by New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Tessa Bailey
He’s the last thing she wants…but the only thing she needs.
Willa Peet isn’t interested in love. She’s been there, done that, and has the shattered heart to prove it. Ready to shake the breakup, she heads to Dublin, Ireland. But there’s a problem. A dark-haired, blue-eyed problem with a bad attitude that rivals her own. And he’s not doling out friendly Irish welcomes.
Shane Claymore just wants to race. The death of his father forced him off the Formula One circuit, but he’s only staying in Dublin long enough to sell the Claymore Inn and get things in order for his mother and younger sister. He never expected the sarcastic American girl staying at the inn to make him question everything.
But even as Willa and Shane’s fiery natures draw them together, their pasts threaten to rip them apart. Can Shane give up racing to be with the woman he loves, or will Willa’s quest to resurrect the tough-talking, no-shit-taking girl she used to be destroy any hope of a future together?
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Praise for Unfixable:
“Absolute perfection! This is why I read romance.” – NYT Bestselling author Sophie Jordan
An Excerpt from:
by Tessa Bailey
Copyright © 2014 by Tessa Bailey. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Why can’t I just get over a breakup the traditional way?
Ice cream and a bitchin’ new hairstyle. Taylor Swift on repeat until the tears dry up. Maybe a Ryan Gosling movie or two where, in between spoonfuls of chocolate-chip cookie dough, I whine, Why can’t every guy be like him?
Oh no, not me. I’m more of a Sex Pistols girl and my hair has been through enough already. Years of drugstore-bought black dye and bangs chopped with orange-handled scissors has earned it a much-needed break. It would be so much easier if I could be angry, Johnny Rotten-style. Just put on a pair of studded, leather boots and kick over some trash cans, cursing the name of the dick who dared wrong me.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t wronged. I was…an attempt at being righted. So no trash can kicking for me.
Here’s how my road to breakup hell started. Senior year of high school. My sister and I said sayonara to our shit-tastic lives in Nashville and made tracks to Chicago. Evan and I were paired up for an assignment in photography class my first week in town. One that involved a lot of face time outside of the classroom. A daunting task to someone like me who, at the time, was about as sociable as a Sylvia Plath. I just wanted to get the assignment over with, exchanging as few words as possible.
Evan didn’t allow it. Looking back, I know why I appealed to him. He saw me as broken. Someone who needed fixing. If I could travel back to that day, I would lay a hand on his lettermen-jacket-clad arm and tell him broken is where I live. I like it here. I’m comfortable.
But Evan had a way of magnetizing people. Not in a creepy serial killer kind of way. No, he glowed from the inside, made you not want to disappoint him when he believed in you so strongly.
Who was I to let this perfect boy fail?
For a short while, I allowed him to breach my barbed-wire, electrified prison fence and swim across shark-infested waters to reach me. He even got me out of my Doc Martens and into a prom dress. A feat that amazes me to this day.
Yet even then, despite the safety and stability Evan provided, I’d heard the countdown clock ticking deep in the back of my head. How long could I act like a normal, functioning human being? How many dinners with Evan’s freakishly perfect parents could I sit through before I impale myself on a fork?
The answer was two years.
Evan saw something in me, and he tried desperately to nurture it. It was his way. Toward the end, though, I think he stopped loving me and started loving my potential. What I could be if I just stopped being so stubbornly damaged. If I could just ignore the ugliness I store inside of me, ready to jump out and scare me at any moment.
Ugliness never entirely goes away, though. Once certain images and difficult days you’ve lived through have been implanted in your mind, there’s no way to evict them. My ugliness is particularly stubborn. It comes in the form of an addict mother who used our couch to entertain johns. A father whose name I’ve never learned. Eating most of my dinners as a child from tin cans or out of the neighbor’s garbage can. My sister, Ginger, was the only reason the ugliness hadn’t killed me.
It took Evan two years to realize he’d chosen a lemon. It hurt like hell, but I’d also embraced the change. It meant I could stop trying to be girlfriend material. A match for the golden child. I hurt a boy who genuinely loved me, and in the process, I proved to myself that I’m incapable of making another human being happy.
After I ended things with him, I needed to leave Chicago. Reminders of our two years together were everywhere I turned. Our favorite dumpling shop. The flea market he’d chased me through when I cut class to avoid him. His answer to that was to smother me in kindness and understanding, the likes of which I’d only experienced the few times my sister and I let our guards down. And never in such a huge, intoxicating dose.
The worst part of it is that I didn’t just lose Evan. I lost myself. I forgot how to be comfortable in my own skin. I forgot what it meant to be comfortably broken.
I thought I was unfixable before.
Now, I’m plane-crash wreckage.
I manage to look like your average nineteen-year-old girl as I weave through passengers in Dublin Airport. Messenger bag slung over my shoulder, I let the unfamiliar accents roll over me. Looking at signs written in both the vowel-heavy Irish language and English. Ruddy-faced children in soccer jerseys greeting their relatives.
I entered Shutterclick Magazine’s photojournalism contest knowing I’d win first prize—a one-month trip to Ireland. Among all the insecurities swimming around in my brain, the talent I possess for taking pictures is not one of them. I’m good at it. Hiding behind a camera comes naturally to me. Maybe it comes from years of reading my mother’s erratic temper, or learning to fend for myself at a young age. I’ve learned to predict people’s expressions and moods. I can see them coming before they transform the subject’s face. If you sit in one place long enough, especially in a taciturn city like Chicago, something strange is bound to happen. When those occurrences take place, I don’t photograph them. I snap the people watching. That moment of honesty when they drop their veneer and react with shock or pity. I live for those moments. When someone doesn’t have time to think or get their filter in place, there is purity in their reaction. Everything makes sense for that split second.
Now I need everything to make sense for me. It’s not going to be an easy job, ditching this guilt, this whitewash of failure, but I’m determined to do it. I need to sort through the rubble and find Willa again. I’ve lost sight of what she was all about and frankly I’m mad as hell about it.
The contest sent me to Ireland to take photos for a small, upcoming feature. A spread wherein readers catch up with the contest winner post vacation and experience Ireland through my photographs. But I’m really here to get back to the place I was in pre-Evan. When I didn’t give a fuck about everyone’s expectations for me. Yes, I’m difficult. Yes, I’m a god-awful smart ass. Yes, the ugliness never goes away, but I’d at least found a way to stabilize it. I used to love those qualities in myself, and I don’t want to be ashamed of my coping mechanisms anymore. I don’t need anyone to fix me. As Simon and Garfunkel said, “I touch no one and no one touches me… I am a rock. I am an island.”
Coincidentally, I’m also on an island. Far away from the painful memories of Nashville, the bittersweet bullshit of Chicago. I’m just me, here, in this place. I’m here to resuscitate Willa. To drag her lifeless corpse from the Chicago River and rid her lungs of the sludge she swallowed against her will. I’ll bring her back to life. Nothing and no one is going to get in my way. The reasonable part of me knows I’m reeling from the blow of losing my first love.
The reasonable part of me can eat shit.
A musical voice sails out of an unseen intercom, announcing a flight boarding for London. I smile a little at the unfamiliarity that I’m suddenly craving and follow the signs for baggage claim. Ireland is a notoriously hospitable country, and I can already see that truth evident in passersby’s smiles, their easy greetings. They aren’t stilted or awkward in their friendliness. It’s natural.
I allow a glimmer of excitement to trickle through my veins. Not quite enough to melt the cold feeling I’ve had since I broke up with Evan, but enough to allow for the possibility that this trip might be exactly what I need. It helps that nothing is familiar. The name of the inn where I’ll be staying is tucked safely in my bag and as soon as I collect my suitcase, I plan on taking a cab directly there to get settled.
So when I see my name, Willa Peet, scrawled in black marker on a sign, I do a double take. Is it just a coincidence? I quickly discard the notion. It’s not a common name, and we’re currently the only flight disembarking into this terminal. My gaze tracks upward from the sign to the owner…and I find myself staring into the most dramatic pair of blue eyes I’ve ever seen. Blue is an inadequate word to describe the color, really, when they are given an entirely unique dimension by the utter disdain lurking in them. Frankly, it’s breathtaking, this individual’s contempt. Not to mention, completely out of place in this frothy sea of tearful Hallmark-style reunions. I can feel my fingers sliding over my canvas bag, itching to take his picture, capture the contradiction he represents, but his mouth is moving now. Talking to me. A mouth, I realize dully, is a worthy companion of those storm-born eyes.
He straightens from his post, where he’d been leaning casually against a pillar. Tall. Absurdly masculine. I would use the word strapping, but it’s such a lame description, I’d have to take a lifelong vow of silence afterward. His mess of deep brown hair looks as though he wet his hand and swiped the thick wave back on the way out the door, rounding out his irreverence perfectly.
“Uh, yeah. Hello? Are you the contest winner?”
His Irish brogue is thick, punctuated by irritation. I pull my proverbial shit together and nod. “Yeah.”
“About bloody time. Did you stop to sign autographs?”
He doesn’t wait for me to answer, but strides off in the direction of the baggage claim. I stare after him for a moment before a sympathetic look from an eavesdropper horrifies me into motion. When I catch up with him at the carousel, he’s staring at me hard, but talking into his cell phone in a clipped tone.
“What do you mean there’s no customers in the pub yet?” He listens for a moment, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Have you unlocked the front door?” His head falls back as if imploring the ceiling for patience. “Yes, I reckon that would explain the line of people outside. Go unlock it. And if Faith hasn’t gotten her arse downstairs yet to wait tables, give her a bell.”
Okay. I’m starting to catch up now. The Claymore Inn is where I’ll be staying for the month. A quick Yelp search on the way to the airport told me there is a pub located on the ground level, run by the family that owns the inn. They must have sent one of the employees to pick me up. Excellent choice, folks. He’s clearly the warm, fuzzy, welcoming type. As he launches another strained set of instructions into the phone, I can’t help but watch him out of the corner of my eye, even as I wait for my suitcase on the rotating metal carousel. We’ve been given wide berth by my fellow passengers thanks to the utterly untouchable quality of my reluctant driver.
I glue my attention to the baggage claim when I realize how long I’ve been looking. What was that about? Why am I weighing the risk of taking out my camera and inciting him further? It’s the anger. He’s doing nothing to hide it. It resembles my own, only he doesn’t seem to have any desire to restrain the emotion.
And I’m fascinated by that.
It’s in that moment, waiting in travel-hell for my suitcase, coated in airplane grime, my mouth dry from too many roasted peanuts that I decide to stay far away from him. Whoever he is, we will not be friends or even the barest form of acquaintances. I don’t want to be fascinated by him, and I don’t want to spare another minute guessing why he’s so pissed off.
I spot my red and black-checkered suitcase coming toward me and ready myself to retrieve it. My hand curls under the stiff, leather handle and I pull, but the weight disappears. He is behind me lifting it effortlessly in one hand. He’s finished his phone call and glaring at me again.
“I’ve got it,” I inform him, my jaw tight.
“Oh, an independent American girl. How unusual.”
“A stranger taking my bag against my will. How illegal.”
His lips jump at one end as if a sense of humor might exist somewhere underneath all that hostility, but it’s gone so quickly I know I imagined it. “Do you find, in America, that a lot of strangers hold up signs with your name printed on them?”
“Everywhere I go. I’m fucking famous, hence the autograph signing.”
“Right.” Rubbing a hand over his jaw, he considers me a moment as if seeing me for the first time. He hasn’t shaved yet this morning and the hair darkening his chin makes him seem older than the early twenties I assume him to be. As he gives me a covert once-over, I know what he’s seeing. While I might have shed the gothed-out top layer I rocked until age seventeen, I kept the nose ring and black is still my go-to color, clothing-wise. My hair, although half fucked from sleeping on the flight, is back to its natural golden-brown color, finally free of the black dye I used to torture it with on a monthly basis. Did I just catch a spark of reluctant interest in his gaze?
Finished with his perusal, he asks, “Are you always this difficult?”
“Actually, I’m usually much worse.” I yank my bag out of his grip, catching him off guard. Without a glance backward, I wheel it toward the exit.
He catches up with me before I manage to make it through the automatic door. I swallow a gasp as he wrestles the bag from my hand. Before I can unleash the string of expletives hovering on my tongue, he leans in close. Defensively, I hold my breath so I won’t smell his cologne. It’s fresh and smoky at the same time.
“Listen, tough girl. Once I get you to the inn unharmed, my end of the bargain with the contest people is fulfilled. Until then, we’re going to put up with each other. Otherwise I don’t get paid. And I have a feeling I’ll deserve every penny for putting up with you.”
“I’m not getting into a moving vehicle with you.”
He finds something about that extremely funny. “I assure you I can handle an automobile with better proficiency than most.”
“I’m not worried about you. I’m worried about me tossing you out while it’s still moving.”
“I’d like to see you try. This suitcase is bigger than you.”
“It’s a good thing, too. I’ll need somewhere to hide the body.”
Someone passing behind us overhears my comment and laughs. His eyes narrow on me, obscuring some of their electric, snapping blue color. “I’ll carry you if I have to, but you’re getting in the car one way or another.”
I’ve been avoiding making embarrassing scenes and pissing people off for two years. I’ve been swallowing my pride and acting like a reasonable adult because I felt that was the kind of girlfriend Evan deserved. I wanted him to be proud of me and not sorry he’d taken a risk on my scrawny, emotionally stunted ass. I could be the bigger person and go with this asshat to the car. Ignore him long enough to reach the inn.
I could. But I won’t. Because, well, fuck that.
Willa’s pale body twitches to life on the banks of the Chicago River.
I smile, but keep it tight as if I’m forcing it. “What’s your name?”
He’s suspicious, the smile doesn’t fool him. “Shane Claymore.”
“Shane.” It fits him perfectly, and his last name tells me he’s not just an employee. His family owns the place I’ll be staying in for an entire month. Damn. I won’t be able to avoid him completely. “I need to use the restroom. It’s urgent. And I need a certain feminine product in my suitcase. Do I need to explain further?”
Surprisingly, he doesn’t shrink into himself at the mention of the Scourge of Womankind. He crosses his arms and starts to protest, but his phone rings again in his pocket. With a muffled curse, he answers. “What is it, Orla? Have you set the place on fire now?”
I raise an eyebrow at him, and he waves me off with a flick of his hand, already beginning to pace. I’d been planning on sneaking out a different entrance, but he’s just made it even easier. I owe you one, Orla. As soon as his back is turned, I wheel my suitcase out the front entrance and slip effortlessly into a cab.