Now Available: Any Other Love

My latest book baby is out in the world! It was really hard to let go of Amarie and Char—or Chamarie, the ‘ship name my CP gave them. I could’ve written another 75K words about them just living their lives. Fortunately for you, I had a deadline to meet, and didn’t want to upset the Amazon gods, so I forced myself to “be done with it,” as Skye Taylor says.

And now my spoonie, f/f, small town romance is yours.

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Book Extras

Sample · Playlist · Meet Amarie · Meet Char

Live Reading: Any Other Love

In case you missed it, here’s my live reading from Any Other Love on my Facebook author page. Like my page so you never miss future videos!

Five nights under the city lights could give Amarie and Char the happily-ever-after they’ve always wanted, but a devastating diagnosis and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity could send it all crashing down.

Now Available

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Why I Wrote Any Other Love

Five nights under the city lights could give Amarie and Char the happily-ever-after they’ve always wanted, but a devastating diagnosis and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity could send it all crashing down.

With just three days ’til Any Other Love hits the shelves, I thought I’d share a bit more behind why I wrote this book.

Any Other Love is my first bisexual/lesbian, f/f romance. Even though I chose a partner who happens to be a dude, being bisexual is still a huge part of me. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation, stigma, and prejudice surrounding bi people. There also isn’t much representation of bi people on the shelves—especially of bi people in m/f relationships. When I met Amarie and Char in Just One More Minute, I knew they had to be together, and writing their book became a perfect opportunity for me to contribute to proper bi rep in literature.

It also served as an opportunity for me to represent people with invisible illnesses. Like me, Amarie lives with Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (UCTD). I wanted to tell some of my story, and show that even though UCTD and other autoimmune diseases can be debilitating and throw your life off track, you can still live a fulfilling life. You just might have to live at a different pace. Many of Amarie’s struggles in the book were inspired by my own experiences.

I’m not sure if I’ll publish more f/f romance; while I love writing it, my writing is a business and I have bills to pay. So far, my pre-orders have been low—but I’m still so very proud of this book and glad that I put it out there. If my production schedule allows, I have even more f/f romance stories I’d like to tell. It’ll depend on how Any Other Love sells after release and whether I can fit more projects in while sticking to a steady release schedule.

It’s my hope, though, that Any Other Love will resonate with readers. I hope that it’ll show the world that being bisexual is not a state of confusion, a fad, or a sexy plot device. I want to show people that having an invisible chronic illness and disability isn’t laziness, inspiration porn, or attention-seeking. Mostly, I just want to show the world that two women can fall in love and live happily ever after—even when life isn’t perfect.


PRE-ORDER ANY OTHER LOVE NOW

Any Other Love is available at a special pre-sale price of only $0.99! Pre-order now and the ebook will be delivered to the device of your choice on August 21st.

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Read an Excerpt: Chapter 1

Cover Reveal: Any Other Love

My f/f romance Any Other Love releases in two weeks! I’m always a combination of excited and nauseous during a launch, but I have more butterflies than usual surrounding this release for a few reasons.

  1. Any Other Love is my first published f/f romance.
  2. I’m not sure how it’s going to be received by my existing readers. Some of you are excited, and some of you have unsubscribed from my email list, bahaha.
  3. I’m not sure how it’s going to be received by lesfic readers. I have no other f/f romances, so I’m going to be the new kid on the block in this sub-genre. Being the new girl is always slightly terrifying.

Still, Any Other Love is a story that I had to tell from the moment that Char and Amarie met in Just One More Minute. (Yup—Any Other Love is a companion novel to Rowan and Matt’s story!) Plus, I’m very proud to be bisexual; I write f/f romance to honor that part of me, and to give other bi women a place on the shelves.

Finally, Any Other Love is important to me because it shares a bit of my journey to getting a diagnosis and treatment for my UCTD. Writing Any Other Love was like slipping into a warm bath and pouring my heart out into a journal.

So while I’m really nervous about this release, I’m also really, really excited.

Speaking of exciting things, it’s time to share the cover!

Blurb

From the outside, Amarie has it all: a promising teaching career, a big group of friends, and a gorgeous boyfriend. On the inside, though, her immune system is attacking her own body and slowly taking away everything she loves. The specialists she’s seen are baffled by her condition, so Amarie takes matters into her own hands and makes an appointment with a renowned rheumatologist in NYC. She could finally get the diagnosis and treatment she needs to live her life—if only she can get there.

Charlotte may dye her hair bold colors, but she’s never been brave enough to chase her lifelong dream of owning her own restaurant. When she finds out about a restauranteur convention in NYC, she’s way too chicken to go for it—until her best friend signs her up. With no excuses left, Char heads out to the city, taking the girl of her dreams with her.

Five nights under the city lights could give Amarie and Char the happily-ever-after they’ve always wanted, but a devastating diagnosis and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity could send it all crashing down.

Any Other Love is a f/f romance.

Behind the Scenes

Finding f/f stock photos is really difficult; finding f/f stock photos featuring a dark-skinned Latina with curly dark hair and a pale white girl with teal hair is damn near impossible. It was also really hard to find stock photos that weren’t better suited for erotica. After countless hours scouring multiple stock photo websites, I narrowed it down to a few (which you can see on my Any Other Love Pinterest board).

Then I talked with my cover designer, Chelsea of CJPB Designs. Together we decided on an image, and then Chelsea made pure magic. She also made me cry happy tears the first time I saw her mockup.

Pre-order Any Other Love Now

Any Other Love is available at a special pre-sale price of only $0.99! Pre-order now and the ebook will be delivered to the device of your choice on August 21st.

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Read an Excerpt: Chapter 1

Romance Roundup

The lovely Jade C. Jamison has organized this awesome contest for romance readers! One-click your way to a happily ever after, then enter to win one of three Amazon gift cards (or the equivalent at the ebook store of your choice).

Check out the Romance Roundup. Click here!

As part of the Romance Roundup, Twisted Broken Strings (South of Forever prequel) is FREE. Grab your copy now!

If she lets him into her band, she’ll have to let him into her heart.

Koty Jackson wanted to be a rock star, not a singer in the boy band ESX. When he finds out that Jett Costa is looking for a new guitarist and vocalist for her band, Perpetual Smile, Koty is determined to get his demo to her label. But his agent thinks he’s crazy, and when he runs into Jett for a late-night television interview, she tells him that she’ll never allow him in her band.

Jett Costa wasn’t looking for love. After losing the love of her life and the man who helped her build Perpetual Smile from the ground up, all she wants to do is get through their tour in one piece. She never thought she would let a boy band singer in her band—and she also didn’t think she would fall in love with him.

But if things stay the way they are, neither of them will ever get ahead in their careers. Somehow, they’ve got to come to an agreement—or they’ll both fall into obscurity.

Twisted Broken Strings is the PREQUEL to the South of Forever series.

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5 Secret Strengths in Being a Wallflower

When you think of strong female characters, the loud and outspoken girls like Katniss are the ones who spring to mind—not quiet and introverted girls like my Sade. There’s a certain strength in being a wallflower, though. I didn’t know that during my teen years when I was all big eyes and closed lips, soaking in everything around me but being powerless to stop it. Silence is often interpreted as weakness, but it’s also the quiet ones who have the coolest secret strengths.

We See and Hear Everything

People either don’t notice us or don’t interpret our presence as threatening, so they tend to bare all within earshot. Or they’ll walk right up to us and spill their darkest secrets as if we’re old friends. Since we’re introverts, we don’t usually abuse this information, but we know that it might come in handy later.

We’re also the ones who will find your lost earring or notice that you left your coffee pot on before we head out with you. We make great artists, counselors, detectives and, of course, friends.

We Give Great Advice

Because we’ve almost literally seen and heard it all, we’re able to give close to qualified advice on almost everything. Having boyfriend troubles? We know what to do. Don’t know where your fifth period class is? We’ve got that covered too. We know the ins and outs of a wide variety of subjects, including many useless things as well.

We Master Skills Quickly

We’re super observant, so we pick things up fast. Show us once or twice, and we’ll take it from there. We often come up with systems, too, getting it done more efficiently. Introverts have a lot of interests and are really good at many different things.

We are Walking Lyrics Traps

Not only can we remember this morning’s lecture—or at least take detailed notes—but we also have a bad habit of memorizing every single song ever. Including the really bad ones. Especially those.

We often have photographic memories and can tell you the exact shade of our childhood bedroom walls. Or how many streaks were in our favorite Barbie doll’s hair. Ask us to compare dresses from store to store in the mall, and we don’t even need to take a pic with our phones.

We Make People Feel Better

We put people at ease with our presence alone. We’re good listeners and friends feel comfortable talking to us. Even though we often feel like we didn’t do anything to help, just being there is more than enough. It’s also not too draining on us, so it’s a win/win.

Being a wallflower is pretty kick-ass, if you ask me.


Save her friendship, or save her best friend…

Shy girl Sade just wants to get through sophomore year without her moms grounding her or her little brother converting her to his newfound religion. But when her best friend Jackie starts acting weirder than everyone in her family combined, Sade discovers there are just some secrets she can’t keep.

Claim Your Free Copy

Get a free copy of Sade on the Wall when you join my email list. Click here!


Kick Ass Girls of YA

We’re celebrating kick-ass girls all month long with a blog hop and other events. Check out the events schedule, then stop by the other blogs in the hop!

Treat Yourself to 10 Romance Ebooks for $0.99 Each!

I don’t know about you, but here in Connecticut, it’s been cold and windy, and Mother Nature keeps dumping snow on us. This Valentine’s Day, I’m collaborating with nine other authors in an exciting $0.99 sale. Diving Into Him (South of Forever, Book 1) is only $0.99 through February 18th.

Warm up with 10 romance ebooks for $0.99 each—and enter to win a $25 Amazon gift card.

Click here to get started »

Save 30% Off Becoming Natalie!

Natalie might not survive a summer back home with her father.

For Natalie, the key to a successful life has been simple: escape her divorced parents, get a well-paying job in graphic design, and snag the sexy CEO. Life in the Big Apple isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, though, and Natalie quickly finds herself drowning in debt and drama—especially when a nurse calls her from a hospital back home.

Her dad’s had a heart attack and needs surgery—and Natalie is the only one who can take care of him while he recovers. But Natalie hasn’t spoken to her father since her parents’ divorce, and their relationship has been nothing short of complicated.

Coming home could give Natalie a chance for a fresh start with both her dad and her checking account, though. The plan is simple: use the summer to get back on her feet—as long as the handsome karaoke DJ she keeps running into doesn’t sweep her away completely.

Becoming Natalie is a lighthearted, humorous Chick Lit novel that will warm your heart.

Use code 30JAN to save 30% off Becoming Natalie in the Kobo store!

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Just One More Minute: Chapter 5

Just One More Minute, by Elizabeth Barone

The house fell silent all around Rowan. She stood in the entrance, eyes adjusting to the darkness. She’d forgotten to leave a lamp on. Groping for the light switch, she took several deep breaths in through her nose. It was bad enough, sleeping in Katherine’s house, knowing her aunt was dead. Leaving the lights off was like asking for her imagination to run rampant.

She swallowed hard. She knew she was being ridiculous. She didn’t believe in ghosts. Even if she did, Katherine wouldn’t haunt her. Finding the switch, she flipped the light on, bathing the entryway with light. Sighing, she moved toward the stairs.

After leaving Elli’s, she’d driven around aimlessly. The thought of going back to Katherine’s empty house weighed her down. In New Jersey, in her apartment building, there was always someone around. She could count on the squeak of the floorboards above her head or the soft sigh through a wall to placate her loneliness. Katherine’s closest neighbors were visible from any of the windows, but far enough away that Rowan might as well be on a deserted island.

If she kept the house, she was going to have to find a roommate.

Trudging up the stairs, she replayed her conversation with Matt. No matter how hard she tried, he kept slipping into her thoughts. The last thing she wanted to do was analyze everything he’d said to death. Yet his words—Give me two weeks—looped through her mind. It was almost as if he was trying to woo her. Those bright green eyes had burned into hers, charming her, willing her to give in.

Reaching the landing, she went straight into the bathroom, ignoring the bedroom on the left. Katherine’s room. Eventually she’d have to go in there. Once again she found herself thankful that her aunt hadn’t passed away in the house. There was no way she’d be able to even hang out there, never mind sleep.

She still couldn’t believe the house was hers. She turned on the shower and grabbed her caddy from one of the cabinets under the sink. It felt wrong to take her aunt’s shampoo bottle out of the shower and replace it with her own. At some point, she was going to have to get over that, too. Katherine didn’t need to shower anymore.

She burst into tears. Stripping off her clothes, she stepped into the stream. The hot mist sprayed her face, washing her grief and makeup away. Still, she scrubbed at her face for several long minutes, shoulders absorbing the impact of the water. The heat pounded away at the knots in her muscles, loosening her up. When she was clean and all cried out, she shut off the water and stepped out, wrapping a giant fluffy towel around herself.

Her aunt had always had the best towels.

She dried off quickly, then retreated to the guest bedroom. Her long hair sent droplets sluicing down her belly. Shivering in the central air, she dove under the covers. Before she drifted off, she set her alarm for the morning.

* * *

Dawn came too soon—if she could call it that. The sky outside the house was still dark. Rowan groaned as the alarm on her phone pierced the thin veil of sleep. Swearing, she crawled out of bed and turned it off. For a moment, she considered just going back to sleep. Matt couldn’t exactly force her to meet him. She did need to figure out what to do with Elli’s, though. The sooner she wrapped things up in Connecticut, the sooner she could get back to her life.

She sat up. Her hair cascaded down her back as she moved. A frown tugged at her lips. Her life. She barely had friends. Most of them were people she’d met and hung out with in college. Sure, she had Sean. He was more like her boss, though, no matter how much he looked out for her. And just before she got the news about Katherine, she was trying to figure out what to do with her life. It was true that she didn’t want to work at the diner for the rest of her days. Technically, her blogging could support her—and she could take that with her back to Connecticut.

Nothing actually held her down to New Jersey.

There wasn’t much for her in Connecticut either, though.

Give me two weeks, Matt’s voice sauntered through her thoughts. A tingle ran down her spine. If he meant more than training, he could be her reason for moving back home. She squeezed her eyes shut. He’d already hurt her, though. Letting him back in would be reckless. Then again, it wasn’t as if she’d ever really let go. Those green eyes were still haunting her.

Throwing the blankets off, she climbed out of bed. She was being ridiculous, but she owed it to herself to check out all angles of the situation. And she wouldn’t let him get too close, she vowed. If anything, he could be a fun distraction while she figured things out. Maybe she would even find some closure and finally stop thinking about him.

There. Her logic was totally sound.

Traipsing through the guest room to the bathroom, she grabbed clothing. Then she started the shower and got ready for her day. Her makeup became her war paint. She drew her hair into a messy bun and surveyed herself in the mirror. Her tank top, capri leggings, and sneakers were okay for a morning in the bakery, but something was missing. She took a deep breath.

Then, she made herself walk into Katherine’s room.

Ignoring everything else, she marched straight to the closet. She tugged open the double accordion doors. Amidst her aunt’s blouses and dresses, Rowan spotted what she needed. She clutched the pastry chef’s jacket to her chest and fled the room.

Properly outfitted, she left the house.

On her way to Elli’s, she stopped for a hot latte and a bagel. After a moment’s hesitation, she doubled her order. It would be rude to walk in with nothing for Matt, she told herself.

Despite her pit stop, she arrived before him. She didn’t have keys to Elli’s, so she perched on a chair at one of the outdoor tables. Sipping her coffee, she checked the time on her phone. It was 4:55am.

She didn’t wait long. A pickup swung into the parking lot, pulling abruptly into a slot. Matt jumped out, two coffees and his keys balanced in one hand. He strode toward her and her heart skipped a beat. As he neared, he hesitated, glancing from the coffees in his hand and the goodies on the table in front of her.

He laughed nervously. At least, he sounded nervous. Maybe she was projecting. Joining her, he set his coffees down and unlocked the door. “I guess we won’t be short on caffeine.” He pushed the door open, plucked the two styrofoam Dunkin Donuts coffees from the table, and nodded for her to go in.

Gathering her own things, she stood. She moved past him, chewing on the inside of her cheek as she dredged up an equally light response. “If you’re trying to sway me,” she said, “you should’ve stopped at Starbucks.”

“I’ll remember that.” He set his things down on the checkout counter and flipped on some lights. Leaning against the counter, he surveyed her pastry jacket. “I didn’t think you were coming.”

“Well, I’m here.” She opened the paper bag and handed him a bagel. “Cheers.” She tapped her bagel against his, then took a big bite. “So,” she said between swallows, “do you guys still make the ciabatta first?”

Elli’s had the best sandwiches—mainly because of their bread. Some of her best memories were lunch breaks during that first summer working with her aunt.

Matt nodded. Grasping the bagel with his thumb and forefinger, he turned his hands so his palms faced the ceiling. “These hands have rolled out some serious ciabatta.”

Her eyes fell on his hands, square and broad. They were perfect for kneading dough. And other things. Heat flushed her cheeks. She knelt, pretending to search for a fallen crumb. Her bowed head hid her face, thankfully shielding her from his view. Around him, she could barely control herself. She needed to get it together.

Straightening, she took a deep breath. His eyes met hers and she came undone all over again. Those green eyes were bright despite the early hour, studying her. His full lips twitched. Pressing her thighs together, she looked away and focused on finishing her bagel.

“Rowan,” he said, breathing her name.

She dropped the bagel. Annoyed with herself, she glared down at it.

“I’ll get it.” He closed the space between them and bent to retrieve the bagel. Brown curls caressed his forehead. The muscles in his arm rippled as he dropped the bagel into the paper bag. Then, slowly, he stood. Barely twelve inches separated them. He tilted his head down and peered at her through his lashes. With his eyelids drooping, he looked like a sex god.

Her throat made a strangled sound and she pushed past him, breaking the spell. He was messing with her, she realized as she burst into the kitchen. Even worse, she was going to lose this game.

She bent over the stainless steel counter in the middle of the room, gripping its edge. Part of her wished he would come up behind her, arms encircling her waist. She could practically feel the heat of his body. Her breath came out in ragged gasps. She needed to remember that he’d broken her heart. Not to mention the job he’d stolen. Her eyes narrowed as her thoughts cleared. Yes. She needed to harness that anger and wear it like a shield. Otherwise, she was done for.

At least he had the decency to give her time to collect herself. By the time he strolled in, she had already pulled out ingredients for the ciabatta and was sifting flour into the giant industrial mixer. She patted the machine appreciatively. She’d missed having such an appliance.

“I’ll just start on the cannoli, then.” His fingers brushed her arm as he passed. Heat seared through her nerves. She glared daggers at his back.

Forcing herself to focus, she got back to work.

“Did you give any thought to my proposal?” he asked as he added flour, cinnamon, and sugar into the smaller mixer.

Rowan had to admit, she’d missed this world of sweets. Though she loved serving guests at Sean’s, there was something special about working in the kitchen, getting her hands plastered in dough.

“I barely slept,” she confessed, going for honesty. “I just don’t know what to do. This used to be my dream.” Lifting a hand, she gestured to the gleaming kitchen.

“It can be your reality,” Matt said in a low voice. Their eyes met across the kitchen.

She slanted a delicate eyebrow at him. “You have no idea what you’re asking.”

“Then make your case.” He smirked. “What’s so great about New Jersey?”

“My apartment is closer to New York City than Katherine’s house is,” she said, turning the mixer on. “And that means more Junior’s cheesecake.”

He lifted a shoulder. “I should care because . . . ?”

She gaped at him. “You’ve never had Junior’s cheesecake?” Jabbing a bench scraper toward him, she shook her head in dismay. “I thought Katherine took you under her wing.”

He shrugged. “What’s the big deal?”

“Nailing their recipe has been her life’s work,” Rowan chided. “At least, it was when I worked with her.” She frowned. So much had changed.

“I’m sure it was still important to her,” he said gently. A heartbeat passed. She heard him draw in a breath. “What happened between you two, anyway?”

She dropped the bench scrape. It clanged off the table and onto the floor. Stooping to pick it up, she tried to calm down. He had a lot of nerve asking that. She couldn’t figure out what game he was playing. Maybe he enjoyed torturing her—on more than one level. “I thought we came here to discuss Elli’s.” She tossed the bench scrape into the pot sink.

“Fair enough.” He finished mixing the dough for the cannoli shells. With a practiced hand, he divided the dough, flattening each into a disk. He swaddled them in plastic wrap and carried them to the walk-in cooler. When he returned, he joined her at the large mixer.

“So let’s talk. What did you decide?” He crossed his arms.

“You act like it’s so easy.” She dumped the ciabatta dough into a bowl coated with olive oil, covered it, and set it aside to rise.

“Isn’t it?” His eyes bore into hers.

“Are you trying to intimidate me?” She scowled at him.

Matt’s eyes widened and he took a step back. “No.” He held up both hands, palms facing her. “Well, okay. I’ll lay out my cards.” His arms dropped to his sides. “For me, it is simple. I need this job.”

She crossed her arms. “I’m sorry, but this is the last thing I need right now.”

“So what do you need? Maybe I can give it to you.” His eyes were steady. He meant what he said, she realized.

Throwing up her hands, she whirled around. She leaned on the counter. “I need time,” she muttered. “Everything is happening so fast. I can barely keep up. Last week, I had the whole summer to figure this out, maybe even longer.” More importantly, she’d had a lifetime to make up with Katherine. She’d taken her aunt for granted. Dipping her chin, she closed her eyes.

“You said this used to be your dream.” He indicated the bakery they stood in. “What’s stopping you?”

“My family, for one.” She snorted. “I left to get away from them. Coming back . . . it feels like giving up, you know?” She shook her head. He didn’t know. She’d seen him with his mother at the wake. Without having to hear their conversation, she could tell they were close. At the very least, his mother wasn’t grilling him about his life choices or pressuring him to give a new and especially potent strain of weed a chance. Her entire childhood had been a precarious balancing act of proving to her parents she was a good hippie child and secretly planning her escape as soon as she turned eighteen. Her parents weren’t bad people. They just weren’t her people.

All throughout high school, especially, she’d felt like a weirdo. She wasn’t a prude or goody two shoes. If she hadn’t been constantly bullied into trying different drugs, she might enjoy a joint now and then. In her adult life, she enjoyed a nice full glass of wine every once in a while. She wasn’t twenty-one yet but it wasn’t too hard to buy a bottle. It just depended on which package store she went to.

But no. Her first—and only—high had been a nightmare. She’d had a panic attack and her entire family had just laughed at her, told her to suck it up, and tried to force her to take another hit. She would feel better, they insisted.

She shuddered at the memory.

So no, Matt couldn’t possibly understand. She knew next to nothing about him, but she’d never read any of his family members’ names in the police blotter.

He touched her arm gently, but she jerked away. She’d had enough. She couldn’t run Elli’s with him. It had been stupid of her to even entertain the idea. Her place was in New Jersey, away from the rest of the Ellis family. Maybe she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life yet, but she knew she didn’t want to waste any more time in Connecticut.

Without a word, she shrugged out of the pastry jacket and dropped it into the laundry bin. Her sneakers squeaked on the floor as she strode across the tiled kitchen. She could hear her heartbeat pounding in her ears. The front end—and the door—felt so far away. Suddenly she thought she would just leave Connecticut that day. No need to wait any longer.

“Where are you going?” Matt called after her.

Ignoring him, she sprinted through the front end, weaving around tables. She burst into the hot summer morning. Despite the muggy air, she felt better at once. She slowed as she neared her car, pulse thrumming in her throat. A quick glance over her shoulder told her that Matt hadn’t bothered to follow her.

Good. She’d had enough of him.

She slipped into the car. Though the vents almost immediately pushed cold air into her face, she shut the air conditioning off and rolled down the windows. She needed real air. Guiding the car out of the parking lot, she relished the feeling of the breeze on her skin.

She may have botched her weekend home, but from this moment on, she was going to do better. She owed it to herself.

A plan formulated in her mind. She’d stop at Katherine’s, pack her things, and lock up. There wasn’t any real tidying that she needed to do. The place had been spotless when she arrived. Her aunt had never let the house get even slightly dirty.

Then she’d make for New Jersey, stopping for nothing. As soon as she got back to her apartment, she’d call Sean and find out when she could pick up her next shift. She’d get in touch with her aunt’s lawyer later in the week and find out what she needed to do to sell the house and Elli’s.

She nodded to herself.

As she stopped at the first red light on the way to Katherine’s, though, she wondered when she would stop running.


JUST ONE MORE MINUTE
Now Available

A down-on-her-luck waitress inherits a bakery with the man who stole her dream job—and broke her heart.

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Just One More Minute: Chapter 4

Just One More Minute, by Elizabeth Barone

Matt pushed open the door to Elli’s and slipped inside. Usually, on a Monday morning, they opened much earlier. That morning, though, he’d attended Katherine’s funeral, and now he had only a few minutes to himself before the post-burial reception.

He was still trying to sift through his feelings. He’d spent the night before and part of that morning before the funeral prepping for the gathering. Mostly, though, he’d tried to figure out how he felt about Katherine leaving Elli’s to him.

He had no idea how to run a business. Since hiring him, Katherine spent less and less time in the kitchen, and more time on the administrative end. She’d taught him how to make mini cheesecakes and perfect bread for sandwiches, but she’d never showed him how to order ingredients or balance Elli’s bank account. After all, he was only a baker—and not even a trained or safety-certified one, at that. He’d been lucky to get the job at all.

Walking through the dining area, he straightened tablecloths and double checked that every setting had flatware. Realistically, there was nothing else for him to do, but standing around and waiting would only put him more on edge. He leaned against a wall and loosened his tie. The suit he’d worn to Katherine’s funeral had been his father’s. It felt more than weird to wear his dad’s clothing, but his own suit hadn’t fit in years. Daniel Sr.’s suit fit him like a glove—more testament to just how much had changed.

It made sense that he was thinking so much about his dad, he mused as he gave the room a final once over. What wasn’t fair was that he’d lost two people in almost exactly the same way. The familiar burning sensation ripped through him, his chest growing tight. Clenching his fists, he turned toward the wall, meaning to hammer one against the cool, smooth surface.

The bells on the door jingled. He turned, eyes widening in surprise as Rowan stepped inside. He should’ve had a few more minutes to himself before everyone arrived.

“I ditched the procession,” she explained. “Took a shortcut.”

A smile tugged at his lips. He would’ve done the same, in her shoes. He started to say so, then stopped. After their last conversation, he should probably say something to smooth things over. There wasn’t anything he could say, though. She was right. He shouldn’t have kept Katherine’s secret. Though it seemed not to bother the rest of Katherine’s family, it had definitely hurt Rowan. If they were going to work together, they were going to have to find a way to put it behind them.

“So what did you make?” she asked, crossing the front end and glancing around.

Or maybe he didn’t need to say anything. Maybe they just needed to keep moving forward. “A bunch of sandwich platters.”

Her eyebrows lifted. “No cheesecake?”

Matt smiled. “Do I look like I want Katherine to come haunt my dreams?” He motioned for her to follow him, and led her to the walk-in cooler. Opening the door, he pointed to a cart stocked full of Katherine’s favorite recipe, Elli’s famous mini cheesecakes. He gestured to another cart. “And some of the staples.” He mentally ran through his checklist: cannoli, cupcakes, and cookies. Combined, they made up Elli’s top-selling items—what Katherine referred to as the Super Cs.

Rowan stepped past him into the cooler. She lifted the lid of a tray of cookies and stole a peanut butter blossom. Taking a bite, she gave him an approving nod. “She’d be proud.”

“Thanks,” he said softly. Taking a deep breath, he surged forward. He wasn’t going to get another chance. “Look, about last night—”

She held up her hands. “I was totally out of line.”

“No,” he said firmly. “You were right. It wasn’t fair of us to keep you out.”

Hugging herself, she looked away. “I probably deserved it.”

Matt frowned. “You? No way. Katherine loved you.” He drew her out of the walk-in and shut the door behind him. “Why would you say that?”

Her lips parted, and the front door opened.

His shoulders slumped. It was show time. Giving her shoulder a squeeze, he moved past her into the front end. He recognized all of the faces from the funeral, except for his mother’s. She’d probably decided that she’d had enough. Still, he wished she’d come to Elli’s. It would ease his nerves to have an ally. Then again, his mother hadn’t been anyone he could rely on in years. His job was to take care of her, not the other way around.

Steeling himself, he let habit take over. He guided people into seats and rolled out the carts. He spent an hour alone hopping from table to table, serving coffee and replacing finished goodies. It wasn’t until he stopped to brew more coffee that he realized he was exhausted. He wished Katherine had hired some more help before she died.

Tears pricked his eyes. He blinked them away angrily. He shouldn’t feel guilty for thinking that. It was the truth. He needed help. If he and Rowan actually took over Elli’s together, the first thing he was going to suggest would be to hire a couple of high school kids for the afternoons and weekends.

Rowan.

He glanced around, but didn’t see her anywhere. Moving toward the front, he peered through the double windows. Her car was still parked outside. He rubbed at his cheeks, freshly shaved that morning but rapidly becoming more stubbly as the day dragged on.

He made his rounds again, refilling cups of coffee. Then he filled two mugs and slipped into the hall.

First he checked the office. It sat dark and empty. His shoulders relaxed. Maybe she’d just gone to the bathroom. But no, he hadn’t seen her since she first came in. Something told him that she was hiding. Suddenly he realized that Noah Ellis and the rest of Rowan’s family hadn’t come. He shook his head. They were strange people, he mused. Just like he wished his mother had come, he was sure Rowan could use her family’s support.

After determining that she definitely wasn’t in the walk-in cooler or freezer, he found her in the much warmer store room. She sat on an upside down milk crate in a corner, her elbows resting on her knees. Tears streamed down her cheeks. When she saw him, she buried her face in her hands.

“Go away.”

Matt hesitated. He was by no means an expert on women, but he didn’t think she actually wanted to be alone. Maybe she just didn’t want to be around him, he mused. If he left her, though, there was no one else. He pulled up another milk crate and squatted in front of her. “Thought you could use this.” He held out a mug of coffee.

Lifting her hands, she peeked out at him. The redness in her eyes made them startlingly blue. It was probably totally wrong for him to think so, but she was so pretty when she cried.

“Wanna talk about it?” he asked in a low voice.

She accepted the coffee and sipped slowly. After a few moments, she shrugged. “What’s there to talk about?” Her eyes remained on the floor, though.

Taking a sip of his own coffee, Matt watched her. Maybe it was because he’d already let her down, but he felt compelled to cheer her up. He supposed it was the “fix it” male genes in his DNA at work. Stretching out a hand, he lifted her chin until their eyes met. “Your parents didn’t come.”

She snorted. “Of course they didn’t. They’ve made their appearances. It was time for them to go back into their dark living room and spark up, maybe snort up a couple of Percs while they’re at it.”

His eyebrows lifted. Stifling the urge to comment, he took her hand in his. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” she said, but she squeezed his hand back. “It was dumb of me to hope they’d changed.” Sighing, she glanced away, withdrawing her hand.

“So they’ve always been like that?” He was starting to understand exactly why Katherine didn’t get along with her brother.

“Aunt Katherine told me it’s family tradition. Their parents were the same way. She used to say she and I were the ones who broke the cycle.” Rowan’s lips twisted wryly. “Not really, though.”

He tilted his head. “Why do you say that?”

“She didn’t have kids, and I won’t, either.” She set the coffee mug down and started dabbing at her face with a tissue.

Unable to help himself, he blurted, “Why not?”

“Because it would be totally unfair to subject them to this.” Rowan pulled her hair up into a messy bun at the top of her head.

He watched her, mesmerized. The scent of her hair floated to him, a subtle hint of coconut. “This?”

She rolled her eyes at him. “My family.”

“You could always cut off all ties with them.” He thought of his own mother and little brother. He couldn’t imagine never speaking to them again. Then again, his and Rowan’s families were very different.

“They would love that. I’ve always been such a disappointment.” She reached for her coffee.

“You’re not a disappointment to me,” he said before he could stop himself. Immediately he wished he hadn’t said anything. The tops of his ears burned. It was such a cheesy, rom com thing to say. Her face darkened and she looked away. He bit his lip, perplexed. He felt embarrassed, but she seemed almost angry. Running a hand through his curls, he tried to figure out how to save the conversation. If it could be saved. He cleared his throat. “So, Elli’s. What are we gonna do?”

Exhaling through her nose, she continued avoiding looking at him. “Good question.”

“You live in New Jersey, right?” He took a sip of coffee.

“That’s half the problem right there. I have a job. I have friends, sort of.” She muttered that last comment under her breath. His heart twisted in his chest. She really had no one left in the world.

He needed to convince her to run Elli’s with him. It was the only way he could keep a roof over Danny’s and their mother’s heads. By doing so, though, he would be tearing Rowan from the only thing she really had. It was selfish, but he didn’t have much of a choice. He doubted she would be moved by his situation. Still, he hated the thought of suggesting she leave her life behind and move back into close proximity with her family.

He ran his fingers back and forth over the stubble on his chin. Anything he said to convince her would be manipulative, and he didn’t want to be that guy. With barely a high school education, though, he’d never be able to find such a good job. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to look her straight in the eye. “Katherine trusted us to take care of this place.”

Rowan nodded. “I know. I can’t bear the thought of letting her down, but I don’t think I can do this.” Dropping her gaze, she drained the remains of her coffee. “I guess we could sell it, split the profit.”

His gut clenched. The money might take care of his family for a little while, but eventually he’d need to find something. “She’d hate that,” he said, struggling to keep his voice even.

“She would,” Rowan agreed. She sighed. “Maybe I could run the place remotely, like a long distance relationship.” Her cheeks reddened and she stared at a spot on the floor far away from him.

His eyebrows furrowed. Something teased at the back of his mind, then slipped away the second he tried to chase it.

“But I’d burn out really quickly. I’m a waitress and a blogger,” she explained.

“Oh, the dessert blog?” He grinned. “Katherine said you’d invented some of the recipes we use.”

She nodded. Tapping her chin, she finally looked at him. “Maybe you could run most of it and I’d just take less profit?”

Matt felt the corner of his mouth twitch. “I have no idea what I’m doing. I’d run the place into the ground.” The only solution was for her to stay. She had to see it. He gritted his teeth together, silently imploring her to figure it out.

“What if I teach you? I’m here for another day. It can’t be that hard.” She frowned, glancing toward the hall and Katherine’s office. “She taught me a lot of what she does. I’m sure her lawyer could fill in the blanks after I’m gone. He’s a business lawyer.” She shrugged.

Absorbing her words, he stared into his empty mug. He didn’t think he could just wing it. Make the recipes, sure. He’d been baking for Katherine for two years. Keeping the lights on and making sure they had enough on hand was a totally different story.

He needed Rowan. She’d gone to business school and she was a baker. She’d worked with Katherine for four years. No one in the world was more qualified. Actually, he surmised, he was lucky she wasn’t fighting him for the place.

“I don’t know,” he said slowly. His mind whirled. He needed to come up with a much better argument than that. She knew all of this, though. He needed to give her a reason to stay.

If things were different and she didn’t hate him for whatever reason, he could probably seduce her into staying. He smirked. He’d never had any trouble snagging girlfriends in school. His mother still chided him all the time for the phone calls she’d gotten, when he was in kindergarten, about him trying to kiss girls on the playground. And in high school he’d been somewhat of a player. He’d never taken any of it seriously, but he still occasionally got emails from his exes, offering to “Netflix and chill” next time they were home from college.

He wondered if he could actively seduce a woman who hated him.

Then again, she didn’t hate him entirely, he realized. That magnetic attraction he’d felt—she had to have felt it too. It would explain her rapidly alternating warm and cool attitudes toward him.

“Give me two weeks,” he blurted.

She raised an eyebrow at him. “I’m leaving after tomorrow. I only asked for a couple days off—”

“I’m sure your boss will understand. Tell him you’ve got family business to take care of.” He stood and, taking her hands, pulled her to her feet. Though he had to duck his head a bit, he leveled his gaze with hers. He willed his eyes to smolder, to do whatever sexy trick they’d been doing his whole life. He wasn’t completely sure he could do it on command.

She yanked her hands away. “Excuse me?” Putting her hands on her hips, she cocked her head at him. Her eyes glinted, burning into his.

He fought the urge to kiss her.

“Spend two weeks with me. You’re going to love working with me. I can juggle balls of dough and I make a mean cupcake.” He brushed a stray curl off his forehead. “So? What do you say? Do you accept my challenge?”

Rowan stared at him. Several heartbeats passed before she answered. Tilting her head back, she lifted her chin. “Cocky, aren’t we?” she asked quietly. Pain flickered in her eyes. His hands twitched. He wanted to take her face in his hands and kiss the hurt away.

His pulse quickened in his throat. “More like confidence,” he whispered, not breaking eye contact. For a moment, he had a vision of hoisting her up onto the stainless steel table and kissing her until the moon rose in the sky. Screw the crowd of people in the front end. Forget the fact that he needed to convince her to stay. He wanted her to stay.

From the way she looked back at him, she might not even resist.

She looked away abruptly. Turning her back, she picked up her mug. “I don’t know about you, but I’m beat. How about we revisit this tomorrow?”

His shoulders slumped. Maybe he should have just kissed her. So far he was doing an awful job of convincing her. Then again, she hadn’t said no. “Sure,” he said with a sigh. “What time?”

Rowan crossed the room, pausing in the doorway. “You guys still come in early to start baking for the day, right?” He nodded. “I’ll see you at five, then.” She turned to go.

“Wait.” He had no idea how long they’d been in the store room and whether anyone had noticed their absence. “If we walk out of here together, people will probably think . . .” His ears and the nape of his neck burned. He cleared his throat. “I’m sure you don’t need your name in any more people’s mouths. Wait. I just realized how that sounded.” He held a hand up. “I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant.”

She stared at him, an amused expression crossing her features. He noticed that the slight dimple in her chin deepened when she smiled. If he remembered correctly, she hated her chin. The cleft was subtle, though, and he thought it was more endearing than anything else.

She laughed softly. “What makes you think we’re walking out together?” With those parting words, she turned on her heel and left him in the store room, gaping after her.


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A down-on-her-luck waitress inherits a bakery with the man who stole her dream job—and broke her heart.

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