“This was a different, funny, hard to put down romance that showed the insecurities we all have when it comes to being who you are and finding that someone that loves you the more for it.” – Didi, Top 100 Best Goodreads Reviewers
Maddie Mason isn’t desperate. She’s simply tired of waiting for the universe to deliver her Mr. Perfect. So she’s turning to the dating website she created, MisterGoodEnough.com, to finally find her future.
Online matchmaking is perfect for Maddie, because:
A) History has proven she’s a poor judge of decent husband material.
B) The dating pool in her crumbling little hometown is all but dried up.
C) She wants babies.
Trent Sawyer is not Mr. Good Enough material, because:
A) Twelve years ago, he stomped the stuffing out of Maddie’s naïve little teenage heart.
B) The man might look good in a tool belt, but she’s sure he’s up to something nefarious.
C) He doesn’t want kids. Ever.
But if Maddie were to fall for a guy like Trent, it would only be because:
A) When he apologizes, he apologizes big.
B) He’s fixing their little farm town, one dilapidated home at a time.
C) Her world is a brighter place with him in it.
So should Maddie:
A) Go for Mr. Second Best and the family she’s always wanted?
B) Take her Mr. Almost Perfect without the babies she craves?
Either way, there’s nothing simple about settling for Mr. Good Enough.
MADDIE MASON wished her birthday would slip by without a fuss, but her biological clock hadn’t cooperated all day. It beat a rhythmic thump, thump, thump that started in her core and echoed up her spine until her head rattled. The irregular whir of her network router provided a melody, and she imagined the rumbling outside her home office window to be Cupid himself singing the horrible song as if he’d written it just for her.
Happy Birthday to you,
Your life’s an ugly blue,
Your ovaries are shriveling,
And your dating pool is too.
She couldn’t shake the song out of her head, but she could do something about the cursor blinking on her screen. Step one: Name.
She hesitated, then closed her eyes and let her fingers lie for her. Violet Moon.
The rumbling outside dropped to a low-pitched whine. Maddie clicked the Next button. So Cupid wanted to guide her love life now? She shot a glance at her ceiling. “Hush,” she muttered. “You had your chances.” Forget Cupid. Finding a husband aided by the dating Web site she and her business partner had created, MisterGoodEnough.com, wasn’t a heinous act against love. It was a denial of lust. With a teensy little bit of a snub for Cupid. Not that arguing with imaginary Roman gods would get her dating profile made.
She rolled her shoulders and ignored the bump in her pulse. Tomorrow, she could be on a date with the man of her dreams. The lukewarm dreams, not the steamy ones. But she couldn’t have everything. She simply wanted something better than what her usual judgment brought her way. She wanted a family of her own. Pets. A husband. Babies.
She flinched at the spasm in her lower belly. Stupid clock. She wasn’t that old.
But it was time to settle down with a dependable, upstanding family guy. Good-bye, hot fantasy men of her twenties. Hello, steady paycheck and good gene pool.
Question two: Situation. Why hadn’t they made a box for Desperate Aging Spinster Seeking Man with High Sperm Counts? She settled on Female Seeking Male instead.
Question three: Age.
Your ovaries are shriveling…
The whiny grumbling outside rose. She pounded in the number. Take that, Cupid.
Something snapped on the other side of the wall. Her iMac beeped, and a lost connection notification popped up on the screen. She gaped at the monitor. It had taken her a week to work up the courage to start her profile. A queasy feeling settled in her stomach. Had Cupid cut her Internet connection?
She rolled sideways in her chair and peered through her blinds. “Son of a goat!” Cupid wasn’t growling. A backhoe was. A big, ugly backhoe that had just bitten into her postage stamp of a front yard and severed her cable, taking the Internet and her phone down with it. The cranky old thing lifted its long yellow arm and slammed it into the ground, inches from her late summer wildflower garden.
With a squeak of protest, she sprang up so fast her chair shot backward and bounced off the mattress on the floor. Her cell phone rang on her desk but she ignored it. She pranced around the jumbled mess of furniture, raced through her house, and burst out her front door. “Stop, stop, stop! Not the flowers!”
The backhoe driver was headbanging inside the cabin, oblivious to Maddie’s frantic yelling over the rumbling. The ground vibrated beneath her feet. Happy, happy birthday to me.
She hollered again and jumped and waved, but the backhoe stretched its arm over her wildflowers. Maddie swooped down, grabbed the decorative pumpkin she’d put out last weekend, and hurled it at the monster. Mustard-colored goo exploded against the corner of the backhoe. She reached for a second pumpkin. Before she could launch it, the machine rumbled to a stop.
Maddie tucked the pumpkin under her arm and charged into her yard. The scent of newly turned dirt assaulted her nose. “Stop eating my yard!”
The pumpkin-splattered door creaked open. The orange rind would’ve been an almost perfect match for the original burnt sunshine color of the huge machine, but the backhoe had passed old age sometime last century, and its paint had faded to the color of toe fungus. Hints of a song drifted from the cabin. Before she could identify the tune, the fiendish driver spoke. “You wanna put down that pumpkin?”
Maddie knew that voice. “Abel Doogan, did you get possessed by the devil again, or is this your way of telling me you don’t like my grass?”
Abel poked his ruddy head out. “Mayor’s office called and said you had a water problem.”
She bit back a groan. The only competent thing the mayor had done in the last year was demonstrate his inability to run the town any longer. He’d been in office more decades than Maddie had been alive, and helping to replace him was next on her list of problems to tackle. Sadness at the current state of Wendell Springs turned her anger into resignation. Now her yard looked like the rest of the town. “Did they line up the cable repair guy too, or did they assume you’d get my lines marked before you started digging?”
A light breeze picked up, carrying the subtle scent of burning leaves and a louder version of the music inside the cabin. Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.”
She should’ve known. Last Sunday after church, Abel’s aunt Cheryl gave Maddie an earful about MisterGoodEnough.com and skyrocketing divorce rates. She’d finished with a dig about how poorly it reflected on dear Reverend Mason that his daughter would profit from doing the Devil’s work.
Aunt Cheryl wasn’t the first person in town to share that opinion with Maddie, but she was the aging mayor’s secretary and was fully capable of dispatching a backhoe.
Abel swung down into the dirt. “You ain’t got a water problem then?”
“Not yet. You damage anything other than my cable?” The gaping hole in her yard beckoned. She gripped the pumpkin tight so she couldn’t strangle Abel. That wouldn’t reflect well on her dad either.
“Don’t see or smell anything wrong,” Abel said. “Guess you prolly want me to move all your dirt back, huh?”
“Sure would be nice.”
He kicked a clump of muddy grass with a scuffed up work boot. “Mayor didn’t give me a work order to put it back. Just to dig it up so’s the water company could come down here.”
Maddie’s nails pierced the pumpkin. More likely, Aunt Cheryl called the water company and suggested that they shut off Maddie’s service until she took down her evil Web site. “C’mon, Abel. I can’t work with my yard like this.” Or her Internet, but she’d have to call the cable company to get that fixed.
“Maybe you let a little love in your life, you’ll see there’s some good in this.”
His earnest assessment of her situation rattled her, but he didn’t need to know that. She cocked her hip. “Seriously?”
He exhaled loudly, blowing a puff of Cheetos breath in her direction. “You’re looking to settle, I hear.”
Maddie blinked. Now that he mentioned it, Abel was right there. He wasn’t perfect, but was he good enough? “Who told you that?”
His ears went pink. “Ruby says if you ain’t using your dating thingamajig yet, you will soon enough. She says it’s your way of telling off the universe. She says you’d be better off if you let things happen the way they’re s’pposed to.”
“Ruby say anything else?” Like Maddie’s front lawn would be a good cemetery for her love life, and would Aunt Cheryl arrange to dig the grave?
Maddie bit the inside of her cheek. Happy thoughts.
Abel tucked his hands into his overalls. “Just that she’d have thought you’d be kinder to your parents, what with your mom’s problems and all.”
Panic momentarily squeezed her chest. Bad enough her parents were getting older. What happened if they died before she managed to make something of herself? What if she never gave them something to be proud of? “Ruby doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
“You know, Maddie, I ain’t seeing no one right now.”
She tried to relax her grip on the pumpkin and concentrate on Abel. He came from hardy farmer stock and his sister had a couple of kids, so fertility shouldn’t be a problem. He still lived with his mom, but he had all his teeth; he’d held a steady job in the small City Works department since high school; and he’d coached Little League until the town ran out of kids to play. He’d have to learn to say “ain’t” less, and he’d have to give up beer pong, but settling wasn’t about perfection. She imagined him at Sunday dinner, shoveling roast into his mouth and telling fart jokes with her brothers.
It didn’t quite work.
She must’ve made a face, because Abel puffed out his chest. “If this is about me putting gum in your hair back when we was in school, I promise I don’t do that no more.”
Her fingers twitched. “I’d forgotten about that.” Probably because high school was more than a decade ago.
“Oh.” He gazed down at his boots. “Well, like I said, I don’t do that stuff no more. And I don’t cheat. I don’t even know no hot chicks other’n you, so it ain’t like you have to worry about me doing what that last fellow did neither.”
Happy Birthday to you,
Your life’s got the flu,
Your heart’s in the crapper,
And your yard is now too.
That breakup was months ago. The did-you-hear-about-Maddie? gossip express could derail any day now. “That’s a real sweet offer, Abel. I’ll have to think about it and get back to you.”
He flashed a crooked grin. “You take your time, Maddie. Ain’t many of us single guys left here, so’s I ain’t worried. Ain’t like you gonna start seeing one of your brothers.” He swung into the backhoe, then leaned out with a rag for the pumpkin goo. “Now I think about it, though, I’d still like you if you did. Wouldn’t even mind watching.”
He was joking, wasn’t he? With that goofy grin on his face as he wiped his backhoe, she couldn’t be certain. She jerked her thumb over her shoulder toward her house. “My phone was ringing. Business stuff, probably. Gotta go check that.”
Abel started to say something, but his face went white as he focused on something behind her. “Jesus Mary Joseph,” he whispered.
She turned around and found herself staring at the ghost of Cupid’s first mistake.
She shrieked and threw her hands in the air. The pumpkin flew out of her grip, toward the man lounging against a silver truck at the curb. He caught it single-handed, smooth and detached as he had the day he’d crushed her soul.
She would’ve preferred a ghost. Score another one for Cupid.
“You two about done?” Trent Sawyer drawled.
Her second uninvited guest of the day was tall and blond, with shoulders the width of a cornfield and a gaze she could feel through his dark sunglasses. One thumb was hooked through a belt loop of his faded denim jeans while he casually tossed the pumpkin up and down in the other hand, but his voice had an edge that belied his posture.
Chills racked her spine. The Righteous Brothers cut through the moment as a tinny rendition of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” erupted from the backhoe. Beside her, Abel squeaked, “Is that a zombie?”
Maddie barely registered the question. She couldn’t stop staring at the man who’d broken her heart on a chilly spring day in high school, and then broke the town’s heart when news of his death arrived a few years ago. But here he was now, flesh and blood, looking better than the day she’d fallen in love with him. What had happened? Where had he been all this time? How could he have put everyone through this?
Maddie gulped, pretended her heart rate was still in this stratosphere, and forced her jaws to work. Her words came out shaky. “You here to help Abel put my yard back together?”
Trent pulled off his sunglasses. He squinted into the late afternoon sunshine as the corners of his perfect lips turned down. Feeling fifteen again, Maddie nearly swooned. He looked at me.
“Your yard?” Trent said.
The years had sharpened the angles of his face and turned what had been cute on the boy in high school to lethal in the grown man. No beer belly. No early liver spots or the hunchback she’d wished on him so many times. The thought sent her pride flowing again. She’d bought the house from his aunt a couple of years back when her Web development company had been booming. She’d been certain she’d never come face-to-face with him again. Ever. She’d be damned if she’d let him intimidate her now that he was back from the dead.
“Yep. My yard.”
Abel dropped to the ground and crossed himself. “Holy mother, Mary of God, have soul on my mercy!”
Trent cocked a brow at Abel. “What’s his deal?”
Happy birthday to me,
My yard’s full of debris,
How do I tell Trent,
That he’s a zombie?
“You’re supposed to be dead.”