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Forever and a Day

By:Jill Shalvis

Chapter 1

Chocolate makes the world go around.

Tired, edgy, and scared that she was never going to get her life on the happy track, Grace Brooks dropped into the back booth of the diner and sagged against the red vinyl seat. “I could really use a drink.”

Mallory, in wrinkled scrubs, just coming off an all-night shift at the ER, snorted as she crawled into the booth as well. “It’s eight in the morning.”

“Hey, it’s happy hour somewhere.” This from their third musketeer, Amy, who was wearing a black tee, a black denim skirt with lots of zippers, and kickass boots. The tough-girl ensemble was softened by the bright pink EAT ME apron she was forced to wear while waitressing. “Pick your poison.”

“Actually, I was thinking hot chocolate,” Grace said, fighting a yawn. She’d slept poorly, worrying about money. And paying bills. And keeping a roof over her head…

“Hot chocolate works too,” Amy said. “Be right back.”

Good as her word, she soon reappeared with a tray of steaming hot chocolate and big, fluffy chocolate pancakes. “Chocoholics unite.”

Four months ago, Grace had come west from New York for a Seattle banking job, until she’d discovered that putting out for the boss was part of the deal. Leaving the offer on the table, she’d gotten into her car and driven as far as the tank of gas could take her, ending up in the little Washington State beach town of Lucky Harbor. That same night, she’d gotten stuck in this very diner during a freak snowstorm with two strangers.

Mallory and Amy.

With no electricity and a downed tree blocking their escape, the three of them had spent a few scary hours soothing their nerves by eating their way through a very large chocolate cake. Since then, meeting over chocolate cake had become habit—until they’d accidentally destroyed the inside of the diner in a certain candle incident that wasn’t to be discussed. Jan, the owner of Eat Me, had refused to let them meet over cake anymore, so the Chocoholics had switched to brownies. Grace was thinking of making a motion for chocolate cupcakes next. It was important to have the right food for those meetings, as dissecting their lives—specifically their lack of love lives—was hard work. Except these days, Amy and Mallory actually had love lives.

Grace did not.

Amy disappeared again and came back with butter and syrup. She untied and tossed aside her apron and sat, pushing the syrup toward Grace.

“I love you,” Grace said with great feeling as she took her first bite of delicious goodness.

Not one to waste her break, Amy toasted her with a pancake-loaded fork dripping with syrup and dug in.

Mallory was still carefully spreading butter on her pancakes. “You going to tell us what’s wrong, Grace?”

Grace stilled for a beat, surprised that Mallory had been able to read her. “I didn’t say anything was wrong.”

“You’re mainlining a stack of six pancakes as if your life depends on it.”

“Because they’re amazing.” And nothing was wrong exactly. Except…everything.

All her life she’d worked her ass off, running on the hamster wheel, heading toward her elusive future. Being adopted at birth by a rocket scientist and a well-respected research biologist had set the standards, and she knew her role. Achieve, and achieve high. “I’ve applied at every bank, investment company, and accounting firm between Seattle and San Francisco. There’s not much out there.”

“No nibbles?” Mallory asked sympathetically, reaching for the syrup, her engagement ring catching the light.

Amy shielded her eyes. “Jeez, Mallory, stop waving that thing around—you’re going to blind us. Couldn’t Ty have found one smaller than a third world country? Or less sparkly?”

Mallory beamed at the rock on her finger but otherwise ignored Amy’s comment, unwilling to be deterred. “Back to the nibbles,” she said to Grace.

“Nothing to write home about. Just a couple of possible interviews for next week, one in Seattle, one in Portland.” Neither job was exactly what Grace wanted, but available jobs at her level in banking had become nearly extinct. So here she was, two thousand miles from home, drowning beneath the debt load of her education and CPA because her parents had always been of the “build character and pave your own road” variety. She was still mad at herself for following that job offer to Seattle, but she’d wanted a good, solid position in the firm—just not one that she could find in the Kama Sutra.

Now late spring had turned to late summer, and she was still in Lucky Harbor, living off temp jobs. She was down to her last couple of hundred bucks, and her parents thought she’d taken that job in Seattle counting other people’s money for a living. Grace had strived to live up to the standards of being a Brooks, but there was no doubt she fell short. In her heart, she knew she belonged, but her brain—the part of her that got that she was only a Brooks on paper—knew she’d never really pulled it off.