The Next Best Thing

By: Kristan Higgins

Dear Reader,

The Next Best Thing is Lucy and Ethan’s story. It’s about second chances. After the death of her husband shattered her heart, Lucy is positive that she doesn’t want to fall in love again…. She’d rather find some safe, slightly boring guy who’d be more of a companion than the new love of her life. But Ethan, her faithful neighbor, is determined to bust out of the role of “friend with privileges” and get Lucy to see him as a lot more.

As with all of my books, I hope you’ll have a lot of laughs and shed a few satisfying tears, as well. There’s something new this time…a cat! Fat Mikey is a nod to my own regal pet, Cinnamon. As for Fat Mikey’s name, I “borrowed” it from my neighbors down the street. I hope you’ll bond with the curmudgeonly kitty.

Growing up, I was blessed with a large Hungarian family centered around babies, laughter and food—especially desserts—so it was great fun to set this story in a bakery. There’s a lot of good food described in this book…I’ll post a few recipes on my Web site if you’re interested. And while the Black Widows in the story are fictional, they were inspired by my own three great-aunts, Anne, Mimi, Marguerite, and my grandmother, Helen, whose nickname was Bunny. Our family tradition of baking is firmly embraced by my lovely and loving aunts—Rita, whose cakes are the stuff of legend; Hilary, who makes the best apple pie this side of the Mississippi; and Teresa, who doesn’t bake but was smart enough to marry a man who does, and does so incredibly well.

Let me know how you enjoyed the book! It’s always such a pleasure to hear from readers.

All the best,

Kristan

www.kristanhiggins.com





KRISTAN HIGGINS

the next best thing





This book is dedicated—finally!—

to my patient, funny, generous and lovely mother,

Noël Kristan Higgins. Thank you, Mom,

for everything. I love you so.





ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


To Maria Carvainis, my dear friend and agent—humble and profound. Thanks for all you do for me.

At HQN Books, many thanks to the brilliant Keyren Gerlach, whose insightful comments and belief in this book helped it shine, and to Tracy Farrell and the rest of the wonderfully encouraging team for their faith and support.

Thanks to my oldest and very dear friend, Catherine Arendt, and her family, who advised me on the vocabulary of Rhode Island. Stuffies, bubbla, no sir! The coffee milk’s on me next time.

Mark Rosenberg, Marc Gadoury and Kate Corridan of the Apple Barrel at Lyman Orchards in Middlefield, Connecticut, are responsible for the best baked goods in New England. Thanks to them for letting me watch, ask questions and generally get in the way as they baked the morning bread and goodies for the lucky patrons of Lyman’s.

I am grateful to Cassy Pickard for cheerfully supplying me with Italian curses, as well as for reading the first draft, and to Toni Andrews, who knows more about plotting than just about anyone. My friends at CTRWA have been wonderfully supportive and enthusiastic about this project, and I’m very lucky to have them as a sounding board.

Last on this list but first in my heart, thanks to the three loves of my life—my wonderful husband and the two best kids in the world.






CHAPTER ONE


“YOU HAVE A WHISKER.”

Though I hear the loudly whispered comment, it doesn’t quite register, as I am rapt with adoration, staring at the wonder that is my hour-old niece. Her face still glows red from the effort of being born, her dark blue eyes are as wide and calm as a tortoise’s. I probably shouldn’t tell my sister that her baby reminds me of a reptile. Well. The baby is astonishingly beautiful. Miraculous.

“She’s amazing,” I murmur. Corinne beams, then shifts the baby the slightest bit away from me. “Can I hold her, Cory?” My two aunts mutter darkly—only Mom has held the baby so far, and clearly, I’m breaking rank.

My sister hesitates. “Um…well…”

“Let her, Cory,” Chris encourages, and my sister reluctantly hands over the little bundle.

She’s warm and precious, and my eyes fill with tears. “Hi there,” I whisper. “I’m your auntie.” I can’t believe how much I love this baby…she’s fifty-five minutes old, and I’m ready to throw myself in front of a bus for her, should the need arise.

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