Exclusive Cover Reveal + Excerpt: Queer Romance Zoe Brennan, First Crush

Books Features Laura Piper Lee
Exclusive Cover Reveal + Excerpt: Queer Romance Zoe Brennan, First Crush

Laura Lee Piper’s adult romance debut Hannah Tate, Beyond Repair is a cozy, thoughtful rom-com about a single mother trying to rehabilitate her own life after a break-up—alongside her parents’ dilapidated B&B—both with the help of a handsome neighbor. With follow-up Zoe Brennan, First Crush, Piper crafts another swoony Georgia-set romance about a woman trying to figure out what she wants out of life—-and running smack into her past along the way. Plus, there’s lots of wine. 

The story follows Zoe Brennan, a lesbian in Blue Ridge who’s poured her heart and soul into her family’s vineyard rather than anything that resembles a relationship. But when a prestigious wine festival announces it’s coming to her town, Zoe’s determined to make sure that Brennan Vineyards finally has a shot at the recognition she’s always longed for. But things get complicated quickly when she learns that a blindfolded participant in her latest hook-up is none other than her first crush, Laine Woods—and that she’s now Laine’s new boss. 

Here’s how the publisher describes the story.

A hilarious queer romantic comedy that follows Zoe, the loneliest lesbian in Blue Ridge, Georgia, and hot shot sommelier Laine, in a second-chance romance about two vineyards competing to host a local wine festival.

Zoe Brennan, First Crush won’t hit shelves until January 21, 2025, but we’ve got your first look at its charming cover, as well as a sneak peek of the story to help tide you over till then. 

Zoe Brennan covver

It’s eight a.m. on a brisk March morning, and there’s a man in my mouth. 

An annoying one. 

“Open wide for me, baby. You can take it.” 

Teddy.” I growl around the mouthful of metal and cotton he’s loaded into my face, then gag as something pointy hits my tonsils. 

“Come on now, Zoe!” Teddy’s futuristic dentist spectacles flash as he roots around inside my face like it’s the junk drawer, and he’s hunting for the last triple A battery. “I know you lesbians don’t have a lot of practice, but surely you can open wider than that. Think boa constrictors. Unhinged jaws.”

There are downsides to being best friends with your inappropriate gay dentist. 

This is one of them. 

After Teddy retrieves the last of his clanking oral probes from my mouth, he picks up my chart and frowns, vigorously drawing several large circles on various teeth in the diagram. 

I arch an eyebrow. I can see where this is going a mile away. 

“Bad news,” Teddy says gravely. “Some of these cavities are so deep, they’re forming a tunnel network. Have you ever heard of fistulas?” He swats his hand at me, like never you mind, and gets up and opens the door. “George? Prepare the shots! We’re going to need them all! 

Teddy’s hygienist materializes in the doorway like a ghoul, eyes delighted, gripping a large metal tray cluttered with needles. 

I remove the wad of wet cotton from my mouth and smile politely. “That won’t be necessary, George. Thank you.” 

Teddy’s theatrical frown turns genuine. “You’re no fun, Zoe Brennan. You know that? All well-adjusted and calm.” 

I get the feeling I’m supposed to be insulted. 

George’s face falls as he realizes the shots aren’t needed after all. I watch him shuffle back to his station from the corner of my eye. “You ever worry about George?” 

“He brings a certain unhealthy enthusiasm for the job, yes,” Teddy says simply, his back turned to prepare the next round of tortures. 

“So what’s this ‘red hot emergency business meeting!’ I had to drop everything and come in for?” That’s usually Teddy’s code for fresh gossip, but every now and then, he legitimately wants to talk business. As the go-to lender for my family’s vineyard, Teddy considers himself my ‘silent partner,’ which is hilarious because nothing about Teddy is silent. 

Teddy swings back around with a set of whitening trays and a suspiciously innocent face. “You mean other than your red teeth, you unrepentant vampire?” He butts the upper tray against my mouth, and I reluctantly open wide enough for him to shove it in. Is this what blowjobs are like? 

“You’re lucky I got a shipment of the good bleach in.” He tsks and jams the lower tray in next. 

“Pitfalls ah running a winn-yer,” I say as dignified as I can around the two trays. “‘inking wine ih my yob.”  

“That’s funny, I could’ve sworn making wine was your job.” 

“Same ‘hing. Now ‘pill it.” I give him my best don’t fuck around look, but I’m still wearing those giant black safety glasses and drooling, so it’s less effective than usual. 

“Mayor Esposito’s aide was in yesterday—Elisa?” he says with feigned nonchalance. “You know the girl. Class one malocclusion? Well, she mentioned that the Bon Vivant has chosen to host their annual wine festival in Blue Ridge this year.” 

Even Teddy’s reflexes cannot stop the trays from shooting out of my mouth. “The Everyday Bon Vivant?!” 

“Ms. Brennan, this is expensive bleach, you want me to charge your ass double?” 

TEDDY! Tell me everything!” I rip the black safety glasses off. 

The grin spreading beneath his dental specs is positively evil. “Not so calm now, are you?” 

I blink against the chair’s overhead spotlight, head spinning. The Everyday Bon Vivant magazine is the word on exemplary—but accessible—wine. I’ve gone to their traveling annual festival a few times, whenever our vineyard can afford to send me, and it’s always an amazing time. It draws thousands of visitors from around the world for three blissful days of eating, drinking, and fun events, and when it’s over, the area picked to host is officially on the map. As a small wine-producing region, it’s impossible for Blue Ridge to compete with Napa and Sonoma; wine connoisseurs don’t even know we exist. But if Blue Ridge hosts the Everyday Bon Vivant, it would change everything—for our wine scene, our town, and especially for the lucky vineyard chosen to host the opening showcase. 


“The festival would be this fall, after harvest at the tail-end of tourist season. They’ll start scouting locations right away.” 

I sit back, mouth hanging open long enough for Teddy to jam the trays back in. 

“It’s time to put on that clever thinking cap of yours, baby.” Teddy dabs at the drool on my chin affectionately with the paper towel clipped to my chest. “This is Brennan Vineyards’ big opportunity to level up.”  

He’s not wrong. Most people don’t know this, but running a small vineyard isn’t the most profitable venture. The pandemic hit our region’s tourism hard, followed by two drenching, grape-killing rainy seasons back-to-back. Teddy’s loans, local music nights, family picnics, business 101 classes—I’ve had to pull every trick in my hat to keep the lights on and the grapes growing. Some days it feels like a miracle we’re open at all, and the stress of staying that way keeps a perpetual grip around my throat. 

Brennan Vineyards was my mom’s dream—she and my dad built it from the ground up. But Mom passed away when I was twelve, and I vowed to continue her legacy by pouring my love and energy into it the way she and my father always had. Watching business decline these last few years fills me with a panicked desperation that keeps me up at night. Dad’s been so down lately, too. Our money situation stresses him out, though I try to protect him from the worst of it. 

But if Brennan Vineyards gets the Everyday Bon Vivant showcase? Dad might even be able to retire one day. We’ve always assumed he’d be out there pruning to the very end, but this… this could change everything. 

“Did Elisa mention any vineyards the Mayor’s considering endorsing?” 

Teddy grimaces, and I already know the answer.

“Into the Woods. Who else?” 

Our neighboring vineyard run by my best-friend-turned-enemy Rachel Woods. 

Of course. 

It’s a shame, really. Rachel’s parents Molly and Ezra Woods are my dad’s closest friends, her brother Chance an all-around nice guy, and her big sister Charlaine? An absolute goddess and star of all my teenage fantasies. 

Rachel, however, is a stone-cold bitch. 

Rachel, Charlaine, Chance, and I all grew up together, our houses on neighboring properties nestled in rows of young vines, tucked away in the lush, rolling woods of Gilmer County. I was at the Woods’ house every day for years, until things with Rachel went to hell in a handbasket. Now here we are, twelve years after high school graduation, all still working in the wine business. Charlaine went to California to study viticulture and never came back, while Rachel and Chance stayed on at their family’s vineyard. Thanks to Chance’s wine-making skills and Rachel’s insufferable knack for making money, Into the Woods is our biggest competition and the snobbiest vineyard in town. They spell classic “classique” for no good reason and generally make me want to throw things.  

“Rachel better stay out of my way. That showcase is mine.” The decree slurps out around the trays. 

Teddy’s smile returns with fiendish glee. “I love it when you’re business evil, Zoe Brennan!” 

My mind’s off to the races already. It’s the beginning of the spring season, and vineyard operations will grow busier until the first grapes appear. Then work transitions to pure chaos, which reigns through harvest. If the Everyday Bon Vivant is scouting soon, I’ve got to put together a plan for winning the showcase now. 

The bleaching timer goes off, and I yank the trays out and set them on the counter, ignoring Teddy’s disgusted demands that I rinse. My hand’s already turning the doorknob to leave when he calls out, “Wait, dammit! There’s one more thing!” 

I sigh impatiently. I’ve got a date with Office365, two shots of espresso, and my entrepreneurial cunning. “Make it quick, Teddy.” 

“Harlow Benoit rolled into town yesterday—Diego and I saw her when we were out for dinner.” Teddy levies his finger in my direction. With his dental specs still on, he looks like a very stern gem dealer. “Do not text her, Zoe! Remember your New Year’s resolution!!” 

Harlow. Her name alone brings a flush of heat to my neck. Harlow Benoit, wine buyer for the prestigious Bouche à Bouche restaurant group, rolls into Blue Ridge a few times a year to sample new wines and negotiate supply deals. She’s a human tornado disguised as a five-foot-two pansexual party girl who always manages to destroy my calm and upend my carefully curated feelings. She’s fun, extraordinarily sexy, and pushes my limits until I let go, willingly, of all the things I’m trying to control at any given minute. I absolutely crave the release I feel in her arms. 

The problem is she always leaves. She’s an employed vagabond, located in New York City for a few months a year, then on the road for the rest of it. I get two or three days of sexual bliss, then she’s gone, and I’m left desperately trying to remind myself that I don’t want a real relationship. Why bother wanting what I can’t have? The queer community in Blue Ridge is thriving thanks to all the gay transplants—it was even named the friendliest LGBT city in Georgia a few years ago—but the lesbians that move here are already coupled up, and the few that aren’t hooked up with me, then settled down with each other. 

Which is fine. None of them were right for me, anyway. And Harlow isn’t, either. I know this, I do… but then she rolls into town, and the desire to be touched overwhelms me. I break all my resolutions for one more round of sex followed by the brief whiplash of loneliness being with her always kicks up. But not this time. Teddy’s sick of the emotional hangovers I have after she leaves, and I am, too. This past New Years after a particularly incredible Christmas rendezvous when she kissed a snowflake off my nose, ugh, it was so romantic, I vowed I’d stop for good. It’s easier to be alone than to have these periodic moments of intimacy, showing me what life with another person could be like.  

“Relax, Teddy. I won’t.” I smile, confident that the words are true this time. Who has time for amazing meaningless sex when the biggest business opportunity of all time lands in your lap? 

Even Harlow Benoit can’t compete with that. 

Excerpt reprinted with permission from ZOE BRENNAN, FIRST CRUSH by Laura Piper Lee © 2025. Cover art by Vi-An Nguyen. Published by Union Square & Co.

Zoe Brennan, First Crush will be released on January 21, 2025, but you can pre-order it right now. 

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB

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