Marty Dashwood is a true romantic. Hearts, chocolates, kisses on the hand—the whole nine yards. His killjoy brother Eldon doesn’t believe in love at first sight, but one day Marty will have the perfect meet-cute, she’ll fall helplessly in love with him and they’ll live happily ever after.
Brandy’s worked with Marty for almost two years. He’s the best friend she could ever have hoped for after the accident that took her husband. So she should be happy that Marty finally found what he’d always wanted, right?
In this excerpt, Marty’s driving Brandy into work after he rushed to her apartment the day after a date.
Gripping her knees, she turned to stare out of the window just as they passed the street from her happily never after. It still had the same pale blue and pink awning he’d surprised her with, but the sign with the giant cupcake was long gone. She hadn’t had the money to remove it, the landowner having done it for her. Even then, where would she have kept it? The thing was the size of her bed.
Where had her old dream wound up? A landfill? Broken into pieces and tossed onto a fire?
“You okay?” Marty asked.
Startled, Brandy swiped at her eyes out of habit. A hint of moisture clung to her fingers, but not enough to tell her she’d been crying. “Yes. Just great.” Her smile was strained, but it seemed enough to placate the worried man.
Lines of cars strolled past, the morning commuters struggling to get from point A to B, everyone in a grouchy mood thanks to the rising traffic. No one glanced once at that tiny shop that two years ago had had an entirely different future ahead of it.
“It’s a yoga studio now,” Brandy whispered to her hands. She caught Marty looking. “The bakery I…had. They turned it into a hot yoga studio. We just went past.”
“I didn’t know it was along this route. I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. Hard to not take Frankford to get to the store. I went in once.”
“Tried to. Made it as far as the door, which they’d had wide open. I can’t blame them. No airflow, which is not good for a bakery. I felt like a puddle of bones every morning, thanks to the ovens all going.”
She didn’t talk about it, because it made everyone around her uncomfortable. She didn’t think about it, because it was a needle straight to her heart. She didn’t let it go, because she feared what else she’d lose in the process.
A warm hand cupped hers, pressing her fingers tighter to her knee. Marty didn’t say anything, but he held her as they merged out of traffic and into the small parking lot behind the shop. As he turned off the car, the hood rattled, the engine barely cooling in the sweltering June weather. Only the loud ping of cheap metal reforming itself in the summer sun filled the air.
With his hand still holding hers, Marty beamed his for-once calm eyes upon her. That always wild hair scattered over his ears, Brandy aching to push it back. To touch his cheek and wipe away a hint of the muffin crumb beside his mouth. To taste the blueberry lingering on his lips and know his hands anywhere besides a friendly shoulder pat or hug.
Her face charred bright red at the thought and she tried to whip away, but she felt pinned in place. Marty snickered, the bare edge of his lip rising to reveal that one crooked tooth. Shifting in the sunken bucket seat, Brandy steadied herself. Would he kiss her?
What would she do if he did?
Marty leaned closer, his breath parting across her cheek. “I was just wondering if—”
“Since you seemed busy last night—”
“Did I get you out of that shell?”
What? Brandy snaked her hand from below his and twisted to stare at the back wall. There’d been a lovely rainbow mural once, but it had been painted over in rust brown. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said, her ego legless and bleeding on the ground. All of that was just so he could brag about ‘fixing her’?
“Eldon seemed to think you went on a date. Granted, his idea of romance is sitting quietly in the same room, not talking, so he could be wildly mistaken…”
“I did,” she said, turning to watch him.
Marty’s face didn’t crumple, he didn’t rend his shirt and cry at the injustice. Scratching the ear hidden behind his hair, he said, “Oh.” It popped from his lips in a single gasp of air. “Well, that’s…that’s nice. Very nice. Will you see him again?”
Given that she’d practically run when he’d tried to ask her back to his place for coffee, it seemed unlikely. But Brandy stared at the man who’d shown up at her apartment unannounced and bearing baked goods. “I don’t know,” she said.
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