A December LibraryReads Pick
The Renaissance Faire is on the move, and Lulu and Dex are along for the ride, in the next utterly charming rom-com from Jen DeLuca.
A high-powered attorney from a success-oriented family, Louisa "Lulu" Malone lives to work, and everything seems to be going right, until the day she realizes it’s all wrong. Lulu’s cousin Mitch introduced her to the world of Renaissance Faires, and when she spies one at a time just when she needs an escape, she leaps into the welcoming environment of turkey legs, taverns, and tarot readers. The only drawback? Dex MacLean: a guitarist with a killer smile, the Casanova of the Faire… and her traveling companion for the summer.
Dex has never had to work for much in his life, and why should he? Touring with his brothers as The Dueling Kilts is going great, and he always finds a woman at every Faire. But when Lulu proves indifferent to his many plaid charms and a shake-up threatens the fate of the band, Dex must confront something he never has before: his future.
Forced to spend days and nights together on the road, Lulu’s interest in the kilted bad boy grows as he shows her a side of himself no one else has seen. The stresses of her old lifestyle fade away as she learns to trust her intuition and follow her heart instead of her head. But when her time on the road is over, will Lulu go with her gut, or are she and Dex destined for separate paths?
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)|
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Read an Excerpt
My phone rang for the fourth time that morning before I was through the gates of the Renaissance Faire. What was that one song called? "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked"? Ain't no rest for lawyers, either.
All I wanted was a break. A chance to breathe, while I waited in line for my turn to buy a ticket. But that wasn't in the cards for me, so when my phone buzzed from my back pocket I pulled it out, tapped the green button, and jammed it against my ear. "Nothing's changed in the last half hour," I snapped, my blood already close to the boiling point. "No, the transcript won't be ready till Monday. Yes, that's the soonest she can expedite it. No, I can't give you any more information than what's in the goddamn nine-page memo I emailed you at four o'clock this morning. Anything else?"
Silence. Wow. I'd finally stumped the Boston attorney who was the lead on this car accident case. But as the silence stretched on, my heart sank. I hadn't even looked at the caller ID, had I?
"Lulu?" The voice on the other end was elderly, tentative. Fuck.
"Grandma. Hi." I tried through sheer force of will to sink into the ground, all the way to the center of the earth if I could manage it. I cleared my throat hard, took a cleansing breath, and switched from Louisa Malone, Corporate Attorney, to Lulu Malone, Loving Granddaughter. "How's it going?" There. Much better. Much less sweary at the octogenarian.
"I'm fine, dear. I was just a little worried about you. It's been a couple weeks since you've called, and-"
"Oh, sh-crap, Grandma. I'm sorry." I pressed a hand to my forehead. No matter how busy I got, I always called my grandparents at least once a week. They were both in perfect health, but they were also in their eighties, living by themselves in the big old family house where they'd raised their kids. That house had a very long staircase and lots of hallways. Lots of places to fall. Nobody else in the Malone family seemed overly concerned about them, but I was. So I called. Every week, until now. Damn, I definitely needed a break.
"I'm sorry," I said again, but she was already on to other topics.
"Where are you?"
Such a good question. I was currently sandwiched between a woman in an enormous green-and-gold brocade gown and a man in a The Lord of the Rings-esque cloak with a sword strapped to his hip. So I settled for the easier answer. "North Carolina. Just for the weekend. We have this big product liability case. Someone was in a car crash, and they're suing the tire company. They sent me down here to take a deposition of one of the witnesses." It was a total waste of time, but I didn't tell her that. Besides, if I wanted to make partner, this was what I did. I took the bullshit assignments, and I did my best to be indispensable.
"Doesn't sound like you're in an office, though," Grandma said. "I hear music." She wasn't wrong; the sound of bagpipes floated on the breeze, and somewhere from inside the Faire a drum sounded like a distant heartbeat.
"That's because I'm not." I seized on the topic change eagerly as I took a few steps forward in line. Almost my turn now, so while I talked I dug in my bag for my wallet. "I'm at a Renaissance Faire. Like the one Mitch does. Remember? We went to see him last summer."
"Of course I remember. That was so much fun." Grandma sighed happily, and my heart swelled. I'd gone with Grandma and Grandpa up from their home in rural Virginia to small-town Maryland, where my cousin Mitch participated in a Renaissance Faire every summer. He wore a kilt, spoke with an exaggerated accent, and swung a sword around like an overgrown child having the time of his life. Grandma was a cheerful person to begin with, but the glee on her face while she watched her muscled grandson perform had been next level.
Sure enough . . . "Are there lots of kilts there?" she asked. "You know how I like those."
"Please tell me you're not thinking about your grandson in a kilt, Grandma. That's just weird."
She snorted. "Of course not. What's the matter with you, Louisa?"
"So many things." I dutifully looked around while her chuckle floated through the phone.
"You should see if those kilt boys are playing."
Ah. That's what she was thinking of: a musical group that we'd seen last summer. They had a name, but hell if I could remember it. The only thing I remembered was the way Grandma had waited in her seat for them like an elderly groupie. And the way they'd come right over to talk to her after the show, even doing a little flirting, making her blush right in front of my super-tolerant grandpa.
"I'm not sure if they're at this Faire, Grandma, but I'll keep an eye out." It was my turn at the ticket booth, and I wedged the phone between my ear and my shoulder while I handed over my money, mouthing a thank you. I hated being That Person-the one who wouldn't get the hell off the phone when it was their turn in line-but I'd fielded enough phone calls from work while in line for coffee that I was a master at it. Besides, no way was I hanging up on my grandmother.
"See that you do." She was silent for a moment, long enough that I paused before walking through the front gate, stepping aside to let the crowd move on ahead without me. I looked at my phone-had the call dropped?
"Grandma? Everything okay?"
"Oh, I'm fine," she finally said. "I'm just glad you're taking a day off. You work too much."
That brought me up short. The Malones were a success-driven family, at least as far as my parents and their siblings were concerned. There'd always been a sense of competition between them, wanting their kids to be as successful as possible. In my mother's perfect world, for example, I would have accomplished the following by now: (1) partnership at the firm, (2) marriage, and (3) children. So far I was a failure on all three counts, and therefore a failure in her eyes and needed to work harder at achieving my (i.e., her) goals.
But those four words from Grandma, you work too much, made unexpected tears spring to my eyes. Because she was right. And she was the only one who noticed.
"That's okay," I said. The cheer in my voice sounded false as I blinked back those unwelcome tears. "If I want to make partner, this is what I do, right?"
"Hmm." Grandma sounded doubtful, and she wasn't wrong. I'd been "a year away from making partner" at Stone, Prince, Rogers & Dunbrowski for, oh, the past five years now. And every year something came up. Another associate-usually a man who joined the firm after I had-vaulted ahead of me into the available slot, getting that corner office and prime parking space, while I got a pat on the head and a "maybe next year." The glass ceiling in the firm had been broken only once, as far as I could tell: by Imogen Dunbrowski, one of the founding partners. I'd worked on exactly one project for her when I first got to the firm, and she'd never asked for me again, so that's how well that went. Rumor was she ate law clerks for breakfast. I had yet to break through my own personal glass ceiling, and at this point I wasn't sure what it would take.
But that wasn't my concern today. And my grandmother wanted to make sure I remembered that. "Go have some fun," she said. "Drink some wine, look at some kilts. That's what I'd do."
"Don't I know it." We hung up, and as I fumbled my phone into the back pocket of my jeans and my wallet back into my bag, I spied the brochure I'd found in my hotel room last night, next to the room service menu. Spend a day in the past! it said in bright, eye-catching yellow. The large photo in the middle depicted two knights on horseback charging toward each other, lances trained on their opponent. The audience was out of focus in the background, but I could still make out their waving hands and wide smiles.
When was the last time I'd smiled like that?
When I came across that brochure last night, I'd remembered the sunshine at the Willow Creek Faire. The music and the laughter. Everything inside of me had ached with memory, so this morning instead of ordering a room service breakfast and opening my laptop, I'd jumped in my rental car and come here.
But now that I'd arrived, it wasn't what I'd expected. I'd been looking for the coziness of a wooded setting, a feeling of getting lost in the trees. This place was . . . not that. It was a settlement hidden behind large gates, with buildings that lined wide gravel streets-it made the small Faire in Willow Creek look like a fly-by-night operation. I felt anonymous here: the medieval equivalent of being a nobody in the middle of Times Square.
I'd been handed a map at the entrance, and I checked it now as I walked, doing my best to dodge other people on the path. The late-May morning was warm and I already regretted the jeans I had on, but I hadn't planned for a day out in the sun when I'd packed for my out-of-town trip. It was either this or the gray pantsuit I'd worn for twelve hours yesterday. At least my silk tank was weather appropriate, and the purple matched my weekend Converse sneakers. Green probably would have looked better against my strawberry-blond hair, but I liked purple better. Sue me.
I let out a little "aha!" as I found what I was looking for on the map. The Dueling Kilts-those were Grandma's kilt boys. First show at eleven fifteen. I got lost once on the way, so the show had started by the time I got there. They attracted a good-size crowd and most of the benches in the audience were full, so I lingered in the back.
Now that I was here, the full memory of this band came flooding back. There were three of them, playing folk standards and drinking songs-your typical Renaissance Faire playlist-on an acoustic guitar, a fiddle, and a hand drum. I pulled out my phone-ignoring the texts that had piled up during the ten minutes it had been in my pocket-and started snapping photos to send to Grandma later. I still felt guilty about forgetting to call her, and pictures of hot men should do the trick.
"Get any good ones?" While I hadn't been looking, a costumed woman had sidled up next to me. She was short and round, with long blond hair and a sunny smile. Her off-the-shoulder dress was the color of a blazing sunset, worn under a brown-and-green bodice that turned her body into soft curves everywhere. Over that her brown skirt was hiked up on the sides, setting off that sunset-colored dress.
Something about her tickled the back of my brain. She looked familiar, but I couldn't place it. Who would I know around here anyway?
"I don't know." I looked at my phone, but the sun glared off the screen and I could barely see the pictures I'd taken. "Just taking some shots for my grandmother. She has a thing for kilts."
"What is it with grandmothers and kilts?" Her smile widened as she shook her head. "My friend's grandma is the same way. She came to see us at my old hometown Faire, up in Maryland. This small town called Willow Creek. Anyway, she was-"
"Willow Creek?" I cut her off as my heart skipped a beat and pieces clicked into place. Blond hair, big smile. Hanging out with the musical group I'd just been taking pictures of . . . Now I knew her. "You don't mean Mitch's grandmother, do you?"
Her brown eyes flew wide. "You know Mitch?"
"Yeah. I . . . uh, I think we may be talking about the same grandmother."
"Wait. Yes!" Now her eyes lit up with recognition. "I remember you! You're Mitch's cousin, right? Um . . . Lolo?"
"Lulu," I corrected. Who the hell would name their kid Lolo? "Louisa, actually. Mitch couldn't say my name right as a kid, so he called me Lulu instead. It kind of stuck."
She laughed. "That sounds like Mitch. He has a nickname for everyone."
"Always has." My smile widened to match hers. It felt so comfortable, so right, to be talking about my cousin in a place like this. "I'm sorry, I forgot your name."
"Stacey." She offered me her hand and I clasped it. "It's so great to see you again! And how random that you're here. Do you live around here?"
I shook my head. "I'm here for work." And right on cue, my phone buzzed in my hand. Probably another text. "See?" I waved it in illustration. It didn't stop buzzing, though, so this was an actual phone call. "Ah, crap. I should probably take this." I pointed away from the stage, back toward the main part of the Faire.
Stacey waved me on. "Go ahead, don't let me interrupt! Do you want to grab a drink or something when you're done?"
"I'd love that." I glanced at the screen, which flashed a Boston area code. Someone from national counsel's office. Great. "This should just take a second." I answered the call as I walked toward the relative quiet of the main thoroughfare teeming with people. Yeah, there was no quiet at a place like this.
But I heard Jacob Arnold's voice loud and clear. "How are you coming on that summary?"
"Oh. Hi, Jake." He never used a nickname, so I gave him one anyway. I was more like my cousin than I thought. "Working on a Saturday, huh?"
"Always am." His clipped voice brought our small talk to an abrupt end. "And so should you. Didn't you say you were up for partner?"
"Perpetually." I kept my voice pleasant while I bit back a sigh. "What do you need?"
"I need that summary."
That didn't take long. All those good feelings I'd had while talking to Stacey were gone. Crushed like a peasant uprising. Tension gripped the back of my neck. "Like I said in the email I sent at four this morning, the transcript won't be available till Monday, so there's nothing I can do now. Unless you'd like me to go stand over the court reporter's shoulder while she works on it." I shouldn't have said that. He'd think it was an option.