Sunday Spotlight is a feature we began in 2016. This year we’re spotlighting our favorite books, old and new. We’ll be raving about the books we love and being total fangirls. You’ve been warned. 🙂
Maybe This Time (Whiskey and Weddings, #2) by Nicole McLaughlin
Series: Whiskey and Weddings #2
Published by St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: February 27th 2018
Genres: Contemporary Romance
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Jen Mackenzie has been knocked down more than a few times, but she always gets up and makes sure she has the last word. It’s the reason she now considers herself equal parts self-sufficient and free-spirit. But since losing her job and trying to help her mother beat cancer, real life―and her occasional careless choices―have begun to catch up with her. Her one saving grace: The Stag, a boutique distillery that has become Kansas City’s go-to wedding venue. The only catch: One of the owners, TJ Laughlin, happens to be the one man who somehow manages to make Jen feel inadequate.
TJ has secretly had a thing for Jen since high school. Now, as her new boss, it’s a daily struggle between revealing his feelings and wringing her beautiful neck. Only one thing is for certain: he can’t stand idly by and watch the woman he cares for struggle. She may be convinced that accepting TJ’s help is a weakness. But all he sees in Jen is beauty and strength, inside and out. As things finally heat up between them, can TJ find a way to convince Jen that love is about give and take―and having it all, together?
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Twelve years earlier
Apparently, blondes did have more fun. Or at least got more attention, Jen Mackenzie thought as she made her way down the main hall of her high school. Three guys had already made lewd comments, she’d received one request for her number, and several girls had given her dirty looks.
And the day was only half over.
The first tardy bell sounded as she took a left toward the history and social sciences wing of Green Hills High School.
“Looking good, Jen,” the best friend of the most popular guy in school said. Did that make him the second-most popular guy? Jen didn’t hang around with—or give two shits about—popularity. It wasn’t for her, so she just gave him the finger and kept on walking.
He laughed in response. “Anytime you want.”
She rolled her eyes, but smirked. She could appreciate a guy that could take it as well as he gave it. Jen was no stranger to male attention. However, she wasn’t used to it being so blatant. Not at school anyway, where she was normally an outcast. Or the kind of girl guys propositioned in secret. But the previous week she’d performed the role of Sandy in her high school’s musical rendition of Grease. Apparently dyeing your normally dark hair blonde, proving you could act and sing, and donning tight-as-hell pants, could turn an obscure emo girl into an overnight sensation. Now the catcalls were loud and proud. Who’d have thought?
Although she was smart enough to know none of it was genuine, not even a jaded and bitter soul such as herself could deny the instinctive pleasure this new attention brought her. It wasn’t that she’d wanted to be a nobody … necessarily. It was just so much easier to not care. Case in point: She was already feeling the pressure from this newfound attention. The blonde hair had to be part of the appeal, and yet, there was no way her mother would give her the money to maintain it. The director’s sister did hair, and so she’d let Jen come to her shop and get a head full of platinum highlights for free. But a few weeks from now she’d be the girl with the nasty dark roots—a clear reminder to her peers that she was not one of them. With a sigh, she picked up her pace as her stomach gave a tiny moan of protest. Don’t you dare humiliate me, stomach.
She’d purposely not eaten lunch for two reasons. One, she didn’t want to risk spilling anything on her top, and two, to ensure she didn’t have bad breath for this hour. And okay, probably a little bit because her lunch account was negative nine dollars. At ten, they held the right to refuse you, depending on the mood of the cashier, and Jen wasn’t willing to risk suffering that humiliation. Not again. Asking her mom for lunch money was only successful when she was in a good mood. Otherwise she’d get the “if you want to eat lunch every day, then get a job” speech. But a job would not allow her to attend rehearsals. A dilemma, but they didn’t call them starving artists for nothing. Someday her talent would pay off.
As Jen approached the door to her fifth-hour Government class, she slowed, trying not to appear overeager. Normally, that would have come naturally. She hated this class. Mr. Timmons was a bore, and she hated the texture of his hair, which looked like a toupee but supposedly wasn’t. All she could do was stare at it all hour to try to see if it moved in conjunction with his head. Incredibly distracting, and several times she considered just raising her hand and asking if he’d just give it a good tug so everyone could finally focus on the three branches of government.
Today, however, she was nervous and excited. Popping a piece of gum in her mouth, she entered the class as the second bell rang, the reason for her anxiety staring back at her from the far row.
Just the sight of him made her nauseous and tingly. And did he just shift in his seat and look away in disgust? Was he annoyed? The seating arrangement had just changed at the end of class yesterday. Maybe he wasn’t happy, considering he used to sit next to a group of his friends.
“Hey, Jen,” a second-tier popular girl named Renee said from her seat. “Cool hair.”
Jen glanced at her, trying to analyze if it was a sincere compliment. Unable to tell, she replied, “Thanks.” No smile. Better to play it safe and not look foolish.
Making her way to the table she was now sharing with TJ, she pulled out her chair and sat down. He said nothing, but his left leg was bouncing nervously beneath the desk. Her first instincts must have been right.
“Feel free to request to move to another seat,” she said under her breath.
His leg froze as he looked at her. “Why would I do that?”
He almost looked pissed off. She glanced down at his leg. “Either you have to take a piss, or I make you uncomfortable.”
He let out a huff of a laugh and shook his head. “You have no idea.”
That was a vague answer. Before she could demand he clarify, Mr. Timmons was beginning his droll lecture. TJ, having always been a perfect student, wouldn’t appreciate her talking to him during class. Nerd. Except he was a hot, rich nerd. The kind of guy who would never want anything from Jen but what she could give him in fifteen minutes in his car. She was no prude, but she wouldn’t give any guy the satisfaction of looking down on her any more than he already did.
Mr. Timmons went on about Congress, and it wasn’t long before Jen was leaning back in her chair and doodling in her notebook. Anything to take her mind off how good TJ smelled, or how his forearm muscles constricted as he furiously took notes. He was left-handed, and she liked watching the way his wrist curled in as he used his pen. Almost like he was writing upside down.
“The way you write looks messed up,” she whispered.
His hand stilled as he turned to look at her. “I’m left-handed.”
She gave him a long look. “No shit.” She sat up, scooted her chair forward, and leaned on the table, looking at him. She whispered. “Does that mean you jerk off with your left hand?”
“What the…” He turned away, as if to be sure no one overhead her. Redness bloomed on his cheeks and down his neck.
Jen smiled, biting her bottom lip as he faced her once more.
“Why would you ask me that?”
She shrugged. “Just curious. There’s no shame in jacking off, TJ.”
He gave her a side-eye. “I didn’t say there was.”
They stared at each other for a long moment until his eyes finally roamed over the blonde waves framing her face. “You gonna dye it back?” he asked, surprising her.
“I don’t know. Should I?”
He lifted an eyebrow. “Doesn’t really matter. But the blonde isn’t you.”
She wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but she assumed it was because her normal dark brown hair was drab. Just like her. Jen wasn’t meant to be a sweet, beautiful, upbeat, Sandy kind of woman. In fact she’d auditioned for Rizzo, thinking she was a shoo-in. She felt like she was made for the role. But the minute she’d got done singing, the director had stood up, clapped, and said, “I did not expect that voice to come out of you. But I think we have our Sandy.” Nobody had been more shocked than Jen, and probably most of the student body. And she still hadn’t decided if his initial reaction was a compliment or not. She was leaning toward him being a stereotyping jerk, but she did appreciate the part.
Jen looked away, trying to convince herself that TJ’s comment about her hair didn’t sting. From anyone else, it probably wouldn’t. There was no explaining her thing for him, but she knew it went beyond the fact that he was beautiful to look at. They had four classes together this semester, and she often found his eyes glancing away from her, which made her look at him more, always hoping to catch him staring back. It made her feel a little insane and obsessed.
Maybe she was tired of his judgment and subconsciously wanted to convince him that she could make him want her. Stupid her should realize that boys didn’t want girlfriends who talked about pissing and jacking off. They wanted a lady. If only they could see those “ladies” in the locker room. They were all crude, even the popular ones. In fact they might be the worst.
Mr. Timmons stopped in front of their table and handed them each a worksheet titled FROM BILL TO LAW. “Feel free to work together,” he said. He probably thought Jen couldn’t handle the work on her own. Jerk.
“Don’t feel obligated,” she muttered, pulling a pen out of her purse.
TJ scooted his seat to face her a little more. “I don’t, but it would be stupid not to work together and get this finished faster. It’s front and back.”
Jen sighed, covering up her relief. “Fine.”
It didn’t even take them fifteen minutes to get through the entire thing, and she had to admit, he was a good partner. Didn’t try and answer all the questions first. That surprised her.
“You really know this stuff,” TJ said, stuffing his pen into the backpack on the floor at his side.
“I’m not stupid.”
He gave her a long look. “Will you cut it out with the attitude? I never said you were stupid. But considering you drew pictures of fairies all through the lecture, it surprised me how much you knew.”
She stared at him, wondering how he’d managed to see what she’d been drawing. Wondering why he’d been interested. Shrugging, she put her supplies away. “I find government fascinating and also infuriating enough to hold my attention. I read the chapter last night.”
When he didn’t respond, she glanced up at him. God, he was so handsome, his green eyes sparkling, light-brown hair sweeping over his forehead just right. Even his eyebrows were perfectly placed and groomed. Was that natural or did he maintain them? She wanted to ask, but didn’t, because his lopsided smirk was suddenly throwing her off.
“What?” she asked.
He opened his mouth to speak, but they were interrupted by Evan Peterson, Green Hill South football star and ladies’ man. “Hey, you two.”
Jen looked up to find him leaning on their table. It was only a few minutes until the bell rang and Mr. Timmons was busy with something at his desk, so several students had left their seats to socialize.
“What’s up, Peterson?” TJ said dryly. Jen knew the two guys were friends, so TJ’s irritated greeting surprised her. Evan was kind of cute in the rugged jock kind of way, but sooo not her type. Or in her league. He’d recently broke up with Adeline, a varsity cheerleader and total rich bitch. Could anything be more cliché?
Evan smiled at Jen. “Great job last week. I think you had every guy dreaming of you in those tight pants this weekend. You should wear them to school.”
“Jesus, dude. Shut up,” TJ said.
Evan looked at him, confused. “What for? That’s a compliment.” He turned to Jen. “Right? Shit, I never even go to the musicals, but after I heard about how amazing you were, I had to. Didn’t disappoint.”
Jen wouldn’t mind slapping the dickhead in the face, but for some reason she just gave him a tight-lipped smile.
He took her silence as agreement and leaned in closer. “I was kind of wondering. How would you like to go to the dance together next Saturday?”
Jen’s shock was further intensified by the way TJ froze beside her. His bouncing leg once again halted. And had she seriously just been asked out by one of the most popular guys in school? Why did it make her feel a little excited? Maybe because she’d been watching these handsome yet self-absorbed asshats walk these halls for almost four years, looking straight through her the entire time? Probably also because in those four years she’d never been invited to a dance. Which reminded her.
“Isn’t this a Sadie Hawkins dance?”
“Yes. It is.” TJ’s voice was low and stern beside her. She glanced at him, but his eyes were glued to Evan. “Which is why this is stupid.”
Jen looked at her potential date. He just shrugged. “Didn’t want to take the chance. After last week, you’re a hot commodity. Feel free to ask me instead. Laughlin can keep a secret.”
Jen glanced back at TJ, who finally met her eyes. Why did he look mad? Maybe they were all going as a group and he didn’t want her around? The thought pissed her off. No, she was not popular or rich, but she had every right to hang out with whomever the hell she pleased.
She turned back to Evan. “Maybe I will ask you. Better stay on your toes.”
He gave an awkward and obviously stunned laugh. “Alright then, I will. Can’t wait,” he said before walking back to his seat.
Jen and TJ were both quiet in his absence, so she finally picked up her backpack. The bell would ring any second, and she’d be off to Acting 2. Her favorite class. Drama Club and the performances were the only reason she didn’t just drop out of school already.
“You really gonna ask him?”
She glanced over to find TJ staring at her, his own backpack over his shoulder.
“Do you have a problem with that?” Maybe he’d be honest. Her theory was that she was hyperaware of his constant judgement because she herself was so focused on him. He must sense that she had a ridiculous crush on him, and he was trying to subconsciously send her “no fucking way” signals. She knew other students looked down their nose on the weird poor girl, too, but TJ was the one she felt it from. It must be annoying for his friends to be asking her to join their social events.
“Yeah. It does bother me,” he said, his eyes narrowed, brow furrowed. He breathed in hard and blew it out through his nose before glancing up at the clock.
Jen stood there fuming. Screw this guy. There was no point in being attracted to such an asshole any longer. She would be asking Evan to the dance. Maybe it would finally send hot rich boy the message that she was not beneath him.
Yep. Blondes totally had more fun.
Copyright © 2018 by Nicole McLaughlin in Maybe This Time and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Paperbacks.
Whiskey and Weddings
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About the Author
Nicole wrote her first full length book (6 pages) about the birth of her baby sister, when she was eight years old. She only finished it because her mother bribed her with a Rick Astley cassette tape. Sad, but true. Now her characters are what keep her writing and her subject matter has gotten a little bit deeper and a lot more romantic. She resides in a small town outside of Kansas City with her husband and three sons. When she isn’t writing, she’s a wedding and portrait photographer, loves to cook, and watch historical dramas or documentaries.