The book opens with Nora Katharine Stephens, a cutthroat and successful literary agent, being dumped by her boyfriend, Grant, over the phone. Nora is emotionally distant and practical. Grant has decided to leave his life behind to live a simpler life with the daughter of a couple who own a boutique hotel.
After the call, Nora meets with Charlie Lastra, a handsome hotshot who has just been promoted to executive editor of Wharton House Books. The meeting goes poorly after he coldly criticizes one of her authors, Dusty Fielding, and rejects her novel Once in a Lifetime. He also lambasts the setting of the book in Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, as being “completely unrealistic”.
Chapters 1 – 2
Two years later, Dusty Fielding’s novel, Once in a Lifetime, is the hottest book of the year and Dusty has a new one in the works.
Meanwhile, Nora has recently been dumped yet again by another man who has decided to change his life and live a more simple life. She commiserates with Elizabeth “Libby” Baby Stephens, her younger sister and best friend who is five-months-pregnant with her third child. Libby is married to Brendan, who she met she was 20. Libby and Brendan are constantly financially strained, but refuse help from Nora.
Libby asks Nora to take a trip with her. Libby says she desperately needs a break, she’s worried she won’t have any time once the baby comes, and she wants to take some time for just the two of them. Nora has always been protective over her sister and agrees to the trip, even though she’s reluctant to take time off work. Libby is a diehard Dusty Fielding fan and wants to go to Sunshine Falls.
A short while later, on the plane to North Carolina, Libby excitedly talks about the checklist of things she wants to do on the trip, including one item requiring Nora to go on some dates with some locals. The plan is for them to be there for a month — three week with just the two of them and one week with Libby’s family. After they land, they go straight to the small cottage, Goode’s Lily Cottage, where they’ll be staying.
Chapters 3 – 4
In present day, after they get settled in, Nora goes to visit the general store. It’s grimy and unkempt, unlike its description in Dusty Fielding’s books. Next, she visits the local coffee shop where a handsome stranger opens the door for her. Inside, she’s shocked when she sees Charlie Lastra (who became the editor-at-large at Loggia six months ago) there, though she ducks away before he can see her. They haven’t been in touch since their disastrous meeting. Today, she shoots him a quick message about a book and they message back and forth. That night they continue e-mailing each other, and their exchanges become increasingly teasing and flirty. They joke about a book involving bigfoot erotica. Charlie also tells Nora that others in publishing have nicknamed her the “Shark” because of her no-nonsense attitude, and Nora responds that they call him “Storm Cloud”.
Hanging out with her sister, Libby wants to do makeovers. Nora is reluctant, but knows how important these activities are for bonding with her sister. As they dye each others’ hair, Nora reminisces about their childhood. They were raised in New York by a single mother who worked as a waitress and was an aspiring actress. Money had been tight and her mother had been constantly heartbroken over men — which was why Nora became so professionally driven and emotionally cold. Their mother is now deceased. She and their father had been high school sweethearts, but he left their mother when they were young.
Chapters 5 – 6
After the makeovers, the siblings pop into a bar and restaurant called Poppa Squat. As they eat, Nora gets a notification that Dusty has submitted the first chapter of her new book, Frigid. When Nora opens up the draft, she’s shocked to see that Dusty’s main character is nicknamed the “Shark”, is a (film) agent and the description resembles herself (Nora) with some small tweaks. Nora is upset reading the somewhat unflattering description of how cutthroat the character, Nadine Winters, is.
Nora is still reeling from her realization when she barrels into Charlie Lastra. Nora explains that she’s here on vacation with her sister, and Charlie explains that Sunshine Falls is his hometown. Libby excuses herself and leaves Nora and Charlie alone. The pretty barkeeper there, Amaya, is very friendly towards Charlie, and Charlie tells Nora that he almost married Amaya. Nora also shows Charlie the unflattering first chapter of Dusty’s new book, and he reassures her a little.
Chapters 7 – 8
Afterwards, they play pool and as they talk the romantic tension builds. As it gets late, he offers to walk her back to where she’s staying, which turns out to be his parents’ rental property. When they get to the cottage, things get physical, however, they stop before things can go any further. They both agree that getting involved with a colleague is a bad idea and agree to pretend nothing had happened.
Chapters 9 – 11
Later, Nora thinks about her ex, Jakob. Growing up seeing her mother heartbroken all the time, Nora had been determined not to fall in love, but eventually fell for Jakob. Four years into their relationship, Nora had moved in with him, but her mother had passed away two weeks later. In order to help support and care for Libby, Nora had moved back home with Libby and took on other jobs to help pay the bills. When Jakob got into a writing residency program in Wyoming, he and Nora broke up and he left — leaving Nora shattered.
Back in town, Nora goes looking for Wi-Fi and gets directed to the local bookstore, where she’s surprised to see Charlie manning the store. He explains that the bookstore belongs to his parents, and he’s working there to help them out (while also still working at Loggia remotely). As they chat, Charlie tells Nora that news that Dusty’s editor had her baby early, which means Dusty no longer has an editor. Instead, Charlie says that he’s interested in editing the book.
Nora agrees on the condition that Charlie’s edits go through her first, since she’s concerned that he’ll be overly harsh. He agrees, and Nora soon gets Dusty on board with the plan as well. Shortly after, Nora comes across Charlie’s mother Sally who seems keen to set Nora and Charlie up.
Chapters 12 – 14
Meanwhile, Libby has found Nora a local date with a guy named Blake Carlisle, 36, by putting up a profile of Nora on a marriage-minded dating app called Marriage of Minds (“MOM”). Libby has arranged for them to go to a karaoke night and Nora reluctantly attends. The date goes poorly, and Charlie shows up at the karaoke night event as well. Charlie and Blake know each other since it’s a small town. Charlie helps Nora to sneak away from the date.
Instead, the two of them have dinner, and Charlie tells Nora that Blake used to bully him in high school. He also tells her about how he’s helping his parents out while his father, a contractor, does some physical therapy and that he has a younger sister named Carina who is 22. She is living in Italy temporarily and is a painter. Meanwhile, Nora tells Charlie about her mom and sister as well. She also tells him that she originally wanted to be a book editor, but became an agent instead.
As they talk Nora tells Charlie about the list of things that Libby wanted them to do during their time in Sunshine Falls. Charlie makes her a bet that she can’t do them all. Nora takes the bet and they agree that if she wins, then Charlie will let Libby sublet his rent-stabilized apartment (he’s looking for a subletter and Nora knows that Libby and her family need a bigger place).
Chapters 15 – 16
Charlie walks Nora home again, but they stop to cross item #6 (Skinny Dipping) off her list. Again, things get physical, but Nora stops it from going further, saying that she can’t afford a distraction at the moment. The next morning, Nora wakes up hungover and goes for a jog and throws up. She runs into the blond stranger she met the first day there who introduces himself as Shepherd, whose family owns the nearby stables.
Later that day, Libby suggests their next activity from their list — to help “save a local business”. Libby has talked to the bookstore owner Sally (who is also Charlie’s mother) and is determined to “spruce up” the bookstore, Goode Books. Libby and Nora tell Charlie about their plan. Meanwhile, Nora notices that Libby seems to be avoiding calling her husband Brendan and Nora wonders if there’s something seriously wrong in their relationship.
That night, Libby drags Nora to a town meeting. There, Nora and Charlie discuss some edits to Dusty’s book and Nora tries to force herself not to think about him in a romantic way.
Chapters 17 – 18
Nora soon hears back from Dusty about the proposed edits, and she seems excited about them. At the bookstore, Nora comes across both Charlie and Shepard at the same time, and she notices some tension between them. Shepard then offer to show her around town. As she and Shepard walk around, Shepard explains that he’s in construction, does some carpentry, that he was the high school quarterback and that he went to Cornell. He’s about to kiss Nora when they’re interrupted by her phone chiming. It jerks her out of the moment, and Nora excuses herself.
The next day at the bookstore, Charlie comments on her spending time with Shepard as they work on the next set of edits for Dusty. Amaya soon comes in and makes clear that she and Charlie have plans for Friday, and Nora feels awful. She thinks about how he implied that Amaya had dumped him and not the other way around, and she wonders if he still wants to get back together with Amaya. When he’s not around, Nora finds that she misses him and she feels jealous of his plans with Amaya.
Chapters 19 – 21
That night, Libby takes Nora to see a community theater adaptation of Dusty’s Once in a Lifetime. It’s predictably bad, and they have a great time watching it. They see Sally there who introduce them to Clint, her husband. Sally invites them over to their house for an after-show party.
At the Lastra-Goode home (Charlie’s childhood home), there are paintings on the wall which Sally reveals were her handiwork since she once wanted to be a painter in New York, briefly dated a museum curator, and eventually moved here and met Clint. Shepard is at the party too and he reveals that he and Charlie are cousins. Nora pieces together that Shepard must work with Charlie’s father Clint since they’re both in construction.
Charlie is at the party too and he tells Nora about how Clint is actually his adoptive father. Cline had been engaged to someone else when Clint and Sally met, and Sally had been pregnant. Charlie’s biological father is the museum curator she’d been dating, though Charlie considers Clint his real father. Charlie explains that because of his parentage and his messy family history, the other kids at school had treated him poorly. Nora starts to understand why Charlie can be cold and distant.
Meanwhile, Nora continues to worry about Libby. She wonders what’s really behind Libby’s motivation for this trip and why Brendan seems so concerned about her. Nora also notices how Libby seems to randomly disappear all the time and Nora wonders what’s going on with Libby that she’s not telling her.
Chapters 22 – 23
When Nora meets up again with Charlie at the library for another round of editing, she tells him about how she once almost switched to becoming an editor instead of an agent. However, she decided not to pursue it because Libby was needing financial support at the time, and switching job roles would have required Nora to take an entry level job which meant a pay cut.
Nora also asks Charlie about his get-together with Amaya, though he insists they’re not planning on restarting things. In the library, things get physical again between them but they stop since they’re in a public place.
Afterwards, Nora accidentally calls a number that Sally says Libby had asked for and it turns out to be for a law firm that practices family law — Nora is concerned, wondering if it means that Libby is considering a divorce. Nora goes to talk to Libby about it, but Libby is busy planning a ball (since there was a ball featured in Once in the Lifetime) as a fundraiser for the bookstore (as part of their plan to save the bookstore).
As part of Libby’s plan, Nora asks Dusty to sign some books for the fundraiser and participate in an hour-long book club chat and Dusty readily agrees. Next, Nora invites Charlie to go with her on the Target run to pick up some camping supplies to surprise Libby, since “camping” is one of the items on her vacation wishlist. Charlie then helps Nora to go set up the camping spot and tent for the surprise. As they work, Charlie talks about how he feels like he’s not doing enough to help his parents, since Shepard is helping his father run the construction business. Charlie and Nora also talk about how neither of them want kids
When Nora asks about his relationship with Amaya, Charlie tells her that they met in high school and stayed together through college where he followed her to New York. However, he ended up staying in New York and Amaya wanted to move back home. They tried doing long-distance for a year, but it was miserable and they broke up. Afterwards, Amaya ended up dating Shepard right after they broke up, and Charlie’s family tried to hide it from him, though he eventually found out.
Chapters 25 – 26
When they’re ready, Nora tells Libby about the surprise, and Libby is delighted. As their camping adventure ensues, work continues on Dusty’s book, and it’s turning out wonderfully. Later that week, Nora gets a call from Loggia books saying that Charlie had recommended that they interview her for an opening for an editor position. Nora is excited at the thought of pursuing it, but she remembers that Libby might be getting divorced soon and may need help financially.
When Libby gives Nora a hard time for taking a work call while they’re hanging out, Nora finally loses her temper at Libby and tells her about how she once gave up pursuing becoming an editor to help support Libby financially. As they argue, Libby suddenly faints.
Chapters 27 – 28
At the hospital, Charlie comforts Nora. When Libby awakens, the doctor informs them both that Libby is okay. She’s anemic, though that’s not uncommon during pregnancies. He also mentions that Libby’s had this happen before during a previous pregnancy, and Nora is upset that Libby never told her about it. Afterwards, they talk and Libby says that as much as she appreciates Nora, she doesn’t want Nora to feel like she has replace their mother.
Afterwards, Charlie and Nora meet up again to edit Dusty’s book. While they’re there, Nora tells him that she’s interested in hating him, but he tells her that the reason why he’s been saying that things couldn’t work between them is that he’s planning on staying in Sunshine Falls to help his parents.
Chapters 29 – 32
That night they sleep together anyway. Afterwards, Nora tells Charlie about the day they found out her mom had died. Nora feels guilty that she had been with Jakob at the time and hadn’t realized for hours that Libby had been trying to contact her to no avail. She feels terrible for not being there for Libby during that time.
The next day, Brendan and the kids (Bea and Tala) arrive for the last week of their stay in Sunshine Falls. Seeing Brendan and Libby together, Nora realizes immediately that she was wrong about them bring on the brink of a divorce since it’s clear they’re happy together. The next day, Libby takes Nora to a house in town, and she explains that she and Brendan have bought the house and that they’re planning on moving there. Brendan had found a job in Asheville (city nearby), and the “tension” between Brendan and Libby was actually just Brendan inquiring whether she’d given Nora the news yet. Nora is upset at the idea of Libby leaving New York and going off on her own, and Charlie comforts her.
Chapters 33 – 35
Once Nora has digested the news, Libby tells her that she planned this trip in the hopes that she could convince Nora to move here with them. However, Nora tells Libby about the editing job that she wants to take in New York, and Libby encourages her to pursue that goal.
Soon, Charlie suggests that they try a long distance relationship even though they’ve both had terrible experiences with long-distance relationships. He asks her to think about it. Nora takes some time to consider it, but Nora decides that she cares too much about him to put them through that. Soon, it’s time for Nora to leave.
Chapters 36 – 37
Back in New York, Nora does her interview for Loggia and prioritizes spending time with her sister. In November, it’s time for Libby to move, and they have a tearful goodbye.
In December, Nora is now working at Loggia. She goes to visit a local bookstore and reaches for a book as someone else reaches for it as well. She’s shocked to see Charlie there. He tells her that his father is out of physical therapy and that Libby has offered to take over running his parents’ bookstore — which means that he’s free to move back to New York so they can be together.
Epilogue (Six Months Later)
Six months later, Charlie is now living New York and has been re-hired at Wharton House Books. Today, Nora and Charlie are visiting Sunshine Falls at a book party at Good Books with their friends and family around them. Nora knows that Charlie is about to propose to her, since they’ve already discussed it. The book closes with Dusty doing a reading from her newest book.
She thinks back worriedly to the how broken Libby had been in the weeks after their mom had passed away, and it breaks Nora’s heart to think of Libby being sad or upset. Nora then thinks back to how Nora had helped pushed Libby through college, but Libby had dropped out after meeting Brendan.