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Book Lovers by Emily Henry Book

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An insightful, delightful new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Beach Read and People We Meet on Vacation.

One summer. Two rivals. A plot twist they didn't see coming...

Nora Stephens' life is books—she’s read them all—and she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl, and especially not the sweetheart. In fact, the only people Nora is a heroine for are her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent, and her beloved little sister Libby.

Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away—with visions of a small town transformation for Nora, who she’s convinced needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor or bulging-forearmed bartender, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute.

If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero, but as they are thrown together again and again—in a series of coincidences no editor worth their salt would allow—what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves.

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Book Lovers by Emily Henry Read Online Chapter One


THE CITY IS baking. The asphalt sizzles. The trash on the sidewalk reeks. The families we pass carry ice pops that shrink with every step, melting down their fingers. Sunlight glances off buildings like a laser-based security system in an out-of-date heist movie, and I feel like a glazed donut that’s been left out in the heat for four days.

Meanwhile, even five months pregnant and despite the temperature, Libby looks like the star of a shampoo commercial.

“Three times.” She sounds awed. “How does a person get dumped in a full lifestyle-swap three times?”

“Just lucky, I guess,” I say. Really, it’s four, but I never could bring myself to tell her the whole story about Jakob. It’s been years and I can still barely tell myself that story.

Libby sighs and loops her arm through mine. My skin is sticky from the heat and humidity of midsummer, but my baby sister’s is miraculously dry and silky.

I might’ve gotten Mom’s five feet and eleven inches of height, but the rest of her features all funneled down to my sister, from the strawberry gold hair to the wide, Mediterranean Sea–blue eyes and the splash of freckles across her nose. Her short, curvy stature must’ve come from Dad’s gene pool—not that we would know; he left when I was three and Libby was months from being born. When it’s natural, my hair is a dull, ashy blond, and my eyes’ shade of blue is less idyllic-vacation-water and more last-thing-you-see-before-the-ice-freezes-over-and-you-drown.

She’s the Marianne to my Elinor, the Meg Ryan to my Parker Posey.

She is also my absolute favorite person on the planet.

“Oh, Nora.” Libby squeezes me to her as we come to a crosswalk, and I bask in the closeness. No matter how hectic life and work sometimes get, it’s always felt like there were some internal metronomes keeping us in sync. I’d pick up my phone to call her, and it would already be ringing, or she’d text me about grabbing lunch and we’d realize we were already in the same part of the city. The last few months, though, we’ve been ships passing in the night. Actually, more like a submarine and a paddleboat in entirely separate lakes.

I miss her calls while I’m in meetings, and she’s already asleep by the time I call back. She finally invites me to dinner on a night I’ve promised to take a client out. Worse than that is the faint, uncanny off feeling when we’re actually together. Like she’s only halfway here. Like those metronomes have fallen into different rhythms, and even when we’re right next to each other, they never manage to match up.

At first I’d chalked it up to stress about the new baby, but as time has worn on, my sister’s seemed more distant rather than closer. We’re fundamentally out of sync in a way I can’t seem to name, and not even my dream mattress and a cloud of diffused lavender oil are enough to keep me from lying awake, turning over our last few conversations like I’m looking for faint cracks.

The sign has changed to WALK, but a slew of drivers rushes through the newly red light. When a guy in a nice suit strides into the street, Libby pulls me along after him.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that cabdrivers won’t clip people who look like this guy. His outfit says, I am a man with a lawyer. Or possibly just I am a lawyer.

“I thought you and Andrew were good together,” Libby says, seamlessly reentering the conversation. As long as you’re willing to overlook that my ex’s name was Aaron, not Andrew. “I don’t understand what went wrong. Was it work stuff?”

Her eyes flicker toward me on the words work stuff, and it triggers another memory: me slipping back into the apartment during Bea’s fourth birthday party and Libby giving me a look like an injured Pixar puppy as she guessed, Work call?

When I apologized, she brushed it off, but now I find myself wondering if that was the moment I’d started to lose her, the exact second when our diverging paths pulled just a little too far from each other and the seams started splitting.

“What went wrong,” I say, recovering my place in the conversation, “is that, in a past life, I betrayed a very powerful witch, and she’s put a curse on my love life. He’s moving to Prince Edward Island.”

We pause at the next cross street, waiting for traffic to slow. It’s a Saturday in mid-July and absolutely everyone is out, wearing as few clothes as legally possible, eating dripping ice cream cones from Big Gay or artisanal ice pops filled with things that have no business being anywhere near a dessert.

“Do you know what’s on Prince Edward Island?” I ask.

“Anne of Green Gables?” Libby says.

“Anne of Green Gables would be dead by now,” I say.

“Wow,” she says. “Spoiler.”

“How does a person go from living here to moving to a place where the hottest destination is the Canadian Potato Museum? I would immediately die of boredom.”

Libby sighs. “I don’t know. I’d take a little boredom right about now.”

I glance sidelong at her, and my heart trips over its next beat. Her hair is still perfect and her skin is prettily flushed, but now new details jump out at me, signs I missed at first.

The drawn corners of her mouth. The subtle thinning of her cheeks. She looks tired, older than usual.

“Sorry,” she says, almost to herself. “I don’t mean to be Sad, Droopy Mom—I just . . . I really need some sleep.”

My mind is already spinning, searching for places I could pick up the slack. Brendan and Libby’s evergreen concern is money, but they’ve refused help in that department for years, so I’ve had to find creative ways of supporting them.

Actually, the phone call she may or may not be peeved about was a Birthday Present Trojan Horse. A “client” “canceled” “a trip” and “the room at the St. Regis” was “nonrefundable” so “it only made sense” to have a midweek slumber party with the girls there.

“You’re not Sad, Droopy Mom,” I say now, squeezing her arm again. “You’re Supermom. You’re the regulation hottie in the jumpsuit at the Brooklyn Flea, carrying her five hundred beautiful children, a giant bouquet of wildflowers, and a basket full of lumpy tomatoes. It’s okay to get tired, Lib.”

She squints at me. “When was the last time you counted my kids, Sissy? Because there are two.”

“Not to make you feel like a terrible parent,” I say, poking her belly, “but I’m eighty percent sure there’s another one in there.”

“Fine, two and a half.” Her eyes dart toward mine, cautious. “So how are you, really? About the breakup, I mean.”

“We were only together four months. It wasn’t serious.”

“Serious is the nature of how you date,” she says. “If someone makes it to a third dinner with you, then he’s already met four hundred and fifty separate criteria. It’s not casual dating if you know the other person’s blood type.”

“I do not know my dates’ blood types,” I say. “All I need from them is a full credit report, a psych eval, and a blood oath.”

Libby throws her head back, cackling. As ever, making my sister laugh is a shot of serotonin straight into my heart. Or brain? Probably brain. Serotonin in your heart is probably not a good a thing. The point is, Libby’s laugh makes me feel like the world is under my thumb, like I’m in complete control of The Situation.

Maybe that makes me a narcissist, or maybe it just makes me a thirty-two-year-old woman who remembers full weeks when she couldn’t coax her grieving sister out of bed.

“Hey,” Libby says, slowing as she realizes where we are, what we’ve been subconsciously moving toward. “Look.”

If we got blindfolded and air-dropped into the city, we’d probably still end up here: gazing wistfully at Freeman Books, the West Village shop we used to live over. The tiny apartment where Mom spun us through the kitchen, all three of us singing the Supremes’ “Baby Love” into kitchen utensils. The place where we spent countless nights curled up on a pink-and-cream floral couch watching Katharine Hepburn movies with a smorgasbord of junk food spread across the coffee table she’d found on the street, its busted leg replaced by a stack of hardcovers.

In books and movies, characters like me always live in cement-floored lofts with bleak modern art and four-foot vases filled with, like, scraggly black twigs, for some inexplicable reason.

But in real life, I chose my current apartment because it looks so much like this one: old wooden floors and soft wallpaper, a hissing radiator in one corner and built-in bookshelves stuffed to the brim with secondhand paperbacks. Its crown molding has been painted over so many times it’s lost its crisp edges, and time has warped its high, narrow windows.

This little bookstore and its upstairs apartment are my favorite places on earth.

Even if it’s also where our lives were torn in half twelve years ago, I love this place.

“Oh my gosh!” Libby grips my forearm, waving at the display in the bookstore’s window: a pyramid of Dusty Fielding’s runaway hit, Once in a Lifetime, with its new movie tie-in cover.

She pulls out her phone. “We have to take a picture!”

There is no one who loves Dusty’s book as much as my sister. And that’s saying something, since, in six months, it’s sold a million copies already. People are calling it the book of the year. A Man Called Ove meets A Little Life.

Take that, Charlie Lastra, I think, as I do every so often when I remember that fateful lunch. Or whenever I pass his shut-tight office door (all the sweeter since he moved to work at the publishing house that put out Once, where he’s now surrounded by constant reminders of my success).

Fine, I think Take that, Charlie Lastra a lot. One never really forgets the first time a colleague drove her to extreme unprofessionalism.

“I’m going to see this movie five hundred times,” Libby tells me. “Consecutively.”

“Wear a diaper,” I advise.

“Not necessary,” she says. “I’ll be crying too much. There won’t be any pee in my body.”

“I had no idea you had such a . . . comprehensive understanding of science,” I say.

“The last time I read it, I cried so hard I pulled a muscle in my back.”

“You should consider exercising more.”

“Rude.” She waves at her pregnant belly, then starts us toward the juice bar again. “Anyway, back to your love life. You just need to get back out there.”

“Libby,” I say. “I understand that you met the love of your life when you were twenty years old, and thus have never truly dated. But imagine for a moment, if you will, a world in which thirty percent of your dates end with the revelation that the man across the table from you has a foot, elbow, or kneecap fetish.”

It was the shock of my life when my whimsical, romantic sister fell in love with a nine-years-older-than-her accountant who is very into reading about trains, but Brendan’s also the most solid man I’ve ever met in my life, and I’ve long since accepted that somehow, against all odds, he and my sister are soul mates.

“Thirty percent?!” she cries. “What the hell kind of dating apps are you on, Nora?”

“The normal ones!” I say.

In the interest of full discretion, yes, I outright inquire about fetishes up front. It’s not that thirty percent of men announce their kinks twenty minutes after meeting, but that’s my point. The last time my boss, Amy, went home with an un-vetted woman, she turned out to have a room that was entirely dolls. Floor-to-ceiling ceramic dolls.

How inconvenient would it be to fall in love with a person only to find out they had a doll room? The answer is “very.”

“Can we sit for a second?” Libby asks, a little out of breath, and we sidestep a group of German tourists to perch on the edge of a coffee shop’s windowsill.

“Are you okay?” I ask. “Can I get you something? Water?”

She shakes her head, brushes her hair behind her ears. “I’m just tired. I need a break.”

“Maybe we should have a spa day,” I suggest. “I have a gift certificate—”

“First of all,” she says, “you’re lying, and I can tell. And second of all . . .” Her teeth worry over her pink-glossed lip. “I had something else in mind.”

“Two spa days?” I guess.

She cracks a tentative smile. “You know how you’re always complaining about how publishing pretty much shuts down in August and you have nothing to do?”

“I have plenty to do,” I argue.

“Nothing that requires you to be in the city,” she amends. “So what if we went somewhere? Got away for a few weeks and just relaxed? I can go a day without getting anyone else’s bodily fluids on me, and you can forget about what happened with Aaron, and we can just . . . take a break from being the Tired Supermom and Fancy Career Lady we have to be the other eleven months out of the year. Maybe you can even take a page out of your exes’ books and have a whirlwind romance with a local . . . lobster hunter?”

I stare at her, trying to parse out how serious she is.

“Fisher? Lobster fisher?” she says. “Fisherman?”

“But we never go anywhere,” I point out.

“Exactly,” she says, a ragged edge creeping into her voice. She grabs for my hand, and I note the way her nails are bitten down. I try to swallow, but it’s like my esophagus is inside a vise. Because, right then, I’m suddenly sure there’s more going on with Libby than run-of-the-mill money problems, lack of sleep, or irritation with my work schedule.

Six months ago, I’d have known exactly what was going on. I wouldn’t have even had to ask. She would’ve stopped by my apartment, unannounced, and flopped onto my couch dramatically and said, “You know what’s bothering me lately, Sissy?” and I would pull her head into my lap and tease my fingers through her hair while she poured out her worries over a glass of crisp white wine. Things are different now.

“This is our chance, Nora,” she says quietly, urgently. “Let’s take a trip. Just the two of us. The last time we did that was California.”

My stomach plummets, then rebounds. That trip—like my relationship with Jakob—is part of the time in my life I do my best not to revisit.

Pretty much everything I do, actually, is to ensure Libby and I never find ourselves back in that dark place we were in after Mom died. But the undeniable truth is I haven’t seen her look like this, like she’s at her breaking point, since then.

I swallow hard. “Can you get away right now?”

“Brendan’s parents will help with the girls.” She squeezes my hands, her wide blue eyes practically burning with hope. “When this baby gets here, I’m going to be an empty shell of a person for a while, and before that happens, I really, really want to spend time with you, like it used to be. And also I’m like three sleepless nights away from snapping and pulling a Where’d You Go, Bernadette, if not the full Gone Girl. I need this.”

My chest squeezes. An image of a heart in a too-small metal cage flashes over my mind. I’ve always been incapable of saying no to her. Not when she was five and wanted the last bite of Junior’s cheesecake, or when she was fifteen and wanted to borrow my favorite jeans (the seat of which never recovered from her superior curves), or when she was sixteen and she said through tears, I just want to not be here, and I swept her off to Los Angeles.

She never actually asked for any of those things, but she’s asking now, her palms pressed together and her lower lip jutted, and it makes me feel panicky and breathless, even more out of control than the thought of leaving the city. “Please.”

Her fatigue has made her look insubstantial, faded, like if I tried to brush her hair away from her brow, my fingers might pass through her. I didn’t know it was possible to miss a person this much while she was sitting right next to you, so badly everything in you aches.

She’s right here, I tell myself, and she’s okay. Whatever it is, you’ll fix it.

I swallow every excuse, complaint, and argument bubbling up in me. “Let’s take a trip.”

Libby’s lips split into a grin. She shifts on the windowsill to wriggle something out of her back pocket. “Okay, good. Because I already bought these and I’m not sure they’re refundable.” She slaps the printed plane tickets in my lap, and it’s like the moment never happened. Like in the matter of point five seconds, I got my carefree baby sister back, and I’d trade any number of organs to cement us both into this moment, to live here always where she’s shining bright. My chest loosens. My next breath comes easy.

“Aren’t you even going to look where we’re going?” Libby asks, amused.

I tear my gaze from her and read the ticket. “Asheville, North Carolina?”

She shakes her head. “It’s the airport closest to Sunshine Falls. This is going to be a . . . once-in-a-lifetime trip.”

I groan and she throws her arms around me, laughing. “We’re going to have so much fun, Sissy! And you’re going to fall in love with a lumberjack.”

“If there’s one thing that makes me horny,” I say, “it’s deforestation.”

“An ethical, sustainable, organic, gluten-free lumberjack,” Libby amends.

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