#ExcerptReveal “The Best Man” by Winter Renshaw




I didn’t know her name, but I heard her laugh, tasted her lips, felt her warm skin as I held her in my arms. Together we watched our young children playing in the sand, the warm ocean lapping the shore behind them as the setting sun painted the sky. She was my soulmate and this was our life, our beautiful forever … 
Then I woke up—alone in a hospital room, connected to wires and machines. 
There was no wife. No kids. Not a single soul waiting for me. That life I dreamt of … never existed.
I’d been in a devastating wreck, a nurse told me when she rushed in. Comatose for weeks. I’d have a long road to recovery, but I was going to make it. 
From that moment on, the dream haunted me. I saw that woman’s face every time I closed my eyes, searched for her in every crowd, ached to be with a stranger I felt I’d known my entire life … and I swore that if I ever found her, I’d do anything to make her mine. 
Anything.
Then I found her.
And it was both the best and worst day of my life because the woman of my dreams … was about to marry my best friend.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: No cheating, no love triangles. That’s all I’m going to say … 😉

Cainan

Beep … beep … beep … beep …

​I wake to a steady sound, slamming into an unfamiliar shell of a body, which as it turns out is mine. A dreamlike haze envelopes me, and when my surroundings come into focus, I’m met with white walls, white blankets, white machines connected to white wires leading to a strip of white tape on my wrist holding an IV in place.

​I’m in a hospital.

​I try to remember how I got here, but it’s like trying to recall someone else’s dream—an impossible task. And it only makes the throbbing inside my head intensify.

​“My wife …” My words are more air than sound, and it’s painful to speak with a bone-dry mouth and burning throat.

​ “Mr. James?” A woman with hair the color of driven snow leans over me. So much fucking white. “Don’t move. Please.”

​She’s a calm kind of rushed, hurried but not frenetic as she makes her way around the room, pressing buttons, paging for assistance and adjusting machine settings.

​The room fades in and out, murky gray to pitch black, and then crystal clear before disappearing completely. The next time I open my eyes, I’m fenced by three more women and one white-coat-wearing man, all of them gazing down on me with squinted, skeptical expressions, as if they’re witnessing a verifiable miracle in the making.

​I’m certain this is nothing more than a bad dream—until my head pulsates with an iron-clad throb once again, accented by a searing poker-hot pain too real to be a delusion.

​“Mr. James, I’m Dr. Shapiro. Four weeks ago, you were involved in a car accident.” The doctor at the foot of the bed studies me. “You’re at Hoboken University Medical Center, and you’re in excellent hands.”

​They all study me.

​I try to sit up, only for a nurse to place her hand on my shoulder. “Take it easy, Mr. James.”

​Another nurse hands me water. I take a sip. The clear, cold liquid that glides down my throat both soothes and stings. I swallow the razor-blade sensation and try to sit up again, but my arms shake in protest, muscles threatening to give out.

​“Where’s my wife?” Each word is excruciating, physically and otherwise.

​She should be here.

​Why isn’t she here?

​“Your wife?” The nurse with the water cup repeats my question as she exchanges glances with the dark-haired nurse on the opposite side of my bed. “Mr. James … you don’t have a wife.”

​I try to respond, which only causes me to cough. I’m handed the water once more, and when I get the coughing under control, I ask for my wife once more.

​“Has anyone called her?” I hand the cup back. If I’ve been out of it for weeks, I imagine she’s beside herself. And our kids. I can’t begin to imagine what they’ve been going through. “Does she know I’m awake? Have my children seen me like this?”

​“Sir …” The nurse with the dark hair frowns.

​“My wife,” I say, harder this time.

​“Mr. James.” Dr. Shapiro comes closer, and a nurse steps out of the way. “You suffered extensive injuries in your accident …”

​The man rambles on, but I only catch fragments of what he’s saying. Shattered pelvis. Spleen removal. Internal bleeding. Brain swelling. Medically-induced coma.

​“It’s not uncommon to be confused or disoriented upon awaking,” he says.

​But she was just here …

​She was just with me …

​Only we weren’t in this room, we were at the beach—the little strip of sand beyond our summer home. She was in my arms as we lay warm under a hot sun, watching our children run from the rolling waves that rolled over the coastline, leaving tiny footprints up and down the shore.

​A boy and a girl.

​My wife smelled of sunscreen, and she wore an oversized straw hat with a black ribbon and thick-framed cat-eye sunglasses with red rims that matched her red sarong. I can picture it clearer than anything in this damn room.

​I can hear her laugh, bubbly and contagious.

​If I close my eyes, I can see her heart-shaped smile—the one that takes up half her face and can turn the worst of days completely upside down.

​“We’re going to let you rest, Mr. James, and then we’ll order a few tests.” The doctor digs in a deep pocket of his jacket, and then he sneaks a glance at his phone. “I’ll be here for the next eight hours, if you have any additional questions. The nurses will ensure you’re comfortable in the meantime. We’ll discuss your treatment plan as soon as you’re feeling up to it.”

​He tells the nurse with the dark hair to order a CT scan, mumbles something else I can’t discern, and then he’s gone. A moment later, the room clears save for myself and the third nurse—the one who’s done nothing but stare at me with despondent eyes this entire time.

​“There must be a mistake. Someone needs to call my wife immediately.” I try to sit up, but an electric intensity unlike anything I’ve ever experienced shoots up my arm and settles along my back and shoulders.

​The thought of her not knowing where I am sends a squeeze to my chest. What if she thinks I left her? What if she thinks I disappeared? What if she has no idea what happened? And what was I doing in Hoboken when our life is in Manhattan?

​“What’s her name?” Her question comes soft and low, almost like she’s trying to ensure no one hears her. “Your wife?”

​I open my mouth to speak … only nothing comes out.

​I can picture her as vivid as still blue waters on a windless day—but it’s the strangest thing because her name escapes me.

Nothing but blank after infuriating blank.

​“I … I can’t remember.” I lean back, staring into the reflective void of a black TV screen on the opposite wall.

​The nurse’s gaze grows sadder, if that’s possible. “It’s okay. You’ve been through quite an ordeal.”

​She doesn’t believe me.

​“Would you like me to call your sister?” she asks.

​My sister … Claire.

​If I can remember my sister’s name, why can’t I remember my own wife’s?

​“Yes,” I say. “Call Claire. Immediately.”

​She’ll be able to sort this out, I’m sure of it.

​“Would you like me to adjust your bed?” The nurse straightens the covers over my legs. “I’m Miranda, by the way. I’ve been assigned to you since you arrived. I can tell you just about anything you need to know.”

​“Just … call my sister.”

​“Of course, Mr. James. Can I grab you anything while I make that call?”

​I lift my hand—the one without the IV—to my forehead. “Head’s pounding like a goddamned jackhammer. Got anything for that?”

​“Absolutely. Be right back …”

​Miranda hurries out the door, and I’m alone.

​If I close my eyes, the room spins, but I can picture my wife with impeccable lucidity—the square line of her jaw, her heart-shaped lips that flip up in the corners, the candy-apple green of her eyes.

My heart aches, though it isn’t a physical pain, it’s deeper.

​More profound.

​Like the drowning of a human soul.

​I remind myself that the doctor’s said it’s normal to be disoriented, and I promise myself everything will come back to me once I get my bearings.

​The clock on the wall reads eight minutes past seven. The sky beyond the windows is half-lit. I haven’t the slightest clue if it’s AM or PM. I couldn’t tell you what day it is or what month it is for that matter.

​“Mr. James, your sister is on her way,” the nurse says when she returns.

​She hands me a white paper cup with two white pills.

​So much fucking white.

​If I never see white again after this, I’ll die a happy man.


Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi. 
And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j


#Review “The Best Man” by Winter Renshaw

cover

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5/5 Stars!

Fate? Destiny? Coincidence?

Do we choose our life’s journey… or are we characters acting out a script written for us?

The Best Man is not a paranormal story, but it made my mind wonder.

A chance meeting between Cainan James and Brie White is just that. A few minutes in a bar. Cryptic conversation. A prophetic parting. They go back to their lives without even exchanging names.

A near-death car accident finds Cainan waking from a coma six months later, asking for his wife. The only problem is he isn’t married. He heals and returns to his law practice with the visions of the mystery lady in his head. Cainan’s sister, Claire, is convinced he’s still traumatized by the accident and wants him to get help. Cainan is ready to agree with her until he meets his mystery woman.

Engaged to his best friend, Grant.

As the story unfolds, nothing is what it appears to be. Analytical Brie and Pragmatic Cainan ignore the simmering connection between them for obvious reasons. Rethinking her decisions, Brie has to make choices that have nothing to do with Cainan, while all of Cainan’s decisions are because of Grant.

What happens when the couple realizes they may know each other better than either of them know Grant?

(Insert speeding car in parking to mow Grant down. Read the story. He deserves it.)

Engaging and bittersweet, The Best Man is about relationships and does a great job of delving into several, especially between siblings and friends. It also deals with misplaced loyalty, manipulations, and betrayals. But not where you think. Pay attention!

However, it shines brightest as the connection between Brie and Cainan is explored and explained. Well, as much as the unexplainable can be explained!

I enjoyed this read. It didn’t fall back on insta-love, broody males or females making bad decisions simply because. It focused on people, the part they play in our lives, and the consequences of life choices.

Or are they choices? If you hear the Twilight Zone theme… just go with it.

Enjoy!

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SYNOPSIS

I didn’t know her name, but I heard her laugh, tasted her lips, felt her warm skin as I held her in my arms. Together we watched our young children playing in the sand, the warm ocean lapping the shore behind them as the setting sun painted the sky. She was my soulmate and this was our life, our beautiful forever …
Then I woke up—alone in a hospital room, connected to wires and machines.
There was no wife. No kids. Not a single soul waiting for me. That life I dreamt of … never existed.
I’d been in a devastating wreck, a nurse told me when she rushed in. Comatose for weeks. I’d have a long road to recovery, but I was going to make it.
From that moment on, the dream haunted me. I saw that woman’s face every time I closed my eyes, searched for her in every crowd, ached to be with a stranger I felt I’d known my entire life … and I swore that if I ever found her, I’d do anything to make her mine.
Anything.
Then I found her.
And it was both the best and worst day of my life because the woman of my dreams … was about to marry my best friend.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: No cheating, no love triangles. That’s all I’m going to say … 😉

Purchase

Amazon

Goodreads

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#BlogTour “The Best Man” by Winter Renshaw




I didn’t know her name, but I heard her laugh, tasted her lips, felt her warm skin as I held her in my arms. Together we watched our young children playing in the sand, the warm ocean lapping the shore behind them as the setting sun painted the sky. She was my soulmate and this was our life, our beautiful forever … 
Then I woke up—alone in a hospital room, connected to wires and machines. 
There was no wife. No kids. Not a single soul waiting for me. That life I dreamt of … never existed.
I’d been in a devastating wreck, a nurse told me when she rushed in. Comatose for weeks. I’d have a long road to recovery, but I was going to make it. 
From that moment on, the dream haunted me. I saw that woman’s face every time I closed my eyes, searched for her in every crowd, ached to be with a stranger I felt I’d known my entire life … and I swore that if I ever found her, I’d do anything to make her mine. 
Anything.
Then I found her.
And it was both the best and worst day of my life because the woman of my dreams … was about to marry my best friend.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: No cheating, no love triangles. That’s all I’m going to say … 😉


Cainan

Beep … beep … beep … beep …

​I wake to a steady sound, slamming into an unfamiliar shell of a body, which as it turns out is mine. A dreamlike haze envelopes me, and when my surroundings come into focus, I’m met with white walls, white blankets, white machines connected to white wires leading to a strip of white tape on my wrist holding an IV in place.

​I’m in a hospital.

​I try to remember how I got here, but it’s like trying to recall someone else’s dream—an impossible task. And it only makes the throbbing inside my head intensify.

​“My wife …” My words are more air than sound, and it’s painful to speak with a bone-dry mouth and burning throat.

​ “Mr. James?” A woman with hair the color of driven snow leans over me. So much fucking white. “Don’t move. Please.”

​She’s a calm kind of rushed, hurried but not frenetic as she makes her way around the room, pressing buttons, paging for assistance and adjusting machine settings.

​The room fades in and out, murky gray to pitch black, and then crystal clear before disappearing completely. The next time I open my eyes, I’m fenced by three more women and one white-coat-wearing man, all of them gazing down on me with squinted, skeptical expressions, as if they’re witnessing a verifiable miracle in the making.

​I’m certain this is nothing more than a bad dream—until my head pulsates with an iron-clad throb once again, accented by a searing poker-hot pain too real to be a delusion.

​“Mr. James, I’m Dr. Shapiro. Four weeks ago, you were involved in a car accident.” The doctor at the foot of the bed studies me. “You’re at Hoboken University Medical Center, and you’re in excellent hands.”

​They all study me.

​I try to sit up, only for a nurse to place her hand on my shoulder. “Take it easy, Mr. James.”

​Another nurse hands me water. I take a sip. The clear, cold liquid that glides down my throat both soothes and stings. I swallow the razor-blade sensation and try to sit up again, but my arms shake in protest, muscles threatening to give out.

​“Where’s my wife?” Each word is excruciating, physically and otherwise.

​She should be here.

​Why isn’t she here?

​“Your wife?” The nurse with the water cup repeats my question as she exchanges glances with the dark-haired nurse on the opposite side of my bed. “Mr. James … you don’t have a wife.”

​I try to respond, which only causes me to cough. I’m handed the water once more, and when I get the coughing under control, I ask for my wife once more.

​“Has anyone called her?” I hand the cup back. If I’ve been out of it for weeks, I imagine she’s beside herself. And our kids. I can’t begin to imagine what they’ve been going through. “Does she know I’m awake? Have my children seen me like this?”

​“Sir …” The nurse with the dark hair frowns.

​“My wife,” I say, harder this time.

​“Mr. James.” Dr. Shapiro comes closer, and a nurse steps out of the way. “You suffered extensive injuries in your accident …”

​The man rambles on, but I only catch fragments of what he’s saying. Shattered pelvis. Spleen removal. Internal bleeding. Brain swelling. Medically-induced coma.

​“It’s not uncommon to be confused or disoriented upon awaking,” he says.

​But she was just here …

​She was just with me …

​Only we weren’t in this room, we were at the beach—the little strip of sand beyond our summer home. She was in my arms as we lay warm under a hot sun, watching our children run from the rolling waves that rolled over the coastline, leaving tiny footprints up and down the shore.

​A boy and a girl.

​My wife smelled of sunscreen, and she wore an oversized straw hat with a black ribbon and thick-framed cat-eye sunglasses with red rims that matched her red sarong. I can picture it clearer than anything in this damn room.

​I can hear her laugh, bubbly and contagious.

​If I close my eyes, I can see her heart-shaped smile—the one that takes up half her face and can turn the worst of days completely upside down.

​“We’re going to let you rest, Mr. James, and then we’ll order a few tests.” The doctor digs in a deep pocket of his jacket, and then he sneaks a glance at his phone. “I’ll be here for the next eight hours, if you have any additional questions. The nurses will ensure you’re comfortable in the meantime. We’ll discuss your treatment plan as soon as you’re feeling up to it.”

​He tells the nurse with the dark hair to order a CT scan, mumbles something else I can’t discern, and then he’s gone. A moment later, the room clears save for myself and the third nurse—the one who’s done nothing but stare at me with despondent eyes this entire time.

​“There must be a mistake. Someone needs to call my wife immediately.” I try to sit up, but an electric intensity unlike anything I’ve ever experienced shoots up my arm and settles along my back and shoulders.

​The thought of her not knowing where I am sends a squeeze to my chest. What if she thinks I left her? What if she thinks I disappeared? What if she has no idea what happened? And what was I doing in Hoboken when our life is in Manhattan?

​“What’s her name?” Her question comes soft and low, almost like she’s trying to ensure no one hears her. “Your wife?”

​I open my mouth to speak … only nothing comes out.

​I can picture her as vivid as still blue waters on a windless day—but it’s the strangest thing because her name escapes me.

Nothing but blank after infuriating blank.

​“I … I can’t remember.” I lean back, staring into the reflective void of a black TV screen on the opposite wall.

​The nurse’s gaze grows sadder, if that’s possible. “It’s okay. You’ve been through quite an ordeal.”

​She doesn’t believe me.

​“Would you like me to call your sister?” she asks.

​My sister … Claire.

​If I can remember my sister’s name, why can’t I remember my own wife’s?

​“Yes,” I say. “Call Claire. Immediately.”

​She’ll be able to sort this out, I’m sure of it.

​“Would you like me to adjust your bed?” The nurse straightens the covers over my legs. “I’m Miranda, by the way. I’ve been assigned to you since you arrived. I can tell you just about anything you need to know.”

​“Just … call my sister.”

​“Of course, Mr. James. Can I grab you anything while I make that call?”

​I lift my hand—the one without the IV—to my forehead. “Head’s pounding like a goddamned jackhammer. Got anything for that?”

​“Absolutely. Be right back …”

​Miranda hurries out the door, and I’m alone.

​If I close my eyes, the room spins, but I can picture my wife with impeccable lucidity—the square line of her jaw, her heart-shaped lips that flip up in the corners, the candy-apple green of her eyes.

My heart aches, though it isn’t a physical pain, it’s deeper.

​More profound.

​Like the drowning of a human soul.

​I remind myself that the doctor’s said it’s normal to be disoriented, and I promise myself everything will come back to me once I get my bearings.

​The clock on the wall reads eight minutes past seven. The sky beyond the windows is half-lit. I haven’t the slightest clue if it’s AM or PM. I couldn’t tell you what day it is or what month it is for that matter.

​“Mr. James, your sister is on her way,” the nurse says when she returns.

​She hands me a white paper cup with two white pills.

​So much fucking white.

​If I never see white again after this, I’ll die a happy man.

Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi. 
And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j


#ReleaseBlitz “The Best Man” by Winter Renshaw




I didn’t know her name, but I heard her laugh, tasted her lips, felt her warm skin as I held her in my arms. Together we watched our young children playing in the sand, the warm ocean lapping the shore behind them as the setting sun painted the sky. She was my soulmate and this was our life, our beautiful forever … 
Then I woke up—alone in a hospital room, connected to wires and machines. 
There was no wife. No kids. Not a single soul waiting for me. That life I dreamt of … never existed.
I’d been in a devastating wreck, a nurse told me when she rushed in. Comatose for weeks. I’d have a long road to recovery, but I was going to make it. 
From that moment on, the dream haunted me. I saw that woman’s face every time I closed my eyes, searched for her in every crowd, ached to be with a stranger I felt I’d known my entire life … and I swore that if I ever found her, I’d do anything to make her mine. 
Anything.
Then I found her.
And it was both the best and worst day of my life because the woman of my dreams … was about to marry my best friend.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: No cheating, no love triangles. That’s all I’m going to say … 😉

Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi. 
And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j


#CoverReveal “The Best Man” by Winter Renshaw

I didn’t know her name, but I heard her laugh, tasted her lips, felt her warm skin as I held her in my arms. Together we watched our young children playing in the sand, the warm ocean lapping the shore behind them as the setting sun painted the sky. She was my soulmate and this was our life, our beautiful forever … 
Then I woke up—alone in a hospital room, connected to wires and machines. 
There was no wife. No kids. Not a single soul waiting for me. That life I dreamt of … never existed.
I’d been in a devastating wreck, a nurse told me when she rushed in. Comatose for weeks. I’d have a long road to recovery, but I was going to make it. 
From that moment on, the dream haunted me. I saw that woman’s face every time I closed my eyes, searched for her in every crowd, ached to be with a stranger I felt I’d known my entire life … and I swore that if I ever found her, I’d do anything to make her mine. 
Anything.
Then I found her.
And it was both the best and worst day of my life because the woman of my dreams … was about to marry my best friend.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: No cheating, no love triangles. That’s all I’m going to say … 😉

Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi. 
And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j


#ExcerptReveal “The Cruelest Stranger” by Winter Renshaw

Excerpt Reveal banner
 
 

 

 
 

 

 

The first time I saw him was at a bar called Ophelia’s on a misty Thursday night. I was there to drown my sorrows after a trying day, he was there to escape the storm. After a brief yet incredibly cruel exchange, the handsome stranger bolted before I had a chance to tell him off. Incensed and three cocktails deep, I followed him out the door, determined to give the audacious Adonis a piece of my mind.
Tearing after him in heels and barely able to keep up in the freezing rain, I ended my chase when I realized where he was going.
They say never to judge someone unless you know their story.
I never could have anticipated his…
And I never could have anticipated the way our paths would cross again—or that I would one day find myself falling for a man with a hollow cavity where his heart should be, a man as callous as he was beautiful, as complicated as he was mesmeric.
They say never to judge someone unless you know their story.
This one’s ours.

Through the shadowy haze of Ophelia’s, my unfocused gaze struggles to home in at first. And then I see him perfectly.

Chiseled cheekbones.

Impeccably-groomed obsidian hair.

Broad shoulders hardly contained in a navy cashmere sweater.

Jawline for days.

Could this be …?

Is that Mrs. Angelino’s nephew?

I take a generous mouthful of gin and tonic, contemplating how best to introduce myself. My palms tingle, and I rub them against the tops of my thighs, sucking in a shallow breath.

There’s a chance this man isn’t Garrett, and the more I think about it, he likely isn’t. I’ve yet to catch him scanning the room in search of someone.

But still—if it is him, I’d hate for him to think he’s being stood up. I would never do that to anyone, for any reason. My life’s mantra can be boiled down to the whole “do unto others …” saying.

Clearing my throat, I lean in his direction. “Excuse me?”

He doesn’t hear me.

Waving my hand to capture his attention, I say it again, “Hi. Excuse me.”

Still, nothing.

It’s like he’s in his own world—ten feet away.

The friendly, kindergarten-teacher smile teetering on my poppy-stained lips fades with the realization that I’m being ignored.

“Hi, excuse me …” Third time’s the charm. I wave once more, wiggling my fingers the way you’d politely flag down a restaurant server.

The man turns to his left, dark brows knit together and gaze tightened in my direction—and then he does the craziest thing: lifting his finger to his lips, he shushes me.

He. Shushes. Me.

Like a child.

Facing ahead, I take another drink, the glass trembling in my hand as a cocktail of thoughts swarm my head. The mirror behind the bar catches my reflection, and it isn’t pretty, but this time it has nothing to do with the damp, wiry, dishwater-blonde bun or the bar bathroom makeover.

Basic human decency is the one thing I value most in this world, and this man has none of it.

The full weight of his piercing stare anchors me to my seat, and every atom in my body is shouting for me to stay, to not march ten feet down the bar to give him a piece of my mind.

But today marks the anniversary of one of the worst days of my life, I was caught in a rainstorm and stood up, and I’m about two cocktails deep.

My self-control is non-existent.

Drink in hand, I slide off my seat and saunter toward the infuriatingly handsome asshole in the five-hundred-dollar sweater, but before I have a chance to utter a single word, he speaks first, “You seem incredibly insecure about something. Are you okay?”

“Excuse me?” I’m glaring, and I never glare. This isn’t good. This man’s about to bring out a side of me I never knew existed. And what the hell is he talking about? Insecure? “What kind of—”

“—what kind of asshole bothers a stranger for no reason?” he commandeers my question like he owns it. “Let me ask you this, when you saw me come in, saw me take a seat at the end of the bar away from everyone, what part of that gave you the impression that I wanted to be bothered?”

The man has a point—especially if he isn’t Garrett.

But it still doesn’t make him any less of a prick.

“I wasn’t trying to bother you, I was—”

“Really?” His full lips tug into a taut smirk, his tone as sharp as it is incredulous. “Because I’m pretty sure when you were waving at me and smiling and saying ‘Hi, excuse me’ in that cutesy little voice fifty thousand times … you were trying to bother me.”

“Are you always this cruel?”

“Are you always this desperate?” He doesn’t miss a beat.

My grip tightens on my glass. I’d love nothing more than to dump the remainder of this drink down his pretentious designer sweater.

Lucky for him that isn’t my style.

Besides, it’d be a shame to waste all that top-shelf liquor on a bottom-shelf bastard.

“For your information, I was supposed to meet someone here tonight. Someone fitting your description,” I say.

His jaw sets.

He takes a sip of his drink staring ahead, flashing a smirk that advertises a perfect dimple in the middle of his cheek. “Sure you were.”

“What, you think this is something I do to meet men?” My voice is pitched higher than I intended.

“You said it.” His brows rise as he centers his drink on a coaster.

“Don’t flatter yourself. You’re not my type.”

He sniffs. “I’m everyone’s type.”

I’m … speechless.

Is this jerk for real?!

Not only is this vexatious stranger cruel, heartless, and lacking in basic human decency, he’s also the epitome of arrogant.

“You can leave now.” He waves me off, but I’m stunned into silence as I try to gather my thoughts so I can leave him with one last zinger of a comeback.

“Everything okay over here?” Eduardo is hunched over the other side of the bar, his watchful stare passing between us. I swear he came out of nowhere—that or I was too distracted by this man’s willful audacity to notice him approaching us.

The cocky Adonis shoots me a glance before turning his attention to the bartender.

“We’re good, Eduardo,” he says. “I was just giving our friend here a lesson in etiquette, appropriacy, and basic decorum.”

Once again, I have no words.

Rising from his bar stool, he finishes the remainder of his drink with a smooth swallow before shouldering into his wool trench, heading for the door, and disappearing into the cold, dark evening.

Rain drops pelt the windows, obscuring anything and everything on the other side of the glass.

Peeling my fruitless gaze from that direction, it settles on an umbrella leaning against the wall next to the door.

His umbrella.

The blackest black.

The color of his soul—or the empty space in his chest where his heart should be.

Fitting.

Without giving it another thought, I slap a twenty on the counter and slip into my coat.

A moment later, I’m grabbing the stupid thing and diving out into the rain, praying I catch him in time.

As incensed as I am, as infuriating as he is, sometimes the best thing to do is fight cruelty with kindness. It’s something I learned early on in my life and something I instill in my students from the second they enter my classroom.

I spot him at the end of the block, waiting for the crosswalk to change.

Picking up my pace, I canter over cracked and pitted concrete, squeeze past umbrella-wielding locals—and make it to the end of the street just in time for the light to flick from neon white to warning-sign orange, forcing me to stop.

I wait where I am, my gaze trained on him in case he turns onto a side street.

The traffic signals begin to change, and within seconds, the crosswalk blinks to white.

I sprint across, ignoring the stinging cold rain drops pelting my skin, the frigid air biting through my clothes, and the painful clench in my jaw that keeps my teeth from rattling.

I’m a mere half of a block from him when he turns and disappears inside a local business.

But it isn’t just any business …

… it’s the Paulley-Hallbrook Funeral Home—a place I know well.

A moment later, I’m standing outside the very doors he walked into mere moments ago, frozen in every sense of the word.

The rain slows, gentle.

And then it stops.

Earthy petrichor fills my lungs as I witness the dark-haired, cruel-hearted mystery man as he’s greeted by a lady in a charcoal pant suit.

She places a hand on his shoulder and gives him an apologetic wince before escorting him away.

I wanted to give him the umbrella to teach him a lesson in compassion.

The irony of that isn’t lost on me.

 

Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.
And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j

 

 

#BlogTour “The Cruelest Stranger” by Winter Renshaw




The first time I saw him was at a bar called Ophelia’s on a misty Thursday night. I was there to drown my sorrows after a trying day, he was there to escape the storm. After a brief yet incredibly cruel exchange, the handsome stranger bolted before I had a chance to tell him off. Incensed and three cocktails deep, I followed him out the door, determined to give the audacious Adonis a piece of my mind. 
Tearing after him in heels and barely able to keep up in the freezing rain, I ended my chase when I realized where he was going.
They say never to judge someone unless you know their story. 
I never could have anticipated his…
And I never could have anticipated the way our paths would cross again—or that I would one day find myself falling for a man with a hollow cavity where his heart should be, a man as callous as he was beautiful, as complicated as he was mesmeric. 
They say never to judge someone unless you know their story.
This one’s ours.


Astaire

The sound of children laughing and shuffling down the hallway Friday morning is my cue to silence my phone.

I tuck it into my top drawer for the day and reach for my coffee, stealing a few more sips before the craziness of the day ensues.

I found the Schoenbach obituary—if you can call it that—earlier this morning. The funeral home posted it sometime last night.

Her name was Larissa Cleary-Schoenbach, and she was twenty-seven when she passed. It mentioned no family, no cause of death, no photograph. Nothing more than a birthdate and a single line about a private sunrise memorial service tomorrow morning and the words INVITATION ONLY in bold red letters. All caps.

I spent a few minutes Googling “Larissa Cleary-Schoenbach” earlier this morning. But I couldn’t find a thing.

No social media.

No LinkedIn.

No archived newspaper articles of any kind.

No graduation archives; high school, college or otherwise.

It’s as if this woman never existed.

“Good morning, good morning!” I take my place at the front of the room, grinning and waving and trying to psych them up for the day. Fridays are hard. The kids are exhausted, attention spans are waning. My students hang their jackets and bags on their hooks and then make their way to their assigned square on the rug. “Happy Friday!”

I maintain the smile on my face, sing our morning song, and begin the day’s lesson, but today I can’t help but feel like I’m merely going through the motions. My mind is fixated on that man from the bar last night—and the mystery woman he’s burying.

With the hyphenated name and similar age, it’s fair to assume she was his wife.

At first I thought it seemed odd that she’d have a private sunrise memorial service, but maybe sunrises were her thing? And maybe her passing was so tragic and unspeakable that all he wants is to protect her privacy?

By the time the kids head out for first recess ninety minutes later, I’ve concocted a beautiful love story for the two of them. I’ve imagined a passionate, love-at-first-sight romance.

Trips to Paris.

A sunset proposal.

Slow dances in empty bars.

Lazy Sunday afternoons sipping tea and trading poetry.

Saturday strolls in Lincoln Park.

New Year’s Eve kisses on snowy hotel balconies, her lashes covered in snowflakes as he wraps her tight to keep her warm.

In my heart of hearts, I want to believe he was beautifully, wonderfully kind to her.

That he loved her more than anything in the entire world.

That her death shattered his heart into a million, irreparable pieces.

I want to believe that that was the cause of his cruelty last night.

That he’s simply angry at the world for taking the love of his life away from him.

Death and loss can do a number on you. It can change your entire personality if you let it. Some of my darkest days came in the months following Trevor’s passing.

I want to believe Bennett has friends and family getting him through this, but last night, Eduardo mentioned that when Bennett stops in, he never talks to anyone—which leads me to assume he only comes solo.

Maybe he’s painfully private?

Maybe she was his entire world? All he had?

Maybe they’d had a falling out and weren’t speaking when she died?

The kids return from recess, peeling out of their scarves and gloves, cheeks flushed and eyes wet from the cold. Making my way to the front of the classroom to start the next lesson, I decide to do what Trevor would do if here were still here: I give the cruel stranger from last night the benefit of the doubt.

And then I carry on with my day.


Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi. 
And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j


#ReleaseBlitz “The Cruelest Stranger” by Winter Renshaw




The first time I saw him was at a bar called Ophelia’s on a misty Thursday night. I was there to drown my sorrows after a trying day, he was there to escape the storm. After a brief yet incredibly cruel exchange, the handsome stranger bolted before I had a chance to tell him off. Incensed and three cocktails deep, I followed him out the door, determined to give the audacious Adonis a piece of my mind. 
Tearing after him in heels and barely able to keep up in the freezing rain, I ended my chase when I realized where he was going.
They say never to judge someone unless you know their story. 
I never could have anticipated his…
And I never could have anticipated the way our paths would cross again—or that I would one day find myself falling for a man with a hollow cavity where his heart should be, a man as callous as he was beautiful, as complicated as he was mesmeric. 
They say never to judge someone unless you know their story.
This one’s ours.

Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi. 
And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j


#CoverReveal “The Cruelest Stranger” by Winter Renshaw


The first time I saw him was at a bar called Ophelia’s on a misty Thursday night. I was there to drown my sorrows after a trying day, he was there to escape the storm. After a brief yet incredibly cruel exchange, the handsome stranger bolted before I had a chance to tell him off. Incensed and three cocktails deep, I followed him out the door, determined to give the audacious Adonis a piece of my mind. 
Tearing after him in heels and barely able to keep up in the freezing rain, I ended my chase when I realized where he was going.
They say never to judge someone unless you know their story. 
I never could have anticipated his…
And I never could have anticipated the way our paths would cross again—or that I would one day find myself falling for a man with a hollow cavity where his heart should be, a man as callous as he was beautiful, as complicated as he was mesmeric. 
They say never to judge someone unless you know their story.
This one’s ours.

Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi. 
And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j


#ChapterReveal “P.S. I Hate You” by Winter Renshaw

Dear Isaiah,

Eight months ago, you were just a soldier about to be deployed and I was just a waitress, sneaking you free pancakes and hoping you wouldn’t notice that my gaze was lingering a little too long.

But you did notice.

We spent a “week of Saturdays” together before you left, and we said goodbye on day eight, exchanging addresses at the last minute.

I saved every letter you ever sent, your words quickly becoming my religion.

But you went radio silent on me months ago, and then you had the audacity to walk into my diner yesterday and act like you’d never seen me in your life.

To think … I almost loved you and your beautifully complicated soul.

Almost.

Whatever your reason is—I hope it’s a good one.

Maritza the Waitress

PS – I hate you, and this time … I mean it.

Maritza

“Welcome to Brentwood Pancake and Coffee. I’m Maritza and I’ll be your server,” I greet my millionth customer of the morning with the same old spiel. This one, a raven-haired, honey-eyed Adonis, waited over seventy minutes for a table by a window, though I suppose in LA time that’s the blink of an eye.
He doesn’t so much as acknowledge me.
“Just you today?” I ask, eyeing the empty chair across from him. The breakfast rush is about to end, and lucky for him, I only have one other table right now.
He doesn’t answer, but maybe he doesn’t hear me?
“Coffee?” I ask another obvious question. I mean, the diner is called Brentwood Pancake and Coffee for crying out loud. Everyone comes here for the coffee and plate-sized pancakes, and it’s considered a Class-D felony to order anything else.
Placing his mug right side up on his saucer, he pushes it toward me and I begin to pour. Waving his hand, he stops me when the cup is three-quarters of the way full. A second later, he adds two creams and one half of a sugar packet, but the way he moves is methodical, rigid. With intention.
“Ma’am, this really can’t be that interesting,” he says under his breath, his spoon clinking against the sides of the porcelain mug after he stirs.
“Excuse me?”
“You’re standing here watching me,” he says. Giving the spoon two final taps against the rim of the mug, he then rests it on the saucer before settling his intense amber gaze in my direction. “Isn’t there another table that needs you?”
His eyes are warm like honey but his stare is cold, piercing. Unrelenting.
“You’re right. There is.” I clear my throat and snap out of it. If I was lingering, it wasn’t my intention, but this I’m-sexy-and-I-know-it asshole didn’t need to call me out on it. Sue me for being a little distracted. “I’ll be back to check on you in a minute, okay?”
With that, I leave him alone with his menu and his coffee and his foul mood and his brooding gaze … and his broad shoulders … and his full lips … and I get back to work, stopping at table four to see if Mr. and Mrs. Carnavale need refills on their house blend decafs.
By the time I top them off, I draw in a cleansing breath and head back to Mr. Tall, Dark, and Douche-y, forcing a smile on my face.
“We ready to order?” I ask, pulling my pen from behind my ear and my notepad from my Kelly-green apron.
He folds his menu, offering it to me despite the fact that my hands are full, but I manage to slip it under my arm without dropping anything.
“Two pancakes,” he says. “Eggs. Scrambled. Rye toast. Butter. Not margarine.”
“I’m so sorry.” I point to a sign above the cash register that clearly reads ONE PANCAKE PER PATRON – NO EXCEPTIONS.
He squints, his expression calcifying when he reads it.
“So that’s one pancake, scrambled eggs, and buttered rye toast then,” I recite his order.
“What kind of bullshit rule is that?” He checks his watch, like he has somewhere to be.
Or like he doesn’t have the time for a rule that I entirely agree is pure bullshit.
“These pancakes are huge. I promise one will be more than enough.” I try to deescalate the situation before it gets out of hand because it’s never pretty when management has to get involved. The owners of the diner are strict as hell on this policy and their day shift manager is even more so. She’ll happily inform any and all disgruntled customers there’s a reason the “pancake” in Brentwood Pancake and Coffee is singular and not plural.
I’ve seen many a diner walk out of here and never return over this stupid policy and our Yelp review average is in the dumps, but somehow it never seems to be bad for business. The line is perpetually out the door and down the block every weekend morning without fail, and sometimes even on weekdays. These pancakes are admittedly as delicious and more than own up to their reputation, but that stupid rule is nothing more than clever marketing designed to inflate demand.
“And what if I’m still hungry?” he asks. “Can I order a second?”
Wincing, I shake my head.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” He sits up a little, jaw clenching. “It’s a goddamned pancake for fuck’s sake.”
“Not just any pancake,” I say with a practiced smile. “It’s a Brentwood pancake.”
“Are you trying to be cute with me, ma’am?” he asks, directing his attention at me, though he isn’t flirting. His nostrils flare a little and I can’t help but let my mind wander the tiniest bit about how sexy he looks when he’s angry—despite the fact that I would never so much as entertain the idea of getting down and dirty with an asshole like this.
He’s hot AF but I don’t do jerks. Plain and simple.
I’d have to be drunk. Like, really drunk. And I’d have to be desperate. And even then … I don’t know. He’s got some kind of chip on his shoulder, and no amount of sexiness would be able to distract me from that.
“Let me put your order in, okay?” I ask with a smile so forced my cheeks hurt. They say good moods are contagious, but I’m starting to think this guy might be immune.
“As long as it’s the full order, ma’am,” he says, lips pressing flat as he exhales. I don’t know why he keeps calling me “ma’am” when I’m clearly younger than he is. Hell, I couldn’t legally drink until three years ago.
I am not a “ma’am.”
“The cook won’t make two,” I say with an apologetic tone before biting my bottom lip. If I play it coy and helpless maybe he’ll back down a little? It works. Sometimes.
“Then it’s for my guest,” he points to the empty seat across from him. His opposite hand is balled into a fist, and I can’t help but notice his watch is programmed in military time, “who happens to be showing up later.”
“We don’t serve guests until they’re physically here,” I say. Yet another one of the restaurant’s strict policies. Too many patrons have tried to use that loophole over the years, so they had to close it. But they didn’t just close it—they battened the hatches with hurricane-proof glass by way of a giant security monitor in the kitchen. They even make the cooks check the screen before preparing orders, just to make sure no one’s breaking the rules.
The man drags his hand through his dark hair, which I’m realizing now is a “regulation cut.”
Military.
I bet he’s military.
Has to be. The hair. The watch. The constant swearing juxtaposed with the overuse of the word “ma’am.” He reminds me of my cousin Eli who spent ten years in the U.S. army, and if he’s anything else like Eli, he’s not going to let up about this.
Exhaling, I place my palm gently on his shoulder despite the fact that we’re not supposed to put hands on the guests for any reason, but this guy is tense and his muscled shoulders are just begging for a gentle touch.
“Just … bear with me, okay?” I ask. “I’ll see what I can do.”
The man serves our country. He fights for our freedom. Despite the fact that he’s unquestionably a giant asshole, he at least deserves a second pancake.
I’m going to have to get creative.
Heading back to the kitchen, I put his order in and check on the Carnavales one more time. On my way to the galley to refill my coffee pot, I pass a table full of screaming children, one of which has just shoved his giant pancake on the floor, much to his gasping mother’s dismay.
Bending, I retrieve the sticky circle from the floor and place it back on his plate.
“Would you like the kitchen to fix another?” I ask. They’re lucky. This is the only time they’ll make an exception, and I’ll have to present the dirty pancake as proof.
The child screams and I can barely hear what the mother is trying to say. Glancing around the table, I spot five little minions under the age of eight, all of them dressed in Burberry, Gucci, and Dior. The inflated-lipped mother sports a shimmering, oversized rock on her left ring finger and the father has his nose buried in his phone.
But I’m not one to judge.
LA is lacking child-friendly restaurants of the quality variety, and it’s not like Mr. Chow or The Ivy would welcome their noisy litter with open arms. I don’t even think they have high chairs there.
“I don’t want a pancake!” The oldest of the tanned, flaxen-haired gremlins screams in his mother’s face, turning her flawless complexion a shade of crimson that almost matches her pristine Birkin bag.
“Just … just take it away,” she says, flustered, her palm sprawling her glassy, Botoxed forehead.
Nodding, I take the ‘cake back to the kitchen, only I stop when I reach the galley, grabbing a stack of cloth napkins and hiding the plate beneath it. As soon as my military patron finishes his first pancake, I’ll run this back to the kitchen and claim he accidentally dropped it on the floor.
“Order up!” one of the line guys calls from the window, and I head over to see my military man’s breakfast is hot and ready—though I may have accidentally moved it to the front of the ticket line when no one was looking because I don’t have the energy to deal with him freaking out if his breakfast is taking too long.
Grabbing his plate, I rush it out to him, delivering it with a smile and a sweet, “Can I get you anything else right now?”
His gaze drops to his food and then lifts to me.
“I know,” I say, palm up. “Just … trust me. I’ll take care of you.”
I wink, partially disgusted with myself. He has no idea how difficult it is for me to be accommodating to him when he’s treating me like this. I’d love nothing more than to pour a steaming hot pitcher of coffee into his lap, but out of respect and appreciation—and only respect and appreciation—for his service, I won’t resort to such a thing.
Plus, I work for tips. I kind of have to be accommodating. And lord knows I need this job. I may be living in my grandmother’s gorgeous guesthouse, but believe me, she charges rent.
Free rides aren’t a thing in the Claiborne family.
He peers down his straight nose, stabbing the tines of his polished fork into a chunk of fluffy scrambled egg.
He doesn’t say thank you—not surprising—and I tell him I’ll be back to check on him in a little while before making my way to the galley where another server, Rachael, is also seeking respite.
“That table with the screaming kids,” I ask, “that yours?”
She blows her blonde bangs off her forehead and rolls her eyes. “Yup.”
“Better you than me,” I tease. Rachael’s got three of her own at home. She’s good with kids and she always seems to know the right thing to say to distract them or thwart a total meltdown.
“I’ll trade you,” she says. “The family for the dimples at table four.”
“He has dimples?” I peek my head out, staring toward my military man.
“Oh, God, yes,” she says. “Deep ones. Killer smile, too. Thought maybe he was some model or actor or something, but he said he was an army corporal.”
“We can’t be talking about the same guy. He hasn’t so much as half-smiled at me and he’s already told you what he does for a living?”
“Huh.” Rachael lifts a thin red brow, like she’s wondering if we’re talking about two different people. “He asked me how I was doing earlier and smiled. Thought he was real friendly.”
“That one. Right there. Dark hair? Golden eyes? Muscles bulging out of his gray t-shirt?” I do a quick point before retracting my finger.
She takes another look. “Yeah. That’s him. You don’t forget a face like that. Or biceps like that …”
“Weird.” I fold my arms, staring his way and wondering if maybe he has a thing against girls like me. Though I’m pretty ordinary compared to most girls out here. Average height. Average weight. Brown hair. Brown eyes.
Maybe I remind him of an ex?
I’m mid-thought when out of nowhere he turns around, our eyes catching like he knew I was watching. Reaching for a hand towel in front of me, I glance down and try to act busy by wiping up a melted ice cube on the galley counter.
“Busted.” Rachael elbows me before heading out to check on the Designer family. I swat her on the arm as she passes, and then I give myself a second to regain my composure. As soon as the warmth has left my cheeks, I head out to check on him, relieved to find his pancake demolished, not a single, spongey scrap left behind. In fact, his entire meal is finished … coffee and all.
Reaching for his plate, he stops me, his hand covering mine, and then our eyes lock.
“Why were you staring at me over there?” he asks. The way he looks at me is equal parts invasive and intriguing, like he’s studying me, forming a hard and fast opinion, but also like he’s checking me out which makes zero sense because his annoyance with me practically oozes out of his perfect, tawny physique.
“I’m sorry?” I play dumb.
“I saw you. Answer the question.”
Oh, god. He’s not going to let this go. Something tells me I should’ve taken Rachael up on her offer to trade tables. This one’s been nothing but trouble since the moment I poured his coffee.
My mouth falls and I’m not sure what to say. Half of me knows I should probably utter some kind of nonsense most likely to appease him so he doesn’t complain to my manager, but the other half of me is tired of being nice to a man who has the decency to ask another waitress how her day is going and can’t even bring himself to treat his own server like a human being.
“You were talking about me with that other waitress,” he says. His hand still covers mine, preventing me from exiting this conversation.
Exhaling, I say, “She wanted to trade tables.”
His dark brow arches and he studies my face.
“And then she said you had dimples,” I expand. “She said you smiled at her earlier … I was just thinking about why you’d be so polite to her and not me.”
He releases me and I stand up straight, tugging my apron into place before smoothing my hands down the front.
“She handed me a newspaper while I waited. She didn’t have to do that,” he says, lips pressing flat. “Give me something to smile about and I’ll smile at you.”
The audacity of this man.
The heat in my ears and the clench in my jaw tells me I should walk away now if I want to preserve my esteemed position as morning server here at Brentwood Pancake and Coffee, but it’s guys like him …
I try to say something, but all the thoughts in my head are temporarily nonsensical and flavored with a hint of rage. A second later, I manage a simple yet gritted, “Would you like me to grab your check, sir?”
“No,” he says without pause. “I’m not finished with my breakfast yet.”
We both glance at his empty plates.
“More eggs?” I ask.
“No.”
I can’t believe I’m about to do this for him, but at this point, the sooner I get him out of here, the better. I mean, at this point I’m doing it for myself, let’s be real.
“One moment.” I take his empty dishes to the kitchen before sneaking into the galley and grabbing that kid’s dirty pancake. My pulse whooshes in my ears and my body is lit, but I forge ahead, returning to the pick-up window and telling one of the cooks that my customer at table twelve dropped his ‘cake on the floor.
He glances at the plate, then to the security monitor, then back to me before taking it out of my hands and exchanging it for a fresh one. It’s a verifiable assembly line back there, just a bunch of guys in hairnets and aprons standing around a twenty-foot griddle, spatulas in each hand.
“Thanks, Brad,” I say. Making my way back to my guy, I stop to check on the Carnavales, only their table is already being bussed and Rachael tells me she took care of their check because they were in a hurry.
Shit.
“Here you are.” I place the plate in front of my guy.
He glances up at me, honeyed eyes squinting for a moment. I wink, praying he doesn’t ask questions.
“Let me know if you need anything else, okay?” I ask, wishing I could add, “just don’t ask for another pancake because I’ll be damned if I risk my job for an ingrate like you ever again.”
“Coffee, ma’am. I’d like another cup of coffee.” He reaches for his glass syrup carafe, pouring sticky sweet, imported-from-Vermont goodness all over his steaming pancake, and I try not to watch as he forms an “x” and then a circle.
Striding away, I grab a fresh carafe of coffee and return to top him off, stopping at three-quarters of the way full. A second later, he glances up at me, his full lips pulling up at the sides, revealing the most perfect pair of dimples I’ve ever seen … as if the past twenty minutes have all been some kind of joke and he was only busting my chops by being the world’s biggest douche lord.
But just like that, it disappears.
His pearly, dimpled smirk is gone before I get the chance to fully appreciate how kind of a soul he appears to be when he’s not all tense and surly.
“Glad I finally gave you a reason to smile.” I’m teasing. Sort of. And I gently rub his shoulder, which is still tight as hell. “Anything else I can get you?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll take my check.”
Thank. God.
I can’t get it fast enough. Within a minute, I’ve punched my staff ID into the system, printed his ticket, shoved it into a check presenter, and rushed it to his table. His debit card rests on the edge when I arrive, as if I’d taken too long and he grew tired of holding it in his hand.
He’s just as anxious to leave as I am to get him out of here. Guess that marks the one and only thing that puts us on the same page.
“I’ll be right back with this,” I tell him. His card—plain navy plastic with the VISA logo in the lower corner and NAVY ARMY CREDIT UNION along the top—bears the name “Isaiah Torres.”
When I return, I hand him a neon purple gel pen from my pocket and gather his empty dishes.
“Thank you for the …” he points at the sticky plate in my hand as he signs his check. “For that.”
“Of course,” I say, avoiding eye contact because the sooner I can pretend he’s already gone, the better. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”
Asshole.
Glancing up, I spot our hostess, Maddie, flagging me down and mouthing that I have three new tables. Great. Thanks to this charmer, I’ve disappointed the Carnavales, risked my job, and kept several tables waiting all within the span of a half hour.
Isaiah signs his check, closes the leather binder, and slides out of his booth. When he stands, he towers over me, peering down his nose and holding my gaze captive for what feels like a single, endless second.
For a moment, I’m so blinded by his chiseled jaw and full lips, that my heart misses a couple of beats and I almost forget our little exchange.
“Ma’am, if you’ll kindly excuse me,” he says as I realize I’m blocking his path.
I step aside, and as he passes, his arm brushes against mine and the scent of fresh soap and spicy aftershave fills my lungs. Shoving the check presenter in my apron, I tend to my new tables before rushing back to start filling drinks.
Glancing toward the exit, I catch him stopping in the doorway before slowly turning to steal one last look at me for reasons I’ll never know, and it isn’t until an hour later that I finally get a chance to check his ticket. Maybe I’d been dreading it, maybe I’d purposely placed it in the back of my mind, knowing full well he was going to leave me some lousy, slap-in-the-face tip after everything I’d done for him. Or worse: nothing at all.
But I stand corrected.
“Maritza, what is it?” Rachael asks, stopping short in front of me, hands full of strategically stacked dirty dishes.
I shake my head. “That guy … he left me a hundred-dollar tip.”
Her nose wrinkles. “What? Let me see. Maybe it’s a typo?”
I show her the tab and the very clearly one and two zeroes on the tip line. The total confirms that the tip was no typo.
“I don’t understand. He was such an ass,” I say under my breath. “This is like, what, five hundred percent?”
“Maybe he grew a conscience at the last minute?” Her lips jut forward.
I roll my eyes. “Whatever it was, I just hope he never comes here again. And if he does, you get him. There isn’t enough tip money in the world that would make me want to serve that arrogant prick again. I don’t care how hot he is.”
“Gladly.” Her mouth pulls wide. “I have this thing for generous pricks with dashing good looks.”
“I know,” I say. “I met your last two exes.”
Rachael sticks her tongue out before prancing off, and I steal one last look at Isaiah’s tip. It’s not like he’s the first person ever to bestow me with such plentiful gratuity—this is a city where cash basically grows on trees—it’s just that it doesn’t make sense and I’ll probably never get a chance to ask him why.
Exhaling, I get back to work.
I’ve worked way too damn hard to un-complicate my life lately, and I’m not about to waste another thought on some complicated man I’m never going to see ever again.

Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.

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