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In this coming-of-age romance perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Sarah Dessen, scandal and romance collide when an ambitious teen returns to her hometown only to have her plans interrupted after falling for the town’s “bad boy”—a.k.a. her childhood best friend.

Sometimes to find the good, you have to embrace the bad.

Budding photographer Josie Saint-Martin has spent half her life with her single mother, moving from city to city. When they return to her historical New England hometown years later to run the family bookstore, Josie knows it’s not forever. Her dreams are on the opposite coast, and she has a plan to get there.

What she doesn’t plan for is a run-in with the town bad boy, Lucky Karras. Outsider, rebel…and her former childhood best friend. Lucky makes it clear he wants nothing to do with the newly returned Josie. But everything changes after a disastrous pool party, and a poorly executed act of revenge lands Josie in some big-time trouble—with Lucky unexpectedly taking the blame.

Determined to understand why Lucky was so quick to cover for her, Josie discovers that both of them have changed, and that the good boy she once knew now has a dark sense of humor and a smile that makes her heart race. And maybe, just maybe, he’s not quite the brooding bad boy everyone thinks he is…

Chapter 1
WELCOME TO BEAUTY: This faux-colonial sign greets travelers entering the small seaside town of Beauty, Rhode Island. A popular summer resort, the historic harbor area connected to Narragansett Bay attracts well-to-do New England vacationers. (Personal photo/Josephine Saint-Martin)
Chapter 1
February

There’s a long-held belief in my family that all the Saint-Martin women are romantically cursed. Unlucky in love, doomed to end up miserable and alone. Supposedly, one of my early New England ancestors angered a neighbor—big surprise—who then paid the wise woman in the village to curse us. All of us. Generations upon generations. Like, None of you will ever get your happily ever after, so mote it be, enjoy the heartbreak.

I’m seventeen and have never had a boyfriend. Only had one true friend of any kind at all, really, and that was a long time ago. So I haven’t had a chance to personally test the curse in action. But even though my family is ridiculously superstitious, I know that everything bad that’s happened to us amounts to a bizarre series of unfortunate coincidences. Moving back here to the curse’s place of origin isn’t the end of the world, no matter what Mom may say.

As I stand in front of Beauty’s city limit sign, taking the photo I always snap when we relocate to a new place, I ignore my mother’s irrational woe betides! about love and instead focus my lens on what this sign represents to me—my future.

See, Mom and I move around a lot. And by “a lot,” I mean seven moves in the last five years … seven different cities up and down the East Coast. We’re pros. We can skip town faster than a mobster who got tipped off that the cops were on their way.

One place is like another, and after a while, they all start to feel the same.

Except Beauty.

It’s the place where the all the important things have happened in my life. It’s where I was born—the birthplace of every Saint-Martin woman, all the way back to that silly love curse. It’s where Mom and I lived until I was twelve years old, and where I’ll finish high school next year, fingers crossed.

But most importantly, if things go as I hope they will, it’s also where my life is going to change. Monumentally. I have epic plans for the future, and they all start with this sign, right here. Everyone else may just see “Welcome to Beauty,” but not me. I see:

Hello, Josie Saint-Martin. Welcome to the Beginning of Your Life.

“It’s freezing out here, shutterbug,” Mom calls from the small moving truck parked behind me on the side of the highway. Our car, aka the Pink Panther, a 1980s cotton candy colored VW Beetle with too-many-thousand miles on the odometer, is hitched to the back. “Haven’t you taken this one before? Forget tradition. It’s not going anywhere. Shoot it later.”

“Don’t rush me, woman,” I call back, capping the lens of my vintage Nikon F3 camera before I settle it into the brown leather case that hangs around my neck. The City Limits photo is tradition, sure, but taking photos of signs is my artistic vision as a photographer. Some people like photographing landscapes or people or animals, but not me. I like billboards, snarky church signs, obnoxious neon diner signs, street signs riddled with bullet holes. They all tell a story. They communicate so much with so few words.

And Mom is right about one thing. Unlike people, signs are always there, twenty-four seven, waiting for you to take their picture. You don’t have to text them to ask if they’re coming home for dinner. You don’t have to be mad at yourself for being disappointed when they text back: go ahead, order takeout and eat without me. Signs are dependable.

I climb back into the moving truck, and as I pull on my seat belt, some rare emotion flickers behind Mom’s eyes. Whatever the opposite of excited is, that’s what she looks right now. Her anxiety over our move to Beauty started with Mildly Stressed, and on the drive here it escalated to High Anxiety, but now I do believe we’re up to Scared Shitless.

And Winona Saint-Martin isn’t scared of anything, so that leads me to believe that something big is waiting for us here—something Mom has failed to tell me about. Again.

Whatever it is, it must be bad. Worse than an old family story about doomed love.

“Seriously, you’re starting to freak me out,” I tell her. “Why are you so nervous about moving back here?” The reason we left when I was twelve is temporarily gone: the matriarch of the Saint-Martin family, Grandma Diedre. My mom’s mother. They had a major falling out. Shouting. Tears. Police were called. Huge drama, and some of it was about me. They’ve since made up … sort of?? But whenever we come back to visit, it’s never for more than a day or two, and things are always strained.

Our family is kind of messy.

Mom’s distracted and not listening to me, as usual. “Crap. Think that was one of your grandmother’s friends who just passed us,” she tells me, eyes on the rearview mirror. “She’s probably on her phone right now, calling up half the town to alert them that Diedre’s harlot of a daughter is crossing the border.”

“You’re being paranoid. Grandma would never call you that.” Probably. Fifty-fifty chance.

Mom snorts. “Oh, to be young. Be glad I shielded you from that old bat the past few years. Thank God for Mongolia.”

Nepal. You know Grandma’s in Nepal.”

My grandmother and my mom’s older sister, Franny, joined the Peace Corps and left to teach English in Nepal last week. Just like that, Grandma temporarily gave up the independent bookshop that had been in our family for generations and handed over the keys to my mom—someone she doesn’t trust to post a letter in the mail, much less run an entire business. And between you and me and this bargain-priced moving truck, my mom isn’t exactly the most reliable person in the world.

Which was why Grandma and Aunt Franny running off to Nepal and leaving us as stewards of the family bookshop was a shock to all. Aunt Franny’s daughter, my nineteen-year-old cousin Evie, is currently minding the store and will be helping my mom run it while attending college and shacking up with us in my grandma’s above-shop apartment.

“There’s no reason for you to be nervous. Grandma’s gone. Aunt Franny’s gone. You can make a fresh start here in Beauty—”

“Dream on, baby.” Mom rummages through her purse for a tube of lipstick labeled Ruby Kick. Bright lipstick and pointed cat-eye glasses are the two things my mother wouldn’t be caught dead in public without. “You have no idea what we’re about to walk into. You were twelve years old when we left this wretched village of the damned. You don’t remember what it’s like. Beauty is a viper pit for people like us, Josie.”

“Then don’t give them a reason to gossip.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

I clutch my camera case tightly. “You know what it means.” Blame the stupid Saint-Martin love curse if you want, but my young-and-single mom never has long-term boyfriends. Never brings men home. But she swipes right and sneaks out to meet guys … a lot. I used to keep track of the numbers, but it got depressing. I mean, hey. We aren’t living in eleventh century feudal France: I know women can and should have whatever sex life they want. But it’s my mom, and I know she’s not happy. Also, the lying. If it’s no big deal, why lie about it?

If I end up with trust issues, this is why.

Anyway, Mom did imply that she’d cool it with all the online hookups if we moved here. It’s not something we directly discussed, because we don’t talk about anything uncomfortable, so it wasn’t a firm promise. But she gave me a silent nod that said: I will not sleep with everyone in our small hometown, where people know us and our family, and gossip is currency. And I gave her a return nod that implied: Okay, cool, but mostly because I’m tired of you lying to me.

I can tell by the way she’s biting a hangnail that I’ve hurt her feelings by bringing this up right now—the forbidden subject of the dates she doesn’t really have. And because I’m always forced to be the adult in the room, I opt to cool things down and switch subjects before we end up in a fight before we even get into town.

“Now you’ve got me all freaked out about vipers and pits and black holes,” I say, trying for lighthearted. “Is it really going to be that bad here?”

“Worse, shutterbug. So much worse. It’s not too late. We can turn back around and go right back to Thrifty Books in Pennsylvania.”

Mom has managed every chain bookstore on the East Coast, along with some amazing indies … and a couple of complete hellholes. The one she just quit in Pennsylvania was in the hellhole category.

“You emailed your district manager that ‘Take This Job and Shove It’ song and walked out on your staff in the middle of your shift,” I remind her.

The corner of her mouth tilts up. “Okay, sure. Pennsylvania may technically be what people call a burned bridge. So we’ll drive straight through town and head down the coast to Connecticut instead. You liked Hartford, remember?”

“Too many murders, too expensive. We lasted five months and got evicted.”

“We could go farther south. Maryland?”

“Or we could just stay here in Rhode Island and do what we planned. Live in Grandma’s apartment rent-free for a year and save up money for Florida. It’s your dream, remember? Palm trees and white, sandy beaches? No digging cars out of snow?”

“Palm trees and white, sandy beaches … ,” she murmurs.

“And you promised I could finish high school here. Henry said—”

“Oh my God, Josie. Seriously? Don’t bring up your father when I’m in the middle of a panic attack.”

“Fine,” I say, protectively crossing my arms over the soft leather of my camera case. One of the few gifts he’s ever given me, the Nikon is my most prized possession … and a point of contention between Mom and me. My parents hooked up in college, when she was enrolled at a prestigious state art school for a couple of semesters. He was a thirty-something photography professor, and she was a rebellious nineteen-year-old student who did some nude modeling for him that turned into a one-thing-led-to-another situation.

I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I try not to think about it too much.

Regardless, they never lived together, much less married. And now Henry Zabka is a famous fashion photographer in Los Angeles. I see him every year or so. I think Mom wishes I would forget he even exists. “Look,” I tell her diplomatically. “There’s no need for panic. This is easy. It’s not a viper’s pit. Besides, even if it is, Evie is counting on us. She’s alone. Support Evie. Save money. Let me finish high school. Then you can head down to Florida, just like you’ve been dreaming.”

“I’m not going alone.”

I let out a nervous laugh and hope she doesn’t notice. “Both of us … Florida … yep. That was implied.” Wow, that was close. Gotta be more careful.

“Okay, you’re right. We can do this,” she says, calming down as gabled buildings and picket fences appear up ahead. “And Beauty is just a town, right?”

“Like any other.”

Only it isn’t. Not even close.

Beauty is a strange place with a long, dramatic history that stretches back to colonial America. It was founded in the late 1600s by a man named Zebadiah Summers, who helped King Charles III of England “purchase” the “goodly” waterfront land here from two warring New England tribes, the Narragansetts and Pequots. A large quarry of high-grade marble at the edge of town made the English settlers stinking rich. And the postcard-blue harbor—which stretches beyond our U-Haul windshield as Mom drives the curving main road around the coast—later attracted other members of New England high society, who built their summer homes here in the 1800s and helped make this one of the most affluent communities in Rhode Island.

Being a harbor town, Beauty has a lot of boating action. A private yacht club. Racing cups. Boating festivals … A public pedestrian path called the Harborwalk circles the water for several miles, and if you like sandy beaches and saltwater taffy, you’ll find that here too.

But it’s the kooky parts of Beauty that I like. Things like that the town nickname since the 1920s has been—no lie—“Clam Town,” because it has more fried clam shacks per capita than any other New England town. (Suck it, Providence!) Or that a slightly famous gothic nineteenth century American poet lived here and is now buried in Eternal Beauty Burial Grounds, a historical cemetery—and here’s the weird part—inside the grave of one of the original female colonists who was found to not be a witch when she drowned in one of those “if she floats, she’s a witch” tests given by Beauty’s early paranoid townspeople.

Graveyards and clam shacks aside, the beating heart of Beauty is its historic harbor district. Hazy childhood memories surface in the setting sun as Mom drives us past a horse-drawn carriage trotting alongside gas streetlamps. I crack my window and breathe in the familiar briny air. Along Goodly Pier, sailboats bob in their winter moors, and tourist shops along the waterfront begin closing up. Glassblowers and candlemakers sit across from a row of gated historical mansions, some of which are occupied by families whose kids go to Ivy League schools.

It’s another world here. A strange mix of money and weird.

We make our way to the southern side of the harbor, down a one-way street still paved with eighteenth-century granite setts. The South Harbor is the working- to middle-class side of town. It’s pretty here. Quiet. A few shops. Waterfront warehouses. But Mom parks the U-Haul in front of the best thing in the South Harbor.

The Saint-Martin family business.

SIREN’S BOOK NOOK

OLDEST INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORE IN THE SMALLEST STATE.

Our street-facing family shop, known to locals as “the Nook,” occupies the ground floor of a white bay-windowed house that’s on the National Register of Historic Places because of its Revolutionary War connection. A private living space is on the second floor—an apartment that’s accessible around back via an exterior flight of rickety wooden stairs above a three-hundred-year-old cobblestone alley. Mom and I lived here with Grandma until I was in sixth grade, but since Grandma Diedre and Mom do a lot of bickering every time they spend quality time together, we stay with Aunt Franny when we come to town, which isn’t often.

Still. The quaint shop looks the same.

Generations of Saint-Martins all lived in this one building.

A large, paned window holds a display of books about ships, and over the recessed doorway, a wrought iron mermaid holding an open book juts horizontally from a pole over the sidewalk.

“Salty Sally,” Mom says cheerfully to the mermaid, earlier anxiety left behind. “Mermaid boobs looking perky, as always. Guess we’re stuck here together again. At least for the time being.”

Pushing open the shop door, I’m engulfed by scents of old and new paper. Musty foxing on parchment. Ink. Worn leather. Orange wood polish. It smells inviting, and the New England folk music playing over the speakers is familiar and haunting; my Grandma Diedre collects recordings of traditional sea shanties and local broadside ballads.

Back during the Revolutionary War, this building housed both the Beauty post office and a printshop—I come from a long line of people who worship the printed word—which not only published the local newspaper but also seditious leaflets urging the rebels that lived in our Crown-supporting Loyalist town to “rise up against our redcoat overlords.” Several of those leaflets are framed on the walls, and the original eighteenth century printing press crouches in the middle of the shop, now used as a prop to display books about Rhode Island history.

The shop appears empty of customers as Mom and I circle around the old press and head toward the shop counter. Behind the register, lounging on a stool that squeaks loudly when she moves, is a nineteen-year-old community college student with her mother’s long legs and her late African American father’s warm brown skin. Her nose—which is dusted with the same pattern of splotchy freckles that all the Saint-Martin women have inherited—is buried in a historical romance paperback with a pirate on the cover.

Evie Saint-Martin.

“Credit card only. No cash. We close in two minutes,” Evie says in a bored voice from behind her book in the same way a spooky butler would sound answering the door in an old-dark-house horror film. A ceramic cup of tea steams at her elbow, her own private fog machine.

“I need to pay half in a sock full of pennies, half in a check that looks like it’s been dug out of a trash can,” I say.

She lowers her paperback until big eyes outlined dramatically with Cleopatra-style makeup peer at me from beneath thick bangs that have been chemically straightened and smoothed with a flat iron.

“Cousin,” she says brightly, her grin broad and slow as she pulls me into a hug over the counter. We nearly knock over a display of mermaid-topped writing pens near the register. She grasps my shoulders and pulls back to look me over. “See? This is why you should post more selfies. I had no idea your hair is longer than mine now. You should let me snip-snip it into something strange and beautiful,” she says, eyes twinkling like a mad scientist.

Evie cuts her own hair. She’s strange in a very good way and a million times cooler than me. And though her parents moved back and forth between Beauty and a couple hours away in Boston, causing us to miss some time growing up together, we’ve developed a long-distance friendship over the last few years.

She shoves me softly. “Can’t believe you’re here. Thought you’d be arriving after dark?”

“We downloaded an app to avoid police radar,” Mom explains, sliding around the counter to wind long arms around Evie. “You’ve never lived until you’ve been in a U-Haul going eighty in a fifty-five zone.”

“It was terrifying,” I inform my cousin. “Seriously thought the Pink Panther was going to disconnect and fly off.”

“How you and my mama are sisters is a complete mystery, Aunt Winona,” Evie says as she leans around Mom’s shoulder to peer out the front window. “Um, you know you’ll get ticketed if you park there without a permit. Massive fine.”

Mom groans. “Ugh. Beauty. Nothing changes—even the Nook’s counter stool still squeaks. What the hell am I doing back here again?”

“Saving up for palm trees and white, sandy beaches,” I remind her.

“And saving me,” Evie says. “Grandma Diedre left too many instructions—the store window has to be changed out to her exact list of boring books every month, because God forbid anything changes around here. And even though I’ve counted everything a hundred times, the safe has somehow been $6.66 short for two days, because the vengeful spirit of the town is smiting us for selling fiction with dirty words in a town settled by puritans and yachting fanatics.”

“Ah ha! Knew it!” Mom says. “I was just reminding Josie that this place is built over an actual portal to hell, and everyone who lives here is a minion of the dark lord.”

A creaking floorboard near the old printing press makes us all turn our heads at once. A boy about my age stares back at us—at me.

Big, black Doc Martens. Black leather jacket. Dark waves of hair eddy and swirl around his face like fog circling a lamppost, overlapping a network of scars that mark one side of his face and forehead. Part of his eyebrow is missing. A tiny black cat is tattooed on his hand between his thumb and forefinger.

Carrying a book, he grips the strap of a brain-bucket style motorcycle helmet with the words LUCKY 13 curving around the back in a wicked font. He squints at me through a fan of black lashes—first at the camera case hanging around my neck, then at my face.

He stares at me like I’m the ghost of his dead dog. Like he’s surprised to see me.

Like we’re old friends … or enemies.

I feel as if I’ve just been asked a question in a foreign language, and I’m struggling to pick through a tangle of words, syllable by syllable, searching for meaning. Who are you, and what do you want from me?

A funny feeling sprouts in the pit of my stomach. Suddenly there’s a word puzzle in my head, and the blanks are slowly filling in, and it’s dawning-dawning-dawning on me what the answer to the puzzle could be. Because as much time as I’ve spent away from Beauty, the last five years, I did spend my childhood here. And during that childhood, I had a best friend. But I haven’t seen him since I was twelve, and he was twelve, and …

Oh. My. God.

Lucky Karras.

He grew up. Good. And I do mean good. How did he get so big? He looks intimidating … and sort of angry. Don’t think Hey, old pal o’ mine! How about a hug? is the appropriate response.

He was pretty mad at me when I left town. That was five years ago. And not my fault. Surely, he’s not holding a grudge. I wish I would have had time to brush my hair. I didn’t know I was going to be getting out of a moving truck and seeing … Lucky 2.0.

Mom the Obvious, however, doesn’t notice the electric stare-down that’s happening right in front of her very face. She also doesn’t recognize him and is all jokes and fake chagrin. “Oh, sorry. Not you, though,” she calls out to him lightheartedly. “I’m sure you aren’t a demonic minion.”

“Clearly you don’t know me,” he says in husky voice that sounds like smoke and gravel—one that’s changed along with his body.

“But I’d like to. Winona Saint-Martin.” She sticks out her hand, but he doesn’t take it.

“Know who you are,” he says, switching his cool gaze to her briefly.

And as he walks past me, he slows long enough to murmur, “Hello, Josie. Welcome back to the portal to hell.”

Then he tosses the book onto the printing press and strides out the shop’s front door.

I exhale a long, shaky breath.

“Yikes,” Mom says. “Already driving away customers. My mother will be so proud.”

Evie waves a dismissive hand. “That’s just Phantom.”

“Who?” Mom says.

“Lucky Karras. Remember the Karrases? His parents used to own the tiny boat-repair business a block away? They bought the big boatyard across the street. Father’s a boat mechanic. Mother runs the business.”

That’s Nick and Kat Karras’s kid?” Mom says. “Josie’s Lucky?”

A warmth zips up my chest. “He wasn’t mine. We were just friends.” Good friends.

“Did you recognize him?” Mom asks without giving me a chance to respond. “I don’t think he recognized you.”

“He did,” I say, a little dazed.

“He’s been camped out here, watching the window for your U-Haul,” Evie murmurs, giving me a suggestive smile behind my mom’s back.

“Really would have liked to be warned about this before we showed up,” I say through pinched lips.

“Last time I saw him,” Mom muses, oblivious to Evie’s comment, “he was a snotty-nosed little punk with a head full of black curls. When did he grow up into a dark and disenchanted Holden Caufield?”

Evie snorts a short laugh. “A couple years after you guys left town? I call him Phantom of the Bookshop, because he’s in here all the time, brooding in the back.”

“I thought the Karrases moved?” I say, still stunned.

“They did,” Evie says. “Like I said, their business moved across the street.”

That’s not what I meant. I thought they moved out of town—gone. I had no idea he still lived here. All the times we’ve been in and out of Beauty for the occasional weekend over the past few years, I’ve never once seen him or heard about the Karrases.

“He was in that fire before we left town,” Mom says. “At the lake house.”

“His scars … ,” I murmur. The last time I saw him, it was about a week after the fire, and he was bandaged up, in the hospital, awaiting news about surgery. I remember his parents being worried, whispering with doctors when I’d come see him every afternoon at Beauty Memorial during visiting hours, but they said he’d be fine.

Mom and I left town in such a hurry, I never got to say goodbye.

“He had a lot of skin grafts,” Evie says. “I don’t know … I think it changed him, because he sort of withdrew after that. He’s been in and out of a little trouble ever since, but—”

“Whoa. What kind of trouble?” Mom interrupts.

“This and that. You know Beauty,” Evie says with a shrug. “Hard to know what’s gossip and what’s fact.”

“This town eats you alive, one way or another,” Mom says. “Hope he keeps his trouble out of this shop.”

“Don’t worry,” Evie assures her. “He just reads and sulks.”

I stare out the bookshop window, watching Lucky straddle an old red motorcycle parked across the street in front of a building with a sign that says: NICK’S BOATYARD. REPAIR AND MAINTENANCE. Matching his tattoo, an actual black cat sits in a patch of sunlight inside the boatyard’s office window.

How could that be the same boy I knew? Impossible.

As he straps on his Lucky 13 helmet, Mom clears her throat, catching my attention.

“Nope. Don’t even think about it,” she warns me.

“I was just looking out the window, jeez.” Is my neck warm? Grandma Diedre needs to invest in some modern AC in this stuffy, old shop.

“The Saint-Martin love curse is stronger here,” Mom insists. “Look at our record in Beauty. My grandfather kept three mistresses in a hotel across town. My dad left my mom for a business deal in California. My sister Franny … well”—she turns to Evie—“you know what happened to your own mother.”

“Mom,” I say sharply. Ugh. Talk about foot-in-mouth disease, my mom has it.

“It’s fine,” Evie says.

But is it? Evie’s father died of a stroke last year. He spent a couple of days in the hospital but didn’t make it. The funeral was awful; that was the last time we were in town, in fact, just for a short time. Evie coped, but her mom kind of had a nervous breakdown and never really got over his death—and Mom thinks that’s why Grandma encouraged her to rent out their house and run off to Nepal, leaving Evie to move in with us in the above-shop apartment. Mom says Evie’s mom was always Grandma’s favorite. You would think two adult sisters with kids of their own would be long past the Petty Jealousy phase, but I guess it’s something you never grow out of.

“Regardless,” Mom says, a little embarrassed, “everyone in Beauty knows I got hit by the Saint-Martin curse too. Tried to leave town to outrun it and ended up a single thirty-six-year-old mom of a seventeen-year-old. Now just imagine what the curse will do to you here, Josie. Heartbreak city, that’s what.”

Before I can protest, Evie picks up her paperback pirate romance and waves it, several slender silver rings clinking together on her thumb and index finger. She exclusively reads historical romance books. Earls and governesses. Princes and governesses. Governesses and governesses. If it involves the moors and a gothic castle, even better. She recently made the decision to give up real-life love in exchange for vicarious romance on the page. “Relationship-free and zero regrets.” Or so she claims …

“Not here for relationships of any kind,” I inform both of them.

Never had one, never want one.

Honestly, all I care about right now is building up my portfolio so that my father will agree to take me on as a photography apprentice in LA next year, after I finish high school. But I don’t say that out loud. It’s my own private secret. If there’s one thing that will break my mom’s heart, it’s not romance—it’s the thought of me leaving her. The ultimate betrayal.

I know it makes me a monster. I know. But the thing is, even though I may be cursed on this side of the family pie, there’s a whole other half of the pie that I don’t even know. Grandparents I’ve never met. Aunts. Uncles. Cousins. My dad even has a new wife, a painter. And once I’m eighteen, Mom can’t stop me from traveling to see my dad. I only talked to him about it in a general sort of way, but I think I can convince him to let me apprentice for him. And that would be such a dream—to learn photography from a real master.

To learn how to be a real daughter in a real family.

Maybe one that communicates better than this one does.

That’s my exit strategy. Beauty is my last layover town, then I’m going as far west as I can, seeking meaningful connections. People who eat dinner together and talk about their problems. People who do normal family things—backyard barbecues and trips to the zoo. Parents teaching kids how to swim and ride bikes. I want all that.

And I have a solid three-step plan to make it happen:

Step One: Prove to my father that I’m motivated and talented.

Step Two: Save up enough cash to get to LA.

Step Three: Graduate from high school before my grandma returns from Nepal.

That last one … that’s tough. Next summer, Grandma Diedre’s overseas tour in Nepal is up, and that’s when Beauty will go from Layover Town to Family Fight Zone. My mom knows this; we’re on borrowed time here.

Beauty’s a ticking time bomb. I’m just clearing a path forward before it blows.

“Not here for relationships,” I repeat to Mom and Evie. So I don’t care how good he grew up, Lucky Karras can go sulk in someone else’s bookshop. “I just want to tough it out long enough to finish high school in one piece.”

But when I see the pitiful way Evie’s sad eyes look down at me, as if both my three-step plan and the future are spread out before her like a bad tarot card reading, I begin to wonder if I’ll even survive this town until summer.
Photograph by Heidi Darbo

Jenn Bennett is an award-winning author of young adult books, including: Alex, ApproximatelyStarry Eyes; and The Lady Rogue. She also writes historical romance and fantasy for adults. Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, won the Romance Writers of America’s RITA® Award, and been included on Publishers Weekly’s Best Books annual list. She currently lives near Atlanta with one husband and two dogs.

More books from this author: Jenn Bennett