Calliope’s been hurt too many times to let another man in, but Quentin Broussard’s about to turn her world upside down.
Calliope Koch sat on top of the world back in high school. Her dad treated her like a princess, so she believed she was one. Every guy wanted to be with her and every girl wanted to be her. But oh, how the mighty do fall…
Fast forward fourteen years, and Calliope has lost her father to another family. She’s been dumped more times than she can count. The only thing keeping her going is the dream of running her own clothing boutique. But the same guy who caused one of those breakups is taking that dream from her.
It’s Quentin Broussard, the older, artistic, mysterious Broussard brother who left home when he was eighteen. Three years ago, he called her quirky and convinced his brother to break up with her. Now he’s back in New Orleans and trying to take something from her once again.
She won’t fall victim to another Broussard brother’s smooth moves, no matter how hard this one’s knocking on her door. And she’ll try to ignore the fact that he’s making her feel like the princess she once believed she was.
If Quentin’s family had any idea how ill-equipped he was to pick out an avocado, they wouldn’t have sent him to the grocery store. He never cooked. Why would he when there were well-trained people making food in restaurants everywhere?
But this was the kind of thing he volunteered to do these days as he found himself trying to prove to his family that he wasn’t the dickhead they all thought he was. He’d never be able to reveal the reason he’d left home eighteen years ago and only came back after his mother’s passing. But now that she was gone, he was ready to have the rest of his family back in his life, which meant repenting for the sin of leaving and staying gone.
He was paying the piper one morsel at a time, including last minute fruit retrieval. Was an avocado a fruit? Maybe the woman looking at the tomatoes across from him knew.
She picked one up, inspected it, and then discarded it for another one. This went on for five or six tomatoes until she found a suitable one that she put in her cart.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” he said.
She looked up at him, then back down at the tomatoes, then did a double-take, focusing on him. Her cheeks went pink. Looked like the Broussard charm was at it again. He hadn’t even been trying that time.
“You wouldn’t know how to pick out an avocado, would you?”
She crinkled her brow as she looked down, clearing her throat. “Are you using it today?”
“Well, I’m not using it at all. My sister-in-law is.”
The woman scratched her eyebrow and then said, “Pick one that’s kind of brown-looking and a little soft.” She started to walk away, and then she turned back toward him. “But not too soft. Like, somewhere in between.” She nodded once like she was content with her answer and then walked away. He hadn’t even decided if she was cute. He thought maybe she was.
He grabbed a few of the brown avocados and then went over to where she was by the apples. “What about this one?” he asked, holding out one of the avocados.
She frowned, looking at it and then up at him. “Mmm-hmm.”
“Would you mind testing it for me?” he asked, handing it to her.
She took it from him, squeezed it, and then handed it back. “That one’s fine.” She walked away toward the oranges.
He followed her. “I promise I’m not a stalker. Just clueless.”
“Oh yes. I’m aware.”
So it wasn’t that she was weirded out by a strange man hitting on her. She somehow knew him. “Do I know you?”
“Probably not,” she said and walked toward the nut section.
She was starting to look familiar—those big blue eyes rang a bell. He should definitely remember that rack she had underneath that V-neck T-shirt. He followed her. “I do know you, don’t I?” He had no idea from where, but she was definitely starting to look familiar.
She let out a sigh like she was giving in. “I dated your brother.”
That wasn’t a good sign. There weren’t two humans less alike than Quentin and his brother Braxton. Braxton was as square as a chess board, and Quentin was an artsy-fartsy numbskull, as he overheard his father so deftly put it two weeks prior to his eighteenth birthday. If Braxton was the type she went for, he was sunk.
“I didn’t know Braxton had ever dated anybody except for his current wife.”
She squinted. “Oh, yes you did.” She stared at him as if in challenge.
He searched his brain for this girl and then came up with a memory—her in an ugly Christmas sweater with her hair up in a ponytail. It was longer then, but it was down now, straight and blonde and framing her face in a chin-length cut. That’s what had thrown him off. She had looked different that first night he’d met her.
“I remember you now. I met you at Christmastime one year. Braxton was serious about you. I forgot all about that.”
She huffed, shaking her head. “Of course, you did.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing. It means nothing. Just make sure you get a few of those avocados.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because they’re kind of brown and Peyton might need to cut around some of the bad parts.”
“So, you know Peyton.”
“And Savannah. And I know they’re making a summer salad. I don’t want to be responsible for bad or not enough avocados.”
“You must be pretty close with the two of them if you know what they’re making right now.”
“Peyton texted me for the recipe. She had it at my house a few weeks ago.”
He edged himself between her and the shelf she was looking at. “I feel a little bit at a disadvantage here. You seem to know me and my family, but I don’t know you. What’s your name?”
She dropped the tension in her shoulders, giving him a look like she couldn’t possibly trust him any less. “I’m Calliope.”
He opened up with a smile. “You’re Calliope? The girls talk about you all the time.”
She held out her hand as if to say, There you go, and then pushed her cart away from him.
He caught up to her. “Why don’t you come home with me, to my dad’s house? We’re having a little family get together.”
She squinted at him. “The last time I went to one of your family get-togethers, I ended up with my heart broken yet again. I think I’ll pass.”
“No, someone else.”
“Who broke your heart?”
“It’s a long story.” She moved on to the canned goods.
He followed her. “I’ve got time.”
“Aren’t you due back with those avocados?”
“Trust me, nobody expects me back anytime soon.”
“Why don’t you surprise them?”
“Because I’m more interested in this heartbreak you just experienced.”
She stopped and turned toward him. “Which heartbreak are you interested in? Would you like to hear about the one where I found out on my wedding day that my fiancé had been sleeping with my maid of honor? Or would you like to hear about the one where I was really starting to fall head over heels, but the guy’s ex came back into the picture, pregnant? Or do you want to hear about the one where I was dating this great guy who turned out was still hung up on his childhood crush? But wait, you know all about that one.” She walked away again.
Braxton had recently married Peyton, who he’d been in love with most of his life and vice versa. “You’re talking about Braxton now,” he said, following her.
“Look how smart you are.”
He moved around to the front of her cart so she couldn’t push it any further. “I’m getting the distinct feeling you don’t like me.”
“Wow, really? That’s weird.” She pursed her lips at him and then perused a shelf.
“You don’t even know me, and I don’t know you, so I couldn’t have done anything to you.”
She huffed a laugh. “You’re unbelievable.”
He slid up the side of the cart to get closer to her until she looked at him. “What did I do, seriously?”
She let out a hard breath, looking down at the ground like she was deciding, then finally looked him in the eye. “You told Braxton to break up with me.”
He backpedaled to that evening at the Boudreaux house when Braxton was there with the girl in that ugly Christmas sweater. What had he said? He couldn’t remember, but she seemed to. “I did?”
Calliope tossed a box of granola bars into her cart and plowed forward.
He followed after her and touched her on the arm. “Hang on.”
She stared at his hand like it was diseased and then slowly dragged her gaze to meet his.
He pulled his hand off her arm. “I’m just trying to remember.”
“How about I refresh your memory?”
“Please,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest, waiting.
“Your exact words were, ‘I get she’s cute and quirky and all, but she’s no Peyton.’”
It all came back to him then. Braxton and he had been standing by the Christmas tree. Everyone else was in the kitchen. Quentin had asked Braxton how serious he was about the girl in the ugly Christmas sweater. Braxton had said they were getting pretty serious. Quentin had told him he’d regret it if he never tried to patch things up with Peyton. He wondered if Calliope had overheard that part.
“Oh,” was all he could utter.
“Oh,” she repeated back to him and then moved on.
He also remembered talking to her for a brief moment, before all that. He’d felt something with her…an unusual connection. She was dating his brother, and he’d had enough bad blood with his family. He remembered excusing himself to break up whatever was drawing him to her.
He followed her. “You’ve got to admit, it all worked out in the end.”
“Yep,” she said, inspecting a box of crackers.
“So, what, you’re still hung up on my little brother? You know he’s married now, right?”
She swung around. “I’m not quirky. I was wearing that stupid sweater because I had come from work—a Christmas event.”
“I don’t judge.”
“Yes, you do. You did.”
“That conversation was about helping my brother get over his pride and light a fire under him to go make up with the love of his life who he’d not spoken to in years. It really didn’t have anything to do with you.”
“Other than the fact that I was the girl he dumped that night.”
“He dumped you that night?”
“Why am I telling him all this?” she said to herself, pushing her cart toward the raw meat section.
He went after her. “Look, I’m sorry you were collateral damage, but they belonged together. Look at them now. Wouldn’t you agree?”
She closed her eyes. “It’s fine. You’re absolved of any wrongdoing. Can I do my grocery shopping now?”
He didn’t move. He was too interested in her. She had this round face with big blue eyes and rosy, pink cheeks that made him think of a young Cameron Diaz, like in that Farrelly Brothers movie, except she wasn’t tall, and she was curvier…lusciously curvier…
“If you’ll excuse me,” she said.
“Come back to the house with me. I know the girls would love to see you.”
“I thought you were going to let me shop.”
“I am, but when you’re done, you should come over.”
She gave a laugh like he was unbelievable. “You’re having a family gathering.”
“I don’t think it’s that exclusive. I’m there after all.”
“You’re a family member.”
“Yeah, but I guarantee they like you a whole lot more than they like me.”
She shook her head at him and then moved the cart forward.
“So, will you come?” he asked, following her again.
She widened her already big eyes. “You’re seriously hitting on me right now?”
He shrugged. “Yeah.”
She pinched the bridge of her nose. “You call me quirky, convince my boyfriend to break up with me days before Christmas, then leave town, and now you’re back, and you want me to come with you to a family get-together where that ex-boyfriend of mine will no doubt be?”
He thought about it. “Sure.”
She narrowed her gaze at him. “Get help.” She pushed her cart forward.
He walked up to her and put his hand on the bar near hers. “Look, I understand that we started off on the wrong foot, but that’s been a while ago. Can we call it water under the bridge and move forward?”
She perused the aisle. “Fine.”
“So you’ll come over?”
“Why don’t we start over?” he said.
“Start what over?”
She picked up a brick of cheddar cheese. “This conversation was about avocados.”
“Yeah, but avocados became secondary pretty quickly.”
She stopped, letting out a hard breath. “All right. Let’s pretend for a minute that I didn’t date your brother.”
“Let’s also pretend you didn’t cause our breakup.”
He squinted one eye. “Technically, I probably didn’t cause—”
“I just told you the disaster that my life is. Why would you want to be next in line for the freak show?”
“Because I was right about one thing I said to Braxton.”
“Oh yeah?” she asked, hand on her hip.
Her cheeks turned candy-apple red. “I can’t with this.” She started to walk away again.
“All right, hang on. I’m gonna let you go this time, for real.”
She lifted her eyebrows in question.
“I just need to know one thing before I do.”
She folded her arms over her chest. “Okay.”
“We’re past the whole quirky comment and me breaking you and my brother up, right?”
“If that ends this conversation, sure.”
“So now, you’re only pushing me away because you’ve been hurt a lot and you don’t want to go there again?”
She shrugged, tossing up her hand. “I don’t know. Whatever.”
“So you may or may not be the slightest bit attracted to me?”
She inhaled a deep breath while her eyes slowly went to the ceiling. She let the breath out and stared at him, head cocked to the side.
He grinned. “Say no more. Have a nice day, Calliope.”
He tossed the avocado up in the air, caught it, and then headed to the register. He should spend more time at the grocery store, and he definitely wanted more time with Calliope.