From the Blurb:
He was the high school hottie. She was the teacher's pet. But in private, none of that mattered...
At the tender age of six, Penelope Watkins fell for her best friend's brother, Evan Donovan, future hunk. By the time they were teenagers, they were having heart-to-hearts…and hot and heavy top secret make-out sessions. All that changed when Evan's father suddenly died. Abruptly, Penelope lost him to grief--and to his true love: football. But now an injury had ended Evan's NFL career. The notorious bad boy was in a depression no one could penetrate, except maybe the one woman who still knew him best--and still wanted him most…
Penelope is the last person Evan wants to witness the wreck he's become. So when she shows up at his door he's less than welcoming--even though the sight of her brings back the same old rush of desire. As a teenager, the emotions overwhelmed him. Now, when he wanted to be overwhelmed, Penelope wasn't playing. She was telling the golden boy it was time to man up. It may have taken a concussion for Evan to realize it, but that's exactly what he wants to do--starting with her…
Feet sore, mind weary, Penelope Watkins surveyed the crowded dance floor as one of her best friends tugged her hand and whined, “Please, come dance with me.”
Penelope turned her attention to Sophie Kincaid with a heavy sigh. Sophie looked like a rogue Disney princess in a powder-blue, spaghetti-strapped dress that set off her blond hair and big, brown, doe eyes.
Was she the only person ready for the wedding of the century to end? She scanned the room, still crowded with guests. After midnight, the music had been cranked up to concert decibels and the dance floor was packed. Apparently, she was.
Despite the three Advils she’d taken, her head still ached. Unfortunately, she had two hours and fifteen minutes until she could take another dose, at which time she hoped to be in bed, asleep. At the thought of her fluffy comforter and pillow-top mattress, she groaned. All she wanted was to slip in under the soft down, the crisp white sheets, and close her eyes. But, as a bridesmaid at Shane and Cecilia Donovan’s wedding, she had to stay until the bitter end. Not that she wasn’t ecstatic for the couple, because, of course, she was. Shane wasn’t only her boss, but one of her closest friends and the big brother she, as an only child, had never had. Penelope had also grown quite close to his new wife, Cecilia, and couldn’t be happier Shane had finally met his match. She loved them and wished them nothing but happiness. She just wanted their wedding to be over so she could go home.
Penelope shook her head, glaring at Sophie’s four-inch heels. “Aren’t your feet killing you?”
“Hell no, come on. I need you to do a slutty little dance with me. I’m trying to drive Logan mad with lust.” Sophie gripped Penelope’s hand a little tighter and peered over her shoulder at the man in question, sighing.
Penelope couldn’t blame her. Logan Buchanan was fantasy worthy. With sharp, watchful blue eyes, dark hair, and a commanding presence that filled a room, he was the kind of man a woman was supposed to get excited about.
Unfortunately, he had no effect on Penelope.
Nope, she had to be stubborn and pine away for the first boy she’d fallen in puppy love with at the age of six. If she’d had any brains at all, she would have befriended Tiffany White, who had all sisters, the first day of kindergarten. But no, she had to sit next to Maddie Donovan-Riley.
If Penelope had picked Tiffany, she’d probably be involved with a nice accountant who liked order and comfort as much as she did. She could almost picture that life where she and her fictitious significant other would discuss spreadsheets and the best task apps for their iPads over dinner. Unlike most people, she wasn’t interested in excitement.
In her opinion boring was highly underrated.
But she wasn’t involved with a nice accountant because, like the rest of the female population, she’d taken one look at Maddie’s wild, reckless, completely unsuitable youngest brother and become instantly infatuated.
Up until then, she’d had the good sense to think boys were icky.
Unable to help herself, she scanned the room for the man in question. At six-five, Evan Donovan, pro football player and womanizing scoundrel, wasn’t hard to pick out of a crowd, but he was nowhere to be found.
She took a drink of water. Good. At least she didn’t have to look at the Barbie doll he’d brought to his brother’s wedding. Penelope was still cringing at the girl with her minuscule dress, blond-mermaid-extensioned hair, and flotation-device breasts. Some football groupie, wannabe model, if Penelope had to guess.
Aka, his normal type. Otherwise known as Penelope’s exact opposite.
She shook her head. No. She would not start down that road.
She turned back to Sophie, standing there expectantly, and smiled. “If you want to drive Logan crazy, I’m not your girl. We are strictly in the friend zone.”
Besides, she wasn’t really the type to drive men mad with lust. Sure, she was attractive enough with classic bone structure and well-formed features. Tired of wearing glasses, she’d treated herself to Lasik surgery six months ago and she’d been told by numerous dates that her blue eyes were startling against her rich, dark hair. At five-seven she had a nice, trim figure she kept in shape with workouts at the gym, yoga, and running along the lakeshore. Overall, she was a pretty woman and had nothing to complain about.
Sophie puffed out her lip in a pout that would sway most people but had little effect on Penelope. “Isn’t this just my luck? Since I really wanted to cause a scene, I tried to coerce Gracie, but stupid James said no.” Sophie released her grip on Penelope’s wrist and threw her hands up in frustration. “And she listened! I mean, really, what is that? The whole world must be mad if the great Gracie Roberts has started listening to a mere man.”
Since the woman in question might be one of the sexiest people on the planet, it was a smart choice on Sophie’s part to rope her into her quest to seduce Logan. After all, Gracie had been known to bring grown men to their knees. Only Sophie hadn’t factored the middle Donovan brother’s hold on Gracie. A pairing that Penelope had never seen coming, but damned if it didn’t seem to be working. James, a mild-mannered professor of forensic anthropology, hadn’t tamed the sex goddess per se, but when he spoke, Gracie paid attention.
In sympathy, Penelope clucked her tongue. “What are you going to do? That’s new love for you.”
“Well, it’s annoying.” Sophie grabbed her hand again. “Now come dance.”
“I’ve got a headache.”
Sophie rolled her eyes. “I don’t expect you to put out after.”
Penelope laughed. God, she loved her friends. Needed them as a reminder to do something other than work. Remember how to have fun. It wasn’t that she didn’t like fun, she did.
It was only that so many other things required her attention. With her demanding work schedule and workaholic proclivities, fun wasn’t a priority. And that’s where Sophie and Maddie came in, to reset her priorities. Why, if it weren’t for the two of them, Penelope would have spent her childhood getting into no trouble at all.
Well, except for that one thing Penelope refused to think about.
As if Maddie sensed her thoughts, she ran over to them, her heavy auburn hair spilling from the topknot after the long night of dancing. The long skirts of the deep, jeweled purple bridesmaid dress that matched Penelope’s, flounced as she came to a stop. Being the groom’s sister and bride’s sister-in-law, she’d had just as long a day as Penelope, only she seemed full of energy and not at all impatient for the wedding to wind down. She grinned. “What’s up?”
Sophie huffed, jerking her thumb toward the dance floor. “Penelope won’t dance with me so I can seduce Logan.”
Maddie threw an arm around her and squeezed. “I’ll dance with you. We’ll give everyone a show.”
Sophie’s face lit with excitement. “Mitch will be jealous.”
At the mention of her husband, Mitch Riley, Maddie laughed, and said in a sly voice, “I know. I’m in the mood for dirty sex, and this is just the kind of thing that sets him off.” Maddie gave a little shudder, obviously thinking about the dirty things Mitch had apparently already done to her.
Penelope smiled at her two best friends. Okay, she needed to shake off this mood, put her headache aside, and go party it up with her girlfriends. With Maddie living in Revival, a small town hundreds of miles south of Chicago, they didn’t get this chance very often, and Penelope refused to waste it.
Headache be damned. She’d just gulp a couple cups of coffee and dance.
She looked at her friends, wearing twin expressions filled with the same reckless, excited anticipation that had convinced her to ditch seventh period and hang out at the forest preserve with a bunch of bad boys from the public school. She smiled. “You guys go. I need to run to the ladies’ room and then I’ll come find you on the dance floor.”
Maddie rocked on her heels. “Promise?”
“Yep. Cross my heart.” Repeating the sacred promise of their youth.
Sophie winked and skipped off with Maddie, the two of them holding hands and laughing. A surefire sign they were up to no good, and Penelope had no doubt she’d return to find them gyrating on the dance floor causing quite the scene. If Logan would notice was anyone’s guess, but Maddie’s husband was bound to enjoy himself.
Penelope weaved through the crowd, pausing a few times to talk to a coworker, before she finally reached the hallway. Instead of heading to the bathroom, she veered right and headed toward the balcony, needing to clear her head.
She pushed open the door and the cool spring air brushed her cheeks and ruffled the tendrils of hair that had fallen from her twist. She breathed in deep, her pounding temples instantly easing with the music now only a distant, muffled beat. Small clusters of people filled the expanse of the balcony, enjoying the first hints of warm weather after a long, frigid Chicago winter.
Penelope searched the area for a secluded spot where she could be alone. She didn’t want to talk. She wanted quiet. To stand by herself and let the night air and skyline soothe her aching mind. It took some searching, but she finally found what she was looking for: tucked into the corner, a concrete structure partially obstructed the view, which left it deserted. She walked over to it and slipped into the tiny alcove, resting her elbows on the rails. She closed her eyes, and as a breeze blew over her skin, sighed in relief. Finally, some quiet.
And that’s when she heard a female giggle, followed by a distinct male chuckle.
Oh god, please don’t let it be him. Anyone but him. Penelope’s shoulders stiffened and she craned her neck, dread already pooling in the pit of her stomach. When her gaze locked with Evan’s, she wasn’t the least bit surprised.
Even in the dim glow of the lights, she could see his vivid green eyes boring into hers. His tux jacket was undone, along with his shirt, exposing the cords of his neck and barest hint of his strong chest. With dark hair and strong, chiseled features he was so sinfully gorgeous it was nauseating. He was also wild and reckless. He didn’t care about anything but football and screwing as many women as possible. Not her type at all.
The girl he’d brought was on her knees, working at his belt buckle. She peered over at Penelope and smiled with glossy, over-collagened lips. “Oops, busted.”
Evan’s attention didn’t leave Penelope’s and his lips curled into something that resembled a half sneer. “Hey, little Penny.”
She wanted to scream. She hated when he called her that. She clenched her hands and thought about committing acts of violence. She wanted to kick him, throw a drink in his face, or maybe grab the girl hovering at his crotch by the hair and scalp her.
But that wasn’t the role she played. No, she was a calm, rational, logical person. She swallowed her emotions and turned, keeping her expression cool and impassive. She flicked a dismissive glance at the woman who didn’t have the decency to get off her knees, and smirked. “Evan. I see your girlfriend’s mom let her out past curfew.”
This wasn’t the first time this had happened, and it wouldn’t be the last. Sometimes Penelope wondered if he did it on purpose. Just to hurt her. Although, in fairness, that probably gave him too much credit. Penelope doubted he thought that deeply.
The girl rose and plastered her hands on spandex-encased hips. “I’m twenty-two.”
Penelope laughed, and let her eyes go wide. “Wow, twenty-two, you’re practically ancient.”
“Who is this woman?” the girl asked, her voice filled with scorn.
Penelope shifted her attention back to Evan. “I’m nobody.”
“Evan?” his date asked, before slithering alongside him.
His expression flickered. “She’s my sister’s best friend.”
“Nobody you need to concern yourself with,” Penelope said.
“I didn’t think so.” The girl flipped her hair, but her eyes were wary behind her overly mascaraed lashes. The girl might be young, but she was no fool, and she sensed the undercurrents lacing the air. She looked at Evan, who still watched Penelope as though searching for something. The girl’s lips curled. “You’re hardly his type.”
True. Since his current age cutoff for dating seemed to be around twenty-five, she was long past her prime. Penelope gave the child her sweetest smile. “Of course not, I’m an adult.”
The girl opened her mouth to say something, but Evan shook his head and encircled her wrist. “Go wait for me inside, babe.”
Penelope stifled the gasp and resisted the urge to react. What was he doing? They were never alone together. Those were the rules.
The girl pouted. “But, Evan.”
“Go. I’ll be there in a minute.”
Penelope didn’t know what he was up to, but she wouldn’t stand for it. She held up her hands. “No, don’t let me bother you. I’m leaving.”
He looked like he was about to say something, but then he stopped, and shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
The girl curled into Evan, draping her perfect, Playboy body all over him, and giving Penelope a smug smile. “You didn’t forget your walker, did you?”
Evan’s jaw tightened, and for a fraction of a second Penelope thought he’d be decent and put the girl in her place, but then his expression smoothed into impassive.
His refusal to defend her stuck like a thorn in her side, reminding her just how much she didn’t like him. She shifted her attention back to the twenty-two-year-old. “By the way, he doesn’t know your name.”
The girl’s smugness fell away. “Um, yeah, he does.”
Penelope shook her head. “Nope. Sorry. He always calls you girls ‘babe’ when he doesn’t remember.” She flicked a glance at Evan. “Have fun.”
Then, before she could get caught up in any more of his crap, she turned and walked away.
Last thing she heard was “babe” asking Evan what her name was, but Penelope didn’t have to stick around to wait for the answer. She knew Evan and he had no idea.
Of course, as a famous, bad-boy football player who was notoriously reported as insatiable and wild, Penelope knew it wouldn’t matter. Evan would get his blow job, and probably a hundred other things, before the night was through.
Little things like names didn’t matter in the NFL.
Penelope slipped inside and hurried down the hallway, searching for a place to collect herself. When she found a tiny recess at the end of a corridor, she rested against the wall, squeezing her lids tight.
For a smart woman, she sure was stupid.
She had everything she could want from life. A great home, respect, friends, and a family who loved her. She had an MBA from Northwestern, and was admired by her colleagues for her logical, analytical brain that could solve even the toughest of problems. Shane had recently promoted her to chief operating officer of the Donovan Corporation, with a huge salary and even bigger bonus.
She’d done everything right. She’d walked the straight and narrow. Made no big mistakes. She’d achieved success beyond her wildest imagination.
And what was she doing with all these brains of hers? Still pining for Evan Donovan.
It was so ridiculous and frustrating. Crushes that began at six were supposed to end. They weren’t supposed to plague her at thirty-one.
She rubbed at her temples. She’d tried countless times over the years to talk herself out of him, but it hadn’t worked. Ironically, her heart seemed to be the only impetuous, self-destructive thing about her.
And she’d tried. God knew how hard she’d tried. She’d dated plenty of men. Good men who appreciated her and treated her the way she deserved. And still she couldn’t forget Evan, or the past that meant more to her than to him. He lingered in the back of her mind, always present.
She didn’t even like the man he’d become. He wasn’t a real man by her definition. More like an overgrown frat boy. The grown-up version of Evan, she could get over.
Only her memories wouldn’t allow that.
No matter how many times she’d told herself that boy was a figment of her imagination, her heart refused to believe. And thus, like every bad country song ever written, she pined for a man who would never love her in return.
She hated it, but didn’t know how to stop it from being true.
The one saving grace was that nobody knew. Not her friends. Not her parents. Not even a stranger on the street. No one. She refused to even write his name in her journal for fear someone would discover the truth.
She hid her feelings well. She never reacted. Always played it cool. And no one had ever guessed. In the long list of humiliations she’d suffered at the hands of Evan Donovan, this wouldn’t be one of them.
This secret would follow her to the grave.
As Good As New by Jennifer Dawson is a contemporary romance, released by Zebra on March 29, 2016.
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Jennifer Dawson grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and graduated from DePaul University with a degree in psychology. She met her husband at the public library while they were studying. To this day she still maintains she was NOT checking him out. Now, over twenty years later they're married living in a suburb right outside of Chicago with two awesome kids and a crazy dog.
Despite going through a light FM, poem writing phase in high school, Jennifer never grew up wanting to be a writer (she had more practical aspirations of being an international super spy). Then one day, suffering from boredom and disgruntled with a book she'd been reading, she decided to put pen to paper. The rest, as they say, is history.
These days Jennifer can be found sitting behind her computer writing her next novel, chasing after her kids, keeping an ever watchful eye on her ever growing to-do list, and NOT checking out her husband.
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