Today's Reading

"Let's go over to Bruno's," Cole suggested.

A favorite hangout of the town's millennials and Gen Zers, Bruno's offered mile-high burgers and the world's best onion rings, along with drinks and pool tables. It was Eagledale's answer to Match.com and the last place Darby wanted to go. She was bound to run into someone she didn't want to see.

Cole offered to drive. Any excuse to spend time with his beloved, the truck. "I'm going to stay home," Erika said once they reached the front hall.

"Come on, don't be a lemon," Cole coaxed, slinging an arm around her. Clueless. She frowned and wiggled out from under him. "You guys have fun."

"We will. Your loss," he said. "Come on, Darb."

When it came to choosing time with her brother and risking a chance encounter with someone she didn't want to see, or an evening at home with her sister, who was probably already contemplating smothering her with a pillow, Darby opted for going out with her bro.

"Look at this snow," he said. "They're expecting four inches at Snoqualmie. Good snowboarding. We should go."

At least her brother wanted to spend time with her. "Good idea," she said.

Bruno's was the same as it had always been—rustic, noisy, and packed with people. The heady aroma of old-fashioned greasy pub food was almost enough to make Darby forget she'd already eaten.

"Looks like there's a free table," Cole said, pointing to one of three pool tables lined up on the far side of the room. "Grab it and I'll get the drinks."

She nodded and started for the pool tables. On her way, though, she spotted her two best friends from high school. Ainsley and Laurel, both sporting similar pastel colors in hair that had cost them a fortune, were casual in jeans and sweaters and trendy boots, their coats thrown over the backs of their seats. Two out of the old foursome, back home and taking center stage. It had always been that way with Darby and her posse. Every boy had wanted them, and every girl had wished she could be one of them.

Darcy had lost track of one of the girls, but she'd kept in touch with Ainsley and Laurel, who were both living in Seattle. Well, until things had started going south at that impressive job she'd bragged about.

Ainsley was an influencer now, with a growing following, and Laurel owned her own business staging houses for Realtors. Then there was Darby, who was unemployed. She hadn't told either one she was coming home for the holidays. She certainly hadn't told either one that she'd been fired, especially after making such a big deal about her fancy job in New York (entry-level unimpressive, but nobody needed to know that) and her amazing life in the city.

Darby tried to slip past them but Ainsley said, "Darby! Am I hallucinating?"

She should have bolted for the door the minute she saw them. Now she was trapped. She stopped and flashed her famous Darby smile.

"What are you doing in town?" Ainsley asked. "And you brat. Why didn't you tell me you were coming?"

"I thought you'd eighty-sixed Eagledale," said Laurel.

Darby shrugged. "You have to come back for the holidays. Family."

Ainsley rolled her eyes. "Everyone's curse." She shoved out a wooden chair with the toe of her boot. "Sit."

Since when did Ainsley tell people to sit? The old Darby returned like the Ghost of Christmas Past and cocked a perfectly penciled eyebrow.

Ainsley changed tack and donned a more humble tone of voice. "Come on."

That was more like it. "Can't. I'm with the brother."

"Ooh," Laurel cooed. "Baby Bro can join us. I'm in between."

Baby Bro, their nickname for Cole when they were in high school. They had enjoyed teasing him and making him blush. Now Cole was a big boy who didn't blush, but Darby still didn't want her brother getting eaten alive by Laurel.

"I think not. I don't need you two gnawing down his ego," Darby said, and Laurel snickered. "Coffee Monday?" Ainsley suggested. "We so need to catch up."

Even if her sister didn't want to hang with her, at least someone did. She could fall right back in with her old posse and nurse the wounds to her pride that had been inflicted by her New York fail. It would make the holidays a lot merrier, for sure.

"Okay," she said. "I assume Brewed Awakening is still in business."

"Oh, yeah," Ainsley assured her. "And wait 'til you see who's running the place now.


This excerpt ends on page 18 of the paperback edition.

Monday we begin the book Honor Bound by Hallee Bridgeman.
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