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Authors: Maggie McGinnis

Unlucky in Love

BOOK: Unlucky in Love
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Unlucky in Love
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

A Loveswept Ebook Original

Copyright © 2016 by Maggie McGinnis

Excerpt from
Meant to Be
by Maggie McGinnis copyright © 2016 by Maggie McGinnis

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

L
OVESWEPT
is a registered trademark and the
L
OVESWEPT
colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book
Meant to Be
by Maggie McGinnis. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.

Ebook ISBN 9781101967775

Cover design: Caroline Teagle

Cover photograph: © Alan Poulson Photography/Shutterstock

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v4.1

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Chapter 1

“Name?”

“Alexis.”

“Wrong.” Katie hit a pretend buzzer on Alexis's kitchen counter.

“Sorry.” Alexis laughed. “
Lexi.

“Right.” Her younger sister nodded. “And why are we going with Lexi?”

“Because it's close enough to my name that I'll still answer to it, but it sounds less stuffy than Alexis.”

“Right again.” Katie looked down at the notebook on the counter. “Next question—where did you grow up?”

Alexis thought for a moment. “Wait. Are we going with the truth on this part?”

“Pretty sure you can only handle so many fabrications at one time, yes.”

“Okay. York, Maine. One mile from the ocean. Yes, we eat a lot of lobster. No, there are no dolphins. Yes, the ocean is cold. No, we can't see England.” She paused. “That cover it?”

Katie smiled. “Just about. Okay, work history? Go.”

“Ooh—this part's easy. Left high school at fourteen for Harvard. Won Nobel Prize for medicine at age eighteen. Got bored, went to NYU for journalism. Am now undercover as a school nurse, on the verge of breaking open a
Very Big Story
. But I'm taking a break for the summer.” Alexis fanned herself. “Pressure, you know.”

Katie laughed out loud, lifting her beer to tap Alexis's. “And I think you've had enough to drink.”

“Not nearly, thanks.” Alexis sighed. Her real history was dead boring: college an hour from home, a job in the same elementary school she'd attended, and an apartment exactly three streets away from her mother, who called at least twice daily.

No wonder Tristan had left her for somebody more interesting.

“You're thinking about Tristan right now, aren't you?”

Alexis rolled her eyes. “How can I not? The wound's still a little fresh.”

“Tristan's a jerk.”

“Tristan's a realist. He wants a woman who'll jet off at a moment's notice. Or who'll climb a mountain and not be afraid she'll get eaten by a bear. One who will just be…
sparklier,
you know, in general.”

“You're plenty sparkly.” Katie growled. “And any man who breaks up with his fiancée two weeks before their wedding—in a letter, for God's sake—is an ass. He didn't deserve you.”

“I know. But…he had a lot of reasons.”

“I'm sure he did. And he could have maybe grown a pair and
talked
to you, rather than leaving an envelope in the mailbox and sneaking out of town while you were at work. He didn't even bother to pay postage, the jerk.”

“I'm sure he just didn't want any drama.” Alexis blew out a breath, realizing how pathetic she sounded, defending her fiancé.

Ex
-fiancé.

“Well, when he gets back from wherever he skulked off to, you can bet he's going to
get
some drama.” Katie put up her fists menacingly, but with her sparkly blue eyes and blond curls, it only made her look cuter. “It just won't be from you.”

She looked down at the paper. “Okay, back to the quiz. Try that question again. What do you do for work? I'll give you a hint—the answer starts with
school nurse
.”

“Can't I have at least done inner-city emergency medicine or something?”

“Sure. And then you'll get out to Montana, somebody will fall off a horse and break his head, and they'll expect you to be able to fix it.” She raised her eyebrows. “Plus, it's too late. They've already seen your résumé. We have only so much leeway here.”

Alexis cringed. “On a related note, have we answered the question about whether an elementary school nurse is actually qualified to be the only medical personnel at a guest ranch all summer? Seriously?”

“You'll probably be handing out Band-Aids and magic tummy water to cute kids. How hard can it be?”

“I don't know. I have no
idea
! And you just raised the whole falling-off-horses factor. I really don't think I thought this through, Katie.” Alexis gripped her bottle harder. “This is
way
outside my realm of experience.”

“So you've never done emergency medicine. And you've never traveled farther west than New York. Nobody has to know that.” Katie pointed at the list. “That's why we invented Lexi 2.0, right?” She looked down. “See? Right here! According to this, you went to Sedona five years ago. Epic trip, remember?”


You
went to Sedona five years ago.”

“But I told you about it—you can totally convince somebody you were there. Just be vague with the details, like we practiced.”

“Katie—”

Her sister put up a hand to silence her. “Next question—what do you like to do on weekends?”

Lexi sobered. For the past few weekends, what she'd done was walk the beaches of York, desperately analyzing why she was apparently destined to be an old spinster, living in a widow's cottage, waiting on her mother while six cats wound around her ankles.

“Walk Long Sands Beach waiting for a message in a bottle from a hot Scot?”

Katie hit the fake buzzer again. “Wrong. Currents here come from North Carolina, not Scotland. You and Dahlia, your guitar, play around at the clubs on Friday and Saturday nights.”

“I have a guitar with a
name
?” Alexis grabbed for the list. “I think you've been adding things when I'm not looking. And we don't have any clubs. Plus, if I had a guitar I loved enough to name, wouldn't I bring it with me?”

Katie sighed. “Fine. Good point. You don't have a guitar.” She crossed out the word
D
AHLIA.
But you still sing. You
rock
the local karaoke scene.”

Alexis laughed, picturing the seedy place out on Route 1 that hosted karaoke on Tuesday nights. “You're impossible.”

“I'm
helpful
. It's a good plan. You know it is. You leave behind boring, plain-Jane Alexis, and you embrace sparkly, exciting Lexi. You go to Montana for three months and get out of this sleepy, tourist-infested town for the summer. You can be whoever you want to be. Nobody will have any idea what you were like before you arrived.”

Alexis sat down, looking at the suitcases sitting packed beside the door of her apartment. “Do you really think I'm doing the right thing?” She put up a finger. “And I'd just like it noted that I'm letting your little
plain-Jane
insult by without comment.”

“You commented. Doesn't count.” Katie smiled, then reached for Alexis's hand. “Listen, Lex. This is
definitely
the right thing. Despite Mom listing every reason on earth why you're being irresponsible and overreactive and downright dumb, yes. It's high time you got out of this town, got on a plane, and had an adventure.”

“She's going to drive you nuts.”

“Yup.” Katie nodded, then shivered. “Totally is. But you've taken the brunt of Mom-duty forever. I'm a big girl now. I can do an eight-week stint.”

Alexis sighed. She'd been her mother's right-hand girl since Dad had left fifteen years ago, finally sick of the self-created drama that surrounded Mom like an angry green-gray cloud. He'd moved out on a Saturday, and Mom's health problems had started exactly one week later. The doctors had diagnosed benign palpitations brought on by stress, and ever since then, the woman had been convinced she was one heartbeat away from meeting her maker.

Benign
wasn't a word she gave any credence to.
Benign
didn't bring anybody running, after all.

As soon as Dad had fled, Mom had started grooming Alexis to be the dependable one. Even at ages thirteen and eleven, it was already clear that Katie was going to be the girl who—despite her bubbly personality and model-perfect looks—needed taking care of, rather than the one who would do the caretaking. Before long, they'd established a pattern, and while Katie was out with friends on Friday nights all through high school, Alexis would be stuck playing gin rummy at her mother's kitchen table,
just in case something happens, dear
.

And fifteen years later, it was still Alexis who drove Mom to appointments, even though she had a perfectly good license
and
car. It was Alexis who helped her sort out her bills twice a month, even though Mom had an accounting degree. And it was Alexis who Mom stopped in to visit every other day, like clockwork, even though Katie still lived in York, too.

She's so busy,
Mom would say when Alexis asked her.
I don't want to bother her.

She loved her mother. She did. And every time she got annoyed that Mom was just so
ingrained
in her life, she hated herself a little bit. Mom wouldn't be here forever, and someday she'd miss those visits. Someday she'd look at the silent phone and wish Mom would call one more time with the weather report from three streets over.

But right now, with a broken engagement not nearly far enough away in the rearview mirror? A Mom-free summer sounded like the best prescription a proverbial doctor could have ordered.

“I
will
expect some cowboy pics to get me through these eight weeks. And if she starts driving me nuts, I'll just focus on what a fabulous time you're having out there, hooking up with the resident hotties.”

“I'm not doing this to hook up with cowboys, Katie.” Alexis felt her cheeks go red as she lifted her beer.

“Of course not. That's the bonus part.” Katie gave her a cheeky smile. “You've seen the Whisper Creek Ranch website. If hooking up doesn't enter your mind, I'm checking you for a pulse. And really? No matter what happens, it's better than sitting around here all summer, waiting on Mom and analyzing every conversation you ever had with Tristan-the-Arse, right?”

“He's not an—ugh. Never mind.” Alexis swigged her beer, wishing her world was as black and white as Katie wanted it to be. “But you watch. By the end of this summer, he's going to regret leaving me.”

“As he should.” Katie tipped her head suspiciously. “But that's not really the primary goal here, is it? Please? Tell me no?”

“Of course not. Not really. No.” Alexis cringed as her voice faded.

“Alexis.” Katie narrowed her eyes. “You're not—this trip hasn't become some sort of convoluted get-Tristan-back exercise, has it? Because he doesn't deserve you.”

“I know. Of course I know.”

“Come on, Lex. All this work we've done to set up this fantasy summer? This bucket list of all the new things you're going to try? I thought we were working on
you
finding your inner sparkle—or whatever you keep calling it—not on you proving something to the Arse.”

“I am. We are. I mean, I'm not.” Alexis shook her head, closing her eyes. Katie couldn't possibly understand. After all, she was the one who always did the breaking up. She was the one who always left hearts in her wake. She was
always
at the wheel.

Alexis, on the other hand, had made a career of being blindsided, first by boys, and then by men. How could Katie fault her for wishing she could be the kind of woman Tristan—or anyone—
would
stay for?

Katie paused, studying her, then shaking her head. “Well, you want to know what
my
plan is for you this summer?”

“I know exactly what your plan is for me.” Alexis pointed at the list. “And no offense, but a lot of these items scare me more than a little.”

“I didn't put this part on there.” Katie raised her eyebrows. “But I say you get to Montana, meet a hot cowboy, and elope to Vegas.”

Alexis laughed. “Just that? In eight weeks?”

“Hey—don't discard the idea before you've fully considered it. Those cowboys are
hawt
.”

“Those cowboys are models, Katie.” Alexis smiled, thinking about the website she and Katie had drooled over more than once in the past forty-eight hours. “There's no way that many to-die-for gorgeous men work at one guest ranch.”

“Well, tomorrow you'll be there, and you'll know.” Katie clinked her bottle on Lexi's. “We'll keep elopement on the option list.”

—

“Watch out, Gunnar! We're gonna be mincemeat!” A little blond girl with pink cheeks flew down the pathway toward the stables, grabbing his waist and ducking behind the hay bales in back of him as two boys crested the hill and paused to look for her.

Gunnar smiled as she giggled, but he didn't look at her. “What'd you do this time, Gracie-Lou?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Well, nothing
much
.”

“Huh.” He crossed his arms but didn't give away her position to the boys, who were coming closer. “So the fact that they both look like they just survived the shaving cream apocalypse? Not you?”

She giggled. “Nope. No idea what you're talking about. Shh. They're coming.”

Gunnar shook his head as the boys approached, all ten-year-old swagger, despite the fact that their hair was plastered to their heads by thin ropes of foamy string and they were carrying hot-pink water pistols.

“Gunnar? You seen Gracie?” the taller one asked.

He shook his head. “Sorry, Nicholas. Can't say as I have.”

Simon, the shorter one, narrowed his eyes. “Would you tell us, if you had?”

“Nope. Probably not.”

“Why not?”

Gunnar put up one finger. “One—because you outnumber her, two to one.” He put up a second finger. “And two—you're bigger and older than she is. Go pick on somebody your own size.”

Simon's eyes widened. “
Us?
Pick on
her
? You know this is Gracie we're talking about, right?”

Gunnar almost laughed at the consternation in the little boy's face. Yeah, he knew Gracie, all right. And he knew she could probably hold her own against four boys twice her size, but she still brought out his protective instincts, despite the fact that she had her own perfectly good father, and plenty of uncles.

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