The Rebound by Noelle Adams

One




MADELINE JENKINS HAD spent all her twenty-six years being good. Careful and smart and reflective and generous and safe.

Good.

And now she was over it.

She’d been a good daughter. A good student. A good friend. A good worker. A good girlfriend. Her hard work had paid off in terms of career and friendship but not in any other area of life. Her quiet patience and refusal to give up on relationships, even when things got hard, had earned her nothing but nine wasted years, trying to love a selfish asshole when he’d never really loved her back.

She’d started dating Josh Cantor back in high school. He’d been the star quarterback of the football team and easily the most popular guy in their small school. She hadn’t believed he was actually interested in someone as unspectacular as her, and she’d carried that awed disbelief for way too long. Josh was used to the world falling at his feet. He’d never cheated on her—that would have been an immediate deal breaker for her—but he’d taken and taken and taken and never given back. He wouldn’t marry her even though he knew that marriage was something she wanted. He just had sex with her and let her take care of him, making his life easier. She’d known things weren’t great, but she’d convinced herself that all relationships were a struggle and so she wouldn’t be any happier with someone else.

So she’d been his girlfriend for nine long years. Ever since she was seventeen. She’d never been with anyone else. Until she couldn’t take one more night, crying silently in the dark, and had finally broken it off, shocking him and the other residents of the small town of Azalea, Virginia, who still believed he was a gift sent from heaven.

They’d been broken up for more than three months now. Her life was so much better. It felt like she was suddenly freed of a heavy weight that had been holding her down for too long. But she still felt kind of sick about all the years of her life she’d poured into someone who simply didn’t deserve it.

She’d always believed she was smart, but evidently even smart women are sometimes stupid about love.

She was over it now, however. She felt like herself again instead of one (less important) half of Josh Cantor. And one thing she knew for sure. It would be a long, long time before she let herself be someone’s girlfriend again.

On a Saturday morning in mid-autumn, she stopped by Second Chance Flower Shop to make sure her business partners, Ria Phillips and Skye Devereaux, didn’t need any help. The shop had originally been a struggling, small-town floral shop owned and operated by Ria’s parents. They’d left it to Ria when they died, and then she and her two friends had gotten lucky with a custom arrangement that had gone viral. A lot of hard work and talent later, the business was booming. They had a waiting list for arrangements that was hundreds deep. They turned down more requests for custom arrangements than they accepted. And the requests still kept pouring in.

Ria did the flower arrangements. Madeline wrote personalized poems or messages. And Skye handled social media and marketing. Madeline had no idea how the success had happened, and she still wasn’t convinced it would last, which was why she hadn’t quit her job at the public library.

As she walked in, Madeline greeted Georgia Vance, whom they’d recently hired to staff the front of the store, and then she headed to the back room. Ria was fiddling with some tulips, not appearing to be focused too hard on whatever she was doing. And Skye was sitting on an empty worktable, drinking a cappuccino and swinging her legs.

“Hey!” Skye greeted her. She was a tiny redhead with big blue eyes and the loudest person Madeline had ever known. “It’s supposed to be your weekend off.”

“I know. I’m just checking in.” Madeline leaned against the table beside Skye. “Everything going okay?”

“Yeah. We ended up with way too many tulips, so I’m trying to figure out something fun to do with them. Otherwise we’ll just have to put them in bunches on a table outside at a discount and hope some locals pick them up in the next couple of days.” Ria was a slim, attractive brunette with dark eyes and an outgoing personality. She gave up on the tulips for the moment and turned around to face her friends. “What are you going to do for fun today?”

“I don’t know,” Madeline admitted. “Probably stay in and read. Or binge-watch TV.”

“That’s not very exciting,” Skye said with a frown.

“I know, but I’m not very exciting. What the hell am I supposed to do on a random Saturday? Go skydiving or head to Vegas or something?”