In this raw, moving short novel for readers of Jill Shalvis, Molly O’Keefe, and Karina Halle, two kindred spirits share a winning lottery ticket—and discover what it really means to get lucky.
Holly Ward is stretched to the breaking point, raising her young son alone and working long hours for minimum wage at a local superstore. Sure, she’s noticed the new guy with the easy grin and warm brown eyes, but she’s learned the hard way that relationships aren’t worth the pain. Still, when he invites her to split a lottery ticket, she figures a little innocent fun couldn’t hurt. The last thing she expects is to score big, which is exactly what happens . . . in more ways than one.
From the moment he meets Holly, Ray Lopez is drawn to her quiet dignity and openhearted beauty. And when they hit the jackpot together, he’s thrilled that the single mom can give her kid a better life. The only problem is the chaos surrounding them: lawyers and reporters swarming, friends and family angling to get their cut. In all the chaos, Ray discovers an oasis of calm and passion in Holly. But with the stakes higher than ever, winning her trust could cost him everything.
I don’t usually give much time to the new people, although I try to be friendly. You never know how long someone’s going to stay at Cogmans since turnover is so high. They could easily be leaving as soon as they’ve arrived. But I know how disorienting the first few weeks on a job can be. I help out when I can.
The trouble is, Ray here might be interpreting that the wrong way. Like I’m interested in him. Like I’m putting the feelers out.
I’m not putting out any feelers. My feelers long ago shriveled up and fell over dead. I’d tell him so straight out but I think that would embarrass us both.
Anyway, he’s a nice enough guy. If compelled in a court of law I might even admit he’s good-looking. But I’m far too tired for man-hunting, even if the dead zone of Cogmans were conducive to romance. Which it most certainly is not. Fortunately, that makes conversation with male coworkers and customers fairly easy. I have no energy for worrying about whether they find me attractive. So I can just be myself.
“How’s it going, Ray? You having a good day?”
“Oh yeah. It’s great.” He takes some packs of gum and starts arranging them on the opposite shelf. “No place I’d rather be than stocking candy at Cogmans on a Friday afternoon. Sun shining outside? Who cares? Got me some Phil Collins playing on the intercom, got a cart full of Juicy Fruit. What more could a man want?”
I snort and pick up a stack of candy bars. “A polyester uniform vest? You could have that.”
“Got it.” He does a little sidestep and adds gum to the shelf. “A matching tie?”
“Oh, look.” I point to his chest. “You’ve got that, too.” Then I turn back to my candy shelf, because when Ray smiles, a dimple creases out on his right cheek.
Okay, maybe he’s a little more than good-looking. With his brown eyes and thick hair, his strong hands. At the moment he’s a bit too close and I realize I can smell him. His aftershave, I guess, which is kind of smoky and sweet.
Like barbecue potato chips. That is what I just compared this poor man to. I realize that in all the hubbub this morning I forgot to make myself breakfast.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Ray continues behind me. “Working at Cogmans is great and all that. What with the nonstop buzzing of track lighting over our heads. And the cranky customers. And the total lack of health insurance. But after work I’m thinking I’ll hop down to my private plane and jet on over to the Vineyard for a round of golf.”
“Martha’s Vineyard?” I line up boxes of candy one after another, so that all of their corners match.
“Naturally. Where else does one go on the weekend?” He’s got a bit of a New York City accent usually, and mixed with the faux-British he’s trying hard to tackle, it’s doing something weird to my midsection. His voice is too deep, I think. Even joking around, it vibrates.
“Martha’s Vineyard is definitely where I’m gonna go,” I say. “Soon as I win the lottery. Maybe the Cape while I’m at it.”
“Or the Hamptons.” Ray turns and leans against his cart. “We’d fit right in, you know, you and me. All the golfers wear large buttons like ours that say, ‘How may I help you?’ ”
“Oh, for sure. Alongside their name tags that identify them by first name only.” I crack a smile and face him, and immediately wish I hadn’t. There’s the dimple again, and his eyes, which crinkle at the corners.
“You know there’s a Powerball drawing coming up,” he says. “Nobody’s won in ages. It’s over four hundred million.”
“Yeah,” I say. “Let’s definitely play the lottery. Because that’s not rigged at all. We’ll totally win.”
He edges his cart closer to mine. “Why not? You never know.”
“Seriously? You don’t actually play, do you?”
“Sure I do. Don’t you? Can’t win if you don’t play and all that.”
“Yeah, but it’s like a zillion-to-one chance.” I cross my arms over my chest, and then drop them when Ray’s gaze almost imperceptibly follows the resulting pushing-up of my boobs. He looks back to my face so quickly you’d barely know he’d wavered. Except for the slight color in his cheeks. I press on to rescue both of us. “It’s a waste of money.”
“Maybe. But it’s only two dollars. I spend two dollars on a soda if I’m real thirsty. Don’t mind wasting that much for the sake of a little dreaming.”
I tilt my head at him. “You make it sound reasonable. When in fact it’s completely insane and illogical.”
“See, but that’s how I draw you in.” He smiles. “With my rakish charm and unerring man-logic. Right here in the candy aisle I lay my trap. First it’s a little light gambling. And then before you know it, it’s the drinkin’. And the druggin’.”
“Next thing you know I’m driving the getaway car to Toronto.”
“Exactly.” He holds out his hand. His nails are neatly trimmed, his fingers broad. “Give me a dollar.”
“What? Why?” I’d take a tiny step back, but my cart’s in the way. Its piles of candy bars stare up at me accusingly. Any minute our manager will pop his head around the corner and chastise us for slacking off on the job.
“Powerball ticket’s two bucks. We’ll go in on one. See what happens.” His hand waits, open and extended out to me. I want to place my own hand against it, palm to palm, and feel the warmth there. He’s not kidding about the charm.
“You want me to give you a dollar and we’ll split a Powerball ticket.”
He nods. “Yup.”
“How does it even work?”
“Drawing is tomorrow night. You can watch it on TV at like eight o’clock. I’ll go to the store after work, give them our two bucks, they print out a ticket, and that’s our shot. Wait, how do you want to do it? You want to pick the numbers? It’s five numbers plus a bonus one, the Powerball one. You can pick your own or the computer generates one for you.”
“Let’s do the computer.” It’s out of my mouth before I even realize I’m in. But I’m in, I guess. Like Ray says, why not? It’s no worse a distraction than eating a bag of donuts, and significantly better for my blood sugar. Maybe it will actually take my mind off my worries for five minutes, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. “Might as well use the computer numbers and be totally random about the whole thing.”
“Sure, yeah.” Ray’s teeth are very white. He has a good mouth, a soft mouth.
I shouldn’t be looking at his mouth.
“Random,” he says. “I like that.”
I dig in my pocket for a dollar. When I hand it over, his fingers brush mine. I pretend not to notice the zing that races through me.
But I fail.
I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.
Rebecca Rogers Maher writes realistic stories that push the boundaries of contemporary romance—uniting the genre’s love scenes and happy endings with the crisp, layered prose of literary fiction. In past lives, she’s been a teenage metalhead, a cleaner of lab rat cages, a community organizer, and an urban schoolteacher. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and children.