Jenna Albanese planned it all out at thirteen when she listed the qualities she wanted in her perfect man. Years later, she thought she’d found him. When all she got was a broken heart, Jenna tucked away the boyfriend list—and her belief in happy ever after.
Nate Bayard has a life most people only dream of—he’s a handsome high-caliber polo player and partner in a multibillion dollar business. But as intelligent and confident as he is on the field and in the boardroom, he’s hopeless with women—until he meets the sweet and funny Jenna. She’s just about perfect, and Nate’s determined to make her his. There’s just one little problem. Jenna’s unwelcome past is about to make a comeback.
For Jenna, overcoming her mistrust in men—particularly rich ones—isn’t going to be easy. Then she comes across that old boyfriend list and realizes that maybe it’s time for another look and a few changes to bring a brand new beat to her romantic heart.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Boyfriend List
Written by Jenna, Kim, and Joey
1. He should be good-looking. Like really, really cute.
2. He should be friends with my friends.
3. He should talk to me.
4. He should be sweet.
5. He should be funny.
6. He should give hugs.
7. He should hold my hand just because.
8. He should love animals.
9. He should be athletic.
10. He should be smart.
11. He should be honest.
12. He should especially be good at math, since I suck at it.
13. He should kiss like he knows what he’s doing.
14. He should be close to his family.
15. He should get along with my dad.
16. He should be good with his hands.
17. He should think I’m beautiful, even when I’m a mess.
18. He should love little kids.
19. He should trust me with his secrets.
20. He should love me.
Two Years Ago
Some things were so beautiful, they took your breath away.
Jenna Albanese had learned to appreciate such beauty with a camera as her guide, but over the past year, she’d started questioning even what had once seemed plain as day. She questioned what she saw in people and places. She questioned her own judgment.
So before she headed back home to the life she used to lead, to the people who were waiting patiently for her to return, Jenna needed to see that there was still untouched beauty on this earth.
What was that quote? “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Well, Jenna had more than a thousand miles to travel, and the steps she had to take seemed too large and too overwhelming to think about at that moment.
No, this morning there was only the sky and the trees and a future she didn’t want to think about.
Making her way toward the glow, the ground crunched under her feet. There was stillness in the thin air. Quiet, except for the sounds made by a few birds and her footsteps. It wasn’t an isolating quiet, but one that made her think of things bigger and greater than the harshness of life. There was peace, and her heart craved that more than anything else. Looking around at the view through the lens of her camera, Jenna marveled at the world she saw. And she felt relief, because the beauty here was genuine. Perfect. Unspoiled. It gave her something to hold on to. No matter how many times she made her way up the twisty mountain road, no matter how many times she stood and saw the Rocky Mountains bathed in new light, regardless of the cynicism she felt in her own heart, here the wonder of nature would never fade. Jenna knew, if nothing else, that God lived on Pikes Peak.
Taking pictures of what would be her last trip to that magnificent summit for a very long time, she took a deep breath and then sighed. How did she come to this place in her life? After being on her own, making her way in the San Francisco art world, having actually made a living with her photographs, Jenna was on her way home to Long Island. There, a job as a teacher awaited her, her old room in her parents’ house was ready, and she was about to start a new chapter in her life.
It wasn’t something she looked forward to. So, sitting on the ground and pulling her knees to her chest, Jenna thought about how much time she could realistically kill before heading home. A few minutes? A day? A week or a month? Forever, maybe?
If only she could stay away forever.
She held the old Canon camera and looked it over. She’d used newer, more sophisticated equipment—marvelous little pieces of technology that did all the thinking—but the old camera was her favorite. It allowed her to play with light and shadow, giving her compositions depth and interest. It was the camera her grandfather gave her when she first learned to take pictures, a hand-me-down that had given her more joy than anything she’d acquired in the past few years.
Wrapping her arms around her legs and resting her chin on her knees, Jenna closed her eyes and let the cool mountain breeze lick at her skin. She sat for a long while and watched the sun come up; it was going to be a beautiful day—sunny, clear, and not too hot. Standing and stretching, Jenna thought about her travel plans. She was going to stop in Denver for a day and then drive home. Home. It was strange to think about Seaford as her home again. With its tidy little split-levels and public beaches; neatly manicured lawns and everything—and everyone—crammed together on uniformed quarter-acre lots.
She missed her loft already.
Three days ago she lived in a luxury condo with a view of the Bay that was an easy walk to her studio down by the water. She could hop in her Jeep and after a short drive be in the mountains or in the desert. The openness of the city and the people had drawn her to the area. She took great pleasure snubbing her suburban roots, and San Francisco made her feel superior in so many ways—independent, creative and more than a little special.
Yeah, I’m real special, she thought. Shaking her head, Jenna climbed in her car and started the long drive down the mountain. An hour and a half to Denver. She’d find a hotel, catch up with some friends for the day, then hit the road tomorrow morning. Sounded like a plan. And it made Jenna a little sick.
He should be good-looking. Like really, really cute.
—#1, Jenna’s Boyfriend List
Nate Bayard stood at the end of the flower-strewn aisle as the woman he’d been falling for since the day he met her walked toward him. She looked perfect. A vision in soft silk and chiffon, her dark hair curled over her shoulders and her eyes twinkled with mischief.
And it was the mischief that he loved most of all.
He admitted to himself right then and there, he was a total goner. He’d be hers forever.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t the groom at this wedding, and Jenna Albanese wasn’t the bride. So unless Nate got up the nerve to do something, to ask her out—hell, even utter more than two sentences to her without sounding like a complete ass—it was destined to stay that way.
“Jenna looks beautiful,” his friend Jason Campbell whispered quietly, in the way people reserve for church.
Nate nodded once, not wanting to look too obvious. Of course he hadn’t taken his eyes off of her, so being subtle wasn’t in the cards today, especially when Jenna made eye contact with him and smiled. God, did she know what that smile did to him?
He looked away, quickly. Perfect, that would send a great message.
This had never happened to him before. Yeah, he dated, sometimes steadily, sometimes a lot, but no woman ever twisted his heart into a pretzel like Jenna.
Best as he could tell, she had no idea he had feelings for her. Most of the time he didn’t even think he was on her radar.
“Take advantage that you’re her partner today, man.” Jason was leaning toward him, still church whispering.
“Dance with her, talk to her.”
“Would you two shut up? I’m getting married here and you ladies are plotting like a couple of twelve-year-olds.” Nothing like a nervous groom to put things in perspective. Owen Kent was one of his oldest friends, and never minced words.
Owen continued to snarl until the organist in the choir loft hit the first chord of “The Wedding March” and every head turned toward the back of the church. Surveying the scene, it was very much like other weddings he’d attended. The ceremony was held in the chapel of a large parish in Oyster Bay. The old stone church was full of charm and history, with its carved oak pews, beamed ceiling, and inlaid wood. Tiffany stained-glass windows, the most striking feature of the chapel, filled the church with color and light.
Nate couldn’t get a glimpse of the bride with everyone standing, but he could see the reaction on Owen’s face. The love his friend had for Kim Torres was something of legend, but Nate wasn’t surprised. Of the three of them, Owen was the one who was larger than life. A marine officer, and a bona fide hero, it was no wonder his friend loved with no bounds.
Nate believed he and Jenna could have a shot at something like that. If he could figure her out.
“God.” Owen breathed out. “She’s so perfect. I can’t screw this up.”
“You won’t,” Jason said, patting his arm. “If I haven’t messed up with Meg, you won’t mess up with Kim.”
That was the moment Nate envied his two best friends. They had it all. He, on the other hand, glanced at Jenna and thought about what he was going to do so he could stop wondering, What if?
Jenna couldn’t get over how beautiful Kim looked. From the minute she stepped into her gown, a frothy concoction of tulle, lace, and crystals, her friend radiated the special beauty that only brides possess. Jenna had snapped a few photos without anyone seeing and she just knew they would be the best ones of the day. The simple excitement and the love she saw on her oldest friend’s face was undeniable. Glancing at her camera, Jenna wondered if she should revive her photography business—maybe do it part time—focusing on weddings, babies, and family portraits. Happy moments.
Moments like the one Kim and Owen were having right now.
Jenna wanted to love someone the way her friends loved each other, but when she’d given her heart in the past, she’d ended up broken and betrayed. Her judgment where men were concerned was not the best. In fact, it downright sucked. So rather than risk her heart, or her friends and her family again, Jenna decided it was best to stay out of the game.
But she was glad Kim didn’t give up. Just seeing Owen’s face as Kim walked down the aisle was proof true love existed, and her friend deserved a man who looked at her like that. Someone who would love her. Owen certainly seemed to fit the bill.
As she was about to redirect her gaze up the aisle, Jenna was drawn in by a pair of soft, sweet hazel eyes. Nate Bayard. The gorgeous, geeky CFO of Reliance Software. He was one of Owen’s best friends and so very out of her league. Which really didn’t matter because she got the sense he didn’t like her much. She’d caught him staring at her often enough in the last couple of days, more than he had in the past six months, but she never got the feeling his attention was flattering.
Like his two partners, Nate was tall, just a hair over six feet, she guessed, but unlike Jason’s polished elegance or Owen’s dark, brooding smolder, Nate was more boy-next-door. He was handsome, no doubt. With his wide-set hazel eyes, angular bone structure, strong chin, and light golden-brown hair, Nate was very nice to look at. And the body—whoa—the way the man filled out a suit should be deemed criminal.
But that was all she had. Jenna had no idea what the guy was all about, other than he was rich as hell, adorable, and even though he never gave her the impression he was interested—in fact, he acted very much like he was not—a warm feeling spread through her every time she looked at him.
Gah. This little crush had to stop. It was bad enough she was paired up with him today. The rehearsal dinner had been a nightmare. She’d tried to get him to talk a little at church, and he shushed her. Shushed her. Like she was some little kid. Then he sat all the way on the other side of the room when they went to dinner. He’d made no attempt to get to know her at all. The other groomsmen and bridesmaids were laughing and joking around, having a good time. Not her and Nate. No. He was busy chatting up Owen’s family. There was no planning their silly entry dance into the reception. Nothing.
Just silence and shushing.
But still, he was so damn attractive. And Jenna hadn’t felt that little tingle in a long time. The kind of tingle that told her she’d been out of circulation too long.
Lord, she had to get out of her own head. Nate Bayard didn’t deserve the energy she was expending thinking about him. The only person she should be focusing on was Kim. Her beautiful, wonderful friend, who had been to hell and back, deserved this magical day, and if that meant putting on her best face and spending time with Nate, so be it.
Harper Poole, Kim’s former boss and one of the executives at Reliance stood next to her and leaned in just as Kim and her father reached the end of the aisle and he lifted her veil.
“God,” Harper said. “She’s a perfect bride. Look how happy she is.”
Jenna sniffed and dabbed at tears that were threatening to ruin her makeup. “She is.”
“Maybe you’ll be next,” Harper whispered.
Jenna shook her head. As happy as she was for Kim and Owen, she felt a little pang of jealousy when the big handsome marine took her friend’s hand and led her toward the priest.
She wanted this. She wanted to find someone who would love her back with total abandon. Who would make her the priority in his life. Who wouldn’t lie. Or cheat. Not like that dirty lowlife who had left her to clean up his mess in San Francisco.
Back then, Jenna thought she had it all—the job, the boyfriend, the apartment. She believed she’d outgrown the trite suburban existence she’d known her whole life. That family didn’t really matter. But looking out into the congregation gathered to celebrate Kim and Owen, her parents included, she realized that family was everything.
Back when she was in trouble, it was her family who was there for her. They were the ones who picked up the pieces. No, Jenna would never question how much she needed them ever again.
But she would question her judgment regarding men for the rest of her life.
Her track record sucked and there was no reason to think it would improve.
Jenna may have wanted the fairy tale, but unless there was a fairy godmother someplace, happily ever after was not going to happen.
Don’t forget to be funny, he thought. Jenna was always laughing, so Nate figured if he could keep her smiling she wouldn’t be bored when she had to spend time with him today. To do that, he was calling on his inner Scot. His people were charming, and it was time for him to be too.
The only problem was, he wasn’t funny. Out of all the people in his circle, Nate was the one who wasn’t at ease in a crowd and had to work to get a woman’s attention. Truthfully, he was beginning to think he was losing his mind. He hadn’t ever worried about this middle school relationship crap. Even in middle school.
When it came their turn to walk up the aisle, Nate linked arms with Jenna and smiled. “That was a nice ceremony.”
“It was. Beginning of a whole new life. Marriage changes everything.”
“Yup. No more fun for Owen.” Ah, crap.
“Why would you assume that? That’s such a guy thing to say.”
“I just meant . . . never mind. I am a guy, after all.”
“Is that so?” He glanced over just as Jenna rolled her eyes. What Nate needed right now was a stiff drink. A good Scotch, straight up, would do the trick.
“Kim is a good person,” Jenna continued. “Smart and loyal. Owen’s lucky she said yes.”
“I’ve known Owen my whole life,” Nate said. “And I agree. Although didn’t she ask him to get married?”
“Details, details.” She giggled. “It’s good to know we agree on something.”
Then she flashed him that million-watt smile and Nate felt his breath get sucked right out of his chest. For a second it felt like he lost control of his senses, as all he could think about was grabbing Jenna by the hand and dragging her off to a corner to kiss her senseless. Yeah, kissing Jenna was definitely at the top of his list. Then he wouldn’t have to talk, he wouldn’t have to tell her he was crazy about her, he could show her. When she laughed at something Kim’s sister said, a full, joyous laugh that brought it all home, Nate thought this could end up being a good day after all.
When they reached Owen and Kim at the back of the church, he watched as Jenna and her friend hugged. The affection between them was so real, very much like the brotherhood he, Jason, and Owen shared. The three of them had been friends for over twenty years, ever since their first day of high school. They had all been brought up in privileged families and bonded almost immediately, playing sports, learning about girls, and helping one another through some of the worst times of their lives.
Nate could safely say he might not have survived his teens without his two friends. Things had gotten that bad.
He saw Kim slip a piece of paper to Jenna and give her another hug before Jenna stepped out of the church. He assumed she’d find Kim’s sisters or her family. “You’re a lucky man.” Nate patted Owen on the shoulder.
“Don’t I know it,” his friend replied as he glanced at his bride.
Nate had definitely entertained doubts about the star-crossed match between his friend and the formidable nurse he’d met in Afghanistan, but it didn’t take long to see that Owen couldn’t have found a better match. With their shared history and experience in the military, the bride and groom understood each other in ways no one else could. “Congratulations, beautiful,” he said as he kissed Kim on the cheek.
“Thank you. Take good care of my friend today, will you, Nate?”
“Jenna? She’ll be fine.”
“She’s had a tough time. I think her brother is on her mind today, so watch out for her, okay?”
He nodded, not quite understanding why she was concerned, but definitely curious. Once he walked out into the bright May sunshine, Nate heard Jenna’s big, happy laugh for a second time in as many minutes. It was a sound that should have told him there was nothing to worry about. But for a split second, he locked eyes with the dark-haired beauty and he could see that Kim had reason to think about her friend. Sadness slipped into her big, dark eyes. It was just for a second, but it was right there.
“What’s wrong, Nate?” He was standing next to Meg Campbell, Jason’s wife, and, true to form, she picked up on his tension. The woman was uncanny. He guessed it was some kindergarten teacher trick, one she used to understand the secret language of five-year-olds.
“Nothing,” he responded. Like she’d believe that.
“No. Really. What’s got you so tense?”
“Meg, it’s nothing. Really.”
Of course, he glanced at Jenna, and Meg, being Meg, didn’t miss it. “Hmmm. I think I understand.” She scooted next to him. Long blonde curls escaped her hairstyle and blew around her face. “Jenna? You like her? Is that it? Can I help?”
“Help with what?”
“Whatever you’re planning. You’re interested.”
“I’m not planning anything. Kim thinks this could be a tough day for her. She asked me to stay close.”
“Because Kim knows you’re interested.”
Nate looked up at the sky. “The woman is daft,” he mumbled.
The whack that fell on his arm made him jump. “I am not daft!”
“Meg, there’s nothing to do. Stay out of it. Jenna barely knows me, but if Kim thinks she could use a little moral support then I’ll do what I can.”
“Nate the Boy Scout.”
Shaking his head, he moved away and saw Jenna examining the piece of paper Kim had slipped in her hand on the receiving line. She was smiling, so, for the moment, he didn’t have to do anything, and that gave him a little time to follow Meg’s suggestion and make a plan.
“What are you looking at?” Jenna had no idea why Kim had given this to her, but she passed the paper to Kim’s sister, Joey, who’d drifted into the shady spot under a big oak tree. Joey was only a year younger than Kim and Jenna, and the three of them did everything together growing up.
“Kim gave me this. Remember when we wrote these?”
Joey’s mouth dropped open when she examined the page. “Oh my God. Your Boyfriend List! I can’t believe it!”
“I can’t believe she had it. I haven’t thought about this in years.”
Joey smiled. “I guess she found it when she was going through all those boxes that were stored at my parents’ house. Ha! Look at this one.” She pointed at the page.
“Number twelve. ‘He should be good at math, since I suck at it.’ I guess you forgot about that one with the last guy?”
Jenna couldn’t argue with that. Her dirtbag ex-boyfriend may have had a fancy MBA, but he had a lot of trouble with math when it came to taking care of other people’s money. Scratch that. Math wasn’t the issue; his problem was he didn’t seem to understand he shouldn’t steal other people’s money. The jerk was never caught, and his last known whereabouts were with some consulting firm in Boston. It may have been a five-hour drive, but even being on the same coast as him was too close for comfort.
She looked back at the list. It was pie-in-the-sky romantic fantasy. Good looking. Sweet. He should be athletic, trust me with his secrets, AND get along with my dad. What. Was. She. Thinking?
“I can’t believe we were so naïve.”
“Maybe. But who’s to say it he’s not out there?” Joey asked. “I think Owen has every one of the qualities on your list.”
“That’s Owen. Kim got lucky.”
Joey reached her arm around Jenna’s shoulder. “Well, then we’re getting lucky, too. It’s our turn.”
He should hold my hand—just because.
—#7, Jenna’s Boyfriend List
There was something magical about the first wedding dance. The way a couple fit together, the way they looked at each other as they moved across the floor for the first time as husband and wife, was probably the most romantic part of any reception. Jenna always expected to see her brother dancing with Kim. Ever since they’d been were teenagers, Kim’s heart belonged to Tom. The tragedy of his death, and the betrayal Kim felt when some secrets came to light, almost broke her dear friend. The revelations almost broke Jenna’s whole family. If a storybook couple like Kim and Tom had secrets, what did that mean for everyone else?
But as Owen took his bride in his arms, a bit of Jenna’s faith was restored. This was a marriage that would last forever. Looking at the couples surrounding the dance floor—Jason and Meg, Caroline and Josh, and Harper and Kevin—people she’d gotten to know over the past few months, she saw that true love did exist.
It just wasn’t for her.
“You look like you have something on your mind.” The sweet baritone tickled her ear and when she turned her head, just as she thought, Nate was standing close. Close enough for Jenna to see the flecks of gold in his eyes and to be hypnotized by the scent of his cologne. Damn, he smelled good.
“I, ah . . .” Speak, dummy! Jenna pulled herself together. She could not let him affect her. “I was just thinking about how much can change in a year. I see Kim now, and after . . .” Even though he’d been an ass to Kim, Jenna still understandably choked up when she thought about her brother. “I’m just glad she’s happy. She deserves it.”
“I think everyone deserves happiness,” he said. He was completely focused on her and, God, he had the most stunning eyes—a combination of gold, gray, and green, they sparkled with intelligence.
“I guess,” she muttered.
“Hmmm.” He folded his hands in front of him and Jenna noticed his long, tapered fingers—beautiful hands. A man’s hands. “You don’t agree?”
He was very formal, which made her think he was being so considerate because they were “paired” up for the day. Maybe he realized that blowing her off at the rehearsal dinner wasn’t the right thing to do? If that was the case, she had to give the guy credit for trying. If he was willing, maybe he didn’t dislike her after all.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
“I just think sometimes happiness is overrated,” she blurted out.
Nate’s gaze went from curious to confused. Crap. She promised herself she’d put her inner cynic in the closet for the day and focus on the wedding celebration. That’s what the day was all about, not her personal regrets.
“I don’t understand what you mean by that.”
From what Jenna knew of Nate, he was a born-and-bred rich boy. Maybe not old money, but established money. He didn’t understand what it was like to struggle financially, to fight for what you wanted. He was handsome, well-educated, successful, and his life was pretty much perfect. But Jenna had learned that blissful happiness, the kind that people pursued like the Holy Grail, just wasn’t real.
“I don’t mean to say there aren’t happy moments,” she explained. “But I think sometimes you have to settle for what life gives you. Being content with what you’ve been dealt has its advantages.”
Nate, who was always very controlled when she was around, took her hand, startling her. “Settling should never be an option for anyone, Jenna. But especially for someone like you.”
Was that a compliment? A line?
“What do you mean, like me?”
Nate kept hold of her hand and pulled it through the crook of his arm. Very smooth, and even more unexpected. “I mean,” he began as he walked her on the dance floor, “that someone who has your brains and your personality shouldn’t have to settle. The question is, why do you think that?”
“I think I said people should be content.” That was the God’s honest truth. Jenna believed in contentment with all her heart. When you set your sights on possibilities instead of staying grounded in reality, you ended up disappointed. Nate had pulled her into his arms and as his hand settled on the small of her back, Jenna warmed from the inside out. Oh . . . she could be in trouble.
“Yes, but you also used the word settle.”
Jenna opened her mouth to say something, but when she set her eyes on his face, on his impish grin, she couldn’t utter a word. Nothing she said would come out right. Not while Nate was turning her brain to mush.
They had different perspectives based on different experiences. Which was exactly why she couldn’t let someone as handsome and rich as Nate get under her skin. He had no interest in her; today was about being polite. Which was also a sign of how he was raised. He treated people kindly, no matter who they were.
“I don’t see anything wrong with being realistic.” That was Jenna. The realist. The romantic had been driven out years ago.
He laughed. It was a deep and full—coming right from his core—and when he smiled she wondered how a man like him wasn’t married with a pack of kids.
“You need some pipe dreams. It keeps things interesting.”
“It also sets you up for a big letdown.”
What the hell had happened to Jenna that she didn’t want to believe in happiness? Nate was an accountant by training—he was practical, methodical, more than a little boring—but even he believed in being happy. The poor girl in his arms believed in settling, and that pissed him off. No one should have to settle.
The dance ended and she stepped back, quickly putting distance between them. He missed the feel of her, the softness of her form against his. She had no idea how he felt about her, and Nate guessed if he made another move, it could scare her off. That was the last thing he wanted, but he wasn’t sure what to do.
Jenna’s eyes were fixed on him. “Thank you for being so nice. It can be awkward being thrown together like this.”
“Being nice to you isn’t hard,” he said. “I mean, we’re all friends here.”
Her eyes narrowed doubtfully. “Friends?”
“Well . . . uh . . . yes?”
“Oh. I wasn’t sure.” She threw him a stiff smile and nodded. “Okay. Friends, then.”
“Right. Well. Can I escort you to our table?” Nate offered his arm and Jenna nodded once again.
Friends. Fucking perfect.
The soft teal fabric of the dress floated around her as they walked, and Jenna’s hair picked up the light from the setting sun as it streamed through the windows of the ballroom.
The historic castle on Long Island where Owen and Kim chose to have their reception was as elegant as one would expect for a billionaire CIO and his bride. But it was also filled with the warmth brought by Kim’s large family and all the friends Owen and Kim had acquired, from childhood through their service in the military.
Once they arrived at their assigned table and found their seats, the silence settled over them. Jenna examined the silverware and centerpiece, the menu, the favors—pretty much anything, so she could avoid making eye contact with him. Nate, on the other hand, took her in. Jenna’s hair was long and dark, a chocolate brown, which fell in soft curls over her shoulders. Likewise, her dusky brown eyes were surrounded by thick, black lashes. There was nothing flashy about Jenna . . . she had clear, olive-toned skin, full lips, and curves that made men weep.
She tugged at the strapless top of her dress and winced a little.
“Something wrong?” he asked.
“Just making sure there are no wardrobe malfunctions.”
“Wouldn’t want that,” he said, thinking that getting an unexpected look at Jenna could give him dirty dreams for a month.
Jenna froze and a glint of humor flashed in her eyes. “Did you just make a joke?”
“A joke? Jenna, if you have a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ I promise that will be no joke.” It would be a miracle. He took advantage of the conversation’s subject to take in the way Jenna’s very generous breasts filled out the strapless gown.
“Stop looking at my boobs, Nate,” she warned gently. Busted. Thankfully, she was grinning, and he was happy to find out Jenna had a sense of humor.
“Sorry.” He wasn’t sorry. He looked again.
“Nate’s looking at your boobs?”
Not knowing whether he should be relieved for the company or angry at the interruption, they were joined at the table by Harper and Kevin Rossi. Harper was the whip-smart director of operations at Reliance Software, and Kevin, her husband, played baseball for the Mets. If nothing else, Harper didn’t mince words.
“No,” he said firmly. And looked again.
“Yes!” Jenna replied, glaring at him as the corners of her mouth took on a downward turn. Oh shit. He’d crossed the line. “Yes. It was funny once, Nate.”
Harper patted his back. “I didn’t know you had it in you.”
Both his and Jenna’s heads snapped toward Harper. “You think it’s okay that he ogles my chest?”
“What do you mean, you didn’t know I had it in me?”
“Oh, boy.” She leaned into her husband. “I got them both riled up.”
“Why would you think I’m immune to a beautiful woman?” He turned to Jenna, furious, but he wasn’t quite sure at whom. “I apologize for making you uncomfortable. Would you like me to move to the other side of the table?” He stood.
“Oh, don’t be so sensitive,” Harper said. “Sit down.”
“Harper, it’s Jenna’s call. Want me to move?”
Jenna’s faced flushed because she realized the mood of the moment—and probably the rest of the day—hinged on her. She could end it one way or the other.
“No. Sit down. I overreacted.”
“Okay. I apologize again for making you uncomfortable. That wasn’t my intention.”
“Thank you.” Jenna stiffened as Meg and Jason, as well as Josh and Caroline Campbell, joined them. He couldn’t help but wonder if it was the company that had her so edgy. There wasn’t one person there who didn’t like Jenna, but they were his friends, not hers, and he wondered what he could do to help her have a good time. Just as he was about to ask her if she wanted some wine, she put her napkin on the table.
“Excuse me, I’m going to see if Kim needs anything.” She rose without looking at him and tottered on her very high heels across the room to where Kim was standing with her sisters. Once there, Nate saw her whole demeanor change. Her shoulders relaxed. She smiled—and it wasn’t a fake smile, but a real one. She was with her people. When she was sitting with him, she looked like she’d been sentenced.
“Are you okay?” Meg asked as she reached for the bread basket. “Jenna didn’t look too happy.”
“Nate was staring at Jenna’s boobs.” Harper sipped her champagne and her husband rolled his eyes.
“Could you stop saying that?” Nate was getting pissed.
“Were you?” Caroline asked.
“I’m not talking about this.” Just because every other person at the table seemed to lack a filter didn’t mean he did.
Jason, Kevin, and Josh laughed. Kevin reached around his wife and patted Nate on the shoulder. “You say that like you have some kind of choice in the matter.”
“Look, she’s nice. She doesn’t know us well, so let’s try to keep this polite.”
“I’m very polite.” Harper waved the champagne flute around before Kevin grabbed it from her. “You were the one objectifying her.”
Jason poured himself a glass of wine from one of the bottles sitting on the table. “We established in church that she’s beautiful and that Nate actually likes her. So he’s not just checking her out. You, Harper, are late to the party. “
“This is my worst nightmare,” Nate moaned. “It’s like middle school.”
Meg laughed. “Why should you get off the hook? We’ve all had to deal with it from this crowd. When a possible hookup looms, no one is safe, as we all embrace our inner middle schooler.”
“A hookup? Why was I not informed?” Harper demanded.
“I’m going to get some air,” Nate muttered. He didn’t waste any time, making a beeline for the large stone terrace that looked out over the lawn all the way to the water. The sun had started to set and the weather was beautiful, with a cool breeze blowing in off Long Island Sound. It was the perfect for a temporary escape.
This was the craziest balancing act yet. For ten months, since he first met Jenna at Owen and Kim’s engagement dinner, he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about her. Every word she uttered, every smile, every laugh haunted him. And after all this time, he still hadn’t done anything to take it further.