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The Love Wager

The Love Wager

by Lynn Painter
The Love Wager

The Love Wager

by Lynn Painter



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Two people make a wager on who can find love first, not realizing what they should be betting on is each other, in this new romantic comedy by Lynn Painter, New York Times bestselling author of Mr. Wrong Number.

Hallie Piper is turning over a new leaf. After belly-crawling out of a hotel room (hello, rock bottom), she decides it’s time to become a full-on adult. She gets a new apartment, a new haircut, and a new wardrobe, but when she logs onto the dating app that she has determined will find her new love, she sees none other than Jack, the guy whose room she snuck out of. 

After agreeing they are absolutely not interested in each other, Jack and Hallie realize they’re each other’s perfect wing-person in their searches for The One. They text each other about their dates, often scheduling them at the same restaurant so that if things don’t go well, the two of them can get tacos afterward. 

Spoiler: they get a lot of tacos together. 

Discouraged by the lack of prospects, Jack and Hallie make a wager to see who can find true love first, but when they agree to be fake dates for a weekend wedding, all bets are off. As they pretend to be a couple, lines become blurred and they both struggle to remember why the other was a bad idea to begin with.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593437292
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/14/2023
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: eBook
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 2,943
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Lynn Painter lives in Omaha, Nebraska, with her husband and pack of wild kids. She is a community columnist for the Omaha World-Herald, as well as a regular blogger for their parenting section. When she isn’t reading or writing, she can be found eating her feelings and shotgunning cans of Red Bull.

Read an Excerpt



"Can I get a Manhattan and a chardonnay, please?"

"Sure thing." Hallie glanced over her shoulder as she handed one of the bridesmaids a Crown and Coke, and-wow-the dude shouting his order over the way-too-loud version of "Electric Slide" was very attractive. He was obviously in the bridal party, all tuxxed-up and looking fancy, and even though she'd sworn off dating, Hallie couldn't help but appreciate the dimples and the Hollywood bone structure. "You want that with bourbon?"

He leaned on his forearms and stretched a little closer to the bar as the hotel's ballroom hit peak noise level. "Rye, please."

"Nice." She reached into the gray plastic bucket and pulled a California bottle out of the ice. "Interested in trying it with orange bitters?"

His dimples popped and he raised his eyebrows, his blue(?)-yes, blue-eyes squinting. "Is that a thing?"

"It is." She poured the chardonnay and set the glass in front of him. "If you're not a moron, you'll love it."

He coughed a laugh and said, "I consider myself to be generally non-moronic, so hook me up."

Hallie started making his drink, and she kind of felt like she knew the guy. He seemed familiar. Not his face, necessarily, but his voice and super-tall height and twinkly eyes that made him look like he was down for any wild adventure.

She glanced at him as the dance floor's disco lights lit up his dark hair. Shaking the mixer and straining the Manhattan into a glass, she struggled to come up with it; think, think, think. He was looking back in the direction of the head table when it finally hit her.

"I know how I know you!"

He turned back around. "What?"

It was so loud that Hallie had to lean a little closer to him. She smiled and said, "You're Jack, right? I'm Hallie. I was the one who sold you the-"

"Hey!" he said, smiling, but then he set his hand on hers and gave her hard-core eye contact as he leaned closer and said, "Hallie. Listen. Let's not mention-"

"Oh. My. God." A blonde appeared beside him-where did she come from?-and her eyes narrowed as she looked at Hallie and said, "Seriously, Jack? The waitress?"

"Bartender," Hallie corrected, having no idea why she felt the need or what was up Superblonde's ass.

"You leave me alone for ten minutes-at your sister's wedding, for God's sake-to canoodle with the waitress?"

"Um, I can assure you there was no canoodling," Hallie said, painfully aware that the woman's loud voice was drawing a lot of attention. "And I'm a bartender, not a waitr-"

"Can you just shut up?" Superblonde said it through her nose and with the last word pitched an octave higher, like she was a Kardashian.

"Would you relax, Vanessa?" Jack said through his teeth, glancing over his lady friend's head as he tried to get her to quiet down. "I don't even know her-"

"I saw you!" She was near-yelling as the DJ switched to "Endless Love," which did zero to mute the outburst. Where is the damn "Macarena" when you need it? Superblonde-Vanessa, apparently-said, "You were leaning in and holding her hand. How long has this-"

"Come on, Van, it's not-"

"How long?" she shrieked.

The guy's jaw flexed, like he was clenching and unclenching his teeth, and then he said, "Since this morning."

Vanessa's mouth dropped open. "You were with her this morning?"

"Not with me with me," Hallie said, looking around, horrified by the implication. She worked part-time at Borsheim's on the weekends. The guy, Jack, had come into the store that morning, and she'd helped him find a ring.

And not just any ring.

The ring.

The will-you-be-a-jealous-hag-for-the-rest-of-my-life? ring.

"She sold me this." Jack pulled the ring box out of his pocket and practically shoved it in the girl's face as he spoke through his teeth. "I bought this for you, Vanessa. Christ."

The box was closed, but Hallie knew a stunning square-cut diamond engagement ring was nestled inside. He'd seemed like a funny, charming guy when she helped him shop for the perfect ring, but if he thought Vanessa was soul mate material, he clearly only thought with his penis.

Or he really was a moron.

"Oh, my God," Vanessa squealed, her face transforming into sunlight as she beamed at Jack and put her hands over her heart. "You're proposing?"

He stared at her with his eyes squinted for a solid five seconds before saying, "I'm not now."

Her smile slipped. "You're not?"

"Fuck, no."

Hallie snorted.

Which made Vanessa swing her narrowed, long-lashed-wow, those had to be extensions-eyes in Hallie's direction. She hissed, "Is something funny?"

Hallie shook her head, but for some reason, she couldn't make her lips straighten. She kept hearing the dude's fuck, no and it was just so chef's kiss.

Before she had a second to realize what was happening, Vanessa grabbed the full glass of chardonnay from where it was sitting on the bar, turned her wrist, and threw its contents in Hallie's face.

"Gahh!" Cold wine splashed over her face and burned her eyes. Thankfully, as a bartender, she was surrounded by towels and happened to have one on her shoulder that very second. Hallie snatched it and wiped her face. "Hey. Van. What is your problem?"

"You are my prob-"

"I am so sorry," Jack said, looking pathetically apologetic. He grabbed Hallie's towel and started patting her dripping neck, which made Vanessa's eyes grow huge.

"Oh, my God, she's fine," Vanessa said.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Hallie said, giving him a weird look as she snatched back the towel. "She seems great, by the way."

He leaned in closer, so all Hallie could see was his worried face and blue eyes. "You're good?"

"Yeah." Hallie blinked and felt like she needed to take a step back. He was too attractive for human eyes, especially when giving that sort of eye contact. She ran her tongue over her freshly chardonnayed lips. "Well, actually, no, if I'm being honest. See, I recommend this chardonnay all the time because it's supposed to be oaky with a rich, buttery finish, but it's actually dry as hell with a bitter, stale aftertaste."

He pursed his lips.

"I've been perpetrating a lie this entire time."

His eyes crinkled around the edges and his mouth twitched. He looked like he was about to smile, but Vanessa grabbed his arm, and his face changed to straight-up pissed. Hallie watched his throat move as he swallowed, and then he turned around and said, "We need to go."

Her perfect eyebrows went up. "We're leaving?"

"Something like that. Come on."

He led his pretty monster away from the bar, and Hallie mopped up before getting back to making drinks. The entire dustup had happened over the course of a mere three minutes, but it'd felt like an eternity.

The other bartender, Julio, asked out of the side of his mouth as he poured vodka into five shot glasses, "What the hell was that?"

"Just a batshit jealous girlfriend." She moved to the other end of the bar and took an order for two whiskey sours. "I don't even know them."

"Oh, my God, Hallie Piper, I thought that was you!"

Hallie looked up and did a double take. Seriously, universe? "Allison Scott?"

Ugh. Allison. They'd gone to high school together, and she was one of those girls who was technically super nice but always managed to word things in ways that made people feel like shit. Hallie hadn't seen her since graduation eight years ago, and she definitely hadn't missed her.

"Oh, my God, you are the most adorable bartender I've ever seen." Allison beamed and gestured toward Hallie's damp black tank top and black jeans. "Seriously you're, like, a cutesy-cute drink-maker in a movie."

Allison was giving total Alexis Rose vibes, and Hallie pasted a smile on her face. "Can I make you something?"

"My boyfriend is one of the groomsmen," she said, apparently not in want of a beverage. "And when he ran over and said there was a catfight at the bar, I never in a million years would've guessed it'd be my super-anal, buttoned-up friend Hallie."

Did she just call me super-anal? Dear God. Hallie explained, "It wasn't a catfight, it was more like a misunderstanding between a couple with me as collateral damage."

"I caught the end of it." She smiled, and there was something kind of Grinch-like in the slow, satisfied climb of it. "So what're you doing these days? Besides tending bar at wedding receptions. Are you still with Ben?"

A man behind Allison held up two empty Mich Ultra bottles, so Hallie grabbed two from under the bar, opened them, and set them down as she said, "Nope. I am living life Ben-free."

"Oh. Wow." Allison's eyes got big, like Hallie had just declared herself a serial killer because she'd had the audacity to break up with the guy who had once been considered their high school's star running back. She asked, "So what's your sister doing?"

Hallie wanted to scream when she heard the DJ announce the bride-and-groom dance, because it meant there would be no mad rush for drinks; people loved watching that sappy shit. Allison could loiter and make uncomfortable small talk for as long as she wanted, and that made Hallie daydream about chandeliers accidentally falling from the ceiling and crushing annoying ex-friends.

"Um, Lillie is engaged to Riley Harper-they're getting married next month. Do you remember him from-"

"Oh, my God-she's engaged to Riley Harper? He was our homecoming king, right?"

Hallie nodded and wondered if she was the only one who didn't think of their high school's homecoming royalty as ours. To her, the king was just some guy who wore the crown at a dance.

"Wow, good for her." Allison looked impressed. "Does she work?"

"Yeah, um, she's an engineer."

"You have got to be kidding!" She gave her chic, bobbed head a little shake. "You guys are like Freaky Friday chicks now."


"You know. You were always the responsible, together one, and Lillie was the hot mess shit show. Now she's an engineer with a fiancŽ, and you're single and waiting tables and getting into bar fights." She smiled like it was hilarious. "Crazy."

Allison finally ordered a drink and stopped torturing Hallie, but as soon as she walked away, her words played on a continuous loop in Hallie's mind. Hot mess shit show. Hot mess shit show.

God, had they Freaky Fridayed?

Hallie spent the next half-hour freaking out in her head while she continued slinging drinks on autopilot. Hot mess shit show. It wasn't until "Single Ladies" came on that she embraced her inner BeyoncŽ and remembered that everything was going to be okay.

Because she wasn't a hot mess shit show at all. Rather, it was just her "winter."

After she and Ben split up (aka after he realized he didn't love her at all), Hallie had decided to treat it as "the winter of her twenties." A cold, dormant season that would lead to a bountiful spring. She'd moved out of Ben's place and gotten a cheap apartment-with a roommate. She'd taken two part-time jobs, in addition to her career, to pay down her student loans in half the time.

The way she saw it, she was going to take advantage of her man-free time. She was going to live like a peasant and hustle her ass off. They were dark days, her winter season, but soon they would all pay off.


Hallie looked up, and the guy-Jack-was charging straight toward the bar. He looked intense-serious face, tie hanging untied around his neck-and his eyes were fixed on her.

"Me?" She looked behind her.

"Yes." He stopped when he reached the bar and said, "I need you."

"I beg your pardon?" Hallie tilted her head and said, "And what happened to that sweetheart of a girlfriend of yours? Van, was it?"

"We need a bartender in the back." Jack ignored her remark, looking at Julio and saying, "Do you think you can spare her for a bit?"

Julio glanced at Hallie, trying to gauge her reaction, before saying, "Yes, but I believe the bride scheduled-"

"She's the one who sent me over. I'm her brother."

"First of all, don't talk to him about me like I'm not here. Just because I have breasts doesn't mean I'm incapable of speaking for myself. Second of all," Hallie said, irritated by the hot guy's obvious sexism, "I don't strip or give lap dances, so if 'the back' is code for something creepy, count me out."

That made Jack smirk down at her, the kind of smirk that made him look both amused and irritated all at the same time. "First of all, I was told that Julio here is the banquet supervisor, so your breasts played no part whatsoever in my choice of conversation partner."

"Oh," Hallie said.

"And second of all," he added, "you give off a strong no-creepy-lap-dance vibe, so I can assure you 'the back' is not code for anything untoward."

Hallie pushed back the stray hairs that'd fallen out of her ponytail, feeling a bit like an idiot. "Well, good."

"Follow me?"

"Why not?" Hallie came around the bar and followed Jack as he walked through the throngs of wedding revelers-most of whom smiled at him like he was their favorite cousin, even though he appeared oblivious-and when they got to the kitchen door, he pushed it open and held it for her.

"Thanks." She walked through the door, only to see that the kitchen was absolutely deserted. "Um . . . ?"

She turned around, and Jack had dropped his jacket on top of a box of bananas and was rolling up his shirtsleeves. He raised an eyebrow and waited for her to speak.

"I thought you said you needed a bartender."

"I do." He casually hopped up onto the stainless-steel prep counter and sat so that his long legs were dangling in front of him. "You got me dumped, so now it's your job to get me drunk."

Seriously, dude?

"Yeah, um, you aren't the king," Hallie said, "and I'm not interested in being your personal serving wench. But thank you."

"Dear God, I don't want you to serve me." He pointed to the spot beside him on the counter. "I just thought since we both had drinks thrown in our faces by Vanessa Robbins tonight, it might be nice to drown our troubles and share a bottle."

Hallie tilted her head and looked at the bottle of Crown Royal next to him.

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