by Kelley Vitollo
One lucky break is all struggling actress Sidney Williams needs. But when living the LA life becomes too much, she heads back to the small town of Shamrock Falls for the vacation she needs to get her life on track—and immediately runs into Kade Mitchell, her former best friend and the boy next door she’s always regretted leaving behind.
Kade, the new owner of Lucky’s—once the most popular bar in Shamrock Falls—is determined to bring the place back to its former glory, and seeing Sidney again is a distraction he doesn’t need. Sure, the chemistry between them is explosive, but Kade can’t let himself fall into a fling with his best friend—not when he knows she’s soon heading back to the glitter of Tinseltown.
Now, with the possibility of her first major acting role looming, Sidney must decide if her lucky break is in Hollywood or right where she left it—in Shamrock Falls.
Praise for Lucky Break:
“A sexy, sweet tale with vivid characters that leap off the page and straight into your heart.”
- Karen Erickson, bestselling author of PLAYING WITH FIRE
© 2012 Kelley Vitollo
“I have a new man, and we’re hitting the road next week. I just wanted to let you know.”
As soon as the words left Sidney’s aunt’s mouth, the bus driver happened to slam on the breaks. Sidney’s phone tumbled out of her hand and her head bounced off the seat in front of her. What the hell? Where did the damn LA bus drivers get their licenses? And better yet, what was her sixty-year-old aunt doing talking about having a man and hitting the road? Not like she should be surprised. Aunt Mae had always been…eccentric. But, hello? Shouldn’t she be slowing down by now?
People started to stand all around her, and a pair of dress shoes narrowly missed her phone. Sidney leaned forward to grab it, just as a pair of Nikes kicked her cell. “Excuse me.” She tried to squeeze in front of a businesswoman in a crisp black suit and the cutest leopard print shoes she’d ever seen.
“Wait your turn.” The woman pushed around her.
Well, she could take her cute shoes and shove them up her— “Ouch!” Did someone just elbow her? Sidney scrambled forward. She didn’t care who she stepped on—she needed to get her phone and find out what the hell Aunt Mae was talking about. And she needed to do it quickly—not only before someone crushed her precious iPhone, but before she ended up late for her audition.
People shoved their way down the row and she tried to keep up. Once she made it to her phone, Sidney managed to execute a quick swoop and grab maneuver before the herd of exiting people trampled her. Damn, she hated the bus.
Unfortunately, whoever stole her car must have hated it as well.
“Aunt Mae? Are you still there? What do you mean you have a new man?” Sidney pulled her Juicy bag up on her shoulder and tripped down the bus stairs. She sucked in a deep breath. Thank God: air. Granted it was smoggy LA air, but it was air all the same.
“Exactly which part confuses you?” When Aunt Mae laughed, Sidney couldn’t stop herself from rolling her eyes. Leave it to her aunt to be sarcastic when Sidney didn’t have time for sarcasm.
She sped up her walk; she had another two blocks to go before she got to her audition. Her day had started out like hell already. Add in the phone incident, Aunt Mae, and—shit! She just broke a stupid heel on the stupid cracked sidewalk. “Why haven’t I heard about this guy you’re dating?” she asked her aunt. As far as she was concerned, all power to Aunt Mae for still being out there, but she also didn’t like the idea of her hooking up with some random guy and frolicking around the United States with him.
“I wasn’t aware I had to— Bob Dylan, get down. Mommy’s on the phone.”
Letting her cell rest between her ear and shoulder, Sidney weaved through the crowd while searching her bag for her lipstick. Her footsteps were awkward, but she tried to walk on her tiptoes because of the missing heel. “Aunt Mae, this is no time to talk to the dog. I’m seriously running late here. I have an audition in, like, ten minutes, I’m not there yet, and I find out you’re running away with some guy. You didn’t meet him on the Internet, did you? Tell me you didn’t meet him online.”
Excitement laced Mae’s voice when she spoke. “Oh, you have an audition! What’s it for?”
Sidney bit back her groan while little flutters of excitement danced through her at the same time. The last thing she wanted to get into was the fact that she’d blown a million chances lately. That she’d been up for a lot of really good parts, but all she’d landed was a tampon commercial. That they always seemed to think she wasn’t quite good enough.
But she still had that hope, too—that little seed of eagerness that always bloomed to life when she went to an audition. They meant possibilities, and even though she grimaced every time she saw herself talking about her period on TV, being in front of the camera was exhilarating.
She tried to push away her thoughts. What she needed right now was a clear head, not to work herself up. A clear mind is a sharp mind—that’s what her mom used to say. Not that Sidney wanted to channel her right now, either. Ever since her mom left her with Mae when Sidney was little, she’d hardly given her daughter much thought. Unless Sidney was succeeding in acting, and she hadn’t done enough of that for it to matter. Instead she worked as a waitress, struggling to break out of commercials and somehow finding a way to blow every big audition she landed.
“I don’t want to talk about my audition. Who’s the guy? What’s he like? How old is he? And where the heck do you think you’re going with him?” She and Aunt Mae had always been like this—as close as sisters or friends. She was always there for Sidney. And even though Sidney was thousands of miles away from her now, she wanted to be there for her aunt, too.
Aunt Mae sighed. “It’s Mr. Watson. I don’t know if I told you, but his wife passed last year. We’ve been…friendly, and now we’re more than that.”
“Old Man Watson?” Her aunt was dating Old Man Watson? Sure, they were about the same age, but Mae was fun, young. Old Man Watson was the grumpy old man who used to freak out if she or her two best friends, Rowan and Kade, walked on his lawn. He’d gotten so pissed when they used to steal his newspapers. She stifled a giggle and wondered if the kids still gave him a hard time.
“Don’t you laugh at me, Sidney Marie! He’s a nice man. He’s loosened up a lot since he lost the biddy. I think it was more her—”
“Aunt Mae! Don’t call his dead wife a biddy! Isn’t that, like, bad karma or something?” The last thing Sidney needed was bad karma by default of being on the phone with the guilty party.
This time it was Aunt Mae who laughed. “You’re so grumpy before your auditions. I’ll let you go. I just wanted you to know I leave next week. Call me when the audition is over so I hear how fantastic my girl did.”
Again, negativity tried to push its way in. Fantastic? Yeah, right. After five years at this, Sidney didn’t feel like she was any closer to making her dreams come true than she had been when she jumped ship and left Shamrock Falls. When she’d run with her tail between her legs from the most important people in her life. It had been the right thing to do, though. She knew it.
And anyway, Sidney couldn’t let herself think about that right now.
Every time she reminisced about her childhood friends, she missed home more. So over the years, she’d realized it was easier to stop thinking of them at all. She needed to concentrate on her life in LA, and on nailing this audition today. “’Bye, Auntie. I’ll call you soon.”
“’Bye, kid. I love you.”
“I love you, too. And I still can’t believe you’re dating Old Man Watson.” Sidney hung up the phone before Mae could reply.
She walked up to the old building where her audition was and paused to pull herself together before going inside. The building was worn down; trash littered the streets, so different than the Hollywood she’d imagined before moving here. She’d thought it would be posh, with movie stars on every corner. Stars that she’d know because she’d be one, too. A smile pulled at her lips. Yes, she wanted that—to be one of the people she’d grown up admiring from afar.
She wished she could talk to Kade about it—he always knew what to do. But after she’d taken off without a word, she couldn’t make herself call him. The longer it was, the worse she felt, but the harder it became.
Damn…everything kept leading back there today.
Audition, audition, audition.
Her heart kicked up a notch as she tried to concentrate on how alive she felt onscreen. Sidney took a couple deep breaths to calm herself. She could do this. She would do this. She’d go in this building, act her ass off, and land this part. Then she’d go home, celebrate with Steve, and call Aunt Mae to tell her she finally did it. She’d show everyone who ever doubted her. She’d show her mom she shouldn’t have abandoned Sidney. She’d be the Williams girl who really made it. And finally everything she left behind would be worth it.
She’d finally be who she was supposed to be.
The first thing Sidney did when she stepped into her apartment was to kick off her shoe with the broken heel, pick it up, and launch it across the room. It narrowly missed Steve’s purple lava lamp—though it would have been just her luck if she’d broken it. How she ended up with a boyfriend obsessed with the seventies, she didn’t know, but he had the collection to prove it.
Sidney let the other shoe slip from her foot as she padded across the hardwood floors. Her purse fell off her shoulder and to the ground. She didn’t even stop to pick up her cell when it clattered to the floor.
All she wanted was to curl up on the couch with a container of rocky road. Over the years, she’d gone to hundreds and hundreds of auditions, and she knew exactly when someone wasn’t interested. And they hadn’t been interested in her. Again.
Her eyes pricked with tears, but she fought them off. She would not let herself cry over this. Eat eight hundred calories in one sitting, yes. She could work it off tomorrow. But cry? No.
She didn’t even bother to turn on the TV once she’d crumpled to the brown leather couch. Sidney hated leather. Always had, but Steve thought it looked classy. How his seventies obsession and classiness met she didn’t know, but that was Steve. Unique. Fun. And determined to make it in this business, just like she was. They fit. Had the same goals and dreams. She would never feel like he sacrificed anything to be with her, the way she had with Kade.
Kade, her best friend. The boy who’d wanted to save the world—or at least her. The one who’d kissed away her tears when her mom had been a no-show at Sidney’s high school graduation. And then he’d told her he’d go with her. He’d leave Shamrock Falls—his home—so she could chase her dreams.
And she’d disappeared without a word.
“Ugh!” Sidney yelled into a pillow.
When Steve got back, she’d tell him all about her day and he’d understand.
Just then the front door creaked open. Steve with his wild, curly hair bounded inside, a huge smile on his face. “You’re never going to guess what happened to me today!” He didn’t give her time to reply before he answered. “I landed an impromptu audition and I got it. They gave me the job on the spot.”
Sidney’s heart sank. Sure it might make her bitchy, but she couldn’t help it—it hurt to see everyone succeed except her. “What product is it for?” The excitement she willed to the surface didn’t even sound true to her own ears.
Steve stood behind the couch, looking down at her. His blue eyes sparkled. “Not a product. A movie. Made for television, but still! A movie! I have to be in New York by tomorrow. It’s all very last minute, but…”
The rest of his words trailed off to the fuzz in her ears. New York? He was leaving for New York? The same place her mom went to follow the dreams that didn’t include Sidney? “Wait, what? You’re going to New York tomorrow? What about the apartment? How are we supposed to…”
His eyes diverted from hers and right then, she knew. They weren’t supposed to do anything because they weren’t going anywhere. Sidney pushed from the couch to stand up. Okay. She could do this. It wasn’t really a big deal. Steve could go shoot his movie; it wouldn’t take any more than a couple months. And as long as he still helped her with the rent, she could handle it until he came home. Not a lot would change, really. It wasn’t like they spent a ton of time together—they were both so busy. She could keep working and auditioning and soon she’d land something, too.
“So how long will you be gone? We can worry about bills and stuff later. I want to know about the movie!” She tried, really tried to be happy for him. And part of her truly was. It wasn’t like she wanted anyone to fail just because she had. Not completely, at least, and Steve worked really hard at what he did, too.
Sidney smiled and walked toward him. But her heart dropped somewhere to her feet with the frown Steve gave her. He rubbed his hands together. Steve always rubbed his hands together when he was nervous.
“Listen, Sidney…I’ve been thinking about this for a while now.”
No. No, no, no, no. This couldn’t be happening. Not now. It wasn’t like she was head over heels in love with Steve, but now? “Been thinking about what for a while?” She crossed her arms, determined not to let him get out of this easily.
“I think you know…”
“I think if you’re going to do it, you should have the balls to say it,” she countered.
“Jesus, you don’t have to be like that. You must have been able to tell I haven’t been happy for a while. We’re heading in different directions. I can’t keep dragging you around behind me or eventually you’re going to pull me down.” He looked at the ground.
Every one of her insecurities fought to make it to the surface: her fear of dragging someone down, of not being good enough. No. She wouldn’t let herself do this right now.
“Drag you down? You landed your first movie five minutes ago, you smug son-of-a-bitch. Before that you were doing shampoo commercials!” She didn’t give him time to say anything. “Would you be saying this if you hadn’t fallen into this movie? Hell no. All of a sudden you don’t need me anymore, and you’re just going to toss me aside?” Tears threatened her eyes again, but she was too mad to let them fall. How could he do this to her? They’d been together for a year, and he chose the week her car got stolen and she blew two auditions to walk out on her? “You’re an asshole, Steve.”
He didn’t give her the reply she wanted. She needed to argue, to yell at him, but instead Steve just shook his head. “Thanks for making this easy on me.” With that he turned and walked out.
Sidney stood frozen for she-didn’t-know-how-long. She was being left for New York, again. She wasn’t good enough to make someone stay. Again. This time she didn’t even score a guilt-ridden offer to choose her. She scrambled to her phone on the floor and dialed. Without getting up, she waited for an answer. “Auntie Mae…I need you.”
Kade Mitchell stood in front of Lucky’s, still not able to believe it was his. He’d worked his ass off for this place. Not that a lot of people would think a small, rundown bowling alley and bar was a real accomplishment, but for him it was. It meant he was moving forward. He wasn’t wasting any more time looking for what sat right in front of him. Shamrock Falls had always been home and now he was back to claim it, along with one of his very favorite places.
It had taken him a long time before he was ready to come back. He’d spent a couple years tending bar in Seattle, slowly getting his business degree. Hell, even his mom had gone with him. It wasn’t like she had anything tying her here without him. And it worked. He’d hated the idea of leaving her alone, and taking care of her had always been the most important thing to him. Well, her and Sidney, but he’d gotten over those feelings a long time ago. And now, he didn’t have to take care of Mom anymore.
Kade pushed his sunglasses up on his head, still smiling at the stupid, faded Lucky’s sign. He didn’t care. It was his sign and that’s what mattered.
“Kade Mitchell? Holy shit!” He turned toward the female voice to his right, just in time for Rowan McKinley to launch herself at him. He caught her and squeezed her in a bone-crushing hug. Dammit, he’d missed her. “It’s so good to have you home again. I had to come down here and see it with my own two eyes.”
“Hey, Freckles. Been a long time.” After one more squeeze, he put her down. Her red curly hair, bright as ever, was tied back in a ponytail, and she wore a pair of tight jeans with a red tank top.
“I haven’t been called that for years!” She smiled up at him.
“That’s because it’s my name for you. You look good.” He took the time to study her. She’d changed in five years, though he assumed he had, too. One big difference was that she showed a lot more skin. But the same freckles she always had were painted over her shoulders and nose.
Back when they were kids, Rowan had hated them until Sidney told her she always wished she had freckles, too. That easily, Rowan fell in love with them and she became Freckles. Sidney always did have that power, a way of making everything seem like more than it was.
“You do, too!” Rowan reached out and grabbed his arm. “Wow. You have some guns on you there, Kade. When did you start working out?”
He laughed and shook his head. “Are you flirting with me?” He knew she wasn’t—he and Rowan had never been that way—but he still liked to give her a hard time.
Her nose crinkled. “Absolutely not.”
Kade laughed, reached out, and wrapped an arm around her. He ruffled her hair like he would do with a younger sister. Damn, it felt good to be home.
“Kade!” She pulled away. “I hate it when you do that. You’re just like my brothers!”
Rowan was the only girl in a household of boys. She was tough because of it—she didn’t take crap from anyone and defended herself and her friends with everything she had. He and Sidney had always loved that about her.
“I knew you’d want her,” she said as they started for Lucky’s.
Kade startled for a second, but then he realized she meant the building. He just nodded, unlocked the door, and let them in. How could he not want Lucky’s? It was a staple in the town that meant so much to him. Everyone in Shamrock Falls went there. He’d spent a lot of his childhood here. Hell, he felt like he owed the place something because he’d spent so much time here when he didn’t feel like he could be at the cabin. This was the only way he could think to give back—by making Lucky’s shine again. “Yeah. Thanks for letting me know about her. I want to open her up soon, but there’s some work I need to get done first.”
They pulled up a couple dusty barstools and sat down. “I can help if you want.” Rowan kept smiling at him and he couldn’t figure out why. “You’re different,” she said, answering his unspoken question. They’d kept in touch since he left Shamrock Falls, but they hadn’t seen each other in five years. His doing more than hers. In the beginning, it had hurt too much to see her because she reminded him of Sidney, and later on, responsibilities got in the way.
“Same ole’ me, Freckles.” But he knew that was a lie.
“Dark as ever!” She ruffled his brown hair like he’d done to her. His sunglasses started to fall, but he caught them.
They’d always been like this. First him and Sidney, then in sixth grade when Rowan showed up at his favorite fishing spot, she’d joined the group.
He hadn’t realized just how much he missed Shamrock Falls and his friends—friend. Just like him, Sidney hadn’t been back here in years.
“Where are you staying?” Rowan asked.
Kade scratched his head before leaning his elbow on the counter. “You’re not going to believe it, but at Mae’s. Not the main house; I’m renting out the guest house while mine is getting ready. The renters are moving out soon and I’m buying it from Mom.”
Rowan’s green eyes widened. “Congrats! How’d staying at Mae’s come about? You watching the place while she’s gone?”
He never would have expected to be staying at Mae’s, either. Not that he had a problem with the older woman—in fact, he loved Mae. He’d spent half his childhood at her house, but that’s the exact reason he wouldn’t have expected to stay there. Too many memories that he didn’t want to think about. Too close to the person he couldn’t think about. But now—well, things were different. Enough time had gone by that he didn’t cringe when he thought about her. Sidney was part of his past, but now Shamrock Falls was again part of his present and future.
“I ran into Mae when I came to check on Lucky’s. She mentioned the guest house and you know how she is—won’t take no for an answer, crazy woman.” They both laughed. “She asked me about watching the house, but called me yesterday to let me know I don’t need to. She said a friend would be staying there.” He smiled. “She hasn’t changed a bit. Wild and sarcastic as ever.” Aunt Mae had always been like another mom to him. To all of them, really. When his mom got hurt and couldn’t take care of him, she’d stepped in.
Kade’s jaw clenched at the thought.
Rowan’s eyes darted around for a second before landing squarely on him. She had that nervous look on her face. She never could hide her feelings and he knew exactly what was coming next. Over it or not, he didn’t really want to go there with Rowan.
“What about Sidney? You talk to her lately?”
He had a feeling Rowan knew damn well he hadn’t; they made a point never to bring her up when they called. But he couldn’t stop himself from wondering if Rowan ever talked to her. Kade knew he couldn’t let himself give in to those thoughts anymore, though. Sidney had always had too much control over him for too long and he never liked it. Not after telling her he wanted to go with her, only for Sidney to run away from him. “You know the answer to that, Freckles. Let’s not insult each other by pretending you don’t. We go too far back for that.”
“I don’t talk to her often, either. Didn’t talk to her at all for the first few months she was gone. We do every once in a while now, but nothing like we used to. She’s busy and I get it. It’s just sad, ya know? After everything.”
Yeah, he knew. They’d been too close for her to drop out of their lives the way she did.
Tightness set in throughout his body. Dammit, he hadn’t thought Sidney would still bother him. He thought about her less and less over the years and he hadn’t planned to start harping on her again. Looking at Rowan sitting on the stool, he flashed back to seeing her there with Sidney right before graduation. An unexpected pang of sadness hit him.
“You know what? Let’s not talk about Sidney.” Kade shifted on the stool and glanced at his watch. “I need to get going. I have a few things to take care of. I’ll give you a call tonight and we can catch up.”
Rowan gave him a smile. “Sure thing. It’s good to have one of my best friends back in town.”
Kade just nodded his head. He loved being around Rowan. But suddenly he realized it only made him miss Sidney more, too.
Kade pulled his truck into Mae’s driveway. It was his second night staying in her little guest house, and he was grateful for her hospitality. He had just enough money from his loan to do the work he wanted on Lucky’s and get by until he could move into his own place.
He killed the engine and stepped outside. He’d promised Mae he’d fix some loose boards on her porch, so he wanted to get that knocked out of the way before he headed to dinner with Rowan.
Kade grabbed the supplies from the back of his truck and hauled them up to Mae’s porch. She’d taken Bob Dylan with her, so he was just keeping his eye on the house until her friend came today.
The hot sun beat down on his bare back as he got to work. It felt different here than Seattle, even though both were in Washington. The air was clearer here. The heat still warm, but different. And he loved the small town atmosphere, loved looking around to see Douglas Firs as far as he could see.
It didn’t take him long to get the boards replaced. He was packing things up and ready to head to the shower when he heard wheels crunching on the gravel driveway. Kade wiped his face with the shirt hanging from his jeans pocket. Standing by his white truck, he put his hand over his eyes to shield the sun.
The cab pulled to a stop on the other side of the driveway. Who the hell did Mae know who would have to take a cab here?
The door opened and his gut sank. He’d know that midnight black hair anywhere. That pale, clear skin. His body tightened even more than before, emotions he buried long ago fighting to barrel to the surface.
When she stepped around the car and noticed him for the first time, she froze.
If he thought Rowan had grown up, it was nothing compared to Sidney. Her lips were a deep red, contrasting her creamy peach skin and dark hair. The kind of plump, pouty lips he loved on a woman. She was curvy in a way he didn’t remember.
Bits and pieces of their past played through his mind: their school days, camping trips, laughing with Rowan. Sidney holding him through the hardest time in his life.
Her leaving him.
Anger erupted inside him. Anger at her for being everything and then nothing. For the fact that he was sitting here thinking all these things about her when he’d worked so hard to get past them. When he’d thought they’d all been gone.
Suddenly, he hated her again. He hated her for being even more gorgeous than he remembered. Hated that he felt something deep in his chest, just by looking at her.
“Kade?” She still squinted her eyes when she was confused. Had she not known he would be here, either? Knowing Mae, probably not. “Wow…I didn’t know you were back. I… What…what are you doing here?” The old Kade would have let her out of this easily, but he wasn’t that Kade anymore. Or tried not to be.
“Shouldn’t I be asking what you’re doing here? Telling you I didn’t know you were back?” There was a hard edge to his voice that pissed him off. He didn’t want to be upset where she was concerned. But she always magnified everything he felt: passion, lust, love, and, yeah, anger. Even back then the woman could anger him more than anyone else. She used to make him feel a lot of things no one else did.
“Um…this is my aunt’s house. I think that entitles me to be here, don’t ya think?” She gave him that confident half smile that said she thought she had him. Hell no, would he let her get away with that.
“Considering I live here, I think that entitles me to be here, too.”
Her lips spread into an O.
“Well…” She shuffled on her feet. He shouldn’t get so much pleasure out of seeing her suffer. And yet… “I guess we’re roomies! Kind of…” She faked a smile. “I’m not going to be here long, though. Just till…” She let her words trail off. He wanted to ask her till when but couldn’t bring himself to do it.
“I only got a month off work. I’ll be leaving then.”
Of course she would. Being a Hollywood woman now, she wouldn’t want to spend much time in Shamrock Falls. Again, more questions he wouldn’t ask: What are you doing here? How’s the acting going? Instead, he stayed quiet.
“It’s been a long time. It’s…it’s good to see you, Kade.”
Her words pushed his anger over the edge he shouldn’t be standing on anyway. He didn’t want her to think it was good to see him, didn’t think she deserved it. This wasn’t what he planned when he came back home. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to get ready to take Freckles to dinner tonight.” A flash of confusion sparked in Sidney’s eyes, but he couldn’t do this with her. Not right now. This time it was Kade who would walk away from her.
Unlike when she left home, he at least gave her the benefit of knowing he was going.