Jackson was there on the worst night of Harper’s life, and every day since. He’s everything she wants and needs, but is it worth blowing up their carefully balanced lives? Fans of Pippa Grant, Max Monroe, and Penny Reid will devour Sooner or Gator by Mae Harden, a steamy, small town, friends-to-lovers, roommates-to-lovers, forced proximity, beach romance.
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“What do you need?”
That night was supposed to change everything… and it did. Just not in the way I had hoped.
I was there on the worst night of Harper’s life. The night her world came crashing down, bringing with it the crushing responsibility of raising her own sister when she was still practically a kid herself.
For seven years, I’ve been exactly what she asked for. I’ve been biding my time, but nothing stays the same—even on an island where it’s perpetually Christmas—and time is officially up.
The love of my life sleeps ten feet away from me, just on the other side of that wall. He doesn’t know how I feel about him, of course.
That would just be crazy.
Jackson has always been my rock, which is exactly why he can never know how desperately I want him.
Sure, every grin he throws in my direction sets off a storm surge down below and makes my heart race like sandpipers on the beach, but that’s not an excuse to blow up our carefully balanced lives… right?
Copyright 2023 Mae Harden
I’m on the verge of asking Haley why she bought more wine glasses when we have a perfectly good set in the cabinet, but as she hands me one, I realize they’re only mostly stemless.
“You know most people use bottle toppers to save their wine, right?” I laugh, eyeing the stubby stem with its rubber gasket before pushing it into the opening of what is now, quite clearly, a bottle not meant for sharing. Experimentally, I tip it sideways and watch an inch of deep burgundy liquid pool in the bottom of the glass.
“Bottle toppers, much like bookmarks, are for quitters,” Haley says with a mischievous grin. “Besides, aren’t you always harping on about how important it is to finish what you start?” She looks extremely proud of herself as she tips back a hearty glug of cheap Cabernet.
“But, more importantly, you’re both wrong. Trailer Park Shark is the one with Tara Reid, but it was the douche-canoe developer who flooded the trailer park, and I’m ninety-nine percent sure she’s the S.B.T.S.”
“Back up.” Tizzy raises a hand like she’s about to ask the teacher for a bathroom pass. “You know I can’t with your movie shorthand.”
“Sole Big Tittied Survivor,” Haley sighs heavily.
“Okay, but that’s not exactly a common abbreviation,” Tizzy replies, copying Hayley’s sigh as dramatically as she can possibly manage.
Some people have incredible memories for languages or history, but no one can match Haley when it comes to movies that came out decades before she was even born.
The windows and doors are open to let in the spring air, and over the cacophony of tree frogs croaking and crickets chirping away outside, I hear car tires crunch on the gravel drive.
Craning my neck as far as I dare, I spot a familiar, black jeep. It’s more rust than paint thanks to the salty Florida air, but as its tires come to a halt in their well-worn spots, I can’t help grinning. In the fading light of the orange sky, the profile of my other best friend, Jackson Beauregard, is clearly visible as he climbs out and grabs his things.
Tizzy quirks an eyebrow at me as I straighten Haley goes on. “…and the poor-man’s Tommy Lee Jones, a.k.a. Robert Davi did not appear in Trailer Park Shark. He was, however, in the 2011 classic Swamp Shark where he starred opposite a busty blonde played by the O.G. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I swear to God, if one of you so much as whispers the name Sarah Michelle Gellar…” My little sister waits for one of us to match her encyclopedic knowledge, but we all know it’s not going to happen.
“Kristy Swanson! Come on! Okay, extra credit points: Robert Davi was one of three villains in which beloved 80s adventure movie?”
Tizzy and I stare blankly at each other while simultaneously tipping our bottles toward the sky.
“The Goonies,” a deep voice supplies from just outside. “Come on, kid. Give us a hard one next time.”
Grinning, I tip my head backward over the couch just in time to see Jackson coming through the screen door. “‘Bout time,” I sass. “We were about to start without you.”
“No, you weren’t.” Jackson laughs, shaking his head as he drops his keys in the bowl where they always go. He hangs his backpack on its hook and drops onto the couch next to me, making me bounce as all six-and-a-half feet of him bottoms out the springs.
“Well… we had considered it.”
“What are we watching this week?” Jackson asks, changing the subject with about as much subtlety as a Horatio roller skating down Main Street in his favorite candy cane hot pants.
“Swamp Shark,” Haley votes.
“Literal flying sharks too much for you tonight?” Jackson chuckles.
“Maybe once I’ve polished this off…” Haley replies, raising her wine and its extra classy attachment in a toast. “But Kristy Swanson with a shotgun?” She lets out an exaggerated whistle. “I’m always in the mood for that.”
I snort. I can’t help it. “Yeah, who doesn’t love a busty blonde armed to the teeth?”
Jackson twists the top off a beer and shrugs dispassionately as he stares down at it. “I could take ‘em or leave ‘em, honestly.”
Tizzy leans over, her expression conspiratorial and eyes sparkling with mischief. Oh, fuck. Here we go, I groan inwardly. “And which part of that is uninspiring to you, Jackson? The ‘blonde’ bit or the ‘armed to the teeth’ bit? Because we know you don’t have issues with the ‘busty’ bit.”
“Fucking bluetooth speakers,” Jackson mutters, suddenly finding the label of his beer bottle utterly fascinating, but Haley is all ears.
“Wait… what happened? What’d I miss?”
“Nothing,” I say quickly, feeling my own face burn with embarrassment, even though I was just an innocent bystander in all this.
“Jackson forgot to disconnect the living room speakers from his phone last night… didn’t he?” Tizzy tilts her head, locking her eyes on six-and-a-half feet worth of blushing man.
Jackson clears his throat and gets to his feet. “Anyone want a glass of water?” Without waiting for an answer, he disappears, no doubt to let Tizzy get this out of her system.
“Tizz…” I start.I know what she’s getting at and it’s nothing new.
“Come on, Harper. Brunette roommate gets lonely and crawls into bed? You still seriously think that had nothing to do with you?”
“Of course, I do.” Admittedly, it would be easier if he was into something less… can porn be wholesome?
Tizzy would like everyone to believe Jackson and I are star crossed lovers, destined to fall for each other in some kind of epic love story that spans decades and generations and all of time and space.
I think Tizzy needs a new vibrator and a subscription to Passionflix, but I’m only a wimple away from making my vow of celibacy official, so what do I know?
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About Mae Harden
Mae Harden has a thing for spicy books, hilarious meet-cutes, mouthy women, and the kind of men who will pull your hair in bed, but run a bath for you after… if you’ve been a good girl, of course. Smut-com, rom-cum, or whatever you want to call them, Mae likes her books funny, filthy, and full of feels.
Mae lives in Virginia with her smokin’ hot husband, two kids who delight in giving out hugs and gray hairs, and a collection of fur babies that probably qualifies her as a zoo keeper. IF she had free time, she’d use it to bake, water the remaining houseplants, and do crafty shit, all while listening to true-crime podcasts.
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