Ask me again, p.1
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       Ask Me Again, p.1

           Gina L. Maxwell
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Ask Me Again


  Table of Contents

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  EPILOGUE

  Acknowledgments

  Seducing Cinderella Excerpt

  About the Author

  ASK ME AGAIN

  Gina L. Maxwell

  Copyright © 2015 by Gina L. Maxwell.

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means.

  Content and Line Editing: Kristin Anders, www.TheRomanticEditor.com

  Formatting and Cover Design: Sweet 'N Spicy Designs

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

  The friend zone has never felt so hot.

  When Trish Howell's boyfriend of ten years dumps her unexpectedly, she heads back to her hometown for the summer to pick up the pieces of her broken life. Now she's at the center of the dreaded gossip mill, missing the city, and bartending at the local Irish pub so she can make enough money to put small town life in her rearview mirror once and for all.

  The last thing Tony DiAngelo expects to see when he walks into Paddy's, is the girl he’d crushed on since they were kids. She may have friend-zoned him back then, but he isn’t the scrawny, timid guy from high school anymore, and he’ll be damned if he doesn’t take his shot with her, even if it means agreeing to her temporary friends-with-benefits proposal.

  As the days go from sunny to scorching, so do things between Trish and Tony, and the hotter things get, the harder they fall. But staying was never part of her plan and when Tony makes a proposal of his own, Trish's feelings are too complicated for a one-word answer.

  Now she has to decide whether she can trust her heart enough to trade her big city life for the small town love she never saw coming.

  Dedication

  To my baby sister, Tricia, whose own love story was the basis for this book.

  Thank you for your unconditional support, friendship, and love.

  (And for giving me artistic license to radically change some things for the good of the story.)

  I wish you and TJ a lifetime of love and happiness, Shorty.

  Love you more than double fudge chocolate ice cream with dark chocolate shavings...

  ~ Me ~

  Also to my amazing friend, KP, without whom this book would not make a lick of sense.

  CHAPTER ONE

  THREE THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED and twenty-six.

  That’s how many days of her life Trish Howell wasted with a man who broke up with her because he decided it was “for her own good.” She still couldn’t believe that after more than nine years of planning their lives together—marriage, children, big house away from the city where they’d host barbeques for their city-dwelling friends—Nick had ended it all in a single conversation.

  It wasn’t as if their demise had been obvious with little disagreements escalating into bigger arguments. If they’d been fighting maybe it wouldn’t have felt like, after a decade of building a life together, he suddenly hit her over the head with a damn two-by-four.

  As it happened, he’d kissed her in the morning before she headed off to her small yet thriving aesthetician business. After a long day at work, they’d enjoyed a nice dinner together then settled in to watch their favorite shows. But Nick must not have been in the mood for How I Met Your Mother that night, because instead of turning on the TV, he turned off their relationship.

  No brief satellite interruptions, no blue screen while the system rebooted for another try, no customer service number to call for technical support.

  Just…off.

  Now Trish’s once-successful life consisted of shacking up with her older sister Rhianna, her husband, and their two teenage kids in the dinky town she grew up in, while working as a waitress/bartender at Paddy’s, the local Irish pub. Insult, meet Injury.

  Trish pulled the lever for the Guinness on tap and watched the dark liquid fill the glass in a daze. That’s how she’d moved through the world for the last two weeks since leaving her life behind in New York City. She only had two settings: dazed in public, and broken in private.

  Picking up her tray of drinks, she walked around the end of the bar and wound her way through the tables filled with Friday night customers to get to the six-top in the back corner. She dropped off their drinks and checked on her other tables before stopping at a four-top that had just swapped inhabitants.

  “Evening, everyone,” she said, pulling out her notepad. “Can I start by getting you some drinks while you look over the menu?”

  “Oh my goodness, is that little Trish Howell?”

  Trish looked up in the direction of the feminine voice and barely stopped herself from wincing. “Hi, Mrs. Madsen, how are you?” Mrs. Madsen was a friend of the family. The kind who had chats with Trish’s mom after church, and once a year their families got together for a barbeque and pool party.

  “Your mom told me about what happened with you and Nick, you poor thing, but I didn’t know you were moving back home.” Then to the three other ladies at the table Mrs. Madsen clarified, “She would have told me, but we haven’t had time to talk at church the last couple of weeks.” Mrs. Madsen turned her curious gaze back to Trish. “I bet you’re glad to be back, aren’t you, dear?”

  Trish did her best to lift the corners of her mouth into some semblance of a smile. “Words can’t express how it feels to be back, Mrs. Madsen.” Her crushed dreams and wounded pride said it all.

  “You’re so sweet. Well, wait till I tell Henry you’re home and working here at Paddy’s...”

  Trish tuned out the rest of Mrs. Madsen’s plans for filling her husband in on the town grapevine’s news of the prodigal daughter’s return. She focused on holding her tight smile and nodded every so often to continue the pretense of listening, then made an excuse about waiting customers and promised to be back shortly to take their order.

  She took cover behind the bar where she’d be able to keep herself busy washing glasses and restocking supplies with limited customer interaction for a while. Noticing the garnishes needed refreshing, she grabbed several limes and began slicing them into even sections. Erin, the young owner of the pub and an old high school friend, emerged from the back room and joined Trish.

  “Hey, hon, how you holding up?” Erin shot her a brief concerned look as she grabbed two used glasses, dipped them into the deep sink of hot, soapy water then into the sanitized water before setting them on the drying rack.

  Shrugging a shoulder, Trish said, “I’m fine. Still readjusting to small town life.”

  She kept her focus on dividing the limes perfectly. Unlike how her life had been divided up by her break up with Nick. It’d been like a divorce where he had a high-powered attorney and she a public defender in a cheap suit. Nick got their apartment in Astoria, all of their new furniture—which she’d bought because her credit was better—and all of their friends.

  Then, as if losing all that hadn’t been a big enough kick in the junk, she’d lost her aesthetician business. She’d been so proud of herself, taking the leap to start her own company. She worked hard to grow her clientele and earned a reputation as one of the leading aestheticians in Queens. Clients traveled from other Burroughs and even New Jersey because they preferred her to anyone else.

  But with no apartment, no relationship, and no more friends, Trish moved back to her hometown Podunk, Wisconsin, and that meant she had to sell her business. She deposited the entire amount int
o a new savings account where it would stay until she needed startup stash for her new venture. She loved being a business owner, and wanted to do it again someday.

  Hence, her need for the tiny wages and fluctuating tips of this job to cover the only bill she currently had, her cell phone, and she insisted on paying something to Rhianna for letting her stay with them.

  All she needed now was a clue as to where she should make all that happen.

  * * * * *

  What a shitty day. If there was ever a night Tony DiAngelo needed to have a beer or ten, it was this one. Not only had the day job exhausted him—trying to get middle schoolers to pay attention three weeks before summer break was a teacher's Mission: Impossible—but on his way to coach his soccer team, old Mrs. Danvers t-boned him and messed up the passenger side of his car. After dealing with the headache of talking to the police and his insurance company, he finally arrived at the game only to find his co-ed kindergarteners acting like there was a full moon, officially making his day one big clusterfuck.

  Tony nodded to Jason, his good friend and the ref for the youth soccer games, who was waiting outside for him at their favorite bar in town. The original owners of Paddy’s Pub were old townies who sold it to one of Tony’s friends from school. It was one of those places that everyone frequented on a regular basis. The small size made it cramped as hell sometimes, but no one ever seemed to mind. There were plenty of other great local hangouts in the small town of Fort Atkinson, but none of them matched the atmosphere and good company of Paddy's.

  Pulling open the heavy wooden door, Tony stepped inside and drew in a deep breath of the heavenly aroma of beer and fried cheese curds. He could almost feel the tension of the day start to slip from his shoulders.

  Jason tapped him on the arm to get his attention. "Hey, order me a beer. I’ll grab us a table."

  Finding a rare open seat at the far end of the sturdy counter that ran the length of the room, Tony looked for the closest bartender to help make the end of his night bearable. A brunette with a killer body was working all the way at the other end. Tony’s starved libido woke up and yanked on its short tether. It’d been a long time since he’d been tempted to unleash it, but from what he could see, this girl could tempt him straight to hell and he wouldn’t give a damn.

  Her black leggings left only the color of her skin beneath them to the imagination. They flaunted every delicious curve from hip to calf where her tall black boots took over. Instead of the dark green Paddy’s T-shirt the employees were typically outfitted in, she wore a pink shirt so thin that her black tank underneath showed through and hung off her right shoulder. Lazy dark brown curls swung over her back. Flashes of them raked up by his fingers or maybe wrapped around his hand flooded his mind.

  Christ, if he kept this up, the bar wouldn’t be the only hard wood in front of him. How long had it been since he’d had sex? A year? Too long, obviously. Now he understood why people who were lost in the desert saw visions with pools of cool water. Imaginations were cruel bastards.

  So who the hell was she? Erin must have hired her recently, yet she didn’t act like a new hire, on edge and unsure of herself. She moved easily in the space and mixed drinks instinctively, her hands doing all the work as she talked with the customers.

  "Did you win the big game tonight, Coach?"

  Pulled from his thoughts, Tony turned to his friend and owner of Paddy’s as she placed a Point Beer in front of him. "Hey, Erin. Thanks," he said before taking several long pulls on the longneck. The taste of his favorite beer washed some of the day’s irritations away, and after draining half the bottle, he released a grateful sigh.

  “That bad, huh?" she asked. Erin attended a lot of the games because her niece was on his team, so she knew how things could go from calm to crazy to tears all in a matter of minutes.

  He shrugged. “First half was good, but somewhere in the third quarter, I lost them. A boy from the other team bumped into Jessica so she shoved him into a mud puddle. Then Sophia whispered something to Scottie in the huddle. She giggled, he blushed, and the next thing I know, he’s picking dandelion bouquets instead of protecting the goal.”

  Pausing in her wipe down of the perfectly clean counter, she clutched the damp towel to her chest and went full-on girly. “Oh my God, that’s so cute. He’s a doll, that Scottie.”

  Tony rolled his eyes. “Not cute. With Scottie playing Romeo the whole second half, the Mighty Minnows beat the Shark Bytes 4-1, which is doubly embarrassing because of the names.” He pointed an accusing finger at Erin. “Romance has no place on the battlefield, woman. If I didn’t know better, I’d say Sophia took a bribe to throw the game.”

  “And what sort of bribe does a five-year-old little girl in pigtails take, exactly?”

  “Pudding cups,” he deadpanned. Erin laughed and tossed the rag at him, which he caught before it hit his face. “I’m serious. Have you seen the crazed look she gets in her eyes when the parents bring pudding cups for after a game? It’s not pretty. I think she has a pudding problem.”

  Sliding off the stool, Tony winked and downed the rest of his beer. Joking around with Erin and getting his first alcoholic beverage under his belt had lifted his mood considerably.

  “Pretend all you want, Tony DiAngelo, but everyone knows you’re crazy about those kids.”

  He sighed dramatically. “Yeah. Those pint-sized gremlins own my ass, and they know it. They’ve completely destroyed my tough-guy rep with the ladies.”

  He’d been trying to make a joke, but it fell flat, deflating into a lump at his feet. Erin placed a hand over his and squeezed. “There are worse traits than having a weak spot for kindergarteners, Tony. Personally, I think it’s sexy and heart-melting, and the right woman will think so, too.”

  What was that saying girls had? The good ones are taken and the rest are all gay? Tony wondered if it worked the same way for women. Sometimes it felt like it, especially when one of the good ones—Erin—said things like that. By her reasoning, his ex-fiancée hadn’t been one of the good ones. It had bothered Jennifer that he put so much time and energy into coaching the youth soccer and tee ball teams. She never quite “got” his passion for inspiring and teaching kids a love of sports, and values like teamwork and good sportsmanship, just like his coaches had done for him his whole life.

  When she left him, he’d been devastated, but it didn’t take him long to realize she’d done them both a favor. They weren’t good together. He hadn’t even loved her as much as he should for a woman he planned to spend his life with.

  Leaning over the bar, Tony kissed Erin’s cheek. She was a great friend, and he was glad he decided to go out with Jason tonight instead of heading home to channel surf and settle for leftovers. Tony pulled a few bills from his wallet and handed them to Erin. “I’ll take two Points and then we’ll need another round whenever you get a chance to toss in an order of your famous cheese curds.”

  “You got it. I’ll put the order in now and bring it back in a few.”

  “No rush.” He started to leave, but then turned around at the last second. He had a better idea. “Actually,” he said with a smile, “can you send the new girl back? I’d like to introduce myself and give her a proper welcome to Paddy’s. You know how I hate being rude.”

  Erin’s eyebrows shot up. “The new girl?” Her eyes bounced between him and the girl in question still working the other end of the dimly lit bar. “You mean that new girl?”

  Tony countered with an arched brow of his own and crossed his arms over his chest. He wondered at her hesitation. She’d made “introductions” for him plenty of times, whether he asked her to or not. Erin was a notorious matchmaker, especially with her friends. “I don’t know how many you’ve hired recently, but yes, that one with the amazing ass, is who I’m referring to. Is she dating someone already?”

  “No,” she said carefully. Erin popped the top on a longneck and slid it to a customer a few feet away. Then she did the same thing on two more and set them in front o
f Tony. “She’s actually coming out of a bad breakup, but that’s Tr—”

  “Perfect,” he said, thumping the bar with his hands for emphasis. “She needs a third-party friend to take her out and get her mind off things.”

  “All right, I’ll send her over,” she said with a devious grin. “Good luck, hot shot.”

  “No such thing as luck, Erin. You either got it, or you don’t.” Tony snagged the open beers and started to back away from the counter with a big grin, pointing to his chest. “And I’ve got lots of it.”

  Erin laughed and tossed her final retort over her shoulder as she turned to the register. “Good thing, ‘cause you’re gonna need it.”

  Tony and Jason sat at a small table against the back wall, swapping stories about their students—Jason taught Phys Ed at the middle school—and trying to one-up each other, as usual. About ten minutes later, Tony felt a presence behind his right shoulder. Assuming it was another customer milling around, he didn’t pay any attention until a hand with French manicured nails reached around him to place two bottles of Point on the table.

  New girl. He smirked to himself, wondering how he could’ve forgotten about the brown-haired beauty tasked with bringing him their next round. Anxious to finally see her up close, he turned to look over his shoulder, but all he saw was her left hand spread beneath the round tray she held. He scowled when he realized she couldn’t get to the side of their table because of two guys animatedly sharing a story with their friends at the next table over.

  Tony studied his friend’s face to gauge his interest since he had a clear view of the woman. Oh, he had plenty of interest. Too much. The guy was working his lady-killer smile, and for the first time, Tony had the urge to punch the man in his pretty face. Tony had dibs, damn it. He’d seen her first.

  Shit, maybe he shouldn’t try to impress a woman immediately after being with his kids. Their laws and brand of justice seemed to rub off on him.

 
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