An Unexpected Talisman Connects Two Lifelong Friends  In This Excerpt From A Love Like The Sun

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An Unexpected Talisman Connects Two Lifelong Friends  In This Excerpt From A Love Like The Sun

Friends to lovers is one of the most popular romantic tropes of all time for a very good reason. (Don’t believe me, just look at the most recent season of Bridgerton!) It’s easy to imagine how satisfying life would be if the love of our lives turned out to be someone who not only knew us long before they loved us, but who’s already seen us at our worst and decided to stick around. Though it’s not the only trop in Riss M. Neilson’s Berkley romance debut, A Love Like the Sun, but it is the story’s most powerful throughline. 

A Love Like the Sun follows Laniah and Issac, two best friends who decide to fake date one another in the hopes of using his status as a popular online influencer to boost her failing natural hair-care business. But as their “romance” progresses, both struggle to keep the lines between what’s real life and what’s pretend clear, forcing them to question what they each truly want out of their relationship.

The story of a pair of lifelong friends who spend a fateful summer exploring what their lives might be like if they became something more than besties, A Love Like the Sun is about shared history, our unbreakable bonds those who make us our bravest selves, and love in its all forms.

Here’s how the publisher describes the story. 

Laniah Thompson is a homebody who craves privacy. Issac Jordan is internet famous and spends his days followed by paparazzi. She runs a small business with her mom in her hometown. He runs an international brand.

And they’ve been best friends since childhood.

When Issac comes home to Providence for the first time in months and discovers Laniah’s dream is slipping out of reach as she and her mom struggle to pay the bills at Wildly Green, their natural hair store, she refuses to take a dime from him. And so, he does what any self-respecting best friend would do: tells the world they’re dating.

Suddenly business is booming, and Laniah agrees to his ridiculous plan to pretend to be lovers for the course of the summer. Just long enough to catch the eye of an investor and get her dream back on track, like she helped him do so many years ago, he reminds her.

Too soon, though, Laniah knows she’s playing with fire, because for as long as they’ve been friends there’s an undeniable pull they’ve never given in to. And as the lines between art and life–real and pretend–blur, it becomes harder and harder to see where friendship ends and something else begins….

A Love Like the Sun will officially hit shelves on June 11, but we’ve got a sneak peek at the story for you right now. 

“What if I have an idea that doesn’t involve throwing money at you but could potentially sustain profit?”

“What do you have in mind?” I ask, skeptical yet curious about what wild solution he’s come up with during this conversation when I’ve spent months racking my brain for one.

“I can’t say right now. You’d just have to trust me. Can you do that, Ni?” he asks.

 His eyes are hopeful, certain. But it takes more than trust to believe there’s anything he could do when we’ve already put the closed sign on the door. Still, I can’t help the small seed growing inside of me, a wish that he’s thought of something solid. I blow out a breath.

“Alright. I’ll trust you,” I say. “And I’m hungry again. Would you like to help with that too?”

He shifts away, gives me the side-eye. After a few seconds, he says, “Can’t stand that we know the way to each other’s heart.”

I think he’s finished, but when I start to drive again, he adds,

“I wish I would’ve brought the pen. You’ll need to be brave for my plan.”

I laugh and wonder if, after a few drinks with me tonight, he’ll break down and grieve the shop too. Because whatever he’s dreaming up must be absurd to bring up the pen. 


What I remember

A span of years. The Pen.

An ordinary white ballpoint pen with black ink and JOYJEWELS engraved across the length. Given to my father, Dennis Thompson, and hundreds of other employees by factory owners who showed their appreciation for a solid production year in pens instead of pay raises. But Dennis believed in transferring energy into objects; he did it with his guitar each day, and so he gathered his nerves, every fiber of his imposter syndrome, and channeled it into the pen. It was in his pocket when he pitched himself and landed an assistant manager position.

 The pen was lost and found four times after that, the logo half worn, out of ink from normal use but prized all the same. When my mother needed fibroids the size of tennis balls removed from her uterus, the thought of getting put to sleep for surgery and never waking up terrified her, so my father got down on his knees in front of her tear-stricken face and pulled the pen from his pocket. Issac and I, both thirteen, watched from our waiting room chairs as he told her, “Put all of your fear into this pen.”

She refused at first, though didn’t call him silly, only argued the doctors wouldn’t let her have it in the surgical room. But my father convinced a nurse to let my mother keep the pen up until the moment she was put to sleep. Vanessa Thompson, nervous as she still was, gripped it to her chest as she walked through the double doors and into surgery.

While my mother was grief-stricken three years later, unable to even glance at my father’s things, I took the pen from his drawer. During his wake, while everyone else had beautiful words to say about him, I felt I needed to hold the pen close just to stand next to his casket in silence.

 Nearly four years ago, I drove Issac 185 miles in my beat-up Honda to his first brand-official photo shoot in New York. When we arrived, he said, “Screw the shoot, let’s go eat pizza instead.”

I was confused—we were just dreamy over the possibility of this job changing his life.

But then he asked, “What if this path takes me from you?”

 Which is when I thought of my then boyfriend Noel, who’d recently proposed to me after I caught him cheating with a girl from our college classes, whose reason was that he was never sure how I felt about him and was jealous of the deeper connection I seemed to have with Issac. Noel, who said he’d wait for me to open up to him if I could forgive him for his mistake. But in the car with my best friend that day, I felt the same fear I did the night Noel got down on one knee. I could understand why he needed more attention, needed words that were hard for me to form, but what if that path—forgiveness and marriage to someone who never gave me butterflies but provided companionship—took me from Issac somehow? My throat was thick. I squeezed Issac’s shoulder, promised us both, “Nothing will keep us apart.”

There was no future for me that meant a lesser connection with Issac. I handed him my dad’s pen, which I still kept close, and said, “This is yours until I need it again. Now go in there and be brave.”

I haven’t held the pen since.

Excerpted from A Love Like the Sun by Riss M. Neilson Copyright © 2024 by Riss M. Neilson. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

A Love Like the Sun will be released on June 11, 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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