Shalvis definitely knows how to give readers all the feels that’s topped off with that just right happy ending.
A standalone Wildstone novel
by Jill Shalvis
When Maze returns to Wildstone for the wedding of her estranged bff and the sister of her heart, it’s also a reunion of a once ragtag team of teenagers who had only each other until a tragedy tore them apart and scattered them wide.
Now as adults together again in the lake house, there are secrets and resentments mixed up in all the amazing childhood memories. Unexpectedly, they instantly fall back into their roles: Maze their reckless leader, Cat the den mother, Heather the beloved baby sister, and Walker, a man of mystery.
Life has changed all four of them in immeasurable ways. Maze and Cat must decide if they can rebuild their friendship, and Maze discovers her long-held attraction to Walker hasn’t faded with the years but has only grown stronger.
You’ve got this, Cat told herself. But note to self: she so did not in fact have this. Her nerves had taken over—her own fault, of course. She’d done a thing. A big thing. And though her heart had been in the right place when she’d done that thing, butterflies were revolting in her gut, telling her she’d be the only one who’d see it that way. It was times like this that she missed Michael the most, because he would’ve been her ally in this, she was sure. Back then, even at half her height and weight, he’d been her shadow. The cutest shadow on the planet. Over time, she’d gotten used to being without him, but it’d never gotten easier.
Twin piglet-like snorts distracted her, and she looked down at her fiancé’s “babies.” The pug brothers had huge buggy black eyes and little round bodies and vibrated like they needed their batter- ies changed. Roly was black and Poly tan, both with black faces, black curly tails, and little black feet.
They snorted at her until she gave in and scooped them up, one in each arm, having to smile at their smushed-in faces. “Okay, guys, listen up. We’ve got a lot to do today.” She took a good, hard look around the old cabin that had been in her family’s possession since the early 1900s. It sat right on Rainbow Lake, about twenty minutes outside of Wildstone, a small ranching community on California’s central coast. She had a lot of good memories here: visiting her grandparents, learning to swim . . . she’d even run away here a few times in her dramatic teens.
Her grandparents were gone, and her parents now lived in South Carolina, where both of them were college professors. They were thinking of selling this place, but had agreed to let her live here until her wedding. At least that was the official reason. The unofficial one was that she was losing her collective shit and had needed the safety net.
The problem was that there were still a few vital pieces missing from the puzzle of Caitlin’s life: the most important pieces, the corner pieces, the ones you couldn’t do without. And since Michael was an angel now—and damn, her heart still squeezed painfully every time she thought about him, which was a lot— she was really counting on the wedding to bring the other vital pieces back to her. Those pieces named Heather, Walker, and Maze.
The estrangement between them all felt like a huge, gaping hole. It’d started at Michael’s grave three years ago and had only gotten worse. Hence the thing she’d done.
No one was going to thank her. And it was entirely possible it would all blow up in her face. But she’d had to try. Just thinking about it had the butterflies in her belly escaping and taking flight in her nervous system, giving her the shakes. But that might have been the five cups of coffee she’d consumed. She set down the pugs, much to their snorting, squealing dis– pleasure, and got to it. Running around like a madwoman for the next few hours, she changed the sheets on the beds in the spare bedrooms, swept the wood floors, washed the towels so they’d smell fresh . . . all while fielding call after call from her boss, Sara.
Cat managed the Wildstone deli that Sara owned. Cat also made all the hot food, which was actually the only part of her job she enjoyed, because the deli itself was a nightmare. She’d taken three weeks off for the wedding, but Sara, who’d missed her calling as the passive-aggressive queen of the universe, had been in contact almost every day in the guise of needing something, while really just wanting Caitlin to know of her every little mistake or misstep.
So when her phone buzzed in her pocket yet again while Cat was folding clothes in the laundry room, she ignored it.
“Caitlin?” came Dillon’s voice. “Can you bring me my laptop?”
She transferred another load into the dryer, turned it on, blew a stray hair off her sweaty face, and poked her head out of the laundry room to find Dillon sitting on the couch in the living room, feet up on the coffee table, Roly and Poly curled up on his lap.
“Are you kidding me?”
He flashed her the charming smile that had caught both her attention and her heart a year ago. “Sorry,” he said. “But my ankle’s bothering me again. Do you mind?”
Hard to, when his twisted ankle was actually her fault. She’d seen a Cosmo post online titled “The Top Ten Ways to Spruce Up Your Sex Life.” Feeling ambitious, she’d gone with number one: “Seduce Your Man in the Shower.” What could she say? The illustrations had looked intriguing.
Turned out attempting intriguing things in the shower was dangerous.
Feeling guilty, she ran up the stairs and got his laptop, stopping to straighten out the mess he’d left on the desk. When she got back downstairs, he was standing at the front door with his golf bag slung over his shoulder.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Just got a call from Mom. Her golf date bailed and she needs me to do the back nine with her.”
“But your ankle.”
“We’ve got a cart.” He handed her the pugs.
Juggling the soft sausage loaves while trying to avoid the inevitable face kisses—a big no-thank-you, since they had a fondness for licking each other’s butts—she stared at Dillon. “You said that you’d be here to meet my family and have dinner with us.”
“Babe.” His face softened. “I’m your family. Me and my mom, and your parents.”
“You know that’s only technically true,” she protested. She and Heather and Walker and Maze might not be blood, but they were something even deeper. A self-made family, and yeah, okay, maybe it was a very dysfunctional one, but it felt more real than anything else in her life.
“Come on,” Dillon said, putting his hands on her hips and giving her a frustrated smile. “When’s the last time you heard from Maze or Heather”—he set a finger against her lips when she tried to speak—“where you didn’t contact them first. I mean, have they offered to help you with the wedding? They’re in it—you insisted on them over your local friends—so . . . where have they been?”
She could admit that he had a point. They hadn’t been together since their fight in front of Michael’s grave. Heather had vanished, just gone dark for a whole year before suddenly responding to Caitlin’s texts again as if nothing had happened. But she still hadn’t been back to Wildstone and wouldn’t give Caitlin much in- formation other than that she was okay and “working on things.” Whatever that meant.
Caitlin hadn’t seen Maze either, and not for a lack of trying. But they’d texted and had a few strained calls. And to give Maze credit, she always responded when Caitlin reached out, even with her busy life that was now in Santa Barbara, two hours south of Wildstone.
But Caitlin had, however, seen Walker. Sparingly, but he’d been gone on the job nearly nonstop the past three years. She missed him. She missed all of them and wanted them back together.
And as the self-appointed bossy older sister of the fam, she was determined—and, okay, also slightly desperate—to make it hap- pen. And yeah, maybe, maybe, she’d rushed her wedding along, knowing it was the one thing that could bring her siblings of the heart back together. She couldn’t help herself. For whatever rea- son, the four of them had synced and melded into a core family that long-ago year, but they were losing each other, and that scared her. She’d already lost Michael; hell if she’d lose the others too. She needed this so badly she couldn’t even explain it to Dillon. But the truth was the last time she’d felt vibrantly alive had
been when they’d all been in her life, and she was just desperate enough to play with fate to make it happen.
“Please stay, Dillon.”
He studied her face and sighed, his eyes lit with affection as he cupped her jaw. “I promised Mom, but I’ll get back asap. Take care of my babies?”
It was the best she was going to get, so she nodded. He brushed a nice, warm kiss across her lips, and then he was gone.
From THE FOREVER GIRL by Jill Shalvis, published by William Morrow.
Copyright © 2021 by Jill Shalvis. Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollinsPublishers
New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis lives in a small town in the Sierras full of quirky characters. Any resemblance to the quirky characters in her books is, um, mostly coincidental. Look for Jill’s bestselling, award-winning books wherever romances are sold and visit her website, www.jillshalvis.com, for a complete book list and daily blog detailing her city-girl-living-in-the-mountains adventures.