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From USA Today and Amazon Charts bestselling author Meghan Quinn comes a heartfelt romantic comedy about new beginnings and finding the romanticized happily ever after in the most unlikely of places.
Hollywood screenwriter Sawyer Castle knows a good love story when he sees it. But when it comes to real life romance, he’s a mess. That’s how he finds himself standing at the altar…as his ex-girlfriend ties the knot with his very famous best friend. The pressure, the resentment, the media coverage—it’s all too much—and before he knows exactly what he’s doing, he’s making a run for it, leaving a shocked congregation and flashing cameras in his wake.
Needing to lie low amid the media fallout, Sawyer lands in the charming town of Canoodle, California, where he crosses paths with Fallon Long, who runs the Canoodle Cove Cabins, a family-owned business and Sawyer’s new short-term residence. Overwhelmed with renovations and her long list of responsibilities, Fallon is struggling to make ends meet while attempting to bring the cabins back to their original glory. So when Sawyer arrives, she is grateful for the income, but immediately writes him off as just another vapid Hollywood hack, until he begins to prove her wrong at every turn.
As Fallon comes closer to saving the family business, an undeniable bond forms between her and the handsome screenwriter. But the pressures of her family obligations and Sawyer’s notoriety might prove to be too much for anyone to handle. Could Canoodle be the setting for a new romance—or is true love just a Hollywood cliché?
Release date: October 11, 2022
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“She’s so beautiful.” A cooing aunt swoons.
“Absolutely breathtaking,” a mother admits while waving her hand in her face, warding off tears.
“Simon is one lucky SOB,” a man says while turning to Simon and giving him a wink.
“Oscar de la Renta in white looks spectacular on Annalisa. Don’t you think?” Armie, Simon’s brother, says as he nudges me with his elbow, pulling me from my lethal reverie.
“Yeah . . . a real goddess,” I say, my voice dripping in sarcasm as I watch my ex-girlfriend walk down the aisle, hand in hand with her father, toward my best friend, Simon Fredrickson.
You read that correctly.
My ex-girlfriend is marrying my best friend.
A large, wet sniff echoes through the illustrious cathedral, which is coated in white from the light-washed floorboards to the vaulted ceilings connected a forty-foot pitch. A church made in Hollywood Heaven.
I glance over at Simon, who’s dabbing at his eyes with a light-blue handkerchief, a tender yet purposeful groom’s gift from his bride: a statement that it’s not just okay to cry while she walks down the aisle but required, because the cameras will be flashing.
The cameras have not stopped flashing since they were caught together on a boat cruise to Catalina. She was wearing a floral-print sundress, Gucci leather sandals, and her hair in loose curls, while he sported a pair of simple navy-blue shorts and a light-blue button-up with the top four buttons undone. No man undoes the top four buttons of his shirt as casual wear unless his first name starts with Douche and the last ends with Canoe.
The reason I know exactly what they were wearing when they were “caught” is because I read the caption under the picture of their love tryst at least 752 times before it actually processed in my head.
Annalisa Morton, my girlfriend of five years—the woman I planned on marrying—and breakout actress from the wildly popular streaming platform Movieflix, known for starring in wholesome romantic movies, was cheating on me, with my best friend.
Not just my best friend.
But her costar.
Her costar in the movie I wrote for both of them.
Some blogs said I practically wrote the script for their love, and with the undeniable force between their looks and my words, it was bound to happen. I should have been smarter.
Yeah, sure, blame it on the guy who was cheated on.
Couldn’t have been the fact that my ex-girlfriend and best friend wouldn’t know loyalty if it slapped them in the face with the latest fad drink from Starbucks.
Overnight, the affair erupted, and the world embraced the new couple.
I thought that was a kick in the crotch, until Simon asked me to meet him at the pub around the corner from my beachside apartment and begged me to be his best man at their wedding.
At one point . . . threatened.
Which has landed me in this very spot, staring down Annalisa in a slim-cut silk dress that screams old Hollywood, tears brimming in her eyes as she walks down the aisle toward Simon.
Why not say no?
Why not tell them to fuck off?
Because you see, there is a hierarchy in society we must follow. It goes: God, Hollywood, the president, and then it trickles down from there. At times, Hollywood and God duke it out for the power to make decisions, and more often than not, the greed from Hollywood wins out.
Unluckily for me, the producers of the movie we were all making together, as one big happy family, pulled me to the side and whispered in my ear that if I ever wanted to write in “this town” again, I needed to suck up my pride and do what was best for the film.
With my career in the balance, I sucked up my “pride” and I went along with the romance, acting as if everything was okay.
I smiled gaily when their engagement pictures spread like wildfire.
I gleefully shook Simon’s hand when he asked me to be his best man—after the ominous threat, of course.
And I even gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to a paparazzo when Simon’s bachelor party was staged in Vegas.
And now that I’m here, standing at the altar with my sniffling weasel of a best friend, all I can think about is how I’m not sure I can possibly take any more of this fanciful mockery of a union.
When she’s midway down the aisle, because Annalisa is living up this nauseating moment, the congregation breaks into joyous applause, as if she’s Miss America taking her victory stroll, sash and flowers clutched dramatically to her bodice.
The men next to me clap.
The parents in front of me clap.
The bridesmaids to the right of me tear up and of course . . . clap. Trained actors at their finest.
I’m the only sane person in the building who is looking around, wondering what the hell is going on—until I’m on the receiving end of a sharp elbow jab to the ribs from Armie, accompanied by a ferocious side-eye that can only be described as the embodiment of derisive contempt.
I lift my hands and offer a slow clap, laced in sarcasm.
Thankfully, no one notices the true meaning behind my subtle clap. As long as I’m performing joyful noise, they don’t bother considering my intent.
After what feels like half an hour, Annalisa makes it to the altar, kisses her dad on the cheek, and then sucks in a sharp breath as she makes a scene of giving her besotted groom a slow once-over. And because they are expert performers, she turns to the audience—oh, excuse me, ahem, friends and family—and gestures to Simon with her bouquet.
“Give our groom a round of applause. Have you ever seen anyone more handsome?”
The best man cleans up pretty well, but who am I to argue with the bride on her wedding day?
Once again, the chapel , and as all eyes are on us, I smile and give Simon a few claps as well while I envision his head between my hands, and instead of clapping my palms together, I’m slapping him right in those floppy, surgically pinned-back ears of his.
The chapel finally calms down, people take their seats in the sturdy pine pews, and the pastor begins his speech.
I tune him out. Not quite in the mood to hear about how the happy couple is the model for a perfect marriage. Instead, I stare down at the light-blue wing tip shoes that expertly match my light-blue Armani tuxedo, Danny Kaye–style.
The shoes bring me back to a time I brought Annalisa to my Boyle Heights apartment, which was littered with friendly drug dealers and ruled by an unspoken agreement—you don’t rat us out and we won’t murder you in your sleep. It was a deal I didn’t mind taking. Annalisa was a struggling actress at the time, so she understood the need for low rent and didn’t even think twice about where I lived. Instead, we cuddled up on the on my floor and streamed White Christmas. I marveled at the timeless story line, and she sighed over the costumes, declaring that one day, she was going to marry a man who wore a suit that matched his shoes. I promised her that on her wedding day, I’d make that happen.
Only . . . at the time, I was convinced I was going to be the groom, not the best man.
“The couple has prepared their own wedding vows,” the pastor says with an impressed lilt to his voice.
Of course they have.
Bet they didn’t actually write the vows themselves.
I refrain from crossing my arms over my chest and tapping my toe indignantly as they proclaim their everlasting love for each other.
This should be good.
Simon continues to dab at his eyes—the man must have tear sticks attached to his handkerchief because even though his eyes haven’t stopped dripping, his facial expression remains stoic. Wouldn’t be the first time he inconspicuously . I was the one who introduced him to the magical Hollywood trick.
In grand fashion, Annalisa sets her shoulders back and makes a dramatic display of drawing a folded piece of paper from the depths of her cleavage like a magician pulling a bunny from his hat. The awe that falls over the crowd is exasperating. You’d think she’d just mastered boss-level sorcery from their oohs and aahs.
If they think that’s spectacular, they should attend one of my family reunions, where my aunt Suzie utilizes her cleavage like Mary Poppins’s carpetbag. Roarick, my brother, still swears to this day that he saw her pull a live succulent from between her “bosoms.”
Carefully, Annalisa unfolds the paper and looks up at Simon. One would think for being such a trained actress, she’d memorize her vows. But like everything else, it’s all for the show.
I stuff my hands in my pockets, and from over Simon’s shoulder, I stare her down. Just waiting to hear what she has to say.
“I can remember the day I first laid eyes on you,” she begins.
Yeah, it was at my apartment. Simon came flying in looking like a gnome-size Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson in jeans and a black turtleneck. He’d just finished an off-off-Broadway performance of A Day in the Life of Zack Morris, a less-than-titillating “play” that required the hole-in-the-wall theater to refund ticket prices to the audience due to the lead puking across the ten-by-ten-foot stage after an overdose of Sausage McMuffins that morning.
He barged through my door, told me there was vomit everywhere, and then ran down to his apartment, one level below me. Annalisa found him offensive.
“From your beautifully stark black hair.”
Dyed black hair.
“To your square, masculine jaw.”
Jaw implants; he got them five years ago.
“To your mesmerizing blue eyes.”
Okay, those are real and are quite fetching.
“You took my breath away.”
A snort pops out of me before I can stop myself. Annalisa’s eyes flash to mine, beaming a strong warning to keep it together.
I straighten up.
“I had just started making a splash in the movie business but lacked the confidence I needed to become a true leading lady.”
Uh, not the way I remember it. She already had an impressive ego by the time she met Simon.
“And then you walked into my life, like a knight in shining armor, but instead of a white horse and a suit of clanking metal, you were cloaked in a Tom Ford suit and drove an Aston Martin.”
“Ha,” I say, which catches the attention of everyone around me. Oh shit. “Ha-ow amazing,” I say to recover. “Just amazing vows.” I lift my hand and give Annalisa a thumbs-up. She returns it with a murderous look.
But come on . . . Tom Ford and an Aston Martin?
What a load of crock.
More like heavily pocketed parachute pants and a 1993 Geo Metro without power steering.
“From a lonely, defeated, and confused part of my life, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, you lifted me up and resurrected me from the smoke and into the heavens.”
So basically, I was Satan, strapping her down in hell, only for Simon to come swooping in like a glamorized Tarzan minus the loincloth to rescue her from the pits of purgatory.
I can feel the eyes of family and friends on me, and not because of my not-so-subtle guffaw but because most of these people know the truth.
I’m the reason Annalisa made it into the movies.
I’m the reason Simon got his big break.
And I’m the reason their latest flick was so well received—not only am I now a highly sought-after screenwriter, but I wrote the screenplay that made audiences fall in love with them.
So, the question is, Why am I standing here next to an ex–best friend who was nervous the Botox in his armpits wasn’t going to keep him from sweating through his suit on his wedding day, watching my ex-girlfriend heap praise on him—praise the double-crossing nitwit doesn’t deserve?
I shouldn’t have to stand here, supporting them.
The movie is done.
The press is over.
The audience has gone wild.
There’s nothing holding me back. The studio can’t offer me any more threats.
I put my time in.
Nothing making me stand at this altar and take this abuse.
So . . .
I decide to leave.
In that moment. I know it’s time to go.
I take a step forward as Annalisa stares up at Simon.
Then another step.
And another, which draws their attention.
Annalisa sizes me up with those crystal-blue eyes. “What are you doing?” she says through a clenched smile.
I clear my throat. “If you’ll excuse me, I must announce to the masses that I have better things to do than stand through this mockery.” Simon moves to the side so he can look at me in absolute horror. Hinging at my hips, I make a graceful bow—because it feels right—and when I straighten up, I lift both of my middle fingers, one for each of them. “I pray to the Holy Spirit that this marriage goes down in flames.”
I offer my apologies to the pastor for my straightforward verbiage with a quick wave, then spin on my heel and jog down the aisle while camera phones flash and a cacophony of whispers echo against the forty-foot vaulted ceiling. One particular camera flash—a light so deathly glaring it’s like looking directly at an eclipse—momentarily blinds me, making me stumble down the rose-petal-dotted aisle and step on the of one of my shoes.
Whoa boy. I nearly fall flat on my face. A litany of curse words flies from my mouth before I quickly regain my balance, courtesy of the second-to-last pew coming to my rescue.
Mentally praising God for the assist, I dip two fingers into the bowl of holy water resting just inside the entryway, throw a peace sign up to the big guy, and then push on the handle to the doors.
Not so gracefully—thank you, undone shoelace—I stumble out the cathedral doors as a wave of cameras flash, blocking me from my unscripted breakaway. But their greedy flashes quickly turn into disappointed clicks when they realize I’m not the much-anticipated newly united.
If only they knew the moment they just captured will bring a hefty price when the news hits—the fleeing groomsman. They’ll find out soon enough.
Spotting my escape vehicle, I jog down the stairs of the cathedral, only for my untied and ill-fitting shoe to slip off my foot midjog on the second-to-last step. The loss of footwear careens me into the stair rail, and I perform a spin move so epic, the greatest running back of all time would be jealous. Catching my balance, I glance back at the shoe just as Simon comes into view at the top of the steps, an expression of pure murder crossing his eyes.
Yikes, time to go.
“Someone stop him!” Simon calls out dramatically, as if I’ve just stolen his wallet. And I take that moment to book it.
I run—well, hobble on shoe and socked foot—through the parking lot, all the way to my car, trailed by the few paparazzi smart enough to chase after me.
With cameras flashing through my tinted windows, I turn my car on and grip the steering wheel tight with one thing on my mind: time to get the hell out of here.
And just like that, with no plan attached to my lead foot, I drive.
“Please tell me you finally got some white wine in stock,” I say, flopping onto one of the many dilapidated barstools in Beggar’s Hole, the only bar in the little town of Canoodle, California.
A platinum-blonde pixie haircut pops up from the bar, and Jazlyn, my best friend, wiggles her eyebrows. In my opinion, she looks like the singer P!nk’s long-lost twin sister. “Refilled just this morning. I threatened Tommy with no payment and a quick slash to his tires if he didn’t have any on his truck.”
“I’m sure he thanked his lucky stars he had white wine—you have a reputation for seeing through on your tire-slashing threats.”
Jaz winks and moves around the bar with ease, pulling up a wineglass for me—one of twelve she has in stock—and then filling it with wine and seltzer before topping it with a dash of lime.
My mouth waters at the sight.
“Long day?” she asks.
“If you consider wallpapering your hand to the men’s bathroom wall while your foot is stuck in the toilet, then yes, I’d say a long day.” I bring the drink to my lips and take an eager sip.
“Care to explain how you got in that predicament?”
My eyes meet Jaz’s. “One word: Sully.”
She holds her hands up. “Say no more.” She moves around the bar. “Waffle?”
“Obviously,” I say with a roll of my eyes.
She chuckles and heads to the kitchen to put in my usual order of a candied bacon waffle with extra syrup.
Yup, waffles at a bar named Beggar’s Hole.
The thing about Canoodle, California, is that we do things our way, and we don’t step on each other’s toes. Everyone has a place in this town, and we live harmoniously as one big group, population: 2,510, tucked away in the San Jacinto Mountains between two large rock formations that are almost as grand as the terrain that surrounds us. Straddling the famous Harry Balls hiking trail, Bald Nut Rock hangs on the edge of the mountain, offering a steep decline, while Ancient Nads Rock extends high up the mountain, offering a very lifelike depiction of, well . . . a man’s dangling bits.
Beggar’s Hole is the town’s bar, situated on stilts just above Bald Nut, so if you drunkenly fall off the side of the deck, you’re tumbling to your alcohol-infused death. Thankfully, since the opening of the historically seedy yet charming bar, there has yet to be a deck-related casualty. Just outside the door leading to the deck hangs a gold-framed chalkboard showing a running total of “days since rock formation death.” Currently, the town of Canoodle is sitting on 22,630 days of no deaths. An accomplishment widely congratulated through the whispering streets of our town.
Sipping my white wine spritzer, I turn in my chair, pressing my back against the bar top and crossing one leg over the other while I take in the wonderfully dingy space, only a light hum of classic rock and roll playing in the background. Jaz keeps the music just loud enough to be heard, but not too loud to drown out conversations. The wood-paneled walls have never seen one hint of renovation, but they have acquired fist holes and bent planks, lending the space an eerie but still charming ambiance. The uneven and sticky wide-plank floor resembles the deck of a pirate ship: knotty, splintery, and full of bodily fluids. But, like most of the townspeople, we gladly embrace “the Hole” and retreat here for an evening of spirits and breakfast for dinner.
“Other than papering your hand to the wall,” Jaz says, reappearing and resting a giant waffle infused with candied bacon bits in front of me, “how are the renovations coming over at the Cove?”
“Not great,” I answer, spinning around again and grabbing a fork. Friday nights are for waffles and wine, an odd combination that somehow works. “I don’t know what I was thinking, taking this all on while being Grandpa Sully’s sole caretaker. It’s a bit overwhelming.” I feel a pang as I glance back toward the table in the far left corner, Sully’s table, where he’s “shooting the shit” with his best pal, Tank, the owner of Village Hardware and Jaz’s grandfather. “Today, Sully asked me at least seven times to unload the dishwasher. When I said it was already unloaded, he’d make a grumbly sound, and then I’d walk into the kitchen to hear it running. I stopped it every time to not waste water, but Jesus, Jaz, he’s getting worse.”
“Have you talked to the doctor at all about the new developments?”
I shake my head. “Between trying to keep the guests at the Cove happy, the renovations, apologizing for the renovations, and stopping the dishwasher, I haven’t had time.”
“I thought you shut down for renovations.”
“After this weekend, we’ll be shut down so I can focus on the renovations.” I cut into my waffle and gather a large bite on my fork.
“Do you think you need some—”
The door to the bar flings open, adding to the handle hole that’s already made quite the dent in the wood paneling.
The bar as a tall dark shadow emerges from the plank, the bridge that connects the street to the bar.
The figure slowly comes into view, starting with light-blue shoe—yes, shoe, singular; his other foot is sheathed in a light-blue dress sock (which is not the least bit attractive: the shoe, not the sock)—followed by matching light-blue pants, light-blue suit jacket with accompanying vest, white shirt, and tie.
“Beer,” the man grumbles as he comes up to the bar and takes a seat on a stool two spaces away from me. “Lots and lots of beer.”
Jaz flings a coaster at him. “Does it matter what kind?”
“Nope,” he says, reaching into the bowl of puppy chow in front of him. “Odd,” he says, lifting up one of the powdered sugar–coated Chex squares before popping it in his mouth.
The few people in the bar immediately begin to chatter again, and I know exactly what they’re chattering about . . . the mysterious man in the flamboyant tuxedo.
He might not know it.
But Jaz and I do. We exchange looks while she pours the man a beer from the tap.
“Watcha runnin’ from?” Jaz asks, setting the beer down in front of him.
He downs half the beer before setting the pint glass back on the bar top and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. This one seems to be lacking etiquette—surprising, given the pristine press of his suit pants and the gold cuff links peeking past his suit jacket.
“Who says I’m running?”
Jaz leans on the bar top. “We might be small-town people, but we’re not stupid.” She flicks the corsage pinned to his suit jacket. “From the freshness of this corsage, to the hold-strong gel in your hair, to the desperate demand for beer, I’d say you either left someone at the altar—or they left you.”
Ohh, very observant.
From my position, I can only catch him from my peripheral view, but I can easily note the tension in his jaw as he stares down his pint glass and then lifts it to his lips. After a few seconds of silence, he finally answers: “I ran.”
Jaz smacks the bar top. “We’ve got a runaway groom, folks!” she shouts to the rest of the crowd, which boos him uproariously, chucking a few used napkins his way.
“What?” the man says, shaking his head. “No, I was the groomsman.”
Jaz pauses. “The groomsman?”
“Technically, best man,” he says, finishing his beer and pushing the glass toward Jaz for a refill.
“But you ran from the wedding?” He nods. Confused, Jaz asks, “Did a swarm of bees chase you out? Possibly the fashion police, attempting to slap you with a fine for an abomination of a tuxedo?”
“Something like that,” he mutters before shoving more puppy chow in his mouth.
Jaz leaves it at that, fills up his drink, and then comes back to me. She jabs a thumb toward the man. “Seems like someone wronged him.”
I take my first true glance at him. Square, muscular jawline, not an ounce of scruff or five-o’clock shadow; laugh lines dancing near the corners of his eyes; blond hair, styled to the right and short on the sides, a hairstyle that could look good on any man. But . . . from the sight of him, something familiar starts to bubble up in my stomach. Recognition.
Why do I know him?
Why is that passive way he speaks so . . . familiar?
“I feel like I know that guy,” I whisper, leaning across the bar.
“Really?” Jaz asks. She glances over at him. “He seems like a tawdry dud. Did you see the shoe?”
“I did. Absolutely dreadful. But beyond that, he looks familiar. Like I’ve met him before.”
From his deflated position two spaces over, he turns to us. Fear creeps over me that he heard us talking about him—Jaz couldn’t care less, but I have some semblance of social decorum. Though when he asks us a question, I know he didn’t hear a thing. “Is there lodging around here?”
Boy, is he talking to the right person. Lodging . . . of course we have . . . GASP!
It hits me.
Those tired blue eyes.
That thick blond hair.
The small crook in his nose.
The man hunched over the bar, inquiring about lodging, Mr. Matchy Pant-Shoes . . . I went on a date with him.
Yes, it’s true. I, a sophisticated and engaging woman, went on a date . . . with him.
One single date.
A date that lives rent-free in my brain as the worst date I’ve ever been on.
Now, before you start conjuring up ideas as to why the date went sour, I’m going to set the record straight right here, right now. I am not the reason for such a foul memory. No, I was an absolute delight that night.
But the apparent runaway groomsman, on the other hand . . . he was less than desirable to be around.
“We do have lodging,” Jaz says. “In fact, it’s your lucky day. The owner of the Canoodle Cove Cabins is sitting right here.”
The man turns and looks at me straight on for the first time.
I brace for impact.
For the heat of embarrassed recognition to settle over him.
For him to announce to the bar, with a pointed finger in my direction, that he knows me.
I hold my breath.
I grip my fork just a touch tighter, steadying a bite of waffle on the end of the tines.
And then . . .
“Any vacancies?” he asks before bringing his beer to his lips.
His voice is gruff. His posture drained. His eyes glazed over with woefulness.
There’s no pointing. No “aha” moment.
Wait . . . does he not . . . does he not recognize me?
I blink a few times, waiting for it to hit him. Waiting for him to smack his palm to his head as realization dawns on him. But his face remains passive, and I realize quite quickly that, just like our date, I’m making zero impression on him right now.
“Uh, yeah,” I answer. “We have a few cabins available.”
“Perfect.” He turns back around and faces the bar, tipping his drink up to his lips. “I’m going to need one.”
“Why do you need to talk to me back here?” Jaz grumbles as she looks through the porthole of the kitchen door. “I have customers, you know.”
“Jaz, I know him.”
“We established you saw some resemblance.”
“Yes, but I know from where now.” I tug on her arm.
“Okay, delight me with the story.”
I glance out the window as well, just to make sure we’re clear of eavesdroppers. “We were set up on a blind date.”
“Wait. You went on a date with Mr. Matchy-Matchy? The guy who’s missing a shoe? Ew, why?”
“He wasn’t matching then. Well, I mean, he matched, but not like he is now. He was dressed just regular.” I shake my head. “That’s beside the point, Jaz.” I drop my voice even further. “He didn’t recognize me.”
“Are you sure? Did he even look at you?”
“Yes. When you told him I own the cabins—which technically isn’t true; Sully owns them. But he looked at me, actual eye contact. Trust me, he has no idea who I am.”
“Was it a memorable date?” she asks.
“Does it matter?”
“Not really.” She taps her chin while looking out the window. “Do you want me to slash his tires?”
“No. For the love of God, no.”
“Because you know I will. No one wrongs my friend and gets away with it.”
“Judging from his Easter-inspired tuxedo, I’m going to guess he’s had punishment enough.”
Jaz quirks a singular brow to the sky. “So, you’re not mad about him not remembering you?”
Am I mad? I mean . . . it’s never great to be forgettable, but then again, it’s not like I made a strong impact on him during our date. It was evident from the way he ignored me. Mad? No. Indifferent? Yeah, that feels more like it.
“It’s not like there was a love connection. He was on his phone most of the time. The only reason I stuck around was because we went to the Golden Star in Palm Springs, and I ordered the steak. I wasn’t leaving until I devoured it.”
“God, what I wouldn’t give to have eight ounces of that meat in my mouth right now.” She stares up at the ceiling dreamily. “I don’t blame you for sticking it out. Did you even talk on the date?”
“Minimally. It was incredibly awkward. He showed up late, was in a terrible mood, and then grumbled a lot about plotlines and story arcs.”
“Is he an author?”
“Uh, I think he does screenplays or something like that. At least that’s what he said when we first met.”
“I find this all very fascinating. Shall we bring it up to him?” She wiggles her eyebrows.
I grip her arm and stare her in the eyes. “Do not bring this up. For the love of God, just let this be between you and me. He’s probably passing through. No need to make this more awkward than it needs to be.”
“Doesn’t seem awkward to me—seems like fun.”
She rolls her eyes and sighs. “Fine. But can you at least reconsider the tire slashing?”
“No,” I say, exasperated.
“You know, I don’t see why you’re protecting him. The guy seems like a doofus. Doesn’t know who you are, walked out on a wedding, and he doesn’t even know what puppy chow is. An absolute disaster. Why protect him from my sarcastic wit and cunning conversation?”
“Or your knife-wielding skills.”
She smirks. “That too.”
“Not happening. Okay? I’m not protecting him, just . . . I don’t know, not trying to cause any drama where it’s not needed. He’ll be gone tomorrow, so let’s just leave it.”
With an annoyed groan, Jaz tosses her arms in the air. “Then what was the point of coming back here if we’re not formulating some sort of plan of attack?”
“It was just so I could tell you I went on a blind date with him.”
She growls in frustration. “You’re losing your edge.”
“Blame it on Sully,” I say, chasing after her as we head back into the main bar area.
I take a seat at my stool, and Jaz makes me another drink, swapping the one that I left on the counter for something new. She’s very cautious about leaving drinks around, especially with passing tourists.
“His nose is crooked,” she mutters, handing me the drink.
“But he has a lot of hair for a man who has such weary eyes. How old is he?”
“I don’t know,” I whisper. “Doesn’t matter.”
“My guess is forties.” She taps the bar top. “Hey, Groomy, how old are you? Forties?”
He turns his head. “Groomsman.”
“Whatever.” Jaz waves her hand dismissively. “Just answer the question.”
“What’s it to you?”
Jaz plants one hand on the bar, the other on her hip. “Because I asked, and unless you want everyone in this bar to turn on you, I suggest you answer the simple question.”
He sighs. “Thirty-five.”
“Thirty-five.” Jaz whistles. “Invest in some eye cream.”
He doesn’t flinch.
Doesn’t even act insulted.
Instead, he picks up his beer, downs the rest of his glass, and then asks for another.
I can barely remember what we talked about the night we went out. I can sort of recall what I wore, what he wore. But I do remember his disinterest, the bleakness in his eyes. That hasn’t changed. That’s something I will forever remember—because I felt the same exact way.
That was the night I found out about Sully.
That was the night I made the executive decision to abandon my life in Palm Springs and move up to the mountains to help my grandpa with his rental cabins.
I left everything behind. The date was a mere formality.
I wasn’t present. Neither was he.
There was no connection.
Just like right now, as he sits a few feet away. There is no pull, no cosmic force shoving us together.
He just happens to be a runaway groomsman who stumbled into my town.
“I told you not to give him that last beer,” I grunt, walking the last few steps into the lobby of the Cove and stumbling under my new guest’s weight.
“I wanted to see if he’d fall off the back of the deck,” Jaz responds as we deposit him on the old western-style couch just across from the check-in counter. He smiles up at us and offers a wobbly thumbs-up.
“Well done, ladies.”
Ugh, men are exhausting.
“Let’s just get him checked in so I can get to bed. The last thing I need to do is take care of two grown men.”
“Technically, Tank is taking care of Sully tonight,” Jaz says. I shoot her an annoyed look, and she chuckles. “But I understand what you’re saying.”
I walk behind the check-in counter and wake up the early-2000s computer with a shake of the corded mouse. It takes a few seconds, but the screen blinks on, and I open up the registration log. It was the one thing Sully was always adamant about: taking down notes, making sure reservations were set. He noticed early on that he had a tendency to forget—and forgetting a reservation in a small mountain town where you run the only lodging other than house rentals is not a good way to conduct business.
“Do you have mountain views?” the man says, attempting to button up his light-blue tuxedo.
“The entire town is a mountain view, dumbass,” Jaz says, leaning against the counter.
“It’s dark, how the hell am I supposed to know?” He gestures drunkenly to the wall.
“I suggest you stop talking to him before you lose your cool,” I mutter. “Not worth it.” Directing my attention to . . . what’s his name again? Sean? Sam? “I’m going to need an ID and credit card.”
He digs his less-than-dexterous hands into his —struggling uncomfortably—and then fishes his wallet out, only for it to land on the floor.
He leans back on the couch, breathes a heavy sigh, and then . . . passes out.
Jaz and I both stare at his unmoving carcass.
“Uh . . . is he dead?” Jaz whispers.
“I can’t be sure,” I answer wearily. “Poke him.”
“Ew, I’m not poking him. You poke him.”
“I can’t have my DNA on him. We have history—I could be considered a suspect.”
Jaz rolls her eyes. “Your history is one blind date where he ignored you. I barely consider that history.”
“It’s enough to get me questioned.”
“Jesus,” Jaz huffs, making her way to the umbrella stand next to the back door leading to the cabins. She picks up an umbrella and positions herself in front of . . . hmm, Silas? Steven maybe?
With two hands, she taps . . . Spencer (?) on the knee with the tip of the umbrella.
He doesn’t move.
“Oh God,” I whisper, leaning over the counter now. “What if he’s dead?”
“That would not be good for business. We’d have to do some Weekend at Bernie’s recon work. Stick him in front of Spirits and Jerky, make it seem like a natural death-by-sidewalk-type thing.”
“Poke him again.” I jab the air with my finger. “See if rigor mortis has set in.”
“It doesn’t work that fast, you idiot.” Jaz takes a step closer and pokes his chest.
We hold our breath.
And then . . . nothing.
“Oh my God, he’s dead. He’s really dead.” My voice rises in panic, and I look closer. “I can’t see if his chest is moving. Is it moving? Check his pulse.”
Jaz shakes her head as she takes a step back. “That’s where I put on the brakes. There’s no way I’m about to touch a dead person. Sorry.”
“Uh, you’ll have to touch him if we’re sticking him in front of Spirits and Jerky.”
“That’s what tarps are for—body dragging.”
“What is wrong with you?”
“Me?” She points to herself. “What is wrong with you? We should’ve just left him at his car, but noooooo, you thought it would be kind to bring him here . . . where he has expired!”
“He was looking for lodging,” I say, moving my way around the counter. “I thought it would be better to help him here instead of letting him get back in his car. I didn’t know he was going to . . . shut his eyes forever here.” I press my hand to my forehead. “I mean, is he really, you know . . . ?”
“Yeah, that. Is he? I can’t see through that stupid suit. This is getting ridiculous. We need to check his pulse. Call an ambulance.”
“And tell them what?” Jaz says, growing serious. “That we carried a drunk man to your lair, where he just happened to die? I have a record, Fallon. This does not look good on me.”
“It’s not my fault you’ve made it a hobby to go around and slash tires.”
“I’m a vigilante!” She raises her fist to the air.
“Dear God, this is getting out of control. For the love of everything holy, just feel for his pulse.” I shove her toward the couch.
“Ew, no way. You do it. You’re the former nurse, and the one with a romantic involvement.”
“It was one blind date.”
“Still, you are more attached, and bringing him here was your idea. I touched him with the umbrella! I did my service; now it’s your time.”
I shake my hands while jogging in place. “Can you at least be ready with the hand sanitizer?”
“That I can do.” She drops the umbrella and snags the bottle of hand sanitizer from the counter next to the computer. She holds the bottle out in front of her, legs spread in a sturdy stance and one finger on the nozzle, ready to attack. “Okay, I’m ready. Touch him.”
Mentally preparing myself, I convince my brain that I’m not about to touch a dead person, that in fact, I’m just touching a man who is sleeping. I slowly inch toward him. One scoot at a time until I’m hovering over him. Slowly—wincing the entire time—I reach down to his lifeless wrist and press two fingers to his skin—
“Mashed potatoes!” he yells, sitting straight up. I fall back on my ass and scream bloody murder.
“Satan!” Jaz yells, squirting him with the hand sanitizer.
I scoot backward, crab-walk-style, until I’m far enough away to catch my breath after the heart attack he just gave me.
His inebriated eyes land on me, and he slowly wavers in his seat, bobbling to and fro as he stares down at me. Languidly, he holds up his index finger and says, “One plate, please.” And then he collapses back against the couch.
Frozen in fear, we catch our breaths and then calmly distance ourselves a little more.
“I think it’s safe to say he’s not dead, just very drunk,” I say with relief as I stand from the ground and brush off my hands.
“With some ghost possessing him, maybe the owner of that suit. It can’t be new—has to have been dug up from somewhere.” Jaz picks up the umbrella again and gradually runs the tip along his shin. “Looks like old fabric to me.”
“Stop stroking him with the umbrella, and hand me his wallet so I can get him checked in and then get him the hell out of here.”
Jaz fetches the wallet from the ground and tosses it to me. She holds the umbrella up to him like a sword, probably warding off any more abrupt pleas for mashed potatoes, while I flip open the old, torn leather of his wallet. My eyes land on his ID and his name.
Ahh, see, I knew it began with an S.
It takes me a few minutes, but once he’s checked in, I grab the key to cabin eight—it offers a wonderful mountain view, because I’m nice like that—and together, Jaz and I lift his arms over our shoulders. We drag him to his cabin and dump him on the bed once we’ve unlocked the door.
Jaz tosses his wallet at his passed-out body and then catches her breath. “You couldn’t have picked a closer cabin?”
“He asked for a mountain view.”
Her eyes flash to me. “I hate you.”
“I know.” I sigh. “But hey, at least we can say we did a good deed. He’s safe in his cabin, and no one robbed him.”
“So you think,” Jaz says, holding up a twenty-dollar bill between her fingers.
“Jaz,” I scold, reaching for it, but she stuffs it in her torn-up jean shorts. “Call it a bellhop tip. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a man waiting for me at my place.”
“What?” I laugh. “Who?”
We walk out of the cabin, and I lock it up with my spare key so no one can get in—just in case, since we’re pretty much crime-free here—and Jaz ruffles her hand through her hair. “That marine I met two years ago—he’s on leave and drove up for some fresh air.”
“Wait . . . Hunky Hakeem is waiting for you back at your place?”
“Yeah, and he sent me a picture of himself spread eagle on my bed, so your attempt to be Mother Teresa has put a dent in my fun.”
“You should have told me.”
“And let you take care of that yourself? No. I might have a wicked soul, but my heart still has some good in it. Couldn’t have let you go about that alone.” We make it back to the main office, and she heads toward the front door. “I’m assuming since there isn’t much rush on your end, Peter isn’t headed up here this weekend? You’re usually prepping and primping, getting ready for him.”
I shake my head. “His shift ends on Sunday. He’s coming up Monday.”
“Well, at least you have some entertainment until then.” She nods toward the back cabins.
“The less entertainment, the better. Have fun with Hakeem.”
“Oh. I will.” She winks and then takes off.
I lock the door behind her, turn off the vacancy sign, and shut down the main office before heading upstairs to the residence quarters.
Fridays are usually my favorite days. Peter, my boyfriend, travels up here from a long shift at Sully spends the weekend with Tank, giving me a break, and I can just take a deep breath. But the disturbance from the runaway groomsman has put a kink in my plans to relax.
At least I can go to bed knowing he and his terrible suit will be heading out of here tomorrow.
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