by Lauren Layne
They have to stop meeting like this.
After a disastrous meet-cute turns into repeated meetings, a flighty free-spirit and a stodgy rule-follower come to realize that one they can't get away from ... is the one they can't live without.
• • •
Mackenzie ‘Mac’ Austin just wants what any modern, commitment-phobic woman in New York wants: a no-strings-attached hook-up, steamy enough to brag about over mimosas the next morning. What she doesn’t want is her dating app’s latest suggestion: preppy, corporate Thomas Decker. So, obviously, she rejects the guy without a second thought. There’s just one snag: he’s sitting next to her, so he witnessed her do it. And now he’s calling her out.
After the initial embarrassment, Mac is determined not to let it bother her, but Fate has other plans – and Thomas isn’t going anywhere. First, he pops up as her new boss. And then he reappears as her best friend’s soon-to-be brother-in-law.
As the not-so meet cutes add up, Mac is sure that uptight Thomas is the last man that a free-spirit like her should want. Only the more time she spends with him, the more Mac realizes that the man she can’t get away from has become the same one that she wants to keep close…
I'm not sure how I missed that Lauren Layne had another release last year, but I did! It popped up on my recommended reads, and so I bought it immediately. I was a little worried. My last Lauren Layne read I wasn't a big fan of, feeling like she had lost her spark a bit. You, Again, while not on par with her past work, shows that Lauren Layne still has it. I won't pretend that I don't miss her more ... emotional reads. But after reading an angsty romance, or fantasy romance, I find I need a lighthearted read to perk me up a bit, and You, Again does just that.
I liked the concept of the story. I love the super awkward meet-cute. I liked how they keep running into one another. I enjoy a good opposites attract, frenemies vibe, and their banter was entertaining. Personally, I loved what they brought out in one another. Yes, there was an immediate chemistry. Both of them are attractive. They become entwined in each others lives through what seems like fate. The sex scenes were good. Lauren Layne's true magic when it comes to her writing is the effort she puts into the actual romance. Every moment Mac and Thomas are together on page, it's romantic. How they build one another up, and support one another, even if they don't understand it. How they encourage one another to step out of their comfort zones. Romance isn't all hearts and flowers, and Lauren shows that in her writing.
If I had to pick one thing to complain about, it was Mac and the weird dynamic she had with her mother. Mac seemed too smart to have her mother tell her who she was, in my opinion.
You, Again gave me hope that Lauren Layne was still in the game. The last couple of years I felt like she was just going through the motions, but obviously, she still has the passion to write. Perhaps it helps that You, Again is self-published, making it her own project, without the interference of a publisher? Who knows? All I do know, it that You, Again was a lighthearted read, that brought a smile to my face.
Mac: “It was my mom. I always feel guilty not picking up.”
Thomas: “Ah yes. Must appease mothers,”
he murmurs noncommittally.
Mac: “You have one?”
I blurt out. His eyebrows go up.
Thomas: “Do I have a mother? Exactly how corporate am I that you think I wasn’t born to a human female?”
I purse my lips.
Mac: “So. You heard my conversation.”
Thomas: “Small room,”
he says, gesturing around, then taps his ear.
Thomas: “Perfect hearing.”
Mac: “Look, it wasn’t—”
Thomas: “It’s fine,”
he cuts in, his face never changing expression.
Thomas: “Forget it.”
Thomas starts to exit the kitchen, and I step towards him quickly.
Mac: “You’re not going to fire me, are you? Because I said you were boring and corporate?”
His eyes cut to mine.
Thomas: “Well, your actual words were uptight and corporate. But I’ll be sure to add boring to the list of my attributes, according to Mackenzie Austin.”
I exhale and close my eyes.
Mac: “Any chance you have a shovel? Something I can use to dig my way out of this?”
His lips twitch slightly.
Thomas: “Sorry. No.”
I say with feeling. I point to the door.
Mac: “Sooooo, I’m gonna head back to my desk now?”
Thomas: “An excellent idea.” Thomas: “We have eight minutes until nine o’clock. Let’s use them to discuss Jon and Collette’s party?”
I rub my hands together.
Mac: “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Thomas: “Since I’m thinking you’re thinking strippers—no.”
Mac: “Oh come on. It’s a classic!”
Thomas: “It’s a cliché,” Mac: “Coffee?”
Thomas: “Sure, thanks.”
Mac: “Splash of milk, right? And don’t look so surprised,”
I say, noting his expression.
Mac: “I listen.”
He’d mentioned his coffee preference that morning I’d had the hangover.
Thomas: “And you take yours with sugar, cream, and the tiniest splash of coffee.”
I frown down at him on my way out of the office.
Mac: “How do you know that?”
He gives me a cocky grin.
Thomas: “I saw you in the kitchen a couple of times last week. I watch.”
Mac: “Yikes. Creepy, boss. Very, very creepy.” Mac: "Committed night owl as long as I can remember. So don’t expect charming Mac at seven am.”
Thomas: “Have I even met charming Mac?”
I narrow my eyes. Thomas: “As I recall, we were both on the same dating app.”
Mac: “And look how well that went,”
I say. Then I frown.
Mac: “Actually, why were you on that app?”
I ask, because it’s been bothering me, especially now that I know he was almost going to marry that Janie woman.
Mac: “I mean, you know that TapThat is more about…”
I shift in my chair.
Mac: “Right. Yeah.”
He blows out a breath.
Thomas: “Off the record? Not as your boss?”
I nod, and he leans forward.
Thomas: “I have sex, Mac. And I like it.”
I choke on a piece of rice. Thomas: “I have a proposal,”
Yes. Yes, I accept, I will absolutely help you discover the joys of no-strings-attached sex…
Thomas: “How about a truce for this weekend? For Jon and Collette’s sake, we try our best to overcome our rather incredible capacity for getting beneath each other’s skin.”
Huh, okay, so Thomas has slightly different thoughts about skin than the ones I was having, but overall, he brings up an excellent point. I don’t want to ruin Collette’s weekend because I’m having funny thoughts about the best man.
I say, extending my hand for him to shake.
Mac: “From now through Sunday evening, we will be the very best of friends.”
Thomas: “Well, I was thinking more along the lines of just being civil, but sure,”
Thomas says, enveloping my hand in his and giving it a professional shake.
Neither one of us acknowledges that we hold hands for a split-second longer than friends. Stephanie: “Oh my. So, so many penises, so little time.”
This comes from Stephanie Price, who’s perusing the bowl of penis-shaped gummies before picking up an unfortunate green, crooked one.
Stephanie: “They don’t really look like this? Do they?”
She wiggles it at me, then eats it.
Mac: “I haven’t had to suffer through that, but…”
I pick out a short, squatty red one.
Mac: “This is unfortunately familiar to me.” Mac: “So, how’d you and Ethan meet?”
I ask. It’s not just polite small talk; I really want to know. They’re adorable together, but in an odd-couple kind of way. She grins, reading my mind.
Stephanie: “You mean, how did a girl in leather pants and love of black eye shadow snag Captain America?”
Mac: "Actually, I was wondering more how he snagged you.”
She waggles another gummy penis at me.
Stephanie: “I like you. I do. And as far as Ethan and I, we collided back in college, and yes, collided is the appropriate word choice. We took a film class together, got stuck as partners. Then, in a weird twist, I ended up pretending to be his girlfriend, and then in an even weirder twist, I became his actual girlfriend, and gasp, liked it. And loved him.”
Mac: “Awww.” Stephanie: “Out of curiosity.”
She points down at the bowl of penis gummies.
Stephanie: “Which one do you think is most like Thomas?”
Mac: “I haven’t thought about it,”
Mac: “Though knowing him, he wouldn’t tolerate anything than absolute perfection.”
I pull out a perfect purple specimen. He swallows and glances down. Then back at me.
Thomas: “I didn’t want it to happen like that.”
Mac: “The conversation about the kiss?”
I say, resting my hand on the door jamb, my head on the hand.
Thomas: “Yeah. I clunked it up, I’m sorry. I was trying to ease my conscience and instead made everything awkward.”
Mac: “Not the conversation.”
I shake my head. I don’t understand. He runs his hand through his hair, then frowns at me.
Thomas: “You drive me fucking nuts, Mac.”
I let out a little laugh, surprisingly not the least bit surprised, because…
Mac: “You drive me nuts too. But I thought for the weekend…”
Thomas: “I don’t mean you annoy me, though you do. I don’t mean that you’re not aggravating and stubborn, because you are. I mean you drive me fucking nuts in that I can’t stop—I’ve never…”
He reaches out and lifts my blue streak of hair, studying it for a moment, then winding it around his finger gently, his gaze tracking the movement of his finger.
Thomas: “I didn’t want to kiss you when I was with Anna. I didn’t want to kiss you when I was your boss.”
Mac: “That makes sense,”
I say, my voice all low and raspy and hard to hear over the pounding of my heart. His silver eyes come back to mine, but they’re not cool now, they’re stormy and gray.
Thomas: “I didn’t want it to go like that,”
he says, repeating his earlier statement. Thomas eases closer to me, releasing my hair and instead sliding an arm around me, his hand on my back.
Thomas: “Because I wanted it to go like this.”
His palm flattens over the small of my back, firm and possessive as he presses me to him. Then he dips his head, and his mouth closes over mine. Mac: “If we do this,”
I say on a pant,
Mac: “we do this my way. I don’t want flowers, I don’t want to meet your mother, and I won’t be your little woman.”
Thomas’s fingers close around both of my wrists, lifting my arms above my head as he pushes me backwards, pressing me to the door, my hands pinned above my head. His mouth easily finds my neck where the robe has loosened from our wiggling, his breath is hot against my neck, his words low and raspy.
Thomas: “I didn’t bring flowers,”
he says, his tongue flicking over my skin.
Thomas: “I sure as hell am not thinking about my mother right now. But—”
His teeth scrape lightly my throat.
Thomas: “I am going to make you my woman. Just for tonight.” I set about spreading cream cheese on my bagel—I like lots, so I grabbed two of the little tubs, and look up only when I find Collette watching me with narrowed eyes.
I ask, freezing mid-bite.
she says mildly.
Collette: “Go away.”
He looks up in surprise.
Jon: “I’m sorry?”
Collette: “Go. Away.”
Her fiancé opens his mouth as though to protest, then shrugs, folds his paper, and takes it and his coffee cup to another table with his cousin.
Collette: “You got sex,”
Collette says, lowering her voice so only I can hear.
My voice is bad-actress levels of scandalized.
Mac: “Don’t be crazy.”
Collette: “Oh shut up. I’m your best friend, and we used to live together. I know your post-coital face.”
She narrows her eyes.
Collette: “Oh my god. Not just sex. You got fancy sex.”
Mac: “What the heck is fancy sex? Actually, no, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.”
Collette: “Fancy sex,”
she continues anyway,
Collette: “is sex that’s so good, so epic, that it’s above all other sex.”
Mac: “I assure you, I’ve never had fancy sex, just regular sex, and not recently,”
I rush to explain. So many lies in one little sentence. Collette: “Huh.”
She lifts the string of her tea bag and bounces it in her mug as she watches me.
Collette: “So you guys are just…boink buddies?”
Mac: “One-time boink buddies. Scratching an itch. Now that it’s scratched, we’ll go back to being just friends for the remainder of the weekend, and then civil acquaintances in the future.”
Collette is smiling, more to herself than at me, and I narrow my eyes.
Mac: “Why are you smirking?”
she says, all sweet innocence.
Collette: “Just really looking forward to watching this day unfold.” Mac: “You weren’t at breakfast,”
Thomas: “I was, just late. I wanted to get in a run first.”
I stare at him, aghast.
Mac: “A run. You are the worst.”
Thomas: “If it makes you feel better, it wasn’t my best run. For some reason, I had a little less energy than usual.”
I suck in my cheeks.
Mac: “I’m so sorry to hear that.”
Thomas: “Yes. You sound devastated,”
he says, a smile in his voice.
Mac: “Collette knows about last night,”
I whisper, scrunching down a little in the seat and lowering my voice. He doesn’t look as surprised or dismayed as I expect. Instead, he shrugs.
Thomas: “Jon knows as well. He saw me on my way out to my run, and without me saying a word, he just grinned his shitty face off.”
I laugh at the description.
Mac: “Collette says she thinks I had Fancy Sex.”
He looks down at me, interested.
Thomas: “Did you?”
I peer up at him.
His gray gaze narrows, and I grin.
Mac: “Maybe?” Mac: “Now, see,”
I mutter to myself, as I peruse the menu.
Mac: “This is why people have boyfriends.”
Thomas: “Why’s that?”
Mac: “Because I can’t decide between the chicken and waffles pizza with Vermont maple syrup, or the meatball sub pizza. But if I had a boyfriend, I could force him to order one, and then I could eat half of each and die happy.”
After a moment, he sets down his menu.
Thomas: “I’ll be your boyfriend. For the purpose of this meal.”
I give him a narrow-eyed look, and he gazes levelly back.
Thomas: “Relax, Mac. I offered to split pizza with you. I’m not trying to bring you home for Thanksgiving dinner.”
The very thought of that is laughable. Mac: “You get Christmas cards from your ex?”
I ask, appalled. He shrugs.
Thomas: “We’re friendly.”
Mac: “Huh. When we fake break up from our fake relationship, you’ll be getting no Christmas card from me. I was only in it for the pizza.”
Thomas: “Not a problem. Knowing our luck, we’ll continue to run into each other over and over until the end of time,”
Thomas says, smiling.
Mac: “Too true. I have no doubt that someday I’ll have my sketchbook in Central Park and I’ll see you walk by pushing some high-tech stroller with your shiny-haired wife—no blue in her hair—beside you wearing some sort of chic dress. You guys are probably coming from some museum where you have annual passes that you actually use.”
Thomas: “Quite possibly. But that’s then. For right now, I’m quite content to be in Vermont with my current girlfriend and her blue hair.”
I prop my chin on my hand and grin at him.
Mac: “I bet she’s pretty great.”
Thomas: “I’ll confess to being surprised, sometimes, how much I like her.”
Mac: “Is that so,”
I say lightly, hating how much I want it to be true.
Mac: “I’ll bet she’s really good in bed. Gives excellent head.”
Thomas’s low groan as he shifts in his chair is the best thing I’ve heard since, well…his groans last night. He kisses the inside of my knee. The other. His lips drift over the insides of my thighs, idly, as though there’s all the time in the world and I’m not aching for him.
I groan, when he gets torturously close, then drifts back towards my knee.
Mac: “Don’t hmm me,”
I say with a laugh of frustration. He looks up, his smile wicked.
Thomas: “You want something?”
It’s the same game as last night. One I’m surprised by how much I like, putting words to my needs—my wants.
Mac: “Kiss me,”
I manage on a whisper. He pecks the inside of my knee.
I groan, my fingers tunneling into his hair.
Mac: “Lick me.”
His tongue flicks, again over the inside of my knee.
Evil, evil man. Collette: “Oh, don’t give me that trademark cynical Mac look. You’re allowed to be complimented.”
Mac: “He’s not my boss anymore. I don’t need his positive reinforcement.”
She crosses her arms and tilts her head, giving me a speculative, best friend study.
Collette: “He really gets to you, doesn’t he?”
Mac: “What? No.”
But even as I say it, I give a quick glance around the parking lot, where everybody is packing up their cars and hugging out their goodbyes. Thomas is over by Jon, laughing at something his brother said. He doesn’t laugh very often, but I like when he does.
Collette: “Oh my,”
I look back at her.
She smiles too brightly. I look down at my faux-leather pants, which I’ve paired with an oversized burgundy sweater and combat boots.
Mac: “Am I not pulling off these pants? I know I’m not twenty-two anymore…”
Stephanie: “Please, you’re rocking the pants, your ass looks fantastic, and I’m jealous, though actually, that’s as good a segue as any…”
Stephanie takes a deep breath.
Stephanie: “You think he won’t go for a girl that wears pants like that. Or dyes her hair blue. Or that doesn’t want the white picket fence, and hates doing laundry, and who didn’t have a My Future Wedding scrapbook when she was little… You’re wrong,”
she continues a little more gently.
Stephanie: “You don’t see the way he looks at you. He’s a man who knows what he wants, and babe, he wants you.”
Mac: “Well of course,”
I say with a grin.
Mac: “You said it yourself. This ass in these pants…” Thomas: “I could come over after?”
The question is tentative, his voice both frustrated and almost shy, and I realize I’m not the only one utterly, totally flummoxed by this. By us.
Thomas: “You know—to see our friendship through the end of the weekend,”
Mac: “Right. Of course. Just until midnight, when we turn into pumpkins.”
Thomas: “That’s not how the fairy tale goes.”
Mac: “I wouldn’t know. I’ve never really read them, or seen the movie.”
Thomas walks towards me, pressing a finger beneath my chin and pushing it gently upwards before stamping a hard kiss on my mouth.
Mac: “What was that for?”
I ask, a little breathless when he pulls back.
Thomas: “Let’s just say I think I’m finally starting to figure you out.”
He looks thoughtful, pressing his finger over my bottom lip, watching the motion.
Mac: “What does that mean?”
Thomas: “I’ll let you know when I figure it all the way out.”
His eyes travel back up to mine and he grins. Thomas: “It’s okay to change, Mac. To evolve. To blow up the ideal of your life and build another one. Circumstances are always changing, we’re allowed to change along with them.” He reaches up, runs a thumb along my blue streak, smiling as he looks down at me.
Thomas: “Shall we try my bed? Maybe it’s the one that lets us down, makes the sex awful.”
Mac: “It would be irresponsible not to do our due diligence,”
I say with a somber face.
Thomas: “My thoughts exactly.”
Spoiler alert: his bed does not let us down. The sex is so not awful. Thomas: “Now, for what I have to imagine is the hard part,”
he says, nodding at the awkwardly rolled out top crust. I swipe at my forehead with the back of my hand.
Mac: “Go for it.”
Thomas: “Uh uh. Together.”
Mac: “This isn’t a corporate retreat where we have to pump up the importance of teamwork. It doesn’t take two people to make a pie.”
Thomas: “Obviously, it does,”
he says with a quick smile.
Thomas: “But no, we’re both doing this, because then we’ll both have the satisfaction of victory when this piece of shit comes out of the oven.”
I laugh, because the combination of romanticism and impatience pretty much sums up so much of what I like about him. Mac: “That sounds terrible, and I think you’ll be perfect at it,” Mom: “I’ve been dying of curiosity, what is your big news that you refused to tell me over text? No no, I want to guess,”
she says before I can answer, settling more firmly on her bar stool.
Mom: “You’ve discovered the best sex of your life.”
Mom: “What! I thought I raised you never to think of sex or female pleasure as a sin.”
Mac: “I don’t, I just think discussing it with my mother is.” He shifts the grip of his right hand slightly, and for a second I realize he wants to let go, but it’s only to reposition, maneuvering the long strand of blue hair that Collette had wanted me to pull out of the updo “for flair,” and wrapping it once around his finger. I want to weep.
I manage on a whisper.
he says quietly, firmly.
Thomas: “No. Not here, not now. You’re going to end things between us, and I’m going to let you, because that was our deal. But first, Mac, you’ll give me this dance. This will be what you remember when you think of us, not the conversation we’ll have when it’s over, and not whatever’s caused that conversation. And even if it’s not what you remember, let it be what I remember. Please.” Thomas: "You want fun and temporary, and I want…I want forever, Mac. I want that with someone.”
A lump forms in my throat at his words, even though I know I’ve earned every bit of Thomas’s censure and then some.
I repeat softly. Not me.
Thomas: “I actually had someone specific in mind,”
he smiles ruefully, staring down at his drink.
Thomas: “This blue-haired girl. But she wasn’t interested.”
The light of hope that was nearly extinguished flickers a tiny bit brighter.
Mac: “She sounds like a complete idiot,”
I say with feeling.
Mac: “What if…”
I swallow nervously.
Mac: “What if there was a rainbow-haired girl who was a lot like the blue-haired girl, but much smarter. This rainbow-haired girl, she…understands now, the only thing more terrible than forever with the wrong person…”
I wait until he meets my eyes to finish.
Mac: “Would be forever without you.” My gift to her? A confession I’ve been holding onto for over a year. I never tapped “no” on Mac on that dating app. She was a hell yes for me. Always has been.