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Chapter One

Kennedy

The champagne bubbles tickle my nose. I don’t taste the drink I’m holding. I don’t even bring my lips to the glass. Not because I’m too young to drink, but because I don’t drink. I’d rather be in control, and so, instead, I raise the crystal flute in a toast. I am always toasting because everything is grand in the land I live in. Everything is sparkly. Everything is fabulous. Even when it’s not. But my mom’s TV show was just renewed for another season, and everyone who matters is here at our home off Central Park West, drinking and nibbling and laughing and chatting. Like my mom, for instance, who holds court in the living room, perched grandly on her cranberry-red couch. Her raven-black hair is glossy and gorgeous, and her green eyes glitter with happiness as the head of the network toasts her. “To Jewel! A gem among showrunners,” he says, looking every bit the shiny, gleaming suit that he is. He’s polished so brightly, and he always knows exactly what to say at these


moments. I’m pretty sure he once tried to spend the night with my mom. I’m pretty sure she rebuffed his advances. Every once in a blue moon, it happens—her rejection of a suitor. “To LGO! The best network there is!” she says, holding her glass up high. She doesn’t even try to feign embarrassment at being the center of attention. She’s not embarrassed. She adores her role in the spotlight. She might as well have been bred for it, like a prized poodle. She’s smiling as she always is because she has everything she wants. Her new man, Warren, is by her side, fawning over her. My mom’s petite friend Bailey, also a publicist for her show, clinks glasses with me, then downs half her champagne. I drink none, and instead I run my finger absently along the rim, wanting one thing, wishing I could want nothing. But I can’t. I want him. I’m wearing my best jeans, a pair of black heels, and a silvery-gray top. I like to look good. I like to look good for him—that guy on the other side of the room, leaning casually against the wall, not drinking either. Watching the scene unfold. Part of it, but separate. I wonder what he thinks when he looks at me. If he still feels the same pull. The same damn longing. His eyes meet mine. His are dark blue, the color of the dawn before day takes over. They give me my answer when he doesn’t look away, and my heart tries to spring free of my chest and bound over to him. Being in the same space—even with him so many feet away—is hard. So hard. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. “And what about you?”


Bailey’s voice jars me. Reminds me that we’ve been having a conversation while I’ve been drifting back to him. “Hmm?” I ask furrowing my brow. “What about me?” “Boys? Guys? Are you dating? Anyone special?” My cheeks burn red. Heat spreads over my face. I’m not seeing anyone. “No,” I say, even though inside I’m saying It’s complicated, it’s complicated, it’s complicated. That’s what I told my cousin Anaka in Los Angeles when she e-mailed me earlier this week asking me if there were any hot guys on the scene. We chat more, making small talk, the skill I’ve been schooled in the art of since I could utter my first words. Then Bailey snaps her fingers, her face lighting up in recognition. “I almost forgot! I have a script for a friend I want to get in front of Hayes,” she says then makes a beeline for the man who makes things happen. I watch for a moment, cataloguing the expression on his face as she makes her pitch, the shift in those dark-blue eyes to his business look. He nods, and I can just make out him saying, Sure, send it over, and it reminds me once more of everything between us. I have to excuse myself from this party and my mother and her friends and all these people. When I reach my room, I text him. Because I can’t resist. One word. It’s all I can manage. It’s all I can’t manage without. Hi.


After midnight, they are all gone. Every last one of them. The brownstone is eerie and still, as it should be after hours. I pad quietly to the kitchen, find an apple in a basket on the counter, rinse it off and take a bite, rewinding a few hours to the party, to that moment when we locked eyes. To the charge I swear raced through the air, connecting us. Tethering us, like we’ve been for so long. I shudder, remembering kisses. Remembering his touch. His soft voice whispering in my ear. The music we listened to together. The stories he told me. It’s a dreamlike state, being back in time. Then I hear footsteps and snap open my eyes. My reverie is broken cruelly when I realize I’m about to learn something I’d rather not know—the answer to whether my mom's latest boyfriend wears boxers or briefs. Because Warren wears white boxer briefs. He walks through the hallway, across the living room, and past the dining room table before he notices the daughter of the house leaning against the kitchen counter. “Honestly?” I say as I crunch into the fruit. Even in the dark I can see his face turn red as he stops short at the kitchen. “I’m so sorry, Kennedy.” But he’s not moving. Perhaps his bare feet are stuck to the floor of the entryway. “I had no idea you were going to be in the kitchen,” Warren says, stumbling on his words. “That much is self-evident. Now, do you need me to pour you a glass of milk, or do you think maybe you can get through the rest of the night without one?”


He’s flustered and fluttery and his belly is saggy and it’s just the sort of stuff that would make a lesser girl scream or cringe or cry. But this is par for the course. I had to get over the silly idea that I might actually walk around my house without running into a mate of my mother’s a long, long time ago. They are always underfoot; ingesting coffee at the table in the morning, draped across the couch in the evening, foraging in the fridge after hours. If I didn’t have my own bathroom, I might never stay at my mom’s place on her half of my fifty-fifty nights. Not that I have much say in the matter. I have no agency. I have no choices. I’m too young. Warren somehow finds the strength to retreat to the cave of dark and sordid late-night festivities—my mom’s bedroom; though it’s more like an opium den. I finish off the apple in the silence, return to my upstairs bedroom, and fiddle around on Instagram, checking out a new collection of found hearts in nature—wild red fireworks forming a heart, a drawn heart on a sandy beach, a heart-shaped stone. I save them and send them to a special folder on my phone as I settle into bed. The pictures help me forget the kitchen run-in. I check my text messages one more time. I’m still waiting to hear back from him. I’ve heard nothing. Maybe it’s all in my mind.

Noah

The elevator dings on the sixth floor, and the doors slide open. I’m still clutching my phone, and I could justify with a million reasons the way I stare at the screen. Responding to clients. Writing


back to producers. Dealing with my boss. All that is true. But all that is a lie because one little text has me right back where I know I shouldn’t be. But I gave in long ago. With my free hand, I unlock my apartment door, then drop the keys on the table. I turn on the light, rub my hand over my eyes, and sigh heavily. I’ve already gone through all the reasons to ignore her. I’ve already tried to fight this for far too long. I’m not winning any awards for resistance. I never did. I threw in the towel many moons ago. Besides, one text won’t kill me. One. One. One. The word echoes through my skull like a temptress. Only one text. Only one kiss. Only one date. It’s always one thing that leads to another. I know this. Even so, I reply. There’s nothing magical about my words. The only thing magical is her. And the hold she still has on me. Then I add a picture because I know what she likes. I know what makes her happy. If I can’t have her, at least I can make her smile. I attach an image I uncovered online of snow fallen on twigs in the shape of a heart.

Kennedy


I slide into bed, under the covers. I place the phone on my pillow, just inches from me. I touch the necklace I wear every day, feeling the shape of the three different sparkly charms that hang from it. I close my eyes, but sleep is so far away it might as well be in Indonesia. Then my phone buzzes. I hold my breath for a second, making a wish. I open my eyes and I slide my thumb across the screen. Hi to you. Three words. They’re enough to get me through another night of wanting him back but knowing I can’t have him. Then I see a picture, and I could die of happiness.


Chapter Two

Kennedy

“Did you know that only fourteen percent of twelfth graders know why the Korean War started?” This is how my good friend Lane greets me in the lobby of the shrink’s offices the next day. We don’t share the same shrink; just the same practice. Yes, I am that girl. The messed-up, mixed-up seventeen-year-old child of well-to-do divorced parents who sees a shrink in Manhattan. It’s a bit of a caricature, and caricature is something I aim to avoid in life. Especially because, unlike many other teenagers in New York City seeing shrinks, I actually enjoy my weekly visits to Caroline. They’re perhaps the only times when I can be in the presence of an adult and not feel an instinctual need to lie. “I did not know that. But I do know why it started,” I say to Lane as he drags a miniature rake through a Zen sand garden on the table in the lobby. This is where we met many months ago. In this lobby. We’re both seniors, but we go to different schools on different sides of the city. “Why?” “I’m guessing a bunch of people didn’t get along with each other and they came to fisticuffs.” Lane touches the tip of his index finger to his nose. “Bingo.”


He rattles off other random facts, party chatter we call it. Lane checks out a new big book of facts from the library every week and endeavors to memorize the most interesting tidbits about human nature. “Never be without a little conversational nugget,” he likes to say. He never is. He informs me that snakes don’t live in Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, New Zealand, or Antarctica, then his shrink opens the door down the hall, and the patient ahead of Lane leaves. Lane stands up, salutes me, and says, “Because they can’t migrate long distances over water.” A minute later, I walk into Caroline’s office, shut the door, and sink down into the black leather couch. “How are you?” I ask. “Did you fix anyone today?” She waves a hand in the air dramatically. “Everyone. I have wrought miracles between these four walls.” “You don’t want to be too good. You’ll run yourself out of business.” She nods, then flashes another small smile. “That is true.” As I hand her the monthly check from my dad, I check out her shoes. She’s wearing a pair of her trademark ballet flats, which I want to tell her not to wear because she has gigantic feet, and women with gigantic feet only look like they have bigger feet when they wear flats. But I don’t ever manage to get the fashion critique out of my mouth. I don’t need a shrink to tell me why I stay mute on this point. I like Caroline far better than any other adult. With Caroline, I don’t feel like a cat crouching in the corner as the family dog struts by. “The current Public Enemy Number One wears white boxer briefs,” I say. “Warren?”


I nod, and draw in a deep breath. “He didn’t even have the decency to, oh, say, grab a bathrobe before he wandered into the kitchen last night,” I say, then tell her about last night. The funny thing is, or really, the ironic thing is I didn’t come here in the first place because of my mom’s affairs. I’m here because of a love letter. Not the kind with hearts and lipstick marks, but the kind that takes your breath away. I wanted it to have that effect on him, and so it was the story of how we fell in love told through our kisses. Both kisses we’d had and kisses I wanted to have, and places I wanted to kiss. Places like Paris and Amsterdam, along the river or by the canal, or Kauai under waterfalls. It was an epic love letter, and it was all I’d ever wanted in my life—to feel that kind of epic love. But my dad found the letter before I even sent it earlier this year. Or rather an imprint of a sentence or two. My father isn’t a snoop, and I’m not careless enough to leave something like that lying around for discovery by anyone. But I learned a valuable lesson nonetheless—even if you’re writing on a beautiful, fresh, crisp sheet of stationery, don’t press too hard with a purple pen while using a legal pad of paper as a sturdy surface. Some of the words might seep through onto the legal pad. My father deciphered some of the letter that night, and he declared me too young to tell someone that I’d love him for the rest of my life and then some. But what does he know? He isn’t an expert on big love. He is quite the authority in getting royally screwed over by the person you love—my mother—so I understand why he reacted the way he did and sent me to a shrink. “And this all transpired in the kitchen last night? After the latest party?” I nod, then add, just for emphasis, “Warren is married, you know. He takes his ring off when he’s over so they can pretend.”


Caroline doesn’t ask how this makes me feel. Caroline knows how it makes me feel. Horrible. Angry. Frustrated as hell. “She made him breakfast this morning. Frittatas with mushrooms and cheese. She served them on her best china, of course.” “Did you join them?” “I had coffee and left. I can’t even sit with them. I just hate him.” Because that’s what I do. I hate my mom’s boyfriends. Lovers, I should say. I hate that she has them, that they have breakfast and dinner at our house, that I lie to her to get away from them, that she lies to everyone about them, that she lied to my dad about them for years, and that she made me lie to my dad for years too. I will never forget how my life has been measured by the men my mother has kept. Her lovers are the reason I can’t be with the man I love. She ruined my father for love, and then, in some misplaced act of retribution, he took away the love in my life. “Have you ever thought what it would be like not to hate them?” “Ha. Not possible.” “I’m serious, Kennedy.” “That would require removing my brain. I’m not ready for a lobotomy.” “Hypothetically,” Caroline posits, turning her hand over, palm side up, holding it like there’s an invisible plate and she’s a waitress, practicing her craft, “What if you got a lobotomy that only removed the lover-hating portion of your brain.” I consider such an operation for a few seconds. I contemplate the potential results. But it’s as if someone proposed transplanting my green eyes with blue ones. What’s the difference, really?


“I don’t know.” “Because it’s not them you hate,” Caroline says. “It’s about the role you feel you played back when your parents were married. That’s what you hate.” I wait for her to say more. “Are you familiar with twelve-step programs?” “Sure. I mean, broadly speaking.” “One of the vital elements in any twelve-step program is making amends. It may actually be the most important step because it’s about change. Changing your behavior, reversing the damage, saying you’re sorry, living in a new way,” she continues. “I’m not talking about you. What I’m saying though is that the concept may apply. Amends is about making direct amends to the people you have harmed.” I flick back to my dad, to the ashen look on his face the night I spilled all three years ago, to the way his life capsized when his only child told him that his only wife had Hester Prynned him for years. He hasn’t even dated since they split up three years ago. I think his heart may still be too bruised. Mine too. Because the reasons are still under my nose, in my face, and in my kitchen late at night; the reminders, everywhere the reminders, just like this brick, this heavy weight of anger, always inside me. “What I think,” Caroline continues, “is that amends could be a useful exercise for you. It might be the type of thing that helps you let go of the way you feel about all your mom’s lovers.” I like the sound of that. “How should I do amends?” “I’m not sure. But I trust you will find a way.”


Because I’m not one who does anything halfway—I don’t drink, smoke, swear, eat meat, or beg off lacrosse practice when I have a headache, and I hardly ever miss a day of school—I know I’ll find a way to make amends. Not for things I did. But for the things I didn’t do. I didn’t stop my mom. I didn’t say No, mom. I won’t tell lies for you.

Noah

Jonathan raps on my door with his knuckles. “Come in,” I say, but it’s perfunctory. Of course he’s coming in. He’s the boss. He runs this talent agency. Runs it with an iron fist and a pin-striped suit and the sartorial perfection of Don Draper. Gotta give it to the guy; he looks the part of the agent shark. “How’s it going?” “Great,” I say, because that’s all he wants to hear, and besides, work is great. Work has always been great. Work has never been the problem in my life. “I hear The World on Time is blowing critics’ minds,” he says, miming an explosion with his hands. “Yep,” I say, because I’d have to be an idiot about the entertainment business not to know that. The darkly comic TV show about an ex-CIA agent gone undercover premieres this Thursday night. Word on the street is the writer-creator, David Tremaine, isn’t happy with his agents and is looking for a new ten percenter. Tremaine is a genius; I’ve been following his career since he wrote a humor column for a local paper. “I want Tremaine,” Jonathan says, as he sinks into my leather couch and crosses his legs. “Who doesn’t want Tremaine?” I toss back.


He points at me. “Get me Tremaine, Hayes. You’re my top man. I need you to woo him. There’s a charity shindig event this weekend at MoMA. Some art and literacy thing. He’s going. Bring a date, so you don’t seem like you’re just there to schmooze him,” he says, raising his eyebrows and pointing at me. I wince inside, but show nothing. Finding a date isn’t hard. It’s just hard when you don’t give a crap about the woman on your arm because you’re still hung up on the one not on your arm. “Sure,” I tell him. “Are you still dating Mica? I haven’t seen you with anyone in a while. Did you start batting for my team?” I shake my head and laugh, glad he inadvertently let me avoid the issue of why I haven’t been seen with anyone in a long time. “I still like girls, sir. Mica and I split up a year ago. She’s a nice one though.” He waves his hand in the air dismissively. “Whatever. I don’t care if she’s nice. I just care how it looks at the party. Make sure she’s pretty, your date. Not that you’d bring a cow.” “No cows on my arm, sir,” I say drily. He laughs. “Love that sense of humor, Hayes.” Later that night, I’m thumbing through my contacts, trying to figure out who to invite to the shindig, when Kennedy’s name appears in a text. My chest goes warm. My heart thumps. This is why I don’t give a crap. I already gave everything I have to someone else. Listening to 42nd Street and thinking of you. I flash back to the time I took her to see the revival. To the way she threaded her hands in my hair and kissed me in the alley outside the St. James with the marquee still lit up from the


show. She loves Broadway musicals and their big, showy, over-the-top declarations of love. We had that in common. We had everything in common. It was almost too much to bear. I run my thumb over the screen, picturing her with her earbuds in, so I cue up the soundtrack too and start playing her favorite tune. Some other time, I’ll figure out who to bring to MoMA this weekend. I write back: Which song? In seconds, she replies with the name of the one I’m listening to, and I might as well be lost in that kiss outside the theater one more time.


Our Stolen Kisses

We’d just seen 42nd Street, and you were humming “Lullaby of Broadway,” and I told you you had a good voice. You laughed, and claimed you couldn’t hit a note if you tried. “I’m terrible at singing.” I said, “You’re great at kissing though. And just in case, you doubt me, let me remind you.” Then I ran my hands through your hair. God, I love your hair. How it feels in my fingers. I kissed you outside the theater, and in that moment we didn’t care if anyone saw us even in the alley. We didn’t care because the only thing that mattered was your lips on mine. The feel of your breath. The way you curled your hands on my hips, bringing me near, but keeping a distance too, in case we got too close in public. Like it mattered. Like anyone who saw us couldn’t tell how we felt.

Profile for Bloomsbury Publishing

21 STOLEN KISSES by Lauren Blakely excerpt  

New from New York Times bestselling author Lauren Blakely, a new adult romance about when a first love is a forbidden love...

21 STOLEN KISSES by Lauren Blakely excerpt  

New from New York Times bestselling author Lauren Blakely, a new adult romance about when a first love is a forbidden love...

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