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The Summer Deal

Jill Shalvis



  Title Page

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25


  P.S. Insights, Interviews & More . . .*

  About the Author

  About the Book

  Read On


  Also by Jill Shalvis


  About the Publisher

  Chapter 1

  Brynn Turner had always wanted to be the girl who had her life together, but so far her talents hadn’t led her in that direction—although not for lack of trying.

  Mentally recapping the week she’d just endured, she let out a stuttered breath. Okay, so her life skills needed some serious work, but as far as she was concerned, that was Future Brynn’s problem. Present Brynn had other things on her mind.

  Like surviving the rest of the day.

  With that goal in mind, she kept her eyes on the road, and three hours and two 7-Eleven hot dogs after leaving Long Beach in her rearview mirror, she pulled into Wildstone. The place that reinvented itself many times over since it’d been an 1800s California wild, wild West town complete with wooden sidewalks, saloons, haunted silver mines, and a brothel. Sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and green rolling hills filled with wineries and ranches, Wildstone had once been her favorite place on earth.

  Parking in the driveway of her childhood home, she took a minute. It’d been a decade since she’d lived here. She’d gone off to attend college and to conquer the world, though only one of those things had happened. She’d been back for visits, but even that had been a while. Six months, in fact. She’d stood in this very spot and had asked both of her well-meaning moms to butt out of her life, saying that she knew what she was doing.

  She’d had no idea what she was doing.

  Note to self: You still don’t.

  With a sigh, she pulled down her visor and glanced in the mirror, hoping that a miracle had occurred and she’d see the reflection of someone who had their shit together. Her hair was knotted on top of her head with the string tie from her hoodie because she’d lost her scrunchie. She was wearing her old glasses because she’d lost her newer pair. Her face was pale and her eyes were puffy and red from a bad combo of crying and not sleeping. She wore yoga pants that hadn’t seen a yoga class since . . . well, ever, and in spite of being nearly thirty, she had a big, fat zit on her chin.

  In short, she looked about as far away from having her shit together as she was from solving world hunger.

  Knowing her moms—sweet and loving and nosy as hell—were going to see right through her, she pawed through her purse for a miracle. She found some lip gloss that she also dabbed on each cheek for badly needed color. As a bonus, she found two peanut M&Ms. Couldn’t waste those, could she? She shook her purse looking for more, but nope, she was out of luck.

  The theme of her life.

  With a sigh, she once again met her own gaze in the mirror. “Okay, here’s the drill. You’re okay. You’re good. You’re happy to be home. You’re absolutely not crawling back with your tail between your legs to admit to your moms that they were right about Asshole Ashton.”

  Swallowing hard, she got out of her hunk-o-junk and grabbed her duffel bag and purse. She’d barely made it to the porch before the front door was flung open and there stood her moms in the doorway, some deep maternal instinct letting them know their sole offspring was within smothering distance.

  Both in their mid-fifties, their similarities stopped there. Olive was pragmatic and stoic, and God help the person who tried to get anything by her. She was perfectly coifed as always, hair cut in a chic bob, pants and blazer fitted, giving her the look of someone who’d just walked out of a Wall Street meeting. In sharp comparison, Raina’s sundress was loose and flowery and flowing, and she wore beads around her neck and wrists that made her jingle pleasantly. She was soft and loving, and quite possibly the kindest soul on earth. And where Olive was economical with her movements, Raina was in constant motion.

  Opposites attract . . .

  But actually, her moms did have something in common beyond their age—their warm, loving smiles, both directed at Brynn. It was her own personal miracle that they loved her madly, no matter how many times she’d messed up and driven them crazy with worry.

  And there’d been a lot of times. Too many to count.

  “Sweetheart,” Raina said, jingling as always, bringing forth welcome memories: growing vegetables in the back garden, taking long walks on the beach to chase seagulls, and late-night snuggles. Raina opened her arms and Brynn walked right into them, smiling when Olive embraced her from behind.

  The three of them stood there for a long beat, wrapped up in each other. Catherine the Great Cat showed up, her appearance forewarned by the bell around her neck. She might be twelve and seemingly frail and delicate, but as with Brynn’s moms, looks were deceiving. Just beneath Cat’s skin lived the soul of an ancient prized hunter—hence the bell. No one blamed her for her instinctual drive to do this, but Raina did object to Cat dropping “presents” at her feet in the form of cricket heads and various other pieces of dead insects. Which made Cat the most adorable murderer who ever lived. She rubbed her furry face against Brynn’s ankles. Once. Twice.

  And then bit.


  “You know her rules,” Olive said. “A little love, a little hate. It’s how she is. Now tell us why you’re home unannounced, looking like something not even Catherine would’ve dragged inside.”

  “I think she looks wonderful,” Raina said.

  Olive’s eyes never left Brynn. “She hasn’t been sleeping or eating.”

  “Trust me, Mom, I’ve been eating plenty.”

  “Okay, then you aren’t sleeping enough or eating the right food. You’re as pale as . . . well, me.”

  Olive indeed had the pale skin of her English ancestry. In contrast, Raina was Puerto Rican, and golden brown. Being a product of Raina’s egg and an unknown sperm donor, Brynn’s skin was a few shades lighter than Raina’s. Unless she was trying not to hyperventilate, of course. Like now. In which case she was probably even whiter than Olive.

  “We can fix the eating right and sleeping, for a start,” Raina said with determination. She slipped her hand into Brynn’s, and as she’d been doing for as long as Brynn could remember, she took over. She settled Brynn onto the couch with one of her handmade throws, and in less than five minutes had a tray on Brynn’s lap with her famous vegan chickpea noodle soup and steaming gingerroot tea.

  “Truth serum?” Brynn asked, only half joking. Raina was magic in the kitchen—and at getting people to spill their guts.

  “I don’t need truth serum.” Raina sat next to her. “You’re going to tell me everything.”

  “How do you know?”

  “Because I made almond-butter cups for dessert and you love almond-butter cups.”

  “You’d withhold dessert from your only child?”

  “She wouldn’t, she’s far too kind,” Olive said. “But I would. In a heartbeat.” She sat on the coffee table facing Brynn. “Talk.”

  “How do you know I’ve got anythi
ng to talk about?”

  “A mom knows.”

  This was . . . mostly true. Her moms loved and adored her; they’d never made any secret of that. They’d had her back whenever she’d needed them, with the exception of the times that she’d managed to keep her need a secret. Such as in her younger years when she’d been mercilessly bullied for having two moms . . .

  She loved them madly, but it was a lot of pressure to be their only child, especially given how long and hard they’d fought for the right to have a baby at all. Sometimes she could admit to herself it was hard to live up to their expectations. And she often didn’t. She tended to skate through life—she knew this. But if she didn’t dig too deep into anything, if she kept her life surface only, it was safe there. Her house of cards couldn’t fall down.

  Cat jumped onto her lap, and Brynn gave her a long look. “You going to play nice?”

  Cat gave her a gentle headbutt to the belly, and then tried to put her face in Brynn’s soup. The bowl amplified the raspy, old-lady purr so that it sounded like a misfiring engine.

  “Welcome home,” Olive said dryly, scooping up Catherine before she got any soup, gently depositing her onto the floor. “Now, let’s hear it. Not that we’re not thrilled to see you, but what’s going on? You’ve brought a pretty big duffel bag for a weekend visit. Thought Long Beach was working out for you? You were substitute teaching and living with Aaron—”

  “Ashton,” Brynn corrected, and managed a casual shrug while ignoring the tightness in her chest, the tightness that had been there the whole drive. The whole past week. Months. She was really hoping it was a warning sign of an upcoming zombie apocalypse and not a panic attack. When she’d been young, she’d had them a lot. Like every day at summer camp over the course of the nine years she’d gone, something else she’d managed to keep from her moms. The attacks were infrequent now, but at the thought of the conversation she was going to have to have, she could feel one building. She’d rather face zombies than worry them. They’d been through enough in their lives. “Just thought I’d come home for a bit,” she finally said.

  “You know we love having you.” Raina put her hand over Olive’s when her wife opened her mouth again. “But we also know that you’re a fierce protector of those you love. You’d keel over before worrying us. Something’s wrong.” She softened her voice. “Did . . . something happen?”

  Brynn started shoveling in the soup, even though she hated vegan chickpea noodle soup. “Mmm. Yum.”

  Olive hadn’t taken her eyes off Brynn. “It was Adam, wasn’t it? Somehow this is all connected to that asshole.”

  Brynn pushed her glasses farther up her nose. “Ashton.”

  “Whatever. And you only push your glasses up like that when you’re upset.”

  “Olive,” Raina said softly. “Back up, give her a little breathing space.” She turned to Brynn. “Honey, you need to exhale.”

  This was true. She was holding her breath. She let it out and gasped in some air. “I’m fine.”

  “No, you’re not.” Raina sounded and looked deeply worried. “You’re breathing too heavily and your pulse is racing.”

  Right, because she was in the throes of a good old-fashioned panic attack, her first since last month when she’d realized she’d lost her great-grandma’s necklace, the one Olive had told her to take the utmost care of as it wasn’t just of sentimental value, but also worth a small fortune. But that wasn’t the only thing causing this attack. It’d been the unrelenting suspicion that Ashton had taken the necklace.

  He’d sworn he hadn’t, and had been so hurt and devastated at the accusation that Brynn had started to doubt herself. Maybe she had really lost it. Now she tried to suck in some more air and failed. “It’s just allergies. I’m fine.”

  “See? She says she’s fine,” Olive said.

  “I am,” Brynn said, rubbing her chest and the impending freight train in it. “Totally fine.”

  Olive slowly shook her head. “You’re right, Raina. She’s not okay. She’s not working and her promise ring is no longer on her finger, which means that after their eight months together, Alan was a huge ass-plant and she’s moving back in.”

  “Ashton,” Brynn whispered.

  “None of those things came out of her mouth,” Raina said, sounding distressed.

  “They would, if she’d talk.”

  Raina frowned. “She’s clutching her chest and looking like she’s going to hyperventilate. Honey, are you in pain?”

  If by pain she meant the feeling that her ribs were being cracked open by a sledge hammer, then yeah. She was in pain.

  Raina crouched in front of her. “On a pain scale of one to ten, where are you at?”

  Fifteen sounded about right.

  Raina whirled to Olive. “Oh my God, I think she’s having a heart attack!”

  “No, I’m not.” Brynn pulled off her glasses and dropped her face into her hands. “But everything else is all true. The not working thing. The coming home to stay for a bit thing. The leaving the asshole boyfriend thing.”

  “I’m going to kill Ashton,” Olive murmured.

  Brynn managed a mirthless laugh at her mom finally getting his name right.

  “Oh, honey,” Raina whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

  “The school I was working at closed its doors. And the Ashton thing, it’s for the best.” An understatement . . . Brynn shook her head. “But I’m okay. Really. I’m just”—bonkers. Completely unhinged. Homeless—“A-okay.”

  “She’s whiter than you,” Raina told Olive. “And clammy, but also chilled.”

  “I see it. Sweetheart, breathe,” Olive said calmly to Brynn. To Raina, she said, “Call 911.”

  “No!” Brynn said. Or tried to. But of course now she really was hyperventilating.

  Raina was on the phone with 911. “Hi, yes, my daughter’s having a heart attack.”

  “I’m not!” Brynn wheezed, as little black dots danced behind her eyelids.

  Olive held both of Brynn’s hands. “Breathe,” she said again. “Breathe with me.”

  She was trying. But she couldn’t seem to draw air into her lungs, which was now intensifying the sharp throbbing in her chest. Ripping her hands from Olive’s, she pressed them against her rib cage, trying to ease the pain.

  “Oh my goddess,” Raina whispered helplessly, and ran to the door. “What’s keeping EMS?”

  A few minutes later, two uniforms stood over Brynn, now on a gurney, putting an oxygen mask over her face. She no longer had her glasses on and couldn’t see past her own nose.

  “Honey,” Raina yelled, as Brynn was stuffed into the back of an ambulance. “We’re going to be right behind you, okay? I’ve got your glasses.”

  Brynn held out her hand, but couldn’t reach them.

  “Just relax,” one of the paramedics said. “Your only job here is to keep breathing.”

  “I’m fine!” Brynn tried to yell through the mask.

  But no one was listening. So she gave up and stared up at the interior roof of the rig that was a blur and did the only thing she could. She breathed.

  Forty-five minutes later at the hospital, a doctor and nurse were standing at her cot.

  “Looks like it was a panic attack,” the doctor said.

  Brynn sighed. “That’s what I tried to tell everyone.”

  “We had to be sure. Your moms were adamant you were having a heart attack.”

  This was true. They’d been unbudgeable. Brynn had finally made them go to the waiting room because they’d been driving the hospital staff nuts. She sighed. “It doesn’t matter. They needed an excuse to cry because I’m home and they missed me.”

  “It’d have been a lot cheaper to just say that to you,” the doctor said.

  “Yeah.” Like the entire five grand of her insurance deductible cheaper . . .

  Half an hour later, she was cleared from her little cubicle in the ER. Her moms had been told the good news and were still in the waiting room while she changed back
into her clothes. Winding her way down the white hallways toward the waiting room, she stopped in front of a vending machine, catching sight of her reflection in the glass.

  She was clutching the bag the nurse had provided for her to stow her personal belongings. Everything was pretty blurry, but even she could see that she was indeed very pale, and her light-brown eyes seemed huge in her face. Embarrassment and humiliation did that to a person.

  A freaking panic attack . . . Gah. She now needed a chocolate bar more than she needed her next breath, and considering she’d almost died from lack of oxygen due to panic, that was saying something.

  A tall, leanly muscled guy stood in front of the machine, hands on either side of it as he gave the thing a hard shake.

  A candy bar shook loose and he caught it, shoving it into one of his cargo pants pockets.

  Pockets that looked already quite full.

  She couldn’t see well enough to know which kind of candy bar he got, but it didn’t matter, because she liked all the candy bars in all the land. “Hey,” she said. “Save some for the paying customers.”

  He turned to face her, his brown, wavy hair falling into his eyes, and . . . something made her fumble around in her plastic bag for her glasses. Self-preservation, maybe, because her instincts were screaming. Clearly not a common occurrence for her, or she wouldn’t always be able to detonate her life so thoroughly. When she got her glasses on, the world came into focus again and she breathed a short-lived sigh of relief.

  Short-lived because though she hadn’t seen Eli Thomas since they were both fifteen, she did indeed know him.

  “I did put money into the machine.” His expression was tight, as if he was highly stressed. And given where they were, in the hallway to the waiting room for both the ER and surgery, he in all likelihood was highly stressed. “Lots of money, in fact—” Stopping, he cocked his head, recognition crossing his face. His eyes softened and he smiled, flashing white teeth and a dimple in his left cheek. “Hey.” His voice was different now. Lower, quiet, like the one you used with people you knew. It was also filled with emotion. “It’s been a while.”

  True story. It had been a while. But not long enough. And in the bad-news department, the dimple and smile were still attractive and charismatic as hell, but the good news was that she’d learned how to shut off her heart. She gave him a vague smile, implying she didn’t remember him. He hadn’t chased her after their kiss, and yeah, it was a zillion years ago, but hey, a girl had pride.