Winning the lottery is the biggest ticket to freedom Greer Hawthorne’s ever had.
Until her best friend’s brother comes to town. . .
Greer Hawthorne’s winning lottery ticket doesn’t just bring her wealth, it also means her chance at a long-postponed education. She’s finally on the cusp of proving to her big, overprotective family that she’s independent—until a careless mistake jeopardizes her plan to graduate. Lucky for her, there’s someone in town who may be able to help. . .
Alex Averin plans to show up for his sister’s wedding, then quickly get back to his job as a world-renowned photojournalist. But when gorgeous, good-hearted Greer needs an assist with a photography project, he’s powerless to say no. Showing Greer his professional passion ignites a new one, and rouses instincts in Alex he thought he’d long set aside.
Can a ceaseless wanderer find a stopping place alongside a woman determined to set out on her own . . . or are Alex and Greer both pushing their luck too far?
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.55(d)|
Read an Excerpt
"He's right. You can't leave."
At first I don't process what the bureaucrat in the statement necklace across the desk from me is saying. After all, I'm three minutes deep in a daydream about that necklace, which is so aggressively big and multicolored that I've pictured the bureaucrat in a kind of medieval fairy tale/ancient war epic mashup in which it figures heavily as some kind of magical token of her as yet undiscovered powers. I'm trying to find a way to work in a unicorn, but so far, no dice.
"What?" I say, once her punch-to-the-gut words sink in.
She looks over the rim of her plastic-framed glasses, primary school red, two teeny-tiny rhinestones on each winged tip. It's too much, what with the statement necklace. Plus someone who accessorizes this much should be more fun than this.
"You," she begins, stretching out that one syllable before continuing. "Cannot. Graduate." It's the kind of tone that I'll bet she has to use a lot on panicked, desperate undergraduates, the ones who come in here looking for a reprieve about their unacceptable GPA or some honor code violation that'll keep them from their diploma. She's got to enunciate every single thing. She's got to speak slowly to cut through their narcissism or their naïveté or their general unwillingness to accept reality.
Says the twenty-seven-year-old woman who was just thinking about a unicorn.
"There has to be some kind of mistake," I say, repeating words I've already said once today, barely an hour ago, when I'd sat in a similarly uncomfortable chair across from my academic advisor. He'd looked at me with a gentle, consoling expression, handed me my three-page degree application, and said, "We've got a problem here, Greer." I'd stared down at that slim stack of paperwork with a thudding sense of shock.
"There's no way," I'd said to him as I'd taken it with a shaking hand, already gathering my bag. "I'll go check at the registrar's office. There's no way I've gotten this wrong."
If there's one thing I've gotten good at in the two and a half years since I won the lottery, it's paperwork. The lottery itself involves a fair amount of paperwork, sure: disclosures and waivers and verifications of all kinds. Yes, you can use my name or image to promote the state lottery. Yes, I sign verifying that I am who I say I am. No, I do not dispute the other two claimants to this ticket. Yes, I can provide an authenticating letter from my bank; no, I don't owe any back taxes or child support.
But what I'd chosen to do with my winnings — that too had been paperwork city. Some of it had involved an accountant (four pages of paperwork just to meet with him, by the way), some of it had involved an attorney (no paperwork for that, since Zoe had done all her work for me for free), and some of it, most of it — the paperwork connected to my getting this long-postponed college education — had only involved me. Applications and essays, overload permission slips, internship filings, independent study proposals. Regular tracking of my coursework, to show I was right on schedule for ... this.
This degree application. The one that verifies I'm walking across a stage at the end of the summer, diploma in hand with a full-time, health-insurance and retirement-plan supported professional job waiting.
The one that says I'm finally free.
"There's no mistake," Necklace says, setting the application on her desk and folding her hands on top of it. "You need an art credit."
"But I took —"
"You took two art history courses," she says, cutting me off. She's probably heard a version of my story a million times. Students lost in the bureaucracy of the university, little scheduling mistakes that mean trouble later. "One of those needed to be a studio art. The practice of art, not just the study of it."
"Okay, but —"
She cuts me off with a palm-out gesture before I can make a case for myself. Before I can show her the records I kept from every meeting with my advisor, including the one in which I'd selected the second art history course to fill a requirement. Shouldn't he have warned me? Shouldn't he have stopped me, pointed me in a different direction? Even as I think it, I know I'm wrong. Maybe he could've done a better job, but I know the buck stops with me. I know this is my mistake, my responsibility.
"Ms. Hawthorne. You have managed to very nearly complete a degree program in social work with a minor in social welfare in" — she looks down again at my application, scanning the top — "about two and a half years, which is an incredibly impressive feat. This is a minor hiccup, one you can remedy with a single semester of per-credit-hour payment."
She breaks off here to give me a pointed look at the word payment, and I wonder if maybe she's one of the few people in this city who saw the frozen, shocked smiles on my and Zoe's faces when we'd taken that paperwork-approved promotional photograph for the lottery, sans publicity-shy Kit. Of course Necklace wouldn't know how little I have left of the cardboard check I'd held that day. "I know this is a disappointment," she says, "but you shouldn't feel at all ashamed."
Ashamed? That's the least of it. I feel like a failure. I feel stupid and careless, and worst of all, I feel weak. I've done everything right the last two years, but all of a sudden I feel like the Greer who's never been able to see things through, who's been too tired or too sick to finish what I start, the Greer who needs help with even the smallest tasks.
"I have to graduate," I say, hating the way my voice has risen to a desperate, almost keening pitch. "I have a job waiting for me."
She sighs, cuts a glance over to the clock that I know is hanging on the wall above me. The lobby outside her office is packed with students, and I sympathize. The timing for me couldn't be worse either. That I had to find this out on this Friday, of all possible Fridays, feels like particularly bad luck.
I squint at her necklace, trying to work out the stones in there. If there are any opals stuck in between what look mostly like acrylic, oven-baked blobs, there's a bad luck reason for this, maybe.
Necklace lets out a gusty sigh. "Your job requires that you have the degree at your start date?"
I don't see a single opal in there.
"Yes." It's not a lie. It's part of my contract, in fact, another piece of paperwork I've recently signed. I'm giving her a look like I'm the unicorn, the never-before-seen student creature she's going to make an exception for. Use your undiscovered powers on me, I'm thinking. I'll even wear that necklace.
She grabs a pen out of a cup on her desk, flips my degree application over, and scribbles a few lines of text before handing it over. "This is the name of the chair of the studio art department. Below that is the name of the chair of our academic standards committee. You might be able to make an appeal."
Inside my bag, my phone pings with a text, and I know I'm out of time, at least for today. Waiting in my car I've got a suitcase, a garment bag, and a small wooden box of good luck charms — borrowed, blue, new — for Kit. I don't know how I'm going to empty my head enough of this problem to get through the weekend.
"I'll get in touch with them right away," I tell her, standing from my chair. My knees feel like they're made of jelly donuts. "Thank you."
Before I can turn away, hustle out the door, and take out my phone to address whatever logistical crisis related to this weekend has come up in the last hour, she clears her throat. She lowers her red glasses, so now they're resting on a thin gold chain on top of the statement necklace. My eyes blur with the garishness of it. I couldn't picture a unicorn if I tried.
"He's a photographer," she says, and everything in my line of sight is replaced with an image in my mind, one I try not to think about all that often.
Sea-glass eyes and a sad smile. A broad back carrying a beat-up rucksack, walking out the door.
"The chair of the department, I mean," she says. "Try that as your way in, if you're looking to get in his good graces."
"Right." For a second, I'm frozen stock still there, a living embodiment of you can't leave, even though my phone pings with three more messages. On any other day I'd say it was only my mother who'd have such persistence, but today I'm guessing it's my fellow maid of honor, because I'm supposed to be at a pedicure across town in ten minutes and there's about three thousand other errands to run before my best friend gets married tomorrow.
But standing across from Not-Bad-Luck Necklace and clutching my stack of Bad Luck Paperwork, I can only think about one thing.
I know a photographer.
And this weekend, I'm going to see him for the first time in a long time.
* * *
He breezes in the same way he'd done two years ago.
He's windblown and stubbled along his jaw, sporting a sheepish grin as he ducks through the front door of Betty's restaurant, closed down for the night in honor of Kit and Ben's rehearsal dinner. "Oh, thank God," Zoe says, nudging me as though I haven't noticed him come in, as though I didn't sense a change in the air even before that door opened. Across the room, where she's standing with Ben, Kit says, "Finally!," but there's a laugh in her voice. She crosses the room to her brother, holding out her arms for a hug that I drop my eyes to avoid seeing.
I'm not going to forgive him so easily.
His first call had come mid-pedicure, while all three of us had had our feet soaking in warm, bubbling water and while I'd been doing a bang-up job of not revealing a thing about my impending graduation crisis. I'd shown up to that nail salon with a sunny disposition and a can-do attitude, and I'd intended to keep it that way. When Kit disconnected the call she'd shrugged and said, "Weather out of LaGuardia," and I'd been ready to fully engage my sunny disposition to explain how we were going to can do this rehearsal even if her brother didn't show up.
But Kit had surprised me, barely batting an eye at either of the next two calls — one when we were checking into the Crestwood Hotel for our pre-wedding girls' sleepover, the other when we were driving to the rehearsal itself.
"He'll get here," Kit had said, confident in Alex's eventual arrival or else so blissed out by her impending wedding and three-week honeymoon trip through Europe that she hadn't allowed herself to consider the possibility that the man who'd basically raised her might not make it. I'd felt the tension that'd been gathering in my neck since this afternoon ratchet up to near painful levels.
Alex has moved further inside the warm, wainscoted interior of the main dining room, usually full of Betty's diverse crowd of bearded or barrel-roll-hair hipsters, young professionals, and the few old-timers who still remember when her bar was a smoke-filled fish and chips place and who grudgingly allow her food is better. He and Ben are shaking hands, one of Alex's coming up to clutch Ben's elbow in a gesture of casual affection and approval that suggests he knows the groom is forgiving too. Zoe's already crossed the room, leaving me behind the bar where I'm checking the Sterno cans under the chafing dishes like I work here. From the other side of the bar Betty gives me a skeptical look, and I pretend not to see her making a shooing motion at me.
Why wouldn't he have flown in earlier, I'm thinking, to avoid exactly this kind of thing? Why wouldn't he have made Kit's wedding his top priority? Why wouldn't he have put her needs, her special day, first in his mind and his plans?
That's what I'm doing, after all.
"Greer, look who's here," says Kit, interrupting my very intense self-congratulatory monologue, and I nearly burn my hands on a dish of garlic-parmesan green beans. When I look up I see Kit and Alex, arms linked in the same way they would've been had Alex actually showed up for his part in the rehearsal, Kit a full two heads shorter than her brother and wearing a smile of relief and pride.
As for Alex? Up close he's more handsome than I remember, even if he's grossly underdressed in a faded black T-shirt and wrinkled, army-green chinos and beat-up hiking boots. He runs a hand through his hair, slightly longer than it'd been last time he was here, and smiles as though the last words we exchanged weren't harsh ones. He looks like he's never been felled by a piece of paperwork in his whole life. The casual nomad with no permanent address. Reckless and strong and no strings attached.
Over his shoulder I see the familiar strap of his bag.
"Good of you to stop by." As soon as it's out of my mouth, my own eyes are widening in shock at the same time as Kit's, and at the same time as Zoe's, who's returned just in time to see me act like a jerk.
One question about my reunion with Alex is answered, then: his face is still a wire cutter for my brain-mouth synapse. I open it again, trying to rally my sunny disposition, but I'm interrupted by Betty, who probably caught the scent of awkward.
"Alex, welcome. Can I put your bag behind the bar?" She gives me another pointed look, one that says This is why I work here, and you don't. I back away from the chafing dishes and away from the gaze Alex has leveled at me.
He's still watching me when he answers Betty. "I'm going to make a stop in your restroom and change my clothes."
Betty and Kit usher him away, Kit giving me a brief, puzzled glance over her shoulder, and Zoe looks at me. "Everything all right?"
I sink onto the stool behind me, try for a casual wave of the hand, a self-deprecating eye roll. "I guess I'm being a bit intense about our maid of honor duties."
The look I get in return tells me Zoe's not buying what I'm selling. "You've been a little off today." I know her well enough to know she won't leave me alone about it. She'll cross-examine me until I've spilled it, and then she'll probably take out her phone and call the registrar's office at the university and leave a legalese-packed voice mail that'd make the statement necklace rattle right off the bureaucrat's neck.
I look over my shoulder, make sure Kit's nowhere nearby. For all my self-congratulation, I guess I haven't done a great job setting my worries aside if Zoe and I are having this conversation, and the least I can do is keep Kit far away from it today of all days. "There's a problem with my graduation."
Zoe's gold-brown eyes immediately sharpen, her posture lengthening. "What kind of problem?" In spite of the fact that I don't want to be doing this here, I love the way Zoe knows already — that this is serious, that I'd be freaked out about it. She and Kit have had tickets reserved for the graduation ceremony since February. They want to wear T-shirts with my face printed on them.
I tell her a short version — a missing fine arts credit, an appeal I have to make to the chair of the department to see if I can get an exception. "I'll get it taken care of Monday," I say, trying to project all the confidence I don't feel.
"How? Like, what's the plan?"
I clear my throat, shift my feet in the yellow flats that are supposed to match my sunny disposition. "I don't know yet. I'll think it through, once we get past tomorrow."
Just then Alex steps back into the dining room, wearing a gray dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, a slim-cut pair of black dress pants that look newly pressed, and a pair of what have to be freshly shined black shoes. The stubble seemed like carelessness before, but now it only seems like maximum I-belong-in-a-cologne-ad effect.
In his left hand, he's got ahold of that damned bag.
I stand from my stool, smooth the front of my dress, avoiding Zoe's eyes and Alex's — everything. His whole presence here. I know already that part of the plan is to not look his way again.
Because even if Alex Averin were the kind of person who could help you with an art department chair who holds your fate in his hands, he wouldn't be the kind of person who'd stick around to do it.
* * *
Dinner's a hit, the conversation around the room easy and flowing, a general feeling of giddy excitement about tomorrow's wedding. I don't participate much, which isn't all that unusual, but this time it's less about my shyness than it is about my continued distraction. I've done my best to stick to the plan and avoid Alex, but right about the time everyone's starting in on plates of the miniature lava cakes Betty's brought out from the kitchen, something — some heavy, inevitable feeling — draws my eyes his way, and I forget all about the plan.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Best of Luck"
Copyright © 2018 Kate Clayborn.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved it! Best of Luck is the third book in Kate Clayborn's Chance of a Lifetime series, and it is a great 5 star finish. Greer and Alex are EVERYTHING. All of the characters in this series are real and perfectly imperfect, and Greer and Alex are no exception. Greer is the quiet third friend of the lucky lottery winners, who chooses to spend her winnings on helping her family and earning a college degree. Greer is trying to escape the constant hovering and scrutiny of her family, desperate for some independence. Alex is Kit's older brother (from book 1, Beginner's Luck), a world traveling photojournalist, who raised Kit during their childhood. They are both introduced, and their heat sizzles, earlier in the series. Greer unexpectedly helps Alex at Kit's wedding, and Alex, in turn, unexpectedly helps Greer with her last requirements for graduation. As they grow close, they challenge each other, their own expectations for themselves and for the possibilities of a relationship between them. I love Greer and the gentle way she fights for independence. She's not in your face-aggressive but still stands up for herself. Alex is every person who has spent so much of their lives just surviving, that once he can finally trust and breath and just be, you feel the weight lift off his shoulders and want to cry with relief for and with him. Together they have great chemistry, the kind of connection that is meet your eyes across the room and know you're not really alone, while it still only takes a touch to light it all up. The heat level is just right, plenty of sparks and sexy times but not excessive or unwarranted, it is authentic. The challenges Greer and Alex face at the end, thankfully don't turn into a long drawn out misunderstanding but are instead an effective plot point to wake them both up to knowing and admitting that what they have, is worth everything. I loved this series and I especially loved Greer and Alex. I highly recommend this book and can't wait to see what Kate Clayborn does next.
I've been looking forward to Alex and Greer's book since their brief interaction in Beginner's Luck, and it did not disappoint! Both characters have a lot to overcome, and it was so satisfying seeing them work through their respective issues and learn how to be together. Will definitely be rereading this one (and the whole series) often!