Declan James has been Brockton Point’s most ineligible bachelor—happy with his short-term relationships and focusing on his business. But now that his closest friends have found their happily-ever-afters, he can’t help but wonder what that might be like. And then Sophia Strombi shows up on his doorstep.
Sophia’s life is—well there’s no other word for it—a mess. She’s grateful to have some work at her brother’s best friend’s bar, and a place to stay. Since she’s working hard to get her life back on track, she’s desperately trying to ignore the fact her boss makes her heart pound in a good way. Wait—no. That’s not good at all.
Besides, she has a huge secret she’s keeping from everyone—one that’s a life-changer.
Each book in the Love Unexpected series is STANDALONE:
* Let It Be Me
* Never Expected You
* Story of Us
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Making resolutions, New Year's or otherwise, was not Sophia Strombi's typical operating procedure. She was more of a flee-thetown-she-was-born-in-and-gobble-life-up-whole girl. Now, at twenty-eight, she was back in her hometown, terrified to go to her parents' house and tell them that they'd been right.
"They weren't right. Not about everything," she reminded herself. She closed her eyes and breathed in, filling her lungs with Maine's frigid winter air. It was a shock to the system after being in Arizona for the last several years.
You're stalling. Staring at the back door of On Dec, a popular Brockton Point pub, she willed herself to knock. She was back, but knocking on this door was the first step to making it real.
"I'm trying really hard to let you wrestle with whatever decision it is wrapping you in knots, but I'm freezing my ass off, and I really need to get inside my bar," a deep, sexy, somewhat gravelly voice said behind Sophia.
She whipped around and came face to face with the past. Not her past. As if she'd ever been that lucky. Declan James stood on the stairs leading up the back of the two-story building, his thick, tattooed biceps folded over his chest. He wore a black T-shirt and dark jeans that fit him like they'd been designed to mold around his long, thick thighs. If you drool right now, it's cold enough to freeze.
"Make a decision, lady. You need something?" He came down the steps until he was standing in front of her. She had to tip her head back to reach his gaze.
When she met it, his dark eyes widened, and he whispered, "No way."
She smiled and nodded.
"Jesus Christ. Sophia?"
She nodded again. The smile that transformed his face sucked the air from her lungs. It also chased away some of the panic whirling like a helicopter in her stomach.
Before she could rethink it, she threw her arms around him and held on tight. It wasn't until his strong arms folded around her that she realized how much she'd needed a hug. And there was nothing quite like a Declan James hug. Being held close by him made her feel like she'd fallen into an alternate universe where everything negative simply fell away. It was a strange combination of safe and sexy and completely overwhelming.
Before she could do something embarrassing, like burst into tears for no reason, she pulled back. She hated how close to the surface her emotions were.
Declan dropped his hands as if her skin were on fire. He shoved them in his pockets and frowned. "What are you doing here? I thought you were out west living with some guy?"
Awesome. Bet my parents told that story with pride. She shivered, and Declan pulled a key out of his pocket, unlocked the heavy metal door, and motioned for her to get inside.
It took a minute for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. Declan touched the small of her back in that way guys did — it meant nothing, she knew — but it warmed her immediately.
"There was more to it than some guy," she said, trying not to sound defensive. They walked past bathrooms and two rooms that read Employees Only.
"Right. Marc said you were doing marketing or something," he added.
The mention of her brother notched up her guilt, but it slipped away when they stepped out of the hallway. To her right was a gorgeous long wood-paneled bar that shone like the sun on ice. Sophia stilled, her breath trapped in her lungs. Could a pub be beautiful? She turned her head to see the black padded leather booths, the dark wood tables in a mix of rectangles, squares, and circles. The tables had high-backed chairs, and the benches sported plush black cushions. A brick facade behind the bar gave the pub a unique charm, and the far end of the pub had a small stage and what was likely a dance floor. It smelled like polish and something sweet.
To the left, a rectangular pass peeked into the kitchen, a swinging door beside it. She wondered how many wait and kitchen staff he had. Enough to need a manager and someone to offset his workload, according to her brother.
"You going to say anything?"
When Sophia turned to face him, she wasn't positive, but she thought she caught a hint of uncertainty in his tone.
"Declan, this is incredible. Marcus said you'd opened up a neighborhood pub, but this" — she said, gesturing with her hand and ungluing her feet from the spot where she still stood — "this is beautiful. It's elegant but homey. Friendly and welcoming." She already had a dozen ideas swimming in her marketing brain. One step at a time. Most days, Sophia didn't feel like she belonged anywhere, but when it came to promotions and marketing, her confidence soared.
Shoving his hands back in his pockets, he tipped his head and gave her a smile that made her forget — for one second — that she was off men.
"Marc said you traveled a lot and tended to like the big cities, so I'll take it as a compliment that you think my place is nice."
She grinned and shook off the haze of unwanted attraction. It was nothing. She was only human, and Declan James was enough to test the restraint of a monk. "More than nice. It's gorgeous."
They stared at each other a moment, and she was transported back in time to when she'd wanted to be one of the girls Declan James helped onto the back of his bike. She'd wanted to ride off and never come back because she was sure that was the only way she'd feel free. She hadn't ever gotten on the back of his bike, but she had escaped, and sadly, it hadn't ever felt the way she'd hoped it would.
"What are you doing, Sophia? Does your family know you're here? Marcus didn't say anything to me." He moved behind the bar and started what she assumed was prep work for opening.
Stop stalling. "They don't know."
He froze, hand in midair. "Your dad doesn't strike me as the type who likes surprises. And I know they were pretty sad you didn't make it home for Christmas again this year." He resumed his task, grabbing lemons and limes and setting them on a cutting board on the counter below the bar top.
Her heart muscles tightened painfully with his words. She knew she hurt them. Repeatedly. But having others know sucked.
"It's not always easy to get away for the holidays," she said lamely, boosting herself up onto one of the stools. Especially when she'd spent most of her holidays preparing to come home. Disappointment had dripped heavily during conversations with both of her parents over the holidays. She'd wanted to tell them she was coming home for good soon enough, but a small piece of her had feared they'd gloat over being right.
He glanced up through thick lashes and arched his brows. He knew she was full of it.
"I didn't want to come back before I'd made a name for myself," she said, staring at the shiny surface of the bar.
She heard him set the knife down but didn't expect his hand to cover hers. She looked up, her heart jolted, and she told it to settle down. She'd come here for one reason, and she needed to get that out. As soon as the heat of his hand stopped distracting her brain. And her senses.
"You have a name. It's a good one."
She pulled her hand from under his. "I wanted my own name. One that didn't come with familial expectations and scrutiny."
"You find it?" He went back to slicing.
"So, I'll ask you again, Sophia, what are you doing here? And I don't mean here in Brockton Point, since it's your home no matter how far you run. What are you doing here, in my bar?"
Taking a deep breath that smelled of the limes and lemons he chopped, she exhaled sharply. She'd prepared for this, knew what she wanted to say and how to make him take her seriously. Knowing that didn't stop the wicked pounding of her heart in her throat. "I'm here for a job. I want to work for you, and before you say no, let me just say, you won't be sorry."
As the words tumbled from her lips, she said a silent prayer that they were true. That, even though she couldn't be one hundred percent honest, she'd be able to make giving her a chance worthwhile for both of them.CHAPTER 2
Declan had his own list of life rules. He'd never written them down or any shit like that, but they were as ingrained in his head as the ink was on his arms. Top of the list — even before he'd started thinking about wanting to settle down — was not hooking up with any females related to any of his buddies. With just a few close pals and his best friend being an only child, this had never been an issue.
Shouldn't be one now. But as Sophia Strombi stared at him with those big, heart-stopping chocolate brown eyes, he couldn't help but think that karma was a bitch. She was as off-limits as a woman could get for him. Personally and, hell, professionally, even though that was a loose connection at the moment.
"Why would you want to work here?" There were many other questions he wanted to ask her — like who'd broken her heart, since it was obvious someone had. There was a hint of sadness underscoring her tone, and the look in her eyes and the way it twisted his heart surprised him.
He hadn't seen her since she was about eighteen, and he sure as hell didn't remember her being so straightforward and full of fire. Or sexy. The way her eyes locked on his and her hip jutted out just a bit. Her shoulders were straight back with all that luscious hair tumbling over them. Christ, without even trying, she was sexier than any woman he'd met. But underneath all that, there was a vulnerability that made him want to tug her close and hang on tight.
"The first reason is I need a job," she said, a quiet smile taking over her full lips.
"Your family owns one of the longest-running, most successful businesses in town. Your dad has always wanted you there."
She tapped her fingertips on his bar, drawing his gaze to her delicate hands. A thought of them on his skin jumped into his head, searing his brain. Get a grip, man. For months now, he'd been coming to terms with the fact that he'd outgrown casual hookups and string-free relationships, though he never thought he'd see the day he felt this way. That he'd want things he never had before. He hadn't even said the words out loud to his best friend yet — mostly because his friend would laugh his ass off and then support him fully — but Declan wanted to find his person. That person is not Sophia Strombi. For more reasons than he had time to list.
But the fire burning in his gut, just from the look of her, from the sound of her voice, and that look in her eyes was something he hadn't felt in, maybe, ever. You are going into business with her brother. Reminding himself didn't douse the burn.
"I don't want to work for my dad. I didn't want to for the five years I had to before I turned eighteen. I sure as hell didn't want to when I hit eighteen, and I don't want to now. Plus, I know you're looking for a manager."
He frowned at her, wondering how she knew that. Marcus didn't talk about Sophia much. The time they spent together lately focused solely on the craft beer recipe they were perfecting.
Scooping the limes into one bowl and the lemons into another, he washed his hands. "You talked to Marcus?"
She nodded. "I talk to him more than any of the others. More lately since he's been asking me for marketing ideas for the craft beer you two are working on." She smiled, but it was self-deprecating. "Plus, he's worried about my dad's reaction to the news, and as the family disappointment, I'm the easiest to unload on."
Dec's stomach knotted at the sadness in her tone. From where he stood, Sophia was about as far from a disappointment as he could imagine. He knew the Strombi patriarch — Pops, to everyone who knew him — was old-school and believed each of his four kids should be part of the family business. Their pizza joint had been part of Brockton Point longer than Declan had been alive. From what he'd heard, though, all the youngest Strombi was guilty of was forging her own path. Since he had a little experience with doing the same, he fell more on the side of admiration for her.
He came around the bar, drying his hands on a cloth. He took the seat beside her and tried to ignore how sweet she smelled. How damn good she looked. It humbled him to admit that the little hitch in his heart when her gaze held his was more about her than the fact that he hadn't had a date in forever. He didn't recognize anything going on inside of him right now, but knew he needed to turn whatever the hell it was off.
"Sounds like you have a lot of fences to mend," he said, holding the eye contact, trying to get a more accurate read on her thoughts.
Sophia's head dipped down. Her long dark curls cascaded around her shoulders and her face. Declan nudged her face up using two fingers under her chin. He dropped his hand and waited. There was too much to get tangled up in here. The last thing he needed was to complicate his twenty-plus-year friendship with this woman's brother and the new business venture they were embarking on.
"I know. I'm back home to stay, Dec. I need a job. Marcus was talking about how serious you guys are about brewing your own beer, not just for your businesses, but others in the area. He said you were looking for someone to hold down the fort here and he was trying to find a way to break it to my dad. I came here first. I don't want to show up at my parents' house and tell them that I lost my fiancé and my job in one day. Or that I didn't notice said fiancé was stealing money from me, so I'm basically starting over. Or that they were right and running off wasn't the way to prove I'd grown up."
Her voice cracked, and his heart joined in. Shit. Anger coursed through him at the thought of some jackass hurting her or using her. Unsure how to comfort her without touching her, he put an arm around her shoulder, telling himself side-hugs were totally within boundaries. But it felt awkward since everything inside of him ached to wrap her in his arms. For comfort. Just like I would for any other woman I care for platonically. Except he didn't feel lust or attraction when he gave his buddy's wife or her best friend a hug. Nope. When he hugged them, his heart beat normally. Not like the rapid-fire rate it was doing now. Shit.
Whatever rules Declan had would be ruthlessly tested if she talked him into hiring her. On the other hand, he couldn't stand the thought that she'd finally come home and felt like she couldn't go home.
"Don't cry, Sophia." He ran a hand down her hair, wanting to tangle his fingers in it. Think of her like a sister. Tears usually scared him a little, but with her, he just wanted to make her feel better. No matter what it took. Because you've known her for her whole life.
She sniffled and pulled back. "Sorry. This is completely unprofessional."
Declan tugged a lock of her hair. "Good thing it's not a job interview. Just two friends catching up."
Like she'd infused steel into her spine, she stiffened and folded her hands in her lap. "As much as I could use a friend, I didn't come to catch up. Was Marcus correct when he said you were hiring?"
Declan nodded. "I'm trying to spend less of my life in this bar. Things are good. Better than good. Your brother and I have been working on this recipe for the better part of a year. We've got it now, and we're ready to test it out." It was just one of the ways he'd embraced looking forward. It kept his thoughts from circling over the fact that he'd bought a house by the ocean, hoping that would soothe the unfamiliar emptiness that had recently taken up residence in his chest. "I'm looking for more than a manager."
What he really wanted was someone who could take on a management role when he wasn't around, take over the office tasks even when he was around, and help him expand his business. On Dec was his pride and joy. But it wasn't like he'd gone to business school. He knew he could use some help in the publicity department. Particularly since Brockton Point was not the tiny town it once was.
Sophia grinned, all traces of the unsure woman he'd just glimpsed gone. "I can do more than manage. I have a double degree in marketing and business management. I'm better than any candidate you'll interview, and you know you can trust me. I have insight into how to help with marketing, promotion, and building your business. On top of that, I come from a large Italian family, so wrangling your tipsy patrons will be a piece of cake."
Declan laughed, charmed by her enthusiasm. While a minute ago he was cursing fate for bringing this woman to him when he was looking for the perfect partner, maybe he'd been wrong. Maybe Sophia was exactly what he needed. What your bar needs. Not you.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Story of Us"
Copyright © 2019 Jody Holford.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
this is totally a me thing, and i know it doesn't bother others, and i know that this stuff really happens and life is messy and there are many ways to love. but (and this is probably a spoiler) stories that have main characters pregnant with not the hero's baby aren't my particular jam. (end spoiler) and as soon as i realized this was the secret that sophia was keeping in the story of us i had a super hard time staying with this. and i swear it's something i wish i could just get over. i don't know why it just doesn't do it for me. there is so much to like here. declan is like a perfect dreamboat, and he has been one throughout the series. so, of course, he would love sophia and her secret. he's that kind of guy. and while i didn't fully understand where sophia was coming from at times, it's true that her family dynamics were complicated and fed into a lot of her issues. these characters are fully realized and i did like them together a lot. i just...in the end, it's more that this type of story isn't for me. and usually if i'm aware of it from the get-go i don't request them. but because it was supposed to be a twist, it's not immediately obvious, so i'm sorry about that. i usually love this author, it's just this particular story didn't work for me for #reasons. **the story of us will publish on march 18, 2019. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/entangled publishing (amara) in exchange for my honest review.
**I got this book sent to me from Entangled Publishing for my honest review ** I really enjoyed this book. It was funny, cute, and well, romantic. So it checked all the boxes. There were a few issues I had but nothing too major. Overall, it was really good and I would like to read more from this author.
Sophia has returned to her home town after a bad break-up. Her boss was also her boyfriend and when things went bad she lost everything that was keeping her away from home. Sophia may have moved back to town, but she’s not ready to face her family just yet. Declan is a friend of her brothers and a long term crush. She needs a job but what she finds is a place to call home. Declan is ready to settle down, the problem is he’s only had short term relationships for so long he’s afraid nobody will take him seriously. His business has been a big part of his life for so long he hasn’t had time for anyone special. Sophia is more than his friend's little sister. He knows she could be more than a fling, but Declan may get more than he bargained for. *I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
What a beautiful story about acceptance, family, making amends, and love! Let's start with Declan. Seriously, could a man be more perfect. Yes, he is flawed, as we all are, but his heart was always in the right place. The overwhelming urge to know Sophia, then to support her, love her, then to make her his, and showing her all this was so amazing. And for him to be a little insecure about all this, swooning over him for sure. Now for Sophia. I could totally understand her reasons for leaving at 18. She did what she set out to do. I hated the fear and sadness she had when she returned home. Most of the scenes with her family were heart wrenching. But those last ones with her parents were beautiful and truly helped Sophia heal and realize meaningful things. Then Ms. Milford threw in a very sweet and loving epilogue that just made me teary eyed. Loved this story! Especially the part where Sophia handles Marcus, Declan, and Keith! I only wish there was one more scene for Sophia and Marcus. I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the publisher through Netgalley.
Last man standing! Declan James, owner of On Deck, his friends have all found love and Dec is feeling a little left out and lonely. Feels like maybe he's missing something. That something walks through the door in the form of Sophie Strombi who needs a job. Sophia left town 10 years ago, determined not to fall into and under the family business and her over bearing father's thumb. Her brother and Declan are best friends. Sophie put herself through college, got a good job and was in a relationship that crashed and burned, along with her job. Feeling like she needed to head home, that's what she does and seeks out Dec for a job. She also needs a place to live, so Dec offers her that as well. Not ready to face her family yet she's flying under the radar. Declan needs someone to take over the management office, never-ending paperwork and Sophie is the perfect fit and her degree in business and marketing and the easy fit for Dec's business works perfectly. Declan is very supportive of her and doesn't press her to face her family yet. When she finally does, it doesn't end well and she knew it wouldn't; she's never going to work for the restaurant or her father. Just because her sisters and brother do, Sophie has always been the one who needs to spread her wings and not follow suit. Her family is stereotypical Italian in the story, which was a little bothersome to me in the way they were presented. The other factor in the story is that her brother and Declan have been working together on a beer that they want to start marketing and selling. The conflict with Sophie puts a rift between the two guys. Meanwhile we get to see the characters from the previous books, who all like Sophie and she's warmly welcomed. Dec is known as the forever single guy. Sophie has it in her head that Dec is a manwhore and yet the chemistry between the two is flammable. I enjoyed the banter and candor between the two. There's enough tension caused by her family that adds to the story, maybe a little too much, but again that's my feeling. It doesn't take away but neither does it add. There is a wicked twist in the story as well, which I thought Declan handled pretty well. I loved Declan in the previous books, all the characters and storylines were fantastic which sucked me right in to read this one. But for me, this book fell short. Late in the book it seemed that both characters personalites did a complete 180, I felt like a was reading a different book. I loved this series so much and it was great seeing Declan fall hard, but I just needed more. I expected a little more based on the previous books and stellar writing. Jody writes a great story always, this was just a miss for me. 3.5 stars arc from NetGalley and Entangled for an honest review.
Like the rest of the series this is a very warm story. Declan and Sophia build a relationship on a solid foundation looking to the future. They are both aware of the reasons why their relationship shouldn’t work but know that they are meant to be together and are determined to see it through in a mature way. Sophia is also dealing with family drama which makes her life extremely stressful. Declan makes a sexy and totally adorable boyfriend and is able to win over Sophia and her family.
I loved the first two books in this series but Declan and Sophia's story is on a whole other level! Dec is so funny and charming. Watching him fall to his knees for Sophia was beautiful to watch. He went from being a bit of a player to being one of the swooniest heros I've read in a long time. Sophia is smart and fiercely independent. It was heartbreaking to watch her family turn away from her for just being herself but her strength was palpable. I was immediately connected to these two and was rooting for them from the very beginning. I love this series so much and I can't wait to see what's up next. *This is my voluntary review of an advanced reader copy*
It is a sweet and sad kind of story and I enjoyed reading it a lot. Dec and Sophe are both great characters. Sophia is an independent and stubborn woman who doesn't like it when others tell her what to do. She had left home right after school and has been living on her own since then. It is something not acceptable in her family and that has caused her family to be disappointed in her. Now, she is back in her home town. Ready to pick up the pieces of her life but also scared of how her family will take her return. Declan has known Sophia's family all his life. He knows that they are conservative and can be overbearing at times. He is best friends with her brother so when she shows up at his bar he is a little taken aback. On one hand he doesn't want to lose Marcus as a friend and on the other hand, he sees that Sophia needs him more. She brings out his protective side and soon things get more complicated and more dramatic. It's well-written, has an interesting storyline, it's quite romantic too, all in all, a great read if you are looking for a good contemporary romance fiction to read.
Once again Jody Holford gives us an incredible story that is not only a sweet romance but a story that touches on family dynamics and the impact they have on each of us. Declan and Sophia are such an interesting couple and you can't help but cheer for them every step of the way. Declan is the proverbial bachelor type never having a long term relationship but now he's feeling like something is missing from his life. Sophia left town years ago, leaving the stronghold of her family and working hard to make it on her own terms. Circumstances has her returning to her hometown but she refuses to give in to the demands of her father. Could these two be exactly what the other needs? This is a great read and one I think everyone will enjoy. I definitely recommend it.