Rosie Danan’s debut novel, The Roommate, stole my heart one delightful, bantery page at a time, and we are going back to that world with another steamy tale of love, sex, and opposites attracting—this time between a former sex performer and a rabbi. Enjoy a sneak peek from one of my favourite books of the year!
At least things couldn’t get any worse.
Or so he assumed until the door swung open and suddenly the mixer had seven participants.
Ethan groaned. You’ve gotta be kidding me.
“Sorry, I’m late,” Leah said, rushing over and giving him a quick peck on the cheek. “What are you doing?”
“I didn’t realize you were coming.” He tried to use his eyebrows to convey that he wanted her to leave. Immediately.
“Are you kidding?” She punched him none too gently on the arm. “I wouldn’t miss the chance to support my big brother and find true love.”
Evidently, Ethan’s eyebrows were not as expressive as he’d hoped.
“Everything okay?” Naomi glanced at the clock over her shoulder. “The group’s getting antsy. We should probably get started.”
Before Ethan could intercede, Leah was thrusting her hand toward Naomi’s. “Hi, I’m Leah. Ethan’s sister. It’s so nice to meet you. I’m a platinum Shameless subscriber.”
“Oh. Wow. Thank you.” Naomi glanced between the two of them.
They didn’t look that much alike. Though they both took after his dad, short with dark hair, Leah favored their mom’s family with more of a heart-shaped face.
“It’s my pleasure. Literally.” Leah raised her eyebrows lasciviously.
This event was rapidly turning into a nightmare.
“Leah, would you go tell those people clustered in front of the door that we’re about to begin, please?” The excuse to get rid of her was flimsy, but he wanted to put as much distance between Naomi and the person who had witnessed his awkward adolescence as possible.
“Sure. I can do that.” Leah turned so Naomi couldn’t see her and mouthed Get it! at him before making her way to the meager refreshments table where everyone else had congregated.
Ethan longed for an aspirin.
“Well, guess we’re back to odd numbers,” Naomi said.
“Oh, shoot. Sorry.” His shoulders relaxed a little now that Naomi wouldn’t have to participate.
“Wait, actually”—she snapped her fingers—“why don’t we both try? It’ll help round out the small group and we’ll get better data about the attendees and the model firsthand. That way we can see if we need to tweak it for next time.”
“I’m not sure that’s the best idea,” Ethan said, which, he credited himself, was nicer than his initial reaction of Are you nuts? He had to admit, though, the scientist in him had perked up at her quick-thinking proposal for collecting data.
“Why not?” Naomi raised a bare shoulder.
Ethan tried not to think about kissing said shoulder.
“You said rabbis can date and you’re single.”
“I’m not dressed for the occasion,” he said, blindly groping for an out. The truth was he didn’t date, especially not potential members of his congregation. It wouldn’t be appropriate.
To be fair, if he’d known he was going to be roped into participating, he would have changed into something more casual. He was wearing his work clothes. Dress pants and a button-down and leather shoes with tassels.
Not that a T-shirt would have made this situation any less anxiety-inducing, but still. The majority of the participants were under thirty and wearing street clothes. In comparison, he looked like someone’s dad.
“I’m sure no one wants to sit across from—”
“From a hot, smart, compassionate, eligible man. Oh no, you’re right. What a burden.” She rolled her eyes at him. “Relax. No one’s asking you to get married.” Naomi reached out and straightened his collar, her fingertips barely brushing the back of his neck. “This is supposed to be fun, remember?”
The interaction lasted only a few seconds, but Ethan still found himself breathless.
“I can’t in good conscience speed-date my sister,” he said, voice slightly strangled.
Naomi’s mouth curled into something dangerous. “Even I’m not that kinky.”
Ethan worried she could see his heartbeat through his clothes.
“I’ll make sure the Cohens don’t end up on opposite sides of the same table, okay? You can issue a broad disclaimer about your lack of eligibility to everyone else. Come on. All you need is something to grease the wheels a bit, you know.”
“Right. That’s a good idea.” He could handle that much.
“What’s your go-to question on a first date?”
“My . . . ? I’m not sure I have . . .” Ethan hadn’t dated in years. Mostly ’cause he’d been busy with study and service but also because he wasn’t ready to settle down and the nature of his position made any attempts at dating feel, at least to him, inherently serious.
“Come on. Everyone has a conversational standby. Even rabbis.”
He ran his thumb across his forehead. “I suppose I’d ask someone what matters to them. Why they get out of bed in the morning?”
Naomi pursed her lips. “Most people ask about jobs or hometowns.”
“Sorry. We don’t have to use it if you think it’s weird.”
“No. I like it.” She nodded decisively. “So, why do you get out of bed in the morning?”
Something about the intensity of her voice when she asked pulled the truth out of him.
“There’s a moment, when you’re speaking to someone, and you’re listening to something they said, or actually”—it didn’t even require conversation—“maybe not, maybe you’re just giving them your attention, holding a door open at the deli, and something shifts behind their eyes and you know that they feel seen.”
He lowered his chin, feeling goofy. “Not just seen but acknowledged in some way. They know they matter. That they’re not alone. And when that happens, I think about all the times someone has done that for me. The way that interaction saved me, shored me up against a thousand invisible aches I didn’t realize I was carrying.”
Naomi’s face gave nothing away when he met her eyes.
“It’s, uh . . . why I always come back to that Einstein quote I told you about. I guess I get out of bed because I think about the connection that we all have, this fragile humanity, each of us insignificant and at the same time precious. A continuation of a species that is recklessly unique. I remember that life is a finite gift, and I’d be an asshole to waste it.”
“Holy shit,” she finally said, more breath than words.
“Sorry for saying ‘asshole.’” His mouth twisted. “Twice.”
“Trust me, I’m not offended. Are you always so—”
“I was gonna say optimistic.”
Ethan could focus on nothing but the fact that her perfume smelled like wood smoke and cinnamon. He couldn’t stop his next question. “Why do you get out of bed in the morning?”
She blinked. “Easy. Because the world is cruel and unrelenting, full of pain and injustice.”
Ethan’s brows drew together. “That sounds more like a reason to stay home.”
“You didn’t let me finish.” He hadn’t expected her to be so playful when he met her. It was sort of ruinous, how much he liked it when she teased him.
“The world is cruel and unrelenting, full of pain and injustice,” she said again, leaning just slightly toward him, “and I am a stick of dynamite.”
Copyright © 2021 by Rosie Danan. Reprinted with permission of Berkley, Penguin Random House, Inc.