Title: Starting Over
Author: Michele Shriver
Release Date: December 9, 2014
Liz Matthews agrees to a blind date for her daughter’s wedding with only one goal in mind- making her ex-husband jealous. The plan works, but also backfires as she finds herself enjoying the company of her younger date.
Widower Bennett Grayson has his hands full enough adapting to single parenthood of a teenage son and has no intention of falling in love again. When a friend arranges a blind date, Ben reluctantly accepts as a favor to his friend, but gets more than he bargained as the funny and charming divorcee catches his eye.
Brandt Matthews has much to atone for in life, starting with his daughter and his ex-wife. In spite of their troubled marriage, the one constant for Brandt has been Liz, until a new man in her life makes him realize how much he stands to lose- or has already lost.
As Liz and Ben embark on a new adventure called dating, they are faced with a host of challenges, including the ghosts of the past and Ben’s son Landon, who wants nothing to do with his father’s new girlfriend. Can they overcome the obstacles and start a new life together, or will Liz succumb to Brandt’s charms again?
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Something was wrong with this picture, Ben decided as he watched Liz dance with her ex-husband. Oh, they certainly made a very attractive couple as they moved across the floor with a grace that reflected many dances together. And Brandt looked at Liz the way Ben expected she wanted him to look at her—as if she was the only woman in the world. Heck, at one point it even appeared Brandt would kiss her, right there in front of his date, and hers, and an entire wedding party. Liz’s plan to get Brandt’s attention seemed to be working to perfection.
So why didn’t she look happy to be on the receiving end of that attention? Why did she pull away, rebuffing Brandt’s attempt to kiss her, rather than moving into it? And why was Ben so relieved when she did? His role was supposed to be to make Brandt jealous, and suddenly Ben was the jealous one.
The song ended and Liz separated herself from Brandt and made her way back to where Ben stood. “Sorry about that,” she said.
“Don’t be. I know my role.” He’d played it well so far, and Ben planned to continue. “I would like to dance with you, if you’re still interested.”
“I am, yes.”
Ben took Liz’s hand and led her to the dance floor and settled his hand in the small of her back. He hadn’t shared a slow dance with anyone but Amy in two decades, and he hoped he wouldn’t trip over his own feet. “We get a better choice in songs, at least,” he remarked as Lifehouse’s You and Me began to play. The lyrics were appropriate, too, since Ben couldn’t seem to keep his eyes off of Liz, and he sure couldn’t explain why.
“I was thinking the same.”
“So you don’t like Endless Love, either?”
“Not so much, no,” Liz said. “Brandt thought he was being cute by requesting it. It was our wedding song.”
She didn’t sound at all happy about it, which would match her expression during the dance. Ben officially had no idea what to make of Liz’s relationship with her ex-husband. “And you don’t look back on your wedding day fondly?” He hoped he wasn’t prying. Surely, she’d understand that he had some questions, given the events of the afternoon.
“Oh, the wedding day was fine,” Liz said. “It’s the marriage that left something to be desired.”
“Yet you still want him back.” It was a statement, not a question.
Liz frowned. “What gave you that idea?”
So she claimed to not want Brandt back? Now Ben was more confused than ever. “Not what. Who. Todd, when he suggested this whole thing to me.”
“Of course. I should have figured.” Liz chuckled. “I’m afraid our mutual friends don’t always understand my somewhat twisted history with Brandt.”
“That makes three of us, then,” Ben said. “Are you saying you don’t want him back?” He found himself hoping that was the case, although the whole jealousy plan would then make even less sense.
“I wish I could give you an easy answer.” Liz sighed. “It’s a long story. Maybe I’ll get a chance to tell you sometime. I probably owe you that much, given what you’ve had to put up with today. For now, can we just dance? I like dancing with you, Bennett Grayson.”
Ben nodded, happy to oblige. “I like dancing with you too.”
By the time she left the museum following the reception, Liz wanted a warm bath, a cold glass of wine and the chance to unwind and reflect after an afternoon that managed to be joyous, bittersweet, and maddeningly confusing all at the same time. First, she had an obligation to get her date back home safely. Although he’d played his part to perfection, Liz figured Ben was probably more than ready for their date to be over. And who could blame him? He’d just endured an afternoon with a babbling, blubbering mother-of-the-bride who couldn’t seem to make up her mind what she wanted from her ex-husband.
She silently cursed Brandt as she drove back to Concord. Maggie had certainly nailed it when she remarked on Brandt’s ability to mess with Liz’s head and heart. He’d done plenty of both today, from showing up with Marissa, to choosing their wedding song for the dance, the barely-averted kiss attempt and then almost sounding regretful when she reminded him of the infidelities that ended their marriage.
“You’re very quiet all of the sudden,” Ben remarked.
“Just tired. It’s been quite a day,” Liz said. “Besides, I figure you’ve probably had enough of me by now.”
“Actually, I had a good time today. I enjoyed getting to know you, Liz.”
“Me too,” she admitted as she pulled the car to a stop in front of Ben’s house. He was intelligent, funny and a perfect gentleman. Oh, and gorgeous. How could she forget that? “You’re a good sport for going along with all of this.”
“Like I said, I enjoyed it.” He shrugged. “And hey, I got to put those acting classes to good use.”
Acting classes. That’s right. None of his attention was real. She needed to remember that. “I’m glad they came in handy.” She gave him a smile. “Good night, Ben.”
He unfastened his seatbelt, but instead of reaching for the door handle he turned to face her. “Good night, Liz.” He put his hand on her cheek and brushed his lips across hers.
When Brandt tried to kiss her, Liz’s first instinct had been to pull away. This time, her body had the opposite reaction. It didn’t want to pull away. It wanted to move closer. It wanted to respond to the sensation of Ben’s lips on hers. Common sense prevailed, though. “There’s no one else around.” The words came out slightly breathless. “You don’t have to pretend to be interested in me anymore.”
“I know that,” Ben said, then let himself out of the car.
Michele Shriver writes women’s fiction and contemporary romance. Her books feature flawed-but-likeable characters in real-life settings. She’s not afraid to break the rules, but never stops believing in happily ever after. Michele counts among her favorite things a good glass of wine, a hockey game, and a sweet and sexy book boyfriend, not necessarily in that order.