Authors: Kristan Higgans
THE NEXT BEST THING
“A heartwarming, multi-generational tale of lost love, broken hearts and second chances.”
“I felt all of the emotions and was drawn into the story as if I was there.”
Beyond Her Book
TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE
“Cheeky, cute, and satisfying, Higgins's romance is perfect entertainment for a girl's night in.”
“Kristan Higgins proves that she is emerging as one of the most creative and honest voices in contemporary romance.
Too Good to Be True
is simply delightful storytelling!”
JUST ONE OF THE GUYS
“Higgins provides an amiable romp that ends with a satisfying lump in the throat.”
“A true masterpiece.”
Dee & Dee Dish on Books
CATCH OF THE DAY
Winnerâ2008 Romance Writers of America
“Smart, fresh and fun! A Kristan Higgins book is not to be missed!”
New York Times
bestselling author Carly Phillips
“A touching story brimming with smart dialogue, sympathetic characters, an engaging narrative and the amusing, often self-deprecating observations of the heroine. It's a novel with depth and a great deal of heart.”
RT Book Reviews
, (Top Pick, 4 Â½ stars)
I hope you'll enjoy
All I Ever Wanted!
I think, like a lot of us, Callie feels that if she just does everything right, she'll get the resultsâand the manâshe wants. She tries so hard, but life seems to have other plans. Her challenge now: get over the guy who doesn't want her, even though she thought they were pretty perfect together.
One of the things I love best about this book is how the hero and heroine meet. We've all had moments where we've seen people at their worst, not to mention those moments in our own personal histories we wish we could erase! But Ian and Callie see something in each other that no one else does, and in some ways, that's the essence of a romance novel. It was awfully fun to write two characters with such different personalities, and I love the way Callie and Ian bump up against each other again and again. She wants to help him out so much! And he thinks he's just fine on his own. But sometimes in life, what we want is not really what we need, don't you think?
As always, you'll find a quirky family (I especially like Noah), a great dog and a beautiful little town, this time in the form of Georgebury, Vermont. I visited the Northeast Kingdom part of the state last year and was especially fond of the Cabot's Dairy tour, the rushing rivers and the faint smell of syrup that tinged the air.
Hope you'll have a lot of laughs and a few deeply satisfying tears with
All I Ever Wanted.
And of course, I'd love to hear from you! Visit my Web site at www.kristanhiggins.com.
This book is dedicated with love and gratitude to Carol Robinson, who has been my great friend since I was just a little kid. Love you, Nana.
Thanks as always to Maria Carvainis, my brilliant agent, as well as to Keyren Gerlach, my wonderful editor, and everyone else at HQN for their overwhelming support and enthusiasm.
Many thanks to my incredibly nice vet, Sudesh Kumar, DVM, MS, PhD, for answering a hundred questions, and to Nick Schade, owner of Guillemot Kayaks and boat builder to the gods. Visit www.guillemot-kayaks.com for a peek at his breathtaking craftsmanship. For the use of their names, thanks to Annie, Jack and Seamus Doyle; Jody Bingham; Shaunee Cole; and my lovely friends, Hayley and Tess McIntyre. Adiaris Flores helped me with a few Spanish phrasesâ¦
sweetheart! Thanks also to Lane Garrison Gerard for inspiring Josephine's somewhat dubious taste in music.
I have been blessed with the support and friendship of many fellow writers, and though I can't name them all, here are a few: Cindy Gerard, Eloisa James, Susan Mallery, Deeanne Gist, Cathy Maxwell, Susan Andersen, Allison Kent, Sherry Thomas, and Monica McInerney. Thank you. Truly.
And lastly, all my love to my husband and kids.
You three are everything to me.
The Next Best Thing
Too Good to Be True
Just One of the Guys
Catch of the Day
Fools Rush In
S THE MAN
approached my office, the image of a deer being hit by a truck came to mind. I was the deer, metaphorically speaking, and Mark Rousseau was the pickup truck of doom.
But here's the thing. The deer always freezes, as we all know, hence the expression
like a deer caught in the headlights.
The deer and I (Callie Grey, age thirty as of 9:34 this very morning) are well aware that the pickup truck is going to hit us. But we just stand there, waiting for the inevitable, whether it's a pickup truck (in the deer's case) or a man walking athletically toward me (in mine), perpetual smile in place, his brown hair carelessly curling, those gorgeous, dancing dark eyes. I waited, doe-eyed. It was all really too bad, because outside of Mark's influence, I was not at all a deer about to be run down. I was much more of an adorable, perky hedgehog or something.
“Hey.” Mark grinned.
Bam! We have impact. The sunlight streamed through the windows of the old brick office building in which Mark and I worked, illuminating him so that he looked like something painted by Michelangelo. To make him even more appealing, he was wearing an old sweater vest his mom knitted for him years ago, shapeless and faded but
something he just couldn't part with. A good son
a sex god.
It was as if there were two Calliesâ¦the smarter, more sensible self (I pictured her as Michelle Obama), and the dopey, in love partâ¦Betty Boop. Would that Michelle could give Betty Boop a brisk slap, followed by some vigorous shaking. Alas, Betty just sat there, enthralled, as the First Lady snorted in disgust.
“Hi,” I said, feeling my face warm. You'd think that four years of seeing him almost daily would have built up some tolerance in me, but no. My chest prickled with longing and love, my throat turned Saharan, my feet and fingers tingled. Though I was trying hard for Intelligent Coworker, my expression was probably somewhere around Pathetic Adoration.
Mark leaned against my desk, which meant his crotch was, oh, let's see, about a foot and a half from my face, since I was seated. Not that I noticed, of course. “Happy birthday,” he said, making it sound like the most intimate, most suggestive phrase in the world.
Face: nuclear. Heart: racing. Callie: half inch from orgasm. “Thanks.”
“I got you a present, of course,” he murmured in that voiceâ¦ God, that voice. Low and soft and velvetyâ¦the same voice he used in the bedroom, as I well knew. Yes, Mark and I had been together. For five weeks. Five
weeks. Almost five and a half, if you really analyzed it. Which I had.
From his back pocket, he withdrew a small, rectangular package. My heart flopped as my brain raced with contradictory thoughts.
That means something. That's romantic. So romantic! Oh!
On the other hand, Michelle advised caution.
Calm down, Callie. Let's just see how this plays out.
“Oh, Mark! Thank you! You didn't have to,” I said, my voice breathy.
On the other side of the glass-bricked wall that separated our offices, Fleur Eames slammed a drawer. The wall only went up ten feet; the ceilings were twelve, perfect for eavesdropping, and I guessed she was trying to snap me out of my daze. Fleur, a copywriter here at the firm, knew about my crush. Everyone did.
Clearing my throat, I reached for the package in Mark's hand. He held onto it for a minute, grinning before he let go. It was wrapped in cheerful yellow paper. Yellow is my favorite color. Did I tell him that once? Had he filed away that little fact the same way I filed away everything he ever told me? I mean, really, it could hardly be coincidence, right? He smiled down at me, and my racing heart stuttered, stalled, then revved into overdrive. Oh, God. Could it be? Did he finally want to get back together?
I'd worked at Mark's firm for the past four years. We were the only advertising and public relations agency in northeastern Vermont. Our staff was smallâjust Mark and me; Fleur; the office manager, Karen; and the two pale computer geeks in the art department, Pete and Leila. Oh, and Damien, Mark's personal assistant/receptionist/willing slave.
I loved my job. Excelled at my job, as proven by the large poster on my wall, which had very nearly won a Clio, the Oscar of advertising. Said Clio ceremony took place eleven months ago out in Santa Fe. And in that beautiful, romantic city, Mark and I had finally hooked up. But the timing wasn't right for a serious relationship. Well, at least that's what Mark had said. Honestly, has a
woman ever said that? Not a lot of twenty-nine-year-old women truly have timing issues when it comes to being with the man they love. No. It had been Mark's timing that wasn't right.
But nowâ¦now a gift. Could it finally be that the time was right? Maybe now, on the very day that my thirties began and I entered into that decade where a woman is more likely to be mauled by a grizzly bear than get marriedâ¦maybe today really was the start of a new age.
“Open it, Callie,” he said, and I obeyed, hoping he didn't notice my shaking fingers. Inside was a black velvet box. Squee! I bit my lip and glanced up at Mark, who shrugged and gave me that heart-stopping smile once more. “It's not every day my best girl turns thirty,” he added.
“Oh, gack,” sniped Damien appearing in the doorway. Mark glanced at him briefly, then turned his eyes back to me.
“Hi, Damien,” I said.
“Hi.” He stretched the word into three syllables of contemptâ¦ Damien had once again broken up with his boyfriend and currently hated love in all its forms. “Boss, Muriel's on line two.”
Something flickered across Mark's face. Irritation, maybe. Muriel was the daughter of our newest client, Charles deVeers, the owner and founder of Bags to Riches. The company made outdoorwear from a combination of plastic grocery bags and natural fiber. It was our biggest account yet, a huge deal for Green Mountain, most of whose clients were in New England. I'd only met Muriel once, and then only briefly, but Mark had been flying back and forth to San Diego, where Bags to Riches was based. As part of the package, Charles had asked
Muriel to come to Vermont and work as the account exec, so he could have someone close to him keeping tabs on things. And, since Charles was paying us gobs of money, Mark had said yes.
Mark didn't answer Damien, who was quivering with the joy of running Mark's day. “Boss?” Damien said, a bit more sharply. “Muriel? Remember her? She's waiting.”
“So let her wait some more,” Mark answered, tossing me a wink. “This is important. Open the damn box, Callie.” Damien sighed with the heavy drama that only a gay man can pull off and hustled down the hall.
Cheeks burning, I opened the velvet box. It was a bracelet, delicate silver strands that twisted and turned like ivy. “Oh, Mark, I love it,” I whispered, running my finger over the intricate lines. I bit my lip, my eyes already misting with happy tears. “Thank you.”
His expression was soft. “You're welcome. You mean a lot to me. You know that, Callie.” He bent down and kissed my cheek, and every detail was immediately seared into my brainâhis smooth, warm lips, the smell of his Hugo Boss cologne, the heat of his skin.
Hope, which had been lying in ashes for the past ten months, twitched hard.
“Think you'll make it to my party later on?” I asked, striving for perky and fun, not lustful and ruttish. My parents were throwing me a little bash at Elements, the nicest restaurant around, and I'd invited all my coworkers. No use pretending: I was turning thirty; might as well get some presents.
Mark straightened, then moved a pile of papers from the small couch in my office and sat down. “Umâ¦ Listen, I need to tell you something. You met Muriel, right?”
“Well, just that once. She seemsâ¦veryâ¦” Hmm. She'd worn a killer black suit, had great shoesâ¦kind of intense. “Very focused.”
“Yeah. She is. Callieâ¦” Mark hesitated. “Muriel and I are seeing each other.”
It took a few seconds for that to register. Once again, I was that stupid deer, watching mutely as the pickup truck hurtled down the road. My heart slammed to a halt. For a second, I couldn't breathe. Michelle Obama stood by, shaking her head sadly, her fabulous arms crossed in regret. I realized my mouth was open. Closed it. “Oh,” I heard myself say.
Mark looked at the floor. “I hope that doesn't cause you anyâ¦discomfort. Given our past involvement.”
There was a white, rushing sound, like a river engorged with snowmelt and hidden debris. He was seeing someone? How could that be? If the timing was okay for Murielâ¦why notâ¦ Oh, crap.
“Callie?” he said.
Here's the thing about being hit by a truck. Sometimes those deer keep running. They just bound into the woods, sort of like they're saying,
Whoo-hoo! That was close! Good thing I'm okay. Umâ¦I am okay, right? Actually, you know what? I'm feeling a little strange. Think I'll lie down for a bit.
And then they wake up dead.
Mark's voice lowered. “The last thing I want to do is hurt you.”
the First Lady commanded. “No, no!” I chirruped. “It'sâ¦justâ¦no worries, Mark. Don't worry.” I seemed to be smiling. Smiling and nodding. Yes. I was nodding. “So how long have you beenâ¦together?”
“A couple of months,” Mark answered. “It'sâ¦it's fairly serious.” He reached out and took the bracelet out of the box, then put it on my wrist, his fingers brushing the sensitive skin there, making me want to jerk away.
In the many years I'd known Mark, he'd never dated
for a couple of months. A couple of weeks, sure. I thought five was a record, quite honestly.
Ah. My body was catching on to the fact that I'd just been slammed. My throat tightened, my joints buzzed with the
response to danger, and a sharp pain lanced through my chest. “Right. Well. You know what? I have to get my license renewed! I almost forgot! You knowâ¦birthday. License. Renewal.”
“Okay if I zip out for lunch a little early?” My voice cracked, and I cleared my throat again, studiously avoiding Mark's dark and now sorrowful eyes.
“Sure, Callie. Take all the time you need.”
The kindness in his voice made me feel abruptly murderous. “I won't be long,” I chirped. “Thanks for the bracelet! See you in a bit!”
With that, I grabbed my oversize pink hobo bag and stood up, excruciatingly careful not to brush against Mark, who still sat on my couch, staring straight in front of him. “Callie, I'm sorry,” he said.
“No! Nothing to apologize for!” I sang. “Gotta run. They close at noon today. See ya later!”
HIRTY MINUTES LATER
, I stood in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the effects of being emotionally run down by the man I lovedâand now hatedâbut still lovedâwere catching up with me. Michelle Obama had abandoned me, regretfully acknowledging that I was
beyond help, and Betty Boop was clamping her lips together and blinking back tears. Trying to keep the choo-choo train of despair at bay, I glanced around. Gray, grimy tile floors. Dingy white walls. I stood in the middle of a line of about ten people, all of us listless and lifeless and lovelessâ¦or so it seemed.
The whole scene was like something out of some French existentialist playâ¦ Hell is not other people. Hell is the DMV. Robotic clerks shuffled behind the counter, clearly hating their lot in life and contemplating the easiest form of hari-kari or embezzlement so they could leave this grim place. The clock on the wall seemed to taunt me.
Time's a'wastin', kid. Your life is passing you by. Happy fucking birthday.
My breathing started to quicken, my knees felt like a hive of angry bees. Tears burned in my eyes, and on my wrist, my stupid birthday present tickled. I should just rip it off. Melt it down into a bullet and kill Mark. Or myself. Or just swallow the bracelet whole and let it get tangled in my intestines and require emergency surgery and then have Mark come to the hospital and realize just how much he really loved me after all. Not that I would have him now. (
Yeah, sure, Callie,
said Mrs. Obama, making a reappearance.
You'd eat a baby if it meant having him.)
Well. Maybe not a baby. But the idea that Mark was
someoneâ¦for a couple of months, fairly seriousâ¦ah, shit! Panic loomed like the jaws of a great white shark, terrifying and unexpected. Stupid Muriel with her black hair and white skin, like some vampire in fabulous shoesâ¦when the hell had they started dating? When, dammit?
Oh, crap. Should I go? No. I had to get my license
renewed. Today was the last day I could do it without incurring a fine. I'd picked out this wicked cute outfit, tooâred-and-white printed blouse, short red skirt, big gold hoops, and my hair was perfect today, all shiny and swingyâ¦ Besides, what could I do? Sit in my car and wail? Kick a tree? Strangle a moose? I really wasn't the type. The only idea that held any appeal was that of sitting in my rocking chair and eating cake batter.
A dry sob raked my throat. Shit. Shit on a shingle. Shit on rye.
“Next,” called one of the DMV drones, and we all shuffled forward six inches. The man behind me heaved an audible sigh.
Without another thought, I fumbled in my purse for my cell phone. Where was it? Where was it, dammit? Tamponâ¦no. Book on CDâ¦no. Picture of Josephine and Bronte, my niecesâ¦even their beautiful faces failed to cheer me. Where was the phone? Ah. Here. I scrolled down to
Damn! I got her voice mail. Somehow, it felt like a personal insult. How could my best friend be unavailable in my time of need? Didn't she love me anymore?
Clearly the choo-choo was chugging faster now, so I scrolled down for backup. My mom? God, noâ¦this would just be confirmation that the Y chromosome should be erased from humanity. My sister? Not much better. Still, it was someone. Mercifully, Hester answered, even though I knew she was at work.