Halftime Husband by Erin McCarthy




Chapter One





Valentine’s Day. The big V.

The day designed to celebrate couples and make singles feel sorry for themselves.

It had arrived and, personally, I didn’t feel the least bit sorry for my single self, which was why I was walking into a bar in midtown Manhattan for an anti-Valentine’s Day party. The event was for a children’s charity, which might seem like a bizarre tie-in, but I think it was intended to make attendees feel like they weren’t being consumed by hatred.

Hate couples? Pissed at the world? It’s okay, you like kids.

I love kids, don’t hate couples, and being single is actually totally fine with me. After my ex, Dante, had tried to surprise me in December with a wedding I knew nothing about, I had been very happily living the life of a woman who answers to no one. But. Oh yeah, the but. That didn’t mean I wanted love crammed in my face tonight, because happy couples reminded me that I kind of really sucked at picking boyfriends, and I didn’t like to admit that. No one does. I glanced down into the bar from the entrance. It was a full crowd of Cupid dodgers. I could easily spend the night here dancing and having a cocktail. Perfect.

My friend Elijah clearly didn’t agree.

“This is literally the worst idea you’ve ever had,” he said.

Given that he said that at least once a week to me and we were still friends, I wasn’t too concerned. “Why, because you’re opposed to alcohol or random hookups with strangers?” I gave him a wink. Elijah never met a hot guy in a bar he didn’t want to go home with. “I would like to point out it was actually your idea to attend this when Kai gave you the tickets.”

He just ignored that and rolled his eyes. “Look at all these people. Gross.”

I eyed him, wanting to laugh. “Yep, there are people at a ticketed event. Shocker. This is your crowd. Single cynics. You could be the Mayor of Cynicville. Love Is a Hack Hamlet. Sexy Single City.”

“Please stop talking,” he said.

Not a chance. “Do it for the kids, Elijah.”

“Are you finished?”

I contemplated. I was out of alliterations. “Probably.”

Elijah could deny it all he wanted, but he was still stinging from his boyfriend, James, dumping him on New Year’s Eve, at the stroke of midnight, in front of a roomful of people. He was triggered by holidays now. Which was fair. That had been a massive dick move, worse than Dante surprising me with a wedding.

Tickets to this had been super expensive, way out of my recently unemployed dancer’s budget, but another one of Elijah’s exes was an event planner and had given us the tickets. I had thought it was meant to be, you know, nice, but Elijah had taken it as an insult. He was not in a good mood and I needed to be gentle with him.

Everyone else in our friend circle was very much attached, and there was no reason we couldn’t have fun tonight, despite not having a cuddle bunny on the big V day.

Elijah made a sound that might have been relief or general clearing of his throat, I wasn’t sure. “We’re overdressed,” he said.

We were, without question. But since it had been billed as a charity event, I had a red dress that needed another spin on the town after wearing it only once—the night Dante had sprung the surprise wedding on me. The night I had escaped from said stupid wedding with the help of an unknown man in a suit. He had hailed a carriage we’d hopped into and whisked me away, saving the night, and the dress, from being banished to the vault of lousy memories.

Unfortunately, after a spin on the ice rink, I never saw my rescuer again.

We hadn’t exchanged numbers. He had kissed me, then said if fate allowed, we would see each other again. It had seemed wildly romantic in the moment. Who doesn’t want to trust fate? That it will hand you the love of your life in such an obvious way that there is no question. Exempting me from the responsibility of picking boyfriends for myself.

Later, after the mistletoe had settled and I had spent New Year’s Eve very much single, I had thought there was literally no way I was going to run into carriage rescue guy again in a city as crowded as New York. It was a keeper memory, nothing more.

Tonight, still very single, and ready to have fun, I wanted to let the red dress have another night to shine. I wasn’t breaking down doors looking for love. If love wanted to find me, it could slap me in the face to get my attention, but I wasn’t chasing love’s temperamental ass.

“I look like I’m trying too hard to impress and you look like a woman in a perfume commercial. Any second you should stroll down that staircase and then dive into a pool.” Elijah adjusted his pocket square and gave a long-suffering sigh.