Escaping Valentine’s Day
by Christi Barth
Publication date: February 2nd 2023
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
An Italian romance is on the menu, but is she ready to order?
Content creator Rory Hibbert knows Valentine’s Day is only fun for couples and chocolatiers. For singles like her, it’s a day of disappointment. And that’s why her new marketing agency client has arranged a tour of Italy crammed full of activities to distract from the holiday. This trip is a test for Rory—if it goes well, it will jump-start her new social media career.
There’s just one snag: the ex she never got over is also on staff.
Huck Cranshaw walked away from the love of his life for a huge opportunity on a cooking competition show. At least, that’s the excuse he gave Rory at the time—and he’s regretted it for five years. Cooking for tourists was supposed to be a stopgap between restaurant positions. Now it could be much, much more: a chance to fix the past.
But when an Italian prince catches sight of Rory, Huck’s not the only one vying for her heart this time. Can Cupid still steal Rory’s heart when the truth finally comes out?
Whatever they were, Huck Cranshaw should’ve played ’em.
Head still down, the woman muttered, “If I say no, will you keep walking?”
He hadn’t been positive what with all her gorgeous dark hair chopped off. But that attitude—he was certain.
“Rory. C’mon. Look at me.”
Eyes the color of browned butter dragged up slowly. “Hi, Huck.”
Seeing her again felt like a bowling ball had landed on his diaphragm. A total gut punch. “Wow. I can’t believe it’s you. After all this time. You changed your hair.”
“It has been five years. Also? One of the traditional steps of dealing with a breakup, after ice cream and wine and crying until your pillowcase drips, is a drastic haircut.”
Ouch. Talk about not pulling any punches.
Yes, he’d broken up with Rory.
Yes, he’d been young and an insensitive idiot about it.
Yes. He regretted it. Deeply. And had for a very long time. So Huck would stand here and take any and everything she dished out. He deserved it.
He just craved so much more from her.
Pointing at her hair, he said, “It looks great. You look, um, spunky.”
No smile popped out at his compliment. A sneer did, though. “Just what every woman longs to hear. A description usually saved for the kid who sprains his ankle but manages to hit the game-winning homer anyway.”
“Jesus, Rory. You want a better word?” Huck threw his hands up, banging his knuckles against the overhead compartment. “You look beautiful. You always look beautiful. My throat’s clogged with all the things I want to say, all the places I want to kiss you. But I didn’t think you’d want to hear those words.”
After a long moment where he couldn’t tell what was going on in her head, Rory gave a sharp nod. “Fine. I’ll take spunky after all.”
Was that a truce? He stepped forward, arms moving slowly out from his hips. With the same caution he’d use around a wild animal. “Should we hug?”
“Not unless you want me to call an air marshal on you.”
Not a truce, then. His arms dropped. But he wasn’t giving up. This was an opportunity. Maybe his only one. Rory had nowhere to go. He could finally apologize, beg for forgiveness. Now that she’d processed the shock of seeing him, Huck backpedaled into polite formality.
“How are you?”
“I’m great. Peachy keen. Why are you on my plane?”
Wow. Two lions in heat were less combative than Rory. “Your plane? Funny, I thought that was Alitalia painted on the side of the fuselage. If I’m on a private flight, why’d I get a bone-dry chicken breast last night instead of champagne and filet?”
Ignoring his sarcasm, she restated, “Why are you going to Italy?”
“New job. What about you?”
“Same,” she bit out.
That was a shock. Her overly protective parents had practically stroked out when she’d gone to college in a different state. Hard to imagine them not fighting tooth and nail if she switched countries. “Really? You’re moving to Italy for work? Talk about cutting the umbilical cord.”
“No. This is a temporary gig. I’m still in Chicago.”
Where you should be.
Rory didn’t say the words out loud. She didn’t need to. He saw them in the rigid posture of her slight frame. The uplift to her pointed chin. The weight of all their years together pressed down so hard it was amazing the plane didn’t dip in the sky.
Back to the safety of formalities. “Nice town. I was in New York for a while, but now I’m back in San Francisco.”
“I know.” From the fast triple blink she gave, Rory hadn’t meant to let slip that she still had any awareness of Huck.
Maybe he had a chance at finagling forgiveness after all…
About the author:
USA TODAY bestseller Christi Barth earned a Masters degree in vocal performance and embarked upon a career on the stage. A love of romance then drew her to wedding planning. Ultimately she succumbed to her lifelong love of books and now writes contemporary romance. Christi lives in Maryland with her husband.