It Had to be You
Welcome to 1926 Seattle, where the blues are hot and the gin is served up cold
It’s taken time but I’m slowly crawling my way up the entertainment industry ladder. I could get a lot farther, faster, if I were willing to play the old slap and tickle. Yeah… that’s never gonna happen. But my newest move is a step in the right direction and it’s my voice that earned me this gig. I feel on top of the world—right up until I discover who owns the joint.
Of all the speakeasies, in all the world, my manager had to give Lena Bjornstad a contract with the Twilight Room. Back in our hometown, before I signed up to fight the war to end all wars, I loved her with everything I had. She claimed she loved me, too.
Look how goddamn swell that turned out.
Amidst saxophone players and cigarette girls, Lena and Booker try clinging to their old anger as a shield against future pain—even as ancient chemistry still weaves its magic. And in a town, where the hems are rising and morals are lowering, banked embers from the past just might ignite a bright new tomorrow.
Read an Excerpt
Sneak Peek from Chapter 3
I give Lena’s dressing room door a few authoritative raps. Lena’s response is muffled, and I don’t bother requesting clarification before turning the knob and pushing the door open.
“Hey!” She snaps. “I said ‘just a minute!’” Clearly irate, she swings around to look at me from her makeup table.
My feet flat-out quit on me, grinding me to a dead halt. Because, Jesus.
The lone article standing between Lena’s body and my gaze is a black silk wrapper. Its thin fabric hosts a flock of spread-winged birds I assume are cranes, given the craze for all things Oriental these days.
I shake the thought off. Who the hell cares? Her seated twist-around has widened the black wrap’s lapels between those unbound breasts, exposing spectacular, pale-skinned cleavage. It’s all I can do not to not let it command every scrap of my attention.
Because, damn, she looks good in that.
Lena stares back at me, apparently equally shocked. Then, following my gaze, she jerks the two sides of her wrap together. The better coverage can’t disguise her generous cleavage, but it does restore a few of my brain cells. I take a deep breath, then slowly exhale it.
And get myself back on track. “We need to have a little talk about professionalism,” I say coolly. “Slapping your boss is anything but. Do anything like that again, and you will not like the way I retaliate.”
“I had a darn good reason to smack you, considering all your lies.”
“No, Lena, you didn’t. You’re all indignant about supposedly not getting any of the dozens of letters I mailed you—”
She makes a sound like a tea kettle about to set off its whistle. “There is no supposed about it, you bimbo!”
Swell, now she’s calling me a tough guy? Everyone knows that’s a synonym for mobster. I breathe deeply again, then manage to say calmly, “Yeah? Well, where were all your letters to me, Lena? You’re pretty vocal about not receiving the ones I damn well sent. Funny thing, though. I never got so much as one from you, either.”
She surges to her feet. “And where was I supposed to send them, pray tell? In care of the postal gods? You said you’d send me an address, remember?”
“And…what?” I move in on her. “You broke your legs? Lost your voice? You couldn’t bestir yourself to go ask my mother when my letters failed to reach you?”
“Ask your—?” Lena takes an incensed step in my direction. “You waltzed off first to college, then to war, and left me to face everyone with my brand-new reputation as the Quiff of Walla Walla!”
That word from her lips, coupled with the sheer agonized outrage on her face, freezes me for a moment. The town branded her a slut?
I’m still reeling when she recovers enough to step in and stand on her tiptoes to thrust her face so close to mine my eyes cross. She drills a finger into my chest.
“You think I was going to call on your mother with a newly minted, Booker-endowed reputation trailing after me like the stench of ground beef left in the sun?”
“People called you a slut?”
“Yes, Booker, they called me a precisely that—among other, equally lovely slurs. What did you expect when Millie Longmire caught us with my blouse unbuttoned and your hand up my skirt?”
“Not that.” The truth was, I’d been so miserable dealing with my own ignominious ejection from town, I hadn’t stopped to consider the ramifications for her. I’d ached for her, yes. But— “It never occurred to me you had been left on your own to face down small town gossips.”
“Millie was one of the biggest gossips in town,” Lena snaps, “but it never occurred to you she might spread what she’d seen all over tow—” Cutting herself off, she steps back. Seems to gather her dignity around her. “Nevertheless, that was what I dealt with. So, don’t tell me how unprofessional it is to have slapped you. If you ask me, I had enough provocation to beat you senseless.”
She doesn’t bluster, as I expected. Hell, she doesn’t look the least bit embarrassed, let alone get defensive. Instead, she looks me in the eye and drawls, “Yes, Booker, I did. And I would do it again in a heartbeat. Will supported me when you waltzed off and never looked back.”
I am so furious over the way she stubbornly clings to that fucking fiction when it’s the farthest thing from the truth. I’m even more frustrated because she sounds like she honest-to-God believes the shit she’s spewing. So I grab her, thrust my fingers through her hair and use my thumbs on her cheeks to tilt her head back. And shut her up in the only manner I know how.
I kiss her.
And her mouth. God, that mouth. It’s my dream all over again, only this time I’m wide awake and it’s real. Now, I have kissed my fair share of women since leaving Walla Walla as a teen.
But I couldn’t recite the names of nine-tenths of them if you held my feet to the fire.
Never have I forgotten Lena. God knows I tried, more than once. Yet I did not, could not, forget her. And with a single touch of my mouth to those pretty, pretty lips, our old chemistry explodes.