Small town Kansas girl Zoe Kearny never meant to befriend anyone in an online video game. But after a year of talking to Ben over the headset, he's traveled five hundred miles to meet her. Now she needs to prove to herself, and her two cynical friends, that a long distance relationship could work out, even if her violent ex-boyfriend works to ruin everything she's worked for.
Time can change a person, for better or worse. He was proof of that.
Guilt-laden Benjamin Solmer hit the bottle hard after his brother died in a motorcycle accident two years ago. If he hadn't met Zoe online when he did, alcohol would've driven him to the grave. Now he knows there’s more to life than video games and playing guitar in a rock band. He’s ready to pursue love. But with Zoe's fear that long distance relationships don't work, and deeply guarded secrets she won't reveal, he worries maybe Zoe's not the one.
“Thanks, Ben,” Zoe muttered.
“Say it, Zoe.”
“Thanks, Ben…Soljer. Okay, I’ll say it. I suck at this game!”
“You called me babe.”
She slapped her forehead. Great. He’d never let her live this one down.
“You must have heard me wrong,” she said.
The clock read eight thirty p.m. It was time to fix something to eat, though she’d rather not disconnect her headset. Voicing with Ben was the highlight of her day, even when he gave her a hard time—especially when he gave her a hard time.
“I didn’t hear you wrong.”
“Heat of the moment?” Zoe said, sticking a low-fat frozen dinner in the microwave.
“Okay, I said it. Did I offend you?”
“You can call me babe anytime you like…honey.”
Twenty-four years old and she laughed like a schoolgirl with a crush. Maybe her birthday wasn’t ruined after all.
“Honey is a bit old-fashioned, isn’t it?”
He hmm…’d. “I’ll call you pumpkin, then.”
“I’m flattered.” Hearing his sweet nickname for her warmed her face. “Pumpkins are edible in anything,” she continued nervously. “Muffins, breads, soups. Pumpkin pie is tasty.”
“Do you taste like pumpkin pie?” he asked softly.
Zoe zipped the bag. “They’ve lived together for two years under the same roof. And it'd make sense for them to turn to each other. But even if they had slept together before, there’s no indication they’re sleeping together now.”
“Loins are loins,” Millie said in a loud voice.
“Millie!” Zoe pressed her finger against Millie’s lips to shush her.
The handful of local women who'd come to the bakery for Monday night coffee and doughnuts stopped their chatter. They whispered, eyes shifting from each other to Millie as they lifted their purse straps over their shoulders.
“Hank wanted the store brand loins, but I said no way! Every off-brand we’ve ever tried turns out tough as jerky.” Millie’s lips pressed together as the women stood to leave. “So, I bought Tyson pork loin instead. Made Hank grill it on the Weber and it turned out nice and tender. Juicy.”
As the ladies left the bakery, Zoe laughed. “Nice save.”
“Maybe you should consider yourself lucky. I’m not much of a cook.”
“Says the gal who runs a bakery.”
"A woman likes to be told straight out that she’s cared about. She doesn’t want any in-betweens.”
“My God, Zoe,” he whispered as he pulled out her chair. “You’re the hottest thing in Denver.”
“How about the yard maintenance guy from Maize?” Renji said as he placed the rolling pin in the sink.
Zoe palmed her forehead. “Oh God.”
Millie grabbed the star cookie cutters from the top drawer of the cabinet and set them on the counter. “I think he had something against white flour."
Renji placed his hand on Millie's shoulder. "He told her he was a wheat-eater.”
“I didn’t kick her ass.” Zoe shrugged and then laughed. Sheron’s excitement was contagious. “I only kept—hic—mine from getting kicked.”