My stupid attention has snagged on those stupid lips again.
“Carey?” the lips say. They go still, and then they twist into a tiny, knowing smile, and James waits until I look up again. “Do I have a chance with you?”
Ideally I’d make him work a little more for it. Realistically, I give him the most unequivocal nod of my lifetime.
He lets out a relieved laugh. “Holy shit, can I kiss you now?”
I don’t answer aloud. Instead I stretch, sliding a hand around the back of his neck, pulling him down to me. Beneath my palm, his skin is warm. When his smile touches mine, it’s achingly sweet, but for only a breath, because relief is a consuming thing, and mine sends me down this razor-sharp line between sobbing that I nearly lost him and crying out in joy that he’s here.
To think I forgot the precise feel of this, the perfect mechanics of his kiss. The memories I cherished were such a sad, pale rendering of the reality. He’s so assured this way, pulling me tight to him, bending to come back to me from a better angle, right here in the foyer of my new house.
My hand holding the bouquet clenches tight and, in a stiff spasm, releases. The irises tumble to the floor and for a second I dread that it’s going to break the moment—that he’ll bend to pick them up and suggest we find somewhere to put them. Then we’d be interrupted by introductions and having to carry on with this totally lame party I’ve planned. But James just smiles at me and kisses me again. We both know I’ll be dropping things for the rest of my life, and those flowers are just fine where they are.
“I love you, too,” I say.
This yanks a surprised breath from him and he pulls me into a hug, spreading a big hand across the back of my head and one across my lower back, and he just holds me there for not nearly long enough. A week like this would barely suffice.
But we only get a few more minutes because then Peyton is there picking up the bouquet, and Annabeth takes it to put the flowers in water, and Kurt is awkwardly clearing his throat because no one likes to catch their sibling in a sexy embrace.
Introductions are made, Annabeth returns, and Kurt tries to make himself taller as he inspects James. I guess he approves, because he offers to grab him a drink from the kitchen; I want to burst out laughing at Kurt’s expression when James asks for a glass of wine.
But the party isn’t so terrible, I guess. Conversation takes off. James is a goddamn charmer and apparently his sister, Jenn, is a former college softball superstar, so Peyton immediately loves him. Kurt hands him the wine and gives me a look that says, If you say so. I give him a look that says, In fact, I do say so, you cretin.
In the midst of all the softball talk and James winning over everyone but Kurt, Mike steps into the house and hands me a six-pack of Coors before groaning out loud.
“When the hell are you going to get some furniture, Carey?”
“When I fucking feel like it, Mikey.”
He grins and then looks over my shoulder. Long arms slide around my waist from behind, and James rests his chin on the crown of my head. Sweetly claiming.
“This is James,” I tell Mike.
He reaches to shake one of James’s outstretched hands. “Hey, James. Mike.” He gives me an approving little smile. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
I scowl at him. “You have not.”
“There are volumes in silence, Carey. I could tell how much you liked him based on how quickly you’d change the subject every time you accidentally dropped his name.”
“Well, whatever,” I say. “You can be right for once. Turns out, he was higher up on the list than furniture was. So you’re all going to have to deal with sitting on the floor while I cross things off one at a time, at my own pace.”
James is the only one who gets it, but I can tell he likes that answer, because his kiss to my temple feels like a safe haven and his body pressed all along my back promises dirty, dirty fun.
“Speaking of lists,” he says quietly, “I made one of my own, and skinny-dipping is right at the top.”
I turn back to face him, grinning. “As it damn well should be.”
“I might have noticed you have a creek out back.” He jerks his chin toward the window. “All you need is some stairs down that steep hill.”
Happiness feels like a sweet, frolicking beast inside my chest. “If only I knew someone who could build such a thing,” I quietly tease.
He kisses the tip of my nose and raises a hand. “James McCann: assistant, engineer, and infatuated boyfriend, at your service.”
Before I can verbalize the incoherent giddiness these words trigger, the infatuated boyfriend bends, brushing his lips against mine. He’s careful not to deepen the kiss too much, but in his restraint, I sense how he wants to pull me right up against him and hold me tight.
“I’ll build anything you need,” he whispers, kissing my jaw. “I’d do anything for you.”
What a sweet relief, because I would do anything for him, too. So this is what it feels like to be with someone who wants to give simply for the pleasure of it.
I pull James in close, holding him as tight as I think he needs, and he nearly squeezes the air out of me, letting out the happiest little groan. It is like falling onto a soft bed, the relief of being in his arms. The house seems brighter, the air inside fresher. I look over his shoulder and out the window at the view. My view. My home. My life, finally coming together by my own hands, one piece at a time.
We outlined this book together in Salt Lake City on a giant whiteboard and with about seven thousand Post-it notes. It was amazing! It was exciting! It was the best weekend ever!
Sometimes the idea is shinier than the first draft, and this was definitely the case with The Honey-Don’t List. The idea was so clear in our heads; when we outlined, we were cracking each other up. And then we sat down to write and it was like making a huge mess in the kitchen and then pulling a very deflated cake out of the oven. It just didn’t come out the way we’d imagined it.
But that’s our process lately, we realized—draft fast, edit later—and after twenty-plus books together, we’d finally hit a point where we didn’t panic if it wasn’t perfect from the start. We dove back into edits a few times, and each time the book got a little closer to the one you’re holding right now. By the time we handed in the copy edits to our editor, we had made the book everything we wanted it to be when we sat in Christina’s kitchen, surrounded by a rainbow of Post-its.
The bottom line is that we are lucky to do this together, and have created a friendship and partnership that is truly meaningful, both creatively and personally. We love working together, we love that we get to do this career as a team, and we love you all for picking up and reading our books.
We also love our agent, Holly Root. Quite frankly, anyone who’s ever met Holly knows she is the most together person in publishing. So wise, so calm, so supportive, and such a badass.
We love, too, our editor, Kate Dresser, who sees the deflated cake come into her inbox and says, “I see what ingredient you left out!” … and then finds five hundred more ingredients we left out in the first draft. Sometimes the book she gets probably feels more like a bowl of batter than a fully baked cake, but with her big, amazing brain, we’re able to draw out every flavor we’d planned. And then our brilliant and adorable PR rep Kristin Dwyer comes in and makes everyone taste the cake and shout publicly that it is tHe bEsT cAKe EvER!!
Are we diving too deep into this baking metaphor? Perhaps.
Did you know that dystonia is a very real and—in this case—very personal motor disorder? My (Lauren’s) family has an as-yet unidentified genetic variant of this disease, which is one that affects the central nervous system, specifically the parts of the brain that control movement. While my father eventually succumbed to secondary effects of dystonia, my sister is living quite capably and with only minor symptoms thanks to regular botulinum toxin treatment of her oromandibular dystonia. Many readers may not realize that Botox isn’t just for wrinkles; in fact, a majority of Botox use is for the treatment of movement disorders—such as dystonia—but also spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis, stroke, and various other neurological conditions. An organization that works tirelessly to advocate for patients afflicted with dystonia is the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation. My family—and many others—are very grateful for their work. They can be found online at https://dystonia-foundation.org.
So an enormous debt of gratitude goes out to Erin Service, for reading this book with a particularly sensitive eye to the daily life and internal thoughts of a woman living with dystonia. Although Carey’s condition presents differently than yours does, we hope you see a bit of your bright, optimistic, and brave spirit in her. Anyplace where we’ve messed up or been insensitive is completely on us. Thank you for always reading our books early, but especially this one.
We are very lucky to get to work with all of the spectacular people at Simon & Schuster in the Gallery Books imprint. This is the hardest-working team in book business, y’all! Thank you to Carolyn Reidy, Jen Bergstrom, Kate Dresser, Aimée Bell, Jen Long, Rachel Brenner, Molly Gregory, Abby Zidle, Anne Jaconette, Anabel Jimenez, Sally Marvin, Mackenzie Hickey, Lisa Litwack, John Vairo, the entire Gallery sales force and subrights groups—we adore you all!
Thank you to every bookseller who hands our book to a new or longtime romance fan. Thank you to all the librarians for scraping that budget to get our books stocked—we know what a balancing act it is, and that you take it on for the sheer love of books. Thank you to the reviewers, Book-stagrammers, BookTubers, and all our loves on Twitter and Facebook—we love seeing your enthusiasm!
Thanks, Mr. and Mr. Christina Lauren, for being proud of your wives for doing the thing.
Thank you to my adorable Christina for being the zing in this amazing writing partnership. A decade of writing together and we’re still having a hella good time! I heart you very, very much.
To my wonderful Lo, I’m writing this on your birthday (September 10! My little Ravenclaw Virgo), and I’ve spent a lot of time today going through photos and thinking about what a huge impact you’ve had on so many different parts of my life. I’m a better writer because of you, a better friend and mom and wife and person. I have no idea what I did in a past life to deserve you, but I hope I’m smart enough to do it again. I love you so much. Meet you at the Tower of Terror turnstile!