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They were best friends. Then he got famous. 'A Love Like the Sun' shows what happens next

Riss M. Neilson's novel follows two childhood friends who reconnect after life brought them to radically different places.
A love like the sun
Penguin Random House

Laniah Thompson knew Issac Jordan before he was famous. Once best friends, main characters in Riss M. Neilson's adult debut "A Love Like the Sun" now live drastically different lives.

Though the affection remains, their lives have diverged: Laniah is a struggling small business owner and Issac has paparazzi trailing him. Then Issac volunteers to help Laniah, and she spends the next three months wondering about what their connection really is made of.

Speaking to TODAY.com, Neilson says Laniah's business was inspired by her own Etsy shop, where she sold natural products made in her kitchen.

This marks Neilson's first adult romance, and she said it was a rewarding change of pace.

"It’s really fun to write about teens falling in love, there’s something special about first kisses and crushes and the inexperience of it all, but with writing adult romance, for me, there’s something powerful in getting someone to their happily ever after once they’ve had more life experience and can say with certainty, 'This person is for me, I know it,'" she says.

The trope of a celebrity with a non-famous person gave her a chance to put her characters in challenging new positions.

A love like the sun
Riss M. Neilson

"With Laniah, Issac gets to remember what it was like when life was a simpler and he could truly sit in moments and feel all of the things, and with Issac, Laniah is pulled out of her comfort zone and is pushed to feel a little bit more secure about herself and the decisions she makes after she’s thrown into the spotlight. There’s something appealing to me about having lovers cross a bridge, so to speak, and meet each other somewhere in the middle, which is exactly what the famous-not famous trope does in this book," she says. 

"I think some of the questions that came up for me while writing it were wondering about all the ways that childhood can inform the way we love as adults. It’s a big question for Laniah and Issac in the book and I hope people ask questions like it. There are other big ones too: What are some of the things you’re willing to compromise in a relationship? What are the things you feel you shouldn’t have to sacrifice? What should love look like in both sickness and in health? How might it change?"

Read on for an excerpt of the book — specifically, the scene where Issac proposes he help Laniah out.  

Read an excerpt of 'A Love Like the Sun'

When we get in the car, Issac apologizes for being too busy to talk to Katrina. “Seems like the more magazine covers I get booked for, the more bodyguards Bernie wants to hire,” he explains. “And he thinks I want him in my face twenty-four/seven. Happily forgoing freedom.”

“I like that he’s protective. Wouldn’t want an obsessed fan to decide it’s time to wear your skin,” I joke, though the ridiculous thought hasn’t been far from my mind. Issac’s been desired since we went through puberty, when his voice deepened and he grew to be a damn near giant, but how does one prepare for their best friend to reach this level of desirability? “Maybe we could set Bernie up on the couch?”

Issac scrunches his nose before I start to drive. “Trying to imagine Bernie on the couch is like trying to imagine you making content for YouTube.”

“So never a couch for Bernie. Got it.” I only know Bernie from stories I’m told and quick hellos over FaceTime. He’s been Issac’s manager for a year, but he already seems like a better fit compared to Issac’s old manager, who hardly picked up his calls. Bernie even helps with financial advising, since Issac went from having very little money to having too much of it.

When I turn left, Issac taps the dashboard. “We were so close to the shop. Why are we passing by? It’s been a while since I’ve been inside, and I’d love to see Vanessa and Lex.”

The guilt wrenches my gut. It sits in my esophagus. It suffocates the air in my small car. I can’t keep it from him any longer. “They’re not there because there is no shop,” I admit.

“Wait, what?”

Seconds pass, and when I don’t answer, he makes a motion with his hand for me to pull the car over.

Once we’re parked, he tilts his head at me, demanding attention with his eyes. “What do you mean?”

I grip the steering wheel, say, “Well, it still exists, but not for much longer.”

Issac’s face falls. The pit in my stomach grows. He smooths down the hair on his chin before he speaks. “All the boxes . . .”

“We’re trying to clear stuff out. Going to give the key back to the owner soon.”

“But why?”

“You know why,” I whisper.

“I want you to say it out loud,” he says, voice soft as it is firm.

"I sigh because I know he won’t let it go. “First-year blues and then ...

“And then?” he asks. “And then second-year profit. That’s what you told me.”

“And now it’s the third, Issac, and the profit has poofed. We’re

in serious debt. Had to lay off our help months ago. Lex is basically helping us for free now.”

Lex Chen was the designated product delivery driver when Wildly Green was a kitchen business. More important, he’s my only other close friend in the world, and lately it feels like I’ve been taking advantage of that friendship by keeping him from earning money elsewhere.

Is this why you’ve been working all those extra shifts at the hotel?”

One side of my mouth lifts. “You didn’t think I was cleaning rooms for fun, did you?”

The look on his face takes my smile clean off. “And Vanessa?” he asks quietly.

I feel the embarrassment coil in my chest, getting tighter and tighter with each breath. I glance out the window, then back at him. “She just got hired back at the hotel too.”

He takes his bottom lip in his mouth, then rubs his face. “So, you’ve been having money issues and didn’t think to tell me? You’ve been lying to me?”

I think of how many times I’ve practiced this answer and say, “You would’ve tried to fix it and—”

“I’m going to help,” he cuts in. “Then you’re going to fix it.

How much do you need?”

“That’s exactly why we didn’t want to tell you yet. A loan from you isn’t the solution.”

“Who said it was a loan? Watch your words.” “And you watch your tone.”

His eyes are on fire, but I can match him. We stare at each other until his flame dulls, and when he frowns, my own fire goes out too. “If money can’t help, then what will?”

“It’s complicated,” I tell him. “There are so many natural- product businesses out there right now. I’ve had meetings with investors. We even considered signing with a big company, but on top of the fact that we’d lose power over our product line, we aren’t the commercial pretty picture they want us to be. Lex is running our social media accounts and our website, but they haven’t brought in much action. I tried to find solutions for sustainable profit, but it just ... I couldn’t. And we’ve accepted it. We knew it could come to this.”

“But the business ... you love it with all your heart.”

At the sound of tears in his voice, my eyes begin to burn. “I do,” I say, trying for another smile, “and we will still have it. Right in the kitchen, like we’ve done before.”

“But remember when I posted that thing about my hair growth months ago and landed you some sales?” he says. “Maybe I can do more of that and ....”

I bite back a laugh because he’s serious, and it’s cute and maddening too. “You actively promoting our products might bring in sales, but I doubt that kind of promotion alone can sustain us long- term. And Mom ... she’s not loving it the way she used to. I can’t be selfish. I shouldn’t have pushed for a store in the first place.”

Issac doesn’t reply, and I can feel his disappointment cloud the car.

“We will be fine,” I insist, then lean toward him and sing “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5.

He groans, but I can see the corners of his mouth tugging up. I sing and sing, my horrible vocals eventually drawing out his smile.

“You’re sickening,” he says, but takes both of my hands in his. For how little he’s touched me since he’s been here, the action surprises me. “I’ll never forget slaving at Burger King after high school, trying to figure out how to get my art — me — seen. You didn’t understand why back then, but you researched hashtags, came up with PowerPoints of ideas you’d found on Google; you encouraged me at each step.”

The memory makes me smile. Issac laughed at my color- coordinated flash cards back then. I didn’t know how much they meant to him.

"I can’t make any promises that I’ll accept you and Vanessa being miserable at the hotel,” he says.

“You have to,” I tell him. “I’ll need your help carrying the boxes while you’re here.”

“But what if ...” He lets go of my hands. And then: “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.

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.