For his humor, for his heart, and for his big, strong body.

That’s the problem.

He’s fall-for-able, and I’m not the only woman who’s noticed.

The ladies love him, and he seems to love them too.

So, stolen kiss or two aside, I simply can’t think about him any longer.

For many reasons, but first and foremost, this—he’s my best friend Perri’s brother. She’s never said it to me, but I know she doesn’t want me with him. And I hate keeping secrets from her.

I must be done with this years-in-the-making secret.

So when I have the chance to meet a new guy who’s coming back to town, a man who’s simply perfect for me, I seize the opportunity.

So what if there are nearly two decades of longing for my best friend’s brother to get over?

1

Vanessa

I have this fantasy.

The details vary a little. Sometimes I’m in the town diner, other times I’m walking across the square. Most of the time, I’m right here at the one-stop check-in and shoe counter at my bowling alley.

The rest of it goes like this: This guy strides up to me. A rush of tingles spreads down my chest at the sight of his dark hair, his five-o’clock shadow, and his big, burly frame. He drums his fingers on the Formica, lifts a brow, then smiles.

I mean one of those world-class, panty-melting grins that make you swoon.

But the real swoon is what comes next.

He’ll say, “Level with me, Vanessa. I’ve had it bad for you for most of the last two decades, and I’ll wager it’s the same for you. If you feel even one ounce of what I feel, let’s shed this whole ruse and make it official. Go out with me. Go out with me tonight.”

The rest? It’s a montage of oh yeses; hot, wet kisses; and messy lipstick.

That’s the fantasy. My reality on a Wednesday evening in February?

The door opens and a familiar figure strolls in. Even from a distance, he catches my gaze then tips his chin and mouths hey.

My stomach flips, and then it somersaults again when he reaches my post, winks, and asks for a pair of shoes. I know his size, so I hand him the fourteens.

“You know what they say about big shoes?” His deep, raspy voice makes my chest flutter.

I quirk up my lips. “That they’re perfect for clowns?”

And that smile? Oh boy. It spreads into the sexiest grin. “Vanessa Maria Marquez, are you saying I’m a clown?”

I shrug, a little playfully, looking at the shoes in his hands. “If the shoe fits . . .”

He leans closer. “The other thing they say about big shoes is that it’s hard . . .”

I wait for him to make a dirty joke, to lob an innuendo. Breath held, I wait for him to say Let’s do this, because hope never dies. And then I wait for the abject guilt of keeping a secret from Perri to subside. Perri, one of my two best friends in the universe, the girl who’s been there for me through every up and down, who attended the theatrical productions I worked on in high school, the friend who rushed to my side in the hospital room when I broke my leg skiing in college, even though she was two hours away, the woman I gave the kick in the pants to last year with her guy when she needed it.

Shaw’s hazel eyes flicker, and I know he’s waiting for me to set up his dirty joke.

My guilt hardens—and my hope deepens too. The longing for this man beats on.

I return to his “hard” comment. “Hard for what?”

“Hard to find socks.”

I laugh, shake my head, and shoo him off. “Go bowl some strikes, Shaw.”

He gives me a tip of the imaginary hat and heads off to lane twenty, joining a few fellow firemen. I do my damnedest not to stare at his sexy butt, or admire his big frame, or, honestly, even think about him like that.

It’s something I’ve been trying to do for years.

When a group of older ladies—twice my age and totally fabulous—comes in, I shift my focus, setting them up at one of the lanes and serving them wine.

For the next thirty minutes, I don’t even look at lane twenty.

Well, maybe I peek once or twice.

2

Vanessa

Doris Day had it right.

Whatever will be will be.

The future is coming at you, so you just damn well better make the most of your present.

That’s why I dress the way I do, listen to great tunes, and spend plenty of my days and nights here at Pin-Up Lanes, where I’m living the American dream.

I love bowling, I love retro clothes, and I love people.

So this suits me fabulously, thank you, Doris Day.

As her soulful number pipes through the place later that evening, I carry a tray of chardonnay-filled wineglasses past my cartoonish Let’s go bowling, it’s great for a date sign, and head straight for the vintage scoreboard.


Tags: Lauren Blakely Romance
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