Dating is the last thing on Olivia Monroe’s mind when she moves to LA to start her own law firm. But when she meets a gorgeous man at a hotel bar and they spend the entire night flirting, she discovers too late that he is none other than hotshot junior senator Max Powell. Olivia has zero interest in dating a politician, but when a cake arrives at her office with the cutest message, she can’t resist—it is chocolate cake, after all.
Olivia is surprised to find that Max is sweet, funny, and noble—not just some privileged white politician she assumed him to be. Because of Max’s high-profile job, they start seeing each other secretly, which leads to clandestine dates and silly disguises. But when they finally go public, the intense media scrutiny means people are now digging up her rocky past and criticizing her job, even her suitability as a trophy girlfriend. Olivia knows what she has with Max is something special, but is it strong enough to survive the heat of the spotlight?
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
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Olivia Monroe sat down at the hotel bar and grinned at the bartender, who grinned back. Thank God for a friendly face after such a long day.
She'd almost gone straight to her room to put on one of those cozy hotel robes and order room service to eat on her bed, but what she wanted more than anything tonight was a huge pile of french fries and an ice-cold martini, and she knew from experience that room service was the least optimal way to get both of those things. Fries always arrived soggy and martinis never arrived chilled enough. Better to get the best version of both and a conversation with Krystal the bartender that had nothing to do with intellectual property or law.
"Hendrick's martini, two olives?" Krystal asked her, already filling the cocktail shaker with ice. Olivia had been staying in this hotel for a week now, ever since she'd packed all of her worldly belongings and flown out to L.A. to start this new chapter in her life.
"Yes please." Olivia slipped off her blazer. "And a Caesar salad and a large order of fries."
"You got it. How was work today? You look like you've earned this martini."
Olivia laughed and twisted her mass of dark curly hair up into a knot on top of her head.
"Well, I left the hotel at eight this morning, and I'm just getting back now at . . ." She checked her watch. "Nine at night, so yes, I've earned that martini. But I've had worse twelve-hour days."
Much worse, actually. After years of considering it, she'd moved from New York to L.A., and she and her friend Ellie had formed their own law firm: Monroe & Spencer. Olivia had spent the last month anxious she'd made the wrong decision, about both the move and starting a new firm. She was still terrified about that-so much so that she'd woken up at four a.m. the night before and worried for an hour. But, God, she'd loved every minute of her workday today. She'd been on an adrenaline high from the moment she walked into the office that morning-hell, from the moment her plane had landed last week. She was thrilled to be back in California, it was great to have Ellie as her partner, and it felt incredible to be her own boss, finally, after all these years.
When her martini arrived, she raised it to Krystal in thanks, and silently toasted herself. She took a sip and smiled. Perfect.
She inhaled her salad and half of her fries as soon as they arrived, and realized she couldn't remember the last time she'd eaten. Oh right, Ellie had handed her some sort of green smoothie at eleven a.m. when they left for a meeting together, and Olivia had laughed at her. Ellie had been in L.A. ever since law school graduation, so she did things like drink green smoothies and go to seven a.m. yoga classes before she got into the office. The smoothie was terrible; no wonder Olivia had eaten those fries so fast. As it was, the gin plus all of that adrenaline from their meetings and calls today had left her feeling very euphoric. Maybe she should eat something else.
She waved Krystal over and asked for the dessert menu. Chocolate cake, that's what she needed right now. A big slice of chocolate layer cake. Ooh, or apple pie, warm, with a big scoop of ice cream on the side. That would also hit the spot.
Krystal hesitated before she handed her the dessert menu.
"There's a new pastry chef here, and . . . well, at least the cookies are good."
Olivia scanned the list and shook her head.
"What is all of this?" she asked Krystal. "I understand that pastry chefs need to feel like they're expressing their emotions in their pastry or whatever, but why are all of these desserts so incomprehensible and confusing? Basil ice cream? I don't want herbs in my dessert!" Krystal laughed at that, which only inspired Olivia to keep going. "Deconstructed banana cream pie? What even is that, a banana just rolling back and forth on a plate, with some whipped cream on the side? A cookie plate? I don't want a cookie plate! What happened to a nice layer cake? Chocolate, or carrot, or for the love of God, yellow cake with chocolate frosting? Everyone loves yellow cake with chocolate frosting! Or a delicious pie-an actual one, not any deconstructed nonsense. Apple pie, or chocolate mousse pie, or my favorite, strawberry rhubarb-the whole world would come here for dessert if you had those things!"
"I could not agree with you more."
Olivia glanced over at the guy a few seats down who had chimed in on her rant. White dude, far too attractive, baseball cap, jeans, blue T-shirt, expression on his face like he thought he was hot shit. She rolled her eyes and turned back to Krystal, who was still laughing.
"See? Even this guy agrees with me. Everyone loves a good cake-a real one, not any of this fancy, elaborate, delicate stuff that doesn't even deserve the name 'cake.' What does L.A. have against a good cake?"
"You really are passionate about dessert, aren't you?" Krystal set the dude's beer down in front of him. "The cookies are good, though, I swear."
Olivia pursed her lips.
"Are they really, though?" she asked Krystal. "Really? Are they real cookies, or those thin, crispy, fragile cookies that are more crumb than actual cookie? Or, God, are they biscotti? I bet they're biscotti, aren't they?"
"I hate biscotti so much," the dude said, with a shake of his head. "The first time I ever tried one, I almost cracked a tooth. Then someone told me you were supposed to dip it in coffee first-whoever came up with a cookie you had to dip in liquid before eating it?"
Olivia pointed at him and nodded.
"Yes, exactly! Why would I want a soggy cookie? Please, say they aren't biscotti, Krystal."
Krystal shook her head at them.
"I promise, they aren't biscotti. I'll bring you some, you'll see."
Krystal disappeared, and the baseball cap dude smiled at Olivia.
"What are the chances these cookies are actually good?" he asked.
Olivia couldn't help herself from smiling back at him.
"Oh, slim to none," she said.
Normally, Olivia wouldn't give this guy the time of day. He was too good looking, with big dark eyes, strong jaw, and wide smile. His hair was probably in perfect, tousled waves underneath that baseball cap, too. She knew guys like this all too well-they'd been told their whole lives they were smart and charming, and they got away with everything. She'd gone to school with this guy, she'd worked with him, she'd worked for him. But tonight she was in a good mood and full of gin and french fries.
And she didn't work for guys like this, or anyone else, anymore. Her smile grew wider.
"Hi, I'm Olivia." She reached out her hand to him.
He glanced down at the stool in between them, occupied by her bag, thank goodness. Just because she'd told this guy her name didn't mean she wanted him to sit next to her.
"Hi, Olivia. I'm . . . Max." His handshake was firm, but not that death grip that so many men had, like they were trying to prove they were so big and strong. "So, where do you stand on the cake-versus-pie argument?"
Olivia waved a french fry at him.
"I reject the whole idea that I have to choose between them! I love both cake and pie. An excellent version of either is a perfect food; a bad version of either is a crime against humanity. I don't know why people always want you to choose a team when you can love both."
Oh no. She was shouting about dessert again. That martini had hit her hard. Well, at least she was shouting to this guy she'd never see after tonight.
"People are definitely pretty partisan these days about everything, that's for sure," he said. "I tend to be more of a pie person, but I agree, an excellent cake can make me very happy." He gave her that slow smile again, and she tried not to let it affect her. "So what are you here in L.A. for? Assuming you're a guest here at the hotel?"
Olivia fished the last olive out of her martini glass.
"I am a guest here, but I'm also here in L.A. for good-I just moved here for work, but I can't move into my new place yet." She supposed she had to ask him, too. "Where are you visiting from?"
He laughed, slightly too loudly.
"Oh, I'm not visiting; I live here, too. Water main break on my street, and I have a lot to do first thing in the morning, so I came over here for the night."
She wondered what "a lot to do" in his world was. Did he work in the industry? Probably. Half of L.A. was connected to TV and movies in some way or another. As a matter of fact, this guy looked vaguely familiar. Maybe he was in a commercial she'd seen or something.
She wasn't going to ask him what he did; people like this were way too pleased to tell you they were An Actor.
Krystal set down a plate of cookies between the two of them.
"See, no biscotti." She glanced at Olivia's drink. "Another drink, either of you?"
They both shook their heads.
"I wish, but I have an early day tomorrow, and more work I should get done tonight," Olivia said. "But I'll have some coffee to go with the cookies."
"Coffee for me, too, please, but decaf," Max said.
When Krystal went to get their coffees, Max turned back to her.
"So what brought you to L.A. and is giving you a late night?" he asked her.
"Oh, I'm an accountant," she said. "Busy time of year for us."
As a rule, Olivia didn't like to lie. But she was having a pleasant evening drinking gin and ranting about food with a stranger, and she didn't want him to ruin the fun vibe they had going by cracking a stupid lawyer joke she'd heard a million times before. Accountant was a good, solid, boring job, and the best part of it was it was such a boring job no one ever asked her any follow-up questions.
"Oh, really?" he asked. "That's so interesting. What do you think of the new tax laws? Have they made your job more difficult?"
This guy, of course, would be the exception.
She reached for a cookie and bit into it so she had more time to think of an answer. She would have never figured a pretty actor would ask for details about her nonexistent accountant job, especially not details about the tax code.
"It's been a little more challenging," she said, after thoroughly chewing her cookie. "And personally, I'm not a huge fan of the new laws. But the good part is business is up."
"I'm not a huge fan of the new laws, either, but I'm glad that-"
"Oh wow, you should try these." Olivia held up the cookie. "Krystal was right, they're actually good."
She didn't only say that because she wanted to end this digression about tax laws, but sure, that was part of it.
Just then, Krystal brought their coffees.
"See, what did I tell you?" she said.
Max bit into a cookie and nodded.
"Sure, these are good," he said. "But just think of how much better they'd be if this was an ice-cream sandwich."
Olivia gasped and dropped her cookie.
"Yes! This is exactly what I'm talking about-dessert menus should have ice-cream sandwiches with cookies like this, and cakes, and pies, instead of this pistachio tart nonsense."
"I'll add that to my platform," he said.
Olivia took the last sip of her drink and pushed the glass toward Krystal.
"You joke, but I think someone needs to start a movement here."
That had been a close one. Max added cream to his coffee and mentally kicked himself for his stupid "platform" comment. This woman obviously didn't know who he was; why would he say something to help her figure it out?
Granted, most people didn't recognize him when he wasn't in uniform as Maxwell Stewart Powell III, junior United States Senator from California, at least not immediately, and that's the way he liked it. Sometimes it dawned on them after a while, though, especially if he'd been on TV recently, and he'd been on TV a lot these days.
But Olivia obviously had no idea who he was-that had been clear from her withering "even this guy agrees with me" comment when he'd joined her conversation. No one had talked down to him like that in years.
Why did he like it so much?
He had no idea, but he knew he didn't want this woman to figure out who he was and laugh at all of his stupid jokes like everyone else did these days. She barely even smiled at him, and the one time she had, he felt like he'd won a prize. It was weirdly nice to have to fight for a smile for the first time in a long time.
"So, Olivia, where did you move from? To move to L.A., I mean."
She pushed some of her curly hair back into her bun and gave him that half-suspicious look again.
"New York. But I'm a native Californian-I grew up in the Bay Area."
He lifted his coffee cup to toast to her.
"Well, welcome home."
She touched her cup to his.
"Thanks. It's good to be back. Even though L.A. is a lot different from the Bay Area, it still feels like coming home. But I've realized I only know L.A. from the perspective of a visitor, not a resident, so I have a lot to figure out. I haven't even bought a car yet."
He shook his head.
"You let yourself get too New York when you moved away. Soon you're going to start lamenting the state of the bagels and pizza in California, and insisting you really can get good tacos in New York if you know where to look."
Olivia burst out laughing.
He'd made her laugh. What a victory. Now all he wanted was to do it again.
"I swear, I'll never, ever do that last thing, cross my heart! People kept trying to pretend there was actual good Mexican food in New York-and in Boston, too, for that matter. It gave me a lot of trust issues, let me tell you."
Max grinned at her. The way she'd joked and laughed with the bartender was one of the reasons he'd initially eavesdropped on their conversation. He was so glad that smile on her face now was because of something he'd said.
Reading Group Guide
PARTY OF TWO by Jasmine Guillory
Reader's Guide Discussion Questions
1. Have you ever had a chance encounter with a stranger that led to a close relationship?
2. Giving back to the community is a large part of this book. Are you active in your community, whether it’s through work or volunteer opportunities?
3. Max and Olivia are polar opposites: Max is impulsiveand idealistic, while Olivia is cautious and thoughtful. When it comes to successful relationships, do you think it’s better when opposites attract or when two people are more similar?
4. Do you have any pet peeves or deal breakers when it comes to relationships?
5. Have you ever been in a relationship where differences (e.g., career, racial background, distance, lifestyle, age) affected how you moved forward?
6. Olivia is shoved into the spotlight because of her relationship with Max. How do you think you’d react to public scrutiny? Do you think you’d be able to endure what Olivia went through?
7. Max puts Olivia in a tough position during the townhall at the community center. Do you think that’s forgivable, given his reasoning? Or would you also have broken things off with him?
8. Party of Two has many strong, independent female characters. Who are some women you look up to in your life?