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Don't you love the push-pull of an enemies to lovers romance? Brooke and Ben's rivalry began with competing lemonade stands on the same street. Now Ben's opening a coffee shop in the same town.
If Brooke wants her coffee shop to survive, she needs to be aggressive with her marketing tactics. But what about this attraction that's simmering between them? Will their competition ruin any chance of something happening between them? If they give in, how can they trust trust each other?
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I tried to forget my run-in with Brooke at her store by focusing on mine. Brooke’s coffee was perfect, not too hot, and the brew was a rich, bold flavor, just how I liked it. The only thing that set our stores apart was that I featured beans from around the world in large glass jars on shelves behind the counters.
All coffee shops smelled like coffee, but when you walked into mine, I liked to think it was a richer, more enticing scent that drew customers inside. A sign on the wall boasted my ability to find whatever bean the customer desired. The beans combined with my historic grinder gave it a classy feel. I hoped customers would want to come inside for an experience.
At the last minute, I decided to add a shelf to sell varying mugs and to-go cups, along with several options for coffee makers with a bean grinder. I was happy to grind customers’ beans, but I wanted customers to fall in love with the superior flavor of freshly ground beans, which they could do by grinding their beans in their own homes.
I was anxious to open the store, but we had to plan the perfect grand opening celebration and get the word out that we were opening next week. I’d changed the sign out front to reflect our plans and was frequently stopped with questions. I hoped it was more than small-town curiosity and that customers would sample my coffee and return for more.
I’d been so confident when I looked at the projected numbers in my office in Philadelphia. But now that it was a reality, I worried I’d invested my life savings in something more likely to fail.
On Saturday, I drove Cammie to baseball practice. It was early, so she was uncharacteristically quiet in the back seat. When I arrived at the baseball fields, the lot was just starting to fill up.
“Do you think we’ll get our uniforms this morning?” Cammie asked, her excitement picking up.
I cleared my throat, parking my sports car next to the larger SUVs and trucks. I needed to buy a more family-friendly vehicle. “The coach didn’t say.”
“I hope so.” I helped Cammie out, grabbing her bag from the trunk.
“Good morning,” another dad sleepily said as we fell in step beside him and his son.
“Morning,” I lifted my to-go mug. “I haven’t even had a chance to drink my first cup of coffee yet.”
“Yeah, what’s up with the early morning practices?” he asked.
“I have no idea.” I was an early riser and had long since been awake. If I hadn’t been, Cammie would have made sure to wake me.”
“I’m Chad, by the way,” he said, reaching out a hand to shake.
I took it and gave him my name, and we continued chatting once we got to the field, exchanging details about our children. His son played for the last two years. I tried to ignore the niggling worry that Cammie wasn’t ready to play with kids with so much experience, but there had to be others in the same position. And Cammie had determination. She would learn quickly.
The coaches placed them in groups, with a few of the dads helping out.
A few minutes into practice, Hunter came flying down the hill, his bag bouncing on his back. “I’m here. I’m here.”
The coach told him to put his bag on the fence and grab his bat.
I wondered if Hunter’s mother would be present today or if it would be Brooke again. I tried not to get my hopes up. I shouldn’t want her to be there.
Within a minute, Brooke came over the hill with a chair slung over her shoulder and a kids’ water bottle in her hand. Her hair was thrown up in a messy bun, and she wore a long-sleeve shirt over leggings. She looked soft and inviting, so different from how she’d looked at her store the other day.
“Everything okay?” I asked as she passed Chad and me.
She gave me a sheepish look. “Yeah, just running a little late. Abby had a last-minute event this morning she needed to cover.” She raised her hand with the water bottle. “I need to give this to Hunter.”
After tucking the bottle into the side pocket of Hunter’s bag, Brooke brushed a strand of hair out of her face, scanned the crowd of parents present, and made her way back to me.
I tried not to feel pleased she’d sought me out. I was probably the only person she knew, but I couldn’t be certain. If she was frequently helping out her sister with Hunter, she probably knew the other parents. I tried not to think about other single dads hitting on her. It wasn’t my place to care.
Brooke grimaced. “Hunter was so upset we were running late.”
“I think it’s okay. The coach seemed cool about it.”
Brooke smiled. “Well, Hunter is the opposite of chill. He takes baseball very seriously.”
“So does Cammie.”
“She didn’t want to play softball?” Chad asked.
I shook my head. “She had all sorts of opinions when I suggested softball.”
“Kids. They’ve got minds of their own, don’t they?” He laughed, shaking his head.
“Cammie sure does.” I looked out over the field, trying to spot her. She was the only one with a blonde ponytail showing from the back of her cap. She was on the mound, pitching to the kids lined up for batting practice.
“She wants to be a pitcher?” Brooke asked.
“She wants to learn everything,” I said.
“Hmm,” Brooke hummed.
“You drink your coffee yet?” I figured a fellow coffee store owner would be on their third or fourth cup by then, but I didn’t see anything.
“Not yet. I woke up to my sister’s call, and I’ve been running ever since.”
I handed her my mug. “Try this. I want to know what you think of it.”
At her raised brow, I added, “I haven’t even tasted it yet. It’s fresh.”
The thought of her lips on the same lid as mine had my blood pumping harder.
“I’d love to.” Brooke set her chair on the ground and brought the mug to her lips. I waited, hoping she’d love trying new brews as much as I did.
She licked her lips, drawing my attention to them. “Oh, wow. This is rich and bold. I love it.”
She started to hand it back to me, but as much as I wanted my lips where hers had just been, I said, “You keep it. You need it more than me.”
Wrapping her hands around the cup, she breathed in the smell.
She looked beautiful in the early morning light, even if she wasn’t as put together as at work. I liked her like this. She was a girl I could see myself waking up next to. Brewing her coffee just to see her eyes light up with pleasure. I nearly groaned out loud, wondering where those thoughts were coming from.
I didn’t want to wake up next to Brooke Langley. She was my competition, not my friend.
“Thanks for this,” she said when Chad wandered off to help his son tie his cleats that had come undone.
“You’re welcome.” We stood in silence, watching the practice and listening to the crack of the bat and thump of a ball hitting a glove.
The coaches occasionally yelled at the kids to pay attention, but otherwise, it was quiet. The parents were only half-awake and not socializing much. That early in the morning on a weekend, there weren’t any younger siblings playing on the grass.
“How are things coming with your store?” Brooke asked.
I gave her a side look. “Do you really want to know?”
“As the owner of your biggest competition? Yes. Yes. I do,” she said, smiling.
It reminded me so much of our banter in high school. We were always trying to one-up each other. One time, after she triumphantly stated she received a higher grade than me, I felt the urge to kiss her for the first time. The feeling never left after that.
I wanted to shut her up, but I wanted to feel her against me more. All of those teenage feelings came rushing back and pushed to the surface. I liked Brooke. I always had. I was a nerdy kid who enjoyed succeeding in school and, well, everything. I had no idea how to interact with a beautiful, intelligent girl, so I did the only that came naturally. I teased her. I taunted her. I goaded her into engaging with me.
I wasn’t stupid. I knew it annoyed her, but I fell into that way of interacting with her over the years, and it was impossible to change. Even when my feelings for her only grew stronger. I wasn’t competing with her. I was trying to talk to her, to get her to notice me. She did, just not in the way I’d hoped. It was too late to go back and change our history.
And now, our livelihoods were at stake. I was destined to have this attraction to her and never act on it.
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The Last One You Loved by LJ Evans
𝙏𝙃𝙀 𝙇𝘼𝙎𝙏 𝙊𝙉𝙀 𝙔𝙊𝙐 𝙇𝙊𝙑𝙀𝘿 is a single-dad, forced-proximity romance.
He’s a small-town sheriff holding onto the memories of a woman he once loved. When she comes home with fear and desperation in her eyes, it isn’t what she’s running from but his secrets that can unravel everything.