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Astrid Parker Doesn't Fail

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An interior designer who is never without the perfect plan learns to renovate her love life without one in this new romantic comedy by Ashley Herring Blake, author of Delilah Green Doesn’t Care.

For Astrid Parker, failure is unacceptable. Ever since she broke up with her fiancé a year ago, she’s been focused on her career—her friends might say she’s obsessed, but she knows she’s just driven. When Pru Everwood asks her to be the designer for the Everwood Inn’s renovation, which will be featured on a popular HGTV show, Innside America, Astrid is thrilled. Not only will the project distract her from her failed engagement and help her struggling business, but her perpetually displeased mother might finally give her a nod of approval.

However, Astrid never planned on Jordan Everwood, Pru’s granddaughter and the lead carpenter for the renovation, who despises every modern design decision Astrid makes. Jordan is determined to preserve the history of her family’s inn, particularly as the rest of her life is in shambles. When that determination turns into some light sabotage to ruffle Astrid’s perfect little feathers, the showrunners ask them to play up the tension. But somewhere along the way, their dislike for each other evolves into something quite different, and Astrid must decide what success truly means. Is she going to pursue the life that she’s expected to lead or the one that she wants?

ISBN-13: 9780593336427

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Publication Date: 11-22-2022

Pages: 400

Product Dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Series: Bright Falls Series #2

Ashley Herring Blake is an award-winning author. She holds a master’s degree in teaching and loves coffee, arranging her books by color, and cold weather. She is the author of the romance novel Delilah Green Doesn’t Care, the young adult novels Suffer Love, How to Make a Wish, and Girl Made of Stars, and the middle grade novels Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James, andHazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea. She’s also a coeditor on the young adult romance anthology Fools in Love. She lives on a very tiny island off the coast of Georgia with her family.

Read an Excerpt


Astrid Parker looked perfect.

Well, as perfect as she could look, which these days meant a lot of concealer smoothed over the purple half-moons that had taken up residence under her eyes. But other than that bit of smoke and mirrors, she was pristine.

She hurried down the sidewalk, the April morning light lengthening her shadow along the cobblestones of downtown Bright Falls, Oregon. She couldn't believe the sun was out, warm on her pale skin, that she'd actually been able to leave her umbrella and galoshes at home in her front closet. This was the first rainless day they'd had in two weeks.

Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Astrid was used to the spring rains, used to gray and drizzle, but the fact that the clouds had deigned to part-today of all days-was encouraging, to say the least. Had Astrid actually believed in signs, she might've gotten a bit dramatic about the timing. Instead, she stopped in front of Wake Up Coffee Company and gazed at her reflection in the large picture window.

This morning, she'd woken up an hour earlier than she needed to, washed and blown out her hair, making sure she styled her recently trimmed blond fringe exactly the way Kelsey, her stylist, had shown her. The result was . . . well, it was perfect. Her wavy locks fell just past her shoulders; her bangs were shaggy and chic and shiny. Her makeup was minimal yet elegant-concealer notwithstanding-and her jewelry understated and tasteful, just a pair of gold hoops swinging from her lobes.

Her dress was the real star, her favorite outfit and the most expensive thing she owned-she still didn't dare tell her best friends Iris and Claire how much she paid for it last year after she and Spencer broke up. It was a necessary purchase, a power buy to make her feel confident and beautiful. As she took in the ivory pencil dress now, sleeveless and midi-length, her reflection confirmed it had been worth every penny. She'd paired it with her favorite strappy black three-inch heels, and even her mother couldn't complain about the vision Astrid saw in the window right now. She was elegant and poised. Prepared.


Everything she should be for this meeting and first filming at the Everwood Inn. A wobbly smile settled onto her mouth as she thought about the historic inn, which was now hers to re-create. Well, not exactly hers. But when Pru Everwood, longtime owner of the nationally beloved Victorian, had called last month and said that she was ready to renovate-and that Natasha Rojas's super-chic HGTV show, Innside America, wanted to do an episode on the whole transformation-Astrid had nearly bitten her own tongue to keep from screaming with glee.

Glee and a good bit of terror, but that was just nerves, or so Astrid had been telling herself for the last month. Of course she was excited. Of course this was the opportunity of a lifetime.

The Everwood Inn was famous-there were countless books and documentaries about the legend of the Blue Lady, who purportedly haunted one of the upstairs bedrooms-and being featured on Innside America could change everything for Astrid. This was her chance to go from small-town designer with a failed engagement to something more. Something better. Someone her mother actually liked.

Plus, the old mansion-turned-inn was a designer's dream-three stories of intricate eaves and gables, a wide front porch, an exterior that was currently the color of cat vomit but would shine beautifully under some lovely pastel hue, lavender or maybe a cool mint. Inside, it was a maze of dark-paneled rooms and cobwebs, but Astrid could already envision how she would lighten and brighten, the shiplap and accent walls that would replace the cherry wood wainscoting, transforming the rotting back porch into a sun-drenched solarium.

There was no doubt, the Everwood Inn was a dream project.

And currently, it was her only project.

She sighed, pushing her recent financial woes to the back of her mind, including the fact that just last week she'd let her assistant and her receptionist go because Astrid could no longer afford to pay them. Not that she'd ever tell her mother that Bright Designs was officially a one-woman show. She'd rather chew on a cactus, thanks very much, so she certainly didn't have time for doubts or inconsistency.

Since taking over Lindy Westbrook's design business nine years ago when the older woman had retired, Astrid usually had the perfect amount of work to keep her busy and solvent. But lately, things had been slow . . . and boring. There were only so many design jobs to go around in a town as tiny as Bright Falls, and if she worked on one more doctor-slash-lawyer-slash-real estate agent's office, filling them with uncomfortable seating and abstract paintings, she was going to tear her own eyelashes out.

Not to mention, if she let the business go under now, particularly after her disaster of a failed engagement last summer, Astrid's mother would not only tear her eyelashes out for her but would make absolutely sure Astrid knew the failure was one hundred percent her own fault, warping her professional deficiencies into intimately personal shortcomings.

Lately, this endearing quality of her mother's had kicked into overdrive, Isabel's lip literally curling whenever Astrid had a hair out of place or reached for a bagel. Astrid was exhausted, had slept like shit for months, her mother's constant scrutiny and unattainable expectations playing like a film on repeat every time she closed her eyes. Surely, if anything would appease Isabel-maybe even draw out a proud hug or a glowing declaration like I had every faith in you, darling-and give Astrid a few months of peace, it was appearing as the lead designer on a prestigious show and bringing the beloved Everwood into the modern age.

She offered her reflection one more smile and was straightening the buttery linen of her dress when a fist banged on the glass from inside. She startled, stumbling back so that her ankle very nearly buckled from the height of her heels.

"You look hot as fuck!"

A pretty redhead grinned at her through the window, then made a show of waggling her eyebrows at Astrid's form.

"Jesus, Iris," Astrid said, fingers pressed to her chest as she tried to calm her galloping heart. "Could you not for one day?"

"Not what?" Iris yelled through the glass, arms propped up on the back of a turquoise-painted wooden chair.

"Not . . ." Astrid waved her hand around, searching for the right word. When it came to her best friend Iris Kelly, ever the middle child vying for attention, the right word rarely stuck for very long. "Never mind."

"Get your cute ass in here already," Iris said. "Claire and Delilah are whispering sweet nothings in each other's ears-"

"We are not!" Astrid heard her other best friend, Claire, call from somewhere behind Iris before she appeared in the window too, her brown hair up in a messy bun and her dark purple-framed glasses catching the sunlight.

"-and I'm slowly losing my will to live," Iris went on, shoulder knocking into Claire's.

"Don't even pretend you don't love it." This from Delilah, Astrid's stepsister and Claire's girlfriend for the last ten months, whose presence Astrid was still getting used to in her life. She and Delilah had had a fraught childhood together, filled with resentments and misunderstandings. The healing process was long and, honestly, exhausting. They'd come a long way since last June, when Delilah arrived in town from New York City to photograph Astrid's doomed wedding and fell in love with the maid of honor instead. Since then, Delilah had moved back to Bright Falls and proceeded to make Claire happier than Astrid had ever seen her.

As though to further prove the point, Delilah glided into view and draped a tattooed arm around Claire's shoulder, and Claire promptly beamed up at her as though Delilah created coffee itself. Astrid felt a pang deep in her chest. Not jealousy necessarily, and she'd long realized the problems she and Delilah had growing up were just as much her fault as they were her stepsister's, so it wasn't discomfort or worry on her best friend's behalf either.

No, the feeling was more akin to . . . nausea. She'd never, ever admit it to Claire-or Iris and her brand-new girlfriend Jillian-that the sight of a happy couple gave her the urge to vomit, but it was true, and her roiling stomach was the proof. Ever since she and Spencer had broken up last summer, she felt physically sick just thinking about romance and dating.

Which was exactly why she didn't think about romance and dating-much less engage in them-and had no plans to do so in the future.

"Come on inside, honey," Claire said, tapping at the window gently. "It's a big day!"

Astrid smiled, her nausea dissipating, thank goodness. When she'd told Claire and Iris about Pru Everwood's call-about Innside America, how Pru's grandkids were coming into town to help the older woman manage the whole affair, Natasha-freaking-Rojas-her best friends had promptly squealed with glee right along with her and helped her prepare for today's first meeting and filming with the Everwood family. Granted, prepare entailed several nights at Astrid's house, open wine bottles littering her coffee table while she worked on her computer and Iris and Claire grew increasingly giddy and obnoxious, but still. It was the thought that counted.

Today, they'd insisted on meeting her for breakfast at Wake Up to fuel her with, as Iris put it, "bagels and badassery." Astrid would be lying if she said she didn't need a little badassery right now. She nodded at Claire and moved toward the front entrance, hand reaching for the tarnished brass handle. Before she could give the first tug, however, the turquoise wooden door flew open and something slammed into Astrid, yanking all the breath from her lungs and sending her flying backward.

She landed hard on her butt, palms scraping on the cobblestones, and a burning sensation grew in the center of her chest before slithering down her belly.

"Oh my god, I'm so sorry."

She heard the voice right in front of her, but she was frozen, her legs splayed in a most inelegant fashion, the right heel of her favorite shoes hanging on by a literal thread, and-

She squeezed her eyes closed. Counted to three before opening them again. Maybe it was a dream. A nightmare. Surely, she was not sitting on her ass on the sidewalk in the middle of downtown. Her pencil dress-her gorgeous, lucky, just-shy-of-a-grand pencil dress that made her butt look amazing-was not covered in very hot, very wet, very dark coffee right now. Three soggy paper cups were not spinning on the ground around her, a drink carrier was not upturned in her lap, pooling more liquid all over the dry-clean-only linen, and there was most definitely not a woman with pale skin, a tangle of short golden-brown hair, light denim overalls cuffed at the ankles, and rugged brown boots standing over her with a horrified expression on her face.

This was not happening.

Not when she was about to meet Natasha Rojas. And certainly not when she was about to appear in front of a camera for the project of her life.

Not. Happening.

"Are you okay?" the woman asked, holding a hand out to Astrid. "I was in a hurry and I didn't see you there and wow, that dress really took a hit, huh?"

Astrid ignored her babbling, ignored the hand. She concentrated instead on breathing. In and out. Nice and slow. Because what she really wanted to do right now was scream. Loudly. In this woman's face, possibly accompanied by a nice, firm shoulder shove. She knew she shouldn't do any of those things, so she breathed . . . and breathed.

"Are . . . are you hyperventilating?" the woman asked. "Do I need to call someone?"

She knelt down and peered into Astrid's face, her hazel eyes narrowed. Her face was almost elfin, all delicate features with a sharp nose and chin, and her short hair was shaved on one side and longer on the other, swooping over her forehead and filled with messy tangles like she'd just woken up. She had a nose ring, a tiny silver hoop through her septum.

"How many fingers am I holding up?" she asked, presenting two fingers.

Astrid felt like responding by holding up just one important finger, but before she could, Iris and Claire and Delilah spilled out of the café, their eyes wide when they spotted her on the ground.

God, was she still on the ground?

"Honey, what happened?" Claire asked, hurrying over to help her up.

"I happened," the woman said. "I'm so sorry. I was coming out and not watching where I was going, which is just so typical of me, and I feel so horrible and-"

"Will you please shut up?"

The words fell out of Astrid's mouth before she could think better of them. The woman's eyes went wide, perfect winged eyeliner arching upward, her raspberry-red mouth falling open in a little o.

"At least she said please," Iris muttered out of the side of her mouth. "Peak Astrid. Polite, even when rude."

Claire cleared her throat and tugged on Astrid's arm, but Astrid waved her off. Goddammit, she was going to get up on her own, preserve what dignity she had left. Passersby on their way to work or out for coffee stared at her, all of them probably thanking the gods or whoever that their mornings weren't going as badly as that poor lady with the ruined dress and scraped-up palms.

She hobbled to her feet, the woman rising with her. She twisted her hands together, wincing as Astrid whipped off her broken shoe and inspected the ruined heel.

"I'm really-"

"Sorry, yes, I got that," Astrid said. "But your sorry isn't going to fix my dress or my shoe right now, is it?"

The woman tucked her hair behind one ear, revealing several piercings lining the delicate shell. "Um. No, I guess not."

Something that felt like despair, as irrational as it might be, flushed Astrid's cheeks and clouded into her chest. This one thing. That's all she wanted, this one morning to go perfectly, but no, this disaster of a woman with her cute hair and her nose ring had to come barreling into her life at the worst possible moment, obliterating any chances at perfection. Her fingertips felt tingly, her stomach cramped with nerves, and her words flowed forth in a panoply of venom and annoyance.