Start Us Up: A Park Avenue Promise Novel
by Lexi Blake

Published: 2023-05-25T00:0
Paperback : 250 pages
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From New York Times bestselling author Lexi Blake, discover The Park Avenue Promise Series...

Three young women make a pact in high school— to always be friends and to one day make it big in Manhattan.

She’s a high-tech boss who lost it all…

Ivy Jensen was the darling of ...

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From New York Times bestselling author Lexi Blake, discover The Park Avenue Promise Series...

Three young women make a pact in high school— to always be friends and to one day make it big in Manhattan.

She’s a high-tech boss who lost it all…

Ivy Jensen was the darling of the tech world, right up until her company fell apart completely after she trusted the wrong person. Her reputation in tatters, she finds herself back in the tiny apartment she grew up in, living with her mom. When a group of angel investors offer her a meeting, she knows she has to come up with the new big idea or her career is over.

He’s an up and coming coder…

Heath Marino has always been fascinated with writing code. He’s worked on a dozen games and apps and is considered one of the industry’s more eccentric talents. But now he’s back in New York to spend time with his grandmother. She was known as one of the city’s greatest matchmakers, and he wants to know why. Surely there’s some kind of code in his grandmother’s methods, and he’s going to find them.

When Ivy meets Heath it’s instant attraction, but she’s got a career to get back to and he just might be her on-ramp. It could be a perfect partnership or absolute heartbreak.

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The horrifying news that my ex is attending CeCe’s party is still weighing heavily on my brain pan as I stride down the hall that I’ve been assured will lead me to Heath Marino’s apartment. The building is a bit worn down, but compared to the one I live in it’s a palace.

I’d been planning on wearing my very best dress to that party, and now I’m unsure. It’s Chanel, and I bought it for the interview with Code: The Magazine that featured me as one of the thirty best minds under thirty. It’s black and chic, and Nick has seen it about five hundred times. He calls it my armor.

If he sees me in that, it will let him know I’m feeling vulnerable, and I can’t have that. I’m walking into a den of very well-dressed predators, and I’m going to be all alone. Even if Nick doesn’t show up with a date, he’ll be surrounded by the men I like to call the Bro Coders.

It’s like the everyday, normal dumbass bro, complete with sports references and an actual “code” they claim to live by, but there’s also physical coding, and let me tell you they think they are the smartest people in any room. These are the guys who fail up. I mean it. Nick devastated Jensen Medical Solutions to the point that we had to sell to simply pay off our creditors, but he’s already been hired as CFO of an even bigger company.

While I scrape together quarters to pay for those tacos.

I’m pissed that I can’t enjoy the day with my two best friends and the feeling of having a delightfully full belly, but no. Now I’m nauseous and wondering if I’m going to have a food baby tonight.

Maybe I should hire an escort. Like a really hot guy who smiles a lot and looks like he likes me. I could consider him an accessory.

I am contemplating how one goes about employing an escort when I find the apartment marked 9B and knock.

To top it all off, Heath Marino wants to meet in the middle of the afternoon, and I couldn’t think of a good excuse to push this to next week, so here I am. I’m off my game because I am the queen of good excuses. I can put a guy off for years. Usually until he goes away. I call it ghosting via procrastination.

The door opens and a thin black man with glasses stands there, frowning. “Wow. That is the angriest face I’ve seen in a while. There is no manager here, lady.”

Totally off my game because I usually don’t scare people away until I actually want to. “Sorry. Shitty day. I’m looking for Heath.”

Now the guy’s eyes widen. He’s wearing a Cornell T-shirt and sweatpants. “Holy shit. You’re her. I didn’t… You’re not dressed the way you normally are.”

So he’s a techie. When Heath hadn’t given any indication he knew who I was, I thought I’d maybe caught a break. “This is actually more normal than the power suits and stuff. I only dress up when I have to.”

It’s much more comfortable to write code in my pajamas, hair piled high on my head and fuzzy slippers on my feet. I would have worn that every day at the office except I’d been taught I have to look like the boss. Always.

I don’t right now. I look like every other woman walking the streets of New York wondering where it all went wrong. Jeans. T-shirt. Sneakers. I hope I didn’t get egg yolk on any of those three items, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I hadn’t gone home to change so I could help Heath Marino with whatever his damn app needed.

I’m pretty sure the dude in front of me must be his roommate. He’s pretty cute in a nerdy way. I peg his age as mid to late twenties and would bet he’s not currently a student at Cornell. It’s probably his alma mater.

He opens the door wider, and I’m treated to the sight of a short hallway that leads into the living room, which is covered in computers and monitors.

“I’m Darnell. Darnell Green. Heath and I have been roommates since we met in college. Please come in,” Darnell offers and turns his head toward the back of the apartment. “Heath, she’s here.”

I step inside, and it’s obvious these two do not entertain. The living room is fairly big for a city apartment, but instead of seating, it’s got four desks, each with a computer setup and several monitors.

“I take it you work from home.” I slide my bag off my shoulder, but I’m not sure where to put it since there’s no furniture that doesn’t belong in an office. Oh, except the rocker game chair I spy pushed to the side.

Darnell nods, gesturing around the setup. “Yeah, we got sent home during the pandemic and haven’t gone back to the office. So we work from here. It’s so much nicer. I don’t have to see people.”

“I hear ya. People suck.” That is one thing I do not miss. For the misanthrope, the pandemic was a time of great potential. The potential to hide from other people.

“They do. And I have everything I need here to be productive without some boss who doesn’t remember shit about code breathing down my neck,” Darnell continues. “I’m a full-stack developer for Dryson Inc. I’m on a team that handles all their web business.”

So he knew all the languages. When I say that I don’t mean he can ask for a beer in Spanish. In our world the languages are numerous and ever changing. Python, JavaScript, Go, Rust. Most people know what I mean when I say HTML, but the language of code is wide and varied. The man in front of me would have to know a whole lot of them because he would handle both front and back-end web development, including user interface.

He was probably developing an app on the side.

“I’ll be right out,” a masculine-sounding voice says.

“So what does Heath do?” I ask, curious.

“He’s freelancing right now,” Darnell says in a way that lets me know Heath is currently unemployed.

Awesome. Which should mean he could be out here with me and not taking up precious time I could use to figure out what I can do to change up a black sheath dress enough that my ex won’t know it’s my emotional support dress.

Maybe a scarf.

Anika knows how to sew. Maybe she could MacGyver a dress for me. I would borrow from her, but she is significantly smaller than me. Petite and sweet. That’s our Ani. I’m more on the tall and not breakable side of the scale. I have a half foot on Harper, too, or I would try to raid her closet.

“Yeah, Nonna,” I hear the man in the back say. “I gotta go. My friend is here. Yes, the one who’s going to help me with my project.” He rounds the corner, a cell phone to his ear, and I get my first look at Heath Marino.

There was a reason Anika said he was cute. Heath Marino looks like he walked off the set of a Taylor Swift video, and not in a bad way. This is the dude who did not take Tay’s scarf and leave it in his sister’s drawer as a reminder of his conquest. No. This is the one she wrote the happy songs about. He’s the guy next door on the teen dramedy who’s secretly way hotter than he seems, but it takes the heroine a couple of seasons to really get him.

Dark hair that’s slightly shaggy, so it’s got some curl to it. Superman-like jaw, but there’s a softness to his face that’s almost pretty. Soulful brown eyes, and I would bet that boy actually works out because his Marvel T-shirt fits really well, and I do not see evidence of a steady diet of Hot Pockets.

And he’s taller than me. It can be hard to find a man who’s taller than me. I could wear heels with this guy and not feel like a walking tree trunk from the Shire.

My mouth goes a little dry, and I have to remind myself.

I am Elsa.

I need to remember that Queen Taylor writes a whole lot of happy songs before she has to shred a man because he turns into a walking pile of garbage.

I’m sure I had these feelings about Nick before he ruined my life. Pretty sure. Sort of.

I realize Darnell is watching me, and his eyes are wide again. Like he knows what’s going on in my head. He can’t because I have a great poker face. But then he smiles and his head nods like he’s saying you go, girl.

So. Off. My. Game. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

From the author:

1. Start Us Up deals with what it means to be a woman in a business dominated by men. Ivy has many coping mechanisms to deal with this. Do you think they help or hurt her? How do those coping mechanisms affect her core relationships?

2. Grief and how we deal with losing someone plays a major part in the novel. All three of Ivy’s maternal figures are widows, and each deal with it in their own way. How do you think Diane, CeCe, and Lydia handle grief, and how has it affected their ties to family?

3. Mental health is a subject touched on in Start Us Up. Ivy doesn’t realize her mother has an issue with depression until CeCe talks to her about it. Their relationship has been strained for years. How did Diane’s depression play a part in Ivy’s arc? Do you think Ivy should have recognized her mother’s problems earlier? At one point in the story, the dynamic shifts between them and Ivy takes on the maternal role for her mom in some ways. Can you think of a time when that shift happened for you and your parents?

4. Artificial intelligence is a highly controversial topic these days. The AI Heath and Ivy are developing is a matchmaking app. How would you feel about using an app to find a partner? How do you think AI will change our world in the coming years?

5. Diane and CeCe have several confrontations over the course of the novel. How do you think they handle their respective relationships with Ivy? What forces make it nearly impossible for them to work together until the end of the book?

6. Ivy and Heath are immediately attracted to one another, but physical chemistry is only one part of their relationship. Why do you think they work? How is Heath uniquely capable of understanding Ivy? How does Ivy support Heath in the ways he needs? Do you think this partnership can work in both their personal lives and with their business?

7. At the heart of the Park Avenue Promise series is a longtime friendship between three women who met when they were children. Ivy, Harper, and Anika are a found family. Over the course of the book Ivy examines the relationship and whether friendship can survive the changes that come with growing up. How do you think moving and building a business affected Ivy’s relationship with her “sisters”? Have you had a long-term friendship that changed over the years? How did you try to make it work?

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