A Heartbeat Away from You
Ann M. Miller
Publication date: August 16th, 2022
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Sports, Young Adult
After a daredevil play on the baseball field leads to a four-minute long cardiac arrest, seventeen-year-old Ali Benton is lucky to be alive. Now she wants to make the most of her second chance-and she’s not going to let a pesky little pacemaker, or her helicopter dad, slow her down.
Between chairing multiple school clubs and working two jobs to help his single mother pay the bills, Max Delaney has got every second of every day planned. His childhood nemesis, Ali, doesn’t figure into any of them. But when her overprotective father offers him cash to keep an eye on her and steer her away from baseball, his plans change.
Ali can’t figure out why Max, the condescending know-it-all, is sticking to her side like Krazy Glue, and Max can barely tolerate headstrong Ali. But opposites attract, and before long, fighting turns to kissing. Even as sparks fly, the secrets they’ve been keeping threaten to tear them apart. When Max learns Ali’s been putting herself in harm’s way and playing ball in secret, he struggles with how to tell her father. If he tattles, he’ll lose her trust. If he doesn’t, he may lose her heart…in more ways than one.
The tears spilled down my heated cheeks as I stumbled down the steps to the lawn. Fabulous. Now I was crying like a little kid. I needed something to kick or throw or—
I crashed into someone. The top of my head whacked into what felt like a chin. Grunting, I stumbled backward. Two hands gripped my arms, steadying me. “Whoa. Slow down.”
A broad chest hovered just inches from mine, clad in a grass-stained T-shirt. Dazed, I lifted my head—and found myself staring into a pair of gorgeous eyes. We’re talking deep chocolate brown with little flecks of gold and framed by sexy dark eyelashes. Those eyes peered down at me, laced with a mixture of surprise and concern. His hair—a shade darker than his eyes—fell in a tousled wave across his forehead. Stubble dusted his strong jawline, and his tanned skin practically glowed in the afternoon sun.
He stuck his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. His shirt was too small for him, fitting snugly across his chest. Tingles danced along my skin as I scanned his well-defined torso and arms. Who was this hot stranger in my backyard?
“Huh?” I tore my eyes from his abs and forced myself to focus on his face. His amazing face.
“You hit your head pretty hard. Are you okay?”
Oh. My. Freaking. God. I swiped my hands across my tear-stained cheeks and took a step back. I knew that voice. This was no stranger.
My eyes widened. “Max?”
A faint blush tinged his cheeks. He flashed me a sheepish smile, wide enough to display a row of perfectly straight teeth. “Hi, Ali.”
Shock radiated through my body, keeping me rooted to the spot. This couldn’t be Max. Max had poufy hair and a mouth full of metal. He was stick thin with an acne-covered face and thick-rimmed nerd glasses. And his eyes… his eyes had never looked so bold and brilliant.
“I got contacts,” he said, as if reading my mind.
His gaze tracked the length of my body. “I didn’t expect you to look so… well, so different.” His mouth tipped up on one side. “This is a good look for you.” Nothing sheepish about his smile now. It was mocking. Arrogant. And there was his critical tone, the one that made me want to slap him across the face.
The strange tingly feeling completely evaporated, and my body tensed. His looks might have changed, but his personality hadn’t.
“What are you doing in our backyard?” I asked in a terse voice.
“Your dad pays me to mow the lawn.”
My enemy doing my yard work? Not when I was around. Contrary to what Dad thought, I was perfectly capable of physical activity. My heart may have been slow, but the pacemaker brought it up to a rhythm that was just as normal as Max’s. “You can stop,” I said. “I can do it now that I’m here.”
“I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think so?” I let out a harsh laugh. “Oh, excuse me, I didn’t realize you had a say in my family affairs.”
He whistled. “Wow, still the same hotheaded Ali.” He stepped away and grabbed the lawnmower from where it stood in front of the shed. “This is my job. I get paid to do it, and as far as I can tell, Mr. B. wants to keep it that way.”
Oh, I bet he does.
“Besides,” he continued, “this is newly sodded grass, and there’s a bit of an art to mowing it.” He raised his eyebrows at me. “I doubt you’re familiar with the method.”
Anger burned in my veins. “Still the same condescending Max.”
I jabbed my forefinger at the observatory next door. Sun glinted off its walls, blinding me. “Look, why don’t you go help your own father? I’m sure he’s got…” I trailed off, but I’d realized my mistake too late. Between my dad and Max, I’d been so riled up that I’d completely forgotten about what had happened to Mr. Delaney.
I quickly dropped my hand, my cheeks hot. When I opened my mouth to do damage control, nothing came out.
Max turned his own gaze to the observatory and curled his fingers over the lawnmower’s handle. A shadow crossed his face and something that looked like pain flashed in his eyes. But when he refocused on me, it was as if he’d flipped a switch. His expression was void of emotion, his stunning eyes vacant.
“Yeah, that might be a little difficult,” he said in a cool, detached voice, “since my father’s dead.”
Ann M. Miller writes young adult fiction about first loves and complex family dynamics. Her debut novel Captured in Paint was published in 2021, followed by the sequel, Illusions in Paint, in 2022. Her forthcoming YA contemporary romance A Heartbeat Away from You will be released in August 2022.
The youngest of six children, Ann grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada, where the local bookmobile fed her addiction to Nancy Drew mysteries, Sweet Valley High books, and Stephen King horror. After graduating from the University of King’s College, she moved to Newfoundland, an island that makes up for its unforgiving climate with beautiful coastlines and majestic icebergs.
When not reading or writing, Ann can be found spending time with her husband and son or binge-watching her favorite TV shows while curled up with the four-legged members of her family.
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