Read an Excerpt
The One that Got Away
The Kingston Ale House Series
By A.J. Pine, Karen Grove
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 A.J. Pine
All rights reserved.
If there was one fashion accessory that made Brynn Chandler deliriously happy, it was boots — the taller the better — and the ones she had on now were devastating in the most gorgeous way. They made other boots cower in shame and other women green with envy. Rich black suede hugged her calves and folded over just above her knees. The three-inch heels that gave some stature to her five-foot-four-inch frame, making her legs look long and lean and — dare she say — hot, topped off the look. And, amazingly, they were crazy comfortable to walk around in. She nodded at her reflection, twisting her foot side to side so she could admire the view. She didn't often think it of herself, but tonight Brynn knew it. She was lookin' good.
Some of her former classmates complained the committee hadn't planned a summer reunion, but not Brynn. Nothing topped the perfect dress like the perfect pair of boots, and these boots were made for a girl to wear to her high school reunion. She couldn't believe it had been ten years already. Maybe she hadn't done big things with her career or met the love of her life, but she had the boots, and tonight that would be enough.
"Holy shit, Brynn. If you fuck up my babies, we are through."
Okay, so maybe the devastating boots weren't hers per se, but they still looked exquisite with the dress, and Holly did say she could wear them. Brynn just tried not to think about the price tag of Holly's babies.
"I should remind you," Brynn started, "that you're my sister. So the whole we're through threat doesn't really work on me. Plus, you need me for the other half of the rent, so ..."
Holly huffed. She was good with that — the drama. A theater girl all throughout high school and college, Holly Chandler was always on. Sometimes Brynn couldn't tell if her sister was adding a little flair or if her emotional reactions were genuine. This seemed a little bit of both.
"Please remember they retail for four hundred dollars, okay? To me that means they're irreplaceable — unless you are sitting on a wad of cash I don't know about, in which case I'd love your portion of the rent on time this month."
Brynn sighed. She didn't have to think about things when Holly was always there to remind her. Eight years out of high school, and Holly was already working her way up in Chicago's fashion scene.
"Of course I'll be careful." Brynn groaned. She could play the drama card, too. "It's not like you paid four hundred for them."
Holly shrugged. "That's why they can't be replaced. A perk of working in the fashion industry is the samples, but they don't give me replacements if my sister ruins them."
Brynn crinkled her nose. So what if her baby sister was already pulling in more bank than she was and scoring extras like the boots? Brynn could make more money as a CPA for a larger company, but she liked doing the books for her favorite independent bookstore, Two Stories. The aptly named two-story bookshop might not be a cash cow, but her close friend Annie owned it, and there was no place Brynn enjoyed more.
Holly gave her sister the once-over. "You do look fucking hot. I'll give you that."
Brynn smoothed her hands over her dress and shook out her hair. Thanks to the wonderful developments in anti-frizz curl cream, she no longer sported the nest she had trouble taming in high school. Brynn's hair hung in soft spirals from crown to just below her shoulders, and the natural gold highlights shone especially bright in her soft brown hue. She wondered if hair could reflect her mood, because tonight she felt all sparkly. Not vampire sparkly. More like a firecracker.
On any other Saturday night, Brynn might be on a blind date. Some of her married friends and her mom felt an obligation to the poor, single twenty-seven-year-old doomed to a life surrounded by a litter of cats. Was that the name for a group of cats? She'd have to look it up to be sure. Not that it mattered. Didn't everyone know she was allergic ... to cats and bad dates? It's not like she had never had a serious boyfriend. She just hadn't had one in a year. And she couldn't keep taking her best friend, Jamie, to all her family functions now that he was officially off the market. That had worked extremely well when she needed a plus-one and didn't want to deal with questions about her love life. But now that she was the single one and Jamie wasn't, Brynn had no choice but to say yes to the many, many setups foisted upon her by well-meaning individuals who, judging by the men they set her up with, really didn't know her at all.
Her last date turned out to live with his parents, who funded their date because the guy was in a "job transition" phase that had already lasted two years.
What was wrong with being twenty-seven and single anyway? It's not like it was nineteenth-century England, and if she didn't marry her obnoxious cousin, her family would lose the estate upon her father's death. On the contrary, Brynn and Holly's parents pushed them out of the nest as soon as each of them graduated college and just as quickly turned each of their rooms into a scrapbooking studio for their mom and a reading room for their dad.
It was the grandkids — or the lack thereof — that prompted her mother's interest in her love life. Holly was always dating someone, even if it never lasted longer than six months. Plus, she was twenty-five, still far enough from thirty and the approach of "advanced maternal age," as their mom liked to say. Brynn, on the other hand, was one preschooler's lifespan away from that next decade. According to those in the know, something had to be done, even if it meant a life with Tom who lived with his parents. He could probably still reproduce, right?
It didn't matter. Tonight would be different — what it should have been ten years ago.
"I do look pretty good, right?" she asked Holly.
Her sister crossed her arms and nodded. "In a sexy librarian kind of way, yeah."
She groaned, then took off her glasses. "I'm not a librarian." She marched out of her room and into the bathroom to retrieve her contact lenses. Holly followed, giggling.
"I meant accountant. You're a sexy accountant. Come on, Brynn. Look at you. You're gorgeous. And I bet you're the only accountant who not only knows that sixty-nine is a number but also how to do it!"
"Not helping," Brynn said.
She's just trying to push my buttons. We can't all be twenty-five and perky, with the straightest hair known to man, and 20/20 vision.
She straightened in front of the mirror, but her contacts weren't in yet, so she couldn't really check herself out. Thanks to her extreme farsightedness, the image staring back at her was nothing but a blur. It was true she put a lot of thought and work into how she looked tonight. The past month saw her making extra trips to the path along Lake Michigan for a run, and she cut back on the imbibing, which was always difficult with a best friend who owns a brewery. Four weeks ago, the belted black knit dress fit all her curves just a little too snugly. Tonight, she felt she had room to breathe, and Brynn enjoyed easy access to oxygen.
As she raised a contact lens balanced on her fingertip, someone pounded on the door, startling her and sending the contact flying into the sink.
"Shit!" she yelled and waved her sister toward the door. "Let him in. Then tell him I'm going to kill him if I don't find this lens. I don't want everyone to see me as a sexy accountant."
Holly giggled some more as she headed for the door, and Brynn muttered to herself as she shoved her face into the sink to find the contact.
It was no use. Brynn couldn't see what was right in front of her face if she didn't have her glasses on, and she'd left them in the bedroom on her nightstand.
She braced her hands on the counter and blew out a breath. "Sexy accountant," she mumbled again. Brynn pouted, thinking about how people saw her ten years ago — the smart girl with too much optimism and too much hair. In their senior superlatives she was voted "Best Smile" and "Most Likely to Be Concealing a Carrier Pigeon." Yeah, they made that second one up just for her. As an assistant editor for the school paper, she'd even approved it going to print. Because that was Brynn — go with the flow and smile at everything — but tonight she wanted to be something else.
"Can't I just be sexy?" she murmured to herself.
"Sure thing, Sleepy Jean."
The familiar voice came from behind her, and she smiled despite her irritation. Jamie brought that out in her. But right now, she was annoyed with him, and he had some damage control to do.
She turned toward her friend and blinked at his blurry outline.
"Where is it?" he asked, and she could hear the smile in his voice even if she couldn't see it. She rolled her unfocused eyes.
"In the sink ... I hope. If it went down the drain and I have to go to our ten-year reunion looking like I'm balancing my checkbook, you're in for a world of hurt."
He brushed past her, and she hummed a small, "Mmmm." He smelled good. Different, but good. Something fluttered in her belly, and Brynn groaned softly. She could pass it off as annoyance if he questioned her. Which it was. Her belly wasn't supposed to get all fluttery for him.
"Is that the new cologne Elizabeth bought for your birthday?" She grimaced a little. It's not that she didn't like Jamie's girlfriend. It's just that she and Jamie loved going through the fragrance section at Bloomingdale's together, making fun of the latest celebrity perfumes and colognes. The one that made them laugh the most was always the one she bought him for Christmas that year and vice versa. This year it was going to be Adam Levine's aptly titled scent, Adam Levine, but if he was into whatever Kenneth Cole or Hugo Boss his girlfriend bought him, the fun would be lost.
Jamie backed away from the sink so he stood in front of her again. He pulled out her hand and gingerly dropped the lost lens into her palm.
"Even cleaned it off with your solution," he said, and she quickly inserted the contact into her right eye and proceeded to do the same with the left. "And to answer your question, no. It's not the stuff Liz got me. I ducked into Sephora on my way here and sprayed on some Michael Jordan 23. I'm going old-school Chicago tonight."
Brynn couldn't help the satisfied smile, even if the edges of it were dulled by him having a nickname for his girlfriend after only three months. When she had first met Elizabeth, Jamie introduced her as Liz.
"Elizabeth," she'd corrected and winked as she shook Brynn's hand. "James seems to like Liz, and I kind of like when he says it. But everyone else calls me Elizabeth."
She'd never begrudge Jamie his happiness, even if it was with a girl who winked. She just didn't like the idea of their sharing private jokes or nicknames. But Liz still called him James, and Liz had no clue about their celebrity cologne obsession. Some things were sacred.
When she turned around, Jamie crystalized into focus, and damn did he look good. Not that he didn't always, but his work attire was overly casual, usually just a Kingston Ale House T-shirt and jeans. And even though tonight's affair was being held at that very same establishment, Jamie cleaned up for the occasion.
"Looking pretty sharp, Mr. Kingston," Brynn said as she took him in. His hair was cropped short on the sides but left slightly longer on top, enough to require a little pomade to give it some lift. It looked darker when he wore it shorter, and Brynn liked it like this. The outfit was typical Jamie: white oxford with the sleeves rolled up, charcoal and black striped tie, a fitted black vest, and, of course, always jeans. Tonight's pair was dark-washed denim, a fitted straight-leg that stopped atop a pair of red suede Pumas.
He bowed humbly. "And what scent are you wearing this evening, Ms. Chandler?"
Brynn bit her lip and grinned. "Meow by Katy Perry."
Jamie threw back his head and laughed. "Is this your way of outsmarting your future as the crazy cat lady ... by becoming the cat?"
Despite her allergies, Brynn couldn't help being sucked in to the worry factory sometimes. What if she didn't meet someone by thirty? Would she be required to get a cat at that point? Is it something you sign when you turn thirty, the if-I-don't-marry-at-least-I-have-my-cats contract?
He kissed her on the cheek and whispered in her ear, "Ya look sexy no matter what, Sleepy Jean."
Brynn sighed. At least she had a real nickname even if she didn't have a guy.
"That's what I told her!" Holly materialized behind Jamie. "She doesn't think she's sexy with her specs, but they're hot when she wears them, right, James?"
Holly had always called him James to annoy him, and now she took great pleasure in pointing out how Liz called him that every day. Brynn wouldn't admit it, but she enjoyed Holly's teasing, too. Tormenting Jamie about his girlfriends was nothing new. There was always something to mock, though never with malicious intent. Only to push Jamie's buttons and maybe, in the back of Brynn's mind, to alleviate that tiny stab of jealousy, something else she'd never admit, not after the debacle that was Jamie and her ten years ago.
Sometimes fault was hard to find, and they had to admit, Elizabeth — or Liz — was a pretty tough nut to crack. She was pretty, always had great shoes, and she was an ER doctor. Hard to find anything wrong with that, so they had to look for little things, and for them it was the formality of his name. James. Even though more and more in his adult life he'd been leaving Jamie behind, introducing himself as James to new people he met, Brynn and Holly couldn't get over Liz calling him that.
Jamie rolled his eyes. "It's my name, you two." His look may have spelled irritation, but his smooth baritone hinted at a smile, one that told Brynn he knew the teasing came from a place of affection. He pulled out his phone. "That reminds me. I need to call Liz before her shift starts or we might not get a chance to connect tonight. She's working straight through till morning."
He strolled into their small kitchen to make his call, and Holly nudged her sister on the shoulder.
"You really missed the boat with that one," Holly said.
Brynn leaned back against the sink. "What do you mean?" As if she didn't already know.
"Look at him, Brynn. Jamie's always been cute, but damn. The boy grew up nice. Haven't you ever thought about ... you know? Or can I call dibs if Liz ever leaves the picture?"
Brynn pushed past Holly and into the living room. She needed to move, to shake off the horror at the thought of Holly and Jamie. It wasn't like she wanted him for herself. Not anymore, at least.
Dammit, Jamie. You are not sidetracking me from the plan.
Brynn missed her chance with Spencer in high school, and for a blip on the radar, she thought getting mono was actually some sort of gift because it made her see Jamie differently — made her feel differently about him. And kissing him? Well, she thought that would have changed everything. But two words from him — I can't — had broken her heart ... and had nearly broken their friendship for good. Tonight the plan would go down the way it was supposed to years ago, the way that would have ended happily instead of putting her friendship with Jamie in an uncomfortable limbo for four years.
The way she saw things now, the only reason their friendship survived was because of the distance and perspective of being at different universities and because they'd never crossed that line again. They'd barely spoken their freshmen year apart, and though she'd never tell him, it was the hardest year of her life. In the long run she'd gotten what mattered most — Jamie in her life, always.
Excerpted from The One that Got Away by A.J. Pine, Karen Grove. Copyright © 2016 A.J. Pine. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.