Exclusive Excerpt - This Time Around by Tawna Fenske
They’d taken three steps toward the buffet table when a trio of women
approached. The instant they spotted Jack, the one dressed in a silver-sequined
gown let out a soft gasp and put her hand over her heart. The other two tilted
their heads to the side and gave identical sympathetic headshakes, looking like
well-coiffed parrots. One wore a bright-red gown and the other a strappy little
number in purple chiffon.
One of the two—whose face seemed frozen by astonishment or Botox—marched forward
with such purpose that Allie had to step out of the way to avoid being trampled
under the strappy, bloodred Jimmy Choos that matched her dress.
“Jack Carpenter,” she said in a voice that reminded Allie of an audition for the
dramatic lead in a high school play. “We were wondering if you’d be here. How
are you, honey?”
The woman in purple chiffon was still doing the sympathetic headshake, but
Silver Sequins dropped her hand from her heart and put it on Jack’s arm. “We
were so sorry to hear about Caroline. How awful that must have been for you.”
“And you have a little girl, too,” Purple Chiffon added, making a sympathetic
tsk noise that showed a flash of crimson lipstick on her teeth. “If
there’s anything you need—anything at all—”
“Uh, thanks,” Jack said, shooting Allie an imploring look. She tried to read his
mind, not sure if he wanted her to introduce herself or fade into the crowd. She
watched as Jack reached up to scratch his chin, and she tried to remember which
cue that was. Friend or girlfriend? God, why hadn’t they spent more time nailing
down the body language?
She stepped closer to Jack. A look of intense relief crossed his face, and he
put his arm around her shoulders like it belonged there.
“Hi, I’m Allie,” she said. “Jack’s girlfriend?”
The three women stared at her. Silver Sequins blinked hard, making her lashes
stick together like a pair of mating spiders.
“Oh,” murmured the one with lipstick on her teeth. “Well, my. That’s—that’s
“Absolutely lovely,” Botox added. “I’ve been so worried imagining you all alone,
a grieving widower.”
“Nope, I’m doing great!” Jack said, perhaps a little too enthusiastically.
“Business is booming, I’ve launched my own app development firm—”
“And your little girl?”
“Paige is great,” Jack said, shooting Allie a look she couldn’t quite read. For
lack of anything better to do, she put her hand on Jack’s ass. Might as well get
something out of playing the role. He looked down at her and gave a smile that
looked shaky, but genuine.
“Yeah, Paige is ten now,” he continued, sounding more steady. “Doing well in
school, and she grew two inches in the last six months.”
Botox went for the heart clutch again, and Allie admired the deliberateness with
which she splayed her fingers over her cleavage. “It must be so hard for her
without her mother,” she said, and the other two women did the sympathetic
tsk again. “I can’t imagine—”
“Actually,” Allie said, snuggling closer to Jack. “We’ve been doing a lot of
counseling as a family, and the therapist says Paige is coping wonderfully.”
All three of them eyed Allie, not sure what to make of this outsider interfering
with their right to comfort a grieving widower. She’d clearly screwed up their
“How about you,” Jack tried. “How are things going with all of you?”
“Just great,” Botox said. “But really, Jack—it must be so heartbreaking to lose
someone that way. And so young!”
“Right,” he said, and Allie looked up to see him tug on his tie. A faint sheen
of sweat dotted his forehead, and she wondered if she should just pull a fire
alarm to get them out of here.
Instead, she turned back to the women. Before she could take her own stab at
redirecting the conversation, Silver Sequins chimed in.
“Well,” she said, shooting a morose look at Jack. “I know it can take years to
get over something like that. The love of your life, the mother of your
child—that’s just not something you ever bounce back from.”
“Ever,” echoed Botox, with a pointed look at Allie.
She willed herself not to let the barb sting, and looked to Jack for a cue. He
responded by planting a kiss on her forehead.
“Right,” he said. “Actually, Allie and I went to high school together. We were
even engaged back when we were—what, eighteen, nineteen?”
“Nineteen,” Allie supplied, wondering if he really didn’t remember or just
wanted the moral support of having someone complete his thought.
“Much too young back then,” Jack added. “But we’re older and wiser now.”
“Much wiser,” Allie agreed, wondering if she should take her hand off Jack’s ass
at some point.
“I see.” Silver Sequins glanced at the other women for direction on how to
proceed. “Well, then. I think I see someone else we need to greet. Ladies?”
Botox touched Jack’s arm again, lingering a little too long before glancing at
Allie. “It was very nice to meet you, Hallie.”
“The pleasure was all mine,” Allie managed, thanking her parents for the gift of
easy lies. Jack held her tight against him until the women strutted away in
search of meatier gossip.
The second they were out of earshot, she slipped out from under Jack’s arm and
looked up at him. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m sorry.” The sheepish look on his face was a surprise. “I thought
having you as my human shield might eliminate that.”
Allie smiled. “I think you underestimated the female need to wrap a grieving
widower in the billowy comfort of her bosom.”
He snorted. “Is that supposed to turn me on? Because it kind of does.”
She laughed, glad to hear the old Jack cracking through the surface. This had to
be hard, dealing with the sympathetic looks and whispered conversations every
time he encountered someone from his past. Losing her grandmother was one thing,
and Allie could relate to having lost someone close. But a spouse—the parent of
your child—she couldn’t imagine.
“You sure you’re okay?” she asked. “If you want to duck out, I wouldn’t blame
you a bit. We could be sitting in a booth at Rigatelli’s splitting a pizza in fifteen minutes if you say the word.”
“Tempting,” he said. “But I made it this far. I want to stick it out.” “
Allie Ross is not living the life she once dreamed. Her law career
ended before it ever started, her parents landed in jail for running a Ponzi
scheme, and she just inherited her grandmother’s B&B—which is nice, even if
it is full of extra-toed cats. As for her love life…she’d rather not talk
When Jack Carpenter reaches out to reconnect with Allie, the girl who broke
his heart in college, his plan is to impress her with the adult he’s become.
Sure, he was a deadbeat then, but life has forced him to grow up. And it’s a
relief to find out that things didn’t necessarily go the way Allie expected
As Allie and Jack get reacquainted, they rediscover the things they loved—and
hated—about each other. But who they are now isn’t who they were then, and
secrets—old and new—will test whether they have a future together, or if the
past is destined to repeat itself.
[Montlake Romance, On Sale: April 4, 2017, Trade
Size / e-Book, ISBN: 9781503943209 / ]
Tawna Fenske is a romantic-comedy author who writes humorous fiction, risqué
romance, and heartwarming love stories with quirky twists. Her offbeat brand of
romance has been praised by Booklist as “a tame Carl Hiaasen on Cupid juice,”
and her debut novel, Making Waves, was a nominee for RT Book Reviews’
contemporary romance of the year. She is a fourth-generation Oregonian who can
peel a banana with her toes and loses an average of twenty pairs of eyeglasses
per year. She lives in Bend, Oregon, with her husband, her stepkids, and a
menagerie of ill-behaved pets.