Authors: Elle Kennedy
As anyone who knows me can attest, I’ve been obsessed with quaint beach towns for ages. Avalon Bay might be a fictional town, but it’s an amalgamation of all my favorite parts of various coastal towns I’ve visited over the years, and it was an absolute joy to lose myself in this world. Of course, I couldn’t have done that without the support and general awesomeness of the following people: my agent, Kimberly Brower, and editor, Eileen Rothschild, for their contagious enthusiasm for this story; Lisa Bonvissuto, Christa Desir, and the rest of the terrific staff at SMP, and Jonathan Bush for the incredible cover!
Early readers and author friends who provided feedback and amazing blurbs; Natasha and Nicole for being the most efficient human beings on the planet; every single reviewer, blogger, Instagrammer, Booktokker, and reader who has shared, supported, and loved this book.
And as always, my family and friends for putting up with me whenever I’m in deadline mode. Love you all.
READ ON FOR A SNEAK PEEK AT
ELLE KENNEDY’S NEW NOVEL
Bad Girl Reputation
Available Autumn 2022
The guy’s got some nerve walking in here looking like he does. Those haunting dark eyes that still lurk in the deepest parts of my memory. Brown, nearly black hair I still feel between my fingers. He’s as heart-stabbingly gorgeous as the pictures that still flicker behind my eyes. It’s been a year since I last saw him, yet my response to him is the same. He walks into a room and my body notices him before I do. It’s a disturbance of static in the air that dances across my skin.
It’s obnoxious, is what it is. And that my body has the audacity to react to him,
, at my mother’s funeral, is even more disturbing.
Evan stands with his twin brother Cooper, scanning the room until he notices me. The guys are identical except for occasional variances in their haircuts, but most people tell them apart by their tattoos. Cooper’s got two full sleeves, while most of Evan’s ink is on his back. Me, I know it from his eyes. Whether they’re gleaming with mischief or flickering with joy, need, frustration … I always know when it’s Evan’s eyes on me.
Our gazes meet. He nods. I nod back, my pulse quickening. Literally three seconds later, Evan and I convene down the hall where there are no witnesses.
It’s strange how familiar we are with some people, no matter how much time has passed. Memories of the two of us wash over me like a balmy breeze. Walking through this house with him like we’re back in high school. Sneaking in and out at all hours. Stumbling with hands against the wall to stay upright. Laughing in hysterical whispers to not wake up the whole house.
“Hey,” he says, holding out his arms in a hesitant offer, which I accept because it feels more awkward not to.
He always did give good hugs.
I force myself not to linger in his arms, not to inhale his scent. His body is warm and muscular and as familiar to me as my own. I know every inch of that tall, delicious frame.
I take a hasty step backward.
“Yeah, so, I heard. Obviously. Wanted to pay my respects.” Evan is bashful, almost coy, with his hands in his pockets and his head bowed to look at me under thick lashes. I can’t imagine the pep talk it took to get him here.
“And, well, yeah.” From one pocket, he pulls out a blue Blow Pop. “I got you this.”
I haven’t cried once since finding out Mom was sick. Yet accepting this stupid token from Evan makes my throat tighten and my eyes sting.
I’m suddenly transported back to the first time a Blow Pop ever exchanged hands between us. Another funeral. Another dead parent. It was after Evan’s dad, Walt, died in a car accident. Drunk driving, because that’s the kind of reckless, self-destructive man Walt Hartley had been. Fortunately, nobody else had been hurt, but Walt’s life ended on the dark road that night when he’d lost control and smashed into a tree.
I was twelve at the time and had no clue what to bring to a wake. My parents brought flowers, but Evan was a kid like me. What was he going to do with flowers? All I knew was that my best friend and the boy I’d always had a huge crush on was hurting badly, and all I
had to my name was one measly dollar. The fanciest thing I could afford at the general store was a lollipop.
Evan had cried when I quietly sat beside him on the back deck of his house and clasped the Blow Pop in his shaking hand. He’d whispered, “Thanks, Gen,” and then we sat there in silence for more than an hour, staring at the waves lapping at the shore.
“Shut up,” I mutter to myself, clenching the lollipop in my palm. “You’re so dumb.” Despite my words, we both know I’m deeply affected.
Evan cracks a knowing smile and smooths one hand over his tie, straightening it. He cleans up nice, but not too nice. Something about a suit on this guy still feels dangerous.
“You’re lucky I found you first,” I tell him once I can speak again. “Not sure my brothers would be as friendly.”
With an unconcerned smirk, he shrugs. “Kellan hits like a girl.”
Typical. “I’ll make sure to tell him you said so.”
Some wandering cousins glimpse us around the corner and look as though they might find a reason to come talk to me, so I grab Evan by the lapel and shove him toward the laundry room. I press myself up against the door frame, then check to make sure the coast is clear.
“I can’t get hijacked into another conversation about how much I remind people of my mom,” I groan. “Like, dude, the last time you saw me, I still wasn’t eating solid food.”
Evan adjusts his tie again. “They think they’re helping.”
“Well, they’re not.”
Everyone wants to tell me what a great lady Mom was and how important family was to her. It’s almost creepy, hearing people talk about a woman who bears no resemblance to the person I knew.
“How you holding up?” he asks roughly. “Like, really?”
I shrug in return. Because that’s the question, isn’t it? I’ve been asked it a dozen different ways over the past couple days, and I still don’t have a proper answer. Or at least, not the one people want to hear.
“I’m not sure I feel anything. I don’t know. Maybe I’m still in shock
or something. You always expect these things to happen in a split second, or over months and months. This, though. It was like just the wrong amount of warning. I came home and a week later she was dead.”
“I get that,” he says. “Barely time to get your bearings before it’s over.”
“I haven’t known which way is up for days.” I bite my lip. “I’m starting to wonder if there’s something wrong with me?”
He fixes me with a disbelieving scowl. “It’s death, Fred. There’s nothing wrong with you.”
I snort a laugh at his nickname for me. Been so long since I’ve heard it, I’d almost forgotten what it sounded like. There was a time when I answered to it more than my own name.
“Seriously, though. I keep waiting for the grief to hit, but it doesn’t come.”
“It’s hard to find a lot of emotion for a person who didn’t have a lot for you. Even if it’s your mom.” He pauses. “Maybe especially moms.”
Evan gets it. He always has. One of the things we have in common is an unorthodox relationship with our mothers. In that there isn’t much relationship to speak of. While his mom is an impermanent idea in his life—absent except for the few times a year she breezes into town to sleep off a bender or ask for money—mine was absent in spirit if not in body. Mine was so cold and detached, even in my earliest memories, that she hardly seemed to exist at all. I grew up jealous of the flowerbeds she tended in the front yard.
“I’m almost relieved she’s gone.” A lump rises in my throat. “No, more than almost. That’s terrible to say, I know that. But it’s like … now I can stop trying, you know? Trying and then feeling like shit when it doesn’t change.”
My whole life I made efforts to connect with her. To figure out why my mother didn’t seem to like me much. I’d never gotten an answer. Maybe now I can stop asking.
“It’s not terrible,” Evan says. “Some people make shit parents. It’s not our fault they don’t know how to love us.”
Except for Craig—Mom certainly knew how to love him. After five failed attempts, she’d finally gotten the recipe right with him. Her one perfect son she could pour a lifetime of mothering into. We might as well have been raised by two different people. He’s the only one of us walking around here with red, swollen eyes.
“Can I tell you something?” Evan says with a grin that makes me suspicious. “But you have to promise not to hit me.”
“Yeah, I can’t do that.”
He laughs to himself and licks his lips. An involuntary habit that always drove me crazy, because I know what that mouth is capable of.
“I missed you,” he confesses. “Am I an asshole if I’m sort of glad someone died?”
I punch him in the shoulder, to which he feigns injury. He doesn’t mean it. Not really. But in a weird way I appreciate the sentiment, if only because it gives me permission to smile for a second or two. To breathe.
I toy with the thin silver bracelet circling my wrist. Not quite meeting his eyes. “I missed you, too. A little.”
“A little?” He’s mocking me.
“Just a little.”
“Mm-hmm. So you thought about me, what, once, twice a day when you were gone?”
“More like once or twice
Truthfully, after I left the Bay I spent months doing my best to push away the thoughts of him when they insisted their way forward. Refusing the images that came when I closed my eyes at night or went on a date. Eventually it got easier. I’d almost managed to forget him. Almost.