Book #5 in the Bayshore Series
Contemporary Friends-to-Lovers Rom-Com
One of two things happens when Maverick Daly walks into a room: you either want to be him, or be with him.
Maverick lives in the fast lane: gorgeous one-night stands, souped up cars, a penetrating gaze that will either paralyze you or light your panties on fire, depending on which category you fall in above.
But I’m off-limits to him, or maybe too much in the friend category for him to notice me as anything other than Scarlett: Plain Childhood Bestie. Even though I’d cut off a pinky toe for a chance to be desired by Bayshore’s most available bachelor, it’s not in the cards. He’s Mr. One-And-Done, and I’m Ms. Longing For Forever.
I’m usually able to keep his after-hour shenanigans out of mind, until a gourmet-casual food truck competition thrusts us into a tiny kitchen for five weeks. Maverick is launching his career, and I’m just trying to help out my good ol’ platonic bestie. And while the flames are leaping off the grill, the heat is rising between us. Until it gets so hot that—pop goes the sexual repression.
The past two decades of being friendzoned? Out the window.
Now we’re lovers with a side of what comes next? I’ve known him my entire life, but now I’m meeting a whole new side of him. A side that is begging me to dive headfirst.
We’re gunning to win the competition, but Maverick just might win my heart instead.
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“Excuse me, is this seat taken?”
The soft question from my right makes me jump out of my internal thoughts. I’ve been nursing this chardonnay for far too long. It’s warm. My hand hurts from gripping the stemmed wine glass. And honestly, I’ve just been fiddling with it as a way to keep my hands busy so I don’t reach across the table and strangle one of my more annoying table mates here in the middle of the Bayshore Theatre’s reception hall.
I twist to look at who’s asking me. A middle-aged woman I don’t know is grinning down at me, gesturing to the open chair to my right as if there’s any question. She could be an aunt or a distant second cousin. Not mine, of course, since this isn’t my wedding. This is the Daly wedding. Grayson Daly, to be exact. I squint at her, trying to place some Daly features in her face. She might have their nose. I peg her as an aunt.
“No, no, seat’s not taken.” I make a shooing motion to show her how fine it is that she steal the one open chair at my round table.
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely.” I move the chair toward her as a gesture of how okay it is. The seat represents the plus one I’d planned on coming with…until we broke up three months ago and I’d forgotten to alter my RSVP. “It’s just the ghost of my ex-boyfriend, so I’d be happy for you to take him off my hands.”
Mrs. Probably-Their-Aunt titters nervously and drags the chair to a neighboring round table. The reception is full of an astonishing number of Daly family members who I never heard about growing up. Not that I hold a PhD in Daly Genealogy or anything, but I should have at least received some sort of honorary-Daly award by now.
I’ve been hovering around the Dalys for damn near two decades. Tagging along on pool days. Going to the same school, elementary through high school. Hell, I’ve been Maverick’s closest female-friend-he-doesn’t-fuck since we were twelve years old.
“Ahhhhhh.” It sounds like gas escaping a vacuum chamber, but actually it’s the most annoying of my table mates. Veronica. The girl that Maverick came with. His “date,” even though everybody and their brother—especially his own brothers—know that Maverick doesn’t date. This girl absolutely will not stop making these long, drawn-out noises as she critically assesses some aspect of the reception. “I really disagreed with the peony selection. They could have put some thought into the color scheme.” Now she’s shaking her head, grimacing while she leans over her half-eaten plate of food to sigh about the flowers with the other woman at our table, Maverick’s cousin Betsy.
There aren’t many instances when I wish my ex could actually be near me these days, but I wouldn’t have been upset if he rolled up now just so I could stop feeling like the odd woman out among this impromptu trio at our dinner table.
It doesn’t help that Maverick got swallowed into the Daly crowd, and Betsy’s date has been using the bathroom for approximately a half hour. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was related to the weird collard-and-kale dish that we were served tonight. One look at that limp pile of greenery and I felt sorta queasy, too.
“It’s like, who was behind this? Who puts peonies with carnations?” Betsy scoffs with incredulity, and I’m feigning intense interest in the people milling around post-dinner so I don’t have to critique the flower selection along with them. As if I’m looking for someone and just can’t seem to find him.
Definitely not looking for my ghost ex-boyfriend. After two lackluster years together, breaking up with Tom was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I’m pretty sure he still thinks we’re getting back together, too. At least, that’s what Maverick reports. Because thanks to the tiny-town effect in Bayshore, Maverick and Tom are coworkers. Of course.
A belly laugh that I would recognize anywhere, even beyond the grave, drifts through the air. I snap my gaze around and find the source. Maverick. He’s halfway across the reception hall, his head tossed back in laughter as he and his older brother Weston are looking dapper and fit for a fucking modeling contract in their black-on-black suits.
I don’t know Hazel, Grayson’s new wife, very well, but I know of her plenty. And this woman would only have a wedding decked out in mauve and black-on-black, with owl centerpieces surrounded by white peonies—and, apparently, carnations, though I never would have noticed if it weren’t for my lovely tablemates. Hazel is the only one in Bayshore who could pull off this slightly morbid yet wildly elegant theme.
I’m certainly not complaining—the look is perfect for Maverick. I might be Maverick’s platonic bestie since the time puberty rolled around, but I haven’t been blind all these years. The man’s hot enough to make lava seem palatable. Hot seeks out hot. Which is why Veronica, for all her irritating gaseous sighs and peony complaints, looks like a next-gen Kardashian with lips so plump they could only be destined for Hollywood.
But you know what hot doesn’t seek out?
Me. Which is why I’m on the outskirts of this carnation-calamity conversation, the laid-back sidekick stuffed into a skintight dress, second-guessing all my eyeshadow decisions and wondering what, exactly, Maverick and Veronica would be getting into later, and whether or not he cares at all about her personality.
“Lettie.” Maverick’s raspy baritone floats through the air, settling inside me with pinpricks. I smile up at him as he comes around the table. His longish tresses, so dark brown they’re almost black, are slicked back in a trendy yet formal look. His jawline could cut glass, and his normal stubble has been replaced with a freshly sheared face. Not that I notice or care about these things ever. He jerks his chin at the space beside my seat. “You get rid of Tom’s chair?”
Helpless laughter cascades out of me as he settles in beside Veronica. Finally, the table feels right again with him here. Now if only Betsy’s boyfriend would come back, so I could resume blending into the male shadows like I’m used to.
“Your aunt needed the chair,” I tell him. He’s scooting in his chair, returning to his half-finished plate. Veronica’s is half-finished out of concerns for her figure, but Maverick’s is half-finished because he got interrupted by a call for an impromptu family pic. And let me tell you, seeing all those Daly sons side-by-side takes a certain type of willpower. Especially when Maverick insisted on scaling Grayson’s shoulders in a precarious tower with their brothers leaping in the air beside them for a photo op.
“He’ll be pissed when he shows up and finds out you let Sally have his chair. And she’s my cousin, by the way.”
He still hasn’t formally acknowledged Veronica since he sat back down, and she still hasn’t blinked in his direction. Not like they’re required to. Hell, I don’t know what the rules of flings are these days. I never knew to begin with. You could probably search the entire United States for a more loyal, commitment-focused twenty-something than me and not find her. Which just makes mine and Maverick’s friendship all the more hilarious.
Yet somehow, we pinky swore a BFF pact back in sixth grade and never looked back. He and I bonded over playing basketball, which blossomed into an easy sort of camaraderie centered around jokes and simply being present for each other that hasn’t changed since. I’m pretty sure he sees me as a feminine-looking dude…one he can both share a beer with and talk about life’s conundrums with, without the typical dude ridicule.
“Do I at least get some credit for knowing that she was on the Daly side?” I return to my plate, even though nothing here interests me. I’m quite content with the entire steak I consumed, less content with the warm chardonnay. I’m extremely physically active, so I need my protein. As in, all the protein.
He grimaces and shakes his head. “Max, three points. But only because my brother got married today.”
“Wow.” I let out a low whistle. This is the type of shit that Maverick and I are known for. Bullshitting, pure and simple. We could spend an hour splitting hairs about this imaginary score card we’re about to invent, believe me. “Woulda thought that you’d be more generous with the points dispersal, considering that I was only one family tree limb off, but whatever.”
“Hey. Those limbs are separate for a reason.”
I stifle my laughter. His date is now looking at us like we’re speaking Arabic.
“What happened with a tree outside?” she asks, her brows drawn together.
“Nothing.” Maverick wets his bottom lip, finally swinging his gaze toward Veronica. He’s got a plastic sort of smile on, the type I see him use all the time with his flings and hookups and one-night stands. The type of smile I’d call him out on. But Veronica doesn’t know him well enough to realize she’s being played.
Or maybe that’s what she’s there for in the first place. To be with the player.
“I gotta go to the bathroom.” Veronica offers an even more plasticized smile and stands. Betsy follows her lead, sending Maverick a look that I don’t understand, and the two saunter off through the bustling reception hall.
“Those two became fast friends,” I say, now that it’s just us here. Betsy’s date either is having a bowel emergency forever or just snuck out on her. Based on her preoccupation with the carnations, I’m thinking they’re heading for a breakup.
Maverick stabs at what little remains on his plate. “Yeah?”
I watch him move around the potatoes for a moment. “You’re not that enthused about the food.” Or the girl.
“Looked way better sitting in the pans than it tastes, but hey.” Maverick drops his fork and leans back into his chair. “I’ll give Gray shit about it for the next five years, so I don’t mind.”
“You could have done a way better job,” I tell him, crossing my arms over my chest. My cleavage has been on display tonight, which was my plan as a recently-single woman, but also uncomfortable. I wear dresses twice a year, if that.
He smirks, and for a tantalizing moment his gaze drops to my cleavage. “Sometimes I forget you have boobs.”
My body shakes with silent laughter. This is how not interested in me sexually he is—he doesn’t even remember I’m female. We put the pal in platonic, if you misspelled it intentionally.
“Consider this your annual reminder.” I point to my chest. “I’ve got knockers.”
“Yeah, but you can’t really knock anyone out with them,” he chides.
“Don’t sit there and criticize the potential of my breasts,” I say. “Just because they aren’t as big as your date’s doesn’t mean they aren’t secretly trained as MMA fighters.”
He snorts, turning his fork over, but some of the humor has drained out of him. Maybe it was too weird to compare me to his date. He’s probably going to go barf in the toilet just imagining me naked, which is what I’ve assumed his response would be since we were teens.
It’s not what my response would be to seeing him naked. No, my response would be way different. I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t imagined it already, but that scenario will only ever live in my imagination. Besides, it would be too weird to finally know exactly how long or thick his unmentionable is—also things I’ve imagined once or twice only, I swear. Friends shouldn’t see friend’s naughty bits, much less imagine them.
“But seriously,” I barrel on, determined to steer the conversation back to safe territory where my boobs aren’t the center of conversation. “You could have made a better meal than this.”
“Grayson should have hired you.”
He huffs, shaking his head as if it’s an absurd idea. “I’m not that good.”
“Well, you’re good enough to feed large groups of people, that’s for sure.” I jerk my chin out in the general direction of the bathroom doors. “Look. Here comes Edward E. Coli.”
Our long-lost table mate is heading our way, looking haggard after his extended journey into the bathroom stall. Maverick twists, the start of a smile playing at his lips. “Who?”
“Your girlfriend’s new best friend’s boyfriend,” I say with a duh tone.
“She’s not my girlfriend. You know this.”
“Fine. Gal pal. Whatever.”
A moment later, Betsy’s boyfriend sits back down at the table with a sigh. His tie is loosened slightly, and I can’t tell if he just got back from a secret make-out session with another woman or if his body really was rejecting the dinner. This is how unexciting my life is. I spend most of my time theorizing about the exciting aspects of other people’s lives, because my daily existence is spent doing one of three activities: working, exercising, or babysitting my niece and nephew.
I’m really rocking at being twenty-six. I’d have a quarter-life crisis if I could get the time off from my serving job. Instead, I’ll just tack on a few extra push-ups and work out my stunted life aspirations at the Cleveland gym where I practice aerial silks. It’s my one solace in life. Well, that and bullshitting with Maverick.
“Man,” the guy says with a sigh as he crosses his arms. “I’m ready for beer.”
Maverick lifts his half-drunk glass of brew in salute to Edward E. Coli. No, that’s not his name. Patrick. That’s it.
“Always time for another beer,” Patrick-not-Edward says.
“Especially when the beer is going the be the majority of your dinner,” I say, nodding toward his plate. “You didn’t eat much.”
“Tasted like bleached cutting board,” Patrick says with a grimace. “They shoulda brought one of those food trucks out.”
“Bayshore has food trucks?” Maverick says dully, like he’s only half-listening. But I know it’s his defense mechanism. He’s pretending he’s not interested, because he doesn’t want to talk about it, even though he knows he should. I know this man too well.
“Bayshore has one food truck hidden away,” I say pointedly, pulling a face at him. I try to kick him under the table for good measure, but I only reach the middle leg of the table, jostling the whole thing. Maverick narrows his eyes at me.
“No it doesn’t,” he says. “It’s not a food truck yet.”
“You do food trucks?” Patrick says, a brow lifting.
“No,” Maverick says.
“Yes,” I say at the same time. “He’s been building one for the past couple of years as slow as a snail.”
“It’s just a little side project I’ve got going on,” Maverick tells Patrick, his tone dripping with it’s seriously nothing.
“What kind of food you gonna sell?” Patrick asks. I could kiss him. I make needling Maverick about his unexplored culinary talent an official hobby, so I’m happy to pass the baton to Patrick.
“I don’t have a menu set or anything,” Maverick says, smoothing his palm over the slicked side of his hair. “But I make a lot of burritos, rice dishes. I’ve got a plate I want to make called the Hot Mess…”
“Dude, did you hear about that food truck competition happening soon?” Patrick jerks his chin toward Maverick. “You should enter! At least for the fun of it.”
Maverick smirks just as Veronica and Patrick’s girlfriend come back. Something hard slides over his face, and he shrugs noncommittally. “Eh, we’ll see.”
“What’s going on, guys?” Veronica asks as she sits down next to Maverick, sending a conspiratorial smile toward Patrick’s girlfriend. “Anything fun happen while we were gone?”
“Just about to get another round of drinks,” Maverick says before Patrick or I can say anything about the food truck.
“Ooooh, get me another blanc,” Veronica purrs in the way in an actress would in a bad porno. She wraps her arm around his, leaning in to plant a sloppy kiss on his lips. Maverick seems surprised at first, but he melts into it. I admit I spend a little bit too much time side-eyeing their kiss, because A) it’s a train wreck I can’t look away from and B) I spend too much time wondering what it would feel like to kiss Maverick.
It’s not like I want to kiss Maverick, even though I’m pretty sure if he asked me at this point, I’d say yes. As long as we could establish that it was for science, because I wouldn’t do anything that would disrupt our decade-long friendship. It’s a long-simmering curiosity that I wasn’t aware of until recently. I know everything about this man—I should know how his lips taste too, right?
Again, for science.
Despite how well I know Maverick, there must be plenty I don’t know about him. The way Maverick looks when Veronica breaks the kiss is a look I’ve never gotten from him, not even after fifteen years of knowing him. The type of look a girl like me could never coax from him, either.
A familiar, aching heaviness stretches across my chest, something I know well but don’t often pry into. It’s easier to look away, to offer a smile, to watch him cycle through women from afar and tell myself I don’t care.
But when Maverick’s gaze drags back to find mine, there’s something electric there that pins me to my spot, reviving the recent question that has circled dangerously inside my skull like a shark after fresh blood:
What would it be like to be the girl on his arm?
Keep reading this slow burn friends-to-lovers romance HERE!