This is a sneak peek of the first two chapters of 27 Ways to Mend His Broken Heart. It is NOT the final, and small changes/edits might be made before publishing the book.
The man I’ve loved for fourteen years kneels in front of me, holding a ring that’s nestled in a bed of black velvet.
“Ava Reynolds,” Kyle says, his storm blue eyes searching mine. “The moment I laid eyes on you, I knew you were the one. Will you marry me?”
Tiny problem—insignificant, really. My name’s not Ava. It’s Kaylee, Kaylee Cameron. Believe me, I’d change it if I could.
Overwhelmed by the sheer unfairness that is my life, my eyes begin to sting.
“Are you serious?” I set my hands on my hips, choking back tears like my life depends on it. “You had to practice that? It was as basic as a greeting card.”
Dejected, Kyle looks down at the princess cut ring. He needs a haircut. His thick, ash brown hair falls over his forehead and brushes the tips of his ears. He’s a mess. My mess—or he would be in a perfect world.
“I don’t know, Kaylee,” he says. “It’s weird, you know?”
Weird saying it to me, he means. I get it, thank you very much. Maybe if I were five-foot-eight, with long legs and raven hair like Ava, he wouldn’t have a problem with it. But I’m not. I’m just little five-foot-three me, with boring brown hair that curls in all the wrong places.
“You’ll be fine,” I assure him, yanking on his arm so he’ll get off his knee. “It’s not really something you can practice.”
“You’re probably right.” He stands, brushing the Arizona red dirt off his hiking khakis.
It’s late October, one of my favorite months in Sedona, and the sky is so blue against the red rock canyons it looks like an Instagram photo. We make the drive from our nearby town about once a month to hike, or at least we used to. I’m not sure how Ava is going to feel about the two of us taking off on our own once she and Kyle are engaged.
Ava has always been welcome to join us; she just never wanted to come. Nature isn’t really her thing, and that’s okay, I suppose. She and Kyle have lots of other stuff in common. I can’t think of anything right off the top of my head, but I’m sure there’s something.
Ava is all business meetings, data printouts, and perfectly organized planners. Kyle works for a local off-road tour company and lives in hiking boots and T-shirts.
In case you’re wondering, Ava and I aren’t exactly the best of friends either. Though, believe me, we try. All the reasons Kyle and I get along are the reasons she and I have little to talk about. We agree on precisely one thing—one thing that makes her tolerable and shows she has excellent taste where it counts: Kyle is our very favorite person. Since she’s The Girlfriend and I’m only The Best Friend, I have no idea why she doesn’t hate me.
But she’s too confident for that, too successful, too…everything. And for whatever reason, she makes Kyle happy, so who am I to stand in their way?
“Come on,” I say. “Daisy is getting antsy.”
Hearing her name, my brother’s Dalmatian turns her head toward me and wags her tail. Like the little lady she is, she patiently waits for us to continue our hike.
Kyle doesn’t question me even though my excuse is flimsy. He nods, and we continue down the trail. Daisy trots with us, occasionally stopping to sniff dried clumps of grass.
“How long do you have her?” Kyle motions to the dog.
“Two more days,” I answer. “Heath gets home Thursday. I have to pick him up from the airport at seven.”
He grimaces, knowing I’m not much of a morning person. “AM?”
“Will he be at Ava’s party?”
Miss Perfect got a promotion at work, so she’s now an associate something-or-other. Kyle’s inviting everyone to his place Friday night, planning to make a big celebration out of it. For the grand finale, he’s going to propose. Ava will cry and let him slide the ring over her delicate finger, and everyone will clap and cheer, all while I pretend my world isn’t shattering.
Just thinking about it makes my stomach twist.
“He said he would,” I answer after a few moments too long.
Kyle smiles, though he looks almost as sick as I feel. “She’s going to say yes, isn’t she? This is a sure thing?”
I look at him, taking in his worried expression. It’s the same that graced his face every time he asked a girl to a school dance who wasn’t me.
“Of course she’s going to say yes,” I scoff, rolling my eyes instead of curling into a ball on the hard, sandstone ground. “Ava is the smartest person I know, and only a complete idiot would turn you down. You’re a great guy.”
Kyle smiles, but his eyes drop to his feet. He’s never been good with praise. When he looks up, his eyes meet mine and hold, making my chest ache. “You’re the best, Kaylee. You know that, right?”
The best maybe, but that’s still not good enough.
* * *
“Here’s a crazy idea,” Heath says, taking a tentative sip of the cranberry punch I made for the party and then nodding his approval. “Why don’t you tell Kyle you’re in love with him and see what he says? How can he make a choice if he doesn’t know all the options?”
And there my older brother goes again, being all reasonable.
“You should have been a therapist instead of a doctor,” I mutter, glancing around the kitchen to make sure we’re still alone. “You missed your calling.”
“I just don’t understand it, Kaylee,” he says. “You’ve always been confident, but when it comes to this, you’re as timid as a mouse.”
I shove my hair behind my ear, wishing I’d wrangled it into some sort of braid instead of forcing it into submission with a straightening iron. I begged it to behave, but let’s just say it’s a battle I didn’t win.
“Things are going to change once they’re engaged,” Heath continues. “This is your last chance to act. Speak up after today, and you’ll be entering home wrecker territory.”
“Okay.” I snatch a cookie from a platter and shove it into his mouth. “You can shut up now.”
He chews the caramel pecan shortbread thoughtfully. “Did you make these? They’re good.”
“Thank you for sounding so surprised.”
“Hey, Ava,” Heath says calmly, looking over my shoulder, letting me know the guest of honor just entered the kitchen.
I turn and paste on a smile, grateful for his warning. Ava is in charcoal slacks and a pristine white shirt. Her hair—a true, glossy black, is pulled up as usual, and she’s wearing makeup that’s so tastefully applied, she could model for an office furniture catalog.
“Hi, Heath.” She passes my homemade cranberry punch and fills her cup with filtered water from the fridge instead. “Everything is beautiful, Kaylee. Thank you.”
“It was all Kyle.”
She shoots me a look over her shoulder, one saying she knows who the real mastermind behind the planning was. It’s nice to be acknowledged, even if I hammered the last nail in my casket myself.
“I sliced lemons for you,” I say, nodding to the fridge.
With a grateful smile, Ava rummages through the drawers until she finds the small glass container. After she squeezes the juice into her water, she drops the lemon on top of the ice and leans against the counter, taking a gulp that makes me wonder if she didn’t wish she’d spiked it with something stronger than citrus.
Heath studies her and then frowns. “Are you feeling okay?”
She does look a bit pale and listless.
“Just a headache.” She gives him a wan smile. “It was a long day.”
“There you are,” Kyle says when he steps into his kitchen and spots Ava.
He crosses the space, giving her a smile that once, just once, I’d love to have directed at me. He kisses her softly, and I look away.
“You look tired,” he says, his tone softening with concern.
“I’m okay.” She drains the glass. “I was just thirsty.”
“Well, I hope you’re well-hydrated now because I have a surprise for you in the living room.” He takes her hand. “Everyone is waiting.”
A strange expression crosses her face. It’s the weirdest thing, but if I were forced to describe it, I would say it’s almost one of dread. I didn’t realize she was so nervous about being the center of attention. She certainly didn’t seem to be a wallflower our senior year in high school when she swooped in from California, set her sights on my best friend, and claimed him as her own.
“A good surprise?” She slips on a serene mask, making me wonder if I’m imagining things.
“I think so.” His smile widens, and my heart cracks a little more. I realize that it’s here—the point of no return. I could take him aside right now and confess how I feel. Or I’ll have to forever hold my peace.
“Okay.” Ava sets her empty glass by the sink. “Show me.”
Hand in hand, they walk out of the kitchen. Once they’re gone, I turn, facing the sink, feeling as though all the oxygen has been sucked from the room. Long, deep breaths.
Heath squeezes my shoulder. “You gotta pull it together, Kaylee-bug. He’ll notice if you’re missing.”
“I want to die.”
“I know.” My brother grasps my arm and drags me into the living room. “But you can die later.”
Kyle walks right into the middle of the room, tugging a reluctant Ava behind him. She looks like a deer caught in the headlights. What is her problem?
The room goes quiet, and expectation sits heavy in the air. All of Kyle’s local family is here, as are several friends from his work and Ava’s.
Kyle’s good friend Daniel leans against the wall, looking slightly disgusted. He’s your typical player—has a new girl every weekend, sometimes multiple if he can work his schedule just right. Apparently, he knows what’s coming, and he’s about as impressed as I am. But for different reasons, obviously.
Everyone else is smiling, many probably having guessed what Kyle’s big surprise is.
Kyle clears his throat—the official intro to “I Have a Big Announcement”—and turns to Ava. “I tried to practice this, but the words never sounded right. But now you’re here, and I realize it doesn’t matter.”
Ava gulps, and her gaze flitters from floor to wall to ceiling to guests—basically, anywhere but on Kyle.
Slowly, my best friend sinks to one knee in front of the luckiest girl in the entire world. “Ava, I have loved you since you walked into Mr. Brighton’s AP Biology class our first day of twelfth grade. You challenge me to be a better person, and I want to spend my life with you.”
Black spots dance in front of my eyes, reminding me to unlock my knees and breathe.
Kyle stares into Ava’s eyes. “Will you marry me?”
Premature applause, gasps, and squeals practically rock the house on its foundation.
Ava stares down at him, her mouth working but no words coming out. At first, it’s all rom-com adorable, but her hesitation quickly edges into awkward territory.
“Ava?” Kyle asks, his smile morphing into something nervous.
And just like that, their audience’s chatter dies off. Ava’s eyes dart around the room as if she’s looking for an escape…or hoping someone will throw her a lifeline.
My eyes follow hers and land on Chad, her boss—or he was her boss before today. I guess they’re on the same level now. But that doesn’t matter. What does matter is his dark scowl, the way his frown seems etched into his face.
It hits me what’s going on, and the room begins to spin. Surely, Ava didn’t. Not to Kyle.
Ava looks back at my dearest friend, the man I love with my whole heart, and her face crumples. She presses her lips together, trapping in what appears to be a lot of emotion, and then she whispers, “Kyle… We need to talk.”
The thing about drowning your sorrows in alcohol is that you still feel like crap in the morning—but worse because you have a splitting headache on top of it.
Ava, my girlfriend of five years, broke up with me last night. Apparently, she and Chad have “a connection,” and she thinks he might be her “soul mate.” Her exact words.
I groan when my doorbell rings for the third time, and I roll over, folding my pillow in half and trapping my head inside it. There is no one I want to see right now, especially at nine in the morning on the one Saturday I have off this month.
No, that’s not true. There is no one I want to see except Ava—which is pathetic. She humiliated me in front of my friends, family, and coworkers, and I’d still take her back if given half a chance.
But it’s not Ava.
“I see you’re taking the breakup well,” Kaylee says from my bedroom doorway.
She and Ava are the only two people who know I keep a key to the back door underneath a loose patio brick. Kaylee, however, is the only one brave enough to look for it.
“I found a scorpion while grabbing your key,” she informs me. “It was huge, with yellow dripping fangs, beady black eyes, and a taste for human flesh. But did it keep me from checking on you? No, it did not. You’re welcome.”
“On a scale of one to ten, how bad was last night?” I ask. “Be honest. Am I blowing it out of proportion?”
She sits on the edge of my bed, shoving a steaming paper cup of coffee under my nose. It’s black and smells so strong, it could probably take the fur off a bear. “Twelve and a half,” she says, giving it to me straight, as usual.
“Great.” I push the coffee away. “Do me a favor, will you? Kill me now. Your choice—rope in the conservatory, revolver in the kitchen, dagger in the hall.”
“I prefer the candlestick in the library. It’s less messy, and the floor is usually carpeted, which helps muffle the thump of the body falling.”
“Practical as always.”
“You have a hangover, don’t you?” She clucks her tongue, reprimanding me.
Yes, and it’s the first and last time. I lost my head last night and let Daniel convince me to go out. I’m not proud of it.
I refuse to acknowledge Kaylee because I’ve always cared too much what she thinks, and right now, I don’t want to care.
“Come on,” she coaxes. “You’re not a moper. You’re a ‘this too shall pass,’ ‘things will look brighter in the morning’ kind of guy.”
Kaylee’s tone is chipper, but I can tell it’s forced. She’s worried about me, but she doesn’t know how to help, and it’s driving her insane.
Groaning, I release the pillow and turn to her. “It is morning, Kaylee—it’s not brighter.”
She purses her lips, hiding a worried frown. Her brunette hair is up today, twisted into a chaotic bun. A few strands have already escaped, and she impatiently shoves them behind her ear.
I press my fist to my chest. “It feels like she ripped out my heart.”
I’d never admit it to anyone else. Kaylee, however, has been my best friend since the time in fourth grade when Ted Erwin cornered a scraggly stray cat by the overgrown Russian olive tree at recess.
(In case you’re wondering, young Kaylee marched up to him, eyes ablaze, and punched him in the face. Blood ran from his nose, and he cried like a baby all the way to the principal’s office. Kaylee was suspended for a week. Since we lived across the street from each other, I was chosen to deliver her schoolwork, and we ended up becoming friends over her mom’s homemade sugar cookies and hours of Mario Kart.)
I flop back on my bed and stare at the ceiling. I should get up, change my wrinkled T-shirt and flannel pajama pants for a less wrinkled T-shirt and jeans—attempt to act human. But right now, it sounds like too much.
Kaylee stares at me for several long moments, and then she narrows her eyes, nods to herself, and crawls on my bed. She sits right next to me and crosses her legs, preparing for a conversation I don’t want to have.
Unfortunately, curiosity gets the best of me. “What are you doing?”
“Kyle, you trust me, don’t you?”
“Well, believe me when I tell you that lying around in bed, bemoaning your bad fortune, isn’t going to help.”
I glare at her, tempted to tell her to get off my bed and out of my house. “What exactly do you want me to do?”
“For starters, I want you to return the ring.”
She couldn’t have taken me more by surprise if she’d punched me. Silence blankets the room, and she watches me with her sympathetic, yet unwavering, gaze.
“It’s too soon,” I finally say, and then I roll over, burrowing under my pillow.
She gives my shoulder a tight squeeze, and this time, her voice softens. “There’s no reason to keep it, Kyle. It will just sit there, haunting you.”
With all my being, I wish last night never happened. If I’d known it would end like this, I would have never bought the ring, and I certainly wouldn’t have proposed.
“This isn’t the way it was supposed to go,” I tell Kaylee, my voice muffled in the pillow. “I just don’t understand what happened.”
With a soft sigh, she lies down behind me and wraps her arm around my waist. “I’m so sorry, Kyle,” she whispers against my shoulders.
It’s the gentle tone that undoes me. I push the pillow aside and roll over, trapping Kaylee close, taking the comfort she offers. It’s a chaste embrace, chaperoned by sorrow.
A lump forms in the base of my throat, and breathing becomes difficult. I choke it back, refusing to lose it over a woman who cared so little about me, she dumped me in front of everyone we know. I have to keep it together, be strong.
I clench my eyes, fighting the pain.
Seconds turn into minutes. I have no idea how long we lie together, Kaylee silent while I fight memories and battle an imagined future that won’t ever come to pass.
Eventually, my head quiets, and I stay here, numb and thankful for it.
“You hungry?” Kaylee asks gently, propping her head on her hand.
I meet her eyes. “No.”
“Well, I’m starving.”
“You’re going to make me leave my bed, aren’t you?”
She laughs under her breath and leans forward, pressing a quick, playful kiss to my forehead. “Oh yeah.”
“Fine.” I sit up and scrub a hand over my face. “You win—you always win.”
“That’s true.” She leaps off my bed and leaves the room. “Get dressed so we can go. Oh, and grab the ring.”
(The price will go up to $3.99 after the release)