Mess With Me

By: Kylie Gilmore

Happy Endings Book Club Series, Book 6

Chapter One

Ally Bloom stepped into her college reunion  , looking for her lost love and prepared for rapture.

Where the heck is he? She scanned the huge ballroom of the hotel for her target, coming up empty. Lots of twentysomethings pushing thirty mingled in cocktail dresses and suits, chatting about the “old” days four years ago back at UConn (University of Connecticut).

Show yourself, man of my dreams. She and Dean had been texting back and forth over the past month and, after he’d said he couldn’t wait to see her at the reunion  , his texts had become increasingly flirty, calling her beautiful and gorgeous. Bring your dancing shoes, gorgeous. It felt like a lead-in to a fresh start.

She casually skirted the edges of the dance floor, hoping to sense the presence of her tall, dark, and handsome man for a passionate rekindling of love. The attraction would pull them together as inevitably as two moths to a flame but with less incendiary results.

Not finding him, she wandered over to the bar, ordered the special, a fruity punch spiked with vodka, and took a sip. Should she work the room, wait for the dinner buffet and hopefully spot him at a table, or maybe ask the DJ to play her and Dean’s song? But what if Dean didn’t remember their song? They’d only danced to it once at his frat’s formal senior year.

Maybe I’ll text him. No, wait. She wanted the wow factor of a face-to-face meeting considering the time she’d put in prepping for this event—hair, makeup, killer strapless red dress with matching pumps. Not to mention she’d gotten waxed, legs only because she could not take anything more intimately painful. Been there, smacked the esthetician. But these were the sacrifices she made to offer herself at her personal height of feminine beauty and appeal. Their love would do the rest.

She hoped.

Where was he?

She watched the doorway, where people were still arriving. Maybe he’d step through the archway of navy blue, white, and gray balloons, their eyes would meet across the room and they’d communicate in that single loving gaze that there was nothing more they ever needed than each other.

She sighed and took a healthy swallow of spiked punch. It had been so long since she’d been interested in any man. Some part of her wondered if it was because she was meant to be with Dean. And when her class organized a reunion   so soon—normally it was five or ten years for classes to get back together—it felt like another sign from the universe. Fate had plans for them and it would be foolish not to be open to the possibility of a reconnection. Dean was her first love; they’d met sophomore year in a computer science 101 course that they were both completely lost in. They’d dated until a year after graduation when Dean declared he was “too young to settle down.”

She’d floundered.

Four months later in a total rebound situation, she’d briefly fallen for Mark, gotten engaged, and fled her own wedding, leaving poor Mark at the altar. At the time, she’d realized she was still in love with Dean. She’d called Dean immediately after—still in her wedding gown, for crying out loud—only to discover he had a girlfriend.

She blew out a breath that made her blond bangs lift off her forehead. The anticipation was killing her.

A tall man with short dirty blond hair across the room caught her eye. He stood, arms crossed in a white button-down shirt and black pants (no suit jacket or tie), taking in the room, his face set in a hard expression. Oh, hey, was that Ethan Case? He was one of the guys that grew up with the Campbell brothers. She’d seen him a bunch of times at Garner’s bar, hanging with the guys, but had never really talked to him one-on-one. She lifted a hand in a small wave that he missed because he turned and said something to the woman at his side, a tall brunette with a short cap of hair, in a black dress. Oh, it was his girlfriend, Cali. You could tell how close they were by the way they spoke in such a close intimate manner. Though neither of them smiled or touched each other. Well, not everyone was as affectionate as she and Dean were.

“Ally?” a familiar masculine voice asked.

She turned and gasped at the sudden appearance of Dean, which somehow made her choke on her own spit. She coughed like crazy and the love of her life helpfully pounded her on the back.

“You okay?” he asked with a laugh. “Didn’t mean to sneak up on you like that.”

“I’m fine,” she gasped out, her eyes watering. “Hi.” She coughed some more.

He smiled his dimpled smile. “Breathe.”

She did. “Yeah.” She sipped her punch, trying to regain the composure needed for their rapturous reunion  .

Dean pulled her in for a quick hug. “So good to see you again. How you been?”

“Great!” She studied his handsome features, a little startled by his new look. They hadn’t texted current pics of each other. The man she remembered was a lacrosse jock who loved his frat, with shaggy dark brown hair and a scruffy jaw. Now his hair was short and neat, his jaw clean-shaven except for a small patch of hair on his chin. What was that called? A soul patch? The silver hoop earring was also new.