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Until It's Right, страница 1

 

Until It's Right
 

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Until It's Right


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  Table of Contents

  About the Author

  Copyright Page

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  St. Martin’s Press ebook.

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  Acknowledgments

  It’s surreal that I get to do this a second time, and I am so, so thankful that I have the opportunity to do so. I have some amazing people in my corner and I wouldn’t be here without them.

  First and foremost, I’d like to thank every single reader, reviewer, and blogger who picked up one of my books. Hearing from you is always the highlight of my day.

  To my wonderful agent, Jessica Watterson—thank you for believing in me and making my dreams a reality. I’m so excited to see what comes next. And to the rest of Team Watterson—you girls rock.

  A huge thank-you to the team at St. Martin’s Press. To my fabulous editor, Eileen Rothschild, I can’t possibly thank you enough. I’m so lucky to have had the chance to work with you. Your insightfulness and willingness to dig into this manuscript has made it better than I ever could have imagined. To my copyeditor, Terry McGarry, I am in awe of your skill and thoroughness, and to my publicist, Michelle Cashman, thank you for all that you do to get my books out in the world.

  Without a doubt, this story wouldn’t be in your hands without the support, encouragement, and unflagging enthusiasm of my critique partner, Meredith Tate. Thank you for being a friend, cheerleader, therapist, and everything in between. And, of course, for your unwavering love of Kyle.

  To the NAC—Amanda Heger, Annika Sharma, Ara Grigorian, Diana Gardin, Jessica Ruddick, Kate L. Mary, Laura Steven, Marie Meyer, Marnee Blake, Meredith Tate, Sophia Henry, Tegan Wren—I’m so grateful to have all of you. To the lovely ladies of The Hookup—Kelly Siskind and Heather Van Fleet—you girls are the best.

  Much love and gratitude to my entire family. To Aidan, for always reminding me to “do some work,” and then crawling into my lap and keeping me company. To my mom, for never doubting I could do everything I set my mind to. To my dad, for pushing me to always do my best. To Amanda and Kelley, for generously sacrificing their time looking at inspiration pictures for Kyle.

  Lastly, to Steve— for everything you are and everything that you do. Your support means the world to me and I couldn’t do this without it.

  Chapter 1

  Haley

  I’m not sure what’s thumping louder—the bass or my heart.

  “Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Tara asks, wrapping her fingers around my wrist. The skin of her hand looks startlingly dark against my pale skin, which is even paler than usual from my recently shed hermit status. Something sharp stabs my heart, like the quick, painful jab of a finger prick. Images of my ex, Luke, and his new girlfriend, Sloane, the resulting breakup and despair, crowd the edges of my mind. I quickly brush them away, mentally swiping at them like insignificant cobwebs. Not tonight.

  I shift in my heels, trying to relieve the pressure on the balls of my feet. “As ready as I’m ever going to be.”

  Tara links her arm through mine, and we walk together into Rodeo Jive, the signature bar of the young and wealthy, the career-oriented and highly aspirational twentysomethings. The “suits” are lined up at the bar—jackets discarded, ties loosened, sleeves rolled up. Designer clothing and expensive price tags hug the curves of every woman in the place, and for the first time since I dropped a chunk of my savings on my new wardrobe, I actually feel as though my splurge was justified. Even the thought of showing up here in one of my thrift-store finds makes a blush heat my cheeks.

  “Two martinis, up, two olives,” Tara says, leaning her elbows onto the polished bar top.

  I scoot onto the empty stool next to her, tugging down the hem of my black dress. Despite my efforts, it inches back up to mid-thigh. Taking a deep breath, I try to channel my inner Sloane. Yes, she may have stolen the former love of my life, and true, given the chance I’d probably … well I probably won’t do anything but ignore her, but still, there’s something about her that’s undeniably hypnotic. She walks into the room and she’s a presence. And it’s not just her looks or her money—though that helps; it’s her attitude, her confidence.

  Maybe if I’d been more like her in the first place, I wouldn’t be single right now.

  The gin sloshes over the sides of the glass as Tara slides it to me. “To you, my dear Haley, on your first night back in the dating pool.”

  We clink glasses, and I take a small sip. A very small sip. The alcohol burns a path down my throat, but at least I’ve gotten used to it enough that I don’t choke. A couple of months ago I couldn’t say the same. “Delia really didn’t mind you going out with me tonight?”

  Tara waves a dismissive hand at me, her gold bracelet sliding up her arm. “Please, that girl was just glad she could snuggle up on the couch with a movie rather than partying with her needy girlfriend until all hours of the morning.” She plucks the toothpick from her glass and pinches an olive between her teeth, dragging it off. “Enough about me. Tonight is about Haley and finding her a man.”

  Right.

  I don’t know why I’m so hesitant about the whole thing. It was my idea. After the last few years with Luke by my side, the past six months have been unbearable. It’s not that I need a guy in my life, but for all I avoided them when I was in high school, I desperately miss the companionship. Being lonely sucks.

  “How about him?” she asks, with a subtle jut of her chin.

  I flick my gaze to the side—tall guy, gorgeous, dark brown hair, a smile that can melt butter. “No.”

  “Too hot for you?”

  “Too Luke for me.”

  “Right, right.” She takes a healthy swallow of her martini and swivels on her stool to face me, crossing one long leg over the other. “Remind me about the qualifications again.”

  I tick them off on my fingers. “No manwhores. Can’t remind me of Luke. And—”

  “Money, yeah. I remember that one.”

  “You make me sound like a gold digger.” I frown. “It’s not about the money, necessarily. He just needs to have a plan. Or ambitions.” The words aren’t cooperating with me. “I just don’t want to live in a trailer park, okay?”

  “Relax, Hales—”

  Whatever else she says gets lost in a wave of noise, the rush of blood pounding in my ears. From across the room, a pair of eyes locks on to mine, and somewhere in my brain something shifts with a discernible click.

  Tara may still be talking for all I know, but all I can see is him. Soft gray slacks over shiny black shoes, a navy button-down with the top two buttons popped, and a smile breaking from between his lips that makes me wonder if I’m the only thing he’s seeing too.

  He stops in front of me, green eyes never once leaving my face to scan down my body. “I’m Bryce.”

  “Haley.” I slip my hand in his to shake it, letting him hold on to me a little longer than is absolutely necessary. If I’m being truthful, which I always am, I’d let him hold it for as long as he wanted to.

  He takes a seat next to me, where just a minute ago Tara was sitting. Scanning the room, I find her at the other end of
the bar. She flutters her fingers at me in a quick wave and winks.

  “Well, Haley, I’d love to get to know you.”

  It’s cheesy maybe, a little blunt even, but I appreciate the fact that he didn’t give me a line. “I’d really like to get to know you too, Bryce.” A wide smile settles on my face, and any trace of nerves vanishes into thin air.

  So we talk, and everything between us is just so easy—our conversation, my smiles, the chemistry. He tells me his favorite ice cream is Rocky Road, and that he just passed the bar. I admit that my favorite flowers are peonies. He’s addicted to watching Game of Thrones. I’ve never seen an episode. Everything is going so well that I don’t think he notices that I shy around the topic of my past, leaving out absolutely everything about my family and Luke.

  Even though the words never stop flowing, we take a break to dance. As the hours have crept up, so too has the volume of the music, increasing to a decibel that’s close to making my ears bleed. I’m having such a good time that I forget to worry about what I look like. I don’t pat my hair to make sure it hasn’t frizzed, I don’t surreptitiously swipe my finger under my eye to make sure my mascara isn’t smudging, or even take a moment to get self-conscious about the fact that a light sheen of sweat dapples my skin.

  It takes me a minute to realize it, to place the emotion and give it a name. I’m having fun. And not just that, but I met a guy. A great guy, whose touch makes my skin sing and almost makes me forget that Luke ever existed.

  Almost.

  From across the room, I catch Tara waving at me, apologetically pointing to the imaginary watch on her wrist. I have no idea what time it is, but if Tara’s ready to head out, it’s got to be really late.

  Leaning forward, I get myself as close to Bryce’s ear as I can without letting my lips graze his skin. “I gotta go.”

  His eyes flash up to mine, and he removes the hand that was resting on my hip to glance at the actual watch on his wrist. He laughs. “Wow. I can’t believe it’s so late. Look at you keeping me out past my bedtime.”

  I grab his hand and twist it toward me—2:48. Holy crap. And look at me, casually grabbing on to him like his touch doesn’t send my heart rocketing out of my chest. “I’m not even tired,” I yell back to him.

  “Me either,” he says. Or at least I think he does. His words are carried away on the intro to a new song, and watching his lips is the only way I can even guess.

  I regretfully drag my gaze up to his. His eyes crinkle at the corners like he knows exactly how hard I was just staring at his mouth. With a hand on my shoulder, he nudges me backward until we’re on the edge of the crowd. The noise is slightly better but not much.

  “I’m going to give you my number.”

  Immediately, my hand fishes out my cell phone, keying up a new contact.

  “You ready?”

  I nod and type in the first six digits. Looking up at him, I wait for him to give me the last four.

  “Seven-three-four-nine,” he shouts.

  I type them in. “Seven-three-four-five?”

  “That’s me.”

  My thumb presses down on the Save icon, and there’s something about it that seems so definitive. Like I’m not just saving his information, but saving him into my future. I give my head a quick shake, trying to dispel the love-at-first-sight nonsense that’s swimming through it. I’ve already been burned once by letting my heart get ahead of my brain, you’d think I’d have learned by now. But it’s the first time since I broke up with Luke that I’m feeling anything at all, and even if it’s just pure, unadulterated attraction, I’m reveling in it.

  “Alright,” I say. “Well, let me give you mine.”

  “Nope.” He holds up his hands, palm out. “The ball is totally in your court. It’s completely up to you if this ends tonight.” In the next instant he inches close, so close in fact that his chest grazes mine. This time when he whispers in my ear, he lets his hand drift up to slip around my neck, his thumb resting on the edge of my jaw. “But Haley, I’m really, really hoping you’ll call.”

  Before my liquefied brain can even start devising a response, he drops the lightest, sweetest kiss on my lips. I barely feel it before it’s gone. And then he’s backing away, a smile stretching to every corner of his mouth.

  I jump when a hand drops on my shoulder, another voice booming from a few inches away from my ear. “Hot damn, girl.”

  “Right?” I smirk up at Tara.

  “How’d you get to be so lucky?”

  I almost snort at the word. Me? Lucky? That’s the last word I’d use to describe myself. But then I catch sight of Bryce weaving his way around the dance floor, and like he can feel me watching him, his eyes find mine one last time.

  Alright, well maybe I am. I, Haley Mitchell, am so freaking lucky.

  Chapter 2

  Haley

  “Stop staring at your phone,” Tara commands, leveling the wooden spoon in my direction. A drop of tomato sauce splats onto the counter, one of a dozen splatters that decorate our kitchen that I’ll have to clean later. Tara’s a sweetheart, but this place would be a pigsty if I didn’t follow around behind her with Lysol wipes and a garbage bag.

  “I’m not. I’m just … checking the weather.” Lies, all lies. Bryce’s contact information stares up at me from the screen. To call or not to call, that is the question.

  She snorts, her wildly curly hair bouncing as she shakes her head. “It’s been three days, you’re in the clear. Go ahead and call him if you want. Trust me, you’re well out of the desperate-needy-clingy zone.” Randomly, she grabs a spice, oregano maybe, and gives it a shake into the pot.

  It’s not the timing that’s my issue, though.

  “What if I imagined it? What if I’ve completely blown the whole thing out of proportion in my mind?” I twist a strand of my dark brown hair around my pointer finger. It’s been months since I dyed it but sometimes it’s still a shock to see dark strands instead of the pale ones I’d grown so accustomed to.

  She swings the spoon through the air, flinging another arc of red sauce in my direction. “What if you did? What if in the light of day he actually has a unibrow and a snaggletooth?” Shrugging, she lays down her weapon and picks up the pot of linguine. A cloud of steam envelops her face as she drains the water, so it seems like her words are coming to me from the beyond. “The point is, you’re never going to know whether you’re right, or I’m right, or neither of us are right unless you just. Call. Him.”

  “Bossy.”

  “It’s my middle name.” She grins at me over her shoulder before returning to her pasta.

  I pick up my phone and then put it right back down like it’s liable to explode in my hand. “What if I just text him? Can I do that instead?”

  A delicious wave of garlic and butter wafts out from the oven as she pulls out the garlic bread. “For Christ’s sake, Haley. Send him smoke signals for all I care. Just do something in the next five minutes, or I’m going to delete his number and be done with it.”

  “Fine, geez. I’ll text him.”

  Her smile is all smug and self-satisfied, and I’d like to be mad at her for ordering me around, but I’ve never done angry really well. I consider my text, analyze it, reanalyze it, and then finally hit Send, watching the little blue bubble materialize on my screen.

  Me: Hey Bryce, it was really great meeting you the other night at Rodeo Jive. I’d love to get together for dinner one night, if your free?

  Only rereading it for the seventeenth time do I find my grammatical error. “No!”

  Tara drops the pot back onto the stove with a resounding clang. “What? What is it?” Plucking the phone from my grasp, she quickly reads my message. “I don’t get it.” She reads it again. “Oh for the love of … that’s what you’re howling about? He’s never even going to notice.”

  She heads back to the stove, taking my phone with her. After dishing out two plates of linguine with red clam sauce and garnishing our plates with slices of droolworthy
garlic bread, she props my cell up against the vase of fake gerbera daisies. Tara has a strict no-phones-at-the-dinner-table rule.

  Ten minutes pass. Then another five. Finally, when I’ve wound my linguine around my fork into a tennis-ball-size lump, my phone vibrates. It rattles against the glass before shaking itself down onto the oak table.

  Tara’s eyes flash from me to my half-full plate to the phone. Message received.

  A short time later, it buzzes again, shimmying farther across the tabletop.

  The next ten minutes pass even slower than the first while I attempt to sedately finish my dinner rather than tilting my head back and tipping the long strands of pasta down my throat in one inelegant swallow. When it’s all gone, I practically dive across the table to reclaim my phone. Tara rolls her eyes at me.

  Bryce: I’m not sure who this is, but unfortunately, this isn’t Bryce.

  And then a few minutes later:

  Not Bryce: Also, I think you mean: you’re*.

  Across the table, Tara watches me like a hawk, zeroing in on my falling expression. A sneaking suspicion, one that’s drawn from my deepest fears and insecurities, takes root in my brain and I can’t shake it. My fingers fly across the touch screen.

  Me: Are you sure this isn’t Bryce? Because if it is and you’re just trying to blow me off, then that’s fine. You can say so.

  Not Bryce: I don’t know you, so I can’t say this with 100% conviction, but given my embarrassing track record with women, I think I’d be more than happy to be Bryce. Are you willing to consider a substitute Bryce? Because I’m definitely free for dinner.

  “Wow, what a creep.”

  Tara motions for the phone, and I hand it over. She drops her head down as a laugh ripples through her body, shaking her shoulders. “This is priceless. Seriously.”

  “I’m so happy you can find humor in this awful situation. Please, continue to laugh at my expense.” I motion with my hand for her to go on, then fold my arms across my chest.

 
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