Still the One will be available in ebook and paperback on 14 June 2023. The audio, narrated by Abby Craden, will follow a few months later.
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Still the One
© Harper Bliss
There she is. The woman who broke my heart into a million pieces. Jamie Sullivan, owner of Sully’s Sourdough—and cheater extraordinaire.
I’ve had months to prepare for this moment—years even—but maybe there’s no such thing as preparing for something like this.
I’m definitely not ready for how untouched by time she looks. Her hair is still that rich dark brown—surely this can’t be her natural color anymore—and she’s still sporting those same bangs that almost hide her eyes.
Jamie makes a beeline for me. “Wow. Gabrielle Mackenzie in the flesh.” She flashes me a smile. “I see you on TV all the time, but…” She pauses, looks me in the eye briefly before her glance skitters away. Jamie shakes her head ever so slightly, then asks, “Can I give you a hug?”
“Yeah.” I inhale deeply. It’s been twenty years. I’ve had to move on with my life and in order to do so, I had to forgive Jamie for what she did—for ripping my heart to shreds—but I will never forget. It’s not possible. “Sure.” I open my arms for what I think will be a light embrace—keeping each other at a respectable distance while gingerly folding our arms around each other. But Jamie has other plans—that’s kind of her thing.
She pulls me close. I have no choice but to bury my nose in that gloriously soft hair of hers. It feels like silk and smells like the most fragrant flowers.
“Sandra and her adult-onset heteronormativity, eh?” Jamie says, her mouth right by my ear.
“My thoughts exactly.” We let go, and I have no time to investigate my feelings, no time to gauge if there’s anything left at all of what I used to feel for Jamie, because Sandra, the reason we’re both here, bounds up to us.
“Good,” Sandra says, pointing her finger from me to Jamie. “This has happened. It’s done.” She narrows her eyes. “I’m smart enough not to ask how that made you feel. For once, it’s all about me.” She waggles her eyebrows. Poor Sandra. She’s been in the middle of our feud since the very beginning. No wonder she asked—demanded, really—that we finally get over ourselves so we could both attend her dream wedding in Maui. And here we are.
“It is all about you, gorgeous.” Jamie rubs Sandra’s shoulder. She’s still as tactile as ever, then. “Where do you want us? What should we do?”
We? Wow. That was quick. Still bossy then, as well. Or, as Jamie used to call it: taking charge of a situation.
“That lovely man over there”—Sandra points to the wedding planner I met when I arrived earlier today—“is going to tell you all about it. This is only the rehearsal so if you’d like to practice sitting together, that can be arranged.” She throws in a wink.
“There’s no assigned seating?” Jamie sounds incredulous.
“Just sit on my side of the aisle,” Sandra says. “And be nice to each other. That’s all I want.” She pulls her lips into the widest grin. “Thank you both for being here. It means a lot that you’ve put aside your, um, differences. For me.”
Perhaps I should have done that a long time ago, for the numerous parties of Sandra’s that I missed because I feared Jamie might be there. But so many things that shouldn’t happen, do—to remind myself of that I only have to glance at the woman standing next to me. And I had to say yes to Sandra’s wedding.
“The best excuse ever for a trip to Hawaii,” Jamie says in that way she has. It should sound obnoxious—because we’re not here for an exotic holiday; we’re here for our friend—but for some reason that has always eluded me, it doesn’t. Jamie gets away with everything. “It’s an honor to be here,” Jamie continues. “But I’m not going to lie, San, I’m still a little baffled at you tying the knot. Life can be funny that way.”
“The heart wants what the heart wants,” is all Sandra says, before she’s whisked off by the wedding planner.
“So?” Jamie tilts her head. “Do you want to sit with me?”
“Why not?” My smile is surprisingly genuine. Maybe instead of being cut up about seeing my ex-fiancée again, I’m simply glad to spend some time with my former best friend. It must be that.
“Come on.” Jamie leads the way to where we’re meant to sit. It gives me a chance to thoroughly scrutinize her from behind. She’s dressed in a soft pink suit and her ass looks mighty fine in those pants.
We find a spot in the middle row of only three. This is not a huge wedding, just the bride and groom’s immediate families and a small number of friends.
“Oh! My! God!” a high-pitched voice comes from behind us. “Hell has finally frozen over. What’s next? Flying pigs?”
Jamie and I turn around. Alan stares back at us. He’s one of the friends I gradually lost after Jamie and I broke up—someone who, over time, gravitated more toward her. I don’t hold it against him. I spend a lot of time abroad and when in New York, I’m usually busy with work.
“Hi, darling.” We both stand up and Jamie air kisses him.
“My god, Mac! As I live and barely fucking breathe.” Alan holds out his hands. Instinctively, I put mine in his. “Phew. You look even hotter than you do on TV. Positively smoking, darling. Hot damn, it’s so good to see you. Come here.” He pulls me to him and the enthusiastic kisses he plants on my cheeks have nothing airy about them.
“It’s wonderful to see you, Alan.” The tight-knit group of friends Jamie and I were part of brusquely fell apart after she left me. In the end, Sandra was the only one I kept in close contact with. “You look smoking hot as well, Alan.” I rake my gaze over my old pal. He’s still the same man I used to see all the time, except his hairline has receded and his face looks more weathered. I used to know every intimate detail about Alan’s life and now here we are, not quite strangers, but certainly no longer friends.
“Babe, come here.” Alan calls for a man a few feet away with his back to us. He turns around and joins us. “Please meet my far better half. This is Charles.” Alan wiggles his fingers to draw attention to the ring on his ring finger. “My husband.” Alan beams when he says the word. Another wedding I wasn’t invited to. I wonder how many there have been. Am I the only single person here? Jamie might not have brought a plus-one, but I doubt someone like her is single—unless that’s how she wants it. Although, come to think of it, people always say that about me as well. As though having my face on TV automatically makes me prime relationship material. But there are a million reasons to remain single. I should know—so I shouldn’t judge.
Charles is dashing, well-spoken, and extremely courteous. I wonder how he ended up with the likes of Alan, who is foul-mouthed, outrageous, and says whatever he thinks no matter whose company he’s in.
“Can we sit with you, Mac?” Charles asks, surprising me. Mac is what my friends call me, and I’ve only just met him. It could still be what Alan calls me when he sees me on TV. “I’m such a fan of—”
“Babe.” Alan leans into Charles’s ear and tries to whisper—but being inconspicuous has never been one of Alan’s talents. “Give them some space,” he says.
“It’s all right,” I say. “We don’t need space.” Why would Jamie and I need space? We’re not here for a reunion; we’re here for our friend’s wedding.
“Nevertheless.” Did Alan just wink at me? “We’ll see you at the rehearsal dinner. We’re sitting at the same table.” He drags Charles away, but they can’t sit very far from us.
“Don’t mind Alan,” Jamie says. “You know he always has silly notions.”
“Like what?” Jamie and I sit again and I take a good look at her face. She has aged, of course, but time has been kinder to her than it was to Alan. She’s still as stunning as when I first met her—better, even. Because those lines around her eyes promise the kind of wisdom no one has at twenty, or thirty for that matter. When they play reckless games with the heart of the person they’re meant to love most in the world.
“Let’s just say he has made rather a big deal of you being here.”
Jamie pulls her lips into a grin. “Come on, Mac. Surely, you know why.”
“Because we haven’t seen each other in twenty years.”
“Well, yes, although that’s not technically true. We did see each other—”
“Is Alan expecting some big drama or something?” I cut Jamie off for a reason. I don’t want to relive the couple of excruciating times I ran into her, or arrived somewhere I thought she wouldn’t be only to be confronted with her when I was nowhere near ready for that. “Because too much time has gone by for that.”
“That’s exactly what I said to him.”
“Charles seems lovely.”
“He’s such a gem.”
“How long have they been married?”
“Coming up to seven years now.” Something sparkles in Jamie’s eyes. I remember that sudden glint in her eyes well. It was one of the things that made her irresistible—that made me fall in love with her over and over again. “Guess who officiated their nuptials?”
The way she’s looking at me, there can only be one answer. “You?”
“I got ordained as a Dudeist Minister. Isn’t that the most hilarious thing you’ve ever heard? Me? Officiating for The Church of Dudeism.” Jamie sure thinks it’s a hoot. “Marrying two dudes.”
It is funny, though. Jamie’s laughter is infectious—always has been. It’s a little awkward to be sitting here with her, after all these years, but despite everything that has happened, there’s something familiar, something strangely soothing about it as well. For ten years of my life, I had the privilege of knowing Jamie Sullivan in the most intimate ways. Maybe it says a lot about me that, in hindsight, they were the best years of my life.
“It’s such a Jamie thing to do,” I say when our chuckles die down.
“Hey, um, I’ve been nervous about seeing you again.” Jamie’s face has turned all serious. “When you first started appearing on TV, I had to switch it off, and you know how much I love watching sports.” She scoffs softly, as though mocking herself. “But I’m glad you came. That you’re here.”
“I’m here for Sandra.”
“Yeah. We all are.”
The seats around us suddenly fill up, as though the wedding planner just flipped a switch. We are hushed so the rehearsal can start—and my first proper conversation with Jamie in twenty long years is cut short.
“To America.” Alan lifts his champagne glass. “Where we’re so uptight, we feel the need to practice for the best day of our life.” He rolls his eyes. “They don’t do that anywhere else in the world, you know?” He shoots his husband a wink. “Charles and I were very un-American about it. We skipped the rehearsal and went straight for the wedding instead.”
“You’re very worldly like that, darling,” I say, and my poor brain can’t help it. Attending this wedding and being here with Mac takes me back to the time she and I were planning our own commitment ceremony—back in the dark ages before same-sex marriage was legal. We had it all figured out—all the various steps meticulously mapped out. Until Cherry came along.
“The rehearsal dinner is more an opportunity for the two families to come together,” Mac says, using her sexy broadcaster voice. It makes her sound as though she possesses all the wisdom in the world. “Because our country is so big, we tend to marry more outside of our immediate circle than in other places.”
“I’d never looked at it like that.” Charles gazes at Mac like a genuine fanboy would. Who can blame him? Mac is a spectacular woman. She still has the slim, fit body of the soccer player she used to be. Her satin-like blonde hair just touches her shoulders. Her bright blue eyes stand out. Her complexion is radiant. And that sleeveless blouse is showing off some serious muscle definition.
We used to hold our very own arm-wrestling competitions—the baker against the former athlete. Kneading-dough strength versus gym-built strength. Mac always won. Losing isn’t really her thing.
“Hello friends.” Sandra crouches next to us at our table of four. “Everything going okay?” She eyes me first, then Mac.
“Hunky-dory,” Alan says.
“Mac, I’m so sorry, but my father-in-law is absolutely dying to meet you. Could you just give him a quick hello so he can get on with his life?”
“Sure.” Mac doesn’t seem perturbed by this. Her rise to TV fame happened after we broke up. When we were together, she was still working behind the scenes. I watch her rise and follow Sandra to the family table.
“How are you feeling?” Alan asks when Mac is out of earshot.
Before I can reply, he continues. “What’s it like seeing her again?”
I huff out some air. “It’s a little overwhelming. She’s so—”
“Classy? Elegant? Charming? Hot?” Alan’s on a roll.
“Absolutely gorgeous and so down-to-earth,” Charles adds.
“Wow.” I arch up my eyebrows. “Are you both crushing on Mac now?”
“Is she single? What do you know?” Alan doesn’t even acknowledge my question.
“As much as you do.”
“I follow her on Instagram,” Charles says, “and there’s never any mention of a partner or anything like that, although that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”
“Surely Sandra knows,” Alan says. “They must still be pretty tight for Mac to come all the way to Maui for her wedding.” He taps his chin, as if we haven’t known for months that Mac would be here. But for the longest time, it was just an abstract notion in the future. Now the moment is here and we’re sharing a table with her. Mac has become very real for us—for me—again and, no matter how I twist or turn it, it’s a shock to my system.
“Don’t worry, James,” Alan says, calling me by his special nickname for me. “I’m on it. By the end of this night, I’ll know all there is to know about Mac’s personal life.” He sighs. “I can only speak for myself, but it’s so good to see her again. It’s been way too long.”
“What do you want to know?” Mac puts her hands on Alan’s shoulders and stands there beaming a smile at us. We were so wrapped up in talking about her, we stopped paying attention to where she was.
“We’re curious about you.” Alan isn’t fazed by Mac overhearing him—indiscretion is his middle name and surely Mac must remember what he’s like. “It’s only normal.”
Mac gives Alan’s shoulders a squeeze and takes her seat again. “In that case, let’s go tit for tat.”
“I’d prefer if no tits were involved.” Alan pulls a horrified face.
Mac shakes her head at him, then turns to me with a look that says ’Can you believe this guy?’
I can only respond with a shrug. Alan’s been one of my best friends for most of my life. But maybe Mac needs to reacclimatize to him a little.
“But sure,” Alan says. Although I appreciate his company and the levity it brings, I’d love to ask Mac a couple of questions in private. “Ask us anything you want, Mac.”
Instead of asking Alan a question, Mac turns to me. For a split second, I fear she might ask me how things turned out with Cherry, right here in front of my friends. But that’s not Mac’s style.
“Are you single?” she asks.
“Booyah!” Alan mimics an explosion with his fingers.
“I am,” I answer truthfully. “You?” The question naturally flows from my lips.
“I don’t think we’re going to have to answer a lot of questions, babe,” Alan says to Charles. “We can just sit back and enjoy the lezzie show.” He crosses his arms over his chest, probably a little offended at not being the center of attention, and leans back.
I’m dying to inquire further, to ask Mac about her love life after me. Sandra refused to discuss that with me, claiming that if I wanted to know, I should find an adequate way to apologize to Mac so we could be friends again, and she could tell me herself. But Mac made it crystal clear she never wanted anything to do with me ever again—and that served me right.
“You must have so many admirers,” Charles says, sounding baffled at Mac’s admission.
Mac just shakes her head. She never fully grasped how beautiful she is. Although being on TV must earn her many compliments about her looks.
“Is it true there’s a special Tinder for celebrities?” Try as he might, Alan can’t keep quiet for longer than a few minutes.
To my surprise, Mac nods. I’m not surprised a dating app like that exists, but I am that Mac would use it. But it’s just another reminder that I know nothing about her any longer—about the woman I was going to marry and start a family with.
“Aaah!” Alan coos. “Have you used it?”
Mac nods slowly. “I have, but… I’m sorry, darling. I’m not spilling any beans.”
Alan clutches both hands to his chest. “Not even a tiny little bean?”
“I’m still single so clearly it wasn’t that successful.” Mac fixes her gaze on Alan. “But guess who’s a regular at Isabel Adler’s house?” She paints on a triumphant smirk, displaying a side of her that’s either new or that I don’t remember.
Alan’s mouth falls open. “No!” He shouts it as though our table has just caught fire. The other guests stop their conversations to look at us. “You can tease me about anyone else in the world, but not about Isabel Adler. That woman is a goddess and we are but mere mortals worshipping at her feet.”
Mac bursts out laughing and so do I. There’s theatrics, and then there’s this. I can’t help but eye her inquisitively myself, though.
“I’m good friends with Leila, her partner,” Mac says.
Alan looks at me with genuine devastation in his glance, as though he stayed friends with the wrong person after Mac and I broke up.
“She’s my ex, actually,” Mac continues.
“Isabel Adler’s partner is your ex.” Alan brings the back of his hand to his forehead, as though he might faint.
“Yeah, I can see that,” Charles mumbles, gently nodding.
Can he? I’ve never been able to imagine Mac with anyone else. In fact, it’s always been my greatest fear that I’d run into her on the arm of some gorgeous woman—no matter what kind of a hypocrite that would make me. Because I’m the one forever responsible for breaking us up. Although my guilt would be greatly alleviated if Mac were happily married, with the bunch of kids she always wanted—but still. But she must have had her fair share of lovers, of women adoring her—and not breaking her heart the way I did.
I tune back into the conversation just as Alan asks, “Forgive my indiscretion, darling.” He looks Mac straight in the eye and his voice is firm and solemn, like he’s taking Mac’s confession and she has no choice but to answer him. Alan’s specialty is extracting secrets from another person. “But why did things not work out between you and Leila Zadeh?”
Mac scoffs, or is that a giggle? “Let’s just say I’ve had some issues with trusting people in my life.”
That even shuts Alan up for a few moments. But thankfully not for too long. “It probably wasn’t meant to be,” he muses. “Because Leila was meant to be with Isabel.”
“Why are you single?” Mac takes me completely by surprise with her question.
“Hm.” I look into her eyes. Even though what she just said was an obvious—and deserved—dig at me, her face is kind and welcoming. “I haven’t always been single. I’m just more of a serial monogamist, I guess,” I blurt out.
“You most certainly are,” she says. “Minus the monogamy.”
“Zing!” Alan interjects, and I’m glad he does, because I don’t know what to say to that. “Good one, Mac, darling, but, um, this is all water under the bridge now, isn’t it?” He arches up his eyebrows. “Twenty years’ worth of water.”
“Of course,” Mac says, nodding. “I’m sorry.” She briefly touches her hand to my shoulder, startling me again. “I shouldn’t have said that. Alan’s right. It is water under the bridge.”
“Please, Mac, don’t apologize.” I can only hope the smile I send her hides my guilt. I’ve had to let go to move on, but I’ve never had the chance to properly apologize to Mac. At the time, she didn’t want my apologies—what could she do with some futile words, anyway? Then our worlds drifted farther and farther apart as the years went on. Now here we are, two decades later. “Don’t ever apologize to me,” I say.
<<End of preview>>
Still the One will be available on Wednesday 14 June 2023