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Grab your suitcase and prepare for the time of your life in this swoony tale that’s as hot as the tropical destination itself. Fans of runaway brides, close-proximity, one-bed, and friends-to-lovers tropes will fall hopelessly in love with this fling-to-forever romance. 

 

CONTEST: WIN A DATE TO MY HONEYMOON

 

I realize that a social media post isn’t the usual way to secure a date to your honeymoon—for obvious reasons—but here we are.

My wedding was canceled. What’s not canceled is the nonrefundable, ten-thousand-dollar all-inclusive vacation at a luxury resort, and I’m not about to let it go to waste.

I’m packed and ready to hit the beach. But I can’t deny that it might be more interesting to honeymoon with someone.

Since my track record of picking dates isn’t exactly golden, I’ve done something that I hope I don’t regret. In a moment of weakness—mixed with panic and fueled by margaritas—I agreed to let my friends choose someone to go with me. 

It’ll be a blind date / postnuptial vacation—without the nuptials. A few fun days in paradise with no expectations. No obligations.

Before you say, “pick me for a free vacay!” a few things to consider …

The perfect candidate will be single. He won’t talk too much on the plane. And he’ll be able to leave town quickly.

He will also be okay with sharing a bed. It’s a honeymoon suite, after all.

If you want to be considered, email Rebecca and Sara your application at the address below. (Get creative. There’s a free vacation on the line.)

Wheels up next week!

Godspeed, honeymooners.

 

 

Chapter One

Ashley

 

“I’ve made a decision.”

My best friend, Rebecca, looks at me with a heavy dose of skepticism. Although I’d like to think that her dubious reaction to my announcement is overblown … it’s probably not. That’s especially true when my recent rash of spontaneous decisions—although justified—is taken into consideration.

Oh, well

“Not sure I even want to hear this,” she says before taking a sip of her drink.

“Becca, I’m going on my honeymoon.”

She sputters into a napkin, sending a million particles of tequila into the fabric. The blues of her eyes mist in a watery fog.

I sip my coconut lime margarita and enjoy the evening breeze while Rebecca tries not to die. Even though it’s balmy, the air rippling across the rooftop patio is a pleasant reprieve … and a nice distraction from Rebecca’s complete overreaction.

“Okay, now that I can breathe again, can you repeat that?” she asks before clearing her throat. “I misheard you.”

I’m going on my honeymoon.”

I say the words as though each is its own sentence. Not that the emphasis or the clarity is needed. She heard me. She heard me just fine.

Rebecca holds my gaze. Disbelief mixed with confusion and maybe a sprinkle of amusement is written on her pretty, freckled face.

“Come on,” I say, pressing my lips together. “I have to go. How can I let five days in the Caribbean go to waste? What kind of person would I be if I let that happen? I’m a travel agent, for goodness’ sake.” 

She shakes her head, her chestnut tresses dusting her shoulders. She makes a show of holding up her glass and inspecting it. “I haven’t drunk enough to be so intoxicated that I’m imagining this conversation, have I?”

“Stop it.” I laugh. “Be serious.”

Be serious? Okay.” She folds her hands together on the table and leans forward, looking me straight in the eye. “I’m worried about you. Are you well?”

A smile stretches across my face. Even though she fights it, she grins too.

I knew it was the right decision to call off my wedding a month before the ceremony was set to take place. What I didn’t know—what I didn’t envision—was just how relieved I would be when it was all said and done. 

When I got out of my lease, put my things in storage, and showed up on Rebecca’s doorstep until I figured out what I was going to do—my relief came in waves. And I’ve basked in it ever since. 

I got my power back. I hadn’t realized I’d lost so much of it somewhere over the past two years.

“Don’t worry about me,” I say, licking the salt off my bottom lip. “I’m good.”

“I haven’t been worrying about you. I’ve been too busy celebrating the fact that I got my best friend back from Lord Farquaad.”

I giggle. “Stop calling him that.”

“It’s not my fault that he’s power-hungry, obsessed with perfection, and has an affinity for red and black. He was one pageboy haircut from me buying him a freaking horse to fulfill his destiny.”

I shake with laughter.

“To this day, I’m still confused about why you fell for that guy,” Rebecca says.

Yeah, well, me too. “Honestly? At that moment in my life? Dad had just died. I was grieving him and the relationship we never had and was sort of processing the trauma of that situation, I think. And Eton embodied a … power, a sense of control and almost detachment that I wished that I had.” I swirl the liquid around my glass. “I’m not sure I ever fell for him, but that drew me in.”

Rebecca starts to say something but reconsiders.

“I’m just thankful I’m home in Kismet Beach right now and not in Orlando,” I say. “The rest is water under the bridge at this point.”

“I don’t know how you stayed away from here for so long. You were gone almost a year. Do you realize that?”

Of course, I realize that. I felt it every day.

Rebecca grins. “Let’s steer this conversation away from Duloc.”

I snort.

“Are you sure you want to go on your honeymoon?” Rebecca asks carefully. “You were pretty against it last night, and now you’ve made a one-eighty—which you’re allowed to do. I just want to make sure you’re not going to get to the Bahamas and start overthinking how you planned the whole thing for you and Eton …”

Becca.” I lower my chin as I watch her over the table. “While I’ll admit I’ve been one to overthink a little—”

“A little?”

“Or a moderate amount. Either way, I sat back and let Eton dictate the past two years of my life. I thought the year of dating long-distance was just rough because of the miles and that the engagement would change things. But the past eight months of living in Orlando …” I scoff. “I walked around on eggshells more and more until I was a shell of myself. And I’m not letting the man who called my travel agency a gold-digger’s hobby to pass time hover over any of my decisions.”

She tilts her head, side-eyeing me. “So this doesn’t have anything to do with that book you were reading last night?”

“Ha. No.”

“It is titled Intimacy with Strangers,” she teases me.

“You know,” I say, setting my glass down. “You should think about reading my book when I’m done. It might help you relax a little.”

“I don’t need a book written by some smarmy dude on the back cover with a smile that reminds me of a serial killer just before he turns to the dark side to tell me how to have intimacy with strangers.” She laughs, her eyes going wide. “Oh, my gosh! I get it. That’s how they do it.”

I furrow my brow. “Who are they, and what do they do?”

Serial killers. They write books angled toward people feeling emotionally fragile and convince them that being intimate with a stranger is somehow healing—”

“The book is not even about sex.”

She lifts her glass, her lips pressed together to hide her smile. “At least make the strangers wear condoms and keep your tracking turned on so we can find your body.”

I wad my napkin and throw it at her. She ducks, missing it easily, and then plucks it off the ledge behind her.

“All joking aside,” I say, our laughter fading. “I have an idea.”

“What’s that?”

“You should come to the Bahamas with me.”

I nibble my bottom lip and wait for her response. It’s a shot in the dark, I know, but I’m willing to try.

Rebecca doesn’t travel much. She’ll go on trips here and there with me and our friend Sara, but she’s much more of a homebody than we are. I used to think it was because of finances. But Sara and I always offer to pay, thanks to my inheritance from my father and Sara’s kick-ass job. Now I’m not sure. 

“Ash, I can’t. I wish I could. I just paid my rent, and I need to stay home and get my money’s worth.”

“Well, I’ve stayed with you for ten days, and I might be there a while longer. So let me pay the rent this month and—”

“No. That’s not an option.”

The look she gives me tells me that she’s digging her heels in, as expected.

I march on.

“It’s an all-expenses-paid trip,” I say. “I’ll cover the plane ticket because you’d be doing me a favor by going so I don’t have to go alone.”

She sighs. “Honestly, I’m trying to hoard money. My lease is up in a couple of months, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I’ve been thinking about going home to Texas.”

I raise a brow but don’t say anything.

“It’s the adult decision to stay here and put away some cash. No one is going to come adult my life for me,” she says.

Rebecca has mentioned returning to Texas a time or two over the past few months. She seems to have a love/hate relationship with it, and I’m not sure why. I know she left and lived in Indiana for a while before making her way down here a few years ago. I don’t pressure her; she closes like a clam. I show my support and give her space as she does me when I need it.

“Okay. I get it. But the option is on the table if you change your mind,” I say.

“I appreciate it.”

“What do you appreciate?” Sara slides into the booth beside Rebecca, her bracelets jingling against the table. “Sorry, I’m late. The traffic on Beachfront Boulevard is wild tonight.”

On cue, a horn blasts below us on the street.

The rooftop patio of La Pachanga, the best Mexican restaurant on this coast of Florida, is my favorite spot in Kismet Beach. It’s in the middle of the action—looking down on the main thoroughfare. It’s the best perch to watch tourists pose for selfies in front of the huge plastic shark dangling from the surf shop on the corner. From here, you can watch the action and not have to take part. 

Hel-lo?” Sara asks, waving her hand at me. “You can’t just stop talking when I sit down. I’m nosy. Fill me in.”

Ignoring Rebecca’s quirked brow, my gaze settles on Sara. Her glossy hair shines in the light.

“Becca is second-guessing my life choices,” I say.

Sara looks at Rebecca and drops her jaw. “Don’t tell me that you talked her out of coloring her hair again. I swear to all that’s holy if you did, I will …” She pauses. “Well, I don’t know what I’ll do, but I’ll do something hateful. Mean. Really petty.”

“Nope,” Rebecca says, amused. “You’re going to love this. You’re going to love it more than the time you convinced Ashley to spend a month’s wages—”

It wasn’t a month,” I interject.

On a purse,” Rebecca says, ignoring me. “This is bigger than that. You’ll be much more entertained.”

Sara’s eyes sparkle. “Enough foreplay. What’s going on?”

Rebecca sighs, holding a palm up in front of her. “You can have the honors.”

“Well, thanks, considering it’s my news.”

You have news? What kind of news?” Sara asks. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’ve had the best news lately.”

I shoot her a look that makes her laugh.

My two best friends are complete opposites. One is mature and logical. She makes soup when I’m sick and talks me out of bad decisions. She always answers the phone—even at four in the morning. She’d be the person I’d call if I needed bail money.

And then there’s Sara.

She’ll support my honeymoon decision without question. I only need to make sure that she doesn’t talk me into some reverse harem situation while I’m in the Bahamas.

Although

“So,” I say before nibbling the end of a chip. “After much thoughtful deliberation—”

“And a book called Intimacy with Strangers,” Rebecca interjects.

I stop and turn to her. “I told you—that’s a different thing.”

“Is it, though?”

Yes,” I say, exasperated. “That was about making time for—”

“Cool,” Sara says, as impatient as ever. “Talk about that later. What is your big news?”

“You’ll be happy to hear that I’m going on my honeymoon,” I say, bracing myself for her enthusiasm.

As predicted, Sara shrieks. “This is exactly what you need to get your groove back. You can use the sun and salt water to bleach your energy of all things Farquaad.”

“Really?” I deadpan.

The server arrives at the table before Rebecca can chime in. Sara makes a quick order to go before turning back to me. When her eyes meet mine, they’re filled with an enthusiasm that feeds my excitement.

“I need a travel buddy,” I tell her, leaning forward. “Rebecca can’t. That leaves you.”

“Oh, I’m so excited to take the opportunity considering I was the second choice.”

Rebecca scoffs. “You know she was going to ask you whether I said yes or no. You’re way more fun than I am.”

“This is true,” Sara says, swiping a chip from the basket. “And I would if I could.”

I gasp. “What do you mean if you could? You have to come. I can’t go alone, and you love to travel.”

She takes a bite of her chip. “I’m meeting with executives from a distillery that I’ve had a hell of a time scheduling. I’d be fired on the spot if I canceled. And,” she says, scooping some guacamole on her chip, “I swore hand to heart that I would take my little sister to a concert that weekend. Like I can’t go. I can’t. No way around it. I’m sorry.”

I never thought to consider that neither of my friends could go. Sara can always get time off work—perks for sleeping with her boss. Rebecca has enough sick days to cover the trip, and I know her boss at Smokey’s would be more than happy to give her some time off since she works practically every day. I was sure she’d want to go too.

Now what am I going to do?

“You’ll be fine,” Sara says, running a hand through the air. “It’ll be good for you. You’ll have an empty bed in which to bring the hot pool boys and lifeguards. This can really be a true experience if you play your cards right.”

I lean back in the booth and laugh. “Easy, there. I’m not doing this Sara style. I’d like to know a bit more about my hookups than green eyes, great shoulders. Or wait—how did you save that one guy on your phone? Scorpio Sex?”

Rebecca laughs too, angling her body toward Sara. “Or Blue Shirt Chris. Remember him? I can’t imagine being reduced to the color of my shirt and first name.” 

“Trust me—being Blue Shirt Chris was doing him a favor. It differentiated him from Green Shirt Chris. Huge difference, if you get the picture.”

“Oh, I got the picture,” I say, my laughter fading into a fake cry. “I learned the hard way to never—never, ever, ever—look at the pictures on your phone.”

Sara smirks. “It was hard, I’ll give you that.”

“I’m not opposed to some hard, that’s for sure,” I say. “But I’d like to tiptoe into that world. Dip my toe in, so to speak.”

“Take your time,” Rebecca says just as Sara speaks.

“Just hop back on and ride. It’s like riding a bike.” Her grin turns mischievous. “They both end with a sore ass sometimes too.” 

I snort as our server reappears. After learning we don’t need anything else, she slips our bill onto the end of the table.

“I’m sorry I missed dinner,” Sara says. “I’ll make it up to you. Want to go out to eat this weekend? My treat.”

I grab my purse and dig around for my wallet. “Maybe. I’ll probably get my stuff together now that I’m fully committed to the Bahamas.”

A burst of excitement streaks through me. Salt, sand, and sun—just what I ordered … when I bought the trip. 

“I can’t do dinner on Saturday. I have a late shift at Smokey’s,” Rebecca says. “I’m not sure how long I work Friday either.”

Sara nods. “I’ll text you guys later this week, and we’ll figure it out.”

“Perfect,” I say.

I reach for the bill, but Rebecca grabs it first.

“It’s my turn to pay,” I tell her.

She shakes her head. “I’m the one who suggested we come.”

My heart tugs for my sweet friend. Rebecca struggles, but she does it with so much pride. I love her so much.

“You aren’t paying for dinner,” I tell her. “You’re letting me crash with you, for heaven’s sake. I’m not your ward.”

Our server comes back and immediately understands the situation. She laughs at our friendly yet serious debate. “I’ll stand here quietly until you handle this amongst yourselves.”

“I’m paying,” I tell her, thrusting my card toward her hand.

“She’s not.” Rebecca extends her card across the table. “Take mine.”

“Just let me pay for it and ignore these two,” Sara tells her. “I’ll leave you the best tip.”

I stare at both of my friends.

“Keep glaring at me,” Sara says, smiling brightly. “But you’re still not paying.” 

“No, she’s not,” a playful voice says from beside me. “Because I am.”

 

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