Mixed Signals

Mixed Signals

by Diane Barnes

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Overview

"A snappy tale with sweet undertones." -Kirkus Review

Getting dumped is never easy, but there’s a special bonus sting if your ex-fiancé is a producer for a popular morning radio show. Jillian Atwood’s breakup with Nico has become the hosts’ number-one topic. They’re even running a competition to find him a new girlfriend. The entire population of Boston, it seems, is tuning in with an opinion about who Nico should date next—and what Jillian should do to get over him.
 
Jillian’s co-worker, Ben, has his own ideas on that score. He hates seeing Jill depressed over a guy as unworthy as her ex. While he’s providing a friendly ear, he's also realizing how much more he’d like to offer. And if Jill could just get over the man who broke her heart, she might find the one who’s perfectly equipped to heal it...

Praise for Diane Barnes’ Waiting for Ethan
 
“The novel’s surprising twist gives the story a satisfying conclusion that makes Gina’s struggle to find Mr. Right worth the wait. Fans of romantic beach-reads will find that this book’s charismatic heroine makes it an engrossing page-turner.”--Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616507909
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 09/27/2016
Sold by: Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 788,087
File size: 993 KB

About the Author

Though she always dreamed about being the shortstop for the Boston Red Sox, Diane Barnes is a marketing writer in Massachusetts. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. She participates in two monthly writing groups and regularly attends novel writing workshops in Boston and Worcester, Massachusetts. Readers can visit her website at www.dianebarnes.com.

Read an Excerpt

Mixed Signals


By Diane Barnes

KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

Copyright © 2016 Diane Barnes
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61650-791-6


CHAPTER 1

"Have you set a date?" The phone line crackles with my mother's excitement. It's our regular Saturday morning call, and it's the first time we've spoken since Nico moved out. I twist the diamond around my left finger, thinking about how to respond.

My landlord, Mr. O'Brien, is the only one who knows Nico's gone. He left last Sunday, exactly twenty-three days after giving me the ring. Packed all his belongings in the back of his pickup during halftime and drove off near the end of the fourth quarter, minutes after Tom Brady was sacked. Mr. O'Brien watched the whole thing from his living room window. After Nico drove away, he came out to the walkway where I was standing and trying not to cry. He pointed to an oil spot where Nico's truck had been. "If he comes back, you tell him no more parking in the driveway."

"Jillian, are you still there?" my mother asks.

I take a deep breath and relax my shoulders. "We haven't set a date yet."

"I guess it will depend on the reception hall." I hear pages turning and imagine her flipping through a calendar. "Dad and I are thinking of coming next month. I have a list of places we can visit."

"Next month's not good." I can feel my underarms getting sticky. "Work is really busy, for me and Nico both."

"You work too hard. Can't you take some time off?"

Outside the sound of a snowblower starting startles me. I walk to my bedroom window and lift the shade. There are about five inches on the driveway that Mr. O'Brien and his grandson Zachary are clearing, and it's still coming down. I didn't know it was supposed to snow. I guess I haven't been paying attention to the forecast, or anything else, since Nico left. "Come in the spring when the weather is better. Nico will get Dad Red Sox tickets. Up on the Green Monster." Nico produces BS Morning Sports Talk, a Boston-based radio show. Tickets are a perk of his job.

"I think he'd rather see the Bruins," she says.

"We'll take him to a game at the end of the season." Hockey goes for another three months. Nico will be back long before then. He is coming back. I'm sure of it because his favorite coat is still hanging on the back of the kitchen chair. That worn brown leather jacket is as much a part of him as his ever-present razor stubble. He never would have left it here if he didn't plan to return.

"How is Nico?" my mother asks. "Excited about getting married?" Outside, the snowblower stops.

"Nervous." That's not a lie. Why else would he do what he did?

She laughs. "Can I talk to him?"

In the nineteen months that Nico has lived with me, she has never once asked to speak with him. My shirt is now soaked under the arms. I'll have to take a shower when I hang up. "He's not here," I manage to say.

"Where is he?"

"At his sister's." Also true. He called Monday after he left to tell me he's staying with her, his eight-year-old twin nieces, his three-month old nephew, and Baxter, the miniature schnauzer. My doorbell rings. "Mom, I have to go."

I disconnect and rush to open the door. Mr. O'Brien stands there shivering in an unzipped Red Sox winter jacket and his grease-streaked blue baseball cap with the red B. I hold the door open for him to come in. He doesn't move. I swear he's looking at my ring. What he's thinking is so clear that there may as well be a thought bubble floating over his head: Why are you still wearing that? He's gone and not coming back.

Finally he lifts his head. His watery blue eyes meet mine. Every time we talk, I fight the urge to get my tweezers and pull out the wiry dark hairs that stick straight out of his bushy white eyebrows.

"I need you to move your car to the end of the driveway." He trudges back across the porch without waiting for me to answer.

The first six or so years that I lived on the left side of Mr. O'Brien's duplex, he liked me. Gave me tomatoes from his garden every summer and a break on my rent every Christmas. The day after Nico moved in, he stopped me on the staircase to the basement, where I was heading to do my laundry. "He's living with you now?" His expression and tone were the same as my mother's the day I told her I wanted to quit piano lessons. "More wear and tear on the property. Higher water bills. I'm going to have to raise your rent." He tugged on the bill of his dirty Red Sox cap. "Two hundred more a month."

"Two hundred!" It was a 25 percent increase.

"Okay, one fifty."

So now I pay more and don't get any tomatoes or December discounts.

I bundle up in my ski coat, hat, gloves, and boots and head outside to move my car and help Mr. O'Brien and Zachary with the shoveling. We didn't have to worry about snow removal last winter because Nico has a plow on his truck. He needs it because he leaves for work at four thirty in the morning and has to go in regardless of the road conditions. His show never gets canceled. Boston loves to talk sports.

"Where's your boyfriend with the plow?" Zachary asks. His voice is much deeper than I remember, and he must have had a growth spurt since the summer because he towers over me and his grandfather now.

Mr. O'Brien is bending over the snowblower, about to pull the cord that starts it. He straightens.

"He's away." I'm focusing so hard on clearing the snow from my windshield that you'd think the task requires a doctorate.

"I hope he's back before the next storm," Zachary says.

Me too.

* * *

When I go back inside, I have a message from my best friend, Rachel, inviting me and Nico to her house for dinner. Rachel has called four times since he left. I've ignored all her messages instructing me to call her back. I don't want to tell her about Nico because she'll hold it against him long after he returns. Rachel didn't think it was a good idea for me to let Nico move in, not without a ring. When the one-year anniversary of Nico's move-in date passed with no mention of marriage, she told me I needed to give him a deadline. I didn't, but I did tell him what Rachel said.

"What kind of deadline?" he asked. He was watching a baseball game, and he didn't take his eyes off the television.

"If you don't propose within six months, she wants me to kick you out."

"Damn it, no!" he yelled.

"I'm just telling you what she said."

He climbed out of his recliner and headed toward the kitchen for another beer. As he passed me, he said, "He walked the bases loaded and then Sandoval swings on the first pitch and hits into a double play. Inning over. No runs."

I turned my attention back to my book, sure he had no idea what I had just told him, but five months later, after he proposed, he winked and said, "Now you don't have to throw me out."

Even though I wouldn't have asked Nico to leave, it was time for us to get engaged. I'm thirty-four. He's thirty-eight. We'd been dating for six years. Rachel says every year spent dating in your thirties is like three years of dating in your twenties because by your thirties, you know exactly what you want. I don't know why she thinks she's such an expert. She got married at twenty-seven and was a mother by twenty-nine. She has three children now and is talking about having a fourth.

The day before Nico moved out, he and I spent the afternoon babysitting Rachel's kids. On the ride home from her house, Nico was uncharacteristically quiet. When we pulled into our driveway, he killed the engine and turned to me. "I don't think I can do this."

The curtains in Mr. O'Brien's living room shifted, and the old man's face appeared in the window. "Do what?"

"The husband, father, family thing."

I pulled my eyes off Mr. O'Brien and turned toward Nico. Even though the truck was parked, he had a death grip on the steering wheel. "What are you talking about?"

"I just —" He stopped talking and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm sorry, Jill." Our eyes met. He had tears in the corners of his. "I don't want to be a father. I'd be lousy at it."

"But you're great with Rachel's kids."

Nico rested his head on the steering wheel. The motion lights clicked off, and the driveway turned dark. I touched his arm. "Hey, it's okay. You have a little case of cold feet. It's normal. I'm nervous too. We'll get through it."

"Yeah," he said. "A minor case of cold feet, that must be what it is." Early in our relationship I might not have recognized his sarcasm, but I was an expert at identifying it now. He opened the driver's door. The lights snapped back on as he stepped onto the driveway. "I wouldn't be a good husband, Jill." He slammed the driver's door with so much force that the entire truck shook. I unbuckled my seat belt but stayed put in the passenger seat, watching Nico as he made his way down the walkway, up the stairs, and across the front porch to our side of the house. If I hadn't seen him just leave the vehicle, I might have thought the retreating image was Mr. O'Brien, the way his shoulders slumped and his back hunched.

We didn't talk anymore about what Nico said that night. When I left for the tennis club just before noon the next day, he was settled on the couch watching the Patriots' pregame show. I got home about two and a half hours later to find his pickup filled with boxes of his belonging and his hideous orange recliner. I wanted to back out of the driveway, race back to the club, and smash fuzzy green balls all over the court.

Instead, I made myself get out of the car and on wobbly legs forced myself to go inside and hear whatever it was he was about to say. Nico was sitting on the couch watching the football game. On television, the sports announcer screamed, "And Brady's sacked. The ball is loose!"

Nico stood. "I'm sorry, Jill. I can't go through with it."

The talking head on TV was still yelling. "Was his arm going forward or was it a fumble?"

"Fumble," Nico said as he walked past me and out the door.

CHAPTER 2

Instead of sleeping, I lie in my suddenly too-big bed staring at the glow-in-the-dark star decals stuck to my ceiling, and replay everything Nico said to me since our engagement. I can't remember anything that even hinted he was unhappy or thinking about leaving. Rachel's kids were a little wild on the day Nico broke the news; her three-year-old, Laurence, cried almost the entire time she was gone. Is that what scared Nico off? On the drive home from Rachel's, we were stopped at a red light; Nico didn't notice it turn green because he was so lost in thought. I had to tell him the light had changed and he could go. Is that when he was deciding to leave, or had he made the decision long before then and was working up the courage to tell me?

Next door, the shower goes on. Without looking at the clock, I know it's ten thirty. Mr. O'Brien gets ready for bed every night at the same time. I don't understand people who bathe before they go to sleep rather than when they wake up. It's something I didn't understand about Nico either; apparently one of many things.

At one o'clock, I give up trying to fall asleep and instead open my book, Growing Up Pedro. Nico gave it to me for Christmas. It's about Pedro Martinez, his all-time favorite Red Sox player. If anything will help me fall asleep, it's this book. I prefer fiction. The next thing I know, my alarm is going off and my book is on the floor. My head pounds so much that I'm sure there are a bunch of little men inside my skull trying to jackhammer their way out. I stagger to the bathroom and open the medicine cabinet. All the shelves are empty except the top one, where a lone box of tampons sits. I slam the door shut, causing it to jump off its track. What kind of jerk takes all the aspirin and cold remedies with him?

Forty minutes later, I make my way across the front porch and down to my car. Mr. O'Brien has already sprinkled sand over the frozen walkway, and his Buick is gone. For a retired guy, he sure gets busy early. I pull my hood over my head before I begin scraping the ice off my Accord. I'm just finishing the back windshield when the tires of Mr. O'Brien's station wagon crunch over the hardened snow at the end of the driveway. Even with his car windows closed, I can hear he's listening to BS Morning Sports Talk. According to Nico, the old man phones into the program at least three times a week using the alias Frank from South Boston. I'm not really sure if the caller is Mr. O'Brien, because his first name is Walter and we live in West Newton, but Nico's convinced it's him by the caller's habit of clearing his throat. Something Mr. O'Brien does regularly when he speaks more than a few words.

"Good morning," I say.

Mr. O'Brien acknowledges me by lifting his Styrofoam Dunkin' Donuts cup in my direction as he plods his way past me. The smell of coffee makes me wish he had brought one for me, something he sometimes did before Nico moved in. When he reaches his front door, he calls out, "Did he leave his key?"

I throw the ice scraper into my backseat, feeling like I missed part of this conversation. "Who?"

"Who?" He repeats it in a way that makes me feel like the dumbest person in the world. He clears his throat. "The young man who's been living in my house with you."

"No."

Mr. O'Brien sighs loudly before slamming his door.

* * *

On the drive to work, I tune into Nico's show as I do every morning. The hosts, Sean Branigan and Barry Smyth, aren't discussing sports. Instead, they're insulting a female sideline reporter who covered one of the playoff football games over the weekend. "She's hideous," Smyth says.

"How many times do you think she hit the concession stands during the game?" Branigan asks.

My jaw locks. I don't like these guys. Then it occurs to me: I don't have to listen to them — not until Nico comes home anyway. I smile as I change the radio to another station. Take that, Nico! You just lost a listener. I keep changing channels until a song I like comes on. I sing along with Taylor Swift about haters hating.

I'm still singing when I lower my window to order coffee at the drive-thru window. "Shake it off and order," the voice from the speaker says.

* * *

As I walk across the pedestrian bridge that leads from the parking garage to my office building, an icy gust of wind stings my face. I lower my head and run the rest of the way. When I enter the lobby, I tell myself that I need to be on my game today. In addition to changes in my personal life, my professional life is unstable as well. The company I work for, CyberCrimeBusters, was recently acquired by a venture capital firm, which immediately changed our name to Cyber Security Consultants. Clients hire us to assess the security of their websites and technology applications. Basically they pay us to hack into their systems and close up the holes that allowed us to do so. Our new owners have big plans for expanding our business, starting with refining our brand. As one of a four-person marketing team, I have a lot of work to do to change the company's image. My coworkers are Renee Boudrot, who, like me, is a writer, and Ben Colby, the graphic designer. The three of us report to Stacy Taylor, who is the vice president of marketing.

Now, as I board the elevator, Ryan and Tyler, two twenty-something salesmen, get on with me. "Tell Nico great show today," Tyler, the light-haired one, says. My body tenses at the mention of Nico's name. In the four years I've worked here, he has attended every holiday party with me and several of our frequent after-work outings. The sports fans among my colleagues are impressed by his job. All night long, they buy him drinks and talk about Boston's teams. Most of the men outside Sales and Marketing don't know me as Jillian Atwood but instead think of me as that girl who dates the guy who produces BS Morning Sports Talk.

The elevator stops. "Any chance you can hook me up with tickets to Friday's Celtics game?" Ryan, the tall one, asks as we all step out onto the fourth floor.

"Sorry, no." If Nico doesn't come back, my coworkers and I will mourn together.

At the entrance to my section of the building, I fumble through my purse for my access badge. When I find it, I hold it up to the card reader, and the door clicks open. As I walk by row after row of dull gray cubes, I hear the slogan for BS Morning Sports Talk coming from several of them: "The number-one-rated sports talk show in New England — and that's not BS."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Mixed Signals by Diane Barnes. Copyright © 2016 Diane Barnes. 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.

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Mixed Signals 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked this author's book Waiting for Ethan better but this book had a good couple and quirky secondary characters (like Jill's landlord) just as her other book did. I was a little uncomfortable with Jill's purposeful bad tennis call, her attempt to use Ben, and her willingness to stick with Nico for 6 years before insisting on a commitment so I liked Ben better than Jill.. But all in all, it was well-written and I will definitely buy another book if she keeps writing.
Anlenhart1 More than 1 year ago
Mixed Signals was the story of a heart wrenching breakup between Jillian and her ex-fiancee Nico. Jillian is an average working girl, who had been dating Nico for 6 years, the recently got engaged, and unfortunately he got cold feet. Nico moves out, leaving Jillian desperately hoping he will change his mind. Jillian is friends with Nico's famous sport's radio boss, and after a run in at a tennis tournament- she becomes enemy number one. Nico is now featured on the show as single and looking for a new girlfriend. Jillian can't move on, but realizes that her future is not what she planned. After she accepts this, Jillian realizes that her coworkers and friends support her and are willing to help build a new life. So Ben emerges as a friend with the possibility of more... Will Jillian be able to put her baggage aside and move forward with a new relationship? I have mix feelings about this book. The heroine was very relate-able, but I became frustrated with her angst and unwillingness to move on or communicate. It was a good book, but not always enjoyable to read. I was given a free copy for an honest review.
BooksAndSpoons More than 1 year ago
No, breakups are never easy, especially after a longer relationship. They often take a toll on the people, sometimes even affecting the people around the couple separating. This story is a somber and wistful tale of the end of Jillian and Nico's relationship after six years together and three weeks engaged. It is told in the first person from Jillian's point of view only, and we get to live with her through all the angst, sorrow, sadness, doubts, the first laughs after the split, the disaster that follows with the radio station, the pining after Nico, the hopes for them coming back together, the rejections, the anger, all the crazy that can happen after a very public breakup, all the thoughts that are in her mind for several months that follow. The dark cloud does have the silver lining, Ben. But it takes time for Jillian to be able to move on, and get over Nico, the years they were together, the humiliation of the whole town knowing what is going on in her life. And even though Ben is there for support and some flirts, the story's focus is on moving on from the breakup, getting over the past, and learning to accept what happened. I didn't know if I should have laughed or cried for the desperation of the dating world for the thirty-somethings wanting a relationship. I am aware it's not easy, and not making fun of it in any form, but the dread Jillian had was written with humor and made me want to laugh out loud. With the different twist to a romance story, being more about breakup and development from the devastation of it, than the development of a relationship, it really wasn't for me, or for my taste. That said, I am sure there are many who will enjoy it. I just didn't like to be stuck in Jillian's head with the first person point of view. I guess this story is a great example of what can happen when a relationship goes on for years without commitment one of the party wants and needs, in a way reminding me of the movie He Just Not That Into You. With the silver lining shining, the author gave a satisfying and pleasing storyline of the worst case scenario of a breakup turning into a blessing and growing moment in life ~ Three Spoons
CathyGeha More than 1 year ago
Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This one is hard for me to rate. The writing was well done, the characters developed so well that I felt I knew them, the plot lined up perfectly, the romance was there BUT I did not get Jillian. I liked her in some ways but just could not figure out how she could invest so much time in Nico. Then, the lingering angst post breakup that lasted months with her hoping he would return while she grieved, lied to herself and others and was unwilling to move on just did not make sense to me. Then again, I was always one to know almost immediately whether or not I could spend time with someone and usually moved on within a month knowing when it would not work. I would never have spent years in a relationship waiting for a man that did not want me enough to commit. Other than that small thing I have to say that it was an enjoyable read that told of the pain Jillian was feeling. Her life was played out for the reader to see in all of its glory and despair. Her friends were true, her work colleagues provided balance, Nico was scum and the men he worked for were lower than scum. I loved Walter, her landlord, and felt he was a wonderful man with wisdom I would have liked to access. And Ben…perfect book boyfriend material. I really liked him from the beginning - even though he was a bit of a player. He just might be too good for Jillian UNLESS there was more to her than the unhappy woman she was through most of the book. (3.5 Stars)