Birding with Benefits: A Novel

Birding with Benefits: A Novel

by Sarah T. Dubb
Birding with Benefits: A Novel

Birding with Benefits: A Novel

by Sarah T. Dubb

Paperback

$18.99 
  • SHIP THIS ITEM
    Qualifies for Free Shipping
  • PICK UP IN STORE
    Check Availability at Nearby Stores

Related collections and offers


Overview

A divorcee embarks on her “year of yes” and crosses paths with a shy but sensitive birdwatcher who changes her life in this charming rom-com that is perfect for fans of Christina Lauren and Ali Hazelwood.

Newly-divorced, almost-empty-nester Celeste is finally seeking adventure and putting herself first, cliches be damned. So when a friend asks Celeste to “partner” with his buddy John for an event, Celeste throws herself into the role of his temporary girlfriend. But quiet cinnamon roll John isn’t looking for love, just birds—he needs a partner for Tucson’s biggest bird-watching contest if he’s ever going to launch his own guiding business. By the time they untangle their crossed signals, they’ve become teammates...and thanks to his meddling friends, a fake couple.

Celeste can’t tell a sparrow from a swallow, but John is a great teacher, and the hours they spend hiking in the Arizona wilderness feed Celeste’s hunger for new adventures while giving John a chance to practice his dream job. As the two spend more time together, they end up watching more than just the birds, and their chemistry becomes undeniable. Since they’re both committed to the single life, Celeste suggests a status upgrade: birders with benefits, just until the contest is done. But as the bird count goes up and their time together ticks down, John and Celeste will have to decide if their benefits can last a lifetime, or if this love affair is for the birds.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781668037836
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: 06/04/2024
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 25,576
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Sarah T. Dubb is a writer, public librarian, parent, and activist living the dream with chickens and desert tortoises in her hometown of Tucson, Arizona. Birding with Benefits is her debut novel; she is currently working on her second romantic comedy. Visit her at SarahTDubb.com.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1
Celeste Johanssen had embarked on some rather outlandish activities in the two years since her divorce. She’d done skydiving, vermicomposting, and even a week of sleeping on her back porch every night—but they were nothing compared to her activity on this sunny Saturday morning.

She scanned the park for her date.

Her fake date.

He’d been described to her as “a quiet, sweet guy with a beard, straight out of an L.L.Bean catalog” who was in desperate need of help that morning. And if there was anything Celeste loved more than a new adventure, it was helping. She’d even arrived a couple of minutes early—a miracle for her, especially considering she’d stopped for pastries and caffeine.

In their brief texts, full of proper punctuation and capitalization, John had told her he’d be waiting in a gazebo on the southeast side of the popular park, which tracked with the bearded mystery man sitting there now.

“Whoa.” She stopped short, catching the pastry box with the bottom of her cup before it tipped all the way off her arm and onto the ground.

“He’s the kind of guy who will stop traffic to help a tortoise cross the road, then go home and build you a table,” his friend had said of John. The description had seemed absurd at the time, but she saw it now. Thick arms displayed evidence of manual work, and his auburn beard, glinting cinnamon and sugar in the morning sun, gave him a woodsman vibe. His skin had the soft tan of someone who spent a lot of time outside but always wore sunscreen. Large hands cradled a small, worn book tenderly, fingers rubbing at the corner of a page before turning it slowly. The reading glasses parked on the end of his nose didn’t hurt the tableau, either. John seemed a man balanced precisely on the edge between hard and soft.

Celeste began a careful walk across the crunching grass, remembering the most important rule of improv, simple words she’d scrawled onto a sticky note to join the others on her bathroom mirror.

Say yes.

People milled around the park, looking curiously up into the trees, as Celeste pondered which was the ex she was coming to deflect. Eight a.m. did seem an odd time for a date, but she’d been out of the dating pool for decades, so what did she know? When there was a new adventure to be had, Celeste rarely asked for details.

John’s attention was still on his book as she stepped into the shade of the gazebo, goose bumps appearing along her arms, left bare by her cotton tank dress. In her rush, she hadn’t grabbed a jacket, but soon it wouldn’t matter. April in Tucson meant chilly mornings and warm, perfect afternoons.

Celeste allowed herself one more long perusal of John, studying her subject in order to throw herself properly into the scene. The glasses and beard combined to give him a real librarian-in-the-wild vibe. If there was a calendar somewhere of ruggedly nerdy men reading, John could be any month of the year. Interesting that this guy, cords of muscle visible on his forearms where his sleeves were pushed up, needed protection from his ex.

Before she could make out its title, he flipped the book closed and stowed it in a backpack at his feet, then removed his glasses and tucked them into a side pocket of his pants. After a double take, he registered Celeste, his bearded jaw dipping as he did a fast sweep of her body, settling on her face as his brows pulled together.

“Hi!” Celeste stepped forward, arms pulled by the weight of the pastry box. She could have just gotten her standard cinnamon swirl, but she hadn’t known what John might like, so she’d played it safe by getting one of everything. “John, right? I’m Celeste, I’m here to—”

But her foot wouldn’t lift, and her movement stalled. A panicked look down revealed one of her white low-top Converse tangled in the loose laces of the other, and oh shit

The pastry box went first, catching air. John caught the box with his palm, balancing it like a skilled waiter. Celeste’s hip hit something warm and soft, keeping her upright.

Hot liquid from each cup sloshed out of the lids, landing on Celeste’s wrists and forearms. At her wince, John released her, his jaw going tense.

Celeste shook her head, arms stinging. “Fuck, I’m so sorry.” She slammed the drinks onto the concrete table unceremoniously, swiping coffee from her arms. Something rustled in front of her, and then a soft, worn flannel hit her skin, traveling lightly down her right arm, then her left.

“You okay?” John’s voice was as low as she’d expected, considering the beard and big shoulders. A smooth baritone.

She nodded silently as their eyes met before he bent to shove his flannel into his backpack.

Laughing too loudly, Celeste shook out her arms. “I’m totally mortified, but physically unharmed. Thank you. I brought coffee. I got yours black but I have creamers in my bag if you need them.” Her eyes darted to the table. “And pastries. Way too many pastries.” She propped her foot on the bench to retie her laces and secure them with a triple knot. “I’m usually only half this chaotic, I swear. I’m a little nervous. I’ve never done anything like this before.”

“Oh.” John cleared his throat with a rumble. “You haven’t?”

“No, definitely not.” Did he think she made a habit of meeting strangers for a game of pretend romance? “Have you?”

John scrubbed at his beard with one hand as he narrowed his eyes. “Um, yes. Quite a lot.”

Intrigued, Celeste waited for more details, but he quietly studied her like the book in his hands minutes before. Chris had warned her that John was quiet, so she decided not to press. As his open palm reached for the coffee, her hip twinged with the memory of his firm catch.

She took a long drag from her cup, letting the hit of caffeine shock the memory out of her system. Cold permeated her dress as she slid onto the concrete bench. “So, Chris explained the situation to me. He said your ex would be here. Have you spotted her yet?”

John squinted. “You mean Breena? I haven’t seen her yet. What did Chris say exac—”

“Oh good. We have a little time, then. Should we get to know each other a bit before everything gets started?”

He only looked at her. Maybe if she went first, he’d feel more comfortable opening up. Celeste set her cup down, rolling her head on her neck, settling back into the purpose of her mission. “So, I’m forty-two. I teach language arts at a public middle school. I’ve got a daughter who’s headed to college next year, so I’m staring that empty nest right in the face, and to be honest, I like how it’s looking from here.” She tapped her fingers along the table, noting that her purple polish from the mom/daughter night she’d imposed on Morgan a couple of weeks before was chipping. “I love to read, I hike a lot, and I’m embarking on a bunch of hobbies right now. That’s how I met Chris, actually, at this painting thing the other night.”

John’s head cocked to one side. “You just met Chris the other night? I thought you two knew each other.”

“We do now. He’s the best!” She’d had a blast with Chris, painting their little teapots side by side at the sip-and-paint event she’d decided to hit up last minute. She’d gone alone, and while Chris had seemed to be there with someone, he and Celeste had started talking when he saw her copy of Dune sticking out of her bag. Before too long she was hearing about Chris’s angst at work and his guilt over messing things up for his best friend.

She pried open the pastry box, revealing the jumbled but largely intact goodies, and pulled out a scone before giving the box a push toward John in invitation. “He was really worried about you. Said he’d let you down, mentioned mating snails. I didn’t ask for details. It was serendipitous, honestly, because I was supposed to start this yoga class today but the whole series got canceled last minute. Apparently the energy wasn’t right.” She tore off a small piece of pastry and popped it into her mouth. “So, what about you? Chris said something about woodworking, I think?”

Chris had actually said that John was really good with wood, and she’d almost spit out her wine.

“Yeah.” John lifted a flaky croissant from the box and moved it from hand to hand. “I make some furniture, smaller stuff. It was a hobby but now it’s part-time work. I just lost my office job—”

He’d shifted his glance up as he spoke, easing toward eye contact, but now he paused and focused on something behind Celeste. She followed his gaze to a stunning woman approaching them. Straight black hair framed a golden face and dusted the tops of her shoulders, and toned legs stretched out of khaki shorts.

Celeste turned her attention back to John, whose jaw was tense. “This is her, right? The ex?”

John nodded and opened his mouth, but Celeste put down her drink and scone, sliding her body over until their thighs were pushed together. She visualized the note next to Say yes on her mirror at home.

If you’re going to do something, do it right.

She would have preferred more time to prepare for this part, including reviewing what level of intimacy he was comfortable with. But since it was showtime already, she went on instinct alone, hoping John was ready to follow her lead.

His body tensed as his chin dipped, his eyes tracing the line where their legs pressed together. She leaned her shoulder into his, reaching a hand out to extract the croissant from his worrying fingers and place it on the table.

“You’re hurting the croissant. It didn’t do anything wrong. And don’t worry, this is what I’m here for, remember?” Celeste straightened her back, smiling big. “I’m sorry we didn’t get to chat more before she showed up, but don’t worry—I don’t bite.”

With this, she slid a hand across his lower back, hooking it on the other side of his waist. The move brought their bodies flush from knee to shoulder. John was stocky and hard, a warm wall of muscle that filled her senses with fresh wood and sunshine. As the ex approached, Celeste dropped her other hand to his knee, rubbing a little circle with her thumb over the soft khaki fabric. All part of the act. She was here to show that John was hers.

For the next few minutes, at least.

And then the ex was there, hands on her lovely hips, looking down at John before brushing her eyes briefly past Celeste. “Hey, John.”

John seemed to have stopped breathing, so Celeste dug her fingers into his waist, finding some softness. He sucked in a sharp breath and cleared his throat. “Breena, hi.”

“Wasn’t sure I’d see you here today.” Breena’s eyes skirted over to Celeste again, lingering on the hand on John’s knee, before looking back to him. “But you made it after all. With someone new, it looks like.”

More throat clearing, then a rough, almost questioning, “Yeah.”

A beat passed in silence, the odd triangle throwing looks back and forth. If John couldn’t muster up an introduction, Celeste wouldn’t wait. She was here to help, after all.

She gave John’s knee a quick squeeze before shooting out an open palm toward Breena. “Hi.” Celeste pulled out the voice she’d perfected for the first day of every school year, the voice that said I’m ready to play nice, but don’t try to fuck with me. “I’m Celeste. John’s girlfriend.”

From the B&N Reads Blog

Customer Reviews