Escaping Valentine’s Day
Author: Christi Barth
Publication date: February 2nd 2023
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
An Italian romance is on the menu, but is she ready to order?
Content creator Rory Hibbert knows Valentine’s Day is only fun for couples and chocolatiers. For singles like her, it’s a day of disappointment. And that’s why her new marketing agency client has arranged a tour of Italy crammed full of activities to distract from the holiday. This trip is a test for Rory—if it goes well, it will jump-start her new social media career.
There’s just one snag: the ex she never got over is also on staff.
Huck Cranshaw walked away from the love of his life for a huge opportunity on a cooking competition show. At least, that’s the excuse he gave Rory at the time—and he’s regretted it for five years. Cooking for tourists was supposed to be a stopgap between restaurant positions. Now it could be much, much more: a chance to fix the past.
But when an Italian prince catches sight of Rory, Huck’s not the only one vying for her heart this time. Can Cupid still steal Rory’s heart when the truth finally comes out?
Rory toed out a cushioned chair and pushed it toward him, sitting in its mate. “What happened to being friends again?”
Huck circled the chair. Then reversed direction and did it again.
“It’s…it’s hard, all right?”
Ouch. Talk about a direct hit. What could it be? She didn’t use puns. Always gave more than her fair share on a group tip. Attempted to let the tallest person sit in the passenger seat no matter their gender.
“Being my friend is hard?” she asked in a near-whisper.
“Yes.” He dropped into the chair. Steepled his hands and pointed them at her. “When that includes watching you kiss that prince. I dunno. Maybe ‘hard’ isn’t the right word. But it sure as hell didn’t feel great.”
Rory hadn’t had the vaguest inkling of why Huck was cross with her. But the situation with Nic had never been on the lazy Susan of guesses. Shock at first. Dumbfoundedness.
Followed swiftly by anger.
Launching into another fight with Huck wasn’t on tonight’s itinerary. But she couldn’t let that accusation go unanswered.
She clenched the wooden armrests. “I’m not going to raise my voice, so the widows won’t overhear us. And it’s fairly dark out here. Might be hard to see the sparks coming out of my eyes. So I’ll just clue you in—I’m pissed.”
Slapping his thigh, Huck said, “That’s the word! Not hard. I’m pissed.”
“Whose fault is that?”
“I want to say fifty percent Nic for coming on to you, fifty percent you for kissing him back. Feel free to adjust the percentages, though.”
Wow. That was a whole lot of misplaced emotion. Rory would be more than happy to slap a GPS on and redirect it to the right person.
She pointed at Huck. “Not to nitpick, but you are the one who broke up with me. Who dumped me. Who left me. Who turned my life on a dime without my knowledge or consent.”
Rory had very much made a point of not beating that dead horse in their previous discussions. Mostly because it turned the spotlight on what a pathetic mess she’d been when all this went down.
It was all well and good to preach feminism and believe you could survive without a man.
Rory knew she could.
She just didn’t want to do it without Huck. Even though he’d treated her like…like catalogs in the mailbox. Something you just walked away from without another glance.
But right now it felt appropriate to point out their roles. Rory—victim. Huck—heartless heartbreaker with zero ability to claim jealousy.
To her great relief, Huck didn’t try to argue the point. He let his hands dangle between his knees. “I’m not trying to rewrite our history. I know what I did.”
“Then you should know that does not entitle you to the parting favor of having any say in my current love life.” Sitting down wasn’t working for her. It was impossible to deliver an impassioned speech from a tangerine-colored cushion. Rory paced across the patio tiles. “I can kiss whomever I like. Or someone I don’t like but think has the muscles of a god. I could kiss a bank robber as he exits the building with bags of cash in each hand, just because I wanted to taste danger as the leading edge of a kiss.”
“For God’s sake, don’t make out with a criminal to spite me.”
“It’s not that I will. How would I even go about finding one? Some sort of reverse Bat signal? But I can. If I choose. Without any flak from you. Without any comment, good or bad, from you. You have no say.”
“Come on, Rory. I’m not saying that you don’t have the right to kiss anyone. Women have agency. Free will. Nobody can tell you who to kiss.”
“Darn straight.” Glad he’d held on to a shred of decency and common sense. She stopped pacing—but stayed on the opposite side of a lavender bush as a buffer.
Huck slowly stood. “What I’m saying, though, is that I do not like it. You kissing another man. Watching it or knowing that it’s happening. It’s as uncomfortable as a pebble in my shoe—if the pebble were covered in crushed glass.”
He gave a single-shoulder shrug as he thrust his hands into his pants pockets. “Figured it wasn’t the time to hold back.”
about the author
USA TODAY bestseller Christi Barth earned a Masters degree in vocal performance and embarked upon a career on the stage. A love of romance then drew her to wedding planning. Ultimately she succumbed to her lifelong love of books and now writes contemporary romance. Christi lives in Maryland with her husband.