More Than This

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To Shorty—
Dream big
I’ve believed in this book for a long time, but I’ve had a lot of help getting it
here. First, all of my friends at Chicago-North RWA helped me become a better writer.
They are brilliant women, and I’ve learned so much from them. Next, I need to thank
my critique partner, Paly Kari, who always tells me when a character is doing something
stupid and who will help me plot because I hate it. My agent, Fran Black, loved my
story enough to take me on as a client and helped me improve it before going out on
submission. And finally, to my editor, Peter Senftleben, a huge thank you for helping
me make this the best story possible. Your notes and suggestions were dead-on, and
not once did you make me cringe over revisions.
nly girls’ night out could save this craptastic day, a heck of a way to spend her
thirty-first birthday. Quinn pushed through the door to O’Leary’s Pub and allowed
the surrounding dark wood to soothe her. She needed to banish the images of the glazed
expressions of her colleagues at the end of the workshop she’d presented. A night
with the girls would lighten her mood. But Quinn was early and the others hadn’t yet
Customers’ chatter washed over her, relaxing her, as she moved through the crowd.
The noise offered welcomed anonymity.
She’d spent months preparing for the presentation, but being exhausted from her ex-husband’s
late-night visit hadn’t helped her enthusiasm. Nick was still messing up her life.
Two minutes into the workshop, she realized she would’ve been better off spending
the time in the classroom with her hormonal students.
Her gaze scanned the room to find a source of comfort: Ryan O’Leary. Behind the bar,
his lithe body slid past the other bartender. Perpetually mussed black hair swung
across his forehead, barely concealing the dark slashes of eyebrows. Ryan reached
out to grab an empty mug. He joked with patrons while he pulled the beer. His sleeves
were pushed up, revealing toned, muscular forearms, the kind any woman would want
circling her body.
Ryan was a living stereotype: the overly friendly bartender who joked too much and
listened to any tale of woe a person told.
The thing was, she liked him anyway.
Using the brass rail below the bar, she boosted herself onto a stool.
The other bartender, who looked enough like Ryan that they had to be brothers, headed
in her direction. Quinn saw Ryan tap his shoulder and overheard him say, “I got this.”
A moment later, Ryan appeared in front of her. His intense blue eyes crinkled with
his smile, putting her at ease.
It was also the same grin he threw at every female in a fifty-foot radius. But she
enjoyed it, even if it wasn’t just for her.
He placed a napkin in front of her and asked, “How’s my favorite English teacher today?”
Something about the way he asked made her answer honestly. Even in the middle of serving
drinks, her response seemed to matter. She sighed. “I’ve been better. How are you?”
“Busy, which is good. Teenagers giving you a hard time?”
“No, it’s always the adults who are the problem. Give me a roomful of teens over adults
any day.” She understood how to talk to the kids, and it didn’t matter if they liked
her as a person.
“What can I get you to make your day better?”
“Frozen strawberry margarita.” Misery over her failed lecture swamped her. She began
to think not even Ryan’s warm smile would break her funk. She’d been counting on the
success of the presentation to give her a boost with Principal Carlson to get the
Honors English position next year. Dwelling over Nick’s news made her day worse. Of
all people to be blessed with a baby! He didn’t even want to be a parent.
Someday she’d celebrate pregnancy. Unlike Nick.
Someday had become her mantra for years. Someday had already taken too long. She had
no baby, no husband, and she hadn’t fought for a job she really wanted.
God, I’m such a wimp.
She wasn’t going to wait for someday anymore. Thoughts of babies took over her brain.
Ryan returned with her drink. Over his shoulder she caught sight of a cow with an
sign hanging from its neck and a photo of a burning building stood behind it, an
image from the Great Chicago Fire. She’d never noticed it before.
The question startled her. She hadn’t realized Ryan was still there, watching her.
“Nothing. I love the cow. Are you related to the infamous Mrs. O’Leary?”
He chuckled. “No, both my parents are off-the-boat Irish. My dad thought it was funny
to let people think that.”
Quinn looked over her shoulder toward the door.
“Waiting for someone, or did you just come in to see me?” Ryan teased.
She turned back to him. Her toes curled painfully in her too-tight navy pumps. How
this man managed to put her at ease one minute and make her feel nervous the next
baffled her. “I’m meeting my sister and our friend.”
“It’s good to see you here on a day other than a Friday. I was beginning to think
you only came in because the other teachers made you.”
It wasn’t far from the truth. A friend from school had convinced her to at least put
in the effort to socialize with colleagues. It wasn’t that she didn’t like the other
teachers or didn’t want to be friendly; she didn’t know what to do with herself in
social situations. Her sister, Indy, had inherited Quinn’s share of the social butterfly
Strangely, over the past eight months, O’Leary’s had become a comfortable place for
her. She appreciated the friendly atmosphere. Ryan’s flirting made it enjoyable. “I
like it here. Your bar makes people want to hang out. And guys don’t crawl all over
women trying to get their attention.”
He leaned closer and she caught a whiff of his cologne, woodsy with a hint of spice—or
maybe it was just him—and she almost moved in to sniff. She had expected him to smell
like alcohol, but he didn’t. He’d never been so near before, and the scent distracted
her. She recovered in time to hear him add, “If you ditched the stuffy suit, more
of these guys would hit on you.”
Heat crawled up her neck. “What’s wrong with my suit?”
The navy pleated skirt and matching blazer was her best business suit. Granted, she
only wore it for presentations or parent–teacher conferences, but it was the most
professional-looking one she had.
“It’s not sexy.”
She shook her head.
First, the man sucks me in with a gorgeous smile and great smell; then he insults
“I’m not looking to get picked up.”
“Sure you are. Everyone is.”
She sipped her drink to cool her throat. Self-consciousness made her straighten her
pleats. His gaze bore into her, but she couldn’t meet his eyes. “Thanks, but no thanks.
My ex worked in a bar, and I swore I’d never make that mistake again.”
“One ex-boyfriend screws up, so every man in a bar has to pay?” He looked at her skeptically,
as if her point was ridiculous.
She’d learned plenty from her three years of marriage to Nick. As a bartender, he’d
spent his nights surrounded by flirtatious women. Nick would tell her, “Hard to ignore
women throwing themselves at you.” Like most men, he didn’t know how to stop at flirting.
“Ex-husband,” she shot back, realizing her tone implied his critical look earlier
had been dead-on. “Most guys who are looking for a woman in a bar are not serious
about anything. There might be a few who are nice guys, but I’m willing to risk missing
out on those to save myself the grief of dealing with all the rest.”
He stepped back and leaned against the register. “Don’t you ever wonder if you’re
missing out on Mr. Right by shutting down a proven method for meeting people?”
“Who says I’m looking for Mr. Right?”
He tilted his head and raised his eyebrows in disbelief. Okay, he had her there. She
was always hoping for Mr. Right. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to be looking for her.
“I don’t think a guy picking up women in a bar is looking for a woman like me.”
His grin was slow and slick and spread smoothly across his face. “Think you’re that
Despite the embarrassment gnawing at her—she was not a braggart—she flashed him a
grin of her own. She briefly tried to remember her reasons for not spending more time
talking with him. “I know I am.”
“You know, I like you. Can I buy you dinner?”
She felt a blush heat her cheeks, and she fought ducking her head to hide it. “I told
you I’m meeting friends.”
He looked at the ceiling and tightened his lips before speaking again. “I didn’t mean
now. I meant some other time, at some other place.”
“I don’t think so,” she said quickly; then she saw Kate winding through the crowd.
“My friend’s here. I’ll see you later.”
She eased off the stool and signaled to Kate. She couldn’t believe Ryan had actually
asked her out. He flirted with just about every woman he saw. She wondered how many
he asked out on an average night.
She and Kate gravitated to a semicircular, high-backed booth. Kate looked as tired
as Quinn felt. Did Kate ever sleep? Having three small kids had taken its toll on
Kate’s once-elegant appearance. But even in old jeans and a sweatshirt, Kate exuded
a confidence Quinn didn’t possess.
“Thanks for driving in. I appreciate it. I wasn’t sure what time I’d get out of my
meeting and I really needed a girls’ night tonight.”
“Of course I’d drive in,” Kate said while pulling her into a quick hug. “Happy birthday.
I don’t think I’ve ever been here before. It’s a nice change. Part of me misses coming
this far into the city.”
“I like it.”
“Hi, guys,” Indy said as she reached the booth. “I haven’t been here in forever.”
“You’re on time. That’s a first.” Quinn slid toward the center, placing herself between
her sister and Kate.
“Happy birthday, cranky-pants.” As Indy sat, the waitress arrived to take their drink
order. “I was in the area showing a house. You couldn’t have picked a better spot.”
As they placed their order, Quinn scanned Indy’s appearance. Everything chic, from
suit to hair and makeup. After her assessment, she asked Indy, “Know what I was just
thinking about?”
Indy shook her head and waited.
“My Someday List.”
Indy’s nose crinkled and her coral-colored lips spread into a wide smile. “Really?
You still have it?”
“No, but I was thinking about what a failure it was.”
Kate interrupted, “What’s a Someday List?”
Quinn answered, “It’s a list Indy and I started as kids of the things we wanted to
do someday, when we were older and could do whatever we wanted.”
“Like what?”
“I don’t remember everything. Most of it was typical stuff. Go to Europe, fall in
love, get married, buy a house, have kids.” The last thought sank in her stomach.
Indy laughed. “I remember thinking your list was boring. I had things like skydiving,
snorkeling, and having sex in public on my list.”
“You’ve accomplished all that and then some, haven’t you?” Quinn said, both admiring
and envying Indy’s adventurous attitude.
“You know it.” Indy took a long sip of her drink. “What made you think of the Someday
Quinn sighed. “Nick came by last night.”
“Looking for a birthday bang, huh? Was he worth it?”
Kate quickly touched her hand. “Please say you’re not thinking of getting back together
with him.”
“God, no.”
“Uh-oh. Vulture at eleven o’clock.”
Kate’s warning had Quinn and Indy looking up, but the height of the booth blocked
the view.
“At least he’s cute. Rock, paper, scissors?”
Quinn groaned. She always lost this childhood game. “Can’t we flip a coin?”
Indy responded with, “One, two, three, shoot.”
True to form, Quinn lost. Damn. She hated to be the one to turn a guy down. Her toes
tapped inside her pumps as anxiety itched at her. She stared at her hands and practiced
her response silently.
“Hi, ladies. Enjoying your evening?”
Without looking up, Quinn began, “Sorry. We’re not . . .”
Her eyes wandered up the length of faded jeans and a well-worn rugby shirt, and found
his gaze already locked on her. Relief swallowed the anxiety as she smiled up at Ryan.
“Oh, hi, it’s you.”
“Hi.” The killer grin bore into her.
Her hands twisted in her lap while she tried to figure out if he’d overheard their
“Colin?” Indy asked as she studied his face.
Ryan’s shoulders stiffened. “No, Ryan.”
“Oh my God. It is you.” She placed a flat palm on her chest. “Indy. I worked here
about eight years ago.”
His brow crinkled as he focused on Indy’s face. “Yeah, I remember now. You used to
sing while you worked.”
“It’s been too long. How’s your dad? I’d love to see him.” Indy’s voice rose in excitement.
Just when I thought my day couldn’t get worse.
Indy bounced from the booth and wrapped her arms around Ryan in a quick hug, peppering
him with questions Quinn could no longer hear. Her heart pounded in her ears. Her
stomach plummeted.
Not Ryan. He was hers.
Well, not hers, hers, but this was her place. This was where she came to drink. Her
friendship with Ryan, however slight, was hers, not something Indy had handed her.
Quinn’s chest tightened and her nails dug into her palms. In one swoop, Indy would
take him from her. She could never compete with her sister. His flirtations, however
ridiculous, would stop.

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