Enjoy this exclusive excerpt from Chick Magnet by Emma Barry, a contemporary, small-town, enemies-to-lovers romance between a chicken-loving influencer and a hot-but-grumpy veterinarian, and be sure to grab a copy!
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Then came the best part of her day, when she got outside to the chicken run. This was work, nominally, but it never felt like it. Cleaning the coop while hens pecked at her jeans and, sometimes, let her stroke their silky feathers, then refilling the water and raking the yard, before she pulled out her T-shirt and filled it with a cache of rainbow-colored eggs—blue green, several shades of brown, and creamy white.
Back inside, she slid the eggs into a mixing bowl and stuck them in the fridge . . . where she already had three other bowls of eggs. Nic appreciated the eggs, but not to the tune of a half dozen a day. At least Brian’s cavalcade of visitors and friends had meant that the eggs disappeared.
Nic was going to need to make an angel food cake, or maybe two. It had been Granny’s favorite, and Nic had spent many an afternoon watching her whip the egg whites to the perfect consistency. Nic’s own attempts at cake had been medium-grade failures, though.
The basketball thunked again outside. Nic had neighbors. Neighbors with whom she’d like to be friends—because obviously she needed new friends. She’d practically moved into a small town from a ’90s comedy. She was going to buy their love with delicious, delicious eggs.
She opened the fridge, grabbed the bowl that was the fullest, and set out, only to freeze in her front yard when she realized to whom the basketball belonged.
Not a kid. Not even a little bit.
Across the street, on the driveway that snaked up the side of his house, was one very sweaty, very good-looking veterinarian.
Okay, she might have to move again. No cute porch was worth this torment.
He spotted Nic and gave what seemed like a reluctant wave. He’d caught her in the tractor beam of politeness. She couldn’t go inside and sulk now.
“How were the tomatoes?” She tried not to look at how his T-shirt stretched across his biceps and clung to the plane of his stomach. Did the man have anything that fit loosely? This shirt had been washed a few dozen too many times and was thinning in places, the hem fraying. Why did the wear make it more attractive? What laundry-based alchemy was this?
At least she’d solved the mystery of how someone who spent so much time healing sick animals maintained the body of an Olympian. Being grumpy wasn’t, it turned out, his primary form of exertion.
She focused instead on the basketball hoop, which hung on the detached garage tucked behind Will’s house. The net was tattered and half falling apart. It was strangely endearing.
“Tomatoes?” He was out of breath and befuddled in the best of ways.
“This morning at the market you said you were going to get some.” “Oh. They’re, um, still on the counter.”
She’d bought peppers and eggplants with the intention of making a stir-fry, except it was nearing seven o’clock, and she hadn’t started. But it didn’t seem like the time to talk about her failed dinner plans. She wasn’t certain how she was going to talk about anything given that she was trying not to make eye contact with Will, and he was apparently following suit.
Without looking higher than his knees, she thrust the bowl toward him. “Do you like eggs? I probably owe you for all your help.” As painful as that was to admit.
“It wasn’t a big deal.”
“And neither are these. I get at least three dozen a week.”
“Are you thanking me or getting rid of your trash?”
On Friday, she would have thought Will’s words were harsh and recoiled. But she could hear the dry wit in them now, and she wasn’t offended like she would have been.
How many people in this town got that he was joking? This morning, she’d watched as Will had put a gulf between the people in town, who clearly adored him, and himself. When the man with the corgi had made some opaque reference to his brother, Will had turned the same shade of burgundy as the beets on the table behind him and basically run away. There was a story there, she was certain.
And whether out of obtuseness or something else, the guy with the corgi wouldn’t have realized Will was joking. The people here didn’t seem to know him at all.
“They’re eggs. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.”
He must’ve decided to go along with her offer, because he set down his ball and took the bowl. One of his long, slightly calloused fingers skimmed hers in the process, and she trembled.
“Thanks.” His breathing had evened out, and it was almost too soft in the falling light. The brush of linen over skin.
She gave herself a shake, but she wasn’t an Etch A Sketch, and so it didn’t erase the image of Will touching her more. Will touching her everywhere. Apparently, all the recent life upheaval had supercharged her imagination, at least where Will and bodies and clothing were concerned.
“Friends give friends eggs.” Nic tried to sound certain, but certainty had departed from her life, oh, about six months before.
“Are we friends?”
“I—” Nic had no idea when she’d last made a friend face to face. Before COVID, when she’d still known how to be social, how the world worked. Before the months inside. Before her channel had taken off. Before everything had changed. In this new world, with its new rules, she had no idea what friendship meant.
Arguing over responsible pet ownership? Teasing each other at the farmers’ market? Being wildly attracted to him? Sure, that was probably what friends were in the post-pandemic state of things.
“Of course we’re friends. I wouldn’t chase a chicken with just anyone.”
“You should be. It’s the lesser-known equivalent of asking someone to pick you up at the airport.”
“Or helping someone move.”
“Exactly. In comparison, chicken chasing is way more intimate.” Oops. She shouldn’t have said that.
Will’s smile said that he would have no problem with more intimacy with her.
“So, um, do you live alone?” she asked quickly.
“But your brother? Sorry, it’s none of my business, but I—”
“You heard what Sami said. Yeah, I could tell. No, he’s in Richmond.
My sister and my parents are still here, across town.” “That’s nice.”
“What about you?”
“No, it’s just me. My parents are back in Washington State. I grew up in Spokane before I moved to California, Santa Rosa for work and then Burbank”—where she’d moved to be with Brian, though she omitted that detail—“and now I’m here. All that moving . . . it makes me feel a bit rootless.”
“Sometimes I think I have too many roots.” “It’s nice your family is still close.”
Another noise that everyone else in town would probably think was equivocal, only a conversation filler, but that she knew was a rebuke. Not to her, but to his brother.
Nic tried not to feel like a lecher as she appreciated the line of his profile against the evening sky. “But it’s none of my business. I’m only that annoying neighbor with the chickens.”
“Never said you were annoying.”
“No, you said I was . . .” She searched for the right word.
He had criticized her, been a bit unprofessional, and certainly it wasn’t a good business move to get flippant with a new patient he should have been trying to charm. But his worst crime was that he’d quoted her ex-boyfriend, which he probably thought was medium-grade annoying and not like a nuclear weapon to her ego.
“Unqualified to give veterinary advice and, I don’t know, inciting bad pet ownership. It wasn’t a very nice way to treat a new patient.”
“I have a terrible bedside manner.” His Viking grin returned, and it was a lot. It made his face more mischievous. Roguish. Transformed the bulk of him into . . . an enticement. That expression said he might be tough on his patients but that he would be good, so very good, at other things. Bedroom things. “All my professors said so.”
She shouldn’t have been as susceptible to his smile as she was. They could be friends, but that was as far as this could go. She was done with men. Like, so done. The done-est.
To combat the silly, ridiculous imaginings in her head, Nic returned to the matter she’d originally been snooping about. “And brotherly relationships.”
“Oh, I’m bad at those too.”
“Eh, those are a two-way street.” At least that was what she’d picked up from the Zeus-Poseidon-Hades rivalry and also that contemporary myth Succession.
Some of the heat drained from Will’s eyes. “My brother and I don’t get along. No, we . . . we get along as long as we don’t talk about anything real. As long as it’s just surface, we’re fine.” He grimaced as if this state of things pained him, but maybe the pain came from him sharing the state of things with her.
Maybe his walls had been worn down by the exercise. He’d been shooting baskets for at least an hour; that probably had depleted his willpower somewhat. That was why he’d been flirting too.
“Ah,” she said, trying to keep her tone light. To a certain extent, that was how it had always been with her parents, which had been part of why she’d loved Granny so much. That relationship had always been easy. “Was it always like that?” She was helpless to resist her curiosity about him. It was his hardnesses and his sly wit and the curving tension between them. She couldn’t figure him out, and she wanted to.
Thank you for the advanced copy of CHICK MAGNET by Emma Barry. All opinions are my own.
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date published : January 24, 2023
pages : 320
audiobook narrators: CJ Bloom, Aaron Shedlock
audiobook length: 8 hours and 51 minutes
Nicole Jones needs a fresh start. “Chick Nic” to millions of internet fans, the social media star and her flock of chickens bask in the spotlight—until she’s publicly dumped by a YouTuber for clout. She has no choice but to round up her birds and move on.
But when one of her hens has an emergency, Nic gets her first taste of her new stomping grounds—and it isn’t good. Veterinarian Will Lund is wildly attractive, yes, but he’s also surly. In fact, he comes right out and calls her a menace for parading her chickens on social media.
As neighbors, Nic and Will can’t exactly avoid each other. Then again, maybe they don’t want to. The two can’t deny their smoldering attraction, and it isn’t long before late-night confessions lead to backyard shenanigans.
Is this the start of a neighborly relationship—or could something more be hatching?
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