They say you can’t go home again, but what if you were never supposed to leave in the first place?
When I moved back to my hometown and came face-to-face with the first boy I ever loved, I finally understood why they say you can’t go home again. But I’m not here for Tucker Davis. With a new business to manage, I have better things to do with my time than obsess about the way he looks in his Levi’s, or how his eyes heat when our paths cross.
Except our paths keep crossing, and I keep remembering how his lips used to feel pressed against mine. Or how he said he’d always love me. I also remember how he broke my heart that warm August night more than a decade ago. Thankfully, I'm older and wiser now, and I know better than to fall for him again.
At least that’s what I tell myself every time he asks for one more shot at forever.
“You’re too picky.” My childhood best friend Brynn Jacobs—also one-third of Happily Ever After, the bridal company we’d recently launched—leaned across the table and swiped one of the two remaining hot wings off my plate.
I batted her hand away, but not before she’d managed to steal the majority of my blue cheese sauce as well. Brynn was lucky I loved her. First, she’d insulted me, and then she’d stolen my food. Anyone else would be missing a finger for that stunt.
“I’m not picky; I’m discerning. There’s a difference.” I pointed a stalk of celery at her for emphasis.
Rhee Campbell, my other best friend and the third member of our triumvirate of badass boss babes, snorted. “Sure there is.”
“There is a difference. Someone who is discerning exercises good judgment. Picky people are assholes.” I bit down on the celery, satisfied with my explanation.
Unfortunately, they were not.
“Admit it, Kacey. You’re high maintenance.” Rhee lifted her beer to her lips with a smile that lessened the rebuke. Whereas Brynn was a people pleaser (sometimes to her detriment), Rhee was a tough-as-nails, make-no-apologies-for-who-you-are kind of woman.
“I’m not high maintenance,” I argued somewhat less forcefully. A lady, I was forced to admit, could only protest so much. Especially when the last two guys she’d dated had ended things after less than four months for that exact reason.
It wasn’t like I wanted to be this way. I just was.
I pushed my plate away, my appetite instantly diminished.
Brynn squeezed my hand. “It’s okay, sweetie. Your exquisite taste is one of the main reasons we were able launch Happily Ever After in the first place. If it weren’t for you, we never would have had the support to make this happen.”
“That’s not true; you’re an amazing baker. And Rhee is the best photographer I know.”
Rhee raised an imperious eyebrow. “Be that as it may, you’re the one with seventy thousand Instagram followers. The dudes at the bank may have inhaled Brynn’s cupcakes, but it was your followers that made them literally salivate. Without you, we never would have gotten the loan.”
“We all bring something—” I stopped mid-sentence, my eyes latching onto Tucker Davis from across the crowded bar.
“What’s wrong?” Brynn swiveled on her stool, and Rhee’s head turned to follow.
I knew the moment they’d both spotted him. Brynn sighed, and Rhee groaned. Brynn had had a front-row seat for Tucker and my teenage romance, while Rhee had heard all about it during college. It turned out I talked about him incessantly when I’d had too much to drink.
“Still?” Rhee asked.
“Always,” I answered, trying hard not to stare.
Tucker Davis. The boy I’d lost my virginity to. Also the guy who’d broken my heart when we were both eighteen.
Incidentally, he was also the man who owned the farm that supplied most of the flowers I used in my creations. I probably could have gotten them somewhere else, but I owed a debt of gratitude to his family and I wasn’t about to repay it by taking my business elsewhere—something Rhee didn’t entirely understand.
“Capistrano Farms would love our business,” she reminded me for the umpteenth hundred time.
“I know, but I can’t do that to his mom.”
Rhee shook her head while Brynn nodded sagely. She understood. Then again, she’d grown up here, whereas Rhee had only moved here three years ago. In a small town like ours, you stuck by the people who’d stuck by you. And the Davises had done a lot for me when my own family hadn’t.
After it had become clear that my dreams of becoming a clinical psychologist weren’t financially viable, I’d moved back home with my college-educated tail tucked firmly between my legs. For three days I’d sulked in my grandma’s living room before figuratively pulling up my big girl pants and asking everyone I’d ever known if they had a job for me. By the end of the week, Tucker’s dad had put me to work cutting flowers in the fields on their farm. There’d been no small amount of teasing from the other part-timers given my last name.
At first, I’d been self-conscious about working for my ex-boyfriend’s family, but both Mr. and Mrs. Davis had assured me I was being ridiculous. While I was no longer dating their son, they had told me they’d always consider me the daughter they’d never had. Naturally, I’d turned into a blubbering mess right there on the spot—grateful for both the job and their love. I’d never been close with my own parents, but I’d adored The Davises. When Tucker and I had broken up, I’d cried for the loss of them as much as him.
As it had turned out, working on their farm had been the post-college inspiration I didn’t know I’d needed. A month after I’d started, Mrs. Davis had called me into the house, passed me a bunch of peonies, and told me to turn them into something beautiful. To my great surprise, I had—and I’d never looked back.
But then Mr. Davis had unexpectedly died of a heart attack, forcing Tucker to move home to run the family business. Dealing with my grief had been bad enough, but seeing my ex-boyfriend’s face every day had made things even worse. And I could tell he was just as uncomfortable having me around, so a couple of weeks after the funeral, I gently broke to the news to Maryanne Davis that I’d be finding a new job. While she had been sad to see me go, she’d understood and wished me well. She’d also said some things about her son that to this day I tried not to dwell on.
Tried, and failed.
Because here I was dwelling.
It was hard not to.
The truth was, I still did a lot of business with Davis Family Farms, and that forced me to interact with Tucker more than was healthy. And despite the way he’d abruptly ended our relationship all those years ago, my heart still skipped a beat every time he entered a room. And my head, traitor that it was, refused to accept that we were good and over.
While he’d never given me a reason to hold out hope—he was cordial, but distant, during our brief interactions—somewhere deep down inside I knew there was a better explanation for why he’d walked away from me so easily. I just don’t feel the same way that you do, he’d said, his arms crossed over his chest and his feet planted shoulder-width apart on that balmy August night. His voice had sounded sure, steady, and totally unconflicted—but even through my misery, I could see that his eyes held a different story. What that story was, though, I’d never learned, and I’d all but given up hope of finding out.
But that didn’t mean I’d given up on him. At least not completely.
Which was problematic, to say the least.
Here I was in the bar with my best friends in the world, pining over someone I couldn’t have while I should have been focused on our business. But dragging your eyes away from the most handsome man you’d ever seen wasn’t exactly easy. At least not until Tucker’s head rose, and his gaze darted my way. Then I couldn’t glance away fast enough.
“Shit. Tucker saw me.”
Rhee laughed. “You think?”
I swatted her arm. “Shut up. You’re supposed to be supportive.”
“By indulging your obsession?”
I rolled my eyes. “No. By telling me—”
Brynn latched onto my thigh under the table. “Incoming,” she whispered out the side of her mouth. “Two o’clock.”
“Ladies.” Daniel Madison leaned his toned, tan forearms on the table and spun his gaze between Brynn, Rhee, and me.
“Hello, Daniel,” Brynn huffed.
Suffice it to say, she was not Daniel’s biggest fan. While they’d been friendly enough back in high school, their relationship these days was best described as “antagonistic.”
A few years ago, Daniel and I had gone on a handful of dates, but after several conversations where all we’d discussed was Brynn, I realized he was using me to get to her. When I’d mentioned my epiphany to Brynn, she’d told me that if Daniel were the last man on earth and it was up to them to single-handedly re-populate the planet, the species was doomed. I’d pressed her for an explanation as to why she hated him so badly, but she’d changed the subject. Now, whenever we happened to run into him—which, when I stopped to think about it, was pretty damn frequent—Brynn turned into an ice queen. Given her ordinarily friendly disposition, it was quite the sight to behold.
Daniel’s eyes raked over Brynn’s curves. “I see the cupcake business is treating you well.”
Brynn harrumphed and crossed her arms over her chest, which had the unintended effect of plumping up her already generous assets.
Daniel’s eyes flashed with heat before he tamped it down and turned to Rhee. “And the photography business? Lots of people in love with love these days?”
Rhee’s gaze darted between Brynn and Daniel for a quick second. She didn’t trust him any further than she could throw him, but she also thought Brynn needed to get laid in the worst possible way and that a night of hot, sweaty sex with the handsome restaurateur might do our friend some good. Clearly, they had a lot of pent up … something … between them, and if they could work it out while doing the naked, horizontal tango, Rhee reasoned Brynn and Daniel could move on from whatever this was.
“Speaking of love,” Rhee said, hailing a waitress to order another bottle of beer, “don’t you love the way that dress looks on Brynn?”
Brynn slapped her palms down onto the table. “Rhee!”
Daniel chuckled. “You know as well as I do that Brynn looks great in everything.”
Her mouth dropped open, and she looked between Rhee and me, her face a mask of confusion.
Frankly, I was as surprised as she was. As far as I knew, this was the first time Daniel had given her a compliment that wasn’t backhanded in its delivery. “Did you just say something nice about Brynn?”
He lifted his right shoulder in a careless shrug and immediately changed the subject. “Was that Tucker I saw with his cousin?”
Rhee chuckled under her breath and muttered something about Daniel being a slick one, while his question pulled Brynn out of her temporary state of stupefaction. With the focus of the conversation shifted to me, she seemed to forget her animosity toward him. “Indeed it is.”
Daniel nodded once, and before I knew what was happening, he’d circled the table to stand by my side with his arm wrapped around my shoulder. Throwing his head back, he let out a hearty laugh.
“What in god’s name are you doing?” I asked out the side of my mouth.
“Just go with it,” he whispered against the side of my head. To outside observers, it probably looked like he was whispering sweet nothings in my ear.
I looked to Rhee for assistance, but she merely laughed and shook her head. “Nope.”
“You want Tucker back, don’t you?”
Without conscious thought, my head bobbed up and down. “Yes.”
“Then like I said, play along.”
“Hmm,” Brynn hummed as her gaze darted between Tucker, Daniel, and me, a look of focused contemplation on her face. “It could work.”
“What could work?” I demanded.
Daniel laughed. “For as smart as you are, Kacey, you can be rather thickheaded. You know that, right?”
Before I could defend myself, Brynn beat me to it. “Hey!” she chided, smacking him on the back of his perfectly-coiffed head. “Be nice.”
Briefly, he rubbed the spot where her hand had connected with his skull. “Would you guys trust me for once? The second lover boy over there thinks someone else is seriously interested in Kacey, he’ll come running back.”
“I don’t know—”
“Do you want him or not?” Rhee crossed her arms over her chest and raised her right eyebrow.
My gaze darted across the bar to where Tucker had lifted a mug to his lips, his eyes fixed firmly on the screen above.
Did I want him? Honestly, I didn’t know.
I definitely wanted him to tell me why he’d broken my heart all those years ago. And I wouldn’t mind kissing him again—for old time’s sake, of course. And hey, if that led to something more, I wouldn’t kick him out of my bed either. But as much as my body still yearned for him, I couldn’t let my lady bits be in charge of making a decision this monumental.
It had been over a decade since Tucker and I had been together, and we’d both changed since then. Now, I barely knew the guy … and from what I did know, it was clear he wasn’t the same old Tucker Davis from my past. As a teen, he’d been boisterous and confident, but now he seemed much more subdued and introspective. Sometimes, when I let myself, I wondered what had happened to change him so much.
This is your chance to find out, my subconscious taunted.
Between Daniel, Rhee, Brynn, and that part of my brain that always led me down the path of temptation, I waffled. I didn’t want to put myself out there again, but if Daniel’s plan worked, I might finally get some answers.
Or maybe I’d live to regret this.
Maybe, but I wouldn’t know unless I tried.
“Okay. I’m in.”