Twenty-four-year-old photographer’s apprentice Regina has always felt like the plain, dull orange next to the shiny red apple that is her best friend Lana. But then she meets Ben—the first guy to ever break Lana’s heart, and the first guy to ever make Regina feel that he only has eyes for her. As Regina finds herself falling hard for Ben, she also finds herself breaking all the rules of best-friendship. Will she give up the love of her life for Lana, or will she finally realize that she deserves her share of the spotlight, too?
When Sparks Fly can be read as a standalone novel, but it is also a prequel to Ines Bautista-Yao’s other book Only A Kiss.
Hoes before bros. That’s the first official rule of bestfriendship as girls know it. And that’s the first thing that Regina grapples with when she finds herself falling for Ben, the guy her best friend Lana is still hung up on after he dumps her. When she stands still long enough though, Regina realizes that it’s much more than her possible violation of the golden rule of friendship that’s bothering her, and she has to figure things out at risk of losing both Ben and Lana.
I’ve been a fan of Ines Bautista-Yao since Only A Kiss, of how she weaves levity and easy kilig in her stories. When Sparks Fly sees her write with a bit more angst, a bit more grit, though she handles it with the same deft hand.
Read it so you too will fall in love with Ben, with all his charms and his perfectly fitting polo shirts and his non-lines, and his deficiencies too (being a boy, tsk tsk). Read it so you too will root for Regina, and maybe relate as well with the balancing act she tries to pull, and truths and crevices in her friendship with Lana that she tries to negotiate. Read it for Lana, and Paolo too, if only because they’re fabulous.
Happy Release Day When Sparks Fly! Get it on Amazon now if you haven’t yet. Paperback will be available via the author soon.
Check out my reviews of Only A Kiss here and an interview with the author here.
Scroll down for excerpts from When Sparks Fly 🙂
Regina Salvador wasn’t too sure what she was doing at El Tomador on a work night. She had to be up and on location early the next morning, which was going to be in, oh, maybe three hours—the Philippine sun did have a habit of rising before six a.m. But she had promised her best friend Lana Lucero she’d be there to support her. To support her as she drank three boys under the table in a freaking drinking contest. Which just so happened to take place in a dark bar, hidden along one of the shadier streets of Makati, reeking of smoke and blasting grunge. What was this? A throwback to their college days?
Through narrowed eyes, she watched Lana chug down another tumbler of beer, the frothy amber liquid dribbling down the sides of her mouth, running down her neck, and soaking through the neckline of her white tank top, probably staining it forever. Why her friend thought she had to do these things, she would never know. When Lana triumphantly held the tumbler up and turned it face down to the whoops and cheers of the thickening crowd, Regina felt someone jostle her arm, causing her to lose her balance.
“Watch it!” she snapped, feeling the beginnings of a tirade gathering in the middle of her chest, just waiting to be released. She was tired and worried about Lana. She didn’t want to acknowledge it, but she thought she knew why her best friend was there. Regina didn’t even want to admit it to herself because that would mean her best friend had it really bad, but at the back of her mind, there was a nagging voice whining for attention, chanting one name: Ben. Ben. Ben. Ben Marquez who didn’t call her back after turning her world upside down and making her believe that she was the one—the one who was going to change him, the one who was going to make him forget about all the other girls in his life, the one he was finally going to settle down with—at their ripe old age of twenty-four. Right.
Regina had no idea who this Ben Marquez was. She had been out of town on another shoot when it apparently had all taken place. She was training to be a photographer under Paulo Javellana, one of the most sought-after lensmen in Manila. When she had gotten back from a beach shoot in Boracay, a gorgeous island of powdery white sand and clear blue water that was gaining popularity, Lana was already in tears. She had fallen in love, she said. She had finally found him. The one. The guy she was going to give up her wild, carefree days and take up an apron and a spatula for. Regina was sure Lana didn’t even know what a spatula was.
Lana had met him at this very bar, El Tomador, where their college friends hung out every Wednesday night after work. He was someone’s friend from high school and had wanted a change of scene. They’d had a drinking contest and he’d won. Lana was smitten. No one had ever beaten her before. That was all it took. She was his. But a few days later (“Days? How can you know you’ve found forever in a few days?” Regina was incensed. Her irresponsible best friend had always been flighty but this was the worst she’d seen her), he was gone. Not a call, not a text message, not an email. She actually began stalking him, driving by his apartment and dropping by places she thought she’d find him in. This was one of those places. And when Regina heard what she was planning to do, she insisted on coming along. No way was Lana going to make an utter fool of herself without backup, without someone to take her home at the very least.
So here she was, ready to snap someone’s head off just because he had bumped into her. “I’m so sorry. Did I hurt you?” He had puppy dog eyes. Round, dark brown, and piercing. Regina blinked, imagining herself getting lost in those warm pools, the angry words fizzling out on her tongue.
“Uh, no, I…” she stammered, unable to tear her gaze away. Well, he didn’t seem to be looking anywhere else either.
When he broke into a relieved grin, she found herself smiling too, the tirade all but a distant memory. What was wrong with her? She’d seen cute guys before, kissed a few of them too. But this one’s eyes made her feel as if she weren’t in a noisy bar worrying about her best friend drowning her brain cells in alcohol.
“Did you want another drink?” He gestured toward her empty glass. Which had been filled with water earlier.
Regina twisted her lips in a grimace. “No, I can’t. I have to be at the bus terminal at five.”
“Five this morning?” His eyebrows shot up. “That’s like three hours away.”
“Yeah. I like living dangerously.” She felt her lips twitch.
He laughed. And she felt as if she had hit all three cherries on a slot machine. She usually didn’t talk to strange guys in a bar, especially those with eyes that pulled you in like magnets. But then again.
“I think a cup of coffee is your best bet.” He didn’t even wait for her to agree. He wove his way through the heated bodies cheering someone else on and asked the bartender for the unexpected drink.
Regina watched him walk away. He was in a long-sleeved blue shirt and dark pants. He probably worked in an office or something boring like that. She rebelled against what she called the corporate life. She hated dressing in clothes people wore to an office. She had no idea what they consisted of anyway, unless Paulo had to shoot them for a magazine spread. But otherwise, she lived in jeans, oversized t-shirts, and Doc Martens. With the ease in his movements, this guy looked like he lived in office clothes. She could easily picture him in jeans and a tee though. And that made her smile.
“Reg! What are you smiling at? Why weren’t you watching me?” a slightly slurry Lana yelled in her ear.
Regina’s smile dropped from her face and she grabbed her best friend’s upper arms, shaking her slightly. “Are you okay?”
“God, Reg, what’s wrong with you? Of course, I’m okay!” Lana swung herself free from Regina’s grasp. “I won! And you didn’t even see!”
That’s right. She didn’t. She was too busy being charmed by… where was he anyway? She looked behind her, convinced that Lana would understand once she met him. But he seemed to have disappeared. Was she that exhausted that she had imagined him?
“Hi, Lana. Congratulations.”
Regina spun around to see who Lana was shooting daggers at with her wide, flaming eyes. Her heart sank to her stomach when she saw who it was. He was smiling at her best friend, holding coffee in a paper cup.
“Is that for me?” The anger in Lana’s face was receding, as if she was willing to accept a peace offering from him. Any peace offering.
But he didn’t take the hint. Or maybe, wouldn’t.
“No, this is for…” He turned to Regina and smiled again. “I’m sorry, we never introduced ourselves. I’m Ben.”
There was a slight commotion by the entrance of the dark studio as a few guys in what looked like different kinds of Nike shirts walked in. The ubiquitous swoosh (or what Regina called the check mark) gave them away. They headed straight for the throng around the makeup chairs and began chattering with the players. Since she had nothing to do, Regina watched them. They were probably sponsors and wanted to make sure the players wore their clothes and no other brand. She rolled her eyes. How was this even relevant when they were hardly going to be clothed?
“You look like you’re hard at work.”
“You know how it is,” she mumbled, thinking it was one of the magazine editors or advertising executives she had met earlier. Her eyes were still on the guys who had just entered.
That made her look up. Goodness, what was he doing here? Her heart began to hammer in her chest.
“It’s great to see you.” His eyes crinkled up when he smiled. He was in another long-sleeved dress shirt, a light pink one this time, and dark pants. His tie was a no-nonsense striped one, unlike the printed ones she was seeing more and more often on the corporate guys who hired Paulo.
She shook her head, leaning as far away from him as possible as he pulled up a plastic chair. “No, you’re not hanging out here with me,” she protested. “I’m getting ready for the shoot.”
He tilted his head for a few seconds, plopped himself down on the chair, and bent forward—close enough for her to see that his eyes were dark brown with flecks of gold. Or was that just the light coming from the makeup mirrors? Probably. It wasn’t like he was part vampire or something. “Yeah, you look really busy.”
“I am! I have to…” She couldn’t think of a single thing to say. Even the stupid box of Polaroids mocked her by just resting in her hand.
“You have nothing better to do. So why not just kill time with me?” He grinned. Then she saw him swallow and take a deep breath as if psyching himself up for something. “So, did you get my message?”
With a little sigh, Regina decided to ease her grip on the brick wall she’d conjured up around her heart. She didn’t have the energy to fight it anymore. Not after all those nights of cramming senseless cartoons and TV shows into her brain to push thoughts of him away. Not after berating herself for not being able to forget someone she had talked to for what wasn’t even a few minutes. Not with him sitting this close.
Putting the Polaroid box down, she turned her whole body to face him. She studied his expression. He looked confident, which was what she had noticed the first time they’d met. But there was something behind that playful, carefree grin. Was it actually vulnerability? She wanted to find out. Or at least, that was the excuse she gave herself.
“Yes, and I threw it away. Is that how you usually get the girls? By scribbling your number on a coffee cup?”
He closed his eyes and winced. “No it’s …”
She waited, crossing her arms, knowing all she had to do was keep her mouth shut and the truth was bound to come out.
“All right, it’s worked before,” he admitted with a shrug.
“So it’s one of your methods.”
“Look, Regina, I’m really sorry about Lana. But I made it clear from the start that we were just hanging out. She was the one who started talking about forever. Believe me, I quickly corrected her and she seemed to understand.”
Regina narrowed her eyes. She wanted to believe him. She wanted to believe him so badly. He looked so frustrated, open, sincere, and…cute. There it was. Her remaining hold on that brick wall crumbled. “Fine. I believe you. Lana can be a bit, uh, over the top sometimes.”
He broke into a huge smile. “Yes! I didn’t want to say anything, I know she’s your friend—”
“Best friend,” Regina corrected.
“Best friend.” He nodded, contrite. “But I did not lead her on. I didn’t even, well, you know.”
Regina tilted her head. “No, I don’t.”
His cheeks reddened. “Uh, nothing. So aren’t you wondering what I’m doing here?”
“Okay. What are you doing here?” Regina didn’t want to hear the details about him and Lana anyway.
“I actually have to interview a few of the players. I need some inside info for the game tomorrow and I want to be ready. Besides, a shoot like this is always something fun to add when there’s nothing else to talk about.”
Regina frowned. “What game? You stalk players because you need conversation topics when you pick up girls? That’s pathetic, Ben.”
His laugh was warm and loud. “No! I need it when I describe basketball games as they unfold. Makes things more interesting to have tidbits of information if it gets boring. You never know.”
“You describe games.”
“On TV!” He beamed, his chest thrusting out a little.
Regina couldn’t help the grin that broke her guarded countenance. “So you’re a sportscaster, is that what you’ve been trying to tell me? Or did you think I already knew that because you think being on TV makes you a celebrity?”
“No, of course not!” But he looked guilty. It dawned on her that besides his good looks and his charm, being a TV personality—even a mini one—could be a big draw for most girls. But see, she wasn’t like most girls. He’d have to try harder than that. But then again, that meant she wasn’t shutting the door on him. She was letting him try. Against her better judgment. Against all the rules of best friendship. “But I was….hoping you knew. At the very least it’s something I could impress you with.”
His smile was genuine. He was making fun of himself now. And Regina’s heart melted. She didn’t fall for the celebrity. But the celebrity (okay, miniscule celebrity) who had the confidence to mock his status? Well, that was another story.