Two seconds ago she’d been discussing the editorial she’d penned for this week’s issue of the Paradise Post, and as usual, the abrupt change of subject made him want to scratch his head. Lexie did that a lot, launched into conversations she was obviously having in her own head.

“Nate?” she prompted, leaning her dainty elbows on the counter. “Are you just going to ignore me?”

He flashed a grin. “Nope, simply waiting for you to put an end to my confusion.”

“The high school reunion  ,” she said, rol ing her eyes. “You know, the one that’s being held in the town square tomorrow night.”

“Oh that. Yeah, I might make an appearance.”

She puffed out a resigned breath. “Can you believe it’s been fifteen years since we graduated? I feel so old.”

Nate had to laugh. At thirty-two, Lexie Price could stil pass for a teenager. With her flawless porcelain skin, pale blue eyes and long blonde hair, she was stunning. Didn’t do it for him, though. Their relationship was completely platonic, more brotherly-sisterly than romantic, except for that one drunken kiss several years ago, after which they’d laughed their asses off and decided never to do it again.

Lexie was his best friend. The only female friend in his life, and, despite her occasional snootiness, the one person other than his brothers who he had total trust in. It was hard to make friends in this town. The older residents stil assumed Nate was the same bad apple his father had been.

Stil whispered about his mother behind her back only to paste fake smiles on their faces when Del a Bishop ventured out of her house. The ones Nate’s age weren’t bad, though most of the women tried to lure him into bed, even the married ones.

In spite of al that, he had no desire to leave Paradise. It was his home, and no matter how judgmental and nosy the residents could be, he liked smal -town life. He’d been running his father’s bar, Bishop’s Corner, ever since the old man passed away ten years ago, and the rambling cabin his brother Owen had built for him was comfortable and isolated enough that it suited him to perfection.

“Do you think she’ll show up?”

Lexie’s somewhat harsh tone told Nate precisely who she was. He’d been wondering the same thing since the reunion   invitation showed up in his mailbox, and each time the thought entered his head, pain squeezed his chest.

“I don’t know,” he said with a careless shrug.

Lexie, of course, saw right through the casual façade. Her blue eyes narrowed as she studied his face. “Do you want her to?”

“I have no opinion on the matter.”

“Liar. You want to see her, don’t you?”

He gave another shrug and focused on wiping the bar counter with a red-and-white-checkered rag.

“She won’t come, you know.” Lexie’s lips tightened in an unladylike scowl. “She’s Ms. Rich and Famous now. Her ego won’t fit in this town.”

Nate’s spine stiffened. “Hey. No need to be a bitch.”

“Why not? According to Charlotte Hil , I am a bitch.”

Nate’s heart promptly began to ache the moment Lexie uttered Charlotte’s name. Damn it. Just hearing it brought an onslaught of memories that he’d tried so valiantly to keep buried al these years.

Was it possible to miss someone you hadn’t seen in fifteen years? She probably wasn’t even the same person. The girl he’d loved—that warm, sassy and sweetly insecure girl—probably didn’t exist anymore. Charlotte hadn’t even looked back after leaving Paradise. Not that he could fault her for that. He’d made sure she had no reason to look back.

“It’s been fifteen years,” he said in a low voice. “Don’t you think it’s time to let go of your resentment?”

Lexie released a heavy sigh. “Yeah, you’re probably right. It just ticks me off when I think about how hard I tried to be her friend and how easily she shot me down.”

“She had it tough, Lex. Tougher than my brothers and I did.”

“You just can’t say a bad word about anyone, can you, Nate?”

He shifted in discomfort. It was funny—people who didn’t know him thought he was a bad boy, the same loud, vulgar hothead his dad had been.

But the people closest to him knew that was the farthest thing from the truth. If anything, his family and friends constantly lectured him for being too nice.

But when it came to Charlotte, he refused to let Lexie have her way. “It’s true, Lex, and you know it. She didn’t have the best experience with this town. You can’t blame her for thinking of everyone else as the enemy.”

“Maybe, but I can stil blame her for abandoning you.”

Lexie sounded oddly protective. Wel , maybe not so odd. Somehow in the days since high school, Nate had grown close to the girl everyone viewed as the ice princess. But like Charlotte, Lexie had gotten a bad rap too. It wasn’t her fault she was the daughter of one of the super-wealthy town founders, just like it wasn’t Charlotte’s fault her mother had been a promiscuous woman and a lousy role model.

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