Authors: Tegan Wren
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ISBN 978-1-62007-937-9 (ebook)
ISBN 978-1-62007-938-6 (paperback)
ISBN 978-1-62007-939-3 (hardcover)
For Patrick; without you, there’d be no story.
This book is also dedicated to all those who experience infertility. May you find a happy ending more beautiful than the one you’ve imagined for yourself.
uck it up, Hatty. You can totally do this. It’s a bar full of booze hounds. No one’s going to remember this tomorrow.
My mental pep talk tore a small hole in the fabric of my fear as I squeezed past the people who had front row seats to Kamikaze Karaoke.
Eyes hungry for another disastrous performance peered over beer steins and wine glasses, waiting for me to trudge up the stairs at the side of the stage. On Saturday nights, Finn’s attracted close to one hundred people eager to gape at tipsy singers crashing and burning as they fumbled through whatever tune the random song generator selected. I was the next victim, a prospect that was as exhilarating as it was terrifying.
At least Plato was the DJ tonight, sexy as hell in his fitted black shirt and jeans. Yep, he’d have my back. Extending his hand to me, he smiled broadly and ushered me into the spotlight.
“Go easy, okay?” I hissed at Plato, careful to stay back from the mic.
He raised his eyebrows, shook his head, and spoke to the crowd. “Let’s see what the karaoke gods have lined up for Hatty.”
Dear karaoke gods, please choose “I Will Survive” because I know it, and therefore I will, indeed, survive the next five minutes. Amen.
I held my breath, watching the zigzag lines scroll across the screens positioned around the pub.
My stomach sank when I saw the title flash in big black letters: “I Wanna Have Your Babies.”
You’ve got to be kidding me―not this stupid pop song.
Plato guffawed. “Hatty, are you ready to Kamikaze Karaoke?”
People in the audience stomped their feet and clapped, cracking a whip that set my heart at a full gallop.
I cleared my throat and stepped forward, determined to kick this ridiculous song in the ovaries. Someone whistled from one of the green pleather booths lining the wall.
As the bouncing intro started, I focused on the cheesy music.
While I waited to sing, Plato grabbed me, pulling me to the side of the mic. He whispered in my ear, but the noise from the crowd made it hard to hear. “Princess, set the bar!”
“I’ll set it sky high,” I whispered back. His words of encouragement propelled my lips to the mic where I tasted the metallic screen moments before launching into the first line.
When I paused to grab a breath, some guy wearing a hot pink sombrero shouted unintelligible words while giving me a big thumbs up. Emboldened by this visual reminder of how hammered people were, I yanked the mic out of the stand and pranced―yes, pranced―across the stage. I’d learned a simple rule during my childhood in the Missouri Ozarks: when tackling a challenge, go whole hog. Wagging my finger and shaking my hips, I was damn near hog wild.
After I finished with the
s at the end of the song, applause thundered through the room, rewarding my gutsy performance. I exhaled, full of relief that I’d kicked butt and taken names. Riding my wave of success, I blew a kiss, eliciting more cheers.
“Whoomp, there she is!” The Irish accent and early nineties hip hop reference told me it was my friend Sara shouting her approval from the back of the room.
Instead of joining her at our table, I strolled toward the bar for a fresh drink. Plato’s beau, Sam, met me halfway. The tall Frenchman wrapped me in his arms.
“That was aces, Hatty! You’re the queen of Kamikaze Karaoke.”
“Be sure to tell Plato you’ve upgraded me from princess.” I smiled, thinking again of Plato offering me that last-minute confidence boost.
Sam gave me a peck on the lips before heading back to his table. I swaggered to the bar and plopped down on a stool.
The young, eager bartender in his neat apron came over. “Riesling?”
“Actually, I’d love a chocolate kiss.”
He nodded, then turned away to make the pub’s famous hot drink.
“That wasn’t bad… for an American.”
My head snapped toward the guy sitting next to me. It was hard to see his face; he wore a scruffy brown cap and black horn-rimmed glasses that sat halfway down his nose. With his beat-up jacket and tattered maroon scarf, he looked like he rolled out of a field. Probably a farmhand from outside the city, though his accent was too formal. He kept his eyes glued to his beer.
“I’d like to see you get up there and sing that stupid song,” I said, grabbing a napkin and dabbing the sweat that dampened my hairline.
“I’m bad news on a karaoke stage.”
“You’re in luck. I’m a reporter and I love bad news.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his full lips turn up in a slight smile. It was gorgeous.
“Here you are, Hatty.” The bartender slid a steaming mug in front of me.
“A reporter?” Farmer Joe sounded skeptical. People always thought I was younger than twenty-two. Maybe it was my wavy brown hair that fell past my shoulders.
“That’s right. I’m an intern at
The Morning Dispatch
. I graduate in May from Toulene’s Royal University with a degree in journalism.”
“What kind of stories do you write?” He pulled down on the frayed bill of his cap, making the shadows darken across his face in the dimly lit pub.
“My last story was a brief on road work in Roeselare. I do a lot of short pieces, which is fine. Gotta pay my dues before I can cover politics.” My head buzzed with leftover energy from my performance, giving me above-average courage to chat up this handsome stranger.
He looked up at the TV behind the bar, the only one showing rugby highlights. The glow from the screen chased away most of the shadows obscuring his features. His eyes were big, alive. Underneath the accessories, his face had near-perfect symmetry, and I gave him extra credit for having lips that weren’t chapped. Lots of guys in northern continental Europe got chapped lips the moment the weather turned cold. He pushed his glasses higher on his face, then raised the off-white stein. I studied his lips perched on the edge of it, ready for a drink of dark beer. So kissable.
“What’s so exciting about politics?” he asked.
I gasped loudly, raising a hand to my heart in melodramatic horror at such a ridiculous question. “What’s so exciting about politics? Everything! Legislatures determine spending priorities and set public policy. We all have to live by their rules.” I leaned toward him and lowered my voice. “You know, everybody likes to focus on the executive―the president in the U.S. and the monarchy here. But they’re just a distraction. Sure, they have a role to play, but it’s comparatively boring. I’d rather cover the passionate debates among lawmakers.” I paused, embarrassed by my effusive nerdiness. “I can’t help it. I love the idea of being a statehouse reporter. I really want to stick up for people who don’t have a voice.”