Sonya Lalli, author of A Holly Jolly Diwali, a delightful romance that combined the magic of the South Asian holiday Diwali with the wonder of falling in love, returns this Spring with a new unforgettable rom-com.
About the Book
by Sonya Lalli
Format 336 pages, Paperback
Published April 18, 2023 by Berkley
An impulsive decision to join an Alaskan cruise getaway brings the chance for an onboard romance in this new enemies-to-lovers romance from the author of A Holly Jolly Diwali.Jasmine Randhawa likes everyone to think she has it all—great job, perfect Seattle apartment, and a handsome boyfriend. But she’s not as confident or successful as she seems, and her relationship is at a breaking point.When Jasmine finds herself single and tagging along on her parents’ vacation, she’s not sure her life can get any farther off course. It's a nightmare for someone who's been so fiercely independent to find herself on a cruise full of family friends who’ve judged her since childhood. Things only get worse once the ship leaves the harbor and she realizes that this is a seniors’ cruise, and the only other person under fifty on the entire boat is her childhood acquaintance, cocky and successful Jake Dhillon.Jasmine and Jake clash right away, with Jasmine smarting over how their South Asian community puts him on a pedestal as the perfect Indian son, whereas her reputation as a troublemaker precedes her. Except they can’t avoid each other forever during the ten-day cruise, and they soon recognize a surprising number of similarities, especially in how many secrets they’re keeping hidden from their families. Their restlessness seems to disappear whenever they’re together, but is this relationship strong enough to last on land?
Rowan: Jasmine! HR asked me to bug you again about using your vacation days. Apparently you still have two weeks unused from last year?? How about you take it this month? Let’s discuss tomorrow.
I ignored my manager’s DM and switched off my computer, feeling a little smug that it was only three o’clock and I got to leave early. I worked in the animation department of a trendy mixed-media company in downtown Seattle, and because the higher-ups were deathly afraid of driving out millennial and Gen-X talent, they allowed for ‘flexible hours’. While most of my colleagues took advantage by showing up hungover at eleven and working late, these days I arrived at the crack of dawn and peaced out before half of them ordered lunch.
I’d been paranoid about getting a 3d character just right for an ongoing campaign and impressing my manager Rowan, and so I barely had time to think about Brian and his Mystery Woman until my walk home. Brian and I were currently three weeks in to our third attempt to break up, and each time we ended things, I moved into Amber’s spare bedroom across the hall because half my stuff was still in his place. Because we had Mango to care for. Because he wasn’t always such a douche bag, and could be really sweet when he put in the effort. Because most of the time I secretly enjoyed the comforts of being in a serious relationship. Because…
I let out a squeal of frustration, startling the woman speed walking next me. There were so many reasons I tried to make it work with Brian for so long, but they were no longer good enough.
At the end of the day, Brian didn’t want to marry me or have children together. It had felt like a crushing blow, but lately I’d been wondering if he’d more so bruised my ego than my heart. Did I even want to marry him? I massaged my stiff left shoulder as I weaved through other pedestrians and concluded that literally anyone else would be a better match. When I stopped at a pedestrian light, I noticed the silver fox waiting next to me and gave him the up and down. Brian had moved on; maybe I needed to move on, too. At the very least, I needed a rebound, preferably a smoke show who was partial to getting frisky in the condo building’s communal spaces right under Brian’s dumb nose.
I bit my lip, hoping the foxy gentleman would make eye contact. He had Henry Golding vibes, and looked not that much older than me. I flicked my eyes at his left hand. OK, maybe not him. Maybe he was a little married.
I scanned the four corners of the intersection, my eyes stopping at the guy in head-to-toe lycra standing next to his bicycle across the street. It was hard to tell from this distance, but he was pretty cute. Maybe a little young. I straightened my shoulders and thought about how I might initiate a rendezvous, but then the walk light went green and he stepped in the road. The soles of his sneakers flashed neon blue and purple.
Ugh. Maybe not him either.
Back at Amber’s condo, I slipped into my Lululemon high-rise tights, New Balance running shoes, and then picked up Mango from Brian’s. She was so excited to see me that she unlearned her obedience training and jumped up to hug me, knocking me back against the door, and I was so excited to see her, that I didn’t scold her when she licked me all over my face.
Back when the relationship was still OK — not great, but it hadn’t gotten bad yet either — I’d been the one to float the idea of getting a dog. A few weeks later, Brian came home with Mango, a two-year-old full-size goldendoodle whose former owner, Brian’s distant cousin, was about to move in with a boyfriend who was deathly afraid of dogs. We couldn’t believe our luck. Mango was gentle, and sweet, and cuddly, and took to both of us right away. But what we didn’t know was that goldendoodles were expensive, high energy, and hard work. And Brian and I weren’t used to putting anyone or thing ahead of what we wanted, not even each other.
Getting a dog may have been the catalyst to us ending our relationship, but it made both of us a lot happier, too. No matter how much Brian and I fought, or bickered, or ignored one another, at least we had Mango. Most of the time, the only thing Brian and I agreed on was how much we loved her.
We took the elevator down to the lobby, and then Mango and I started running towards Myrtle Edwards Park. It had become our afternoon routine three or four times a week, while Brian was still at work and I could spend time with her without risk of bumping into him. I tried to focus on my breathing, the sun on my face, my perfect dog, the fact that I was about to see my little sister Niki after several months. But my mind was going faster than my legs, and I spent the next four miles ruminating about Mystery Woman, if my living situation with Amber was sustainable, how just the thought of cannonballing backing into the dating pool scared the crap out of me, if the 3d character I’d just created was up to snuff, about my bank account balance, about how, these days, I just couldn’t help but feel like a total waste of space.
Drenched in sweat, I found myself back near the condo building, panting on the sidewalk as Mango lapped up water from the doggy water fountain by the post box.
I smiled, watching her. She was so happy after a run. It made me feel happy.
Well, it made me want to feel happy.
I took an artsy picture of Mango, posted it on Instagram, and then reluctantly left her at Brian’s. After I showered, I packed a weekend bag, ordered Amber a surprise pizza to be sent to her office, and then hopped into my Lexus. I had less than an eighth of a tank of gas, but absent major traffic jams other than the usual rush hour hell, I’d just make it to my parents’.
Mom and Dad still lived in the same house I’d grown up in, about a half hour away in the suburbs. On the drive out there, I blared my favorite pop radio station and psyched myself up for forty-eight hours under the same roof. I barely went home to visit, even less so now that Niki – who had recently moved to LA to be with her now fiancé Sam – wasn’t around to mediate. The front door was unlocked and I tossed my bag on the floor, announcing my arrival as if I were holding court. Nobody answered. I could hear them talking in the living room. I peered around the corner.
“Good evening,” I said in my most offensive British accent. My eyes landed on Niki. “Jasmine Kaur Randhawa. Thirty-three. Fabulous. Glamorous. And at your service.”
I curtseyed, and by the time I was standing upright, Niki had launched herself across the room and was squeezing the oxygen out of my lungs with a bear hug.
“Good to see you, too,” I laughed, wrapping around my arms around her. “How was your flight?”
“Fine,” she breathed into my hair. “How are you doing?”
I stiffened at the pity in her voice.
“Jasmine?” she whispered.
“Fabulous!” I pulled away, smiling so hard for her my cheeks hurt. Niki had clearly flown back to Seattle just to check on how I was coping with the latest break-up, but she could have hidden it a little better.
Glamorous,” I added. “Just like I said!”
She eyed me. “Really?”
“Jasmine, come sit,” Dad interrupted excitedly. “Niki was telling us her good news!”
I followed Niki to the couch, mumbling my hellos to Mom and Dad, who smiled and nodded at me the same way they might greet the person who delivers their mail, or groceries. Or summons. Their eyes quickly returned to Niki, and lit up like a Christmas tree as she filled me in on how she’d just scored a new client that was flying her out to New York. I squeezed her hand, unwilling to let the fact that she was the favorite child taint how proud I was of her. After she was laid off two years earlier, Niki had started her own data analytics consultancy, and had been a million times happier ever since. (I’m sure it also helped that, around the same time, she’d met the love of her life.)
“You are killing it,” I grinned, after Niki told us all about the client, who was kinda a big deal in the sporting goods sector. “You bawse, you!”
“I am a bawse, aren’t I?” Niki flipped her hair in jest. “Now I’m just like you, Jasmine.”
I laughed. “Come on.”
“You come on.” Niki punched me lightly on the shoulder. “You know how I’ve always looked up to you…”
I gave her a big smile. Niki, who was much more thoughtful and practical, had always idolized my artsy career path. I majored in visual art – against the extremely vocal wishes of my parents – and miraculously parlayed an internship in animation to gainful employment. But nobody, not even Niki, needed to know that I’d thrown a hail mary and scored a career touchdown against all odds. I was lucky to get my job. And I was very lucky to have a patient manager. I screwed up royally on the regular, and instead of firing me–which Rowan could have by now–she gave me diligent feedback. She spent hours upon hours of her precious time training me. She gave me more chances than I deserved.
“What are you working on these days?” Niki grinned. “Or is it ‘top secret’, like the time you couldn’t tell us about that bridal commercial–”
“Oh, that reminds me!” Mom stood up suddenly. “Niki, before I forget, I must show you the table cloth samples for your engagement party. There are seven different shades of gold to choose from. Can you imagine?”
Niki turned her gaze to Mom, and then back to me. My mouth was still open, because before Mom interrupted, I was about to remind Niki that the only reason I couldn’t tell her about that particular campaign was because there was an A-list celebrity attached, and we’d all signed NDA’s. I was about to talk about my work, which was often pretty cool, but which my mother did not give a shit about.
“Go ahead,” I whispered to Niki, winking. “God forbid you choose the wrong table cloth!”
I squeezed Niki’s hand, and then left my parents to plan their favorite daughter’s engagement party. As I trudged to the kitchen to get started on happy hour, I briefly wondered if someone would ask for my opinion on which shade of gold would work best for the end-of-summer banquet they had planned, but my art degree was no good here. (Just my bartending skills.) I half listened to Mom natter away about ‘mustard gold’ and ‘Tuscan sun gold’ while I concocted four stiff lychee martinis, which had an alcohol content that guaranteed my time with the parentals would pass a little more quickly. I zoned out of their conversation, and by the time I returned to the living room with a tray of cocktails and big bowl of salt and vinegar chips, they were no longer talking about the party.
“Are you sure you cannot join?” Mom cooed. She had moved to the other couch and was sitting next to Niki, their thighs flush.
“Who wants a drink?” I called out, just as Niki mumbled, “sorry, we can’t.”
“Count me in,” Mom said to me. “These are not too strong, Jasmine, hah?”
“No,” I lied. I handed everyone a glass and then placed the chip bowl in the center of the coffee table. “What are you guys talking about?”
No one answered. There was a weird tension in the air, which was even weirder because I wasn’t the source of it. I sat down cross-legged on the floor with my cocktail, eyeing Niki. “What’s going on?”
“What did Mom just ask you?” I prompted
“We were talking about our trip to Alaska,” Dad answered instead. He stretched out his legs in front of him and started cycling on the spot. It was his idea of exercise. “The cruise line has extra cabins and they are selling at a discount. We found out this morning only.”
“OK…” My parents left for a ten-day cruise with a bunch of their friends from the South Asian community the following week, but I didn’t understand why…
“Hold the phone.” I sat up straight as something sharp niggled in my chest. “Did you just invite Niki and Sam to tag along on your cruise?”
“Hah,” Dad answered again. “The discount is very deep, Jasmine. It’s a bargain!”
“Well, were you planning on inviting me?”
My cheeks flushed when nobody spoke up. It’s not like I wanted to go, but I was still going to force my parents to spell out their favoritism.
“We did not think a cruise would interest you,” Mom said finally. She took a sip of the drink, scrunched up her nose, and then set it on the coffee table.
“You like more adventurous holidays,” Dad said. “Do you not?”
“They have a point.” Niki, resuming her post as family mediator, shrugged in agreement. “When was the last time you went on vacation that didn’t involve skydiving, or camping through a blizzard, or trekking a mountain pass with a bunch of Aussies you just met.”
“They could have at least asked,” I said, more hurt in my voice than I’d intended.
“Well, you are more than welcome to come, beti,” Dad said slowly.
Mom nodded stiffly. “Of course. Would you like to join us?”
I blinked, my eyes darting between my parents. Their invitation was not genuine. There was no way they wanted me on that cruise. Funnily enough, it kind of made me want to say yes.
“My manager did just tell me I have to take two weeks off this month,” I said, taunting them. I waited for their faces to show their bluff, but they didn’t budge.
“So come,” Mom said, holding my gaze.
“You want me to join you on a cruise with your friends,” I said slowly, leaving plenty of room for her to read between the lines. “With all the aunties and uncles.”
“Not just our friends,” Dad chimed in, oblivious to subtext. “We hear there will be lots of kids joining.”
“He means the young people from your generation,” Mom clarified. “You know, the boys and girls you grew up with. You haven’t seen them in so long.” She paused, clearing her throat. “If you came, I suppose you could reconnect.”
I stuffed a handful of chips into my mouth and thought seriously about which was the sadder of two scenarios: (a) Going on a cruise where I’d have to socialize with the Punjabi community who had made my adolescence a living hell, or (b) sitting on Amber’s couch for two weeks of forced vacation. Going with option (a), at least I’d have my old crew growing up for company. Option (b), I’d have Mango.
Crunching loudly, I passed the bowl to Niki so she could take a scoop. Instead, she disappeared, grabbed napkins from the kitchen, and then offered the chips to my parents first.
“Thank you, beti,” Mom purred. She reached out and lightly gripped Niki’s chin with her thumb and pointer finger. Smacking her lips together, she double kissed the air. It was Mom’s signature gesture of love, and attention, and good humor. My stomach squirmed, the liquor burning a hole in my mostly-empty stomach. I couldn’t remember the last time Mom touched me like that. Now that I thought about it, I couldn’t remember the last time I felt like I was really a welcome part of this family.
It was no secret that I was their problem child. They loved us the same because it was basically the law, but it made total sense they liked Niki more, and wanted her to crash their holiday. She was sweet, and kind, and the kind of good Indian girl who remembered the napkins and to offer food to our elders first. She chose a stable profession. She was even choosing to marry a good Indian boy. I, on the other hand, had been raising hell, flouting rules and defying community norms since my early teens. Everyone thought I was immature, impulsive, selfish, unreliable, defensive, not to mention the shame of the family. I wasn’t even exaggerating. Those were the exact words Mom used to hurl at me constantly.
My parents turned their attention back to Niki and her engagement party, to the capacity limits on the venue, what sorts of appetizers to serve. My pulse was racing, heat prickling on the back of neck, and when I opened my mouth…
“I think I’ll come,” I said suddenly, surprising everyone in the room. Including me.
“Come where?” Mom asked.
“On your cruise,” I said calmly. “To Alaska.”
“Really?” Dad said.
“Yeah.” I nodded, narrowing my gaze at Mom. “Is that OK?”
“Why of course,” she said breezily.
Call my bluff, Mom. Just like I’m calling yours.
Admit that you wanted Niki there. Your good Indian daughter. Not me.
“The cruise departs next Wednesday,” Mom continued. “You’re free?”
“As a bird.”
Our words were civil but our eyes were at war.
“I’ll tell my manager I’m taking two weeks off,” I simpered, doubling down.
Mom pursed her lips and stood up from the couch. Smiling, she beckoned for me to follow. “First let’s go call the cruise line, hah? I’ll give you the discount code.”
Mom left the room, and a beat later, hollered out for Dad because she couldn’t remember where they’d left their travel documents. When I felt drool pooling at the corners of my lips, I realized my mouth was hanging open. I closed it.
“Jasmine,” I heard Niki say, her voice low and hoarse. “What just happened? Are you sure you want to go on a cruise with them?”
No, I wasn’t sure.
I did not want to go on vacation with my parents, two people I barely had a relationship with these days, who had and never would respect any of my choices. I did not want to be trapped with a literal boatload of judgmental South Asian aunties and uncles who had ostracized me from the community when I was fifteen-years-old because if you weren’t a good Indian girl, then by default, you were a bad one.
“Yes, I’m sure,” I lied, ruffling Niki’s hair. She was still gawking at me, but I chose to ignore it and followed my parents into the other room.
And, if I was being totally truthful, I also didn’t want to go on a cruise because I couldn’t exactly afford to. Just like I couldn’t afford the venti Starbucks I picked up this morning on the way to the office, or the fabulous outfit I was currently wearing and for which I’d paid full price, or the fair market rent I insisted on paying Amber for letting me crash in her spare room.
Nobody knew. But guess what?
I was broke.
From JASMINE AND JAKE ROCK THE BOAT by Sonya Lalli, published by Berkley, an imprint of The Penguin Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2023 by Sonya Lalli.
About the Author
Sonya Lalli is a romance and women’s fiction author of Punjabi and Bengali heritage. Her debut novel The Matchmaker’s List was a Target Diverse Book Club Pick, and Sonya's books have been featured in Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, NPR, The Washington Post, Glamour and more. She also writes psychological thrillers as S.C. Lalli. Sonya lives in Vancouver with her husband and their mini goldendoodle, Joey.
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