That Secret Crush by Meghan Quinn
Release Date: February 11, 2020
Genre: Contemporary Romance
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What happens when your secret crush isn’t so secret anymore? I’ve had feelings for Eve Roberts for as long as I can remember, but because she also happens to be the twin sister of my best friend, Eric, I’ve never acted on my feelings and long ago resigned myself to keeping my crush under wraps. But after a terrible falling-out with Eric involving a failed restaurant venture and plenty of blame on both sides, I’m back in Port Snow without my best friend and without any direction. But can you guess who’s here? Eve. And my attraction to her is as strong as ever. As old feelings rush back, Eve and I find ourselves pulled together, whether we like it or not. Lines are crossed, secrets are kept, and we soon discover that the difference between love and friendship may not be so black and white, after all. Everyone wants that secret crush to love them back…but will I be ready when she does?
What the fuck was that?
Did I just experience real-life witchcraft? Whatever it was, I’m pretty sure Neptune and Uranus collided in space, because that shit was crazy.
Stunned and nervously laughing at each other, my brothers and I hurry to a more populated part of the city. We’re soon threading our way through crowded cobblestone Bourbon Street toward a partially broken neon sign advertising huge pretzels.
“She was scary as shit,” Brig whispers into my ear, reaching for my hand. I swat the idiot away.
Out of all my brothers, Brig is by far the most sensitive, but holding hands—come on, dude, self-respect.
Although I can’t blame him for quivering in his jeans.
It might be all the alcohol I consumed, but damn . . . I’m feeling a little uneasy and a whole lot terrified.
Why, you ask?
Because I’m pretty sure an old crone who surfaced from Satan’s lair just cast some weird-as-shit curse on us. She pointed a crooked finger and laid it all out: we’ll have nothing but broken love for life.
And before you scoff at such a blasphemous occurrence, you have to know this: There was fucking wind whipping us in the nuts as she spoke. And on this still, muggy New Orleans night, where the fuck did that wind come from? There were no fans in sight, and there was zero traffic down the narrow cobblestone side road.
Confused? Okay, here are the Cliff Notes.
Baby Brig turned twenty-one, and the four of us Knightly brothers very intelligently chose New Orleans as the place to celebrate because we didn’t want to be cliché and go to Vegas—although I’m kind of wishing we had right about now. We were in the middle of having a great alcohol-fueled night on the town. But, not paying any attention to where our wobbly legs were taking us, we ran into some old palm reader’s table, and Brig’s fat ass broke it. To make up for the destruction, Brig paid her to read his fortune.
Well, she did a shit job.
Oooh . . . you have brothers. They’re going to get you into trouble one day—thanks, lady, tell us something we don’t know.
Her prediction was a load of crock, and because of that, we might have, you know, vocalized our intoxicated opinion on her subpar storytelling. That’s when the crazy shit went down.
Not taking a liking to our constructive criticism, the old bat started flinging her cloak-draped arms around while her evil eyes turned a shade of petrifying yellow, and a huge mole grew on her nose out of nowhere. Pop! Just like that, the mole . . . with accompanying thick black hair.
Okay, maybe the mole isn’t true, and her eyes didn’t change color, but she did wave her arms around, and she said some pretty traumatizing shit. Things like Your dicks are going to fall off and You’ll forever have sensitive nipples.
Hmm . . . that doesn’t seem right.
Did she say that?
Confused, I break the silence hanging over all of us. “Did she say our dicks were going to fall off?”
Panic rises in Brig’s voice. “Shit, did she? Did I miss that part?” He grabs his crotch with both hands as he continues to walk. “I can’t afford to have my dick drop dead.”
“As if we can?” Rogan, the group pessimist, says, ducking around a rowdy bachelorette party. “Pretty sure we all need our dicks, dude.”
Griffin, the oldest and most sensible despite his alcohol intake tonight, speaks up. “There was no mention of dicks falling off. She just said we’ll be cursed with broken love.”
“Okay, so broken dicks,” I clarify.
“Like, I’ll never be able to get it up again?” Brig steps in front of all of us. “Quick, take me to a strip club. I need to make sure that’s not what she meant.”
“She didn’t mean that, you idiot.” Rogan wraps his arm around Brig’s neck and continues down the street, giant pretzels in sight.
“That lady was a fucking whack job. Clearly she has some kind of mental health issue. It’s best if we just forget about everything and move on,” Griffin says.
Sage advice from the brightest out of all of us.
And even though I’m not as freaked out as Brig—I mean, I’m not clutching my dick and praying to the good Lord right now—I have to admit whatever happened back in that alley didn’t seem entirely kosher.
What did she say again? Something about having broken love, and it won’t be until our minds have matured that the curse will be cured? What the hell does that even mean? Not that I’m looking for love, not when my restaurant is my life right now, but it would be nice to know that I still have the option.
When my best friend, Eric, and I were getting through culinary school, pretty much every instructor told us that we weren’t going to have any time for relationships. The only love of our lives would be our knives.
That’s turned out to be true. Betty, Beverly, and Barbie are my girls. Every night we have a foursome, and weirdly, they’re the best I’ve ever had. They enjoy my hands, and I enjoy their cutting edge—fuck, I’m hilarious.
So even though that lady was weird, I don’t think I have anything to worry about.
Yeah, okay, you old crone. Go tickle someone else with your mole hair—we’re not interested.
Together, we step inside the crowded, noisy pretzel bar and take a seat before putting in our order. Brig sits next to me, bouncing his knee and scanning the restaurant, its garage doors tucked up into the ceiling, used for closing time only. Everything about this place—selling giant pretzels in the heart of the French Quarter for all the drunk tourists—is genius. Despite the sticky bar top, peeling walls, and dirt-encrusted floors that probably haven’t seen a mop in a few years, there’s no doubt in my mind that it makes a killing . . . on just pretzels. Brig leans in and whispers, “I think she followed us; I can feel her here, staring at me.”
“Dude, you’re fucking paranoid right now. Chill, man.”
“Did you not hear her?” Brig seethes with worry. “She said we would never have dicks again.”
I drag my hand over my face. We are way too drunk to be dealing with something like this. “She said we would have broken love. Your dick is fine.”
“That’s what you think? Have you looked at yours yet? What if she turned them green or something? And broken love . . . that’s even worse. You know my goal in life is to be a husband. How can that happen if I’m cursed with broken love?”
Luckily, at that moment, my phone vibrates in my pocket. I reach for it and see Eric’s name flash across the screen. He knows I’m in New Orleans celebrating Brig’s birthday, so this must be important.
I hold up the phone to my sweating, hysterical brother. “Have to take this. Talk to Griff—he’ll hold your hand.”
“Really? You think so?”
I don’t bother to reply and take off toward the hallway that leads to the employee entrance at the back of the bar, trying to gain a little bit of privacy and to get away from the loud, pounding music.
Straight from culinary school—and after working multiple jobs and saving every last penny we ever earned—Eric and I were able to scrape enough money together to start our own restaurant in Boston, which we named Bar 79 after Harbor 79, our favorite place to fish in our hometown, Port Snow.
After six months of tireless menu prep, designing the space, and marketing the hell out of our New England–inspired cuisine with a twist, we opened our doors. And we’re only three months in, but we’re killing it so far. The food blogs love us, and three major articles have been written about our impeccable flavoring and our incredibly close bond.
I accept the call and bring the phone up to my ear. “Hey, man, what’s up?”
“Hey, I know you’re out with your brothers, but I, uh . . . I have a problem.”
“What’s going on? Is it the restaurant, or is it something with Janelle?” Eric has been dating our business manager for the past three months, ever since we opened. I told him it was risky and maybe not the smartest idea he’s ever had, but he was gung ho on making a move, and there was nothing I could say or do to stop him.
“Uh . . . yeah.”
Still drunk, but not so much that I can’t help out with any restaurant issue, I lean against the wall. “Walk me through it.”
Eric has always been the big picture guy, the dreamer, the extravagant one, while I’m more grounded and work out the fine details. So when he calls with a problem, I’m usually pretty confident in my ability to help him work through whatever it is.
“Uh . . .” His voice shakes, a crack in his usually even-keeled persona. Cue the worry. This can’t be good. “Did you recently ask Janelle to make a transfer?”
Janelle has been handling our business for the past five months, ever since Eric confronted me about not being able to juggle everything as we were gearing up for the opening. I was dropping the ball on multiple responsibilities, like managing our funds, paying vendors, and getting all our orders in on time while still trying to cook and develop the menu, so he found Janelle and brought her into the mix to help manage everything. With her MBA and businesslike confidence, she was doing a good job, I thought—well, until this very moment.
“A transfer of funds?”
“No. Why? Did she?”
“Okay, so what’s the problem?”
“She, uh . . . she kind of transferred all the funds.”
I press my hand to my forehead, wishing I wasn’t drunk right now. “Dude, spell it out for me, okay? I’ve been drinking all damn day, I just got my dick turned green, and I’m hungry for a pretzel. What the hell is going on?”
“She took it all, Reid. She fucking took it all.”
“Took what? Our money?” That can’t be right.
“Yeah. Took every last penny and just disappeared.”
“Wait. What?” I pinch the bridge of my nose, trying to comprehend what Eric is telling me. “She took all of our money? Where did she go?”
“No fucking idea.”
“So . . . we don’t have any money in the joint account?” I think back to how much was in there. After all our expenses and the cost of the opening, we were at about twenty grand, I think. Okay, don’t panic.
“No, man. She took it all, out of all of the accounts.”
My heart seizes in my chest as my breath comes out in gasps. Confusion and understanding collide in my brain, sending my stomach into a nauseous roll.
“What the fuck are you telling me right now?”
“The restaurant . . . fuck, man, it’s broke.”
My head falls back against the wall, my body going limp as I slide to the sticky ground that hasn’t seen a mop in a decade.
As in, no funds?
There has to be a solution. The police, lawyers . . . this shit isn’t legal.
“Did you report her?”
“Yeah, but because she’s a partner, there isn’t much we can do. She had access to everything. She fucked us over.”
I rub my hand across my forehead, eyes shut, preparing for the worst. “So what the fuck are you trying to tell me?”
“We were already behind on bills. Janelle apparently wasn’t paying them but was still paying herself. Rent is two months overdue, vendors want their money, contractors still need to be paid. We’re fucked, Reid. Utterly fucked.” He lets out a long breath and says the last thing I ever expected to hear. “We have to close.”
No fucking way.
I pace the sealed concrete floor of Bar 79’s kitchen, still trying to comprehend what the hell happened while I was gone.
I told Eric to meet me here in the morning after I got back, but he has yet to show up. I’m seriously starting to worry that he’s stood me up when the back door bangs open. I glance up to see Eric stumble inside, a bottle in his hand, a hitch in his gait. What the ever-living fuck?
“Are you drunk?”
“I can’t believe you’re sober.” He makes his way to a prep table and hoists himself on top of it before taking another swig of what I can only imagine is a bottle of scotch.
“How the hell am I supposed to have a conversation about our restaurant when you’re drunk off your ass?”
“Just a wee bit twisted,” he says, holding his fingers up. “And there’s nothing to talk about. We’re fucked, Reid. She took it all. We put every ounce of our savings into this place, and my parents’ money . . .” His face twists in grief before he takes another swig.
“We have to be able to find some investors, some partners. We have great reviews; we’re up and coming on the restaurant scene. We have options.”
He shakes his head. “News is already spreading. No one is going to want to work with two idiots who don’t know how to manage a business.”
I run my hands through my hair, tugging at it. “This can’t be it. There has to be something we can do.”
“We owe vendors a shit ton of money, Reid. We are so far in debt that even if an investor likes our talent, they’re not about to scoop up all the debt we owe. Face it, this is over.” He leans back on one hand and takes a sip of his drink.
“Fuck!” I shout and kick a garbage can across the kitchen. “Fuck! I told you not to date her. I told you it was a bad idea.”
Gaining a little clarity, Eric sits tall and jabs at his chest with the hand that’s holding his bottle. “Are you blaming this on me?”
“She worked you, man. She used you and took what she wanted—that was her plan all along. I never should have let you hire her.”
“I never would have had to hire her if you didn’t drop the fucking ball on all the business shit. Don’t blame me, Reid. When we went into this partnership, you said you could handle the business end while I took over the big picture planning. I did my part. You were the one who fucking failed on his end. I stepped in and tried to find the solution.”
“With a pair of tits,” I shoot back. “You hired her because of her tits, not her qualifications.”
“Fuck you.” He slides off the prep table, the slap of his sneakered feet reverberating through the kitchen. “We never would have been in this situation if you didn’t fuck us over to begin with. Don’t blame this shit on me, not when you’re just as much at fault. Face it, Reid, we might be good in the kitchen, but when it comes to running a business . . . we both just destroyed our careers.”
I don’t want to admit that he’s right, and I don’t want to take blame for this, even though a heavy weight is pressing down on my chest, reminding me over and over that this very well might be my fault.
I should have asked for help.
I should have interviewed Janelle.
I shouldn’t have been so lazy when it came to decisions.
But . . .
“I trusted you,” I say, hands on my hips, staring at Eric. “I trusted you to make the right decision for the business, and you thought with your dick instead of your head.”
He tosses the bottle to the side, the glass shattering as it hits the floor. “Yeah, well, I trusted you to hold up your end of the bargain, and you didn’t, so looks like we’re both shitheads.” He shakes his head and starts to walk toward the back door. “Good luck with your life, Reid. Just don’t ever try to run a business again. Anything you do is guaranteed to crash and burn, just like Bar 79.”
AUTHOR BIO: USA Today Bestselling Author, wife, adoptive mother, and peanut butter lover. Author of romantic comedies and contemporary romance, Meghan Quinn brings readers the perfect combination of heart, humor, and heat in every book.