Allie Ross is not living the life she once dreamed. Her law career ended before it ever started, her parents landed in jail for running a Ponzi scheme, and she just inherited her grandmother’s B&B—which is nice, even if it is full of extra-toed cats. As for her love life…she’d rather not talk about it.
When Jack Carpenter reaches out to reconnect with Allie, the girl who broke his heart in college, his plan is to impress her with the adult he’s become. Sure, he was a deadbeat then, but life has forced him to grow up. And it’s a relief to find out that things didn’t necessarily go the way Allie expected either.
As Allie and Jack get reacquainted, they rediscover the things they loved—and hated—about each other. But who they are now isn’t who they were then, and secrets—old and new—will test whether they have a future together, or if the past is destined to repeat itself.
Allie looked at Jack and smiled. “How does your mom feel about you spending time with the woman who broke your heart sixteen years ago?”
He shrugged. “Guarded,” he admitted. “But she always thought highly of you. Even after we split.”
“She sent me a card during my parents’ trial,” Allie said. “Said she was thinking of me, hoped I was doing okay. That she knew how close I was to my mom and dad, and that she knew I loved them no matter what.”
Jack nodded. “I always envied what you had with your family. Both parents present and accounted for. Loving grandparents. The whole mess.”
“My grandmother adored you.” The fondness in Allie’s voice was unmistakable. “Said every woman needs a man who lights her up inside and leaves her glowing after he’s left the room.” She grinned. “Grandma could be a little passionate.”
“You don’t say…Your mom couldn’t stand me.”
“She didn’t hate you.” Allie pressed her lips together. “Just didn’t think you were the right choice. My dad liked you, though. Still does.”
Hearing that made Jack feel warm from the inside out, like he’d swallowed a shot of whiskey. “I always wished I had a dad like yours.”
The sad look Allie shot him had Jack questioning whether it was smart to share this much. They were still easing back into their friendship, after all. But when she spoke, her voice was tinged with compassion, not pity.
“I remember that story you told me,” Allie said softly. “About the time your dad decided the two of you should hitchhike from Portland to Vegas. You were what, five?”
Jack gave a tight nod. “Almost six. By the time we finally got there, he was tired of hanging out with me, so he told me to sleep in the car while he and the driver—some guy we’d just met named Buddy—went into the casino and got wasted.”
Allie grimaced. “God, I can’t even imagine how your mom must’ve felt getting that phone call.”
Jack shook his head and gripped the steering wheel tighter. “‘I think I lost the kid, but I’m sure he’s around here someplace,’” Jack muttered in his closest approximation of his father’s voice. Then again, he hadn’t heard that voice for years. His memories were fuzzy.
“You think he remembers any of that?” Allie asked. “That trip or the things he did?”
“I have no idea. I hardly ever think about him.”
It sounded lousy saying it out loud, but it was true. He’d written his father off years ago, and with good reason.
“The trip wasn’t all bad,” she said in a voice as soft as the rain outside. “Your hitchhiking adventure, I mean. I remember you telling me about how he stopped at a truck stop along the way and gave you a whole handful of quarters to run the jukebox all night. Chased away anyone who tried to have a turn. You told me he picked you up and danced with you when you made it play ‘Boot Scootin’ Boogie.’”
A pang of sadness hit him square in the gut. Jack glanced at her, surprised she’d remembered that detail. He’d forgotten it himself. Leave it to Allie to focus on the good parts of the story. To push aside the ugly ones and hold tightly to the prettier pieces of memory.
He couldn’t think of anything to say, which was just as well since they’d arrived at Bumble. He started for a parking spot in back, but remembered Allie’s high heels and drove around for a few minutes until he found one closer. He pulled into it and shut the car off, but didn’t pull his keys from the ignition right away. He sat there for a few seconds longer, mentally steeling himself.
“So . . . what’s the plan here?” Allie asked.
He turned to look at her. “How do you mean?”
“Do you need me to pretend to be your girlfriend, or am I just an old pal?” She shrugged. “I’m good either way.”
“No, I don’t want to lie. But I guess—maybe we don’t need to volunteer details?”
She laughed and tossed her hair. “I see. So you’re saying there might be a situation in which it would behoove you to have a girlfriend on your arm, but then again, maybe you’d rather be free to pick up chicks?”
“No, it’s not that at all.”
“It’s okay, Jack.” She smiled, and he knew she meant it. “I’ll play it however you want. Maybe we need a cue.”
“Yeah. Like if we get in there and you want me to play your old buddy, you scratch your chin. And if you want me to play your girlfriend, you—”
“Grab my crotch?”
“Very funny.” Allie grabbed the door handle. “Come on. We’re already thirty minutes late. Better get in there.”
She pushed her door open, and Jack unbuckled his seatbelt, not sure he was ready for this. Not sure he was ready for any of it.
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About the Author
Tawna Fenske is a romantic-comedy author who writes humorous fiction, risqué romance, and heartwarming love stories with quirky twists. Her offbeat brand of romance has been praised by Booklist as “a tame Carl Hiaasen on Cupid juice,” and her debut novel, Making Waves, was a nominee for RT Book Reviews’ contemporary romance of the year. She is a fourth-generation Oregonian who can peel a banana with her toes and loses an average of twenty pairs of eyeglasses per year. She lives in Bend, Oregon, with her husband, her stepkids, and a menagerie of ill-behaved pets.