For Ages
12 to 99

Two childhood best friends reunite in L.A. the summer before senior year—but when one of them ends up starring on a teen reality dating show, their feelings for each other get complicated. Perfect for fans of friends-to-lovers rom-coms and The Bachelor!

Sloane McKinney feels like a background character in her own life. But this summer will be different, because she’s spending it with her childhood best friend, Liam Daniels, in her dream city, Los Angeles. Sure, she’s surprised to find that Liam just happens to have had a Hot Guy glow-up since she last saw him, but so what? A little attraction won’t ruin her plans for their fun—and completely platonic—reunion.

What might, however, is that Liam has been roped into working for his producer dad’s new teen reality dating show, Aspen Woods’s Future Leading Lady. It turns out the show is one contestant short . . . and Sloane is the perfect last-minute addition.

But it’s behind the scenes where the drama really picks up. Because wanting to kiss your best friend? That’s a plot twist neither Sloane nor Liam ever saw coming.

An Excerpt fromNot Here to Stay Friends


Life is all about beginnings. Every day you get a new one . . . until one day, you don’t.



Pop music legend has it that when fellow Tennessean Miley Cyrus arrived at LAX many years ago, she had naught with her but a dream and a cardigan.

As I, Sloane McKinney, stand in the baggage claim area of the same airport waiting for my luggage to appear, I have only a backpack and a zit on my chin that I swear I could feel getting larger and angrier with each minute spent in recycled plane air. It’s not exactly what I would consider a “Party in the U.S.A.,” but that’s the song my brain has chosen to play on repeat since the pilot announced we were preparing for landing.

If my life was a TV show, this would be the opening scene of the pilot episode. Fade-in: the camera pans over the masses of people rolling suitcases, talking on phones, hugging the person who came to pick them up. Cut to our plucky heroine standing in the middle of it all, watching with naive hope on her zitty face (note--clear up her skin in post?). Music playing softly in the background until now grows louder, slows down for dramatic effect. Camera zooms in on heroine to the sound of It’s definitely not a Nashville party. . . .

Yeah, I should stop.

While I wait for my bags, I scan the room again for a recognizable head of blond hair and, finding none, pull my phone out of my pocket to see if he’s texted an update. Nothing since he left his house.

That’s fine. NBD. My hands are just shaking from fatigue, or low blood sugar after the only food provided on my two flights to get here was pretzels and peanuts. Definitely not because in a matter of minutes I’ll be reunited with my best friend, Liam Daniels, for the first time in over two years. Nor the fact that we’ll spend the whole summer together. Oh, and absolutely not because he lives in my dream city, which I desperately hope I’ll love as much as I think I will, because all my hopes and aspirations are pinned on moving here after high school. In a lot of ways, this really does feel like the pilot episode of The Rest of Sloane’s Life. No pressure.

I cut off my mental sing-along for the twenty-seventh time and slam my tapping foot flat to the ground. The sound draws the attention of a few fellow passengers waiting for their own luggage, and I smile in a way that I hope conveys harmlessness, maybe even charm. No one smiles back.

In my head, Miley taunts, “She’s gotta be from out of town.”

Somebody get this girl a nap.

Anyway, it wouldn’t make sense to be nervous about seeing Liam. For the first twelve years of our lives, we were next-door neighbors in our hometown of Knoxville and hung out every day. Even after his dad’s local TV production company went national and the Daniels family moved to LA, we stayed in touch via texts and video calls better than I keep up with any of the friends I see in person. He used to visit once or twice a year, to see his extended family around the holidays, and it was never weird to be around each other then.

But those visits fizzled out in the wake of his parents’ divorce a couple years back, and something about Liam has been different ever since, too. Not a super-obvious something, as he’s good at keeping his emotions in check, but I get the impression that his life out here isn’t as rosy as he’d like me to believe. I want to have fun together, but I also want to be here for him, in real life rather than through a screen.

Which is only part of the reason I jumped at the chance to (and begged and pleaded for my parents to agree to let me) visit for the summer when Liam extended the invitation. I tuck my phone back into my pocket, thinking of the other reasons.

Even though I haven’t left the airport yet, this city already feels so much bigger, more fast-paced and vibrant than anything I’m used to. It’s like it’s brimming with creative inspiration, with stories to be told.

I hope my story starts here.

My people-watching is interrupted when someone jostles my shoulder, trying to get past me to the baggage carousel.

“Oh, sorry,” I say on instinct, even though I’m not sure what I have to be sorry for. But then I see what the guy is reaching for. “Hey, that’s my suitcase!”

The stranger’s big hands are hoisting up the L.L. Bean carry-on that the airline let me gate-check for free, its lavender color one I chose specifically to stand out at baggage claim and its front embroidered with my initials. It’s unmistakable.

I take a step closer, eyes still trained on my bag like if I let it out of my sight it’ll be gone for good, when the tall, broad-shouldered guy turns around.

And he isn’t a stranger at all.

“Liam!” I squeal, my hand flying up to swat at his chest. A chest that seems like it’s a foot higher than when I saw him last, not to mention wider and surprisingly hard. A girl could break something swatting that chest. I have to tilt my head back to look into his eyes, which twinkle with amusement, his mouth half smiling down at me.

“You were about to miss it. Thought I’d help you out,” he says, his voice a soft rumble. Everything about him, this in-person Liam, seems so much more . . . grown-up than the Liam who lives in my phone. It’s taking a minute for my brain to recalibrate.

When I notice his cheeks start to go a little pink under my attention, I force myself to speak. “It . . . it would’ve come back around. God, Liam! It’s . . . you . . . wow! You’re here!”

Impulsively, I stand on tiptoe and throw my arms around his neck, hugging him close. He smells like pine and clean laundry, all woodsy and cozy, and I feel the urge to press my face deeper into the crook between his neck and shoulder and inhale. An urge I suppress because What the hell, creepy Sloane? Liam bends and wraps his arms around my middle, then lifts me off the ground as he straightens back up, and I laugh through the fluttery feeling in my stomach.

What is my body even doing right now? He might smell like Hot Guy--and, okay, look more like it than I expected, too--but he’s not. Or like, he is, but he’s not--

“I’m always here,” Liam says, cutting into my inner spiraling with a chuckle that vibrates through my chest. Liam’s hugs have always been amazing, but they hit different with the addition of an altitude change. Good different, I think, but also weird different. “You’re the new arrival. Welcome to the best coast, Sloane.”

He sets me down again and I take a step back, watching a lock of his blond hair tumble down over his forehead before he pushes it back. My eyes track over his face again as I scramble for something to say--something other than How long have you looked like this?

“Some welcome. You scared me half to death,” I tease, crossing my arms over my chest as I turn back to the conveyor belt to watch for my other suitcase. “I’d been in the big city for all of five minutes and thought I was gonna have to fight a luggage thief.”

“Excuse me for being helpful.” I think Liam means to lightly elbow my side, but the jab lands in the vicinity of my armpit.

“So, growth spurts, huh?” I say abruptly, because I can’t entirely avoid the fact that the guy standing beside me is giving off strong Simba vibes, post–“Hakuna Matata” montage when he’s all grown-up and weirdly attractive for a cartoon animal. I’m his shrimpy meerkat friend who still saw him as a baby lion until this moment.

Liam clears his throat, but I detect a laugh beneath it. “Yeah, I mean, we’ve mostly just seen each other’s faces the last couple years, right? Felt weird to, like, give updates on anything else. ‘Oh, by the way, outgrew my jeans again.’ But that’s happened. Several times. Think I’ve leveled out now, though. Six foot two.” He pushes back the hair that’s fallen over his forehead again, adding, almost to himself, “I don’t know why I just told you that.”

I roll my eyes, faking exasperation. “I’ll remember it for the Tinder profile we’re making you when you turn eighteen.”

He coughs. “The what we’re making me?”

“Oh look, there’s my other bag,” I say, shooting him a smile as I see it come around the bend. I’m about to lean over again when it’s in front of us, but Liam steps around me and beats me to the punch, then hauls the hefty thing like it’s a lunch box and sets it down beside him.

“?‘Able to lift at least fifty pounds, too--come and get it, ladies,’?” I say slowly, pretending to type the words in the air.

Now he has the gall to give me an eye roll as he steers both bags away. “Whenever you’re done, can you meet me at the car? We’ve got traffic to sit in.”

“Wait. Is that the Hollywood sign? Like the real one?”

Liam chuckles at my question from where he sits in the driver’s seat of his gently used Mercedes, which he describes as a “guilft”--a “guilt gift”--from his dad in the wake of the divorce. “As far as I know, there’s only the one.”

“You can just see it from your car? I feel like I should have to buy a ticket for this experience.” I’ve been glued to the passenger-side window since we left the airport parking lot, entranced by everything new and shiny around me. Even the familiar stuff, like a McDonald’s we pass, seems exciting--it’s a Los Angeles McDonald’s. That’s Hollywood litter on the sidewalk. Even sitting in California traffic feels somehow more glamorous than sitting in Tennessee traffic.

I’m basically bouncing in my seat as I take in the palm trees that line the streets, their fronds spraying out like fireworks against the cloudless blue sky overhead. I’ve never lived anywhere that has palm trees. Is it weird to be so excited for that? To me, palm trees are like nature’s party hats. When you live somewhere they grow, every day has to feel at least a little bit like a party, right?

My eyes are peeled for any recognizable celebrity faces. I make up backstories in my head for all the people in the cars around us--that lady in big sunglasses and a blazer driving a Porsche is probably a studio exec making a major movie deal over her Bluetooth headset. The town car with the blacked-out windows is probably carrying a pop star to her record label’s office. I see someone waiting at a bus stop who sort of looks like one of the Avengers if I squint.

“I feel like the Avengers probably don’t take public transit,” Liam responds to my observation. He’s been pretty quiet, driving with ease through this adopted city of his, but I can feel nervous energy radiating off him nearly as much as the Hot Guy scent. It’s doing nothing to calm my own jitters.

So far, it’s not hard to imagine this as a place I could call home. In my post–high school future, I could live in one of the trendy apartment buildings that we pass going down the freeway, if I don’t live on campus at whatever screenwriting school I end up in. Later, I could work at a big TV studio in the area, on one of the shows advertised with massive billboards all over town.

This summer could be just the beginning.

We start winding up into steeper hills, slowing down through neighborhood streets lined with bigger and bigger mansions. I knew Liam’s dad wasn’t struggling financially, not by a long shot. But this area is nicer than I even envisioned.

“Dad kept the house, you know,” Liam says with casualness that feels forced. “After. Mom moved to a condo downtown. She’ll be away on business most of the summer, so we probably won’t see her.”

I nod, having kind of expected that based on how seldom Liam talks about his mom anymore. I don’t know what her deal is. I can’t imagine being so blasé about spending time with my only kid in these last years before he’s grown up and moves out. But I’m glad he has his dad, and that he got to stay in a place he knows, where he’s comfortable and feels at home and--

Holy shit, it’s a castle.

Well, not a literal castle, but one big-ass, old-English-looking chateau in the middle of Southern California. Liam rolls down his window at the gates--the gates!--and scans a key card that opens them, then drives us on through so I get an even better view of one of the most beautiful houses I’ve ever seen.

It has honest-to-God turrets. Gorgeous gray stone covers the outside walls, with moss artfully scattered across a black slate roof. I can count three chimneys from this vantage point alone. The massive mahogany front door--featuring a wrought-iron knocker--looks like it should only be opened by a butler, and certainly shouldn’t let in a peasant like me.

I don’t realize that the car has stopped or that my jaw is on the ground until Liam nudges my shoulder. I look at him and he gives a short, quiet laugh, running a hand over his jaw.

“I know the house is, uh, a lot, but I promise it’s comfortable. In places.”

He looks more anxious than he has so far, which makes me even more anxious. I feel like I have to break this tension somehow but don’t know why we’re so tense to begin with, because this is Liam. We know each other better than anyone else in the world. Don’t we?

“If my bedchamber doesn’t have a wood-burning fireplace and formal sitting room attached, I’m getting a hotel,” I announce before unclipping my seat belt and getting out of the car.

This time, Liam’s laugh is loud and genuine. He takes both of my bags even when I try to fight him on it, then goes the extra mile to playact like a fancy servant as he gives me the tour. We cross dark hardwood floors, passing sconces and chandeliers that light up deep-jewel-toned walls and furniture that belongs in an oversized dollhouse. It all suggests that Mr. Daniels is living out his dream of being the lord of his ancestral home in the English countryside--and that he might be hiding his ex-wife in the attic.

Under the Cover