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Authors: Jeannie Moon

The Boyfriend List

BOOK: The Boyfriend List
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Praise for Jeannie Moon’s novels

“Jeannie Moon always delivers a feel-good, warm-your-heart, can’t-stop-turning the pages story!”


New York Times
bestselling author Carly Phillips

“Jeannie Moon writes a sweet, sexy escape.”


New York Times
bestselling author Jill Shalvis

“Jeannie Moon immerses readers in an emotionally engaging and sexy story of lost love and new beginnings.”


New York Times
bestselling author JoAnn Ross

“A sweet, sexy heartfelt debut.”


New York Times
bestselling author Virginia Kantra

Titles by Jeannie Moon

Forever Love Stories

The Temporary Wife

Unexpectedly Yours

The Wedding Secret

The Second Chance Hero

The Boyfriend List

The Boyfriend List

Jeannie Moon

InterMix Books, New York

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THE BOYFRIEND LIST

An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2015 by 2015 Jeannie Moon.

Excerpt from
Because I Love You
copyright © 2015 by Jeannie Moon.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

INTERMIX and the “IM” design are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information about the Penguin Group, visit penguin.com.

eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-40589-9

P
UBLISHING
HISTORY

InterMix eBook edition / July 2015

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

____________________________________

Penguin Random House is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity. In that spirit, we are proud to offer this book to our readers; however, the story, the experiences, and the words are the author’s alone.

Version_1

To Families~

Large or small, traditional or not, nothing is more important.

C
ONTENTS

Praise for Jeannie Moon’s novels

Titles by Jeannie Moon

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

The Boyfriend List

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

Preview of
Because I Love You

The Boyfriend List

Written by Jenna, Kim, and Joey

1. He should be good-looking. Like really, really cute.

2. He should be friends with my friends.

3. He should talk to me.

4. He should be sweet.

5. He should be funny.

6. He should give hugs.

7. He should hold my hand just because.

8. He should love animals.

9. He should be athletic.

10. He should be smart.

11. He should be honest.

12. He should especially be good at math, since I suck at it.

13. He should kiss like he knows what he’s doing.

14. He should be close to his family.

15. He should get along with my dad.

16. He should be good with his hands.

17. He should think I’m beautiful, even when I’m a mess.

18. He should love little kids.

19. He should trust me with his secrets.

20. He should love me.

Prologue

Two Years Ago

Some things were so beautiful, they took your breath away.

Jenna Albanese had learned to appreciate such beauty with a camera as her guide, but over the past year, she’d started questioning even what had once seemed plain as day. She questioned what she saw in people and places. She questioned her own judgment.

So before she headed back home to the life she used to lead, to the people who were waiting patiently for her to return, Jenna needed to see that there was still untouched beauty on this earth.

Pure. Uncorrupted.

What was that quote?
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Well, Jenna had more than a thousand miles to travel, and the steps she had to take seemed too large and too overwhelming to think about at that moment.

No, this morning there was only the sky and the trees and a future she didn’t want to think about.

Making her way toward the glow, the ground crunched under her feet. There was stillness in the thin air. Quiet, except for the sounds made by a few birds and her footsteps. It wasn’t an isolating quiet, but one that made her think of things bigger and greater than the harshness of life. There was peace, and her heart craved that more than anything else. Looking around at the view through the lens of her camera, Jenna marveled at the world she saw. And she felt relief, because the beauty here was genuine. Perfect. Unspoiled. It gave her something to hold on to. No matter how many times she made her way up the twisty mountain road, no matter how many times she stood and saw the Rocky Mountains bathed in new light, regardless of the cynicism she felt in her own heart, here the wonder of nature would never fade. Jenna knew, if nothing else, that God lived on Pikes Peak.

Taking pictures of what would be her last trip to that magnificent summit for a very long time, she took a deep breath and then sighed. How did she come to this place in her life? After being on her own, making her way in the San Francisco art world, having actually made a living with her photographs, Jenna was on her way home to Long Island. There, a job as a teacher awaited her, her old room in her parents’ house was ready, and she was about to start a new chapter in her life.

It wasn’t something she looked forward to. So, sitting on the ground and pulling her knees to her chest, Jenna thought about how much time she could realistically kill before heading home. A few minutes? A day? A week or a month? Forever, maybe?

If only she could stay away forever.

She held the old Canon camera and looked it over. She’d used newer, more sophisticated equipment—marvelous little pieces of technology that did all the thinking—but the old camera was her favorite. It allowed her to play with light and shadow, giving her compositions depth and interest. It was the camera her grandfather gave her when she first learned to take pictures, a hand-me-down that had given her more joy than anything she’d acquired in the past few years.

Wrapping her arms around her legs and resting her chin on her knees, Jenna closed her eyes and let the cool mountain breeze lick at her skin. She sat for a long while and watched the sun come up; it was going to be a beautiful day—sunny, clear, and not too hot. Standing and stretching, Jenna thought about her travel plans. She was going to stop in Denver for a day and then drive home.
Home.
It was strange to think about Seaford as her home again. With its tidy little split-levels and public beaches; neatly manicured lawns and everything—and everyone—crammed together on uniformed quarter-acre lots.

She missed her loft already.

Three days ago she lived in a luxury condo with a view of the Bay that was an easy walk to her studio down by the water. She could hop in her Jeep and after a short drive be in the mountains or in the desert. The openness of the city and the people had drawn her to the area. She took great pleasure snubbing her suburban roots, and San Francisco made her feel superior in so many ways—independent, creative and more than a little special.

Yeah, I’m real special,
she thought. Shaking her head, Jenna climbed in her car and started the long drive down the mountain. An hour and a half to Denver. She’d find a hotel, catch up with some friends for the day, then hit the road tomorrow morning. Sounded like a plan. And it made Jenna a little sick.

Chapter One

He should be good-looking. Like really, really cute.

—#1, Jenna’s Boyfriend List

Nate Bayard stood at the end of the flower-strewn aisle as the woman he’d been falling for since the day he met her walked toward him. She looked perfect. A vision in soft silk and chiffon, her dark hair curled over her shoulders and her eyes twinkled with mischief.

And it was the mischief that he loved most of all.

He admitted to himself right then and there, he was a total goner. He’d be hers forever.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t the groom at this wedding, and Jenna Albanese wasn’t the bride. So unless Nate got up the nerve to do something, to ask her out—hell, even utter more than two sentences to her without sounding like a complete ass—it was destined to stay that way.

“Jenna looks beautiful,” his friend Jason Campbell whispered quietly, in the way people reserve for church.

Nate nodded once, not wanting to look too obvious. Of course he hadn’t taken his eyes off of her, so being subtle wasn’t in the cards today, especially when Jenna made eye contact with him and smiled. God, did she know what that smile did to him?

He looked away, quickly
. Perfect, that would send a great message
.

This had never happened to him before. Yeah, he dated, sometimes steadily, sometimes a lot, but no woman ever twisted his heart into a pretzel like Jenna.

Best as he could tell, she had no idea he had feelings for her. Most of the time he didn’t even think he was on her radar.

“Take advantage that you’re her partner today, man.” Jason was leaning toward him, still church whispering.

“Take advantage?”

“Dance with her, talk to her.”

“Would you two shut up? I’m getting married here and you ladies are plotting like a couple of twelve-year-olds.” Nothing like a nervous groom to put things in perspective. Owen Kent was one of his oldest friends, and never minced words.

Owen continued to snarl until the organist in the choir loft hit the first chord of “The Wedding March” and every head turned toward the back of the church. Surveying the scene, it was very much like other weddings he’d attended. The ceremony was held in the chapel of a large parish in Oyster Bay. The old stone church was full of charm and history, with its carved oak pews, beamed ceiling, and inlaid wood. Tiffany stained-glass windows, the most striking feature of the chapel, filled the church with color and light.

Nate couldn’t get a glimpse of the bride with everyone standing, but he could see the reaction on Owen’s face. The love his friend had for Kim Torres was something of legend, but Nate wasn’t surprised. Of the three of them, Owen was the one who was larger than life. A marine officer, and a bona fide hero, it was no wonder his friend loved with no bounds.

Nate believed he and Jenna could have a shot at something like that. If he could figure her out.

“God.” Owen breathed out. “She’s so perfect. I can’t screw this up.”

“You won’t,” Jason said, patting his arm. “If I haven’t messed up with Meg, you won’t mess up with Kim.”

That was the moment Nate envied his two best friends. They had it all. He, on the other hand, glanced at Jenna and thought about what he was going to do so he could stop wondering,
What if
?

***

Jenna couldn’t get over how beautiful Kim looked. From the minute she stepped into her gown, a frothy concoction of tulle, lace, and crystals, her friend radiated the special beauty that only brides possess. Jenna had snapped a few photos without anyone seeing and she just knew they would be the best ones of the day. The simple excitement and the love she saw on her oldest friend’s face was undeniable. Glancing at her camera, Jenna wondered if she should revive her photography business—maybe do it part time—focusing on weddings, babies, and family portraits. Happy moments.

Moments like the one Kim and Owen were having right now.

Jenna wanted to love someone the way her friends loved each other, but when she’d given her heart in the past, she’d ended up broken and betrayed. Her judgment where men were concerned was not the best. In fact, it downright sucked. So rather than risk her heart, or her friends and her family again, Jenna decided it was best to stay out of the game.

But she was glad Kim didn’t give up. Just seeing Owen’s face as Kim walked down the aisle was proof true love existed, and her friend deserved a man who looked at her like that. Someone who would love her. Owen certainly seemed to fit the bill.

As she was about to redirect her gaze up the aisle, Jenna was drawn in by a pair of soft, sweet hazel eyes. Nate Bayard. The gorgeous, geeky CFO of Reliance Software. He was one of Owen’s best friends and so very out of her league. Which really didn’t matter because she got the sense he didn’t like her much. She’d caught him staring at her often enough in the last couple of days, more than he had in the past six months, but she never got the feeling his attention was flattering.

Like his two partners, Nate was tall, just a hair over six feet, she guessed, but unlike Jason’s polished elegance or Owen’s dark, brooding smolder, Nate was more boy-next-door. He was handsome, no doubt. With his wide-set hazel eyes, angular bone structure, strong chin, and light golden-brown hair, Nate was very nice to look at. And the body—whoa—the way the man filled out a suit should be deemed criminal.

But that was all she had. Jenna had no idea what the guy was all about, other than he was rich as hell, adorable, and even though he never gave her the impression he was interested—in fact, he acted very much like he was not—a warm feeling spread through her every time she looked at him.

Gah.
This little crush had to stop. It was bad enough she was paired up with him today. The rehearsal dinner had been a nightmare. She’d tried to get him to talk a little at church, and he shushed her.
Shushed her.
Like she was some little kid. Then he sat all the way on the other side of the room when they went to dinner. He’d made no attempt to get to know her at all. The other groomsmen and bridesmaids were laughing and joking around, having a good time. Not her and Nate. No. He was busy chatting up Owen’s family. There was no planning their silly entry dance into the reception. Nothing.

Just silence and shushing.

But still, he was so damn attractive. And Jenna hadn’t felt that little tingle in a long time. The kind of tingle that told her she’d been out of circulation too long.

Lord, she had to get out of her own head. Nate Bayard didn’t deserve the energy she was expending thinking about him. The only person she should be focusing on was Kim. Her beautiful, wonderful friend, who had been to hell and back, deserved this magical day, and if that meant putting on her best face and spending time with Nate, so be it.

Harper Poole, Kim’s former boss and one of the executives at Reliance stood next to her and leaned in just as Kim and her father reached the end of the aisle and he lifted her veil.

“God,” Harper said. “She’s a perfect bride. Look how happy she is.”

Jenna sniffed and dabbed at tears that were threatening to ruin her makeup. “She is.”

“Maybe you’ll be next,” Harper whispered.

Jenna shook her head. As happy as she was for Kim and Owen, she felt a little pang of jealousy when the big handsome marine took her friend’s hand and led her toward the priest.

She wanted this. She wanted to find someone who would love her back with total abandon. Who would make her the priority in his life. Who wouldn’t lie. Or cheat. Not like that dirty lowlife who had left her to clean up his mess in San Francisco.

Back then, Jenna thought she had it all—the job, the boyfriend, the apartment. She believed she’d outgrown the trite suburban existence she’d known her whole life. That family didn’t really matter. But looking out into the congregation gathered to celebrate Kim and Owen, her parents included, she realized that family was everything.

Back when she was in trouble, it was her family who was there for her. They were the ones who picked up the pieces. No, Jenna would never question how much she needed them ever again.

But she
would
question her judgment regarding men for the rest of her life.

Her track record sucked and there was no reason to think it would improve.

Jenna may have wanted the fairy tale, but unless there was a fairy godmother someplace, happily ever after was not going to happen.

***

Don’t forget to be funny
, he thought. Jenna was always laughing, so Nate figured if he could keep her smiling she wouldn’t be bored when she had to spend time with him today. To do that, he was calling on his inner Scot. His people were charming, and it was time for him to be too.

The only problem was, he wasn’t funny. Out of all the people in his circle, Nate was the one who wasn’t at ease in a crowd and had to work to get a woman’s attention. Truthfully, he was beginning to think he was losing his mind. He hadn’t ever worried about this middle school relationship crap. Even in middle school.

When it came their turn to walk up the aisle, Nate linked arms with Jenna and smiled. “That was a nice ceremony.”

“It was. Beginning of a whole new life. Marriage changes everything.”

“Yup. No more fun for Owen.”
Ah, crap
.

“Why would you assume that? That’s such a guy thing to say.”

“I just meant . . . never mind. I am a guy, after all.”

“Is that so?” He glanced over just as Jenna rolled her eyes. What Nate needed right now was a stiff drink. A good Scotch, straight up, would do the trick.

“Kim is a good person,” Jenna continued. “Smart and loyal. Owen’s lucky she said yes.”

“I’ve known Owen my whole life,” Nate said. “And I agree. Although didn’t she ask him to get married?”

“Details, details.” She giggled. “It’s good to know we agree on something.”

Then she flashed him that million-watt smile and Nate felt his breath get sucked right out of his chest. For a second it felt like he lost control of his senses, as all he could think about was grabbing Jenna by the hand and dragging her off to a corner to kiss her senseless. Yeah, kissing Jenna was definitely at the top of his list. Then he wouldn’t have to talk, he wouldn’t have to tell her he was crazy about her, he could show her. When she laughed at something Kim’s sister said, a full, joyous laugh that brought it all home, Nate thought this could end up being a good day after all.

When they reached Owen and Kim at the back of the church, he watched as Jenna and her friend hugged. The affection between them was so real, very much like the brotherhood he, Jason, and Owen shared. The three of them had been friends for over twenty years, ever since their first day of high school. They had all been brought up in privileged families and bonded almost immediately, playing sports, learning about girls, and helping one another through some of the worst times of their lives.

Nate could safely say he might not have survived his teens without his two friends. Things had gotten that bad.

He saw Kim slip a piece of paper to Jenna and give her another hug before Jenna stepped out of the church. He assumed she’d find Kim’s sisters or her family. “You’re a lucky man.” Nate patted Owen on the shoulder.

“Don’t I know it,” his friend replied as he glanced at his bride.

Nate had definitely entertained doubts about the star-crossed match between his friend and the formidable nurse he’d met in Afghanistan, but it didn’t take long to see that Owen couldn’t have found a better match. With their shared history and experience in the military, the bride and groom understood each other in ways no one else could. “Congratulations, beautiful,” he said as he kissed Kim on the cheek.

“Thank you. Take good care of my friend today, will you, Nate?”

“Jenna? She’ll be fine.”

“She’s had a tough time. I think her brother is on her mind today, so watch out for her, okay?”

He nodded, not quite understanding why she was concerned, but definitely curious. Once he walked out into the bright May sunshine, Nate heard Jenna’s big, happy laugh for a second time in as many minutes. It was a sound that should have told him there was nothing to worry about. But for a split second, he locked eyes with the dark-haired beauty and he could see that Kim had reason to think about her friend. Sadness slipped into her big, dark eyes. It was just for a second, but it was right there.

“What’s wrong, Nate?” He was standing next to Meg Campbell, Jason’s wife, and, true to form, she picked up on his tension. The woman was uncanny. He guessed it was some kindergarten teacher trick, one she used to understand the secret language of five-year-olds.

“Nothing,” he responded. Like she’d believe that.

“No. Really. What’s got you so tense?”

“Meg, it’s nothing. Really.”

Of course, he glanced at Jenna, and Meg, being Meg, didn’t miss it. “Hmmm. I think I understand.” She scooted next to him. Long blonde curls escaped her hairstyle and blew around her face. “Jenna? You like her? Is that it? Can I help?”

“Help with what?”

“Whatever you’re planning. You’re interested.”

“I’m not planning anything. Kim thinks this could be a tough day for her. She asked me to stay close.”

“Because Kim knows you’re interested.”

Nate looked up at the sky. “The woman is daft,” he mumbled.

The whack that fell on his arm made him jump. “I am not
daft
!”

“Meg, there’s nothing to do. Stay out of it. Jenna barely knows me, but if Kim thinks she could use a little moral support then I’ll do what I can.”

“Nate the Boy Scout.”

Shaking his head, he moved away and saw Jenna examining the piece of paper Kim had slipped in her hand on the receiving line. She was smiling, so, for the moment, he didn’t have to do anything, and that gave him a little time to follow Meg’s suggestion and make a plan.

***

“What are you looking at?” Jenna had no idea why Kim had given this to her, but she passed the paper to Kim’s sister, Joey, who’d drifted into the shady spot under a big oak tree. Joey was only a year younger than Kim and Jenna, and the three of them did everything together growing up.

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