Two strangers, one tropical island, and lots of lies in this funny beach romance from the author of Love & Other Great Expectations!
Aspiring nature photographer Kenzie Reed just can’t get her straitlaced family of optometrists to take her art seriously. She’s resigned to putting aside her dreams and accepting the depressing life that awaits her at the family business. She even makes up a fake, boring boyfriend—Jacob—to get her parents off her back.
But when the Reeds arrive in Hawaii for spring break, Kenzie is shocked that "Jacob" shows up at the airport—and joins their vacation. Kenzie can’t reveal him as a fraud without confessing her lie, so she’s stuck playing along while trying to find out who he really is.
No way is she going to actually fall for him—because even though he’s funny, nice, smart, and cute, he’s also a liar. Isn’t he?
Filled with warm summer breezes and salty sea air, Becky Dean’s Picture-Perfect Boyfriend will sweep you off your feet into a tropical paradise, sun on your shoulders—where love is just around a palm tree.
An Excerpt fromPicture-Perfect Boyfriend
Hawaii was totally messing up my plans. To be fair, I rarely made plans, and when I did, they generally went badly. But this one was facing an extra challenge. Why did Maui have to be so insanely beautiful before we’d even reached the ground?
As the island grew larger beneath us, I inched the airplane’s window shade up to reveal more details. Vivid turquoise-and-blue water. Brilliant green hills. Bright white line of waves.
My imagination filled with images of sights that awaited, begging me to photograph them. Towering waterfalls wreathed in rainbow mist. Ocean sunsets of tangerine and pink. Turtles and whales and tropical flowers and—
No. That was the old Kenzie. The version of myself I’d left behind eight months ago. The impractical dreamer with impossible wishes.
The new Kenzie had to pretend not to take too much notice. She could enjoy the scenery, objectively. But she didn’t obsess about the best camera angle to highlight a waterfall’s height, about the time of day to shoot the ocean to show the brightest shade of blue, or about the proper shutter speed to capture a leaping whale. She didn’t spend the day getting sunburned while waiting for just the right shot of a turtle coming ashore, or developing prune fingers from hours of snorkeling with her GoPro, filming colorful fish.
And she definitely didn’t think about the Nikon DSLR camera tucked into the back of her closet at home in its nice leather bag, alongside the tripod, assortment of lenses, and portfolio full of landscapes and animal photos.
New Kenzie cared about college applications and chemistry club and Future Healthcare Professionals of America meetings, and this week would be full of air-conditioned dinners and sitting quietly under umbrellas on the beach, and possibly days on the golf course, where the waves were a distant backdrop without sound or sea spray.
New Kenzie was utterly boring.
But also safe, family-approved, and free of criticism.
So this was my path, and I would continue on it, even though that had been growing harder lately, taking a steep climb up a rocky hill. Pushing the limits of how long I could try to be someone else. I would not let Hawaii be the thing that sent me tumbling back down.
Our descent grew choppy, wind buffeting the plane from side to side.
Beside me, Mom clutched her book to her chest. Not a romance novel or thriller or other vacation-appropriate fiction, like normal people read. Instead it was a too-long optometry text for her latest continuing education course. Based on how tightly she was squeezing it, she would have been better off holding a barf bag. Although if the book were covered in vomit, that might be an improvement.
A distraction seemed in order.
“How’s the book?” I asked. “Can I borrow it when you’re done?”
Her eyes got slightly less glassy. “I’m learning about a new method of detecting glaucoma. The idea is fascinating, but the writing style leaves something to be desired. I don’t think this editor should be reviewing professional publications.”
“Ah. Um. Well, great topic, though.”
So not-great. But over the last eight months, I had to admit, my feigned interest in the family career sure had made her a lot less frowny when she looked at me. Plus, the question had achieved the desired goal of distracting her from imminent puking. Finding things to criticize about others often had that effect on her—and for once, the disapproval wasn’t directed at me.
“Jacob mentioned he read an article about that,” I added.
The glow in her eyes intensified. The only thing she loved more than my made-up, newfound love for optometry was my made-up, future healthcare professional boyfriend. It was good to know my imagination was able to please her, even if I rarely was.
We jostled against each other as the plane dipped lower.
“Close the shade, please. Or put on your sunglasses. The UV rays are terrible for your eyes.”
I sighed and shut out the beautiful view. Maybe it was for the best, to keep me from dwelling on out-of-reach dreams.
“I hope your sister and Neal had a smoother ride.”
Yes, Alana, my twenty-two-year-old sister, was dating a guy named Neal. It was like she’d set out to find the most boring guy possible and had ended up with the only college-age guy with that name, just to prove she continued to be the perfect daughter. The one destined to achieve the ideal balance of collegiate-career success and a stable, predictable relationship that my family valued.
“I’m sure they’re fine,” I said. “If their plane had crashed an hour ago, the runway wouldn’t be clear for ours to land.”
“Mackenzie! Don’t joke about that.”
Ah, the We Are Not Amused voice. Hadn’t heard that one recently, mainly because I’d been keeping my jokes to myself. I definitely hadn’t missed the way it made me feel silly and childish, even though I thought I was funny. Old Kenzie was sneaking through again, as if the wave-swept shores below were pulling her out of the depths.
“I’m sure they’re fine,” I said quickly. “The odds of a commercial airline crash are, like, one in one point two million.” I’d memorized that fact prior to boarding to impress someone—and to calm my always-worried mother. It was extremely gratifying to be able to use it to get myself out of trouble. “They’re probably already at the resort with Gran.”
Mom’s grip on the book loosened. Until the plane shook, and she hugged it to her again. She inhaled slowly before glancing sideways at me. “It was too bad Jacob couldn’t join us.”
Yeah, well, it was hard for imaginary people to go on real vacations.
My nonexistent boyfriend, Jacob, was attending a nonexistent weeklong biology academy over spring break, fulfilling the lie that I, too, had found a nice, dull future optometrist to date. We supposedly video chatted about chemistry and college coursework and medical breakthroughs, which would have made me run away screaming if it had been true, since those were also frequent topics at family dinners.
But it made my parents say things like I’m proud of you and We’re so glad you’ve found someone serious like your sister has. Which were a huge improvement over what I used to hear. When are you going to grow out of this phase? Or Why don’t you respect the family legacy like your sister? And my personal favorite, Nature photography is a cute hobby but is far too risky and pointless for a real career.
“He was sorry he couldn’t come and wanted to make sure I thanked you for inviting him,” I said. “But the program was important to help him get an internship this summer.”
“Of course. Career comes first.”
I sincerely hoped that was a my family thing and not an all adults thing, because the idea of career coming first for the rest of my life was almost enough to make me want to stay in high school forever.
My parents found work so important that I still couldn’t believe we were here. But the family optometry practice started by my grandfather was doing well, and my dad’s blood pressure had been high enough at his last doctor’s visit that he and my mom had decided to take a week off.
“We look forward to meeting him one day,” Mom went on. “And if that internship doesn’t work out, we’d love to have him at our office for the summer.”
“Right. I’ve told him that. But he likes to stay close to home. His family is important to him, too.”
“As it should be.”
Family was the only thing that came close to rivaling work, although for the Reeds, the two were intertwined, like the roots of a tree. Or like an invasive species of vine strangling the tree and slowly sucking the life out of it until the tree withered, died, and toppled to the ground.
No, I wasn’t proud that I’d made up a fake boyfriend to impress my family. Yes, it was rather pathetic—but since I had been out with real guys before, it at least comforted me to know I wasn’t totally incapable of finding an actual human date.
And of course, lying was wrong.
But part of remaking myself had been proving I was serious and capable of an adult relationship with future potential. Something my parents had lamented was decidedly not true about those actual human boys. A fictional boyfriend who liked puzzles and science documentaries and was considering a career in optometry like my parents was just the thing.
Naturally, he went to college across the country, so my family wouldn’t have a chance to meet him. Ohio State, to be specific, since it was one of the largest schools in the country and my parents had never mentioned knowing anyone from Ohio. The key to lying was making the lie hard to disprove. Like his name—Jacob Miller, handpicked from the most popular baby names list and the database of most common surnames in the US.
Really, my parents would have been impressed at the research that had gone into this lie. Especially coming from me, the child who was impulsive, disorganized, and terrible at planning. Direct quotes.
The plane bumped its way to a landing. My mom gripped the seat to keep herself from falling forward as we decelerated.
“Well,” I heard my dad say from across the aisle, “if it gets worse this week, go ahead and give me a call, and we’ll get that figured out.”
He handed a business card to the guy in front of him.
It was possible Dad wasn’t fully grasping the idea of vacation.
He and my brother, Tyler, stood and grabbed our bags from the overhead bins. Dad’s perfectly ironed, green-and-orange Hawaiian shirt burned my eyeballs. Was he trying to blind everyone around him in some twisted effort to force them to need his services? It made me extremely glad that I’d locked my Instagram account months ago and no one else in my family used social media, so there was no chance of anyone seeing me in a family photo with such an abomination to the world of fashion.
Mom stood, and I moved to follow.
“Were you planning to leave your headphones?” she asked.
Oh. Right. I grabbed my earbud case from the seat-back pocket. And really, couldn’t she have reminded me nicely?
I’d been doing so well lately. I’d only lost one school binder so far this semester, which my parents had never learned about, and forgotten lunch money twice, which, who needed to eat three times a day, anyway?
“Good news, Kenz,” Tyler said as he let me into the aisle. “We’ve landed. You can text Strawberry Jam again.”
If Jacob had been real, the nickname might have bothered me. But that was on me for deciding that my fake boy’s middle name was Andrew, giving him the initials JAM.
I ignored the teasing, as always. “He’s in class. I don’t want to disturb him.”
“Are you sure about that?” Tyler asked, raising an eyebrow.
I actually wasn’t, since I hadn’t seen a clock recently and hadn’t calculated the time difference. Why hadn’t I thought of that?
We followed the other passengers off the plane. The airport had a casual feel, with skylights letting in bright Hawaiian sun. People in flowered shirts as hideous as Dad’s exited planes, while many with lobster-worthy sunburns prepared to board them.
I was definitely not noticing the vivid fuchsia orchids forming beautiful leis, or imagining the flowers in full bloom on actual plants. Or seeing how bright white and silver the clouds were, cleaner and fluffier than back home in Sacramento.
Instead I selected a topic guaranteed to make my parents proud—by pointing to a display in the nearest airport shop.
“Hey, blue-light glasses,” I said.
Dad whipped around. “Where? That’s a travesty.”
“Such a rip-off,” Mom clucked. “Poor souls, being tricked into thinking those are needed, and at such high airport prices.”
“Regular reading glasses, too.” Dad shook his head. “Convincing people they can diagnose themselves instead of getting proper checkups.”
“Truly tragic,” said Tyler in a dramatic voice that would have sounded mocking if used in relation to an actual tragedy.
Still in the airport, and they’d already resorted to work talk and criticizing others. Two activities my parents would win gold for if they were Olympic sports. But my plan had succeeded—I’d gotten approving looks, distracted myself from thinking about photography, and ensured they didn’t suspect I’d been thinking about it, all at once.
My mouth watered as we passed Hawaiian restaurants and food carts offering coconut French toast and SPAM and fresh pineapples. My parents were such unadventurous eaters, I’d be lucky to try the iconic shave ice this week.
“Ooh, SPAM.” Tyler craned his neck to see a menu.
“I’m not sure about the safety of meat that lasts that long,” Mom said.
“Doesn’t tuna last forever?” I asked. “It has those fats that are good for your eyes.”
“I don’t know if SPAM is the same, but that is a good point.”
That tone of voice was a more recent addition to her arsenal—one I called Surprised, Grudging Respect.
This was why I’d made the change. The new me invited so much less drama. If I’d been doing what I wanted, what the old Kenzie would have done—flitting from place to place, running into things because my face was glued to my camera, taking photos of everything in sight—they’d have been telling me to stop dawdling, to pay attention, to quit getting distracted and keep up. To apologize to the poor man with a walker I’d knocked over while watching a pretty cloud. Not that that had ever happened.
“The condo has Wi-Fi, right?” Tyler asked. “I need to keep up with my coding project.”
Despite being a sophomore, two years younger than me, he was working on a fancy program for his computer class. He said it would update the optometry office’s recordkeeping or bookkeeping or something like that. Something I should have understood about running the business side of the practice but didn’t, despite working there for months, because—boring.
“Yes, Tyler,” Mom said. “I’ve told you many times. Everyone has Wi-Fi these days.”
“Yeah, but they better have good signal strength. Not like the time we went to that conference in Boise and I could barely download the baseball scores.”
“I’m sure it will be fine. But remember you’re to limit screen time this week. We’re supposed to be spending time together as a family.”
Good luck getting him to comply with that. Not like Mom and Dad would enforce it, anyway. Not against the brilliant baby of the family, who got good grades without trying and won math awards and who never got criticized for not wanting to join the family practice, because computer programming was a parent-approved career path.
Baggage claim was located in an open-air space, allowing the humid, warm outdoors to seep in. My skin instantly felt sticky. Mom sighed and fanned her shirt, but it made me think of magical tropical nights under the stars and jungles teeming with life and hidden waterfalls.
Which I would not be photographing.
We retrieved our luggage and made our way toward the exit. A cute guy stood alone, leaning against a pillar.
He was watching us.
His light brown hair streaked with blond was pulled into a stubby ponytail at the base of his head, leaving strands loose around his face. It was so shiny that I wanted to run my fingers through it or ask what conditioner he used. A T-shirt hugged nice arm muscles, and cargo shorts showed off tanned legs. He could have played a young Thor. When he caught me checking him out, his lips lifted.
Oh well. Not like I’d see him again.
As we moved toward him, he pocketed his phone, shoved away from the pillar, and approached. His eyes were locked on me. I slowed. My family paused.
And the cute guy’s arms were around me before I could shove him away.
What? I mean, sure, he wasn’t bad to look at. And I had been staring. But I didn’t make a habit of hugging strangers in airports. I stiffened and was ready to plant my knee somewhere that would have made my junior high self-defense teacher proud, when his mouth dipped close to my ear.
“Hey, Kenzie.” His voice was low and rough, his breath warm on my neck.
I yanked back. His arms kept me from moving too far, so we were inches apart as I stared into the brightest sky-blue eyes I’d ever seen, framed by long lashes. The mischievous light in them matched the quirk of his lips.
“Surprise!” shouted my family.
My gaze darted from them to the boy, bouncing around, as I tried to figure out what kind of trick this was.
They were all smiling, though the boy’s expression resembled more of a smirk.
My family, at least, did not see this as me getting mauled by a random stranger.
The boy released me, stepped away, and moved to my dad with his hand outstretched. “Hello, Dr. Reed. It’s nice to finally meet you in person. I’m Jacob.”