Readers looking for a sweet read won’t want to miss Lillie Vale’s YA debut. Small Town Hearts transports readers to a Maine beach town where Babe Vogel, a bisexual barista, is attempting to enjoy her summer with her friends and ignore the fact that her ex-girlfriend is back in town. While working at the Busy Bean, she meets Levi, an artist from New York. Rule number one of living in a vacation town is “never fall for a summer boy,” but Babe might break her own rule for Levi. To celebrate this book’s upcoming release on March 19, check out this exclusive excerpt from the third chapter of Small Town Hearts.
“Oh, shit. Babe.” Lucy glanced at the wall clock. Both hands had aligned at the twelve. “Don’t you have to go check in the dude who’s renting your mom’s house?”
“I almost forgot about that. I can’t believe it’s noon already.” It felt like just a few minutes since Penny had left. “I better get moving.”
“Fingers crossed he’s cute!”
“Are cute boys all you think about?”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s the only thing worth thinking about.”
I rushed for the door. “Back soon!”
“You better. I’m not crazy about handling the lunch rush by myself!” Lucy called after me.
I made my way along the boardwalk toward my mom’s house. My old house looked out on the beach, painted the color of lacy green fronds. The door was burgundy, and in front of it stood a boy. When he turned around, my eyes widened.
It was the boy from Busy’s, the one I had dubbed Mystery Boy yesterday. His eyes lit up with recognition, and the wood creaked as he stepped off the porch.
“Me,” he agreed, using his thumb to point over his shoulder. “I wasn’t expecting the cute waitress to follow me home.” A faint smile played on his lips.
I breezed past the word cute with an awkward laugh. “I didn’t follow you. This is my house. Well, my mom’s house. I’m here to check you in.”
Now it was his turn to laugh. “I guess that makes you my landlady.”
“I guess that makes you Levi Keller.”
He nodded and pulled a folded square from his back pocket, smoothing it out against his thigh before handing it to me.
My eyes skimmed the email confirmation. “Looks like everything’s in order.” I glanced at him. “You should have given me a call yesterday. I would have let you in early.”
The corner of his mouth quirked up. “It wasn’t a big deal.” He tilted his head to the car parked at the curb. “I didn’t want to bother anyone. I didn’t really think ahead when I decided to drive here early,” he said with a rueful smile.
I swallowed. Maybe if he’d given me that call, I wouldn’t have gone to Penny’s place. Rationally, I knew I couldn’t blame Levi, but the unwelcome thought had taken hold: Everything that had happened last night could have been avoided.
“Anyway, my car was comfortable enough for one night.” Even his eyes seemed to smile at me.
I moved past him to slide the key into the lock. From here, I could smell the clean detergent that clung to his clothing. My stomach fluttered. It was just the sweet smell of laundry. Why was I so hyperaware of it? I twisted the doorknob. Hard. “Come on in.”
I didn’t know much about him. All Mom had told me was that our renter was in Oar’s Rest on an eight-week grant sponsored by the local artist colony and the historical society. Since the house was empty after I’d moved into the lighthouse, Mom decided to rent it out for some extra cash. Levi would be the first one to stay there.
Wait. I knew his name from somewhere. I rifled through my memories, hunting him down. The answer pressed gently against my mind, and I grasped at it, pulling tight. Cotton candy perfume and a laugh like a fairy tale. The bouncy, natural curls falling across her brown shoulders as she leaned forward, snatching the macaron from my hand.
One day I’ll be in Paris for an art show and I’ll eat these every day.
If Ladurée’s are better than mine, you’d better not tell me, El.
C’est impossible! Your macaron is magnifique!
I remembered her feigning a look of total horror that any macaron could be better than mine, even if they came from the most famous pâtisserie in Paris. At the time, I’d glided past her Paris-for-one future, even though it was pretty much the most glaring writing on the wall I could have asked for.
I was trying to be cool and unaffected, but inside, my heart hammered in relentless beats. How had I missed this? Levi Keller. It had been a name I’d heard on and off when I’d been with Elodie, but it had faded from my mind in the last year we’d been apart. I sneaked a covert look at Levi. Was it him?
I could remember El lounging on my couch, scrolling through his Instagram feed on so many of our secret dates that it felt like she was in a relationship with the wrong person. The last time she’d done it, I’d dragged my head up from her lap and asked her to come back to me, please. She’d kissed me, quick and sweet, said “Just a sec,” and gone back to her phone. It was only when I got up that she snagged my wrist and let her phone slide into the gap between the cushions. I’m right here, Babe. I’m not going anywhere. C’mon, don’t be mad. And I couldn’t be. Not at her, and not for long. At least back then.
Lillie Vale, upon discovering she could not be one of Santa’s elves or attend Hogwarts, decided to become a writer to create a little magic of her own. Enjoying the romantic and eerie in equal measure, she’s probably always writing a book where the main characters kiss or kill. Born in Mumbai, she has lived in many U.S. states, and now resides in an Indiana college town where the corn whispers and no one has a clue that she is actually the long-lost caps lock queen. She is the author of Small Town Hearts.