Taylor Hunt is all in for the Army life, craving adventure and eager to prove herself. But Anchorage? It's hardly the adrenaline-charged backdrop she had in mind.
Enter Noah Rockwell. He's the epitome of laid-back, content with his retail job, quality time with his cat, and his uncomplicated single life.
A chance encounter over a video game shakes things up. And suddenly, they're both rethinking what they want from life. Opposites may attract, but can they ever really make things work?
Dive into this feel-good romance from New York Times bestselling author Melissa Storm to find out!
Noah Rockwell wanted to go home.
And by the time Lolly Winston had completed her second encore, he’d already mapped out his quickest path to the exit. If he rushed, he could be home and in bed while the others were still fighting their way out of the parking lot.
“Give Lolly my best,” he shouted in his brother’s ear as he clapped him on the shoulder.
Oscar turned toward Noah, taking his eyes off his new bride for the first time that evening. “You’re leaving? Aren’t you going to come backstage?”
“Not tonight. I gotta open the store tomorrow.”
Oscar rolled his eyes and gave his brother a quick hug. “Go on, then. Get your beauty sleep.”
Normally Noah would fight back. After all, Oscar was the mama’s boy, not Noah, and certainly not their other brother, Sebastian, who was the most macho of them all. But right now, he just wanted to beat the rush.
Sure, he was happy for his little brother and all that. But when you worked in electronics for a living, the novelty of having a country music star in the family wore off fast. And as much as he loved Lolly, he didn’t love all the excited teens that regularly stalked his store, hoping to get a peek of their favorite singer.
Annoying, that’s what it was. Just like his stupid cat.
Sure enough, the moment Noah walked through his apartment door that night, his black and white tomcat, Billy Idol, hopped up on the counter and fixed him with an evil stare.
“What?” Noah moaned. “Why is everyone in my life so demanding lately? Especially you?”
Billy walked a few steps, then looked up at Noah with a mischievous glint in his feline eyes.
“Oh no, you don’t!” Noah rushed across the apartment, but it was too late for the half-empty soda bottle.
With a quick nudge and a strategic bat from his cat roommate, the bottle of Dr. Pepper fell onto the linoleum floor with a loud fizzing pop!
“Bad, bad cat!” Noah cried as sticky brown leaked across the floor. “Why did I ever agree to take you in the first place?” he growled, and the cat growled right back.
He knew exactly why he’d taken in the irritating animal, and he’d probably do it all over again, too. Sure, the cat bugged him to no end, but having it here made his mother happy—and he did love his mom, even though she was kind of annoying, too.
Noah and his brothers couldn’t have predicted how attached their mother would become to her new cat friend and its litter of kittens. So attached, in fact, that rather than adopting out, their mom had made sure each of the kitties ended up with a family member. Even his cousin, Charlie, and her new husband, Will, hadn’t been spared, despite already having two large dogs of their own.
Billy Idol paced back and forth on the counter as Noah sopped up the mess with a wad of paper towels. His fuzzy black feline mustache twitched in disapproval, even though he clearly liked watching Noah suffer.
That meant it was time to activate the silent treatment torture—his cat’s absolute least favorite thing.
After a quick shower, Noah headed to bed, making sure to lock Billy Idol out of the bedroom.
Immediately, Billy Idol began to meow angrily from the hall and claw at the shut door.
“Go away!” Noah called out, but his words only set the cat off more.
How could a cat have changed his life so much? Weren’t they supposed to be easy pets? He knew his brother was happier after having met and married Lolly, starting their charity organization together, and now settling into domestic life. There was no denying that Oscar’s smile had grown a mile wide these days.
But as for Noah?
Well, this stupid cat was already more responsibility than he wanted. He liked serving as the manager of the same local electronics store he’d worked in since high school. He liked spending his paychecks on the latest video game or tech toy. He liked that his life was every bit as much play as it was work—although the cat was definitely starting to tip that balance.
Oscar and their mother often asked when Noah, being the oldest, would “finally” settle down, and Noah always answered with, “Whenever I meet a girl worth settling for.” The truth was, though, Noah couldn’t even begin to imagine a woman perfect enough to make him give up his simple, happy life.
Well, happy… provided he could actually get some sleep that night.
Of course, it was at this moment the cat began making its horrible, demonic sounds. Noah couldn’t stand to listen to this the whole night, so he begrudgingly kicked the covers off and let the furry nuisance into his room. Billy Idol immediately began to purr and tucked himself against the small of Noah’s back in the bed.
As long as Noah did exactly what the cat wanted when he wanted it, they didn’t have any problems.
And how on earth could a girlfriend be any different?
Yup. No, thank you, Noah thought as he finally drifted off to sleep.
* * *
Taylor Hunt was so bored.
She’d joined the Army for adventure, not to hang around base all day, watching as her brothers in arms challenged each other to a Call of Duty gaming marathon.
“C’mon, T-Hunt. Grab a controller!” one of them called, scooting over to make room for her on the couch.
Taylor scoffed. “Don’t you guys realize we fight actual bad guys? Why would you want to play make-believe?”
Chuck—who had recently been promoted above them and wanted to make sure no one forgot it, even for a second—laughed. “Bad guys, huh? In Alaska? Where are they hiding? Are they behind the couch? In the fridge? Maybe they’re out in the snow?”
Laughter rose all around the hall.
“You know what I mean,” Taylor muttered under her breath.
“We gotta keep our skills sharp somehow. Only thing to fight around here is penguins.”
Taylor sighed. “That’s the South Pole.”
“What about a pole?” Chuck asked, making a lewd gesture.
More immature laughter shot through the room.
She crossed her arms over her chest, sorely wishing she was somewhere else as she explained, “Penguins don’t live in Alaska. Honestly, if you guys ever left the barracks, you’d know that.”
“So are you going to play or not?”
“Not,” Taylor said, grabbing the small messenger bag she used as a purse. “See you losers later.”
“Aww, you’re no fun!” Chuck and the others called, but quickly lost themselves in the game, moving on to heckle each other instead of her.
As much as Taylor loved working as a Unit Supply Specialist in the armed forces, she couldn’t deny that she didn’t quite fit in. And that was basically the story of her entire life.
In school, she’d been too much of a tomboy to fit in with the other girls. Now, her fellow soldiers never let her forget that she was a girl, different—one of the guys, except not exactly. They seemed to think of her as a little sister, even though most of them were the same age. That at least meant no one had tried to date her, but it also subjected her to a lot of ribbing.
Meanwhile, she was going crazy up here. There were fewer people, fewer job duties, less of everything. It being summer, there wasn’t even snow—and that had been the only part of being stationed up north she’d actually looked forward to.
So, of course, she’d wasted no time in requesting a transfer. She preferred to return to her hometown of Charleston, but anywhere had to be better than here.
Driving around town now, she caught sight of a street festival, but decided against peopling for the day. She needed to find something a bit more relaxing to entertain her, to give her a break from the guys.
Maybe she should have just stayed at the barracks and played their stupid game. Up ahead, the big-box electronics store stood tall and bright amongst the smaller businesses surrounding it.
Maybe she could find a game of her own. Anything had to be better than Call of Duty. Seriously, anything.
Before she could overthink it, she parked her car at the far end of the lot, enjoying the fresh, crisp air as she jogged toward the entrance. It didn’t take much to find the video games section, and it took even less time to notice the nearby employee who kept his eyes glued firmly on her as she browsed their selection.
“Army or Air Force?” he asked, striding over to stand beside her.
Taylor kept her eyes on the game in her hands, pretending to be absorbed in the back-of-box description. “Army,” she mumbled.
“It’s how you stand, the way you carry yourself,” the man explained, even though she hadn’t asked.
She nodded and continued to study the game, even though she’d already decided she didn’t want it.
“Don’t get that one,” he said. “It’s way too over-hyped and not actually very good. Can I help you find something better? By the way, I’m Noah Rockwell, the manager here.”
At last she looked up at him, admitting to herself that he wouldn’t be going away anytime soon. As soon as she did, she was greeted with warm, caramel eyes and a broad grin. His dark hair was shaggy and the ends touched his shirt collar—way out of regulation—though the rest of him was well groomed and clean.
“What do you recommend, then?” she asked, refusing to return his smile.
He raised one curious eyebrow. “Not going to tell me your name?”
“I don’t see how knowing my name affects your ability to help me find a good game.”
“Touché. If I find a game you like, will you tell me, then?”
“Sure.” She wasn’t sure why it mattered, but whatever would get her out of here fastest was what she would do.
“Okay, then. Follow me.” Noah led her to the other end of the aisle and plucked a game from the back of the display. “Here you go.”
She accepted the box from him and read the description on the back, and—darn it—it did sound fun. Yup, a good, old fashioned role-playing game with magic and wizards and a totally immersive storyline was exactly what she needed to pass the rest of the weekend.
“You’re really beautiful, you know that?” Noah said, moving a couple inches closer.
Taylor laughed softly to herself. “Yeah, okay,” she answered. People called Taylor a lot of things, but beautiful had very rarely been one of them. Taylor was strong, hard-working, smart, funny, but she was not beautiful. That word had never felt like her, and it didn’t feel like her now.
She lifted the game up to make a small barrier between her and the weird guy trying to compliment her. “Thanks for your help. I’ll get this one.”
As she turned to leave, he quickly circled around her, coming to stand before her in the aisle. “What about our deal? I find a game you like, and you tell me your name?”
“Just because I’m buying it, doesn’t mean I like it. I need to play it first, right?”
He laughed and shook his head. “So it’s going to be like that?”
She shrugged. “I guess it is.”
As she finished making her way toward the checkout line, Noah called after her, “Come back and tell me what you think of it once you’ve had a chance to play.”
She smiled inwardly, doubting very much that she would ever see Noah Rockwell again.