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So if you have a few minutes, keep reading for the first couple of chapters of THE RELATIONTRIP – that free book you got a few weeks ago!
If you can’t remember where you got it, you should be able to find it inside the BookFunnel app, or perhaps you had BookFunnel send it to your device… You got it from the Books: Better Than Therapy event in April 2023.
Either way, enjoy this beachy, slow burn romance between a real estate agent and her best friend who’s been hiding his feelings for years…
The Relationtrip - Chapter One:
My mom once told me that to make a marriage work, one had to compromise. “You don’t get everything you want,” she’d said.
“Ooh, it has a pool,” she says now, as she sits at my bar, her plate of dinner long gone. I’ve washed all the dishes—pots and pans too—and a certain level of exhaustion invades my bones.
“What are you going to do with a pool in Pittsburgh?” I hang up the dishtowel that hasn’t seen this much action in months and turn to face her.
She doesn’t so much as glance up from my laptop. The one I need to call my best friend and find out the situation with our trip. He’d texted during my last showing, and my mother ambushed me literally at my car as I’d said good-bye to my clients. If my SUV had been unlocked, she’d have been lurking in the passenger seat.
Talking on the drive here. Me cooking something last-minute. More talking. Her going on and on about how the house she’s shared with my father for the past twenty-five years is too big now. It feels so empty, she’d said an hour ago. Wistfully.
Other times, she talks about Dad like he’s the devil himself. I don’t really blame her. I’d had no idea he wasn’t happy in his marriage of thirty-three years. I’ve said very little about Dad since Mom took me to lunch and told me the news.
Some of the things she’s said…
I can’t go there right now, so I paste a tight smile on my face. “Does it have a gym?”
Mom’s been looking at condos and fifty-five-plus communities, which I suppose I can’t blame her for. I wouldn’t want to do yard work and home improvement or maintenance—things she’s literally never had to manage on her own.
“Hm.” Mom’s eyes glaze over, and I turn, open the fridge, slide my phone off the counter in seemingly one motion. I’m the oldest of three girls, and I’m very good friends with my mother. I don’t entertain her nightly—usually—but we talk every day. Most days. I’ve always liked our close relationship, until this major bump in her life.
I feel thrown back in time five years, and I could say all the things she said to me then. I don’t, because I know how harshly words can slice through a person’s defenses. Sometimes those are as see-through as plastic wrap. Though it seems strong and can keep things fresh for longer, it can stick to itself, get twisted, and it’s actually very, very easy to poke holes through when already stretched tight.
I know the plastic wrap Mom bears is the stretched-tight kind, so I mind my tongue. I have to get her out of here, and as guilty as that makes me feel, I do have other things to do tonight besides entertain her.
411, I send to Logan. The text flips to read, and the tension in my shoulders fades enough to make them finally go down.
“Never mind,” Mom says. “It’s over by Tree Line.”
I turn back to her, Logan’s response to me nowhere to be found. “What’s over by Tree Lane?”
She doesn’t answer, and I’m not sure how much more I can take. “Mom—” I start, a loud, shrill trilling cutting me off.
Praise the heavens.
“Oh.” She jumps away from the computer, both hands flying up as if someone has a weapon pointed at her and she needs to show them she doesn’t have one.
“That’s Murph,” I say, doing my best not to grab the computer and flee for my bedroom. “I do need to talk to him about our trip.” To my own ears, I sound super sympathetic. My smile feels a bit too wide, but Mom slides from the barstool.
“I should go anyway.” She sighs, as if leaving my house—which she’s used some choice adjectives for in the past—is the worst possible outcome for her evening.
“Okay,” I say. “It was so good to see you, Mom.” I leave the call ringing, because a 411-distress call means I need Murph to call me, specifically on the computer, and if I don’t answer, to call my cell only two minutes later.
I’m hoping I can kiss-kiss Mom good-bye and be headed to my bedroom by the time he rings my cell.
“Thanks for cooking,” Mom says as she pauses at the front door to get her jacket. “The chicken was surprisingly juicy.” Her compliments aren’t always compliments, but I keep the smile hitched in place. It rides my face as she turns to me, steps into my embrace, and then leaves.
The moment the door closes, I feel like I’ve crossed the finish line of a marathon. I’d be one of those runners who put everything forth and then stumbles mere steps from that finish line. Tonight, I made it, and I spin back to the kitchen as my phone rings.
I’d managed to escape to my room for ten minutes to change my clothes and ditch my heels before making a gourmet feast for dinner—wherein the chicken was juicy and delicious, I’ll have everyone know—so I’m able to jog back to the kitchen.
Jog is a generous term. Maybe a bouncy power walk. Whatever. I know when I swipe my phone from the countertop, it’s about to go to voicemail and I shouldn’t have attempted any sort of bouncing, power walking, or jogging.
“Murph,” I say in a pant.
“There you are,” he says, as if I’ve missed a meeting. “Let me guess. The Smithsonians demanded you show them yet another colonial, you haven’t eaten since that gross pumpkin seed bar you have synced to a ten a.m. alarm on your phone, and you’ve just now made it back to your car.”
I start grinning at the mention of my clients. Not so much that he heard me huffing and puffing. I tell myself it doesn’t matter. He’s my best friend, despite the fact that we only see each other once a year—on this upcoming mid-winter tropical retreat.
I laugh, Logan Murphy’s deeper chuckles mingling in with mine. My heartbeat thrums in the vein in my neck, and I feel…happy. So, so happy, whenever I talk to Logan.
“First,” I say. “I’ll have you know I made dinner tonight. For my mother and I.” I raise my eyebrows and turn toward the master suite. When I’d bought the house, it didn’t have one. I worked with an interior designer, and now I have a fabulous master suite with a settee in my bay window, a walk-in closet any woman would die for, and more European glass than any single woman should ever own.
“Chicken or beef?” Murph asks, not even letting me get to my second point.
“Chicken.” My feet meet the luxurious carpet in my bedroom, and I further relax.
“I bet it was so dry,” he says.
“Totally,” I deadpan. “Secondly, my clients’ name is Smithson. Not Smithsonian.” I can’t erase the grin from my lips. Murph never gets names right. He gets close, but never dead-on. I grab my hamper of dirty clothes and continue when he doesn’t reply. “Third, I still have to prep the paperwork for that closing tomorrow, I haven’t started my laundry yet, and I have no idea where my passport is, so please tell me we don’t need it.”
He pulls in a breath. “You’re gonna need it, Sloane.”
I figured as much. “I’m starting my laundry. Start the story.” We’ve been traveling together every winter for the past five years. This is our sixth trip together, all of them stemming from that fateful day I showed up at the airport for my honeymoon…alone.
“You’re just now starting your laundry?”
“You said you’d keep it tropical.” I heave the basket into the laundry room, open the washing machine, and proceed to dump the entire contents of the hamper into the bowl. I don’t sort. Who has time to sort their laundry? Not me.
“I did,” he says.
“Then I only need swimming suits,” I say. “I’ve got those laid out already.”
“Of course you do.” He sounds perfectly amused, which makes me smile.
“I still need other things,” I say.
“No heels,” he says. “No blouses. No skirts.”
“Some of my cover-ups are skirts.”
“I’ll allow it.” Murph knows how much I work, and how hard I put myself together. This trip is all about the opposite of that. I can fall apart. I can do nothing. I can relax and rest and reset for another year.
“So tell me where we’re going. And what happened with the resort in the Keys?”
“It flooded,” he says. “I went down far too many rabbit holes today, until I finally landed on…Belize!”
“Bless you.” I drop the washing machine lid and start the cycle.
“It’s great,” he says, ignoring my tease. “Tropical rain forests with cenotes, the beach with all the snorkeling you love, and the resort is amazing. No cars. Only golf carts. Very quiet. Upscale.”
I frown as I leave my laundry room. “Upscale? How much more is this than that place in Florida?”
“I mean, it’s Belize,” he says. “Not the US. So it’s more. You said you could do more.”
“I can.” I re-enter my bedroom and head over to the side of the bed where I don’t sleep. If I didn’t work fifteen-hour days, I might have a little white dog. Or a cat. Nope. A dog for sure.
Murph’s barks in the background, and he makes me smile.
“It’s not that much more,” he says. “I called the airline and got our tickets switched. I booked the resort online. Apparently, Belize is pretty full in late January, thus the need for a more…less cheap place.”
“Is it adults-only?” It’s not that I don’t like children. I do. In fact, since my thirty-first birthday last spring, I’ve really felt this urge to get back into the boxing ring. The dating boxing ring. It’s like a match out there for me. But I should. Find someone to date, that is. Maybe someone to share my life with. Maybe we could have a couple of kids.
“Yes,” Murph says, and I snap back to reality. A scoff works its way free from my throat.
I am never getting married. I don’t want to do all the work it takes to find someone who can love me. It’s too hard, and I don’t think I have all the pieces of my heart back yet anyway.
Just when I think I do, my mom takes me to lunch and says my dad told her he’s never really loved her. In thirty-three years.
How does someone live a lie for that long?
In truth, I was simultaneously sad for my mom, furious at my father, and relieved I’m not living in a five-year-old marriage that would’ve ended in the same way. Leon Burgiss didn’t love me; that’s why he didn’t show up on our wedding day.
“It’s all set,” Murph says. “You like nice things, Sloany, and this is nice-nice.”
“Thank you,” I murmur as I take in my swimwear choices waiting on my bed. “Now, help me with the bathing suit options.”
“Put me on video.”
I tap to do that, and I aim the phone at the bed. “I’ve got the classic black one-piece, of course.”
“Of course,” Murph says, his smile in his voice.
I don’t have the opportunity to wear a lot of swimming suits in Pittsburgh, so the fact that I have so many is kind of ridiculous. I reason that I only wear one pair of shoes at a time, but I own many pairs of those too. This is no different.
Plus, I was going to get a hot tub last year. I have the cement pad and everything. Then I realized how much more I needed to do—wiring for the plug, all the pH chemically stuff, and the fact that it snows in Pittsburgh for half the year, I swear.
“That bikini is hot,” he says.
“It’s not a bikini,” I say. I have a fair amount of curves, and I prefer a tankini and some bottoms to the stringed type of swimwear.
“It’s clearly two pieces,” he argues. “The top is pink, and the bottoms are black.”
“It’s a sports bra and a pair of panties.” The bra-top is cute, though. It has a subtle, cream-colored tropical leaf pattern running through the hot pink. The bottoms are almost shorts to contain my booty, with a thick waistband that makes me look sexy and feminine.
But not hot. I love my body, one-hundred percent, how it is. I simply know how to make her feel and look good at the same time.
“Yeah.” He clears his throat and hums in that way Murph has. I can’t quite describe it, but he does it when he’s thinking about something, when he’s not sure what to say, and when he’s trying to irritate me. I half-expect him to burst out laughing any second now, but he doesn’t.
“There are nine,” I say as I move the phone down the line without further comment from my best friend.
“Shocking.” I flip the phone around and see his brilliant smile. “I’d expect you to have double digits when it comes to your beach clothes.”
“Some of them are two pieces.”
“Yeah.” His thumb covers the camera, and then he disappears. A blip of disappointment cuts through me, but Murph hates doing video calls on his phone. He’s already a little self-conscious about the size of his nose, and the close-up and angle of a phone camera doesn’t help.
I don’t know what he’s talking about. He’s rugged, with a square jaw and the perfect amount of scruff no matter what time of day it is. He’s got eyes that sparkle like the Atlantic Ocean on a clear, gorgeous day, and just because I’m not dating and will never marry doesn’t mean I don’t know how devastatingly good-looking Murph is.
“I have at least three cover-ups too,” I say as the call switches back to talking only. “Maybe four.” I focus on the settee, where no less than half a dozen cover-ups lay, waiting for me to deem some of them Chosen Ones and take them to Belize with me.
I sink onto the bed. “Belize, huh?”
“I’ve never been,” he says. “Dinner with your mom, huh?”
I try not to think about the hour’s worth of paperwork that still needs to be done before I can actually go to sleep. “I’m closing my eyes,” I whisper, a game Murph and I have played before. “Paint me a picture, Murph.”
He starts to talk about what’s happening in Superior, Wisconsin, where he lives. “The snowflakes fall down like angel kisses from heaven, lighting on the ship as it eases into the dock…”
Yes, I fall asleep to the deep, sexy, bass timbre of his voice, my head filled with dreams of my upcoming tropical vacation with my gorgeous-inside-and-out best friend.
The Relationtrip - Chapter Two:
I round the corner for the baggage claim in Atlanta, the first four or five carousels to my left, and the remaining ones to my right. I have no idea where my bag will be spit out, but I’m willing to bet Murph does.
I texted him the moment I got service, which admittedly was still a few feet above ground. I knew he’d be here already, as his flight had been scheduled to land an hour before mine. We still have four before our last leg to Belize too.
It’s barely lunchtime, but my stomach growls. The biscoff on the plane is never enough. And what’s with them only giving out the tiny cans of soda now? My mouth sticks together I’m so parched.
Someone moves, and there’s Logan Murphy. All six feet, one inch of him. His blond hair needs a trim, as the ends curl slightly along the back of his neck. He’s built like a swimmer, with those big shoulders that can make women’s knees weak. Those narrow down his back to his waist, and he’s wearing a pair of athletic shorts with his gray tee.
He runs some type of business from a home office in Wisconsin, and he has time to run with his dog every day, make homemade meals, and text me back seemingly at the drop of a hat. Everything about him makes me light up, and this time, instead of shrieking and sprinting toward him, I take another calm moment to drink him in.
Mm, yeah, he’s good for a thirsty soul.
Surprised at my non-best-friend thoughts, I give myself a little shake. “You’re not getting into the ring with Murph,” I mutter. The very idea almost has me giggling. Number one, he’s never indicated in the slightest that he’s interested in me.
He’s dated other women in the five years I’ve known him. A Lauren once, for a few months. Then someone named Christine. She was a complete disaster according to Murph.
He doesn’t ask me about my love life. I don’t ask him about his, but he does share if he has someone he’s excited about.
Murph is the most genuine man I’ve ever met. If he’s listening to someone, he’s interested. If he texts me for my opinion, I know he wants it.
He turns, and the world narrows to only him. And in the Atlanta airport, that’s something. Our eyes lock, and Murph’s smile floods his face.
I can’t help the little shriek as it flies up my throat, and I grab onto my backpack straps and hurry toward him. Not a jog—learned that lesson a couple of nights ago. Several feet from where he stands at carousel seven—with my bag—I break into a little dance.
He laughs, the sound happy enough and deep enough to fill my whole body with a thrum. I join him, pure joy filling me as I reach him, and he envelops me in his arms. “You made it.”
“It was touch and go for a minute there,” I say.
Murph holds me like a pro, and I don’t want the moment to end. I’m suddenly trying to categorize the thrum in my system. Happy to be reunited with my best friend? The man who literally saved me from taking my honeymoon alone?
Or is this fluttering of wings in my veins built from attraction?
Can’t be, I tell myself, but I’m not sure why it can’t be. Logan Murphy is devastatingly gorgeous, a fact I note for the second time in as many days as he pulls away from me.
“The Atlanta police wouldn’t care if the man in front of you was glinting light into your eyes for hours.” His grin pulls very kissable lips back to show his perfectly straight, white teeth. He hasn’t shaved in at least a week, and the beard is…hot.
I reach up and cradle his face in one hand. “I didn’t throw the Coke can,” I say, my own smile feeling fond on my face and in my heart. “Besides, it was a mini.” I drop my hand, registering that Murph has gone completely still and silent.
He hums in the very next moment, jerks himself to attention, and pulls my bag forward. “I already got it. The line for the bathroom must’ve been long.”
I take the bag, my eyes suddenly unable to meet his. They’re dazzling and blue and glint the way pure sunshine does off open water. “Mm hm.” I drop one shoulder out of my backpack strap and let the bag swing down to my suitcase. I unzip the top, reach inside, and look up at Murph through my eyelashes.
“And…” I yank out the box of candy I had to stop and buy. “I got you these!”
His gaze flits over to the box before his laugh fills the baggage claim area again. I shake the box of Milk Duds, as if he can’t get them in Wisconsin.
Murph takes them from me, his eyes latching onto mine again. This time, I don’t look away. “Thank you, Sloany.” He hugs me again, the boxy edges of the candy pressing into my back. He takes a breath like he might say something, but then he doesn’t.
He does his hum and steps back. “Should we go get over to the international terminal? Get some lunch over there?”
I nod, my voice lodged somewhere deep in my throat. I’m not even sure why. Something churns between us, but I honestly have no idea what. I turn and take the first step, Murph falling in beside me, and then the tension flees. Just like that. Gone.
Maybe there’s nothing there. Maybe it’s just because our relationship is usually through chats, texts, phone calls, and random GIFs. Now we’re in the same living, breathing space together, and maybe it’ll just take a few minutes to normalize.
“Did you meet your deadline?” I ask as I step outside. A blast of icy wind hits me square in the face. “Wow. Who knew it would be so cold in Atlanta?”
“They’re having a storm right now,” he says. “International terminal shuttle, over here.” His long legs eat up way more distance per step than mine do, but I keep up with him just fine. We join the line to get on, and with more people gathered together, it seems less chilly. “Met the deadline. Emailed everything in last night.”
Murph grins at me, and I smile on back. “That’s fantastic, Murph.”
“You?” he asked. “Closing went through okay yesterday?”
“Done,” I say proudly. “My third house this month.”
“They’re gonna put your picture on a plaque again,” he teases.
I smile and shake my head. I did win a recognition award from my real estate agency last year, but it’s a big place, and they won’t pick me again for a while.
We get herded onto the shuttle like cattle, get bussed over where we need to go, and go through the whole process of checking in, tagging bags, and going through security again. A big German shepherd works the line, with a stern-looking cop, and I nudge Murph.
“Would Titan be able to do that?”
“Well, he is the best specimen of a dog my vet has ever seen.” Murph grins and adds, “I sent you that site with all the excursion options. Did you get it?”
“Yeah,” I say, holding up my phone. “As I landed.”
“We can look over lunch,” he says.
“Or the flight there.”
He scoffs, those baby blues dancing a jig. “Right. Please. You’ll fall asleep in five seconds on the flight.”
“I will not.” I hold my head up high as the security officer checks my passport. The machine beeps and I leave Murph to pass the test too.
Once we’re all re-shod and re-packed, he says, “Burgers and fries?”
“I’ve been counting on it.” I link my arm through his, and he presses his elbow to his side, cutting a look down at me. I keep my eyes down the wide halls of the airport. “I love this trip we take.”
“Me too,” he murmurs, and because he never says anything that isn’t true, I believe him.
* * *
“You can have the window.” Murph steps past our row to let me in first.
I duck under the overhead storage, drop my pack, and shimmy my way past the armrests. “You’ll have to sit in the middle,” I say needlessly. If he’ll let me, of course I’m going to take the window. Then I only have to press my body up against his instead of his and a stranger’s.
“It’s fine.” Murph eases into his seat with the grace of a ballerina, and I fumble around for a good several minutes, getting out my headphones, making sure I have lip stuff and my water nearby, getting my seatbelt buckled, and everything else I need for the next few hours.
Every cell in my body alights where it touches his, and I wonder if he’s as acutely aware of how glued together we are.
We finally take off, and I lean my head back against the rest. A sigh moves through my body, and my cells finally stop vibrating. So it’s taken five hours for the tension and attraction to seep out of me. It’s fine.
He lifts the armrest between us and murmurs, “Okay?”
“Mm, yeah,” I whisper. I have my earbuds in, and music playing, and he’s right. I’m going to take a much-needed nap on the flight to Belize.
I lean into his shoulder, and he lifts his arm around me. I’ve cuddled with him plenty of times—on our first trip together, when we were strangers, we shared a bed in a honeymoon suite.
He’s my best friend. He knows me; I know him.
“Mm,” I say again. “You smell great.”
He does. Like leather and spiced apple cider hooked up and had a bottle of deliciously-scented cologne. I take another big breath of it and settle further, a keen sense of finally being relaxed overcoming me. I drift in and out, and at one point, Murph asks me something I don’t answer.
I’m pretty sure he presses his lips to my temple and whispers something my ears hold onto and don’t let into my brain to make sense of. It doesn’t matter. It’s Murph, and he’ll tell me later.