He’s the bad bachelor who inspired it all…
Annie Maxwell had her whole life figured out…until her fiancé left her when his career took off. If that wasn’t bad enough, every society blog posted pictures of him escorting a woman wearing her engagement ring. To help the women of New York avoid guys like her ex, Annie created the Bad Bachelors app. But try as she might, Annie just can’t forget him…
For bank executive Joe Preston, his greatest mistake was leaving the love of his life when she needed him most. Now, all he wants is to make things right—and she won’t have him. But when Annie’s safety is threatened by a hacker determined to bring down her app, Joe is the only one she can turn to. He’ll have to lay himself on the line to prove to Annie that he’s a changed man. But will their hard-won bond survive the revelation that Annie is the one pulling the strings behind Bad Bachelors?
“Dear Bad Bachelors, before your app came along, I truly believed I was going to die alone.” —SincerelySingle
Annie Maxwell had never been held at pastry-point before. Thankfully, she’d never been held at gunpoint either, but there was something about the way her stepfather thrust the freshly piped cannoli in her direction that made her want to avoid any sudden movements. She stood in the middle of his café, still empty since it hadn’t yet opened.
“I’m about to go for a run.” She gestured to her hot-pink Nikes and leggings. “I don’t need a pastry. Besides, I’m catching up with the girls.”
Well, girl. Singular. Of her two best friends, only one was currently speaking to her. But girls slipped out like it always did, because they were supposed to be a group.
Not this tense, fractured mess.
Sal Russo’s dark eyes narrowed as he appraised his stepdaughter with pursed lips. “You should eat breakfast.”
“I hate to break it to you, but that isn’t breakfast.” She gestured to the pastry. “It’s a dessert. At the very best, you might be able to call it a snack. But it’s most certainly not breakfast.”
Still, Sal had to give the people of Bensonhurst what they wanted…and that included flaky, sugar-laden non-breakfast foods.
Sal huffed and placed the tray of cannoli down. A sprinkling of white icing sugar dusted the edge of his dark mustache, telling Annie that he’d already tucked into the goods that morning. No matter how she cajoled and pleaded, he couldn’t—or rather wouldn’t—curb his sweet tooth.
“Italians have eaten this way for generations.”
“Exactly. Why do you think Nonno has trouble with his blood sugar now? Too many cannoli.” She shook her head. Worrying about her grandfather’s health was almost as pointless as worrying about her stepfather’s. If she had her way, they’d live forever. “Not to mention all that damn salami he eats. And the prosciutto…and the creamy gnocchi.”
“Now you want to take our pasta away from us?” Sal feigned mock outrage.
“I’m just trying to say that you…” He shook his head. “You don’t have to be perfect all the time. You put too much pressure on yourself.”
He looked like he was about to say something else, but no words came out. At one point, he would have joked that he’d never be able to marry her off if she was so uptight—purposefully goading her into a lecture about a woman’s right to choose marriage or whatever lifestyle she pleased—which was exactly what Sal believed too. He wanted his daughters to be strong and independent, despite his teasing. But no one joked about the m-word around her anymore. Hell, it was only ever uttered when absolutely necessary, and even then, it was accompanied by furtive glances and sympathetic eyes.
Poor Annie. What if she never finds anyone else? Lucky he has two other daughters who’ll do the family proud and give him a couple of adorable nipoti.
Ugh. Her zia didn’t know she’d overheard that conversation. And even though Annie didn’t believe Sal cared much about whether or not she gave him grandchildren, the remark still stung. Even months later.
“I’m perfectly happy, and I enjoy running.” She squared her shoulders. “You should try it sometime.”
He laughed, the tension melting from his face as he pulled her in for a bear hug. She was sure to have smears of icing sugar all over her hoodie now.
“I’m too old for that shit.”
Despite her worry, Annie chuckled. There wasn’t much that couldn’t be fixed by a bear hug from her stepfather. In fact, when he’d decided to quit his job and follow his dream of opening a café, the family had decided to name the place after his hulking frame. Café l’Orso, or the Bear Café when translated into English. In two years, Sal’s place had become a hipster hot spot a mere five minutes down the road from the family home.
“Ma is so proud of you, you know that?” she said, looking around the café with a warm feeling in her chest.
“Just your mother?”
Annie chuckled. “Well, I am too. But we all know her opinion is the only one that matters.”
Sal squeezed her tightly. “True. It’s strange to think her cancer was the catalyst for something so great. It forced us to appreciate life more.”
Her parents had changed a lot in the last three years. Sal had let go of his need to make decisions based on security, and her mother—who’d always been feisty and outspoken—had learned to chill out and roll with the punches more. But they were happier than ever. Stronger than ever as a couple.
Annie swallowed back the lump blocking her throat. “I should get going.”
The view outside the café beckoned. Sunlight sparkled off the puddles from an earlier shower, giving the late-fall foliage an extra degree of golden warmth. Soon the café would be busy, and Annie wanted out before she guilted herself into helping with the swarm of locals looking for their weekend caffeine fix. After all, it was her first free day in almost a month and she had plans. This morning she would catch up with her friend, Darcy. Then she could crack open her bullet journal and tackle her to-do list.
“You know you don’t have to check on me on your day off.” Sal smiled and waved her away. “I suppose I should be grateful that I raised three conscientious, hardworking daughters. You’re my favorite though.”
Never once had Sal made Annie feel like she wasn’t part of the family, even though she was the only daughter not related to him by blood.
“I bet you say that to all the girls. Mom included.” Annie laughed, knowing without a doubt that her father did in fact say it to each of them. “We’re on to your tricks, you know.”
“Yeah, yeah. Get out of here.”
He turned and moved behind the counter, turning on the coffee machine and pouring beans into the grinder. A loud hiss of steam drowned out the clatter from the kitchen as Annie left the café and stepped out into the crisp fall morning.
Annie loved the early weekend mornings, when Brooklyn was still asleep. She loved the way the sky transitioned from indigo to lilac to gold and finally to blue. She loved the peace and quiet. It had taken her a long time to be at peace in the silence after Joseph left, since her mind would play their breakup on a loop. But now the quiet comforted her.
She headed toward the subway and caught the D Train to Columbus Circle. Though she lived in Manhattan, which meant a long schlep to Brooklyn to visit her family every weekend, she appreciated the ability to fit in a run before work instead of having to commute.
When the subway slid to a stop, Annie exited, almost walking straight into Darcy.
“Hey,” she said with a wave. Darcy grumbled a half-hearted return greeting.
“I still don’t understand why I needed to come all this way to go for a run.” Darcy’s dark hair was slicked back into a ponytail, and her chin was buried in an oversize Mets hoodie. Given it was almost as long as a dress, Annie assumed it belonged to Darcy’s fiancé, Reed. “Exercise is stupid.”
Annie rolled her eyes. “You asked for my help, remember? I thought you wanted to support Reed.”
A week ago, Darcy had come to her with questions about running, explaining that Reed was taking part in a four-mile charity run through Central Park and that he’d bribed her into participating. Given that her next question had been whether she could run in Doc Martens, Annie had designed a training plan.
“And supporting him means getting up at the buttcrack of dawn to trek into the city?” Darcy yawned. “I’m usually in bed for at least four more hours on my day off.”
“It’s good to understand the terrain. If you’re going to be running here on the day, then it makes sense to train here.” They walked up the steps and out onto the street. “What did he say to convince you, anyway?”
Darcy’s cheeks turned pink. “Nothing I feel comfortable repeating in public.”
Central Park shone with autumnal color. Eager tourists were out in force, cameras dangling from their necks and selfie sticks in hand. The air was crisp, but the day was unseasonably warm for this time of year. In other words, it was a perfect day for a run.
“You stayed at your parents’ place last night?” Darcy asked as they walked into the park.
“Yeah, Allegra was home from college for the weekend, and Sofia decided we should have a movie marathon.” Her stepsisters were twenty-one and seventeen, respectively. “A chick-flick movie marathon. It was fun. We ate popcorn and ordered pizza. But they’re seriously boy crazy. Sofia spent half the night getting us to help figure out which Halloween party she should attend based on which boy would be in attendance.”
“Count me relieved that I never have to experience high school again.”
“Me too.” They stopped next to a bench to stretch out. Annie pulled her ankle up behind her butt to loosen her quads. “They’re so…”
“I was going to say naive.”
“You mean they haven’t been tarred by the cynicism that comes from being someone formerly in a relationship?” Darcy quipped. That was one of the things Annie loved about her best friend. She was never short of a smart-ass remark. She also had the best resting bitch face Annie had ever seen, an in-depth knowledge of classic literature, and a penchant for beautiful tattoos.
She was also one of the most forgiving people Annie had ever met.
“The early twenties were a simpler time, that’s for damn sure.” Annie sighed. “And don’t you go acting all smug now that you’re coupled up.”
“I’m just saying, if I found someone, then there’s hope for literally everyone.” She laughed. “Which means you don’t need to shrivel up and become an old prune.”
Annie switched legs and swatted Darcy with her free hand. “Old prune? Screw you.”
“If you don’t use it, you lose it,” Darcy said with a sage nod. “Isn’t that what you said to me?”
“I believe that was Remi.”
An uncomfortable silence settled over the duo. It had been two months since the big fight. And apart from seeing Remi’s performance at the Out of Bounds opening night, there had been zero contact. Annie was the kind of person who chose her friends carefully and infrequently, so Remi’s absence had left a big hole in her life. Not to mention a big hole in her heart.
She would fix things. Eventually. But Remi needed her space, and this time Annie was going to respect that.
“She’ll come around,” Darcy said, as if reading her friend’s thoughts.
“I hope so.” But hope might not be enough. She’d really hurt Remi and it haunted her every day.
“Hey.” Darcy leaned over, pressing the back of her hand to Annie’s forehead. “Are you okay? You look pale.”
“I’m fine.” Annie waved her hand. “I’m tired. I’ve been working a lot lately.”
“Work’s not everything, you know.”
Darcy was right, of course. Work wasn’t everything…for most people. But right now, the only thing keeping Annie going was her work. And not her job either. But the work that was her true purpose in life.
Bad Bachelors. The website and app she’d created to change the way women dated. By being able to rate and review men, the women of New York could avoid the players and the cheaters. They could go into a relationship with their eyes open. She believed in the good it could do, but it had certainly caused a lot of trouble as well.
Beyond the fight with Remi and the issues with Bad Bachelors, however, something else had her feeling queasy. Next week marked three years since the love of her life had packed his suitcase and walked out on her. Three long years since she’d swallowed her hurt and anger and regret and tried to find something to channel her energy into.
Each anniversary had gone much the same way. Quietly, but noticeably. She wallowed in her misery alone, usually while watching sad movies and crying her eyes out like a Bridget Jones wannabe.
This year, however, she was determined to avoid that unproductive behavior by keeping busy.
“All right,” Annie said, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet. “We’re going to jog over to the pond, go around, and then come back. It’ll be about one and a half miles, so then we can see how you’re doing.”
“What if I’m dying?”
“Then we can walk for a bit.” Annie grinned. “Unless you’re legitimately dying. Then I’ll call an ambulance.”
“Why did I agree to do this?” Darcy whined. “I’m going to get sweaty, aren’t I?”
Annie chuckled. “Not sure how you ended up with a guy like Reed if you have an aversion to getting sweaty.”
Before Darcy could retort, Annie jogged into the park at a slower pace than she would have if running alone. Darcy caught up quickly, and they weaved through the growing clusters of people. With each stride, she felt farther away from her problems.
Running was the most effective form of therapy Annie had found and, at this point in her life, she’d tried her fair share. It wasn’t only the injection of vitamin D, the picturesque scenery blurring past, or the blood pounding in her veins that made her love running so much. It was the feeling of progress. Despite the success of both her job and Bad Bachelors, the last few years had felt like a giant step backward. Running gave her a sense of accomplishment that had been otherwise lacking in her personal life.
Shaking off the nagging thoughts, she jogged on, checking on Darcy every so often to make sure she was keeping up. A few times they slowed to a walk for a couple of steps so she could catch her breath but, to her credit, Darcy powered on. Sunlight streamed down, bright beams of light reflecting off the rain-soaked sections of the pavement. Manhattan’s temperamental weather patterns meant a downpour could come at any moment. Sometimes it only lasted a few minutes, but it would be enough to cover the ground in mirrorlike puddles.
Since she’d forgotten her sunglasses, Annie tried to shield her eyes as she ran. But holding her arm in front of her face threw off her rhythm. Squinting, she rounded the corner of the pond toward the area where people tended to stop and take photos. It might not have been the best route to take, given how busy the park was getting, but they were stuck now. Dodging a woman with a stroller, Annie skirted a puddle and forged on. But her run came to a sudden halt when she slammed full force into something. Less than a second later, a curse in a deep baritone rang out, followed by a splash.
“Oh my God!” Annie dropped to her knees and peered over the edge of the rocks outlining the curve of the pond. “I’m so sorr—”
The apology died on her lips.
The man in the water wasn’t an innocent stranger. She recognized those light-blue eyes, knew that they were the exact shade of a pale spring morning. She knew the full lips intimately. She knew the exact texture of his sandy-brown hair, though now it was saturated with water and looked closer to dark brown. She knew every inch of him, inside and out.
After all, she’d wanted to marry him.
Like what you're seeing and want to take this further?
AMAZON | B&N | INDIEBOUND | APPLE | BAM | KOBO
AMAZON | B&N | INDIEBOUND | APPLE | BAM | KOBO