"Three women who seemingly have nothing in common find that they're involved with the same man in this smart new rom-com by Beth O'Leary, bestselling author of The Flatshare. Siobhan is a quick-tempered life coach with way too much on her plate. Jane is a soft-spoken volunteer for the local charity shop with zero sense of self-worth. Miranda is a tree surgeon used to being treated as just one of the guys on the job. These three women are strangers who have only one thing in common: They've all been stoodup on the same day, the very worst day to be stood up-Valentine's Day. And, unbeknownst to them, they've all been stood up by the same man. Once they've each forgiven him for standing them up, they let him back into their lives and are in serious danger of falling in love with a man who seems to have not just one or two but three women on the go.... Is there more to him than meets the eye? And will they each untangle the truth before they all get their hearts broken?"-
Beth O'Leary is a Sunday Times bestselling author whose novels have been translated into more than thirty languages. Her debut, The Flatshare, sold over half a million copies and changed her life completely. Her second novel, The Switch, has been optioned for film by Amblin Partners, Steven Spielberg's production company. Beth writes her books in the English countryside with a very badly behaved golden retriever for company. If she's not at her desk, you'll usually find her curled up somewhere with a book, a cup of tea, and several woolly jumpers (whatever the weather).
After three young women are stood up by the same man on Valentine's Day, they each embark on elucidating journeys of self-discovery. The novel opens on Valentine's Day in London as Siobhan, an attractive and successful life coach, waits at a restaurant for Joseph Carter. Though previously she would have said he was just a fling, a breakfast date on Valentine's Day suggests they might be moving to a new place in their relationship. At least, that's what she thinks until he fails to show up. Next we're introduced to Miranda, an adventurous arborist who climbs trees for a living. She's supposed to meet Joseph for lunch, but again, he fails to appear. Finally, there's Jane, a quiet young bookworm who volunteers at a charity shop and clearly has a secret in her past. Jane has lied and told her co-workers that Joseph is her boyfriend simply to put an end to their constant attempts at matchmaking. Joseph had been game to play along, except that when he's finally supposed to accompany Jane to a social event in his role as pretend boyfriend, he flakes, sending not so much as a text to explain his absence. As the story unfolds, O'Leary provides backstory about the connections between Joseph and each woman as well as revealing what happens to each relationship following the catastrophic Valentine's dates. Readers will try to connect the dots to determine how the three women are related, if at all, and whether any of them really belongs with Joseph. While the story starts off as though it's a romantic comedy, the content gradually shifts, and a clever twist toward the end may leave readers feeling they've read a thriller more than any sort of romance. With thoroughly likable characters-even Joseph becomes appealing-this plot-driven novel is fast-paced and engaging throughout. Full of both humorous and heart-wrenching moments, the novel is packed with the perfect mix of contradictions to keep it engaging. An expertly plotted romantic surprise about self-forgiveness and second chances. Copyright Kirkus 2022 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
He isn't here.
Siobhan breathes out slowly through her nose. She's aiming for calm, but it reads more angry bull than zen.
She canceled breakfast with a friend for this. She curled her hair and wore lipstick and shaved her legs (not just to the knee, all the way up, in case he fancied running a hand up her thigh under the table).
And he isn't bloody here.
"I'm not angry," she tells Fiona. They're video-calling. They always video-call-Siobhan is a big believer in the power of eye contact. Also, she'd quite like someone to see how fabulous she looks today, even if it is only her flatmate. "I'm resigned. He's a man, ergo, he let me down. What did I expect?"
"You're wearing sex makeup," Fiona says, squinting at the screen. "It's not even nine in the morning yet, Shiv."
Siobhan shrugs. She's sitting in one of those caf?s that prides itself on its quirkiness, a quality she always finds deeply irritating in anything or anyone, and there's a half-drunk double-shot oat-milk latte on the table in front of her. If she'd known she was going to be stood up on Valentine's Day, she'd have got proper milk. Siobhan is only vegan when she's in a good mood.
"Sex is what we do," she says.
"Even on a breakfast date?"
They've never actually had a breakfast date before. But when she'd told him she was on a flying visit to London, he'd said, Fancy having breakfast with me tomorrow morning, by any chance . . . ? Asking for a breakfast date was definitely significant-and on V-Day, no less. Generally speaking, their dates happen in her hotel room, usually after eleven p.m.; they see each other on the first Friday of the month, plus the odd bonus day if she happens to be in London.
That's fine. That's plenty. Siobhan doesn't want more than that-he lives in England, she lives in Ireland; they're both busy people. Their arrangement works perfectly.
"Are you sure you don't want to give it another five?" Fiona says, lifting a dainty hand to her lips as she swallows a mouthful of cornflakes. She's sitting at their kitchen table, her hair still in its overnight plait. "He's maybe just late?"
Siobhan feels a pang of homesickness for her flat, though she's only been gone a day. She misses the familiar lemony smell of their kitchen, the peace of her walk-in wardrobe. She misses the version of herself that had not yet made the mistake of hoping her favorite hookup might actually want to be something more.
She sips her latte as airily as she can. "Oh, please. He's not coming," she says with a shrug. "I'm resigned to it."
"You don't think you're maybe writing him off be-"
"Fi. He said eight thirty. It's ten to. He's stood me up. It's better if I just . . ." She swallows. "Accept it and bounce back."
"All right," Fiona says with a sigh. "Well. Drink your coffee, remember you're excellent, get ready to kick butt today." Her American accent resurfaces when she says kick butt; these days she sounds as Dublin as Siobhan for the most part. When the pair first met at the Gaiety School of Acting, aged eighteen, Fiona was all New York accent and confidence, but ten years of failed auditions have washed her out. She's unlucky, always the understudy. Siobhan fully believes this is Fiona's year, as she has every year for the last decade.
"When am I not ready to kick butt? Please."
Siobhan tosses her hair back just as a man passes behind her; he knocks her chair. The coffee wobbles in his hand, a tiny splash spilling on Siobhan's shoulder. It sinks into the telephone-box red of her dress, leaving a little stain, two droplets, like a semicolon.
It has all the makings of a meet-cute. For a split second, as she turns, Siobhan considers it-he's attractive-ish, tall, the sort of man you'd expect to have a big dog and a loud laugh. Then he says, "Christ alive, you'll put someone's eye out with all that hair!"
And Siobhan decides, no, she is in too bad a mood for large imposing men who do not immediately apologize for spilling coffee on couture dresses. An angry, righteous heat grows in her chest, and she's grateful for it, relieved, even-this is exactly what she needs.
She reaches out and touches his arm, just lightly. He slows, his eyebrows a little raised; she pauses deliberately before she speaks.
"Didn't you mean to say, I'm ever so sorry?" she asks. Her voice is sugar-sweet.
"Careful, buddy," Fiona says from the phone, which is now propped on the wonky terra-cotta plant pot in the center of the table.
He is not careful. Siobhan knew he wouldn't be.
"What exactly am I meant to be ever-so-sorry for, Rapunzel?" he asks. He follows her gaze to the coffee stain on her shoulder and huffs a warm, indulgent laugh. He pretends to squint, as if there is nothing there to see; he's trying to be cute, and if she were in a good, vegan-milk sort of mood, Siobhan might go along with it. But, unfortunately for the man with the coffee, Siobhan has just been stood up on Valentine's Day.
"This dress cost almost two thousand euro," she says. "Would you like to transfer the money, or pay in installments?"
He throws his head back and laughs. A few couples glance over.
"Very funny," he says.
"I'm not joking."
His smile drops, and then things really get started. He raises his voice first; she pulls up the dress on Net-a-Porter; he snaps and calls her a mouthy little madam, which is excellent, because it gives her an extra five minutes of ammo, and Fiona's laughing on her phone screen, and for a good few seconds Siobhan almost forgets that she's alone in a tediously quirky caf? with no date on his way.
"You're brutal, Shiv," Fiona says fondly as Siobhan settles back into her chair.
The man has stormed off, having thrown a tenner on her table for the dry cleaning. Everyone is staring. Siobhan flicks those shining blond argument-starting locks over her shoulder and turns her face to the window. Chin up. Tits out. Legs crossed.
With her head turned like this, only Fiona can tell she's trying not to cry.
"Did that help?" Fiona asks.
"Of course. And I'm ten quid richer, too. What shall I buy?" Siobhan sniffs and pulls up the menu from the other side of the table. She catches the time on her watch: nine a.m. Only nine a.m. and she's already having a record-breakingly bad day. "An 'Always See the Sunny Side' fry-up, perhaps? A 'Keep Smiling' kale smoothie?"
She slaps her hand down on the menu and shoves it away again; the couple at the adjacent table jump slightly and eye her with trepidation.
"Fuck me, this is categorically the worst place to be stood up on Valentine's Day," she says. The warming anger in her chest has gone, and now there's just that tightness, the lonely clutching ache of approaching tears.
"Do not let this get to you," Fiona says. "He's a prick if he's stood you up."
"He is a prick," Siobhan says fiercely, voice catching.
Fiona falls silent. Siobhan has the suspicion that she is giving her time to gather herself, which makes her even more determined not to let either of the teardrops currently teetering on her lash line roll down her cheeks.
"I know this was big for you, Shiv," Fiona says tentatively. "Have you even . . . Isn't it the first proper date since Cillian?"
Siobhan scowls, conceding defeat and dabbing at her eyes. "What, you think I haven't been on a date for three years?"
Fiona just waits patiently; they both know that she hasn't. Fiona ought to know better than to say it, though. Eventually Fiona sighs and says, "Are you binning him off, then?"
"Oh, he's binned. He's done," Siobhan says.
He's going to rue the day he stood her up. Siobhan doesn't know what ruing is, not yet, but she's going to find out. And he's not going to like it.
Three minutes past nine, and nobody has turned up.
Miranda gnaws the inside of her thumbnail and leans back against her car, tapping a boot on the tire. She tightens her ponytail. She checks her bootlaces. She goes through her rucksack and makes sure everything's there: two water bottles; her climbing kit; the handsaw her parents bought her for her birthday, with her name engraved on the handle. All present and correct, no items having magically leaped from her bag at some point on the twenty-minute journey from her flat.
Seven minutes past nine and, at last, there's the sound of tires on gravel. Miranda turns as Jamie's truck pulls up, bright green, emblazoned with the J Doyle company logo. Miranda's heart is hammering at her ribs like a woodpecker, and she stands a little taller as Jamie and the rest of the crew climb out.
Jamie grins at her as they approach. "AJ, Spikes, Trey, this is Miranda Rosso," he says.
Two of the men give Miranda a look that she is familiar with: the hunted, nervous glance of boys who have been firmly instructed not to be inappropriate. Trey is short and stocky, with sullen, deep-set eyes. Spikes is a head taller than Trey and built like a rugby player, barrel-chested beneath his grubby, faded T-shirt. They each nod at her and immediately turn their attention to the tree on the corner of the plot where they're parked.
And then there's AJ. He gives Miranda a very different sort of look: the up-and-down glance of a man who hears Don't be inappropriate with the new girl and takes it as a challenge.
Miranda's been warned about AJ. He's got quite the reputation. That AJ's had more women than he's climbed trees, Miranda's old boss told her when she said she was leaving to join Jamie's team. Face of an angel, heart of an absolutely heartless bastard.
So Miranda is braced for the piercing green eyes, the bearded jaw, the muscled, tattooed arms. She's ready for the eyebrow quirk she gets when their eyes meet, the look that says, I eat women like you for breakfast.
She's not totally prepared for the small cockapoo puppy in his arms, however.
She double takes. AJ strokes the dog's head, implacable, as if it is perfectly normal to be carrying a tiny puppy when you arrive at a job site.
"Oh, yeah, and that's Rip," Jamie says without much enthusiasm. "New dog. Apparently he can't be left home alone, is that right, AJ?"
"Gets separation anxiety," AJ says, lifting Rip up a little higher against his broad, muscled chest.
Miranda is trying very hard not to smile. Her plan for dealing with AJ had been to completely ignore him-she's found that's usually the best strategy with cocky types. But . . . damn, that's a cute puppy. She's never been able to resist the ones that look a bit like teddy bears, all curly-coated and snub-nosed.
"Hey, Rip," she says, extending a hand for him to sniff. "Hey, little guy!"
Rip's tail begins to wag against AJ's side, and Miranda tries not to melt.
"He likes you," AJ says, voice like honey, gaze slick as it runs up and down Miranda's body again, and Miranda's brain puts the brakes on. The puppy may be cute, but she is directing way too much attention to the torso of the man holding him. This was not the strategy.
"Hi," she says, tearing her gaze away from Rip and directing her smile toward Trey and Spikes. "Good to meet you guys."
"Rosso's quite the climber," Jamie says, clapping Miranda on the back. "You should have seen her at the aerial rescue challenge. Never seen anyone up a tree so fast. You got your own climbing kit?"
"Mm-hmm," Miranda says, nodding to indicate her rucksack.
"I'm sending you up the big one," Jamie says. "The customer wants the crown reduced by a third." He nods at the silver birch towering over the front garden of the grand house they're parked outside. It's spindly, ducking and weaving in the wind. "Want to show these boys how it's done?"
"Always," Miranda says, already crouching to open her rucksack and pull out her harness.
There is no rush quite like a climb.
When Miranda was fifteen, she was walking home from school and heard men shouting in the distance. She followed the sounds to the tree surgeons training in the land management college up the road from her secondary. There was a row of pines, tall and lovely, with yellow and orange ropes hanging from their branches. The men above her were moving through the trees like Tarzan, leaping across forks to grab trunks between their knees, leaning back into their harnesses. One was even hanging upside down.
It had never occurred to Miranda that you could climb trees for a living.
The instructor had seen her watching and told her about an open day the following week when she'd get the chance to try it herself, if she fancied it. Once she'd felt the harness take her weight, once she'd reached her first branch and looked down at the ground swimming beneath her, she'd been hooked.
Ten years later and she isn't just climbing trees for a living, she's doing it really well. And though her parents are no closer to understanding why their eldest daughter insists on working in a profession so dangerous that she was advised to get her life insurance sorted on her first day, they have reluctantly come around to it, mainly because nobody could fail to see how passionate Miranda is about what she does.
Once she's up in the birch, with her main line anchored to the highest branch that can take her weight, Miranda forgets about Trey and Spikes and AJ. She even forgets about Carter, their lunch date, the outfit carefully folded in the bottom of her rucksack in readiness. Being forty feet up a tree is absolutely terrifying, no matter how experienced you are, and when you're doing it, there's no room for anything else. There's just you and the ropes and the wind and the tree, breathing around you, keeping you from falling.
AJ's pruning a hedge to the front of the property, with Rip toddling excitedly around his feet; at first Jamie stays to keep an eye on Miranda, but after half an hour or so he leaves to help AJ. The other boys are on groundwork, the heavy lifting, putting branches through the chipper. The morning goes by in a roar of chainsaws and the glitter of sawdust.
Miranda sails down the main line and lets herself land hard, heels digging into the soil beneath the tree. The rope comes down nicely for her, doesn't even catch. It's been a good morning. Her hair is coming loose from its ponytail; strands stick to her forehead as she pulls off her helmet.