Bryce Barrett has disappeared off the face of the earth. Well, technically she’s just temporarily hiding out in a teeny Midwest town, away from her ruined marriage and professional demise…at least until she can figure out her next steps. But when she bumps into her ex—dressed in what could be only described as “dumpster chic”—she does the only reasonable thing a woman can do: panics and pretends the cute security guard on the scene is her new boyfriend.
Free-spirited nomad Jake Warner knew returning to his hometown was a bad idea. It’s bad enough that his family’s pressuring him to step into his dad’s hypercompetitive shoes and settle down, but when a complete stranger (cute, though possibly unbalanced) enlists him as her fake boyfriend, Jake knows he’s making some questionable choices…especially when he inexplicably goes along with it.
Now these two mismatched misfits are temporary allies against a town filled with happy, normal, and annoyingly stable people. Fake dating keeps everyone off their back while they plot their respective escapes. But nothing botches a plan more than unexpected chemistry…
Title: Playing for Keeps
Author: Julie Hammerle
Publication Date: May 8, 2023
Publisher: Entangled: Amara
Genres: Adult, Romance, Contemporary
“Ted, hello.” Bryce offered him her hand, and he pulled her in for a quick, friendly kiss on the cheek. She stiffened up. Damn it, is that moldy cheese smell me? No. It’s Ted. It must be Ted.
After he let her go, Ted spoke to the woman next to him, “Ree, this is my ex-wife, Bryce. Bryce, this is Rita, my girlfriend.”
We lah-dee-frickin’ da, Ted went and got himself a girlfriend.
But I have beaver slippers.
Bryce bit her lip to keep from laughing or crying, she wasn’t sure which.
Rita offered her hand to Bryce. “It’s nice to meet you. Ted has told me so much about you.”
“Yeah, nice to meet you, too.” Bryce greeted her ex’s new girlfriend with a perfunctory handshake as she took the opportunity to give Rita the once-over. She was the kind of effortless beauty Bryce, with her hair dye and multi-session workouts and (previously) gluten free, vegan diet, had only ever dreamed of being. Rita, whose luminous face apparently had no need for makeup, wore her long, dark hair in a cascade over her shoulders. Her white pants and nautical-striped shirt were right out of a J. Crew catalog.
Bryce folded her arms across her dingy, dirty t-shirt.
“What are you doing in town?” Ted asked.
He was definitely staring at her pants—or, well, his pants. She crossed her legs, trying to hide the big, gold “Michigan.” “I’m…I live here.”
Ted laughed. “You live in Wackernagel?”
Bryce frowned. “Well, I have the house here.”
“Yeah, you do, but I…I figured you’d sell it the first chance you got.” Ted laughed. “What about work?”
He hadn’t heard. Somehow news of her great professional demise had not reached Ted.
Bryce said a quick prayer of thanksgiving for loyal friends, Ted’s aversion to social media, and the fact that their work circles didn’t overlap. His high school teachers’ crowd didn’t have much contact with Big Law beyond Bryce.
“I’m taking some time off.” Bryce crossed her arms.
“Like, a sabbatical?” Rita asked.
Bryce nodded. Sure, let’s call it that.
“Good for you.” Tim smiled softly. “I’m glad you’re finally taking some time for yourself.”
Yeah, that’s what I’m doing. Bryce shot him a relaxed, self-assured smile. Might as well let him keep thinking things are wonderful. No harm in that. “Things are going really well for me here, in fact. I’m fixing up the house”—or, technically, redecorating it with old chip bags, empty wine bottles, and assorted other garbage—“and I’m really finding myself”—by binge watching TV shows, eating ice cream, and sleeping all day.
“That’s great,” Ted said. And his eyes were back on Bryce’s pants.
These stupid pants. They were blowing her cover. Her current outfit screamed everything but “I’m thriving!” Bryce chuckled, trying to make light of her oddball clothing. “I see you’ve noticed what I’m wearing.”
Ted’s eyes widened. “I have. Have you?”
She tamped down any annoyance at his semi-snide tone.
USA Today best-selling, RITA nominated author, Julie Hammerle (she/her) writes romantic comedies for adults and teens. Before settling down to write “for real,” she studied opera, taught Latin, and held her real estate license for one hot minute. Currently, when not writing, she ropes people into conversations about Game of Thrones and makes excuses to avoid the gym. Her favorite YA-centric TV shows include 90210 (original spice), Felicity, and Freaks and Geeks. Her music playlist reads like a 1997 Lilith Fair set list.
She lives in Chicago with her husband and her two kids and a dog.
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