A "must-read voice in romance" (Christina Lauren, New York Times bestselling author) presents a sweet second-chance novella between a free-spirited accountant and her brother's best friend.
Release date: February 1, 2022
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Print pages: 96
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Only Home with You
Twenty-eight more months.
Devin James silently repeated it to himself with every crack of his nail gun. He moved to the next mark on the beam, lined up his shot, and drove another spike of steel into the wood.
Based on the numbers he’d rerun over the weekend, twenty-eight months was how long it was going to take him to save up for a house of his own. Still too long, but he was on target, putting away exactly as much as he’d budgeted for, paycheck after paycheck.
“Take that,” he muttered, sucking in a breath as he kept moving down the line.
His dad had told him enough times that he’d never amount to anything. Devin tightened his grip on the nail gun and sank his teeth into the inside of his lip. What he’d give to get that voice out of his head. To show his dad he wasn’t too stupid to do the math, and he wasn’t too lazy to do the work.
He’d buy those three acres of land from Arthur. His mentor—and his best friend Han’s uncle—had been saving the lot for him for three years now, and he’d promised to sell it to him at cost. Once Devin had the deed in his hand, he’d start digging out the foundation the next day. Between the buddies he’d made at construction sites and the favors folks owed him, he could be standing in his own house within six months. A quiet place all to himself on a wooded lot five miles outside of town. He’d get a dog—a big one, too. A mutt from the animal rescue off Main Street.
He’d have everything his useless old man told him he could never have. All he had to do was keep his head down and keep working hard.
He finished the last join on this section of the house’s frame and nodded at Terrell, who’d been helping him out. The guy let go, and they both stood.
Adjusting his safety glasses, Devin glanced around. It was a cool fall day in his hometown of Blue Cedar Falls, North Carolina. The sun shone down from a bright blue sky dotted with wispy clouds. The last few autumn leaves hung on to the branches of the surrounding trees, while in the distance, the mountains were a piney green.
He and his crew had been working on this development for the better part of a year now. It was a good job, with good guys for the most part. Solid pay for solid work, and if he had a restlessness buzzing around under his skin, well, that was the kind of thing he was good at pushing down.
At the shout of his last name across the build site, Devin looked up. One of the new guys stood outside the trailer, waving him over. Devin nudged the protective muffs off his ears so he could hear.
“Boss wants to see you before you clock out.”
Devin nodded and glanced at his watch. The shift ended in thirty. That gave him enough time to quickly clean up and check in with Joe.
He made a motion to Terrell to wrap things up.
“What’s the hurry?” a voice behind him sneered. “Got to run off to Daddy?”
Devin pulled a rough breath in between his teeth. Head down and work hard, he reminded himself.
No punching the mayor’s son in the face.
But Bryce Horton wasn’t going to be ignored. He stepped right in Devin’s way, and it took everything Devin had to keep his mouth shut.
“Isn’t that what you call old Joe?” Bryce taunted. “Daddy? You sure come fast enough when he calls.”
Devin’s muscles tensed, heat building in his chest.
He kept himself together, though. Bryce had been like this since high school, putting everybody down and acting like he was the king of the hill. The entire hill was all sand, though. The guy never did any work. If his daddy didn’t run this town, he’d have been out on his rear end ages ago.
As it was, Bryce’d been hired on as a favor to the mayor’s office, and getting him fired would take an act of God. Didn’t stop Devin from picturing it in his head. Daily.
Devin ground his molars together and brushed past him.
“Oh, that’s right,” Bryce called as Devin showed him his back and started to walk away. “Your real daddy left, didn’t he?”
Red tinted Devin’s vision. He flexed his fingers, curling them into a palm before taking a deep breath and letting them go.
It’d be so easy, was the thing. Bryce wasn’t a small guy, but he wasn’t a particularly strong one, either. Two hits and he’d be on the ground, snot-faced and crying. That was how bullies were.
That was how Devin’s dad had been.
Without so much as a glance in Bryce’s direction, Devin shucked his glasses, muffs, and gloves, stowed his stuff, and headed over to the trailer. As he walked, he blocked out the sound of Bryce running his mouth. He blocked out the surly voice in his own head, too.
By the time he got to the door, his blood was still up, but he was calm enough to show model employee material, because that was what mattered.
With a quick knock, he tugged open the trailer door and poked his head inside. Joe was at his desk, big hands pecking out something or other on the keyboard.
“Hey.” Devin kept his voice level. “Heard you wanted to see me?”
Joe glanced up and smiled, the lines around his eyes crinkling. “Yeah, hey, have a seat.”
Devin closed the door and sat down. While Joe finished up what he was working on, Devin half smiled.
Joe was a good boss because he was one of them. He’d worked his way up the ranks from grunt to site supervisor over the last twenty-five years.
Didn’t make the sight of his giant frame squished behind a desk any less funny, though.
After a minute, Joe squinted and hammered the return key before straightening and turning to Devin. “James. Thanks for coming in.”
“No problem, boss.”
“I’ll cut to the chase. You’re probably wondering why I called you in here.”
Devin shifted his weight in his chair. He’d been so distracted by Bryce and then by watching Joe pretend he didn’t need reading glasses that he hadn’t given it that much thought. Business had been good, and Devin never missed a day. He hadn’t screwed anything up that he knew of. Which left only one thing.
Something he’d dismissed out of hand, even as he’d thrown his hat in the ring.
“You know Todd’s retiring at the end of the month.”
Devin nodded, his mouth going dry. He fought to keep his reaction—and his expectations—down. “Sorry to see him go.”
“We all are, but he’s earned it.” Joe let out a breath. Then he cocked a brow. “Big question of the day is who’s going to fill in for him as shift leader for your crew.”
“You made a decision.”
“Sure did.” Joe kept a straight face for all of a second. When his face split into a wide smile, Devin mentally pumped his fist. Joe extended his hand across the desk. “Congratulations.”
Devin didn’t waste any time. He shoved his hand into Joe’s with fireworks going off inside his chest.
Yes. Holy freaking hell, yes.
“I won’t let you down, sir.”
“Oh, believe me, I know it, or I woulda picked somebody else.”
As he pulled his hand back, Joe started talking about responsibilities and expectations, and Devin was definitely listening.
He was also mentally updating all the numbers in his budget.
He’d never really expected to get the job of shift leader. There were older guys who’d put their names in. Heck, Bryce could have gotten it, and then Devin would have been looking for another job entirely.
But he knew exactly how much his pay was going to go up by. Every cent of it could go into savings. Twenty-eight months would be more like fourteen. Maybe even twelve.
One year. One year until he’d have enough for the land and the materials.
He couldn’t wait to tell everybody. Drinks with his buddy Han would be on him tonight.
Arthur was going to be so proud.
Joe paused, narrowing his eyes at Devin and making him tap the brakes on his runaway thoughts. “It won’t be an easy job, Devin.”
Devin swallowed. “I’m up for the challenge.”
“You don’t have to convince me,” Joe repeated, holding his big hands up in front of his chest. He set them down on the desk and fixed Devin with a meaningful look. “Just. Stand your ground, okay? Do that and I have every confidence you’ll be fine.”
Moving up would also mean being responsible for an entire shift crew of guys.
Including Bryce Horton.
That same hot, ready-to-fight instinct flared inside him, followed right after by the icy reminder to push it down. He smiled tightly. “Not a problem.”
“All righty, then.” The matter seemed settled as Joe stood. “I’ll get the paperwork sorted. You start training on Monday.”
Devin rose. “Thank you. Really.”
Joe gestured with his head toward the door. “Go on. Have a beer or three to celebrate, you hear?”
Devin had no doubt he’d do exactly that—eventually.
With a spring in his step, he headed for the parking lot. He smacked the steering wheel of his beat-up bucket of bolts as he got in and slammed the door behind him. As the old truck lurched to life, he cranked the stereo and peeled out, triumph bursting inside him.
This was it. The break he hadn’t dared to hope for but that he needed, the thing that was going to get him on the fast track to his goals.
And there was only one place he wanted to go.
The Harvest Home food bank and soup kitchen stood in a converted mill on the north end of town. Business in Blue Cedar Falls was generally good, and it had only been getting better since tourism had picked up on Main Street.
Main Street’s cute little tourist district felt a long way away, though. Devin’s wasn’t the only rust bucket truck parked outside Harvest Home. On his way in, he held the door for a woman and her four kids who were coming out, each armed with a bag. He didn’t need to peek inside to know they were filled with not just cans but with fresh food, too. The kind of stuff that filled your belly and your heart.
Goodness knew Devin’d had to rely on that enough times when he was a kid.
He ran his hand along the yellow painted concrete wall of the entry hallway, his throat tight. He couldn’t wait to tell Arthur.
But when he turned the corner, it wasn’t Arthur standing behind the desk. Oh no. Of course it wasn’t.
Devin’s blood flashed hot. For one fraction of a second, he let his gaze wander, taking in soft curves and softer-looking lips. Dark eyes and long, silky, ink-black hair.
A throat cleared. A brow arched.
Like he’d been slapped upside the head, he jerked his gaze back to meet hers. She smiled at him mischievously, and he bit back a swear.
“Hey, Zoe,” he managed to grit out. Silently, he said the rest of her name, too.
Zoe Leung. Devin’s best friend Han Leung’s little sister. Arthur Chao’s beloved niece.
The one person on this earth he should not be getting caught checking out. Especially by her.
“Hey, Dev.” The curl of her full lips made his heart feel like a puppy tugging at its leash to go run off into traffic. Only a semi was barreling down the road.
The past few months since Zoe had moved back home after college had been torture. Fortunately, he had lots of practice keeping himself from doing anything stupid around her. He’d been holding himself in check for years, after all. Since she was eighteen and he was twenty-two.
Because if he ever let go of that leash on his control? Gave in to the invitation in her eyes?
It’d proba. . .
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