The One That Got Away
I’ve read and enjoyed previous stories by A.J. Pine and I was excited to read this first in the Kingston Ale House series. Craft breweries are becoming more popular as social venues, so it stands to reason that they would start to show up as subject matter in popular fiction. It’s a setting that lends itself well to romance subplots with its more intimate settings and the inclusion of the sensuality to be found in food and drink. This particular story features a friends-to-lovers romance with themes of unrequited love and second chances.
Brynn and Jamie were best friends in high school. He had a crush on her but she was enamored with popular student Spencer. On the night of a party where she’s hoping to get her first kiss from Spencer, Brynn goes down with a nasty virus. Good friend that he is, Jamie skips the party, too, and takes care of her. She’s so disappointed at missing her opportunity to kiss Spencer that Jamie obliges her instead, something which makes her see her best friend in a new light. But just when things could go one way, they end up going another. Jamie’s parents split up, and devastated by this, he is more interested in preserving his friendship with Brynn than risking it in a relationship that could fail. He tells her that they can’t be a couple, and for the next ten years, they have a sometimes awkward but overall strong friendship, and are determined not to talk about what happened (and what could have happened) between them. Fast forward to their 10 year high school reunion. Jamie is dating someone else and Brynn has a second chance to attract Spencer’s attention. (Truthfully she hadn’t thought too much about him in the interim but high school memories come back into play). This time her plans are foiled by Jamie, who interrupts them just as they are reconnecting. Jamie feels guilty at ruining Brynn’s chance to fulfill her high school dream so, determined to make it up to her, he offers to drive her across the country to where Spencer is having a party to celebrate the publication of his first book.. It’s conveniently being held in L.A. where Jamie has plans to sponsor a table at a craft brewery convention. Realizing that he has strong feelings for Brynn that have never waned, he does the right thing and breaks up with his current girlfriend before their trip. (He neglects to mention this to Brynn). He hopes that during their cross country drive she’ll realize that it’s him that she really wants and not Spencer. Can their friendship finally turn the corner to true love?
Even just trying to summarize the plot of the book makes it clear that there’s a lot of background to Jamie and Brynn’s relationship, as would be the case with any long term friendship. Feelings of unrequited love exist on both sides. Jamie never got over his crush of Brynn in high school, and Brynn never forgot about that kiss and her newly awakened feelings for Jamie. Yet for both of them, their friendship meant more than the chance at a relationship. For the next few years after high school they were in separate places going to college, but then they got over the awkwardness and back onto solid ground. With a high school reunion looming, and being back in one another’s orbits again, everything comes back to the forefront. The idea of a road trip will definitely force them into some one-on-one time – for better or worse. Jamie breaking up with his girlfriend to pursue Brynn was definitely the right thing to do; however, the fact that he didn’t tell Brynn right away bothered me. It meant that any interaction between them would be colored by her belief that he was already committed to someone else.
Midway through their cross country trip, they stop in a small town and get caught up in a whirlwind of wedding festivities for a local couple. As part and parcel of the reception, they have their fair share of alcohol and it leads to a situation where they are mistakenly assumed to be a newly married couple themselves and given a room for the night by a local bed and breakfast owner. Alone and inebriated, they finally give in to the long held sexual attraction between them. I felt a bit uncomfortable that they had to be drunk for this to happen, although as they were equally drunk, neither is taking advantage of the other. And it’s obvious that they needed something to let down their inhibitions and finally come clean with each other about their feelings. In the clear light of day, Brynn feels guilty – she’s now the other woman! Eventually Brynn finds out that Jamie had broken up with his girlfriend before the trip. She is angry and hurt (rightfully so, in my opinion) that Jamie kept this from her. It’s not the only thing Jamie is keeping from her and much of the second half of the story is a series of miscommunications, failed opportunities and general drama that could have been avoided with some honest communication. Because of this the second half of the story drags.
On the plus side, the author has taken care to research the upswing in craft breweries and it shows in the writing. Jamie is passionate about what he does. Creating different blends of flavours is an art, and he’s studied it and is perfecting it. Because Brynn has been around him while he learned the business, she’s also picked up the language and a more than rudimentary knowledge of the brewing industry and beer in general. There’s a cute scene when they are on the road where they end up at a bar and Brynn does some flirty taste-testing of the beers on tap. I liked that Brynn supports Jamie’s business and is someone he feeks he can rely on for honest input about his brews. I would have liked to have seen more of the running of Jamie’s brewery.
Brynn and Jamie definitely have chemistry (there are some sweet and sexy scenes between them) and a solid friendship on which to base a relationship. Eventually we get to that happy ending after several bumps in the road and I was relieved when we finally got there. I don’t think The One That Got Away is the best example of this author’s work, but it’s a solid friends-to-lovers story for those who enjoy that trope. I definitely plan to read the next one in the series and I’m hoping to see more of the brewery business and a couple who aren’t as stingy with communication as this one was.