Maybe This Time is the next heartwarming contemporary romance from Nicole McLaughlin in her Whiskey and Weddings series.
Jen Mackenzie has been knocked down more than a few times, but she always gets up and makes sure she has the last word. It’s the reason she now considers herself equal parts self-sufficient and free-spirit. But since losing her job and trying to help her mother beat cancer, real life—and her occasional careless choices—have begun to catch up with her. Her one saving grace: The Stag, a boutique distillery that has become Kansas City’s go-to wedding venue. The only catch: One of the owners, TJ Laughlin, happens to be the one man who somehow manages to make Jen feel inadequate.
TJ has secretly had a thing for Jen since high school. Now, as her new boss, it’s a daily struggle between revealing his feelings and wringing her beautiful neck. Only one thing is for certain: he can’t stand idly by and watch the woman he cares for struggle. She may be convinced that accepting TJ’s help is a weakness. But all he sees in Jen is beauty and strength, inside and out. As things finally heat up between them, can TJ find a way to convince Jen that love is about give and take—and having it all, together?
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Twelve years earlier
Apparently, blondes did have more fun. Or at least got more attention, Jen Mackenzie thought as she made her way down the main hall of her high school. Three guys had already made lewd comments, she'd received one request for her number, and several girls had given her dirty looks.
And the day was only half over.
The first tardy bell sounded as she took a left toward the history and social sciences wing of Green Hills High School.
"Looking good, Jen," the best friend of the most popular guy in school said. Did that make him the second-most popular guy? Jen didn't hang around with — or give two shits about — popularity. It wasn't for her, so she just gave him the finger and kept on walking.
He laughed in response. "Anytime you want."
She rolled her eyes, but smirked. She could appreciate a guy that could take it as well as he gave it. Jen was no stranger to male attention. However, she wasn't used to it being so blatant. Not at school anyway, where she was normally an outcast. Or the kind of girl guys propositioned in secret. But the previous week she'd performed the role of Sandy in her high school's musical rendition of Grease. Apparently dyeing your normally dark hair blonde, proving you could act and sing, and donning tight-as-hell pants, could turn an obscure emo girl into an overnight sensation. Now the catcalls were loud and proud. Who'd have thought?
Although she was smart enough to know none of it was genuine, not even a jaded and bitter soul such as herself could deny the instinctive pleasure this new attention brought her. It wasn't that she'd wanted to be a nobody ... necessarily. It was just so much easier to not care. Case in point: She was already feeling the pressure from this newfound attention. The blonde hair had to be part of the appeal, and yet, there was no way her mother would give her the money to maintain it. The director's sister did hair, and so she'd let Jen come to her shop and get a head full of platinum highlights for free. But a few weeks from now she'd be the girl with the nasty dark roots — a clear reminder to her peers that she was not one of them. With a sigh, she picked up her pace as her stomach gave a tiny moan of protest. Don't you dare humiliate me, stomach.
She'd purposely not eaten lunch for two reasons. One, she didn't want to risk spilling anything on her top, and two, to ensure she didn't have bad breath for this hour. And okay, probably a little bit because her lunch account was negative nine dollars. At ten, they held the right to refuse you, depending on the mood of the cashier, and Jen wasn't willing to risk suffering that humiliation. Not again. Asking her mom for lunch money was only successful when she was in a good mood. Otherwise she'd get the "if you want to eat lunch every day, then get a job" speech. But a job would not allow her to attend rehearsals. A dilemma, but they didn't call them starving artists for nothing. Someday her talent would pay off.
As Jen approached the door to her fifth-hour Government class, she slowed, trying not to appear overeager. Normally, that would have come naturally. She hated this class. Mr. Timmons was a bore, and she hated the texture of his hair, which looked like a toupee but supposedly wasn't. All she could do was stare at it all hour to try to see if it moved in conjunction with his head. Incredibly distracting, and several times she considered just raising her hand and asking if he'd just give it a good tug so everyone could finally focus on the three branches of government.
Today, however, she was nervous and excited. Popping a piece of gum in her mouth, she entered the class as the second bell rang, the reason for her anxiety staring back at her from the far row.
Just the sight of him made her nauseous and tingly. And did he just shift in his seat and look away in disgust? Was he annoyed? The seating arrangement had just changed at the end of class yesterday. Maybe he wasn't happy, considering he used to sit next to a group of his friends.
"Hey, Jen," a second-tier popular girl named Renee said from her seat. "Cool hair."
Jen glanced at her, trying to analyze if it was a sincere compliment. Unable to tell, she replied, "Thanks." No smile. Better to play it safe and not look foolish.
Making her way to the table she was now sharing with TJ, she pulled out her chair and sat down. He said nothing, but his left leg was bouncing nervously beneath the desk. Her first instincts must have been right.
"Feel free to request to move to another seat," she said under her breath.
His leg froze as he looked at her. "Why would I do that?"
He almost looked pissed off. She glanced down at his leg. "Either you have to take a piss, or I make you uncomfortable."
He let out a huff of a laugh and shook his head. "You have no idea."
That was a vague answer. Before she could demand he clarify, Mr. Timmons was beginning his droll lecture. TJ, having always been a perfect student, wouldn't appreciate her talking to him during class. Nerd. Except he was a hot, rich nerd. The kind of guy who would never want anything from Jen but what she could give him in fifteen minutes in his car. She was no prude, but she wouldn't give any guy the satisfaction of looking down on her any more than he already did.
Mr. Timmons went on about Congress, and it wasn't long before Jen was leaning back in her chair and doodling in her notebook. Anything to take her mind off how good TJ smelled, or how his forearm muscles constricted as he furiously took notes. He was left-handed, and she liked watching the way his wrist curled in as he used his pen. Almost like he was writing upside down.
"The way you write looks messed up," she whispered.
His hand stilled as he turned to look at her. "I'm left-handed."
She gave him a long look. "No shit." She sat up, scooted her chair forward, and leaned on the table, looking at him. She whispered. "Does that mean you jerk off with your left hand?"
"What the ..." He turned away, as if to be sure no one overhead her. Redness bloomed on his cheeks and down his neck.
Jen smiled, biting her bottom lip as he faced her once more.
"Why would you ask me that?"
She shrugged. "Just curious. There's no shame in jacking off, TJ."
He gave her a side-eye. "I didn't say there was."
They stared at each other for a long moment until his eyes finally roamed over the blonde waves framing her face. "You gonna dye it back?" he asked, surprising her.
"I don't know. Should I?"
He lifted an eyebrow. "Doesn't really matter. But the blonde isn't you."
She wasn't sure what he meant by that, but she assumed it was because her normal dark brown hair was drab. Just like her. Jen wasn't meant to be a sweet, beautiful, upbeat, Sandy kind of woman. In fact she'd auditioned for Rizzo, thinking she was a shoo-in. She felt like she was made for the role. But the minute she'd got done singing, the director had stood up, clapped, and said, "I did not expect that voice to come out of you. But I think we have our Sandy." Nobody had been more shocked than Jen, and probably most of the student body. And she still hadn't decided if his initial reaction was a compliment or not. She was leaning toward him being a stereotyping jerk, but she did appreciate the part.
Jen looked away, trying to convince herself that TJ's comment about her hair didn't sting. From anyone else, it probably wouldn't. There was no explaining her thing for him, but she knew it went beyond the fact that he was beautiful to look at. They had four classes together this semester, and she often found his eyes glancing away from her, which made her look at him more, always hoping to catch him staring back. It made her feel a little insane and obsessed.
Maybe she was tired of his judgment and subconsciously wanted to convince him that she could make him want her. Stupid her should realize that boys didn't want girlfriends who talked about pissing and jacking off. They wanted a lady. If only they could see those "ladies" in the locker room. They were all crude, even the popular ones. In fact they might be the worst.
Mr. Timmons stopped in front of their table and handed them each a worksheet titled FROM BILL TO LAW. "Feel free to work together," he said. He probably thought Jen couldn't handle the work on her own. Jerk.
"Don't feel obligated," she muttered, pulling a pen out of her purse.
TJ scooted his seat to face her a little more. "I don't, but it would be stupid not to work together and get this finished faster. It's front and back."
Jen sighed, covering up her relief. "Fine."
It didn't even take them fifteen minutes to get through the entire thing, and she had to admit, he was a good partner. Didn't try and answer all the questions first. That surprised her.
"You really know this stuff," TJ said, stuffing his pen into the backpack on the floor at his side.
"I'm not stupid."
He gave her a long look. "Will you cut it out with the attitude? I never said you were stupid. But considering you drew pictures of fairies all through the lecture, it surprised me how much you knew."
She stared at him, wondering how he'd managed to see what she'd been drawing. Wondering why he'd been interested. Shrugging, she put her supplies away. "I find government fascinating and also infuriating enough to hold my attention. I read the chapter last night."
When he didn't respond, she glanced up at him. God, he was so handsome, his green eyes sparkling, light-brown hair sweeping over his forehead just right. Even his eyebrows were perfectly placed and groomed. Was that natural or did he maintain them? She wanted to ask, but didn't, because his lopsided smirk was suddenly throwing her off.
"What?" she asked.
He opened his mouth to speak, but they were interrupted by Evan Peterson, Green Hill South football star and ladies' man. "Hey, you two."
Jen looked up to find him leaning on their table. It was only a few minutes until the bell rang and Mr. Timmons was busy with something at his desk, so several students had left their seats to socialize.
"What's up, Peterson?" TJ said dryly. Jen knew the two guys were friends, so TJ's irritated greeting surprised her. Evan was kind of cute in the rugged jock kind of way, but sooo not her type. Or in her league. He'd recently broke up with Adeline, a varsity cheerleader and total rich bitch. Could anything be more cliché?
Evan smiled at Jen. "Great job last week. I think you had every guy dreaming of you in those tight pants this weekend. You should wear them to school."
"Jesus, dude. Shut up," TJ said.
Evan looked at him, confused. "What for? That's a compliment." He turned to Jen. "Right? Shit, I never even go to the musicals, but after I heard about how amazing you were, I had to. Didn't disappoint."
Jen wouldn't mind slapping the dickhead in the face, but for some reason she just gave him a tight-lipped smile.
He took her silence as agreement and leaned in closer. "I was kind of wondering. How would you like to go to the dance together next Saturday?" Jen's shock was further intensified by the way TJ froze beside her. His bouncing leg once again halted. And had she seriously just been asked out by one of the most popular guys in school? Why did it make her feel a little excited? Maybe because she'd been watching these handsome yet self-absorbed asshats walk these halls for almost four years, looking straight through her the entire time? Probably also because in those four years she'd never been invited to a dance. Which reminded her.
"Isn't this a Sadie Hawkins dance?"
"Yes. It is." TJ's voice was low and stern beside her. She glanced at him, but his eyes were glued to Evan. "Which is why this is stupid."
Jen looked at her potential date. He just shrugged. "Didn't want to take the chance. After last week, you're a hot commodity. Feel free to ask me instead. Laughlin can keep a secret."
Jen glanced back at TJ, who finally met her eyes. Why did he look mad? Maybe they were all going as a group and he didn't want her around? The thought pissed her off. No, she was not popular or rich, but she had every right to hang out with whomever the hell she pleased.
She turned back to Evan. "Maybe I will ask you. Better stay on your toes."
He gave an awkward and obviously stunned laugh. "Alright then, I will. Can't wait," he said before walking back to his seat.
Jen and TJ were both quiet in his absence, so she finally picked up her backpack. The bell would ring any second, and she'd be off to Acting 2. Her favorite class. Drama Club and the performances were the only reason she didn't just drop out of school already.
"You really gonna ask him?"
She glanced over to find TJ staring at her, his own backpack over his shoulder.
"Do you have a problem with that?" Maybe he'd be honest. Her theory was that she was hyperaware of his constant judgement because she herself was so focused on him. He must sense that she had a ridiculous crush on him, and he was trying to subconsciously send her "no fucking way" signals. She knew other students looked down their nose on the weird poor girl, too, but TJ was the one she felt it from. It must be annoying for his friends to be asking her to join their social events.
"Yeah. It does bother me," he said, his eyes narrowed, brow furrowed. He breathed in hard and blew it out through his nose before glancing up at the clock.
Jen stood there fuming. Screw this guy. There was no point in being attracted to such an asshole any longer. She would be asking Evan to the dance. Maybe it would finally send hot rich boy the message that she was not beneath him.
Yep. Blondes totally had more fun.
Standing in her mother's tiny apartment kitchen, Jen Mackenzie squeezed her eyes shut as she logged onto the bank app on her phone. She muttered a quiet prayer. Please not yet. Please not yet. Please not yet.
Holding her breath, she opened one eye and peeked at the screen. A heavy sigh of relief escaped her lips as she quickly scanned the list of debits and determined the car payment she'd paid online yesterday hadn't yet posted to her account. Her pitiful bank account remained in the black another day. Constantly checking her bank app was an anxiety-laced game she'd been playing more often lately, ever since she'd lost her job at Maple Springs Community Theater, which had finally closed due to federal funding cuts.
She hated being broke all the time, but until her Broadway dreams came true, or that sugar daddy quit evading her, it was probably her destiny. But at least today she could get some gas in her car and make it to work. Tonight she'd leave the Stag with tips from the bar, and Monday was payday, so if everything worked out as planned, she should be all good before that bill posted to her checking account. Score a point for head-barely-above-water Jen.
Realizing it had been a half hour since her mother went into the bathroom to shower, Jen walked down the hall and tapped on the door. "Everything okay, Mom?"
"I'm fine. I had trouble shampooing my damn hair."
Jen frowned. She'd thought her mom had seemed a little stronger today when she'd shown up for her daily check-in. Clearly, after watching her mother battle cancer for the past year or so, she'd lost all perspective of what the woman looked like on a good day. Considering she'd given up her favorite hobbies — drinking and smoking — when she received her diagnosis, one would have thought her mother would feel better. Like a new person. But although Jen was so proud of her mom for making that lifestyle change, sometimes she wanted to bring her a bottle of vodka from work. You know, just to see her smile again. Or stop being a total bitch.
So far, Jen had refrained from being the ultimate enabler. For now.
Instead she took the brunt of her mother's frustration with life. Checking on her daily even though she was ungrateful, bossy, and irritable. Some days the woman didn't even have the strength to get out of bed, and while Jen had urged her to discuss depression with her doctor, she didn't think it had happened.
It wasn't that she and her mom had experienced an ideal mother-daughter relationship up until this point. Quite the contrary — except for when things were going well in Diane's life. But Jen had secretly hoped the diagnosis would inspire a change in their tumultuous relationship. So far, no dice.
"Do you need help?" Jen said to the closed door.
"No. Said I'm fine."
Excerpted from "Maybe This Time"
Copyright © 2018 Nicole McLaughlin.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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 truly loved this book and the chance to read it. I am anxious now for more stories surrounding this group.
I read for a honest review for St.Martin's Press and NetGalley. I just finished her other book Should've Been You another great book.Love the storyline between T.J and Jen,he's been hiding his feelings for her ,for a long time will he come out and finally tell her how he feels with everything she ha going on with her life,you will have to go 1-click this book and find out.Beautiful cover.
Maybe This Time by Nicole McLaughlin Whiskey & Weddings #2 Jen McKenzie and T.J. Lawrence have known and had crushes on one another since middle school. The timing has never been right before but after fifteen years of interest unfulfilled it seems the time might finally be time for the two of them to get together. So, with T.J. breaking up with his current girlfriend and Jen not with anyone the two start the mating dance with bickering and b*tching and eventually a bit of romance, support, trust, caring and sharing. Jen and T.J. both have had issues with their parents though I never really got to the meat of why the two and their parents were not close. Jen has always had the dream of being on Broadway and does have talent but it has, for the most part, not panned out for her and instead she has been on the small stage and teaching closer to home while T.J. has done well in business and with the distillery and is ready to put roots down. I am not sure why Jen and T.J. are so attracted or why they have not acted on the interest but when they do it seems to work for them and all comes out right in the end…perhaps too easily, in fact. I enjoyed catching up with T.J, Dean and Jake and wonder how Alex, Dean’s sister, will do in the future. Charlotte’s ex, John, was mentioned in passing and I wonder if he will have a book of his own eventually, too. All in all this was an alright story of a woman that pretty much put herself first until she needed to step up in a bigger way for her not so appreciative mother it was also the story of two people that have wanted to be close but never felt the timing was right before. Jen was not as hard or as easy as she appeared to be in parts of the book just as T.J. was not as uptight and nerdy as Jen thought he was. Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the ARC – This is my honest review. 3-4 stars
Maybe This Time is the second book in Nicole McLaughlin's Whiskey and Wedding series. I love this series! The guys own a boutique distillery and wedding venue and not only are they good-looking, they are truly nice guys. No matter the occupation I love to read about "nice guy" heroes. This book features TJ Laughlin and Jen Mackenzie, bartender and temporary event coordinator for the wedding venue part of the business. These two have known each other since they were in school. Funny thing.... thay have had a crush on each other since their school days although neither one admitted it to the other. I enjoyed seeing Jen and TJ finally get together and fall in love. There's so much happening along the way I think readers will enjoy following along as they find their way to happiness. Can't wait for the next book in the series!
Well, this time around I simply didn’t get what I bargained for, my fellow romance book loving friends. Having enjoyed book 1, Maybe I Do, I had high hopes this would be a similar themed read. Jen, the heroine, just didn’t win me over. She had me disliking her the first moment she opened her sarcastic mouth and flew someone the middle finger. Snarky and acting like a snob in her poverty just aren’t traits I find attractive or endearing in a leading lady. Knowing she had hooked up previously one time with a close friend/co-worker of TJ, the hero, and her’s didn’t help either. Throw in the fact TJ is dating/sleeping with another woman while being attracted to Jen, and I wanted out before I was really in this one, folks. At 40%, I also realized I wasn’t overly fond of TJ’s insecurities and whining about his deadbeat biological daddy drama past. The only good thing you can say is Jen’s life is such a hot mess just being around her makes TJ realize his circumstances aren’t so bad afterall. By 50%, I realized I was finding this couple exhausting to listen to/be around. Even some of the subcharacters got on my nerves (i.e., Jen’s mom). It’s pretty sad when you find yourself more intrigued by a hot guy Jen flirted with while TJ was nearby on a date with someone else. I’m sure everything works out swell for this main couple. After all, it took 15 years for them to finally decide to take a chance on each other. I wish this author all the best and hope others enjoy their story. I simply couldn’t justify seeing it through to the very end. Maybe next time will be different in book 3, Maybe for You. Title: Maybe This Time, Series: Whiskey and Weddings (Book 2), Author: Nicole McLaughlin, Pages: 300, stand-alone but part of a series, snarky heroine, too cowardly in the past to ask her out, OW drama, brief OM wants to date her drama, exhausting/bickering couple. Book 1 - Maybe I Do (Charlotte and Dean Book 2 - Maybe This Time (Jen and TJ) Book 3 - Maybe for You - Not yet released (I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced reader copy of this book via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own. I was not given any payment or compensation for this review, nor is there any affiliation or relationship between this reviewer and the author/publisher/NetGalley.)
You can read this book as a stand alone. I enjoyed getting to know Jen and TJ in this book. Jen has a LOT of insecurities and hides behind a snarky attitude. Jen and TJ have loved each other for many years but both have been to afraid to do anything about it. Finally TJ shows that he has feeling for Jen but she does almost anything in her power to not believe it. It takes a long time for her to overcome her insecurities but hey what fun would the book be if it didn't have conflict. The book has a HEA so enjoy the read of reading this book before you get to the end, it's worth it. *Thank you NetGalley for allowing me to read this for my honest review*
4.5 Stars! Maybe This Time by Nicole McLaughlin, is the second book that I have read recently with one of the title characters having the first name of TJ. In this book, TJ Laughlin is a smart and good-looking guy that co-owns The Stag, along with his his equally handsome brothers. The Stag is both an upscale distillery and premier wedding venue in Kansas City. Jen Mackenzie has known TJ since high school and she now works for him. Her uncanny ability to make people feel comfortable, has made her indispensable to The Stag, as a bartender, receptionist, and now a wedding planner. Jen is a smart and beautiful woman, but life has not been kind to her or her ailing mother. She and TJ have crushed on each other for years, but up until recently have never acknowledged their feelings for each other. This is an absorbing and nicely written novel. Jen and TJ share an amazing chemistry, and Ms. McLaughlin does an excellent job of creating sexual tension, longing, and desire. The genuineness and strength of the secondary characters adds an extra believable quality to the story. This is the second book from Ms. McLaughlin's Whisky and Weddings series, and it can be totally enjoyed as a standalone. I read book one, Maybe I Do, and loved it. Overall, this is a captivating read that will keep you engaged from start to finish. Complimentary copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.
Jen is the type of person that I strive to be. Her resilience is extraordinary. Despite life's punches, she never gives up hope. She doesn't wait for good things to come her way, she tries to make them happen for herself. Insecurities be damned. Too bad the blows are coming quicker than she can fend them off. The biggest one? TJ Laughlin. TJ is the one man who can bring her to her knees. He brings all her self-doubt to the surface. Can the one person who sees through the pain, show her how to rise above it? Maybe This Time is a delightful tale of optimism, love and inspiration. Something that we all need at one time or another. A pick me up.