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The second Annie Daschle tumbles into my arms, I’m a goner.

When she asks if we’re hiring at Wasted Words, I can only say yes, even though we aren’t—it’s that early on that I realize I can’t say no to her. Not when she asks me to show her around New York, even though I already know I should stay away. Not when she asks if we’re friends because I want her so much more than that.

But she isn’t mine, and she never can be.

She’s ten years younger than me–fresh out of high school, never been kissed. She’s my employee, just a kid with a heart condition that’s stopped her from living out loud like she’s always wanted. She’s never dated, never had a boyfriend, never lived, and I can’t be the one to break her heart the first time. I can’t be the one to show her what could be.

But God, how I want to.

Within a few staggering heartbeats, Annie and I are caught in the middle of something we can’t find our way out of, with no clear answers and no rules. And the moment she’s in my arms again, I realize she can’t control her heart. Not the decisions it makes.

Not the moment it stops.


Staci Hart

Now Available

Book Series: 

A brand standalone novel in a series inspired by the works of Jane Austen—a contemporary retelling of Sense and Sensibility—is now live from Staci Hart, and I have a little sneak peek for you.

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The bar was packed with smiling faces that night, and the karaoke mic had been well met with talent. We had yet to have the quintessential slurred rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and instead had been graced with a version of “Single Ladies” that had the crowd’s jaws on the ground. We’d also been given a few gems of the ’80s hair-band variety, and a duet performed “Push It,” complete with all of Salt-N-Pepa’s dance moves from the video.

And those were just the highlights.

Beau and Harrison were behind the bar with me, and Bayleigh was working service, making drinks for the cocktail servers and bar-backing, which meant ensuring we were stocked with glasses and enough ice to keep the drinks coming. 

I hadn’t stopped moving but for a couple of times—when Annie walked in, waving at me over the crowd, when she swung by the bar to say hi a little bit after, and when she stepped to the microphone.

She seemed to favor ’80s music, singing “Just What I Needed” by The Cars with Cam. The second song, “You Make My Dreams” by Hall & Oates, had me smiling and dancing a little with Bayleigh and Beau behind the bar. Beau went full Molly Ringwald and did the little kick-dance thing she had done in The Breakfast Club. But, when she stepped up onto the stage and the opening to “Head Over Heels” by Tears For Fears started, I stepped off to the side, abandoning the bar without even realizing I’d done it. 

She closed her eyes, cupping the microphone in her hands, her shoulders swaying as she sang with a velvety voice about how she wanted to be with me alone, about being lost in admiration, begging me not to take her heart or break it or throw it away.

During the na-na-nah part, she had the crowd going, her arm waving over her head in time to the music until everyone else was doing it too, the whole bar singing along, even tone-deaf me.

I didn’t know how she had done it, how the second she’d picked up the microphone, she became music. She sang like every song meant something to her, sang so deeply that she could have written the words herself. She felt it, felt it through every bit of her, and transcribed that feeling to us through her breath and her lips. And her feeling was so natural, so alluring that we all joined in with the hope that we could feel it too.

The crowd roared when she finished, and behind the bar, we were clapping and whistling and whooping our appreciation.

Annie waved and hooked the microphone back on the stand. When she wound her way through the crowd to the bar, I made sure to put myself where she landed, which was at the end near Bayleigh and out of the way of the crowd. 

Harrison and Beau took over, covering me without a word spoken. After a couple of years of working together, we were a well-oiled machine of efficiency in the square feet of space behind that bar.

She brushed her hair out of her face, beaming and energized. “Hey!” she called. 

“You are a woman of many talents,” I said, trying not to beam back with quite a bit of difficulty. 

A blush colored her cheeks. “Thanks. Mostly I just sing in my shower. Karaoke is my exception.”

I laughed. “Something to drink?”

“Oh, that would be great. Water, please.”

I reached for a glass and dumped a scoop of ice into it. “So, ’80s music, huh?”

“I know. I was barely even born in the ’90s, but my mom loves ’80s music. I grew up to Journey and The Police and INXS and Eurythmics. Daddy was more into classic rock. So I didn’t listen to a lot of pop music as a tween. Total freak, I know,” she said on a chuckle.

“Please, don’t ever apologize for not listening to Miley Cyrus.”

She full-on laughed at that and took the water once it was poured and offered, downing half of it in a series of pulls. On a sigh, she set the glass down. “How about you? Are you gonna sing?”

“And bust a hundred people’s eardrums? Probably not.”

“Aw, come on.” She leaned on the bartop, smiling. “There has to be a song you love to sing. Everyone sings in the shower when they think nobody’s listening. And if they don’t, they should.”

I snickered and rested my forearms on the bar across from her. “I’m tone-deaf.”

She rolled her eyes, but her smile grew even wider. “So? It’s not about how you sound; it’s about how you feel. I know you have at least one song. You sing it…” She tapped her chin in thought. “Ah, you sing it in the kitchen while you’re making pancakes. Or in the car when you’re driving—wait, you don’t have cars here. Hmm…when you’re getting ready to go out with your friends, you sing it into your brush in front of your mirror.” 

She looked so sure of herself, I had to laugh. 

“In the shower,” I corrected, my cheeks warming a little. “I sing it in the shower. Or I used to.”

Annie bounced, satisfied at her rightness. “What song?”

“Styx, ‘Come Sail Away.’”

A lovely, happy laugh burst out of her. “Power ballads! ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ is my go-to; it’s Mama’s favorite. Come on, we have to sing yours.”

“Not on your life, kid.”

Her smile shifted to a pout in a heartbeat. I wasn’t sure if it was for the refusal or for calling her kid.

“Have you ever done karaoke?”

“Never. Tone-deaf, remember? You wouldn’t even be able to tell what song I was singing.”

“I’ll back you up. Come on! Just once in your life, you have to sing your favorite song with a microphone in your hand.”

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