Stuck in a dreary Boston winter, Annabelle Martin would like nothing more than to run away from her current life. She's not even thirty years old, twice-divorced, and has just dodged a marriage proposal… from her ex-husband. When she’s offered her dream job as creative director at a cutting-edge graphic design studio in Phoenix, she jumps at the opportunity to start over.
When she arrives in the Valley of the Sun, Annabelle is instantly intrigued by her anonymous landlord. Based on the cranky, handwritten notes Nick Daire leaves her, she assumes he is an old, rich curmudgeon. Annabelle is shocked when she finally meets Nick and discovers that he’s her age and uses a wheelchair. Nick suffered from a stroke a year ago, and while there's no physical reason for him not to recover, he is struggling to overcome the paralyzing fear that has kept him a prisoner in his own home.
Despite her promise to herself not to get involved, Annabelle finds herself irresistibly drawn to Nick. And soon she wonders if she and Nick might help each other find the courage to embrace life, happiness, and true love.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
“Annabelle, please tell me you are not meeting Jeremy at the Top of the Hub for your annual un-anniversary celebration,” Sophie Vasquez, my former college roommate, life partner in all shenanigans, and best friend forever, said.
“Fine, I won’t tell you,” I muttered into my cell phone. My breath came out in a plume of steam in the freezing February air.
I was walk-jogging because I was late. Little-known fact, I, Annabelle Martin, am always late. As my father liked to say, “Sunshine, you were born late.” He’s not even joking. According to my mother, I was two weeks late and wouldn’t leave the womb without an eviction notice. Having since learned that life is hard, I think in utero me was onto something.
In my defense, my lateness is not on purpose. I’m not trying to be rude, it’s just that my comprehension of the human construct of time is marginal at best. Like, I know that it takes at least twenty minutes to walk to the Prudential Center from my studio apartment on Marlborough Street, and while I had every intention of leaving twenty-five minutes ahead of time, I got sidelined by an idea for a sketch because of the way the moonlight shone through my windowpane, making patterns on the floor.
As an artist, I’m constantly distracted by the details that most people can filter out. Shapes, light, shadows, the subtle nuances that make up the world around me, I’m in their thrall. Naturally, my quick sketch made me late, and now it was fifteen minutes until I was supposed to be at the restaurant, and I was running through Back Bay in the frigid winter cold, in high-heeled boots, with my thick wool coat flapping behind me, no doubt looking like a crazy person.
“Belle, this is such a bad idea,” Sophie said.
“Why? We do it every year. It’s tradition.” My tone was defensive because I knew how Sophie felt about my relationship with my first ex-husband.
Yes, you read that right. First ex-husband. And yes, I am only twenty-eight and have two ex-husbands. I’ve had a few people give me side-eye over this fact, and I even had one woman accuse me of taking all the men. Yes, she did! I told her she owed me a thank-you for vetting them for the rest of womankind. Honestly.
I mean, it’s not like I wanted to be a twice-divorced twenty-something. It’s just that life stuff happened—big bad life stuff—and my coping skills in my early twenties had not been awesome. Besides, I’m impulsive, and when I’m in love, I’m sooooo in love, I lose all sense of reason. Clearly.
Considering her tone, I supposed I should have let Sophie’s call go to voicemail, but when your bestie calls from Arizona, you answer even when you know she’s going to challenge your life choices. I heard the distinct sound of water in the background.
“Soph, if you’re calling me from a swimming pool, I’m hanging up on you,” I said.
Laughter greeted me. “I’m not,” she said. “I swear I’m not.”
A suspicious splash punctuated her words.
“You are such a liar,” I accused. I hurried down the sidewalk, feeling the bitter wind sweep in from Boston Harbor.
“Technically, it’s a hot tub. What gave it away?”
“Sorry,” she said. She didn’t sound a bit sorry. “How’s the weather there? Another blizzard on the way?”
“It’s Boston in February,” I said. “Cold, gray, and sad. It’s just horribly sad. In fact, I think I have a case of seasonal affective disorder brewing.”
“Aw, that is SAD, poor Belle,” she said. “You should come visit me in Phoenix. It’s a delicious eighty-two degrees without a cloud in the sky.”
It was two hours earlier in Phoenix. While she enjoyed daylight, I was navigating the early dark on one of those painful thirteen-degree days where your snot freezes solid before you can blow it out your nostrils.
“Why, yes, I’ll have another margarita,” Sophie said, obviously not to me. “Thank you.”
“I hate you. You know that, right?” I asked. I adjusted the purse strap on my shoulder as I jogged the final stretch to the Prudential Center, known locally as The Pru.
“Well, I think you’ll hate me less when you hear why I called,” she said.
I stepped on a patch of ice, and my heel slid out from under me. I fought to keep my balance, pulling a hamstring in the process. “Ow! Shit!”
“How about I explain before you start swearing?”
“Sorry, that wasn’t meant for you. I slipped,” I said. Now I was limping, which I’m sure was a fabulous look for me. “I’m almost at the building. I might lose you in the elevator.”
“Then I’ll be quick,” she said. “I’m calling to offer you a job as the creative director in our company.”
“But your company’s in Phoenix,” I said. Sophie and her husband, Miguel, owned a graphic design firm that was quickly gaining national attention. This was no small offer.
“You want me to move to Phoenix?” I stopped walking. The bitter wind pushed me up against the side of the building.
“But . . .”
“Just hear me out,” Sophie said. “You’re the most talented graphic designer I’ve ever known, an absolute trend visionary, and we desperately need you here. Phoenix is in a boom, and we can top the money you’re currently making as a freelancer. Think of it as an opportunity to shake up your life a little bit.”
“I wasn’t aware that my life needed shaking,” I said. It did, but I didn’t want to admit it because . . . pride.
“Oh, come on, Belly, come to Phoenix.”
For the record, Sophie is the only person on the planet allowed to call me “Belly,” because when we were roommates at the Savannah College of Art and Design, she held my hand when I got my bellybutton pierced. We shared a bond of bad decisions that was stronger than steel.
I tried to picture myself in the Southwest. Couldn’t do it. She used my stunned silence to press her point.
“You’ve been freelancing for five years,” she said. “Don’t you want more stability?”
“A pay raise?”
“Retirement? Benefits? Paid vacation?” Check, check, check.
I sighed. It came out as a limp jet of hot breath in cold air. She was making solid points. I had no rebuttal. I went for avoidance. I pulled my phone away from my ear to check the time. “I have to go. I’m going to be sooo late.”
“You’re always late.”
“I’m trying to be better,” I protested. “It was my New Year’s resolution.”
“And how’s that going?”
“Shush,” I said. “You’re not helping here.”
“I am helping. You just don’t want to hear it. Are you going to get back together with Jeremy?” she asked.
“No!” I cried. “Why would you even think that?”
“Because he’s your social fallback plan, and you spend an awful lot of time together for people who are no longer married,” she said.
“We’re friends with benefits,” I said.
“You don’t need him as a friend, and you’re not doing him any favors by offering him benefits. You’re keeping each other dangling. It’s not healthy for either of you.”
“We’re not dangling,” I said. “We agreed that we can date whoever we want.”
“And yet neither of you do,” she said.
“You don’t know that,” I protested.
“Please,” she said. “I’ve been on this ride before. Neither of you is seeing anyone else, but you don’t belong together and you know it. You need to stop picking the lowest-hanging fruit.”
“Did you just call Jeremy an apple?” I asked.
“I think of him as more of a peach, easily bruised,” she said. “Your entire relationship was spent with you protecting him by doing everything for him because he’s so socially inept, albeit lovable. You were like a lawnmower wife, moving every obstacle out of his way. Do you really want that for the rest of your life?”
“I didn’t—I’m not—” I protested but she interrupted.
“Yes, you did and you are,” she declared. “You’ve run interference for him his entire adult life, even when you were married to the big disappointment, who also used you to prop himself up. And then what did the BD do? He left you—just like Jeremy did when his mother stamped her foot hard enough. Time to break the pattern, my friend.”
“I . . .” I slumped against the wall. Is that how she saw it? How she saw me? I didn’t know what to say.
“Come to Phoenix,” Sophie insisted. Then she made a weird burbling noise. “Do you hear that? That’s me motorboating a margarita as big as my head. Come. To. Phoenix.”
I heard another splash and decided, since I could no longer feel my toes, the tips of my ears, or my fingers, that I really did hate her.
“I love that you’re asking me,” I said. “But—”
“Don’t say no!” she ordered. So bossy! “Promise me you’ll at least think about it.”
“Fine, I’ll think about it.” I wasn’t going to think about it. “Now I have to go. Miss you. Love you.”
“Miss you. Love you, too,” she echoed. “Say ‘hi’ to Jeremy for me, you know, before you tell him you’re leaving him for me.”
“Will do,” I said. I wasn’t leaving him for her. I mean, creative director? That was a huge job. Sure, as a one-woman operation, I was essentially doing that already, but this was a large firm and the position would require supervising—I couldn’t even supervise a house plant—the art director and being in charge of the overall creative concepts and not doing the actual designing, which quite frankly was the fun part.
I ended the call and ran into the building, realizing I was entering the danger zone of lateness where Jeremy was going to be peeved with me for making him wait, especially given that it was our un-anniversary and all. Damn it!
The Top of the Hub sits on the fifty-second floor of The Pru. It’s a white tablecloth, fine china, heavy silverware sort of restaurant, which boasts outstanding views of the Charles River, Boston Harbor, and the surrounding city. Jeremy and I had been coming here to celebrate our un-anniversary ever since he landed in Boston a few years ago, shortly after I divorced Greg DeVane, aka the big disappointment, or the BD for short. Yes, he was a disappointing husband, but that’s a story for another day, preferably accompanied by a shot of three wise men with an IPA chaser.
Jeremy Pettit and I met in Georgia when I was attending the Savannah College of Art and Design and he was at Savannah State studying engineering. I spotted him at a coffee shop on Broughton Street and had been a smitten kitten on sight. He was everything a college girl looked for in a boyfriend—shy, sweet, attentive, as snuggable as an oversized teddy bear, and it certainly helped that he looked like he’d just walked out of the Patagonia catalog wearing their fjord flannel.
Jeremy had the distracted air of a guy with one foot in childhood and the other in adulthood, uncertain of which direction he wanted to go. I figured he just needed a good woman—i.e. me—to give him a solid shove in the right direction. I had not accounted for the realities that I was no readier to be an adult than he was, his mother hated me, and he had a host of issues that didn’t even start to appear until after we were married, which was a month after graduation.
If I closed my eyes and listened, I could still hear my older sister Chelsea’s shriek of outrage echoing on the airwaves to this day. Our mother had passed away six months before I met Jeremy, and in hindsight, I could see that our relationship and subsequent marriage was an attempt to fill the gaping hole left by my mother’s passing, but what twenty-one-year-old has that sort of insight? Not me.
I’d thought Jeremy was my soul mate sent to comfort and keep me just when I needed him most. I truly believed we’d be together forever and ever. Amen. We didn’t last two years. By the time he was finishing his master’s degree in biomedical engineering, the ink was drying on our divorce papers, which had been drawn up by his mother’s attorney. The only time she ever smiled at me was the day she came to collect Jeremy and his things from our apartment.
Now five years later, we were in the same city, celebrating our un-anniversary at the Top of the Hub, while enjoying an “exes with benefits” relationship of which absolutely no one in my life approved. You’d think that would be more of a deterrent for me. Nope.
The elevator opened and I strode into the lobby, pretending I wasn’t panting for breath and trying not to look sweaty. Jeremy, in a navy suit with his hair cut high and tight and sporting a blond bruh beard, was standing beside the hostess station waiting for me. He looked mildly panicked so it appeared dinner was going start with tension. I decided to sink that battleship right away.
I dashed across the lobby and threw myself at him. He caught me and I kissed him full on the lips, knowing it would melt his brain and make him forget he was mad.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” I panted when we came up for air. Then I shrugged and said, “Artist.”
To my relief, his shoulders dropped from around his ears, the tight lines around his mouth eased, and he laughed. Then he hugged me. “I suppose I should be used to it by now.”
Well, yeah, you should, I thought. After all, my tardiness was one of the many reasons we’d divorced. Wisely, I did not say this out loud. Instead, I checked my coat and then curled my hand around his elbow while we followed the hostess to our table.
She led us through the rows, to a table tucked beside a tall window. To my surprise, it was strewn with pink rose petals, and a bottle of champagne was in a bucket with two glasses already poured and waiting for us. I gave Jeremy a side-eye.
“You went all out this year,” I said.
He shrugged. “It seems like a special un-anniversary, doesn’t it?”
His pale green eyes met mine, and I felt a prickle of alarm. Had I missed a memo? What did he mean by “special”? My heart started to pound in my chest like warning shots being fired. I could feel my flight-or-fight response, okay, mostly flight, kick in.
Jeremy and I had celebrated our un-anniversary ever since he moved to Boston three years ago. It was always low-key and fun right up until last year, when, in a bout of deep loneliness, I invited him to spend the night. He’d been “spending the night,” if you get my drift, a couple of times a month ever since.
I knew Sophie was right that the relationship wasn’t doing either one of us any good, rather like glazed doughnuts, the occasional cigarette, or a three-day-long video-game-playing binge, but I didn’t want to give it up because then I’d have to go out there and find a real relationship, which felt like entirely too much work.
He pulled out my chair, and I slid into my seat. I felt out of step, like I was clapping on the down beat, and couldn’t quite get the rhythm of the room. I noticed that people at surrounding tables were covertly watching us. This was bad.