“Hi, Miriam.”

“Jamie, it’s so funny that you called.”

There’s a pause, and then he says in a smooth, masculine voice, “It’s funny? You texted me and asked me to call. You used all caps. ‘CALL ME IN EXACTLY FIVE MINUTES IF I SEND YOU A TEXT WITH A MONKEY FACE EMOJI.’”

I snicker, and Miriam acts perplexed. “I don’t think I said that, but be that as it may—want to hear the most coincidental thing?”

“Sure,” he says, as Miriam adjusts the screen, showing me . . . oh my.

Jamie is even more handsome than I remember. He’s aged well, and his dark-blond hair curls at the ends. Warm amber eyes meet mine, and his square jaw could be the factory model for square jaws. Full lips complete the handsome-as-GQ look. No wonder my little sister, Ella, had a crush on him when she was in eighth grade and he was a senior. I wave at his face on the screen. “Hi, Jamie. How are you?”

“Hey, Vanessa. How the hell are you? And, most important, has my stepmom enlisted you in some crazy scheme?”

I shrug lightly. “I’m fabulous, thanks for asking. As for your stepmom, I guess you’ll have to ask her if she’s meddlesome,” I answer playfully.

Miriam beams, tossing a glance at her comrades-in-setup. “Look, they get along so well already.”

Sara laughs. “You’re forcing them to.”

But she’s truly not, because Jamie and I chat for a few minutes, catching up on the goings-on in our little town of Lucky Falls. He says he’s practicing law in San Francisco, and I tell him I’m keeping busy here at the bowling alley.

“Are you still an avid theater-goer?” he asks, and I can’t help but smile that he remembers a small detail about me from high school.

“I get to San Francisco as often as I can to see shows. My sister and I saw Waitress a few months ago. It was fantastic.”

“Good to hear. How’s Ella?”

“Keeping the library busy as always,” I say, picturing my younger sister, the quintessential sexy and smart librarian.

As a new group of customers heads into the alley, I tell him it was nice chatting, but I have to go.

Once I’ve checked the newcomers in, Miriam strides over, a determined look in her gray eyes. “Look, I’m not going to pretend here.”

I didn’t think she was pretending before. “Good. Be real,” I say with a smile.

She eyes me up and down. “You’re lovely, fun, and pretty. Clever and kind too. So is Jamie. He’s whip smart, sweet as can be, and reliable as anything. He’s ready to settle down. You are too.”

I’m taken aback by her bold assessment of my relationship readiness. “Why do you say that?”

Miriam points to my dark-brown irises. “You have that look. You’re ready for the real deal. My son is the real deal.”

“Is that so?” I ask, but I’m momentarily distracted because Shaw’s heading in my direction, and he’s wearing that grin.

That damn grin that gets me every time.

He slides up next to Miriam. “Hey, Miriam. How’s everything at the library? You still volunteering and reading to the school kids?”

She flashes a smile. “Why, yes, I am.”

“I bet they adore you. I know they loved you when you were teaching a few years back.”

“And I loved teaching second grade up until the day I retired. The kids always got a kick out of it when the firemen visited the school.”

“We’re doing that next week, as a matter of fact.” Then he nods at me. “Anyway, I’ll let you two ladies finish up. Just wanted to say hello.” He meets my gaze. “By the way, nice cherries.”

My gaze drifts momentarily to the cherry pattern, and that fluttery hope springs up once more, wishing he’d say Nice cherries. Want to go out for cherry pie?

I don’t even care for pie.

But I’d say yes.

Instead, he walks away.

He’s always walking away.

In eight years of running this joint, I’ve always hoped he’d walk back to me. But that’s never happened.

That never will happen.

And I suppose it’s truly for the best. I can’t keep feeling this way for Perri’s brother.

Maybe tonight is a sign it’s time for me to move on from this best-kept secret.

I return my focus to Miriam, who’s patiently waiting. Shaw’s well out of earshot.

“That sounds great. Set me up with him,” I tell her.

She punches the air, and I take a deep breath.

Miriam is correct. But that’s another reason Shaw isn’t right for me—he’s a ladies’ man, and I’m ready for the real deal.

Some decisions require best friend approval, even retroactively.

After I say goodbye to the last patron, a woman in a satin Pink Ladies jacket toting a matching bowling ball bag, I lock the door to Pin-Up Lanes.

Now it’s just Arden, Perri, and me, since they arrived a few minutes ago, bearing wine. They’ve been my best friends since I moved to the United States from Colombia when I was six.

Tags: Lauren Blakely Romance
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