Oh my word, you guys, I am so in love with this book! And today, I have a little sneak peek for you! The prologue and first chapter of Make Me Hate You are below. And let me tell you, this addictively juicy romance is soooooooo friggin good. It’s angsty and sexy and has a tension filled build that will have you on the edge of your seat. An intoxicating read, this romance plays with your heart, punches you in the feels, and leaves you feeling ALL THE THINGS. I LOVED EVERY SINGLE WORD! You need to read this!!! Make Me Hate You comes to Kindle June 25th!
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June 8th, 2013
I didn’t know a heart could break like that.
I didn’t know it was possible to feel every sensation of your chest splitting wide open, of your heart bleeding out, without a single puncture wound being made.
I didn’t know there was a pain worse than your high school boyfriend breaking up with you, or your childhood dog passing away, or leaving a school with all your friends to go to a completely new one.
But it turned out there was a worse pain — one of a parent leaving you, abandoning you, waving goodbye to you in their rearview mirror like you were just an out-of-town friend they were visiting all along.
“I’m sorry, baby girl. I’m sorry. I love you.”
My eyes stung as her words played on repeat, and I pedaled faster, the burning of my quads a welcome distraction from the pain splitting my chest open.
I looked disgusting — that much I knew for sure. Snot was dripping from my nose, mascara streaked my face, and I didn’t have a clue what state my bright, blonde hair was in after my hands had raked through it for the last hour.
But none of that mattered, because I was almost at my best friend’s house, and she’d wipe my tears and give me Kleenex and ice cream and, most importantly — she’d have the answers.
She’d know what to do.
The gate was open at the end of the road, and I took the familiar turn into the driveway that led to the Wagner’s house. It was more like a mansion in my eyes, with its fifty acres of New Hampshire beauty, lakefront views, and grand New England colonial architecture. The first time I’d been to it — four years ago as a freshman — I’d stood at the edge of the drive and gaped at the tall, white columns that stretched into the sky, the seven chimneys that peppered the roof, the wrap-around porch decorated with the most beautiful garden I’d ever seen in my life.
It was so different from the trailer I’d grown up in, from my aunt’s modest two-bedroom apartment on the other side of town.
But now, it was like a second home to me, and I didn’t pause to marvel at its beauty at all.
I leapt off the old heap of baby blue metal that was my bike and took off sprinting toward the house before it even hit the grass. The sun was setting over the lake, the last rays of light slipping through the limbs of the aspens and the white pines that lined Morgan’s drive. I blew past them with blurry eyes, launched straight up the stairs that led to the front porch, and flew through the front door with my heart beating in my ears.
I must have looked like a wild animal, from the way Harry, Morgan’s estate manager, gaped at me. Harry was in his sixties, with creamy white skin, a bald head covered in sun spots, and the kindest sea foam green eyes I’d ever known. His white, caterpillar eyebrows bent over those eyes as he took in the state of me.
“Ms. Jasmine,” he said on a breath, reaching for me. “Are you alright?”
Tears blurred my vision again, and I shook my head, sprinting past him and up the half-spiral staircase to the second floor. That’s where Morgan’s bedroom was, and I ran straight for it, not bothering to knock before I thrust the door open.
Her room was a dream of every shade of pink imaginable, with a canopy four-post bed, a cozy fireplace, more pillows than anyone could ever use, and pictures of us from the last four years covering every wall.
And it was empty.
My chest squeezed, and I turned, ready to run back down to see if she was in the kitchen.
Instead, I ran straight into her brother’s bare chest.
“Whoa,” Tyler said, catching me and holding me upright before I had the chance to bounce backward. “I thought we decided you and high speeds don’t mix well, Jazzy.”
He chuckled, but when I lifted my head and met his gaze, all laughter left his eyes in an instant.
Tyler Wagner was modest in height, and extraordinary in every other aspect. He might as well have walked out of a Hollister ad, with the way his sandy brown hair fell in his eyes just right before he swept it away, and the way his abs rippled like mountains and valleys down his abdomen, already bronzed, even though it was only June and summer had yet to begin. He had a slight cleft in his chin, one that I always teased him for — saying it was his superhero chin.
Only eleven months older than my best friend, I considered him my best friend, too. The three of us did everything together, and always had. We met up after every class the three years we were all at Bridgechester Prep before Tyler graduated. We ate lunch as a crew, hung out after school, lost countless weekends together and never spent more than a day or two apart during the summer. I might as well have been a part of that family for how they’d taken me under their wing when we first met.
It was The Wagner Kids — Plus One.
And because of how close Tyler and I were, and how his sister was my best friend in the entire world, I knew I wasn’t supposed to notice those things that I did. I wasn’t supposed to notice his abs, his toned biceps, his perfect chin and lips and hair. I wasn’t supposed to notice the way his skin was sticky with a mixture of sweat and sunscreen, or how his hands were warm where they held me, or how his eyes were so dark they were almost bottomless — unless he was in the sunlight, in which case, they were a brilliant hue of gold.
But I did notice.
I always had.
And I’d never tell.
Tyler’s chocolate eyes searched mine, brows bent together, thick lips parted. They were always a sort of dusty mix between pink and brown, always set in a perpetual preppy boy pout.
Without another word, he pulled me into his bare chest, and I wrapped my arms around him, another wave of sobs ripping through me at the feeling of being hugged.
Of being cared for.
Of being loved.
“Shit, Jaz,” he said on a sigh. “What happened?”
I shook my head, not ready to talk about it yet — even though that was why I had come. I had fled my aunt’s apartment right after my mother pulled out of the parking lot in her old Pontiac, wanting nothing more than to run here and tell Morgan everything. Tyler, too.
But now that I was here, I just wanted to be held.
I just wanted to know that someone wanted me in this world.
Another heavy sigh left Tyler’s chest, and then his hand slipped down to grab mine, and he pulled me down the hallway — three doors down, past one of the many guest rooms and his mother’s sewing room — to his bedroom.
His room was darker than Morgan’s, with blackout curtains and a sea of navy blue and forest green covering the bed spread and walls. Mrs. Wagner had thrown a fit when we painted it so dark the summer after mine and Morgan’s freshman year, but it was what he wanted, and it suited him.
It was dark, quiet, peaceful.
And it smelled like him — like Hollister cologne and sunscreen and sweat.
Like a day at the lake.
My favorite time to sit in his room was the first day of fall, when he’d crack the blinds covering his window as the sun fell over the lake, and he’d build a perfect fire in his fireplace, and the whole room would fill with a soft, golden light. The three of us would sit on his floor with pumpkin-spiced tea and plan our Halloween outfits, and it was a tradition I looked forward to every year.
Presently, I sat numbly on the edge of his unmade bed as he shut the door behind us, and he bent down on the floor in front of me, mouth tugged to one side.
“Morgan’s out shopping with Mom,” he explained. “They were going to go to dinner after, but I can text her if—”
I shook my head. “No, it’s okay.”
“But you’re not.”
My eyes flooded. “No,” I whispered. “I’m not.”
He sighed again, just as heavy and deep, and the pain in that sigh told me that it mattered to him that I wasn’t okay — which mattered to me, more than he would ever know.
“Let me get you some water,” he said, starting to rise, but I reached out for him, clinging to his arm.
“No. Please,” I begged, fighting back more tears. “Just stay.”
His brows furrowed, and he nodded, sitting beside me on his bed and wrapping his arms around me.
There was always something safe about Tyler. I’d felt it the first time we laid eyes on each other, my first day of Bridgechester Prep. I was in a completely new school with kids I’d never met before, feeling about as comfortable as a lobster in a boiling pot of water, but somehow, he’d crashed through the noise. I still remembered the way he had stopped in the hallway, how he’d crooked one corner of his mouth in a smile, how he’d said hi, and asked me to sit with him at lunch.
This, on my first day of high school. This, at a school where none of my friends from the public middle school could afford to attend – where I was only able to attend thanks to my aunt knowing someone who knew someone and writing one hell of a scholarship essay for me. This, right after my mother had left me to live with my aunt, checking herself into rehab.
And for the first time in possibly my entire life, I’d felt safe.
He was always looking out for me and Morgan. When we were kayaking on the lake, he was always on alert, ready to jump in and save either of us if he needed to. When we first learned how to drive, he was always with us, making sure we weren’t distracting each other. When we went to our first high school party, he was there, waiting in the wings to make sure no one drugged our drinks and we didn’t get too drunk to know what we were doing.
Tyler radiated care and safety, and so I leaned into the heat of him, his skin still warm and sticky with sunscreen. He must have been lying out by the pool, or doing his calisthenics in the yard. My hand splayed the area where his rib cage met his abs, and I swallowed at the way they felt — hard muscles covered by soft, bronzed skin.
For the longest time, he just held me there, silently rocking me until my tears had dried up. At some point he handed me a tissue, though I couldn’t be sure when. It was like I was in a dream — or rather, a nightmare.
“Did something happen with James?” Tyler asked after a while, and I didn’t miss the hardness in his voice at the mention of my now-ex-boyfriend. He’d broken up with me a couple weeks ago, right before senior prom, and I’d been devastated.
But that was nothing compared to this.
I shook my head, and Tyler let out an almost-relieved sigh.
“Good,” he said. “I didn’t want to have to fight that little bastard.”
I tried to smile, but failed.
After another long pause, Tyler whispered, “Is it your mom?”
My heart squeezed so violently in my chest that I curled in on myself, and I knew that was an answer in itself. Still, I nodded against his chest, and he held me tighter.
My mother was an addict, and had been my entire life. Of course, I didn’t know it — not really — not until the summer after eighth grade when I found her on the floor of our trailer with a needle in her arm and a dead look in her eyes. Luckily, she was just short of overdosed, and she survived.
But it was the rudest wake-up call of my life.
I didn’t know my father, and according to my mother, she didn’t know him, either. She had been sexually assaulted at a rave party in the summer of ‘94, and I was the product of that night — a constant reminder of the most brutal violation that can happen to a woman.
Part of me wondered if I was the reason she turned to drugs so hard, if seeing me brought back that night of her life every day. My Aunt Laura assured me that her habit had started well before I was even born, but I still wondered.
I moved in with Aunt Laura that summer, not too long after the incident, and my mom had been taking the last four years to work on herself. She went to rehab, got a job, and even managed to rent a house in the next town over — though I still didn’t see her often.
I just need some time to find myself, she’d explained to me the day she’d moved me in to my aunt’s house. And when I do, I’ll come back for you, and we’ll be together again.
Except once she found herself, she also found a new boyfriend — one who lived in Phoenix.
And today, she told me she was moving there to be with him.
I could still hear my aunt screaming at her older sister, begging her to be reasonable, to be responsible, to put her daughter first. It was the loudest I’d ever heard my aunt raise her voice, and yet it was somehow muted in the moment, like it was all a distant memory even before it had actually happened.
I could still see my mother’s tears as she tried to explain herself, looking at me with a mixture of pity and guilt and regret that made for the worst combination. Nothing she could say made it better, no matter how she tried to explain that she was finally happy for the first time, that she was in a good place, that she wanted to stay there.
No matter what she said, all of it amounted to one thing in my eyes.
She didn’t want me.
She never had.
And I was a fool to believe she’d ever come back for me.
“She left,” I managed to whisper, and Tyler stiffened at the words. I pulled back, looking into his deep brown eyes — eyes that had been the first to truly see me when I’d walked into Bridgechester Prep High School freshman year.
Eyes that had been the first to truly see me. Period.
“She’s gone, Ty. I thought she was coming back for me, but she just…” I sniffed. “She just came to say goodbye.”
Tyler’s nostrils flared, and he reached out for me, cradling my face in his hands as I bit my lip against the urge to cry again.
“Listen to me, Jasmine,” he said, leveling his gaze with me. “Your mother does not define you. You understand me? She’s an idiot for not seeing the amazing daughter she has, for not wanting to get to know you the way our family knows you.” He swallowed. “The way I know you. But that’s on her, okay? That is not on you.”
He let out a long, slow breath, pressing his forehead to mine. My hands wrapped around his wrists where he held me.
“You are spectacular, Jasmine Olsen,” he whispered. “Don’t you ever forget that.”
I nodded, something between a smile and a grimace finding me as two more tears slipped free and fell between us.
Tyler’s thumbs smoothed the skin between my ear and my cheek, his grip tightening at the back of my neck. Through my wet lashes, I watched his lips as he rolled them together, his nose as he let out another long, slow, shaky breath.
Suddenly, the air in his room thickened, heating like the sun itself was inside it.
Another moment stretched between us, and then Tyler slipped his hands farther into my hair, his hands cradling my neck, thumbs still running the length of my jaw. Somewhere in the house, the air conditioning kicked on, the soft hum of it finding my ears but doing nothing to cool the heat in that bedroom. Then, Tyler pulled — just a little, just enough — and my head lifted, our foreheads still touching, but now our noses touched, too.
His hot breath met mine in the center of that space between us, and I blinked several times, eyes still blurry when I found his gaze.
Tyler’s eyes flicked back and forth between mine, then fell to my lips, then slowly crawled back up. He swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing hard in his throat, and something sharp and hot and unfamiliar hit me like a lightning bolt, shooting from the point where his hands touched me all the way down between my legs.
I should pull back.
I should pull away.
This is Tyler.
This is my best friend’s brother.
Each thought came faster and more urgent than the first, but I didn’t have time to listen to them, to act on them.
Because in the next breath, Tyler traced my bottom lip with the pad of his thumb, sucking in a breath at the contact.
And then, he tilted my chin, and lowered his own, and he kissed me.
My chest tightened in a completely new way — not from pain, or from abandonment, but from a yearning desire so deep and demanding that it stole my next breath and every other thought I had. I was completely frozen in his grasp, so focused on the way his warm lips caressed mine that I couldn’t concentrate enough to move a single muscle.
He kissed me slowly, surely, as if he hadn’t had a second guess about it before in his life. And when he pulled back, he waited, watching me carefully, asking for permission to do it again.
I answered with my hands sliding up his chest, over his shoulders, and into his hair, slicking my lips before I pulled him into me and kissed him back.
I kissed him back.
His response was instant, his arms full around me, crushing me into him as he deepened the kiss. A throaty moan came from his chest, and I gasped at the way it shook me to the core.
Oh my God.
I’m kissing my best friend’s brother.
I’m kissing Tyler Wagner.
And I never want to stop.
And just like I hadn’t known that a heart could break the way mine did when my mother left, I didn’t know what it felt like to be touched like that by a boy. Sure, James and I had slept together, but it had been quick and clumsy most of the time, and I’d been mostly lost and confused, assuming that was just what it was like for the girl.
But this… this was something else altogether.
I didn’t know what it was to be wanted so desperately that each kiss felt like a fire searing every inch of skin covering my bones. I didn’t know what it was to tremble and shake, to be lowered back into pillows and sheets with hands so careful and confident that every other thought left my head completely. I didn’t know what it was to feel a mixture of extreme passion and somehow familiar safety all at once, to succumb to something so forbidden, and to love it like nothing I’d ever loved before.
We crossed every line that night — and I went from loving my best friend’s brother in secret to wanting nothing more than to love him out loud.
I lost myself inside that moment, inside that room, inside that night with Tyler.
But of course, that was because I didn’t know what tomorrow would bring.
I didn’t know that the next day, Tyler would ignore me completely, avoiding my eyes in his house and ignoring my texts when I left later that evening.
I didn’t know he would call me three days later and tell me it was all a mistake, that we could never tell anyone, that it could never happen again.
I didn’t know that the first time I felt truly wanted, and truly loved, was all a lie.
But I found out quickly.
I finished the last week of high school with a broken heart — broken from my mother, from Tyler, from my expectations on life — and I walked across the graduation stage in a numb trance.
One week after that, I left my New England hometown on the first day of summer.
I promised myself I’d never go back.
And that I’d never talk to Tyler Wagner again.
June 6th, 2020
7 years later
Outside the car that drove me through the small town of Bridgechester, New Hampshire, nothing had changed.
The colorful colonial houses and small businesses still peppered the brick streets, gold plaques boasting the historic significance of each one along the way. The air that blew through the open windows still smelled like a New England summer — fresh and clean and woodsy, the humid summer heat seeping in and frizzing my long, freshly bleached blonde hair. Bridgechester Prep still had the same mascot, the same crimson and gold lettered signs congratulating the recent graduates, and the same castle-esque brick build.
The town still centered around Lake Tambow, its cool, clear waters drawing tourists from all over during the summer, and the colorful turn of the leaves drawing them in all through the fall.
Outside the car, that town was exactly what it had always been.
But inside the car, there was me.
And I was nothing like the girl who’d left seven years ago.
My chest was tight as the Uber drove through downtown and then out toward the west side, each street and turn so familiar even after all these years. I watched the White Mountains in the distance as we climbed the steep street that led to the long and winding drive I never thought I’d see again, the one that led to the house I swore I’d never step foot inside of after that night.
But after all this time, Morgan was still my best friend.
And last week, she’d called me to tell me she’s getting married.
In two weeks.
I chuckled to myself, because only Morgan would announce a wedding with less than three weeks to plan it.
Of course, she’d given me the title of Maid of Honor, and I knew I’d have my hands full trying to help her pull off a Wagner-worthy wedding in fourteen days. No doubt she’d want the very best, and I was thankful that at least the majority of my time would be occupied with wedding tasks.
Because at the root of everything, there was a gnawing pit in my stomach being back in my hometown — one I promised myself I’d never return to.
It’d been easy up until this point — relatively so, anyway. Aunt Laura had always come to visit me in Oakland, assuming that Bridgechester held bad memories for me because of my mom. And that was part of it, though not the most pressing, if I was being honest. Morgan had obliged, too. She loved any excuse to travel to a warmer climate and see the west coast. Of course, she had begged me a few times to come visit her, especially when we were in college, but I’d somehow managed to avoid it.
When your best friend is getting married, you do whatever she asks of you — no arguments, no excuses.
I pushed down the selfish part of myself that wanted to throw a tantrum at being back, at the fact that I’d likely be in close contact with the one person I’d spent the last seven years avoiding, reminding myself that this was about Morgan.
And it had been seven years, for Christ’s sake. We were kids, and maybe when I was younger, it had hurt to even think about coming back here. But, I was twenty-five now, a young woman with a promising career and a full life out in California just waiting for me to come back. I could handle being in my hometown for a couple of weeks. I could handle being around the boy who broke my heart when I was a teenager.
Besides, I had a boyfriend now.
A handsome, accomplished, perfect boyfriend.
Tyler Wagner couldn’t affect me anymore.
That was the final thought in my mind when the Uber turned into the long drive of the Wagner house, cruising slowly through the elaborate black-and-gold gate and coming to a stop in front of the large, white columns of their estate.
“Thank you,” I said, pulling up the app on my phone to tip him as I opened the door. “If you just pop the trunk, I can grab the bags.”
“Are you sure?”
The words were barely out of the driver’s mouth before I heard the distinct squeal of my best friend, and I turned, watching a flailing Morgan fly down the stairs and sprint toward the car.
I smiled — genuinely — for the first time.
“I’m sure,” I said, shaking my head at her. “Trust me, I’m about to have a dozen hands waiting to help.”
The driver smiled at me as I let myself out of the backseat, and as soon as I did, Morgan crashed into me, flinging her arms around my neck.
“YOU’RE HERE! YOU’RE HERE!”
I chuckled. “I am.”
She pulled back, the freckles on her cheeks more pronounced than they had been when we were kids. She had the biggest smile in the world, one that took up her entire face and boasted two, deep dimples — one on each cheek. Her chestnut hair that used to fall all the way to the middle of her back was in a short pixie cut now, one that accented the beautiful heart-shape of her face, and she wore glasses at least three times too big for said-face.
Somehow, they made her look even more adorable.
“I can’t believe you’re here — back in Bridgechester! I thought I’d never see the day!”
Mr. and Mrs. Wagner were on the porch behind her, smiling down at me and waiting for their turn at hugs as Harry grabbed my bags out of the trunk of the Uber, tapping it once it was closed to set the driver on his way. I thanked Harry as he passed by us with my luggage in tow, and Morgan looped her arm through mine, dragging me up the stairs to the porch.
“Jasmine, sweetie,” Amanda — her mom — said first, wrapping me in a gentle hug. She was roughly the size of a seventh grader, with the same chestnut hair as her daughter and the same wide smile. “Welcome home.”
My chest pinched at the sentiment — home.
I’d never felt like I’d really had one, but the Wagner’s was about as close as it got.
“Ayuh, welcome back,” Morgan’s dad said next, wrapping me in a crushing hug that was a stark contrast from the one his wife had given me. “It’s about damn time, kid.”
Robert Wagner was the tallest of the family, a shocking six-foot five, with thick golden hair that was always styled to perfection and the same superhero chin I used to tease his son about when we were younger. Morgan got her kind, hazel eyes from Mr. Wagner, and her athletic ability, too.
I chuckled in his arms, squeezing him once more before we released. “Thank you. It’s good to be back.”
That last part was a lie, but I was good at faking it.
“Harry will take your things up to the Hibiscus Suite,” Mrs. Wagner said. I knew exactly which guest room she was talking about, the one on the third floor that had a sweeping view of the lake.
And yes, they did actually name their guest rooms — that’s how many there were.
“I’m making my famous lobster rolls tonight,” Mr. Wagner added as we made our way inside, and I chuckled at the way he pronounced it — lobstah. Robert was born and raised in Boston, and his accent never let us forget it.
Seven years on the west coast had all but stolen my own accent, which was slight, anyway, seeing as how I spent most of the time in New Hampshire as opposed to the city. But Morgan had developed a bit of her own from her time in college at BU, and hearing the Wagners made me miss what little accent I’d had for the first time.
“Just got the water boiling. Should be about an hour or so, give you some time to wash up and settle in.”
“And tell me all about Jacob,” Morgan added, waggling her eyebrows.
I snickered, head spinning already, as it often did at the Wagners. They were a house full of extroverted entertainers, and this was what they lived and breathed for — having guests.
“Is it just the four of us tonight?” I asked, trying to sound coy, like I was asking after the other members of the bridal party more than anything else.
“Yep! Everyone else gets in tomorrow, and even when they get here, most of them are staying in Boston. They want to explore the city while they’re here. So, it’ll just be us tonight,” Morgan said, bopping alongside me. “Well, and Ty, of course. If he ever leaves his office,” she added with a roll of her eyes and a smirk.
My stomach fell to the floor, blood draining from my face at just the mention of his name. It was like a flash of memory from a dream long ago, the way his smile blurred my vision like a lightning bolt in that moment. I could see him so clearly, as if he was already there in the foyer with us.
I could feel his hands in my hair, pulling me closer…
I forced a smile, shoving that memory away as fast as it had come, but didn’t offer a word otherwise.
“Come on, let’s go sit by the pool,” Morgan said when her parents excused themselves back to the kitchen. “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
My smalt blue eyes stared back at me in the mirror of my private bathroom hours later, lined in coal and lashes painted black. The tan I’d been working on made the blue even brighter and more striking. They had always been my favorite feature, and I stared at them, through them, wondering why the strong woman I had become was shaking like a scared little girl.
I knew, of course — but I didn’t want to admit it.
I sighed, running my fingers through my bright locks to situate them the way I wanted over my shoulders. My hair was long and straight, the roots darker than the bleached strands and tips. I’d put on just a touch of makeup — enough to cover the dark circles under my eyes, but not so much that it would look like I tried. And though I knew dinner with just the Wagner family would be casual, I still put on a fresh pair of white jeans and my favorite dusty blue top, one that tied in the front and showed just a tiny sliver of my stomach. I’d had a board-like, athletic build my entire life, and where I used to pray for boobs and hips and an ass that wasn’t flat as a shelf, I’d come into my figure over the last several years, appreciating it for what it was.
With one last turn and glance at my outfit, I sighed, shutting off the bathroom light and making my way downstairs to face the music.
I had to get it over with at some point.
Morgan and her parents were in the kitchen, her dad putting the final touches on dinner while she and her mom sat at the kitchen island, each with a glass of red wine in hand. As soon as I joined them, Morgan poured one for me, too.
“How long’s it been since you had a proper lobster roll, Jasmine?” Robert asked.
“I’d say,” Amanda chimed in. “By the way, what’s with your accent? You turning valley girl on us now?”
I chuckled. “I live in Oakland, not LA. And just because I’ve learned to pronounce my r’s doesn’t make me any less of a New England girl.”
“A New England girl would be back to visit more than one time in seven years,” a deep voice said, and I closed my eyes, my entire body tensing at the sound.
Tyler strode into the kitchen with the same brooding arrogance he’d always had, leaning against the refrigerator and crossing his arms as he took in the sight of me. I avoided his eyes for as long as I could, but when I finally looked up, he was staring right back at me in the most unapologetic way. His gaze even dropped slightly, taking in my full frame, and he cocked a brow in appreciation before a smirk found his stupid, full lips.
“Nah, you’re a leaf peeper now.”
Morgan said his name in a chastising tone, but it earned a chuckle from his father.
I just narrowed my eyes, doing everything in my power not to notice how tall he’d grown, how his toned and tanned arms crossed over his built chest, how his russet brown hair was still a bit long and boyish, making him look so much like the boy I left behind that I nearly doubled over at the sight.
“It’s summer,” I pointed out. “If I was a leaf peeper, I’d be here in October.”
“I’m just saying, you can’t call yourself a New England girl when you talk and look like that,” he said, eyeing me. “And when you haven’t set foot in New Hampshire in almost a decade.”
“I can call myself whatever I damn well please.”
He surged forward with a challenge in his eyes, leaning over the kitchen island until his stupid grin was right in my face. I leaned back in the same instant.
“Hmm… let’s test it. How do you pronounce the scenic highway all the leaf peepers like yourself drive through every fall?”
I crossed my arms. “Kancamagus,” I answered, putting emphasis on the mog. “But most of us don’t pronounce it at all, since we just refer to it as The Kanc.”
Tyler smirked, leaning in a little closer, his dark eyes fixed on mine like he saw every single thing I was trying to hide. “Now, say, ‘wicked.’”
I flipped him off, and the entire family laughed, Robert pointing the wooden spoon covered in lobster salad at me. “I always loved that you had moxie, kid.”
Tyler licked his bottom lip, eyes roaming over me for longer than necessary before he shoved back from the island again, dipping into the fridge and grabbing a Sam Adams Summer Ale and popping the top off on the edge of the kitchen counter. That earned him a slap on the wrist from his mother, but he just winked at me before putting the bottle to his lips and taking a long, slow pull.
I flushed, tearing my eyes from his just as Robert said it was time to eat.
I managed to calm down during dinner, mostly thanks to Amanda and Morgan filling any empty space in the conversation. Every now and then, one of them would ask me something, like how California was (beautiful as always), how work was (wonderful, the podcast is growing more and more every day), or, my favorite, how Jacob and I met (at a networking event for local influencers, he was the most charming man I’d ever met — and I made sure to say that last part loud and proud).
But, for the most part, the conversation hinged on the upcoming wedding.
The wedding that would take place on the Cape two weeks from today.
It should have surprised all of us when Morgan said she was marrying a guy she’d dated less than a year, and in two weeks, nonetheless. But, the fact that no one in this family batted an eye is a testament to how well we knew our girl. She had always been impulsive, and not in the way that she’d buy a pair of three-hundred-dollar shoes on a whim. No, for Morgan, it was always the big things — huge changes that she’d make up her mind about overnight and no one could ever talk her out of it.
She cut off all her hair without ever looking back. She changed majors her senior year of college, just because she felt in her gut that it was the right thing to do. She got her first tattoo at a basement party in Boston and bought a horse she kept at a stable outside of town without ever having ridden one in her life.
It was as if she mulled on what her next move would be constantly, and once she decided, that was it. There was no other option.
So, when she met Oliver Bradford during her girls’ trip to the Cape last summer and told me with the utmost confidence that she’d be marrying him before her twenty-sixth birthday, I didn’t doubt it for a second. And when she called me last week to tell me he’d proposed, it didn’t surprise me at all that she wanted to get married on June twentieth.
Four days before her birthday.
I didn’t fight her on it, didn’t try to talk her into waiting or taking her time to plan. I knew my best friend well enough to know there was no use in even trying.
So, instead, I hopped a flight.
And I came back to the town I swore I never would.
After dinner, we all gathered in the backyard around their stone fire pit, and Morgan handed out binders about an inch thick with Wagner/Bradford Wedding Itinerary printed in perfect script on the cover.
“Christ, sis,” Tyler said, shaking his head as he turned the binder over in one hand, inspecting.
“Like you expected anything less from me,” she teased back. Tyler murmured something under his breath, and she bonked him on the head with her own binder before taking a seat next to him.
He was directly across from where I sat, and his eyes lingered on me over the flames from the fire before they fell to the binder in his lap.
“So, I know this is extra,” she admitted as we all flipped through the binder. There was a schedule of events for every single day leading up to the wedding, and an even more in-depth schedule for the day of. “But, I’ve been working with the wedding planner all week to get this set up. And we still have a LOT to do.” She shrugged. “Turns out it’s kind of hard to plan a wedding in two weeks.”
“You don’t say,” her mom mused.
Morgan ignored the jab, and I smiled as she ran through everything we’d be doing over the next fourteen days. When she stopped to take a breath somewhere around the day we’d be doing centerpiece design, I raised my hand like I was in class.
“Um… I will have time to work during all of this, right? I’ve got two episodes to edit for And All That Jazz, and I’m doing a guest appearance on another big podcast based in New York.”
“Oh, absolutely. Anything not on here is totally free time.”
She answered so confidently, but when I looked at all the time that was planned out, I struggled to find where the off time was.
“I’m sure your fans will survive if you go a week or two without an episode,” Tyler said, the first words he’d spoken directly to me since before dinner.
I didn’t bother looking at him, just licked my thumb and flipped to the next page in the binder. “At least my fans aren’t all junior high girls.”
Morgan laughed at that.
“Sounds like someone’s jealous of my four-million YouTube subscribers,” he taunted back.
I met his gaze then. “Do they count if they’re under the age of eighteen?”
Tyler’s eyes burned fierce over the fire, but I held my cocky smirk as best I could.
Tyler was a financial advisor — following his father’s footsteps just like we always knew he would. He’d had a fascination with money and investing ever since I first met him. But, where his dad made his fortune by working with the affluent in New England, Tyler was making a name for himself in more of the everyday common people realm. He’d started a YouTube channel in college, around the same time that I’d started my podcast, and in our own respects, we’d both taken off.
Of course, my podcast grew from content.
His channel grew because he quickly became known online as The Hot Money Guy.
It started slowly, with him dressed in a suit in his dim-lit office rattling off advice on budgeting and managing credit card debt. But the more videos he did, the more the comments started shifting from should I do a Roth IRA or a Traditional IRA to Oh my God, this guy is so hot I don’t even care that I understand nothing he’s talking about.
More and more, his videos got attention from the female crowd, and his videos got shared, and word spread that there was a hot money guy on YouTube taking the financial world by storm. He was invited to speak on other noteworthy channels, like one owned by a famous housewife from a reality TV show in the early 2000s, and though I was sure he really did help a lot of people struggling with finances, he was mostly famous for being sexy and rich — a double whammy.
To his credit, he didn’t fight the name. In fact, he embraced it, changing the name of his channel to The Hot Money Guy and even doing some episodes shirtless or while working out.
Not that I watched any, of course.
“I love that you two still bicker,” Morgan said fondly, her eyes wide as she looked from her brother to me. “I swear, it feels like high school, the three of us being together again. The Wagner Kids — Plus One.”
Tyler and I shared a somber look then, because we hadn’t been The Wagner Kids — Plus One since the night he and I crossed a line that couldn’t be uncrossed.
Since he used me, then rejected me, and I left, and that was the end of that.
I cleared my throat, drawing Morgan’s attention back to the schedule by asking a question about flowers, and she was sufficiently distracted.
Somewhere around page six, I started to lose focus, my mind racing with how it felt to talk to Tyler after all these years. I wasn’t sure what I’d expected, but maybe that was because I never expected to ever see him again — period. And now, I couldn’t tell if he was teasing me the way he used to when we were younger, or if he hated me.
If he did, I had no idea why.
It was him who ignored me. It was him who said what happened between us was a mistake.
It was him who broke my heart.
He didn’t have a right to be pissed at me, and for some reason, it really bothered me that he seemed to think the opposite.
It was me who should hate him forever, not the other way around.
“… the cake tasting, which I’m not even sure I want a cake. I mean, yes, it’s tradition, but I love donuts. What if we did a donut truck, instead?” She gasped, snapping her fingers. “Could we do apple cider donuts?! I know that’s a fall thing but, I mean, it is a wedding. I think exceptions could be made. Oh,” Morgan continued, talking just as fast as she always had when we were growing up. “And we’ll head down to the Cape that Monday before the wedding, so we’ll have to wrap some of this up there… we can talk about who takes what regarding decorations and such. Oh, my God!”
Her sudden exclamation made me jump.
“Ty, is Azra flying in tomorrow?”
Morgan’s excitement at the mention of whoever the hell Azra was might as well have been a living, breathing thing for how it wafted off of her.
Tyler cleared his throat. “Um, not tomorrow. She’s got two back-to-back shoots this week, and a philanthropy event next weekend. I think she’s going to meet us on the Cape.”
Morgan pouted. “Aw, I was really hoping she’d be here for the bachelor and bachelorette party.”
Tyler swallowed, avoiding everyone’s eyes. “Sorry.”
“Well, it’ll make getting down to the Cape even more exciting,” Morgan decided. Then, she reached toward me with spirit fingers dancing. “Oh my God, Jaz. You will love Azra. She’s so much fun.”
I smiled, but already my chest was tight, a warning sign I should have heeded. “Who’s Azra?”
“Tyler’s super secret, super gorgeous girlfriend,” Mrs. Wagner answered.
She and Morgan giggled as Mr. Wagner chimed in with something, but I couldn’t recall a word of it.
Because my eyes were locked on Tyler’s, and his were watching mine, and there wasn’t a single breath of oxygen to be had in that wide backyard.
“Oh,” I breathed.
Morgan went on about how lovely Azra was, about how she was a model and a huge Instagram influencer, how she was from Turkey, how she was “an absolute blast,” but I barely heard a word. My chest was so tight now I thought my lungs would evacuate my body for fear of being completely crushed by my rib cage.
He has a girlfriend?
Why didn’t I know that?
Why do I care?
Tyler just watched me, like he was waiting for me to react as my mind raced and whirled, my palms dampening, heart beating loud in my ears.
And with every ounce of willpower I had, I held my expression completely neutral.
“I can’t wait to meet her,” I finally managed, my gaze still holding his.
He blinked, but otherwise didn’t acknowledge that he’d even heard me.
And just like that, Morgan moved on.
I ripped my eyes from Tyler’s, but I felt him watch me for the longest time as Morgan continued going through the schedule. I managed to stay quiet and calm until she’d made it through, and then I stood, making an excuse about being jet-lagged to excuse myself for the night.
“You’re three hours behind us,” Morgan pointed out with a pout. “I thought you’d have loads of energy. I want to stay up all night and gab!”
I squeezed her arm. “I know, I think I’m just tired from the long flight. But we have tomorrow. And I promise, I won’t go to bed before midnight.”
“Pshhh, two in the morning if you’re lucky,” she said, giving me a big hug. “And, you’ll get to meet Oliver!”
I squeezed her back. “I can’t wait,” I said, genuinely.
Amanda and Robert gave me a hug, too, and Tyler stood, staring at me from across the fire.
“Goodnight, Jasmine,” he said simply, his hands in his pockets, the light from the flames dancing with the shadows on his face.
“Goodnight,” I croaked.
And then I made my way upstairs for my first sleepless night back in New Hampshire.