Lauren Layne’s latest novel about the healing power of redemption tells the story of a crush gone wickedly wrong, proving that what you want isn’t always what you need.
Growing up in New York, Michael St. Claire never expected to spend his twenties wearing cowboy boots. But that was before he learned about his real father, a total stranger with a family in Cedar Grove, Texas. Once in the Lone Star State, Michael meets Kristin Bellamy, who is exquisitely refined and everything Michael always thought he wanted in a woman. The only problem is that Kristin is dating Michael’s new half brother, Devon.
Kristin’s mouthy, curvy sister Chloe has always been in love with Devon Patterson. So when Michael offers to help Chloe break up Devon and Kristin, Chloe agrees to a deal that seems too good to be true. Before long, Chloe finally gets her man, only to make a startling discovery: She no longer wants the guy she had to fight for—she wants the one who stood by her side.
After all he and Chloe have been through, Michael swears he’s damaged goods. Can Chloe convince him that love is worth the risk?
“I couldn’t stop smiling. I hated that the book had to end! Lauren Layne is a force to be reckoned with, and I can’t wait to see what she has up her sleeve next!”—#1 New York Times bestselling author Rachel Van Dyken
“I read Crushed in one sitting because I was utterly unable to put it down. Lauren Layne’s characters are so witty and real. This story warmed my heart and left me feeling good all day. Go Team Curvy Girls!”—New York Times bestselling author Courtney Cole
“Prepare to fall in love. Lauren Layne takes your hand, brings you into her world, and introduces you to a loud, vivacious, very hilarious, and often inappropriate heroine—and the broken hero who never saw her coming.”—Cecy Robson, author of the Shattered Past series
“Filled with humor and heart, Crushed draws you in with an unlikely friendship turned steamy romance as Chloe and Michael turn imperfections into flawless love.”—Renita Pizzitola, author of Just a Little Flirt
“From beginning to end, I was totally engaged in this fantastic read. I enjoyed it so much that I plan to read more of Ms. Layne’s titles ASAP.”—The Romance Reviews
“Honestly, I’m not sure if Layne could write a book I wouldn’t absolutely love. The only bad part about reading Crushed was finishing it and not wanting to read anything else . . . except maybe another Lauren Layne book. Now to try be patient until her next one comes out.”—Amanda’s Daily Grind
“I would recommend this author to anyone looking for a funny and romantic, yet emotional read.”—EscapeNBooks
“Crushed is filled with priceless banter, humor and sexual tension! This is one of those books that you can and will devour in one night. It is a great friends-to-lovers read that will have you rooting for this couple to let go and move forward!”—Rude Girl Book Blog
“I loved this book so much that I reread it immediately.”—Will Read for Feels
“I’ll keep my eyes on any other book by Layne. I really recommend this book to you guys. It’s so good and very fast to read.”—Fairen Reads
“This story was sweet and funny and something I would suggest for people who love friends (enemies) to lover stories.”—Fiction Fangirls
“This series holds a place deep in my heart, and I will likely re-read all three books over and over again until I have them all memorized.”—Star-Crossed Book Blog
“I really, really, really, really enjoyed Crushed and there’s no doubt I would recommend this to anyone and everyone. I was disappointed to see it end.”—The YA Bookshelf
“Believe me people, you want to read this book. It’s just so damn good. Seriously, buy this book!”—Ramblings from This Chick
“I would absolutely recommend this series to anyone who wants to dive into a story with amazing characters, a great storyline and fantastic writing.”—The Book Hookup
She’s got the same big eyes as her sister, except somehow they’re too large
on her, and blue instead of brown. She also has her sister’s full mouth, but it’s too obvious, somehow. And whereas Kristin is slim bordering on skinny, this one is, well . . . lush.
“I know, I know,” the other girl says in a weary voice, tilting the M&M’s bag to her mouth and munching the last of the candies. “I’m the pretty one. Don’t tell Kristin; she’s sick of hearing it.”
With a last warning glance at her sister, Kristin gives me a bright smile. “Totally. But go easy on me. . . . I haven’t played since our lesson last week.”
“You’ve gone a whole week since trying to swat a fuzzy green ball?” Chloe makes a dramatic, despairing noise behind us. “Why, God, why? Why is life so hard?”
Kristin inhales long and slow. The sound is practiced, as though she’s done it before to cope with her annoying younger sister.
“What are you doing weekdays at seven?” he asks. “Um, usually dinner with the family?” Beefcake’s eyes roll to the sky. “Seven a.m.” “Ohhh. Well, in that case I’m generally at spinning class, unless Pilates has
run late,” I deadpan. He stares at me in silence until I relent. “Okay, fine, I’m sleeping.”
“You know what this is?” she says between pants. “It’s athletic elitism. You naturally sporty types dangle this carrot of health in front of the rest of us, and we figure if we want to live past thirty-two we’d better play along, but it’s all a trick.” Pant pant. “You really want to watch us flounder while pushing us to sprint.”
I glance down at the controls of the treadmill: 4.2 mph. Four minutes have gone by. “Chloe, this is the warm-up.”
She lets out an exaggerated gasping sound and reaches to adjust the controls, but I bat her hand away. “One more minute. Let’s get to five minutes of steady heart pumping.”
“Heart failure is more like it,” she says.
She turns around to give me a dirty look , and I glare back. “Alpha enough for you?” I ask.
Her eyes narrow. “I know what this is about.” “No time for pop pyschology,” I say. “Time for some resistance training.” She responds anyway. “You’re mad because I squeezed that cute boy’s muscles and not yours.”
“Beefcake!” Again with one of those dopey, guileless smiles.
She plops down at one of the few vacant spots at the bar, and unlike the usual solo girls that daintily perch themselves on the stools, there’s no glancing around to see who’s noticed her arrival. No careful positioning to ensure her posture’s just right to show off her best side. She’s just there . . . and happy.
And Michael actually brings up a good point about watching me eat. As hideous as the prospect is, there’s nothing like a ripped, zero-body-fat personal trainer to help you limit yourself to one piece of cornbread instead of the usual four.
And that’ll help distract me from the real reason I asked if he wanted to go to dinner.
Because he’d looked lonely. Or the real real reason. Because I’m lonely, too.
“I told you I’d drive,” I say irritably, slamming the door shut. “Um, I’ve seen the way you talk about your car. I’d be too scared to eat
snacks in there.” “Snacks?”
“It’s a three-hour drive,” she says, jerking her thumb over her shoulder.
I glance back and see a cooler and a paper bag with Lay’s potato chips perched on top. I can just imagine what other junk food monstrosities lay beneath.
“Three hours,” I repeat. “Lots of time to get to know each other, Beefcake.” “Nope.” She grins and pats my leg. “Okay, no problem. How do you feel about
Broadway tunes?” I turn my head to look out the window, hoping she’s joking.
An hour later I know she’s not.
“Let’s see the swimsuit. I’ll tell you whether it’s a go or no-go.”
“No!” I say. The very thought of disrobing in front of Michael is unthinkable.
“Come on, I’m not asking as a dude. I’m asking as your personal trainer.”
“Oh, gosh, well, in that case, let me just go ahead and get naked,” I mutter, pulling out my bronzer compact.
Michael’s eyes are fiery now, and I have to resist the urge to take a step
back at his outburst. I’m so used to him being sort of pent up and controlled, but clearly there’s this whole other side of Beefcake.
And despite the fact that he’s not my type—at all—I’m intrigued.
Michael snags my hand before I can make it to the bedroom door and pulls me back, first so that I’m facing him again, then even closer so there’s just a few inches between us.
His face is softer now, and my heart starts to pound. I’m pretty sure his expression is just pity for clunky, unsexy Chloe, but some distant part of my brain wants it to be something more than pity.
“Practice on me,” he says, his voice easy and casual.
It takes too long for his words to register because my eyes have latched on to his mouth. It’s as sulky as ever, but for some reason the sulky now looks appealing rather than just annoying. Like, I want to be the one to banish the sulky.
“Huh?” I say. “Your kissing skills. Practice them on me.”
Michael’s lips stamp out the rest of my sentence. And the heat of his mouth stamps out any possible reservations I might
have about his kissing skills. The second his mouth finds mine, it’s warm and firm and perfect, and I
forget all about movie kisses, and Scott, and Kristin. . . . I even forget about Devon.
A good kiss will do that to a girl, and this kiss is beyond good.
I suck in a little breath and hold it as I wait for him to shove me away, but slowly, quietly, his arm comes around me, pulling me a little closer into his warmth.
“Damn you, Chloe Bellamy.” His voice is shaky. “I know,” I whisper, my eyes watering for reasons I don’t fully understand. I don’t know what the hell we’re doing here, but I don’t want to be
I hold his head, reveling that for this moment—this one perfect moment— Michael St. Claire is mine.
When we break to breathe, he rests his forehead against mine, his brown eyes locking on mine.
“Please don’t stop,” I whisper. Beg. He kisses my nose. My cheeks. My mouth. “Not even if I wanted to.”
Then her hands are on my face, forcing me to look at her. “Michael, listen.
I get it. Nobody’s ever loved you first. You’re tired of being second choice. Or nobody’s choice. I get it. Because nobody’s ever loved me first, either. But I’ve been thinking about this, and Michael . . . I don’t think it’s about who loves you first. It’s about who loves you best. And that’s me.”
Her voice is urgent now, tears on her cheeks, as she whispers. “I love you best. More than I love anyone. More than you’ve ever been loved.”
I can’t speak. Can’t breathe.
His mouth stamps over mine, stopping my flow of words. He pulls back just slightly. “Don’t, Chloe. Don’t give up on me.”
His mouth lowers in again, softer this time, his lips melding with mine in soft, pleading kisses.
- A New Adult retelling of The Ugly Duckling.