Tonight You’re Mine sneak peek!

TonightYoureMine-iBooks

My next steamy romantic comedy is currently available to pre-order on Amazon, and it will be live in Kindle Unlimited on May 1st! Find it HERE !

 

*BLURB*

 

CHASE

The first time I saw Aimee Gilpin walk into a bar, it was love at first sight. She looks nothing like the women I usually go for, and everything like the woman I’d want to come home to every night. Then my best friend showed up and I had to let him pursue her. It was the right thing to do as a friend and business partner, but the wrong thing to do for my heart.

The second time I see Aimee walk into a bar, she has finally convinced my friend that she isn’t interested, and I was planning on drinking myself into oblivion to avoid calling her. She probably thinks I hate her. I tried to.

Tomorrow I’ll deal with my best friend and the company we built with his money and my brains.

Tonight, she’s mine.

 

AIMEE

The first time I saw Chase McKay at a bar, I thought I’d met the man of my dreams—I just didn’t recall the man of my dreams looking like the lead singer of a grunge band. Then as soon his friend showed up, Chase bolted like I was his worst nightmare.

The second time I see him in a bar, I can tell by the look in his eyes that we both regret his choice that first night. He has no idea that I just started working for the company that their company is about to start working with.

I don’t want to make things any more complicated than they already are, but I do want him like nobody’s business.

Tomorrow we’ll deal with the fact that Chase, his best friend and I will be working together.

Tonight, he’s mine.

 

Teaser 3

If you would like to read the first TWO CHAPTERS of Tonight You’re Mine, keep scrolling down! I can’t wait for you to meet Chase and Aimee!!!

Text Copyright © 2019 Kayley Loring

 

THAT NIGHT

 

 

CHAPTER ONE – Chase

 

 

 

There’s something inherently optimistic about walking into a bar on a Friday night. It could be the beginning of a bad joke or the beginning of the rest of your life, but it’s always the start of something. No matter how many bad choices you’ve made in a bar in the past, the future always holds the possibility of better music, just the right number of drinks, and finding the one person who just might matter more to you than anyone else.

It’s the middle of spring and Brooklyn looks so fucking beautiful but I’ve been declining every invitation so I can stay late at the office to work. I’ve had zero fun and given zero fucks about anything other than keeping our startup in the black. Keaton practically begged me to meet him for a drink. He had dinner with his parents tonight and he always needs a drink after seeing his parents. He’s late for meeting me, as always, but I’m glad I’m here. It’s been a while.

Bitters is my favorite bar, mainly because they stock my favorite Irish whiskey. It’s pretty busy, even for nine on a Friday night. They’ve got strings of warm white lights hanging from the ceiling, and I don’t know what it is about them that makes me want to be in love, but I’ve suddenly got that yearning. A quick scan of the crowd presents a few promising options, but no one who grabs my attention.

“McKay! Where ya been, man?” Denny the bartender holds his hands up in the air and greets me like a long-lost friend. We are old friends, actually, I’ve known him since we were kids.

“The office, mostly.” We half-ass a bro-hug over the counter.

“Mr. Bigshot CEO over here.”

“Not as glamorous as it sounds, believe me. How’s your dad doin’?”

“He’s all better. It was just the flu, he got over it. The usual?”

“Give it to me.”

I take a seat at the bar. I had spent so many hours at this counter, dreaming up my business. With my whiskey, my notebook, and sometimes Keaton. Now that the company’s a reality, and the owner of this bar is a client, all I can think about when I sit here is that I should be back at the office. As soon as Denny slides that tumbler of Redbreast in front of me, though, I’m game. I reach for my wallet, but he insists it’s on the house. One of the perks of providing a service for local businesses—everything’s free.

That first sip is always the best, and I revel in it, eyes closed, before turning to face the door.

I’m still feeling the glorious burn down my throat and into my chest when that door opens, and the warmth in my chest spreads everywhere. Warmth and satisfaction and a gentle ache for more. But it’s not the whiskey that’s making me feel this way, it’s a face. It’s the face that I can’t look away from. Open and friendly and inquisitive and surrounded by the most luxurious dark hair that makes me want to reach all the way across the room to run my fingers through it. We’re both tall enough that I can see her over the shoulders of the people standing in between us. Her eyes stay locked on mine as soon as she sees me too. She isn’t smiling and she isn’t frowning, but she’s really looking at me.

She’s nothing like the women I usually go for, and everything like the woman I could see myself coming home to every night.

She starts walking right towards me, determined but a little hesitant, like she’s heading for a train that she needs to catch but she isn’t quite sure if it’s the right one. She’s no ingénue, but there’s something so pure and graceful about her expression and the way she moves. It’s captivating.

It isn’t until she stops in front of me that I realize the full extent of her … everything.

The pencil skirt, the knee-high boots, the tight sweater under the trench coat that doesn’t hide her curves. The subtle swirl of fragrance—like walking past a florist shop where someone’s burning incense and drinking a Hot Toddy.

Who is this woman?

I want her.

I want everything with this woman.

Her eyes are hypnotic. With the same combination of white and the warmest shade of blue, they remind me of my mom’s collection of Italian pottery. Like those ceramics that I grew up with, she is beautiful in the way that everyday things are beautiful. While she doesn’t look at all dainty or fragile, I find myself wanting to be extra careful with her. This is special. Somehow, already, this says “home” to me.

All she says is: “Hi there.” It’s the voice and directness of a woman who’s been to business school. I recognize it instantly.

“Hi.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Chase McKay.” I hold out my hand to her. “Who are you?”

“Aimee Gilpin. Nice to meet you.” I can hear her crystal clear over the Beastie Boys, which is impressive in a noisy bar. She’s just as smooth and soft and warm as she looks, and I don’t want to let go of her. We just stare at each other like we’re trying to figure out if we’ve seen each other before. I know I haven’t, because I would have remembered. “Hi,” she says again. She giggles as she pats my hand, releasing herself from my grasp.

“Can I buy you a drink, Aimee Gilpin?”

“Oh, sure! Thanks. I’ll have whatever you’re having.” So friendly. If I had to guess, I’d say she’s either from Canada or the Midwest.

“You like Irish whiskey?”

“I don’t know. Guess I’ll find out.”

I laugh. “I like your attitude.” I signal to Denny that I want another glass of what I’m having. He nods, but he’s busy chatting up some hipster chick.

“Is Irish whiskey your favorite drink?” She manages to ask it without sounding like she’s grilling me in the way that some women do on first dates.

“I drink Scotch at home and Irish when I’m out.”

“Interesting. Why is that?”

“You’ll see. Irish is friendlier.”

“And are you Irish or Scotch, Chase McKay?”

Oh Christ. She’s got a dimple. I’m dead.

“Half Irish, half Italian.”

“All trouble?” She cocks an eyebrow and smirks.

I get that a lot. I’ve got the shoulder-length hair, the tattoos and the beat-up old leather biker jacket, but that’s just the way I look. It’s not who I am. “Looks can be deceiving, Aimee.”

She studies my face and says earnestly: “I believe that.” She finally looks away from me to scan the room. “I like this place. I’ve never been here before.”

“Meeting someone?”

“Yeah, my roommate. She’s coming from a restaurant in the East Village. You come here often?” She asks that like she really wants to know, like she has no idea it’s a line people have used forever.

“I used to. Been working a little too hard lately.”

“Me too. That’s why my friend basically blackmailed me into coming out tonight.” She studies my face again, takes a breath, and suddenly this avalanche of words tumbles out. “I just moved out here from Michigan a few months ago,” she says. “For a job. Roxy’s been my best friend since college, in Ann Arbor. She moved out here right after she graduated, but I decided to build up my resume before coming to New York. I’m glad I did. Moving here is risky, you know, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid, so I needed to know that I wouldn’t blow it. The last thing I wanted to do was show up in the Big Apple and get the crap kicked out of me and then have to go back home, all bitter and depressed for the rest of my life. I think it’s more important to be shrewd than ballsy. Although, the ballsy people have all the fun. Are you from around here?”

I finally take a breath, even though she’s the one who really needs to. “Born and raised in Brooklyn. But I know exactly what you mean. And I think you did the right thing.”

Denny finally shows up to pour two fingers of whiskey in each of our tumblers, then disappears.

“Here’s hoping,” Aimee Gilpin says, as she raises her glass to me.

“Welcome to New York,” I say, and we clink glasses. I notice her hand is trembling and it’s clear to me that she’s more nervous than she’s letting on. Before I can tell her what to expect, she takes a big gulp.

One second after swallowing, she sticks her tongue all the way out and makes an adorable, hilarious face while stretching the fingers of her free hand out wide. Then she slams the glass down on the counter and covers her mouth.

“Guess you don’t like Irish whiskey,” I say.

“I am so horrified!” she says, her voice muffled.

“That bad?”

“No—well, I didn’t expect it to be so sweet. But I just …” She shakes her head and waves her hand in front of her face, like she’s trying to erase what just happened. “Last week I was watching this YouTube video about face yoga exercises. This woman was making all these crazy facial expressions that supposedly relax your face and get rid of wrinkles and release tension—but I was like—I would never in a million years do those exercises because if anyone ever saw me doing them, I would die of embarrassment. And I just made one of those faces. In a bar. In front of you. So that’s awesome.”

I lean in towards her and say: “Guess we’ll have to find another way for you to release tension.”

She laughs, nervously, and then stops to look at me. “You know what? It has a really nice aftertaste.” And then she realizes the subtext of my comment about releasing tension, and her cheeks turn the most amazing shade of deep pink. “Oh my,” she exhales.

‘Oh my.’ Who says that?

The song changes to a quiet ballad, a Jackson Browne song that my mom loves. The sudden shift from thumping bass to soulful piano changes the air around us and the molecules inside of everyone in here, and the awareness shifts from the lower torso up to the heart. I fucking love the playlists in this bar, and I fucking love the way this woman is looking at me like I’m some deep philosophical question that she doesn’t know the answer to but she’s willing to muddle through anyway.

“Try it again,” I say, nodding towards her glass. “Take a sip and close your eyes. It’s meant to be savored.”

Slowly lifting that tumbler to her beautiful lips, she takes a sip and closes those gorgeous eyes of hers—sky blue and black. I savor her like my whiskey, so jealous of the rim of the glass that gets to touch her lips. I watch her respond to every smooth and warm, surprising flavor as it caresses her tongue—the fruity honeyed sweetness, the sherry and licorice and ginger, the peppery spice that erupts in her throat as she swallows, the hint of toffee that lingers. When she opens her eyes again and looks at me, she lets out a sigh, and I know that she gets it now. The union and explosion of unexpected soulmate flavors that can change the way you experience the world. It’s like drinking music. Just a taste and you know how big and magical and soft this dangerous collision of contradictions can be.

But two seconds later, she shakes herself out of the reverie and I can see her trying to rein in her fear of that big magic. I get it. She doesn’t know if she can handle it. Then her expression changes again and I get the feeling she’s about to surprise both of us.

“So, I don’t usually do this, but … here’s my number.” She hands me a folded-up piece of notepaper that already has her name and number written on it. “My roommate dared me to give a guy that I like my number even if he doesn’t ask me for it. So just in case there’s a hurricane or a zombie apocalypse in the next hour or so, I’ll get this out of the way now.”

“Thank you. I would have asked you for your number anyway.”

“Well, that’s nice to know.”

I reach for a napkin on the bar and pull out the pen from my pocket.

“I don’t usually give beautiful women who don’t like whiskey my number, but in case of hurricane or zombie apocalypse … This is my cell phone, if you need assistance.” I hand her the napkin with my name and number on it.

“I appreciate it. I keep a pretty cool head during natural disasters, but I lie awake at night worrying about zombies.” She carefully folds up the napkin and places it in her purse.

“I can definitely help you get to sleep if necessary.”

I take off my leather jacket, expose the ink, so she knows it’s not just a long-hair situation she’d have to deal with.

Her eyes widen as they scan the parts of my arms that aren’t hidden by my T-shirt. I can tell she likes what she sees, but she gets a whiff of something that she does not like when I move my jacket to my lap.

“Do you smoke?”

“Not much anymore. I used to … up until an hour ago.”

“You really shouldn’t smoke.”

“I have been meaning to quit.”

“You really should.” Her spine straightens and she places her glass down on the bar again and actually raises her index finger in front of my face and wags it. “Smoking damages nearly every organ in your body, you know, not just your lungs. And not just your organs—your brain and your bones and your cardiovascular system! It’s shortening your lifespan by more than a decade. There’s poison in tobacco you know. It’s not just the nicotine, you’re inhaling carbon monoxide and tar! I just don’t know why anyone would do that to themselves—not to mention the people around them. And cancer—do you want to talk about cancer, Chase McKay?”

“I really don’t.”

I think I just quit smoking.

“Point taken. You got some sort of rule about not kissing smokers, Aimee?”

The lighting in here may be dim, but I can see her blushing even harder. She clears her throat. “I did … up until a minute ago.”

I think I just quit other women.

When I sit up straight on this barstool, Aimee and I are about the same height. She’s staring at my mouth and her lips are parted. I’m not aware of how much time has passed since she walked in here, but I’ve been wanting to kiss her for what feels like forever. Leaning towards her, I notice her chest expanding as she prepares herself for my kiss. Just when she starts to lean in towards me too, a hand slaps her on the shoulder.

“Aim! Honey! I am so fucking sorry I’m late! That fucking F train has it in for me, I swear.”

The woman whips her around for a hug while giving me the once-over.

I can’t tell if Aimee is frustrated or relieved by the interruption—maybe both. Maybe I’m feeling the same way too. Her friend sizes-up the situation. I can’t tell if she’s impressed or amused or both.

“Well, fuck me,” she mutters.

“Uh, Roxy, this is Chase. Chase—Roxy.”

“Hello there, Chase.”

Shaking Roxy’s hand, I utter a friendly “Hey, how are you?” but I turn my attention right back to Aimee. I can tell that Aimee’s probably used to men gawking at her friend, and I just won a few points for not being most men. But Aimee is not most women. Not to me. Not tonight.

“I was just encouraging Chase here to quit smoking.”

“Is that what you were doing? Can I just borrow Aimee for one second?” She pulls Aimee a couple of feet away and yells in her ear.

I, along with the whole bar, can hear Roxy tell her: “You need to take it down a notch, Professor McGonagall.”

“What?!”

“I saw the way you were lecturing him when I walked in. You might as well just flash him your granny panties.”

“What?! No, I’m being a sexy teacher.”

“No. You’re not.”

Yeah. She is, Roxy. She is.

Then I overhear Roxy utter the word “bet” before Aimee shushes her with a murderous look. Roxy walks off to join a group of people she knows, without another word. Aimee watches her walk away before removing her coat and draping it over the barstool next to me.

“Sorry about that,” she says.

I can see the outline of a black bra beneath her tight creamy white sweater and I’m pretty sure I’d forgive her for absolutely anything.

“Sorry about lecturing you.” She stares at her hands. “It’s none of my business, I just think you’re great and I want you to live, and not have to breathe through a hole in your throat.”

“You don’t have to apologize. And thanks.”

She looks over at me and pouts.

We both laugh.

“Can I get you another drink?”

“Yes! Dear God, yes!” The voice belongs to my best friend Keaton. I had completely forgotten that I was here waiting for him. Aimee is quite the distraction. She may be the distraction I’ve been waiting for my whole life.

“You would not believe the night I’ve had,” he continues, shaking his head. “You don’t know how lucky you are to have the parents you have, man.” He really does look beaten down. As beaten down as a guy can look in a bespoke suit and coat and shoes that cost more than my rent. And then he notices Aimee, and the outline of that black bra beneath her tight creamy white sweater. “And I cannot believe how much better my night just got. Hello there.” He holds his hand out. Instead of shaking Aimee’s hand, he places his other hand over it and just stares at her.

Fucking hell.

“This is Aimee. I was just asking if I can get her another drink.”

“Aimee,” he says. “I’m Keaton Bridges. Hi.” I know that tone of voice. Every time Keaton switches to that golden tone of voice, he has gone home with the woman on the receiving end of it. I’ve got that sinking feeling and my whole body clenches up. If I didn’t love him so much, I’d already have kicked his teeth in by now.

He doesn’t even realize he’s cockblocking me, because it just wouldn’t occur to him that he and I would want the same thing. It rarely happens. We both wanted to go to Wharton. We both wanted to start my business. One of us did both of those things by studying and working his ass off, and one of us had the money to do whatever the fuck he wanted.

I watch how Aimee responds to Keaton’s immediate full-court press. She’s so nice and polite. It’s hard to tell at first if she’s being friendly with the best friend, like I was with Roxy, or if she’s falling for this shit.

“Why don’t I get you a drink.” Keaton is really laying it on thick. “What have you got there?” He sees the tumbler behind her on the counter and grimaces. “Do not tell me he made you drink Irish whiskey? That stuff is nasty.”

“I think I’m acquiring a taste for it, actually,” she says.

“Admirable, but I bet you’re more of a…Moscow Mule kind of girl.”

She twists her lips to the side and glances over at me apologetically. “I do love Moscow Mules.”

“Denny!” Keaton leans in against the bar, right between me and Aimee. “Two Moscow Mules and another whiskey for my friend here.” He stays in place between me and Aimee and says, “Damn, Aimee. You smell incredible. That’s Chanel, isn’t it?”

“It is. You’ve got a good nose!”

What follows is the kind of conversation that only Keaton can have with a woman. About his grandmother being friends with Coco Chanel. It might be true and it might be total horseshit, but he sells it like the best car salesman. I know this guy so well. I know when he’s making an effort with a woman and when he’s on auto-pilot, and he’s actually making an effort with Aimee. I can see, out of the corner of my eye, that Aimee is trying to maneuver herself so she can include me in the conversation, but it’s no use. Everything’s fading away and I’m retreating inside where I can have a tactical meeting with myself in my board room.

Thank God I went to business and law school. I’ve learned how to make rational, informed decisions. My heart’s telling me this is a woman worth fighting for, but my brain’s telling me that’s not my heart talking. It’s my dick. It’s the whiskey. It’s the strings of warm white lights. It’s the Jackson fucking Browne song.

It’s not that she isn’t worth fighting for. It’s that I have to pick my battles. And I am not going to pick a battle with my best friend and business partner. Not now, anyway.

I’ve known Keaton for nearly a decade. He let me live in his apartment in Philadelphia for four years when we were at Wharton and nearly kicked me out once when he was convinced that his girlfriend was in love with me. She wasn’t. He didn’t. We got through it. I founded a company with him less than two years ago—a company that he invested the seed money for, and I need him on my side when we’re voting at a board meeting soon. I’ve known Aimee for less than half an hour and had one drink with her. If she doesn’t want to kiss a guy who smokes, then she won’t be kissing a guy who smokes. Not tonight, anyway. Even though I never want to see another cigarette again in my life.

Just because I’ve never experienced love at first sight before, it doesn’t mean it’ll never happen again. I see how this is going to go and I need to leave sooner rather than later, so I don’t end up in a pissing contest.

I swallow the whiskey that Keaton ordered for me, stand up and put my jacket back on. I shake Aimee’s hand and say, “It was a pleasure meeting you. Enjoy your Moscow Mule.” The look on her pretty face could break my heart if I’d let it. But I won’t let it.

I pat Keaton on the back and tell him I’m heading back to the office. He barely protests. He doesn’t want to lose Aimee’s focus. I don’t blame him. I didn’t either. But I will.

The road to a successful business is littered with sacrifices, and Aimee may not be the first, but she is certainly my favorite thing that I’ll be letting go of to make this business work.

 

And so, I’ve heard some good music and had just the right number of drinks and met a woman who could have mattered to me more than anyone—in another life. I’ve made a choice, and it might be a bad choice, but it’s the right one.

I walk back out into the surprisingly cold night, but I’m not alone. You’re never alone at night in New York, and Brooklyn is still so fucking beautiful. I feel a chill, but it’s got nothing to do with the temperature. It’s knowing that if I turned around and looked back through that door that I just walked out of, I’d see Aimee watching me. If I stayed there looking back at her long enough, she’d follow me outside and leave Keaton behind. I know it deep in my lungs and all my organs and my brain and my bones and my cardiovascular system, just as well as I know that I’m going to keep walking away, even though I’ll be thinking about those deep blue eyes long after I close mine tonight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TONIGHT

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO – Aimee

 

 

**ONE MONTH LATER**

 

 

I’ve been wearing yoga pants all day, because I was hoping it would make me feel more Zen about everything, but it turns out it’s not that easy to feel Zen when you’re frantically stuffing your face with donuts. It’s just so disappointing that no matter how delicious and comforting they are, they all start to taste the same after your third or fourth or fifth. No matter how much icing or sprinkles or filling, they’re still so simple. A quick fix. They’ll never wake up your palate with breathtaking contradictory flavors and leave a smooth, complex, haunting aftertaste like certain other vices do.

This has been the longest two-day weekend ever and it’s nowhere near over yet.

Also, my roommate keeps handing me bottles of beer and taking them away when I’ve finished so I can’t keep track of how many I’ve had. Beer and donuts are a terrible combination, but also strangely appropriate for the occasion. I lick the melted chocolate icing from my thumb and call out: “Roxy! How many beers have I had?!”

“If you’re sober enough to ask without slurring, it’s not enough!” she calls out, from the bathroom. I can tell from her voice that she’s curling her eyelashes. She has Make-Up Face voice. She’s listening to Prince. That means she’s getting ready to go out, which means she’s getting ready to convince me to go out. I do appreciate that she stayed in with me on Friday and Saturday night, but

“I start a new job tomorrow!”

“Exactly! We’re celebrating. And you need to drink one beer for every month that you’ve been celibate.”

“I am not going to drink six bottles of beer on a Sunday night, Roxy.”

“Fine. Then one beer for every week you wasted being polite to that bonehead.”

“I’m not going to drink four beers either. I’m serious! How many have I had?”

“Three, sweetie. Only three.”

I exhale and then polish off my third bottle of beer.

“He’s not a bonehead,” I say meekly.

He really isn’t.

Keaton is good-looking and he looks amazing in a suit. Keaton is charming, in the way that eight-year-old boys are charming. A good guy. But not the guy for me.

When he showed up at the bar that first night that I met him and Chase, I had the exact opposite response to him as I did to his best friend. When I saw Chase, my body immediately went on high alert. I assumed he was the lead singer of some grunge band that I wasn’t cool enough to recognize, but I could totally see myself screaming up at him from a mosh pit, begging for his attention. When he saw me and held my gaze, I just kept walking toward him. I’ve never done that before in my life—walked up to some stranger in a bar and started talking? He made me feel like some heightened version of myself, like an awesome drug that I’d probably never try. I was turned on. Actually switched on, like a lightbulb that had been set to dim forever and then BAM! Here’s all that electricity we’ve been holding back from you! How do you like that?! It felt like the difference between walking around your hometown and walking around Manhattan for the first time. Suddenly you’re so aware and awake and anything could happen.

I liked it and I was afraid of it.

When Keaton showed up, he felt familiar and safe. It was like getting off a roller coaster. I still had the dizzying buzz from flirting with Chase, but I was stepping back onto solid ground again and needing to find my balance. But it’s not like I didn’t want to get back on that roller coaster! If I were put in a situation where I had to make a choice, I would have chosen Chase. But he took himself out of the equation.

It’s not that I wasn’t flattered by Keaton’s attention.

He’s like a purebred puppy who doesn’t understand the word “no.” He’s exasperating, but you can’t hate him because at the end of the day, he’s still a cute puppy. And I’m too old to date puppies.

Which is why I would have rather dated Chase. The day after meeting him, I sent a text to the number he’d given me.

 

It was great meeting you and Irish whiskey at Bitters last night! Haven’t seen any zombies yet, but you never know…

 

Cute, right?

No response.

Ever.

I mean. Maybe he gave me a wrong number. But I had a feeling it was a Bro Code thing. I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it.

A few days later, I had a phone conversation with Keaton and I learned more about their relationship, so I could certainly see why Chase didn’t want to rock the boat.

I liked Keaton. I really did. I especially liked that he had such a cool best friend. But I also hated that he was friends with Chase. Because I really liked Chase.

But I’m a nice, polite Midwesterner, and Keaton is persistent. Every few days he’d call or text to invite me out to all these great restaurants. And all the flowers he sent to my office? Oh lord, so many beautiful flowers. And Wicked. He said he could get us greats seats at Wicked on Broadway. Roxy and I always used to sing “Defying Gravity” when we were drunk at karaoke bars in college. That was a tough one to say ‘no’ to, but I did.

And then I found out that I was being laid off. The job that I had moved out here for—at the prestigious business consulting firm—had to eliminate my position. So I had a lot more on my mind than dating.

The next few times he asked me out, I gave him the excuse of being stressed-out from job-hunting. On Thursday, I found him waiting for me outside my apartment when I came home from a job interview. He had a lunch reservation at a great restaurant by the river and wanted me to go with him right then. He was very charming and persuasive, but I just couldn’t go out with him if there was ever a chance that I could be with Chase. I didn’t tell him that, of course. What I finally told him, very clearly, was that I liked him but I didn’t think we were a good match and I really didn’t want to lead him on. He seemed to think I was joking at first. I’m guessing no one’s ever said those words to him before.

For a few seconds, I saw this storm of indignant anger in his eyes, and I understood why Chase didn’t want to take any chances. But as quickly as that look in his eyes appeared, it was replaced by polite words of thanks, a sincere handshake, and a genuine “Good luck with everything. Let’s keep in touch. I hope to see you again sometime.”

He was classy. I felt good about everything. I wondered if and when he’d mention to his best friend that I’d totally refused to date him. I wondered how long I should wait before “accidentally” running into Chase in the neighborhood after subtly and ever-so elegantly stalking him.

 

That was Thursday. That was before shit got weird.

 

“Lady, lady, lady …” my roommate says as she collapses onto the sofa next to me. She’s got her going-out face on, she’s got her I’m-getting-laid-tonight musk on, and I can’t help but laugh. Roxy looks like Betty from the Archie comics, if Betty were drawn by a horny twelve-year-old boy who’s into manga. Blonde ponytail, pert nose, comically enormous boobs that are packed tight into a 1950’s teen-girl outfit, and a sweet smile that does nothing to hide the foul-mouthed vixen’s devious thoughts. She takes the empty donut box from me and says, “You finally got another fucking job. It’s a good thing. We should be celebrating.”

That’s right. On Friday afternoon, I got a call from Elaine Hoffman. Elaine is the president of the boutique business consulting firm that I interviewed with on Thursday. I had been unemployed for nearly three weeks. I was deliriously happy when she offered me a position at her firm, because her company specializes in consulting for startups, and that was my focus in business school. The pay is great, the office is in Brooklyn, I loved her no-bullshit attitude and I just knew we’d be a great fit. And then she told me that the project she’s assigning me to, starting Monday, is for her important new clients: SnapLegal-NYC. Keaton and Chase’s company. They hired her company and they’re paying for an on-site project manager for a month. She hired me specifically because she needs a project manager to help them transition to a subscription-based model for their services, although she never mentioned this in our meeting. “You’re a Godsend,” she said. “You’re a perfect fit for this.”

That means I get to see Chase McKay on Monday! I thought to myself. I wonder if he wears suits at the office? I thought to myself, before imagining him slowly taking off his suit.

It wasn’t until after I’d hung up that I realized I’d also be seeing Keaton Bridges on Monday.

I immediately called Roxy at work, and told her about my situation. She laughed so hard she didn’t even make a sound, then she snorted, then she hung up on me. The fifteen random emojis she sent afterwards made no sense and didn’t make me feel any better.

I drank one cup of coffee spiked with just a tiny amount of Irish whiskey and a huge amount of cream, and I called Elaine back.

“I just had my HR woman send a courier over with your paperwork and a company cell phone,” she said when she answered. “Please don’t tell me you’ve changed your mind.”

“I haven’t changed my mind about working for you, Elaine, not at all. I just have a bit of a dilemma here, and I felt that I should tell you that I actually know the founders of SnapLegal, a little bit. I met them socially, and Keaton Bridges pursued me for a few weeks, but I finally made it clear to him that I wouldn’t go out with him. He was always a perfect gentleman and it was a friendly parting. No hard or deep feelings at all, and I promise you that I am fully capable of doing the job your company has been hired to do for them. I just … you know … full-disclosure.”

“And what about Chase McKay?”

“What about him?”

Oh shit. Did I accidentally verbalize my little Chase McKay in a suit fantasy without knowing it? Did I think those dirty thoughts so loud that my new boss could hear them?

“You said that you know the founders socially.” I could hear the strain in her voice. She was trying so hard not to yell at me. “Did Chase McKay also pursue you?”

“Oh God, no! No no nooooo.” I wish. “No, I just know him because he’s Keaton’s best friend. I mean, I actually met him half an hour before I met Keaton, but that was it.” And I overanalyzed his reasons for not wanting to pursue me endlessly.

I heard her exhale slowly. “Okay. So that’s your big dilemma? You dated Keaton Bridges a few times, and now you are not dating him, but it’s a friendly break-up?”

“Yes. I mean, no! It wasn’t even a break-up because we never dated. We’re just not dating. End of story.”

“Okay. Here’s a short story for you: I once had to work for the man who ran over my dog. I wanted to murder him, but I did my job because I am a professional who is capable of compartmentalizing. That is why I did not spit in his coffee once, as far as he knew.”

“I’m … so sorry about your dog.”

“Okay.” I could hear her tapping on her desk with her pen. “Listen. I have three kids and I am currently the main breadwinner in my family because my husband has decided that it’s finally time for him to write The Great American Novel, and I haven’t slept for more than four hours a night in months, so I don’t have time to filter my thoughts on this and then get back to you. I like you. I had a good feeling about you. You have the perfect resume for this position and fantastic references. And you are literally, on paper, the best person for this SnapLegal job. So, if you are honestly telling me that your personal dynamic with our clients will not affect your ability to do your best work and represent my company in a professional manner, then I seriously don’t give a shit about your private life, as long as you keep it private. So just sign and return the contract. Your company e-mail address will be set up by Monday morning, and I will meet you at the SnapLegal offices at ten on Monday morning for a quick meeting with the founders. But if they try to get out of my contract with them because of you, then obviously I will be firing you.”

She hung up before I could thank her for understanding. I also sort of wanted to ask her to marry me. If she was cool about the situation, now all I had to do was make sure that Keaton would be cool with it. And I was nearly positive that he probably would be. I just wished there was one person that I could talk to about how to approach this, someone who knows Keaton better than I do, someone with impossibly beautiful wavy hair and rich, dark bedroom eyes and a deep smooth voice that always sounds like he’s talking dirty on the phone—even when he’s grumbling to you about Moscow Mules and walking away from you.

“I need to talk to Chase,” I say, reaching for my phone. I’ve already called him twice and texted him three times today.

“Has he responded?”

I sigh. “No.”

“Send him a boob pic.”

I bark out a laugh. “That’s your answer to every man problem.”

“That’s the answer to every man problem. You can send him one of mine if you’d like.” She smiles big and bats her eyelashes at me.

She’s joking. She’s never actually taken or sent boob pics. It’s a joke. I’m pretty sure it’s a joke.

Roxy is an angel. She’s an angel disguised as the little blonde devil perched on my shoulder. The one who convinces me that a shot or three of tequila and going dancing are the answer to all of my problems. And they were! When we were in college.

Roxy works just as hard as she plays. She’s the manager of customer loyalty for an online retail company, and she makes a buttload of money, some of which she has been using to pay for most of our meals for the past few weeks. I am eternally grateful to her. Except for one thing.

“This is all your fault. If you hadn’t bet me that I couldn’t give a guy my number, I wouldn’t have gone out that night and maybe I would have met Chase another time, when Keaton wasn’t around.”

I had only been out on a few dates since moving to New York, because I seem to be really good at attracting guys that I’m not really attracted to. Roxy dared me to go home with a guy that I met in a bar. When I refused to acknowledge that one, she dared me to give my number to a guy that I actually liked and to give a fake number to any guy I didn’t like if he asked me for one. That was the one and only time I had ever actually taken her advice …Well, sort of … Minus the fake number part.

I can’t not stay in touch with people. I still send Christmas cards to my friends from kindergarten. I send thank you cards to former bosses when I’ve been laid off. Every stationary store in New York is still in business because of me.

But I couldn’t give Keaton a fake number, because I didn’t want him to tell Chase that I was a sneaky b-face.

She brushes the hair out of my eyes. “If you want Chase, go get him.”

“I can’t get Chase. I have to go to work with Chase and Keaton tomorrow.”

“Why don’t you just ask your new boss to assign you to a different project?”

“She specifically hired me because she needs someone on this one.”

“Then quit. You’ll get another job.”

“Wow. You are full of great ideas. Maybe I should also do heroin while I’m at it.”

“Hey, don’t knock it until you try it.”

“That’s not funny.”

“Sorry. Don’t do heroin. But you should definitely do Chase. I mean, the man quit smoking for you.”

“He did not quit smoking for me.”

“You said he quit smoking.”

“Keaton mentioned that he did, when we were on the phone.”

“Right after he met you and you criticized him for smoking.”

“I’m quite sure I’m not the only one who’s ever criticized him for smoking. He obviously hates me, or he wouldn’t have bolted from the bar like it was on fire.”

“Maybe he’s secretly burning for you.” She grins and waggles her perfect eyebrows. “Call him again.”

“I’ve already texted him three times to tell him that I really need to talk to him and called twice. He probably thinks I’m a stalker now.”

“Did you leave a voicemail?”

“Nobody leaves voicemails.”

“Do you know where he lives?”

“Not exactly.”

I just want to tell Chase that I have a new job at the consulting firm that they hired for implementation consultation and that I’ve been assigned to their project. I just want to make sure he’s okay with it and discuss how best to approach this with Keaton. I want to have this conversation with him, because I need this job and I’m a professional and he’s a professional and we’re all grown-ups. Also, I want to hear his voice and smell him just a little.

“I think I might know where Chase is…” I say, hesitantly.

“In your dirty dreams every night?”

“At that bar in Carroll Gardens.”

Roxy claps her hands so loud that it echoes around the room. “Yes! That is where you need to go. That is what you need to do. And I know exactly what you need to wear when you go there to do that.”

“But it’s seven o’clock. On a Sunday. I start a new job in the morning.”

“Yeah! Woohoo!”

“But I mean … we’re twenty-seven years old.”

“Girl. Do not make me slap you.”

 

 

***end of excerpt***

Available HERE

Come Back to Bed – cover, blurb and excerpt!

COME BACK TO BED Kayley Loring kindle cover

 

Well, hello there.  It’s late Friday night and I have just uploaded my ninth steamy romantic comedy novel to Amazon.  No pre-order this time–it will go directly into Kindle Unlimited.  UPDATE:  Available now right HERE!

Here is the blurb for COME BACK TO BED, teasers and the first two chapters of this 75,000 word book.

BLURB:

 

Dear grouchy neighbor:  I’m considering your offer and need clarification before proceeding.  Despite being an artist, I think you know that as a busy New Yorker, I am also practical and straightforward.

That said, I need to make sure you know that this could never turn into anything serious.  I don’t care if you’re trying to get over your ex-girlfriend or hoping she’ll eventually want to get back together with you—just don’t project your messy feelings about her onto me.

Because, despite your resemblance to an underwear model, I won’t be falling for you.  Ever.

Yours, with clear boundaries,

Bernadette

p.s. I’d like to be very clear that regardless of whether or not we do this, nothing will change my feelings for your dog (and we both know she loves me too).

 

 

Dear nutty neighbor:  As a lawyer, I must clarify that I never made an offer.  It was a suggestion regarding the possibility of a non-permanent, no-strings-attached arrangement between two consenting adults whose beds are separated by a wall.

As a man who shares your disdain for messy feelings, I applaud your confidence in your ability to not fall for me.  Hold onto that.  I’d also like to make it clear that I don’t care if you want to get over your crush on your boss or if you still hope he’ll realize you’re the woman of his dreams.  That said, I definitely wasn’t thinking about my ex-girlfriend when I kissed you in the laundry room, and I’m quite sure you weren’t thinking about your boss.

As a dog daddy, I’m glad you’re so taken with my girl, but if you try to steal her, I will get all Liam Neeson up in your pretty face.

As a busy New Yorker, I think clear boundaries are hot, and I have one hour free to blow your mind tonight.  So turn off Netflix, put down that glass of wine, and let’s do this.

Yours for now,

Matt

 

instagram post won't you be my neighborthis is where FB ad

 

***Excerpt***

(copyright 2019 Kayley Loring)

 

CHAPTER ONE – Bernadette

 

 

FROM:  DOLLY KEMP <doloreskemp123@yahoo.com>

TO:  BERNADETTE FARMER <thisisbernadettefarmer@gmail.com>

 

Bernadette my dear—greetings from Prague!  I think you would love it and be so inspired here.  There is art everywhere, and I want to buy all of it.  Everything is gorgeous and delicious (especially the beer and sausages).  Marty and I are having a ball. 

Speaking of sausages and balls—I’m sure you have enjoyed not hearing us fooling around next door for the past three months.  LOL.  Numerous guests at five-star hotels all over Europe have not been so lucky.

I hope you are well, and I have a favor to ask of you.

My lawyer nephew needs a place to stay for a while and will be living in my apartment until he finds one of his own.

His name is Matt McGovern, Esq.

He is my younger sister’s son.

Matt spends most of his life at work or out on the town, so you probably won’t even know he’s there.

Can I trouble you to give him your spare key for my flat tonight?  I know you are a private person, so I didn’t give him your phone number.  I told him to buzz you at 4A around 7:30 pm.  If that is inconvenient for you, you can email him at:  iammattmcgovernsemail@gmail.com to plan a better time.

You have similar personal email addresses—isn’t that cute?!

Thank you for taking care of my plants.

I still don’t know when we will be returning, but you may continue to pay rent at the discounted rate until then.

xx DK

 

Well, crap.

It was fun having the floor to myself while it lasted.

And by “fun,” I mean blissfully uneventful and quiet.

Dolly Kemp is my landlady and neighbor.  She owns both condos on the fourth floor of the Upper West Side townhouse we live in, sublets the smaller one to me, and charges me less when she’s out of town because I water her plants while she’s gone.  She is a retired investment banker and an enthusiastic art collector, a senior citizen who has a far racier wardrobe and love life than I do.  Since I don’t know exactly how old she or her younger sister is, her nephew could be anywhere from mid-twenties to early fifties.

Here’s hoping he’s a shy fifty-something intellectual property lawyer who listens to classical music and does crossword puzzles to relax when he’s at home.  I don’t know if that person actually exists anywhere on earth in the twenty-first century, but that’s my idea of a good neighbor.  Polite, quiet, and almost never at home.

I myself am a twenty-seven-year-old homebody who deeply values what little time I get to spend in my apartment.  Being the well-paid executive personal assistant to a very successful (and moderately sexy—okay super sexy) recently-divorced artist means that I spend most of my days doing whatever he needs me to do for him, whenever and wherever he wants me to do it.  And no, none of those things ever involve sex.  Unfortunately.  Unless you count the time he asked me to pose partially nude for a painting, but I may as well have been a naked bowl of fruit as far as he was concerned.  A really demure, secretly horny bowl of fruit.

Being a homebody in Manhattan is like being a vegetarian in a meat market, but when your life revolves around another person in the way that mine does, in a city of eight and a half million other people, you really need that room of your own.  Even when you spend most of your time in that room thinking about your boss.  Even when you spend most of your time in any room thinking about your boss.

Today, world-renowned artist Sebastian Smith has tasked me with stretching canvases, ordering paints from Japan, brushes from China, responding to interview requests, and updating his website, all of which I have been able to do in his four-bedroom converted loft in Tribeca.  He himself has spent the day driving around the Hudson Valley for inspiration, and while I’d always prefer to see his face and hear his voice, it does make for an easier work day.  I should easily make it home before seven-thirty, so I shoot Dolly an email saying just that.

 

I get off at the 79th Street station instead of 86th, because the sun hasn’t gone down yet and it’s a gorgeous mid-March early evening after a full week of rain.  I always enjoy people-watching as I walk up Broadway, but it’s especially fun now that New Yorkers are starting to show some skin again.

I really love my Upper West Side neighborhood.  I am the only single under thirty-year-old in the art world that I know of who chooses to live up here.  It’s old-school—a little mellower than downtown—and with its relatively unpretentious residents and neighborhood feel, it’s the closest I can get to my home state of Vermont without leaving Manhattan.  And okay, yes, I also moved here because of You’ve Got Mail, and I hear “Dreams” by The Cranberries in my head whenever I walk around here.  Don’t judge me.  Call me crazy, but at this point in my life I’d rather be safe and living in Nora Ephron’s charming but not-at-all-cool late-Nineties fantasy world than do ecstasy at an after-party where the DJ is some model with a famous parent and a bottle of Heineken costs more than the Uber ride it took to get there.

I cut across to 85th to check out the floral offerings at my local green grocer, but my attention is diverted by the cutest damn Boston Terrier I’ve ever seen.  She has a pink collar, is staring right at me, and I swear it’s love at first sight for both of us.

I don’t want to brag or anything, but dogs love me.  Like, every dog I’ve ever met.  To dogs, I’m basically a five-foot seven jerky treat with a voice and hands.  I march straight over to that black and white beauty and drop to my knees.  She keeps licking her chops as she stands up on her hind legs, resting her paws on my thighs and hopping up and down.

“Ooooh you’re so cute!  Look at that face!  Look at that sweet sweet little face!  Ohhhh, what’s your name, happy girl?  You’re a pretty girl, aren’t you?  What’s your name?…What’s her name?”

I stand up as my eyes follow the leash up to the big strong hand that’s holding it, and the man in the suit and coat who is attached to the hand.  He is so ludicrously gorgeous, I just burst out laughing.  This must happen often when people look at him, because his facial expression betrays absolutely no sense of surprise.  In fact, he is completely stone-faced.  Like a handsome statue.  A handsome statue in a modern-cut suit and slim tie and trench coat that is probably worth more than everything I own, who is talking on the phone through his earbuds, who has no intention of answering my very important question about his dog’s name.  He just stares at me while continuing to engage in his phone conversation about contracts and clauses or something.

Whatever!

Seriously though—what is he thinking?  Who just stands around outside a grocery store looking that handsome, unless…I look around for a camera crew.  Am I interrupting a photo shoot or a movie set?  Nope.  Unless it’s a hidden camera reality show about people reacting to cute dogs and annoyingly attractive strangers.

He is expressionless as he continues to watch me while talking on the phone.  I kind of want to slap his face because it’s so obnoxiously good-looking.  Inside, though, my vulva is dimming the lights and queuing up “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye.  Calm down, vulva!  It’s just some guy on the sidewalk, you’ll never see him or his sweet dog again.

I bend down to rub the dog’s head again, whisper “I love you” to her, then continue on my way back home.

 

I have about fifteen minutes before Matt McGovern, Esquire is supposed to show up, so I check my mailbox.  I never expect to actually receive anything besides marketing crap, but there’s a squishy mailer stuffed in there, and I stare at it for a few seconds before casting my mind back to five nights ago when I had ordered a sexy dress in a pinot-induced online shopping frenzy.  I sometimes have to attend gallery openings and parties with Sebastian (for work, not as a date), and I keep buying sexy dresses online while under the influence, with every intention of wearing them.  Then I return them and show up to events in a black cardigan, really expensive jeans, hoop earrings and red lipstick, because that’s the level of sophistication that I’m comfortable with.

I run up the stairs to the fourth floor, taking two at a time…Okay, I do that for one floor and then walk up the rest of the way.  I don’t want to be all sweaty when I’m trying on this dress.  Also, I may be having a heart attack.

As soon as I’m inside my apartment I tear off my coat, top and bra, rip open the package and pull out the folded burgundy red dress.  I remember thinking that it would go well with my dark auburn hair, but I don’t remember the plunging V neck or the stupid zipper in the back.  Sighing, I remove my socks, shoes and jeans, already knowing that I’ll be returning this sleeveless number on my way to work tomorrow.

 

I have no idea how much time has passed since finally getting this dress on and staring at myself in the mirror.  It took about a month to zip it up in back because it’s so tight and then I decided I should at least see what it looked like with the right shoes, and then it seemed necessary to find the right lipstick before taking it off and packing it up again and now my intercom is buzzing and I can just tell from the way the guy presses the buzzer quickly, two times, that he’s impatient.  So, I don’t have time to change out of this dress.  I grab my keys and tell the buzzy intercom guy that I’ll be right down to let him in.

I remove my heels while taking the stairs and then slip them back on before reaching the front door.  Through the glass and decorative iron grate, I can see that the man is tall and probably not fifty-something.  When I open the door, I stare up at someone who is as surprised and confused to see me standing here as I am to see him.

It’s laugh-out-loud handsome stone-faced suit guy.  He is just as handsome and stone-faced as he was the first time I saw him.  I still feel the need to laugh when he gives me a quick, expressionless once-over.

You’re Bernadette Farmer?”

“Yes.  And you’re…”  I feel like I should ask for some sort of identification, but he’s so freakishly handsome and serious, I don’t know why he’d bother standing here staring at me if he weren’t Dolly’s nephew.  Unless, of course, he’s a serial killer who’s about to murder me.  If so, this would be a great outfit to die in.

“Matt McGovern.  Dolly Kemp is my aunt.”

He just stands there studying me, for what feels like a year.  An actual year, starting with winter as his coal dark eyes search my face, his jaw frozen in place; a late spring thaw as his liquid gaze trickles down the front of me; sudden blazing hot summer as it returns back up over my curves; and see how the leaves now turn from red to gold to brown and then die off instantly when he meets my stare again.  Unblinking.  Like a cowboy in one of those old westerns my dad and I used to make fun of, but I secretly fantasized about banging Gary Cooper in the back of a saloon.

When I was a child, I was trained to see a person or object as a collection of lines shadows, shapes and contours, but when I look at this guy it’s like I’m blinded by my physical response to the overall effect of his…everything.

He’s an assault to my retinas.

Or maybe he’s just an asshole.

Either way, I want to slap him.

Also, I may have just had a very quick tiny orgasm.

Like an orgasm zap.  Is that a thing?

Feeling the need to take control of this situation, I thrust my hand out to shake his, but he’s got a huge duffel bag hanging from one shoulder, a cross-body satchel, an overstuffed garment bag and guitar case in one hand, leash in the other.

“Hi,” he says.  He makes no effort to shake my hand, which is fine.  That’s when I finally look down and see the beautiful Boston Terrier, who is shifting around on her paws, wagging her whole body, licking her lips and snuffling and slobbering a little bit.  She is so much happier to see me than Matt McGovern is.  I don’t recall Dolly mentioning there would be a dog staying in her apartment, but the building is pet-friendly, and I have no complaints.

“And we meet again!  Hello, sweet thing!” I sing to the dog, as I start to bend forward, then think better of it as I realize I’m already showing about seventy percent more cleavage than I’m generally comfortable with.  “Uh.  Come on in.  I have the keys for you.”  I step aside, holding the door open for them.

His eyes stay locked on my exposed cleavage for about one full second, before they return to my face, which is probably very pink and feels like it’s contorted and having a mild spasm on one side.

“You’re Dolly’s neighbor?”

“And tenant, yes.”

He nods his head once, adjusts the handles of the duffel bag on his shoulder, then leads his dog across the threshold.  “I thought you’d be a lot older.  Like, seventy.”

“I get that a lot.  Sorry to disappoint you.”

He stops, once inside, to survey the foyer.  My new canine friend assesses the smells.

“Are you just visiting New York, or new in town?”

“Neither.”  He doesn’t offer any more information.

“Okay.  So this is the foyer.  Those are the mailboxes!”  I wave my hands like the candelabra in Beauty and the Beast and I’m about to belt out “Be Our Guest.”

“I won’t be here long enough to get mail.”

“Alrighty then.  Marco the super lives in unit 1A over there.”

He just eyes the stairs.

“No elevator, right?”

“Yeah, it’s a pre-war walk-up.  Built in 1920.”

“We’re on the fourth floor?”

“Yeah, you’ll be in apartment 4B, it’s three flights of stairs.  You get used to it.”

“After you,” he says.

“Do you want me to take…” I hold my hand out, offering to take the leash.

“I got it.”

I watch his lips, waiting for them to form the word “thanks,” but those lips are glued shut.  They honestly do look like they’re made for kissing, but I sort of just want to tell him to kiss my ass, throw Dolly’s key on the floor and run back to my apartment so I can get out of this damn dress.

I mean—New Yorkers have always had a bad reputation for being rude and impatient, but I rarely come across anyone here who’s actually this cold and impolite.  I’m not exactly Little Miss Sunshine, but I do pride myself on being a nice person who gives people the benefit of the doubt.  He’s probably just stressed about moving.  So, I will give this handsome asshole nephew of my landlady another chance.

“May I ask your dog’s name?”  Again.

“It’s Daisy.”

“Awww, Daisy!”  I coo.  “Such a sweet pretty name for such a sweet pretty girl!  How old is she?”

“Five.”

“Five!  Perfect!  Awww, that’s the perfect age! Awwww!”

Daisy looks up at me, spins around, hops and makes a weird little cartoon alien gopher sound that matches the pitch of my “aww.”

I’m in love.

Matt McGovern clears his throat while focusing on the second-floor landing like getting up there is the most important thing in the world right now, and wouldn’t it be just great if we could make that happen immediately?  He doesn’t jerk his head and whistle sharply to indicate that I should get going, but he may as well.

“Right.  Well.  I’m sure you’re eager to get to your new apartment.”

“It’s just temporary.”

“Yeah.  So you said.”  He waits for me to take the lead up the steps.  I don’t know if he’s being a gentleman or if he plans to stare at my ass, or both, but I have never been so self-conscious about how I move while walking up stairs.  It feels like my hips are swaying too much.  I don’t want him to think I’m trying to move seductively, but I sort of have to sway my hips to lift my knees in this tight dress.  Oh God—what if he thinks I changed into this dress for him?

“Um.  I was just trying on this dress that I ordered online when you buzzed me.  I kind of forgot you were coming when I saw the package, so I put it on.  I don’t usually dress like this at home.  I mean, I just got home from working all day, I don’t usually dress like this for work either.  Or ever, really.”  I’m babbling.  What is it about exceptionally handsome silent assholes that makes people babble?  I am usually so comfortable with silence.  “I don’t usually get much time to shop, so when there’s a sale online I go a little nuts.  I think I’ll have to return this, it’s not really me.”

“You should keep it,” he mumbles.

“What?”  I don’t turn around.  My hand stays on the rail and my eyes stay glued to my feet, so I don’t fall over.

“Keep it.  It’s a nice dress.  You look good.”  He somehow manages to say those words in such a way as to make it sound like he is in no way giving me a compliment.

“Oh.”  I don’t say “thank you,” because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want to be thanked, and I’m also quite certain that we already hate each other.  This makes me laugh, for some reason.  Again.  It’s hilarious how much this person seems to offend me.  I have never felt this kind of hostility towards someone I’ve just met before.  Now I just want to keep talking as much as possible because it obviously annoys him.

“So you’re a lawyer?”

“Uh huh.”

“Dolly didn’t tell me much about you, other than your name and your esquireship.  Is that what it’s called?  An esquireship?”

“Nope.”

Two more delightful flights of stairs to go!

“Anyway, there are eight units in the building, two on each floor.  There’s a laundry room in the basement.  It’s a pretty quiet building, everyone’s nice but keeps to themselves.  Old people, working people, blah blah blah, you won’t be here long enough to get to know them anyway.  Mrs. Benson on the third floor has a poodle but that’s the only other dog in the building.  I occasionally hear him barking, but not much.”  I lower my voice before continuing:  “Mrs. Benson is so sweet, but she has these dinner parties that are a total disaster, you know, she tries to have the kind of Upper West Side intellectual dinner parties you see in movies, but her friends and family just get drunk and argue with each other.  So, if she corners you and invites you—well, you’ve been warned.”

“Thanks.”

“What else?  I watered Dolly’s plants on the weekend, so if you could water them on Sunday that would be great.  The water pressure in the showers here are pretty good, but never quite as hot as I’d like.”

One more floor!

“Dolly said you’ll probably be out and about most of the time.”

“She did?”

Gasp!  A response!

“She said you’re usually either at work or out on the town.”

“Usually, but I don’t have a dog-walker in this neighborhood yet, so I’ll have to come home more.”

“Oh right.  Where are you moving from?”

“SoHo.”

“Oh yeah?  I’m in SoHo a lot.  My boss is in Tribeca, so I’m downtown most of the time.  Do you work downtown?”

“Yes.”

“Really—that’s so interesting—tell me more!”

He doesn’t tell me more.  I didn’t expect him to.  I finally glance back at him, and see something that I don’t expect at all—he’s smiling.  He looks totally amused.

I am so startled by the complete transformation of his face, that I lose my balance.  I swipe at the air, blurt out about five swear words and feel myself falling backwards in slow-motion.  And then I’m leaning back into Matt McGovern’s strong sturdy body.  He has taken a step up and calmly wrapped his arm around my waist, one leg firmly set to the side of mine to keep me in place.  He’s still holding onto Daisy’s leash and seems to be in no danger of losing his balance himself.

“I got you,” he says, in a deep quiet voice that actually does make me feel safe.

Until I look up and see him staring down at me with those eyes that aren’t black as coal so much as they’re dark chocolate, but I’m the one who’s melting.

I grab onto the handrail and pull myself upright and steady.  “Thanks,” I say.  “I just lost my balance.”

“I know.”

“I mean, I’m usually pretty good at walking up stairs.”

“I hear you get used to it.”

“It’s just this stupid dress is so tight.  I’m definitely sending it back.”

“Shame.”

“Aaaand fourth floor—ladies’ lingerie!”  Oh God.  I’ve gone from being the kooky lady who falls backwards to the old guy who makes dumb jokes in elevators.  I must be having an allergic reaction to his pheromones.  That’s a thing, right?

I point to my front door and then his.  “Mine.  Yours.  I’ll get the lock for you.”  I remove Dolly’s spare key from my keychain and unlock the door to 4B, leaving the key in the door.  “Don’t forget to grab that when your hands are free.  The spare key for the exterior door is in that tray on the console table.”

“Thanks.  Appreciate it.”

“Sure thing.”  I start making my way over to 4A and the bottle of pinot noir that I will be polishing off momentarily.

“Do you usually talk this much?”

I turn back to him and the annoying smirk on his annoying gorgeous face.  “No.  Not at all.”

“Good.”

“Do you usually talk more than this?”

He places the duffel bag, garment bag and guitar case on the floor and shrugs.  “A bit.”

“Are you usually this big of a dick?”

“Nah, it’s kind of a new thing for me.”

“Well, I think you’ve found your calling.”

He picks Daisy up, pulls the key out of the lock and goes inside the apartment.

“Okay, enjoy your stay!  It was wonderful to meet you—Daisy!”

The door shuts and I’m alone in the hallway, shaking my head and reaching my hand behind me, because I can somehow still feel his chest pressed up against my back.

 

The most interesting thing about the past ten minutes—I didn’t think about my boss once.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO – Matt

 

 

Well, that was unexpected.

Wish I could say it’s a welcome surprise.  Not like it’s that much of a surprise that Aunt Dolly didn’t mention her neighbor’s an attractive young woman.  If she had, I probably would have found myself an Airbnb.  Dolly never liked Vanessa.  I always wondered why she kept talking about “Bernadette next door” and how I should meet her.  Why do I need to meet a seventy year-old artist nerd, I’d think.

I leave my stuff on the floor in the front hallway, hang my coat in the closet and loosen my tie.  I can’t wait to get out of this suit.  I only wore it because I had a lunch meeting with other lawyers today.  The rich tech and math geeks that I work with usually get uncomfortable when I wear a suit to the office, the general counsel that I report to hates it when I dress better than him, and I’ve gotten so used to my downtown style I think I just act different when I dress like a typical corporate lawyer.  Like a big dick, apparently.

Daisy’s hard at work, sniffing around.

“What do you think, girl?  This is where we’ll be staying for a few weeks, maybe.”

I’ve only been to visit my aunt here once, and I don’t recall getting the full tour.  It’s a good-sized space—bigger than our place.  I mean—bigger than the place I’ve been living in with Vanessa for the past three years and paying a hundred percent of the rent for, like a fucking idiot.  I follow Daisy down the hall to the living room.  Her nosey judge-y nature aside, Aunt Dolly has always had exceptional taste in almost everything.

The art and furniture in this room is stunning without being intimidating.  Sort of like Vanessa.  Which is why I never understood how Dolly could be so against my relationship with her.  Even now.

Fuck.

I pull my phone out of my back pocket to check my messages.  Still nothing from Vanessa.  At least I went a good fifteen minutes without checking my texts or her social media accounts.  Guess all it took for me to turn into an obsessed teenage girl was getting dumped by the woman of my dreams.  No big deal.

It’s only been four days since I’ve seen her.

Four days since I hired guys to move the few large objects that I consider to be mine into a small storage unit.

Two months of her not acting like herself.

Two months since she let me touch her in bed.

One month of her insisting that “it just isn’t working for us anymore.”

One month of me asking if there’s someone else and her saying: “There isn’t an ‘us’ anymore.  I just need space.  I just need to find myself again.”

She just needs time and space to find herself again and I’ll give it to her.

She’ll call.

I haven’t failed.

It’s not over yet.

“Right, Daisy?”

Daisy ignores me.  She’s too busy investigating smells in my aunt’s bedroom.

“Let’s stay out of this room,” I tell her, as I peek inside.  It’s basically a big tasteful boudoir, pretty much what I’d expect of my mom’s long-divorced, sexed-up older sister.  “Come on, Daisy.  Out.  Let’s find our room.”

Our room is the guest room, on the opposite side of the hallway.  It’s a pretty small room, painted bright white and just wide enough for a queen size bed and a bedside table.  But it’s the painting on the wall above the bed that makes the room magnificent.  A heavy square canvas about four feet wide all around.  Abstract, muted blues, white and gold blending into each other, just a hint of seascape.  It kind of looks like marble, but there’s a warmth to it.  It seems alive and changeable.  I have no idea why I like it so much, I just do.

I check the signature in the lower right corner.  B. Farmer.  Bernadette Farmer?

What do you know.

The less-than-seventy-year-old artist nerd has got talent.

A bod and talent and some kind of fragrance that I’ve never encountered before and more than one screw loose, so far as I can tell.

I can’t help but wonder what she’s doing on the other side of the wall right now.  Taking off that dress?  Scheming to steal my dog?  Both, probably.

Daisy circles my legs and barks her approval of our new digs.

“Yeah.  It’ll do for now.”  I pick her up and let her drench my face with saliva.  Honestly don’t know what I would have done the past few days without her.  “I’m gonna have to find you a dog daycare, huh girl?”

As soon as I let my parents know that we’d moved out of our apartment, I got an email from Aunt Dolly insisting that I stay at her place.  That’s how it goes in my family—I tell my parents there’s an issue, they say they’re sorry to hear it and ask if there’s anything they can do.  I say ‘no’ and then we stop talking about it, my mom emails her sister and then Dolly offers up her opinions and solutions for everything.  It’s efficient and effective.

I figured it would be nice for Daisy to be near two big parks for a change, but I’m not going to be able to come home at lunch to walk her like I could sometimes do when we lived downtown.  If we don’t move back in with Vanessa, this could be a good opportunity to find a ground floor unit with some backyard space.

But it’s too soon to think about that just yet.

I go back out to the hallway to bring my stuff to the guest room.  I could text Vanessa to ask if there was anything else of mine that I missed, but I’m determined to get her to make the first move.  After three nights in a hotel with my dog, the least she could do is text to ask where we’ve been staying.

I can hear Bernadette’s front door shut and realize a few seconds later that I’ve been holding my breath.  She doesn’t knock on my door.  Fortunately.  Don’t know why she would.  Other than to baby-talk at my dog again.

Suddenly, a yappy dog starts barking downstairs, and Daisy joins in on the fun.  Must be Mrs. Benson’s poodle.  Daisy’s scampering back and forth along the front door, her flat nose to the ground.  Poodle must be barking at the door directly downstairs.

“Hey!  Shush.”  I raise my finger to her and give her my best alpha voice.  “Daisy, quiet.”  I pick her up and take her to the guest room, shut the door.  She quiets down immediately, and I am one proud dog daddy.  The poodle downstairs, though, keeps barking.

When I’m back in the front hallway to pick up my bags, I hear a faint knock.  It’s so faint and hesitant that I can’t quite tell if it’s on my door or Bernadette’s.  Three louder knocks confirm that someone’s outside my door, and I have to wipe the grin off my face before opening it.

“Hi,” says Bernadette Farmer.  She’s still wearing that dress, her arms hiding behind her back, one foot crossed behind the other, looking up at me sheepishly.  She wrinkles her nose.  “Sorry about the poodle.”

“Should have known you had something to do with that.”

“I just knocked on Mrs. Benson’s door to see if she could help me with something, but she’s not at home.”

“Fascinating.  Thanks for the update.”  Lavender and something.  That’s what she smells like.  Lavender and vanilla and something else…Trouble.  That’s definitely what I’m sensing.  “Good night, then,” I say, as I slowly swing the door shut.

She sticks her leg inside and the rest of her quickly follows.  She is quick on her toes, despite her inability to climb three flights of stairs without falling backwards.  Not that I minded.

“I didn’t want to bother you,” she says, “but I need help…”  She sighs and twists her lips to the side.

“Are you going to make me guess what you need help with?”

“I need help unzipping this dress in the back.”

Now that she’s standing closer, I can also smell wine on her breath.  Not something I noticed when she gave me the key.  Guess I drove her to drink between then and now.  I could use one myself.  Hell, I needed one as soon as she ran towards me on the sidewalk and dropped to her knees.  Okay, so she was running to my dog—but it will take a while for me to forget that image.

“If I’m going to return it, I don’t want to risk tearing it, and I can’t quite reach the doodad for some reason.  This thing is so tight, I’m afraid the sides will rip if I…”

“Turn around,” I say.  I honestly didn’t mean for it to sound like a sexual command, but for some reason it came out that way.

She blinks her big hazel eyes, bites her lower lip, then slowly turns her back to me.  In one swift motion, she sweeps her long hair out of the way, over one shoulder, then stands straight as a rod, her arms tight at her sides.

This dress.

The front is quite enchanting, or maybe it’s her cleavage that had me in danger of being under a spell.

But the back of the dress, even though it covers a lot more of her, is even more enticing.

It’s a long zipper, from the base of the back of her neck all the way down to her waist.  There are still a few hairs in the way, so I brush them aside, unable to avoid touching the bare skin of her long neck.  I notice her shiver.  She wraps her arms around herself, as if she shivered because she was cold.  I’d better get this over with quick.

I unzip her, not all the way to her waist.  She can do the rest herself, I imagine.  I can’t help but notice that there’s no bra under there.  Which is interesting.

Her crossed arms slide up the front of her body, adeptly keeping her private parts in place and out of sight.  She glances over her shoulder without turning around.  “Thank you.  Sorry to bother you.”

“No problem.”

She uses her foot to open the door.  “Daisy settling in okay?”

“So far so good.”

I want to talk to her about her painting, but it doesn’t feel like this is the right moment, after I’ve basically just undressed her.

“Great.  Well…”

“Hey, uh…”

“Yeah?”  She shifts her body around so that she’s half-facing me, checking to make sure she isn’t showing any side-boob, then decides to face me full-on.

“I was just going to ask if there’s a good place that delivers around here.”

“Well yeah, there are tons of good places!  Actually, your aunt has a great list up in the kitchen by her phone, we pretty much order from the same restaurants.  She has a landline.  You don’t have to answer it, it goes straight to voicemail.  Oh, and I forgot to tell you the thermostat is set pretty low, so you should turn it up at night.  It makes a little noise when it starts up, that’s normal.”

“Right.  I am familiar with heating system noises.  But thanks.”

“Okay then.”  She furrows her brow at me, and I’m not sure why it feels so necessary to be such a dick to her, it just does.  “Good night, Daisy!” she calls out, looking around for her.

Daisy barks a happy “yarf” greeting from inside the guest room.  She rarely barks, so it’s weird that she’d respond to a new person like that.

“You know where to find me if you want to hang out with a nice human!” the new person yells out again.

“I’m nice to my dog,” I growl.

“Lucky her,” she snaps, as she spins back towards the door.

“Good night, Miss Farmer.”

“Good night, your esquireship.”

And then she’s gone.

 

I get Daisy’s feeding station all set up in the kitchen and then check out Dolly’s impressively detailed food delivery list.  I use an app, of course, so I don’t have to actually speak to a human being on the phone, but I’m too hungry to do all the research necessary to make an informed decision.  According to the list, the fastest delivery after 7:30 pm is from a bar & grill, so I find them on my app and order a burger and fries and guacamole and chips, because it has been that kind of week.

It’s been years since I’ve hung out or eaten on the Upper West Side.  The last time my parents came to visit, we all met up with Dolly, who insisted on eating at a bistro just south of Columbia university.  It was actually really good, but I would never make the trip out there if I didn’t have to.  And I guess Vanessa and I went to a fundraiser at the Museum of Natural History a couple of years ago…

Vanessa.

Fuck.

My phone buzzes with a message and what do you know?  It’s from Vanessa.  Three little words.  How are you?

Good question.

I’m kind of numb.

I’m in a weird place, emotionally, but I’d never admit that to another human being.

I’m not clear if this is really a break-up or just a break, and I’m afraid to even talk to attractive women who aren’t you yet, because I don’t need any of that Ross and Rachel “We were on a break!” drama.

I miss you, but I’m afraid I might just be missing some glorified fantasy of you.

I miss us, but I can’t remember the last time it felt like we were the Us that I loved.

I don’t want to hate you, but I’m not thrilled by the way you’ve handled this situation so far.

I’m wondering how it’s possible that you haven’t even asked about Daisy, even though you’ve always been kind of jealous of her and I used to think it was cute but now I’m afraid it’s because you might actually be a bit of a bitch.

If you really did break up with me because of another guy I wish you’d just fucking tell me.  It would kill me, but at least I’d know.

But what I type is:  Fine.  You?

Hit send.

Maybe if I’d already changed out of my suit I would have been able to respond with a few more words, in the way that I know she’d appreciate, but fuck it.  After four days of radio silence, a lot of guys wouldn’t respond at all.  The animated dots tell me that she’s typing a fairly long response.  I stare at the phone and wonder if, given her response, Daisy and I should go back to SoHo tonight.  I guess I’ll wait until the food’s been delivered.  Gotta take care of me first, right Oprah?

Then the animated dots disappear.  No response comes.  I look down at Daisy, who is sitting by her water bowl staring up at me, like: “Oh, buddy.  Just let her go already.  I’m the only girl you need.  You’ll see.”

And not a minute later, I find out from Facebook that my relationship status has changed.

Apparently, I’m officially single again.

 

 

 

 

 

HELLO DARLING sneak peek!

There is always a point in the writing process where there’s a tug-of-war going on between my excitement to share my new project with readers and the desire to stay tucked away with my characters in the writer’s cave.  Today the excitement to share is winning.

Below is the cover, blurb and FIRST THREE CHAPTERS of my next book, HELLO DARLING.  It’s a pretty long sneak peek!  The pre-order is set to go live in Kindle Unlimited on November 15th.

compressed cover reveal Hello Darling

BLURB:

Millions of women all over the world would drop their knickers for British movie star Evan Hunter. Now he’s falling for the one American woman who won’t…Yet.

Everyone on Main Street has been talking about Evan Hunter, the British movie star who’ll be filming on location in our small Pacific Northwest town for a couple of months, and all I have to say about that is: “Who?”

When he shows up two weeks early to escape the London paparazzi after breaking up with some starlet, all I want to know is: “So?”

When he walks into the gym that I manage for my dad and brothers, to start training for the action scenes in his movie, I’ll admit I do say to myself: “Hmmm…”

But he’s not my type. I’ll take a fireman or a lumberjack over a pretty actor any day—I don’t care how blue his eyes are, how chiseled his features or how crackling our chemistry has been from the first “hello.”

Okay, so it turns out Mr. Charming and Sophisticated isn’t quite the polite English gentleman when we’re alone together in private. He may, in fact, be a filthy-mouthed sex god. He may, impossibly, have his sights set on me.

Obviously, there’s only one way for me to prove to him that I’m immune to this British actor nonsense. I’m going to prove it to him so hard.

But I have rules for flings with out-of-towners and I will continue to enforce them, even with ridiculously beautiful international film stars. Even though he gets along so well with my family. Even though we somehow seem to understand each other in ways that no one else ever could. Even if he makes me wonder what it’s like out there in the world outside of this coastal paradise I’ve always called home.

I’m staying right where I am, no matter where he claims to want to take me with him when he leaves.

Every time he says “Hello Darling,” all I hear is: “goodbye heart.”

HELLO DARLING is a standalone funny-sexy-sweet small town romantic comedy with a British actor hero and a sassy American heroine. No cliffhanger, no cheating, yes HEA!

**Update**If you are on Book + Main Bites Romance, I have just posted an exclusive sneak peek on there:  https://bookandmainbites.com/kayleyloring

***IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE THE SNEAK PEEK OF HELLO DARLING, READ ON!***

Chapter One – Evan

 

Oh Christ, the paparazzi.

Fuck me.

I was in such a hurry to get out of London, it didn’t leave enough time for my assistant to book the Heathrow VIP service, and apparently my dark sunglasses and baseball cap aren’t cutting it as a disguise today. I should have just worn a bloody mask since it’s the day after Halloween.

“Evan! Morning, mate! Where you off to today?”

Just smile and keep walking, smile and keep walking. At least there’s only two here today. This one’s the nice photographer. Stay calm. Don’t look miserable. Because you’re not.

“Taking a trip by yourself, then?” says the wanker photog who always tries to rile celebrities up. “You still in touch with Georgia, now that Evangia is no more? How you feel about Braden—you a fan?”

God, I want to punch this one in the face. My publicist would love it if I did. Anything to tarnish my squeaky-clean polite English gentleman image. She’s literally begged me to go on an angry drunken rampage and snog Kylie Jenner in front of as many cameras as possible.

“International flight, then? You off for work? Where you off to, then?”

“Flying off to Hawaii to try to win Georgia back? Heard she’s there with Braden. How’s it feel to be dumped for a bloke who’s nine years younger than you, eh?”

What a delightful question—so glad he asked! Maybe I should buy him a coffee and we can have a good long chat. And then I can punch him in the face.

Truth is, it doesn’t feel good, but not for the reason people think. Thirty-one is starting to feel a bit old to be a bachelor. I honestly don’t know how Hugh Grant managed it well into his fifties.

You know perfectly well how I managed it, you fool, says the voice of Hugh Grant in my head. By not being a giant pussy. If you ever write your autobiography it would be called The Subtle Art of Giving Too Many Fucks.

You’re right, Hugh. This time, you’re right.

Smile and keep walking, smile and walk, almost there.

“Evan! Evan Hunter! Can I have your autograph, please?!”

Shit. A fan. A young one. I can’t ignore her. I’ll just stop to sign autographs for this sweet girl and the…crowd of twenty people who are following her…fuck me…but at least they’ll be between me and the paparazzi and then I’ll be at security in no time.

I do wish I weren’t so well known for being a relentlessly happy and friendly fellow. It must be so liberating to be regarded far and wide as a moody bastard who gives fuck-all about what other people think. What I wouldn’t give to be early-career Colin Farrell, just for three days. I’d even take 1995 Hugh Grant.

Nobody’s stopping you from going cruising for a sex worker, you airy-fairy prat. I dare you to get arrested for lewd conduct—anything.

Shut up, Hugh. Nobody even remembers that little PR glitch, you lucky bastard. That all went down before everyone had camera phones and Twitter and YouTube accounts. Everything’s so heavily documented now. Not that that’s why I’m always on my best behavior. I’m going to spend so much time here signing autographs and posing for selfies with fans that the paparazzi get bored and piss off to look for someone more famous to blind with their camera flashes, and because my fans are lovely and they mean the world to me.

And also because I give too many fucks.

 

I’ll arrive Seattle in about ten hours, and it will be late in the morning of the same day. Couple of hours later I’ll be in Port Gladstone.  It will be fantastic to start this day over again on the other side of the world, alone, where no one gives a toss how I feel about the demise of Evangia. I can start this new month in a new town, where people won’t care that I’m a movie star, and I won’t have to act like one. I’ll have two weeks there before I officially begin work on the movie, so I’ll have time to be me again, away from all the rubbish that comes with being Evan bloody Hunter.

There are many different reasons for taking a role in a film, limited TV series or stage play. Occasionally it’s because you really want the part. Sometimes it’s purely financial. Sometimes there is so much pressure from your agents to be part of a package with other talents that it’s difficult to refuse, and sometimes it’s just a matter of timing. I took the part in this next film because of timing and location. I wanted to get as far away from London, New York and L.A. as possible, as soon as possible. The small town aspect of Port Gladstone, Washington seems perfect. No paparazzi to deal with, and it reminded me a bit of the coast of Cornwall when I looked it up online. The script is more than fine, I like that when my character comes to this town, he takes on a new identity and finds it very freeing, in the way that you can when you’re in a new place, with new people. And the fact that I’ll have to get back in shape for the part seems an ideal way to keep busy before production begins—not to mention it’s a good way to keep my randy arse busy while I get my head sorted out.

The other great thing about this project is that it’s unlikely I’ll get involved with the female lead for a change, because the love interest role is quite small, so whoever the actress is, she won’t be around for very long. She hasn’t been cast yet, but I’ll only sign off on her if I’m definitely not attracted her. Problem solved.

Now that I’m in the lounge, I can decompress and put all of that behind me. Wendy has sent me links to a few gyms in Port Gladstone, so I can start getting back in shape soon as I get there. The first gym is open twenty-four hours, but it’s one of those big chains with bright lights and loud music and too many machines packed in too close together. The second one just looks a bit too hippie-dippy for my tastes. Complimentary kombucha drinks and too much use of the words “energy” and “healing” on their website. The third gym looks promising.

Starkey Fitness. Not too large, not too small. Family-run.

Hold up.

On the “About Us” page there’s a picture of one Stella Starkey, the gym’s manager and yoga instructor and she has—quite simply—one of the best faces I’ve ever seen. Fair skin, no sign of make-up, framed by dark hair, her full lips curled into a tiny smirk and a twinkle in her intelligent tea brown eyes that lets everyone know she can’t quite take everything they’re saying too seriously.   Of all the stunning celebrated faces I’ve had the pleasure of gazing at in my life—how is it possible that this one is so enchanting to me?

Probably just the rebound-effect I’ve been so thoroughly warned about lately.

Ever since word got out that last year’s Golden Globe winner for supporting actress Georgia March had “dumped her former co-star for someone her own age,” concerned friends have been advising me that I will most likely have some sort of uncharacteristic emotional reaction in the wake of this, my first experience of being broken-up with at the ripe old age of thirty-one. My agent has sent me a list of female clients he’d “like to discuss” with me before I find myself in another relationship, but the last thing I need is another relationship with another actress. Meanwhile, I’ve promised myself a monk-like existence for a while.

I need to take this opportunity to slow down and start to think about getting involved with the kind of woman I could actually get serious about for a change. It’s time to look into buying that little house in Cornwall with a view and finding someone special to hide away with there when I’m not on set. I might be coming down with a case of whatever you call the opposite of wanderlust. Homehunger. I’m sure there’s an untranslatable German term for it.

It’s called being a giant pussy.

Sod off, Hugh.

Wish I could. You’re the knob who’s always wondering what I’d think about things.

 

It’s just a picture.

A picture that I can’t stop staring at.

I can’t frequent that gym knowing there’s a woman I’m this attracted to there—the whole point of taking this film was to throw myself into work…Oh who the fuck am I kidding? Of course I’m going to choose that gym. Throwing myself into work has never stopped me from throwing myself into a pretty fanny at the end of a long day. I mean—it’s a Hollywood thriller, not Shakespeare. I had all of my lines memorized after the second time I’d read the script.

Of course—she could be married. If not, she probably has a boyfriend. Even if she’s single, she might not be into guys like me.

She might be the only woman I’ve ever met who isn’t into handsome charming wealthy world famous British movie stars.

What do you think, Hugh?

Please refer to 1999 hit Notting Hill for completely realistic, not at all cheesy depiction of how easy it is for an impossibly likable mere mortal with floppy hair to date a glamorous movie star, and then please remind yourself that you are by no means a celebrity of Julia Roberts’ stature.

So chances are good that she just won’t be that into you.

But definitely try to shag that gym girl once or twice because she’s totally hot.

 

 

Chapter Two – Stella

 

I’m trying to remember the last time I didn’t have a hangover the day after Halloween. When I was fifteen? Unless you count candy hangovers, then I guess it was when I was four. When was the last time I had a Halloween hangover that wasn’t mixed with a hint of bewilderment, shame and regret?…I know the answer to that, and I don’t want to think about it. No need to feel hungover, bewildered, shameful, regretful and sad. It’s so unlike me to behave the way I do on Halloween.

I’m just never myself on October 31st. I suppose that’s the point of the holiday nowadays. I suppose that’s the thing about living in a small town your entire life—Halloween is the only time people are open to seeing you in a different way. Or maybe it’s the only time I feel comfortable being somebody other than who my family and community expects me to be. I guess that’s why so many people leave this beautiful place. But I won’t.

It’s the first day of November, and despite my own personal history, I still love this season here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s all flannel and boots and pumpkin spice and the smell of burning cedar and pine logs escaping the chimneys. Some people feel weighed-down by the overcast skies but I prefer to think of the clouds as hugging the earth.  And the beaches? Quiet and soul-crushingly beautiful. I can walk a mile along the shore and not cross paths with another human.

It’s just me and the seagulls, the Lord Huron playlist that’s infusing my brain through my earbuds, and the cool breeze caressing the beard burn on my chin courtesy of Jason “The Kwas” Kwasnicki and three too many pints of Guinness at last night’s festivities. The one downside to this season is that there are fewer tourists to have dalliances with, so back to the local dating pool we go, and it’s sink or swim until Memorial Day. Good thing I don’t care about dating. It’s not usually an issue, since most of the local guys don’t want to mess with me. Having a dad and three brothers who can kick most dude’s asses without even trying will do that to your social life. I’m fine with it.

 

I had to get away from Main Street on my lunch break. The talk of the town usually shifts seamlessly from Halloween costumes to Thanksgiving plans and recipes, but this year I’ve been hearing less about pumpkin pie and more about crumpets (what the fuck are crumpets?). There’s going to be a major motion picture shooting on location here in a couple of weeks, and the star is from England. All the business owners of Port Gladstone have been Googling him to find out what he’s into, to try to lure him to their premises so they can take pictures. Mrs. Flauvich ordered a month’s worth of Yorkshire Gold tea, crumpets and marmalade for her deli. The window display of Clemmons Sporting Goods is now dressed to feature cricket and rugby. The Chef’s Special of the month at the Golden Panda just changed from Egg Boo Young to Posh Spiced Rice with Diced Bangers, and the Wangs also printed up new To Go menus. They are now called “Takeaway Dish Menus.” Fortunately, our finest tavern has always been well stocked with Guinness and Newcastle Brown Ale (unless we Starkeys have cleaned them out).

Who is this Evan Hunter guy, and why am I supposed to care? All I know is, he’s not Loki and he’s never been on “Game of Thrones.” Supposedly he’ll be in an upcoming JK Rowling series, so—three points for Gryffindor. But I’m not going to be waving the Union Jack until we know if it will be of Harry Potter or “Casual Vacancy” caliber. I haven’t Googled him, even though I keep hearing: “Oh he was so handsome in that one about the soldier who has amnesia.” Barf. “I keep reading that he’s going to be the next James Bond.” Oh really? If Sean Connery is still alive, then he should still be James Bond. End of discussion. “Forget about the movies—have you seen those shirtless pictures of him in Barbados?” Um. Have you seen those shirtless pictures of Jason Momoa in absolutely anywhere? Why do you ever need to look at anything else?

The guy isn’t even in town yet, and I’m already sick of him—although perhaps there will be someone else on the visiting film crew that I can have a fling with. A gaffer or a key grip (whatever they are). I may love this town with its Victorian era houses and buildings, but fancy Englishmen have always made my eyes roll. So here I am, sitting on a log while eating a sandwich and staring out at the ocean, instead of shoveling a Cobb salad into my face at the deli while staring at a book like I usually do.

Also, I’m trying to avoid The Kwas.

I can still feel his tongue tickling my tonsils, and he sent me a text this morning that said: Yeah!

That’s it. That’s all it said. I don’t even know how to respond to that, so I won’t.

Twenty-six feels way too old to be drunk-kissing guys that I went to high school with at parties. Even on Halloween. Not wearing my sexy sailor costume again next year might help with that. Or not going to a Halloween party at all would probably be even more helpful. Why do I do this to myself? Why can’t I just be sad and stay home with my cat or hang out with my family like on every other holiday?

I pull my phone out from my pocket when I feel it vibrate. What a delight! It’s another text from Jason Kwasnicki.

It just says: Hey hey!

He is nothing if not succinct. I will have to pass on responding to this one as well.

Out of the corner of my eye, I catch sight of a man in black who’s jogging along the path, heading back towards Main Street, his back to me. His tall frame is distinctly unfamiliar. He’s wearing a baseball cap and running pants. He is fast. Good stride. Great form. Fairly lean but broad-shouldered. Fantastic male butt specimen. Not my type. Just as well.

I’ve consumed my sandwich down to the last bit of crusts, which I’ve saved for the birds. You’re not supposed to feed seagulls bread, but the gulls have been hovering, and this bread has sprouted grains and seeds so at least I’m not giving them processed food. I have such fond memories of doing this with my mom when I was a little girl, so I always do it when there’s no one else around. I toss bits of crust into the air for the fastest and the bravest of the flock, making sure to chuck a big piece directly at the nervous wonky-looking bird that’s been waiting in the wings. Hang in there, little guy.

I take my time strolling back to work on the sand, because it’s wonderful out and I’ll be inside for the next six hours and I love this Lord Huron song that just started. I close my eyes for a moment, savoring the melody. When I open them again, I see the man in black, jogging in my direction. He’s on the path, which is about thirty feet from where I’m walking, his pace slower than when I first saw him. I run my fingers through my wind-blown hair and get my smile ready.

He’s wearing dark Ray-Ban wayfarers despite the mostly cloudy skies. Even from this distance I can tell he has the kind of jawline we don’t see much of in these parts, because—beer and beards. He is staring intensely at the ground ahead of himself. Again, it’s the kind of intensity one doesn’t see very often around here, where people come to enjoy the laid-back artsy/seaport lifestyle. It’s a kind of intensity that I can only describe as: HOT. I can’t see his eyes behind the shades, but judging by the way his shoulders and jaw are set, if he were looking at me the way he’s looking at the pavement, I’d have to call it “panty-liquefying intensity.” But he’s not looking at me like he’s looking at the pavement. He doesn’t look at me at all as he jogs past. Another thing I don’t see much of around here is a human being who doesn’t even glance my way—at the very least, we politely nod at each other, to acknowledge one another’s existence.

He must be from New York. Whatever. I’ve got other stuff to look at too, like the time. I should have been back at the gym five minutes ago. My younger brother hates being on phone-duty because talking to faceless strangers who have questions is more painful to him than doing fifty weighted deadlifts and squats.

 

Starkey Fitness is not the largest gym in Port Gladstone, and it’s not the one that’s open 24 hours a day, but it is the one with the best membership renewal rate, the most consistent membership growth, and it’s the only family-owned business in town where every member of the family can run a six-minute mile and hold a plank pose for a minimum of two minutes at a time. I’ve been managing the business full-time for five years. I started helping my dad out with administration and expansion right out of high school. It wasn’t the plan, but it became what I wanted. Living in this town, working with my guys and keeping them in line is a good life.

As soon as I step through the front door, Billy jumps up from the stool behind the front desk. I can tell by the way his wavy brown hair is standing up and out in front that he was pulling at it while he was on the phone with someone. His dark eyebrows are knitted as he stares at me, and I expect a reprimand or a “where’s my sandwich?” but instead, he says: “Is it true you made out with The Kwas last night?”

I wince. “We didn’t make out. He kissed me and I paused before pulling away. Who told you?”

“Who didn’t tell me? As soon as you left for lunch people kept coming in here to dish.”

“Great.”

“You want me to give him a message from the Starkey Brothers?”

“I think I can handle it.” I pull a wrapped sandwich out from my jacket pocket and hand it to him.

“Thanks.”

“Take your time eating it.”

“Don’t tell me how to eat a sandwich.”

I muss up his already mussed-up hair. “I can’t believe you never showed up last night.”

“I got to see two women make out at Andy’s. Five feet away from me. In person. I was in the right place at the right time, believe me.”

“I’m so happy for you. Go talk to Mr. Hannam, he’s looking at you like he wants to ask a question.”

“Lookin’ good, Mr. Hannam! What’s up?” Billy struts over to the cable crossover machine, where our newest sixty-seven year-old member is looking a little confused about how to work the thing. Billy is the only person I know who can get a person stoked about using what looks like an old school torture device. What Mr. Hannam doesn’t know is, he’s saving me from the real old school torture device: being grilled by my brother about kissing boys.

I immediately get back to work, responding to emails, wiping down surfaces, working on our annual holiday season “Get Fit-Stay Fit” challenge. We have a letter board set up on the front desk, with a phrase that changes daily, but I was barely conscious this morning when I assembled the letters to form: “Have a nice day. Get me a coffee.” Not one person got me a coffee. I switch it to: “Dear body: maybe don’t eat ALL the candy at once. Love, your pants”.” Cute and clever, but some of our regulars will note that last Thanksgiving it said the same thing but “pumpkin pie” instead of “candy.” Who am I kidding? Only about five people actually care what’s on the letter board. I’m one of them and I’m related to the other four. I take a picture of it and post it on the gym’s Instagram page anyway.

I text my dad to ask if he came down with a cold. I could hear it in his voice yesterday, and I don’t want him going for his usual morning hikes this time of year unless he’s in top form. He immediately texts back: NO. STRONG LIKE BULL.

I know this means he’s getting sick, and I know that I will be bringing him soup later, but I don’t push it because we are both stubborn like bulls and it’s no fun getting into a text argument with him because he just ignores my texts.

The business line rings. “Good afternoon, Starkey Fitness.”

“Yes, hello,” says a pert young female with an English accent. “I’m calling to ask if it’s possible to pay cash in advance for your three month membership?”

“Oh. Sure, I don’t see why not. Payment in full, in cash, would be fine.”

“Wonderful, thank you so much, and one more quick question.”

“Yes?”

“Do you photocopy your new members’ identification cards when they sign up? For your records?”

“No. That isn’t usually necessary.”

“Fantastic, thank you!”

She hangs up. It’s not the weirdest question I’ve ever gotten about memberships. Someone once called to ask if he could pay for his annual membership with a year’s worth of fresh caught salmon. My dad said ‘yes.’ We served it at our annual member appreciation dinner. When Mrs. Flauvich said the only way she’d join the gym was if she could eat on the treadmill, we said ‘no’ but that she could pay for her membership with hugs. Her blood pressure has been lowered thanks to the exercise, and ours has been lowered thanks to her bountiful warm hugs. Win-win. That’s how we do business, and we still manage to make a tidy profit.

 

I don’t even check the Caller ID when I answer the next call.

“Hey hey,” says the voice on the line.

“Jason?”

“So you made it to work?”

“Why are you calling me on the gym phone?”

“I’m a member.”

“Are you calling regarding your membership?”

“No, I’m calling regarding getting a drink with you later.”

“I won’t be drinking again for quite a while.”

“Food, then.”

My back is to the front door but I hear the bells jingle as someone enters or exits.

“I won’t be getting food with you. I don’t go out with our clients. Company policy.”

“I thought we had fun last night.”

“Well, I had fun, and you had fun, we both had fun under the same roof, and for a brief period of time our faces were connected, but you are under no obligation to get either food or drink with me, nor am I under any obligation to do so with you.”

“Why do you sound like a lawyer all of a sudden?”

“I’ve found it saves time. I’m sure there are plenty of girls who would love to have a drink with you, Kwas, I’m just not one of them. Have a good day, thanks for calling!” I hang up the phone, sigh, and turn to face the entrance.

I am startled to find a tall man standing in front of me on the other side of the desk, grinning, as he hangs his Ray-Bans from the V-neck of his grey T-shirt. His black hoodie jacket looks more expensive than my entire wardrobe. His blue eyes are so sparkly, even in the diffused natural light of our reception area, I think I might need to put on sunglasses to look at him. He’s smirking as he watches me, waiting for me to collect myself, so I know he heard the end of that conversation, and I know that he’s not only prettier but more polite than everyone who has ever walked through that door before him. Too bad I’m not into polite pretty men. But hey there, pecs that are barely hiding beneath that hoodie and T-shirt—you have clearly spent a lot of time inside of gyms.  What brings you here to ours?

I have to clear my throat in order to speak. My mouth is suddenly dry for some reason. I straighten myself up and lick my lips. “Hi.”

His eyes briefly drop from mine to my lips, and back to my eyes again. That tiny subtle movement of his shiny eyeballs somehow sends a shiver through me and I feel surprisingly sexy and caffeinated all of a sudden. He hasn’t even spoken a word to me yet, but I already feel like he’s told me I’m beautiful and presented me with an elegant box of tastefully provocative lingerie. It seems like an eternity passes before he finally opens his mouth, and when he does, all he says is “hello,” and I swear it’s as if no one has ever meant it quite so much as he does right now.

 

Chapter Three – Stella

 

“That’s an excellent jack o’ lantern.” The tall blonde man nods towards the small jack o’ lantern that sits in front of the letter board on my desk. I carved our business logo into it—made a stencil first, but still. It is excellent and not enough people have appreciated that.

“Thank you.” Nice jawline—it’s so sharp you could carve a pumpkin with it.

“Did you carve it?”

“Yes. I did.” Is that an English accent I’m detecting?

“Once, when I was young, I spent Halloween in Cornwall with my grandparents. It’s traditional to use turnips for jack o’ lanterns there, instead of pumpkins. When they’re lit they smell just unbearably awful. From then on I stuck to Easter visits.” He shakes his head, like he’s not sure why he just told me that. “True story,” he says, smiling sheepishly.

Yup. English accent. Despite what he’s saying, when he speaks it’s like his voice is bringing me a cup of tea and drawing me a bath while composing a sonnet.  Or is it calmly disrobing me while feeding me a butterscotch sundae and letting it melt onto my naked body?  Something about that accent makes me stand a little straighter, raise my chin a little higher. And yet, something about it makes me want to chomp on chewing gum, blast Metallica from the speakers and make fun of him.

“Sorry—are you talking to me about turnips right now?”

“Well, I was, but I think I’m done. I’m Evan, how do you do.” He holds out his large, manicured hand.

“Hi. Stella Starkey.”

“Of Starkey’s Fitness.” Polite, firm handshake, and yet he holds on just a second too long, holds my gaze three seconds longer than my stomach butterflies can stay still.

I didn’t even realize those butterflies were still alive in there. “One of them. I mean—I’m one of the Starkeys. I’m the manager. Welcome.” My stomach butterflies and my brain don’t seem to share the same taste in men anymore.

“Thank you. Well, I’ve just arrived in town today, I’ll be here for a while for work. I think my associate called earlier to make sure you’ll take cash in advance for the three-month membership?”

“Yes. She did. We do.”

My brain is whirring. This is the jogger from the beach. Evan is the jogger from the beach. Evan is Evan Hunter. Evan Hunter is the British movie star. Up close, it appears Evan Hunter the British movie star has a bit of a supernatural glow to him. Not like a Twilight vampire, but that healthy glow that beautiful rich people have in pictures and on film and you assume it’s a filter.

I try to concentrate on what this strange vaguely glowing person is saying by focusing on his mouth, because it’s moving.

What follows is a flood of thoughts and feelings that are so new to me I immediately feel the need to catalog them so I can impose some semblance of control. The first thing I think is: That there is the most beautiful man I have ever seen. The second thing I think is: I don’t like beautiful men. The third thing I think is: Don’t I though?  Fourth thing: Nope. Definitely not. Fifth thing: Wait, I have seen this guy in a movie. He was in the Romeo & Juliet video that Mrs. Greer showed us in English Lit. I was sulking the whole time because I had just had a fight with my boyfriend and thought the play was ridiculous. Sixth: That is a damn pretty mouth. He must exfoliate and moisturize those lips regularly.  Thing number seven: Shit, I’ve seen him in something else too. He was in the action thriller that was a modern adaptation of Hamlet. I walked out halfway through. He was good in it, but it was a weird combination of pretentious film school baloney and big budget movie crap. I hated it. And I wasn’t even in a bad mood that time.

I start shaking my head. “I’m sorry, I’m just going to be honest and stop you right there and tell you that I haven’t been listening to a word you’ve said.”

He stops mid-sentence, sucks in his breath and smiles. I’m sure it’s quite common for people’s heads to explode when they first start interacting with him. He smiles with his pretty mouth and his beautiful eyes. He has a kind smile and it still makes me want to mock him.

“I was babbling for the most part anyway. Is there some sort of form I should fill out, and is it alright if I use an alias? For confidentiality and all that.” He shrugs modestly and searches my eyes to see if I actually realize who he is. There’s no arrogance there. At all.

“Um. Yes. That should be fine. Rest assured, we will keep your membership here confidential, to the degree that we can. I mean. People will see you coming in and out of here. Some of them will recognize you and some of them won’t. Some will care and some won’t. We have no control over that.”

He laughs. “Understood.”

“Promise you won’t sue us if people find out you’re working out here, or God forbid if you sustain an injury on the premises.”

He grins. “I promise.”

I load up the three-month membership form on the iPad and hand it over to him, glad that I don’t have to use a pen to write anything, because for some stupid reason my hand appears to be trembling.

“Make yourself comfortable.” I wave towards the seating area to the side of the entrance. “Or—are you sure you don’t want a tour of the gym first? You can have a complimentary first day—”

“Not necessary. I’ve checked things out and everything here seems ideal.” He says this while looking directly into my eyes, instead of surveying the gym facilities.

My mouth goes dry again, so I nod and pretend to do some important typing on my laptop while he saunters over to the sofa and pats his jacket pockets, doesn’t find what he’s looking for, then uses his fingers to expand the form on the screen. He probably needs reading glasses and forgot them. I like the idea of him in glasses, but I refuse to Google “Evan Hunter glasses” because I’ve Googled “Jason Momoa glasses” and I am all good, thanks.

When he returns to my desk, he places the iPad in front of me and waits for me to look over the filled-out form. I keep hearing his phone vibrate but he hasn’t checked it the entire time he’s been here, which is yet another unusual thing for a human. He pulls out a wallet while he watches me read. “I put the number for the hotel where I’m staying and the name that I’m registered under. I’ll be moving to a house soon, but—”

“Richard Diver…Wait…Dick Diver? Interesting choice of alias. You a fan of early Twentieth Century American Literature?”

“Yes. Are you?”

“Why do you look so surprised?”

“I…I didn’t mean to…”

“What, you think I’m all brawn and no brain?”

“I certainly didn’t—”

“You think I just watch reality shows while I run on the treadmill?”

“Not at all.”

“Yeah, well I do. I read Tender is the Night back in high school. I re-read parts of it every now and then. For years I fantasized about going to a glamorous resort in the French Riviera because of that book. I read all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work after devouring The Great Gatsby for English. So why do you identify with that character? Are you married to a wealthy woman with mental health issues?”

“Not married, no.”

“Dating a wealthy woman with mental health issues?”

“Not currently.”

“Beginning a descent into alcoholism?”

“Well, I have felt the need of a stiff drink ever since you and I began talking, to be honest.”

“Ohhhh, I know. It’s the pretty young starlet thing.”

“Sorry, the what?”

“I bet you can relate to Dick Diver because of the pretty young starlet who adores him.”

He clears his throat and looks down at the large bills he’s pulling out of his wallet.

I do realize there’s a fine line between sassy and assy and that I have just charged across it.

“And did you ever make it to a glamorous resort in the French Riviera?” he asks, without making eye contact.

“What?…Oh. No. I did not. I resorted to a life of glamour in the Pacific Northwest instead. As you can see.”

“I can see.” The eye contact is back, the smirk is gone, but in its place is a serious contemplation of me that makes me even more uncomfortable. Finally, he takes a deep breath and says: “Well, I should do some strength training. I’m trying to get a good workout in before I crash. Jet lag, you know.”

“Right. The worst.” I don’t want to tell him how little I’ve experienced jet lag in my life, but I have a feeling he can tell. “My brother can give you a quick tour of the facilities.” I try to get Billy’s attention by waving. He’s facing the back mirror but he’s looking at his phone. “Let me just—wait here. I’ll get him. Oh, and we have Wi-Fi. If you want to check your emails. The guest password is ‘glutes123.’”

“Is it really?”

“It is this week. Be right back.”

“I’m in no rush.”

“Cool.”

As I step out from behind the front desk, I try to walk like someone who isn’t at all self-conscious about the fact that a movie star is checking out her backside, and I really think I’m nailing it until Billy looks over at me and says: “What is wrong with you?”

“What?”

“You’re walking like you have hemorrhoids.”

I lower my voice. “Shhh! Shut up. You need to give a new VIP client a quick tour. Be cool. That actor who’s going to be starring in the movie they’re shooting here just signed up for a three month membership.”

“No way!” He looks over my shoulder towards the reception area then slaps my arm with the back of his hand. “Holy shit I totally recognize him. What’s his name again—Sherlock Austen?”

“Sir Monty Churchill the Third.”

“Is it really?”

“No! It’s Evan Hunter but his alias is Richard Diver. We need to be discreet—don’t yell out his name and don’t tell everyone he’s here.”

“Sis.” He wipes his hands on the front of his T-shirt. “I got this. Watch and learn.”

He nudges me out of the way and marches over to Evan Hunter with his hand outstretched and I’m already embarrassed. The few other members who are working out on the machines don’t even seem to have noticed him. “I’m Billy Starkey, hi, it is such an honor to meet you. I’m a huge fan of your work.”

“Hi, thank you so much.”

Firm handshake. Billy pats him on the back. Evan seems amused.

“It’s so cool that you’re here—the whole town’s been talking about the movie and you—this is the most exciting thing to happen since the Bigfoot sighting.”

“The big foot?”

“Just a little local humor. Bigfoot actually sticks to the mountains. Hey, my boy Chet’s an actor too! Maybe you can give him some tips sometime.”

I just want to put a bag over my brother’s head, but the polite Englishman is nodding and smiling and going along with this.

“Oh, your son’s an actor?”

“Yeah, no, Chet’s my dog. He’s been in a local commercial for a hardware store and a regional commercial for a pet supply store that shot over in Seattle. He’s like the Tom Hanks of Labradoodles around here. He’s so fucking cute and loveable—here’s a picture.” Billy whips out his phone and opens up his photo library. He literally has hundreds of pics of Chet, as well as an Instagram account, of course. “Sorry, you probably don’t like swears.”

He feigns a bit of a drawl. “Fuck yeah I do. Let’s see that cute little fucker.”

“Hah! This guy’s cool. You’re cool, I like you.” I cover my face with my hands while my brother holds his phone up to this poor guy. Some pet parents are so annoying. I never show strangers pictures of my cat Muffin Top. Unless they ask.

“Oh, he’s beautiful.”

“Here, this is a better one.”

“So adorable. I can see why he’s a star.”

“Right?”

I peek through my fingers and catch Evan Hunter smiling and winking at me while Billy swipes through his library to find the picture of Chet with a little cowboy hat on.

“Billy, I think Mr. Diver probably needs to get to his workout.”

“Actually—is there a men’s room I can visit first?”

“Yes! The loo—right? In the men’s change room back there, or if you want to use the employee restroom…”

I furrow my brow at Billy. I don’t want this fellow sharing a bathroom with me. I don’t know why, but I feel very strongly about this.

“Change room will be fine, thanks.” Evan Hunter heads off towards the change rooms and I definitely don’t stare at his butt as he goes, because that would be lame and also he’s not my type.

“That’s a nice guy right there. I like him, he’s a real guy. Celebrities,” Billy says, thoughtfully. “They really are just like us.”

I shrug and lower my voice. “Are they, though? I bet when he farts it smells like roses, and tiny angels blow trumpets out of his arse.” Oh my God, I’m ten. I’m a ten year-old tomboy again and I just want to beat that guy in dodgeball. I want to hurl rubber balls and words at him to eliminate him but also kiss him on the mouth maybe a little first.

My brother looks up from his phone and observes me in a way that he’s only done a few times in my life. I immediately feel uncomfortable and defensive. “What?”

He smirks. “Nothin’. He’s good-looking, huh?”

“If you like that sort of thing.”

“Good thing you don’t.”

“Good thing I don’t. The whole package, with the blue eyes and pretty lips and the accent and being nice. It’s too much. He’s like those enormous chocolate chunk cookies they sell at the Costco bakery that are the size of your head. With the pecans? Remember I got a box of them once for all of us? We were so excited because they look amazing but they were so thick and chewy we could only stomach like half of one and anyway it made me feel sick and I never bought them again. Too much.”

“That is not a good analogy.”

“Yes it is. Your judgment is impaired by your man crush.”

“Maybe so. I can’t believe that girl dumped him.”

“What girl?”

“Some young actress, starlet, whatever you wanna call her. I forget her name—Mrs. Flauvich was talking about it. Dumped him for one of those boyband guys. According to the internet, he’s heartbroken. That’s probably why he’s here early, I bet. To get away from the paparazzi. What, you didn’t hear about that? Everyone’s talking about it.”

My eyes sting. “I am such an asshole.”

“You just realizing this?”

“Shut up. Here.” I grab a bottle of water from the mini fridge under the reception desk. “Give him this.”

Billy holds the bottle up with one hand, and with the other he gestures towards me like a game show hostess. “Ladies and gentlemen. She’s not an asshole anymore.”

Evan Hunter must think I’m such a jerk! The whole starlet thing. I can’t even believe I was so sassy with a new client. He was friendly and kind to me from the get-go and I was a non-stop cheeky turd beast.

Honestly, this is not like me. I blame the Halloween hangover. Next time he speaks to me, I’ll be super nice to him. Probably. I hope.

 

***END OF SNEAK PEEK.  Text is subject to minor changes upon publication.  Available HERE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sneak Peek of GREEN

GREEN high contrast color glossy text cover

I am so excited to introduce you to my next pair of steamy romantic comedy victims!  Theo and Gemma are so cute together I keep trying to hug my computer.  GREEN is a bit more of a slow-burn than my other books, as it is a friends-to-lovers story, and Theo and Gemma are a tiny bit younger than most of my protagonists.

I’ll let the blurb and rather long excerpt speak for themselves.  GREEN is available for pre-order HERE.  It will be live in Kindle Unlimited on September 6th!

Blurb:

Three years ago, I did what so many people say you should do if you want a happy life. I married my best friend.

You know what people don’t say?  They don’t tell you that you probably shouldn’t secretly marry your best friend so he can get a green card if there’s even a chance you might fall in love with him. Because that clueless hot nerd will be too busy becoming a millionaire to even notice how uncomfortable you get when he walks around the house shirtless, complaining that he can’t get the same kinds of snacks that he grew up eating in Canada.

We needed to stay married for at least three years so he could become a naturalized American citizen. I have spent the last year trying to fall out of love with him, so I can make a graceful exit from this arrangement and move on to greener pastures.

I did not expect my best friend to ask me to stay married to him.

He didn’t expect me to say ‘no’ to him.

Three years ago, it was all too easy to convince the immigration officer that we were a real couple.

Now my beloved fake husband is going to have to work his ass off trying to convince me that he isn’t just pursuing me all of a sudden because he’s crazy jealous of my new coworker.

I’m going to try not to panic while he displays the sexy alpha side that he’s been hiding from me all this time.

When he tempts me with “a real honeymoon,” I am going to try very hard to relax and have fun, despite having much less experience with relaxing and having fun (in bed) than him.

And I have no doubt that we will both blow it, because three years ago we were just too young and naïve to realize that secretly marrying each other would complicate everything.

GREEN is a friends-to-lovers marriage of convenience sweet and sexy slow-burn romantic comedy.

 

Sneak Peek:

Chapter One – Theo

When Gemma Kelly and I first met, I was naked and she was stoned. She was accidentally stoned, and I was purposefully naked but accidentally locked out of someone else’s apartment across the hall from hers. It was definitely the first, and hopefully the last time in my life that my nakedness has inspired instant feelings of non-lusty friendship in a human female.

 

The girl that I had just…been intimate with…had flipped out when I told her I had to go home to study, called me a selfish liar, and then got dressed and stormed out of her own apartment. I chased after her because I didn’t want her to go around thinking I was lying about wanting to go home to study and I definitely wasn’t selfish. I allowed myself one weekend a month to have a little fun and I had just given her three loud orgasms, so I thought I had earned me some late-night study time. The door locked behind me—my clothes, wallet and phone were inside—and she’d disappeared down the stairwell, me yelling after her while laughing because what the fuck. Next thing I know, I’m cupping my hands over my private parts, silently cursing myself for not just letting her think I was going to go out and hook up with someone else, when the door across the hall opened a crack and I got a glimpse of the most beautiful sleepy green eyes staring out at me.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hi,” she said, opening the door a bit more so that I could see more of her pretty round face. She had fair skin, no make-up, and she was all glowy. Her eyes got so wide-open all of a sudden, I thought maybe she recognized me.

“Do I know you?”

She tilted her head to one side, like a puppy. “I don’t think so.”

I have no idea how long we stared at each other like that. It felt like forever. I kept thinking I should say something, but I was also so strangely comfortable that it didn’t seem like I needed to. After the high-octane sexed-up craziness of my night with Nikki, it felt like everything was suddenly in slow-motion, like Christmas at my grandmother’s house. Although, to be clear, I had not stood around naked at my grandma’s house since I was a toddler.

Finally, I said: “I’m Theo.”

“I’m Gemma.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“Howdy.” She stuck her hand out and waved.

“I got locked out of Nikki’s apartment.”

“Yeah, that happens.”

“Does it?”

“I mean, in general, in the world. I don’t know if it’s happened here before.”

“Right.”

Another silence. She just stared at my face, and I think she may have been humming to herself. It was almost like she was a nurse and I was a naked patient waiting to see the doctor. Except that’s not what it was at all.

Eventually, I coughed and said: “I’m naked.”

“I thought so,” she said, giggling. “My vision’s a little wonky right now. I thought maybe you were wearing a flesh-colored body suit.”

“Well. I’m not.”

“Okay. I think I’m stoned.”

“Okay. You don’t know for sure?” I shivered. It was chilly in that hallway.

“One of my roommates baked brownies and told me to have some, then left for the night. I had some. She hasn’t responded to my texts. I’ve never been stoned before. It’s not what I thought it would be. I can’t tell if it’s better or worse. Or maybe there is no good or bad. It’s just a state of being that I’ve never experienced before. Or wait…Maybe I’m always like this but I’ve never been aware of it until now. Whoa.”

“Yeah, you’re definitely stoned.”   That would explain why I felt so weird as soon as I saw her. Contact high. “How many brownies did you have?  When did you eat them?”

“Umm…I didn’t look at the clock, but it felt like a long time ago.  Also, not really.  Okay, if I tell you how many I had, you have to promise not to judge me.”

“I’m standing naked in a hallway in the middle of the night in front of a stranger. I’m not going to judge you.”

“You have to promise.” She held her index finger up at me. She had chipped navy blue nail polish on her fingernails, the exact same shade as my jeans that were on the floor in the room that I could no longer access.

I sighed. Making promises to a strange girl in the middle of the night while naked had never been this weirdly non-sexual. “I promise.”

“Wait—do you go to USC?”

“Yeah. School of Engineering. Department of Computer Science. Do you?”

“Yes. I’m getting a BFA in scenic design. Engineering, huh? That sounds like a baloney education.”

“Sure, it’s just a BS in Computer Science and Business Administration with a minor in Technology Commercialization—not as practical as a Bachelor of Fine Arts, but we’re all just trying to make the world a better place.”

She tsked. “Rude.”

“Yeah, that was uncalled for, sorry.”

She scanned me up and down again—like some celebrity judge on a TV talent show—seemingly forgetting that we were talking about brownies. I’d like to think that there are a multitude of scenarios wherein I would have played this very differently if she had shown the slightest bit of interest, but I just wasn’t getting that vibe.

“You don’t look like a nerd.”

“Thanks?”

After another five seconds or five hours, she sighed, then said: “I had three brownies. Nope. I lied. I just lied to you. I ate four brownies. Just one after the other. They’re delicious.”

“Okay, well they must not have been laced with too much THC, or else you’d really be freaking out right now.”  I started to explain how pot brownies are a very different delivery system for marijuana than when it’s inhaled, and I think she may have fallen asleep standing up for a second.

Suddenly, her eyes opened again and she said:  “You want one?”

“Uh. Yeah. Yes, I do.” It was a Saturday night and I was twenty, single, and naked. If I’m being honest, I didn’t even want a brownie. I just wanted to be with her some more. I thought she was delicious.

“You can come in. My roommates aren’t home. You can put on my boyfriend’s clothes. He isn’t here either.”

And there it was.

She had a boyfriend.

Of course she did.

I made some mental adjustments and decided to see where this would lead anyway.

“You’re the same size,” she continued.

I cleared my throat and tried not to give her the same cocky grin that had gotten me into Nikki’s apartment and pants earlier. You sure about that?

She glanced down at my hands, which were still covering my private parts, but in no way hiding everything. It must have been true that her vision was wonky, otherwise surely her eyes would have bulged out of her head at that point. “I mean. In general. As far as I can tell…Wait there, I’ll go get the clothes for you.”

She went inside and closed the door.

I continued to stand there, hands on my junk, wondering if this was really the best use of my time when I had midterms to study for.

The door swung open wide, revealing this little pixie in all her glassy-eyed, curly-brown-haired glory. She was laughing so hard she was snorting and hiccupping, waving her hands at me, as if to say: “You’re naked!” She finally managed to pause long enough to speak. “You should come in. Then I’ll get the clothes.”

“Sounds like a plan,” I said, remaining still.

She stood in the doorway, trying to focus on my mouth. “What’s that accent?”

“I don’t have an accent. You do.”

“Canadian! I could tell from the way you said ‘sounds.’ You said ‘sorry’ funny too. Say ‘about.’”

“I’m aboot to freeze my nuts off in this here hallway, eh?”

She laughed so hard she bowed forward, snorting again. Nodding, she finally pressed her back up against the open door to make room for me to pass. I tried really hard not to notice that her Snoopy T-shirt was suddenly stretched tight across her very round perky breasts, and she didn’t try hard at all to ignore my bare ass as I hustled through the doorway. She blatantly stared at it, in fact.

“Hmmm…”   Still staring.

I slowly turned around to face her, wondering if her eyesight really was messed-up.

“Do you do squats?”

“Nope.”

“Do you work out a lot?”

“I run. I’m a runner.”

“I bet you look good in pants.” She wasn’t being flirtatious in the least. She said it as though she were saying something very profound.

“I’d love to show you how good I look in pants. Soon.”

After three seconds, she burst into a fit of laughter again, and eventually I was wearing pants, but she had completely forgotten to check out how my butt looked in them because she was too busy eating potato chips and talking about ordering pizza.

I completely forgot about going home to study.

She completely forgot to order pizza.

I had no idea where the girl across the hall had disappeared to and somehow didn’t care that my phone was locked in her apartment.

The boyfriend’s clothes did fit me. She said his name was Andrew, that he lived “back home” in Cleveland, that they’d known each other their whole lives, their parents were all friends, their dads worked together, and they’d been seeing each other “every couple of months” since she came out to L.A. She said it was perfect. I didn’t ask why, I was just glad that he’d left his pants here and that he wasn’t around.

 

I stayed with her until morning, helped her out when she got nauseous, talked her down when her mild pot-brownie-induced freakout hit, watched about eight episodes of Bob’s Burgers with her and woke up on the sofa with her asleep on top of me, her head on my chest. She was thoroughly unconscious.

I lay awake, perfectly still, for maybe fifteen minutes. Her arms were wrapped around me, her body pressed against mine. Her hair smelled like fresh citrus fruits and pretty flowers and sexy musk and I wanted so badly to run my fingers through it. I wanted to touch her and kiss her and take off her clothes and taste her and make her feel things that her absent boyfriend had surely never made her feel. But I didn’t. I kept my hands clasped behind my head.

I don’t know what it was, exactly, that made her trust me enough to let me into her apartment late at night—besides the fact that she was stoned, I was clearly not hiding any weapons on my person and we both knew Nikki. I don’t know what made me want to be her friend. I’d never really had a female friend before, not since I was a little kid. I also don’t know what it was that caused her to wriggle around slowly, and moan softly in her sleep—if she was dreaming or if she thought she was with her boyfriend. But I closed my eyes and clenched my fists and recited mathematical formulas in my head.

That did the trick.

When she awoke, she bolted up and declared that she just remembered that she had a spare key for the apartment across the hall because she watered Nikki’s plants when she was out of town. She didn’t seem to realize that she had been lying on top of me. She didn’t seem to remember it, either.

Ever.

I tried to forget about it every single day for about a month.

I still thought about it from time to time for months after that.

For years, neither Gemma nor I had seen each other naked since the night we met.

Unless you count the times my stupid brain imagined what she looked like completely naked, without my permission. If you count those times, we’re talking, conservatively…at least once every single day. In my defense—my twenty year-old brain imagined every attractive woman naked, usually without my permission, and some of the not-so-attractive women too.

But that was never going to stop me from being the best friend she’d ever had.

 

***

 

A week after meeting, Gemma and I had seen each other every day after classes, I’d nicknamed her Grandma Kelly, she’d repeatedly told me that the only reason she was hanging out with a guy who’s prettier than she is was that I’m also a bigger dork than her (neither of which is true), and I asked her if she wanted to move in with me.

When I’d first moved to LA from Toronto, I used a chunk of my trust fund money for the down payment on a three-bedroom house in Echo Park. It was an investment. Risky, I suppose, but it had worked out very well. Property in the hipster neighborhood continued to climb in value, my renters covered my mortgage payments and then some, and I got a line of credit to finance development of my app. I also put money into a financial portfolio, which I tweaked now and then, and not to brag or anything—but I’m kind of awesome at making money.

The house is close to USC, but not in a sketchy neighborhood, and Gemma was tired of living with three other students in a two-bedroom apartment in Koreatown. I didn’t want to keep running into Nikki who lived across the hall from her. Also, I just wanted Gemma around all the time. Even though I was charging her half of what she had been paying at the apartment, she said she would only move in because I already had two other tenants.

Chloe and Ethan were married USC grad students. Chloe was getting her Masters in Product Development Engineering, then began working for an industrial design firm in Santa Monica. Ethan was getting his Masters in Sustainable Design at the School of Architecture, then got a job at a firm in Pasadena. They were my dream tenants. I’d started renting out the downstairs unit of the duplex to them a week after I’d moved in, but barely spoke to them aside from polite chit-chat. Once Gem moved in, we all started having dinner together out back almost every night. We’d been a happy family ever since.

 

I can’t say for sure why Andrew had no complaints when, after knowing me for two years, Gemma told him that she was going to marry me so that I could get a green card and she could live rent-free for three years. I suppose I’d been more focused on getting my startup funded to wonder if he just didn’t think of me as a threat to their relationship, or if he didn’t care enough about what Gemma was up to when she wasn’t with him. I asked her if I should have a talk with him, but she said it wouldn’t be necessary. I tried to stay out of her relationship with him as much as possible. The less I knew about it the better. Maybe that was how Andrew felt about her friendship with me.

Andrew’s a good guy. Canada’s a phenomenal country. This wasn’t about me not loving Canada, or Gemma not loving Andrew. I love Canada. But America is where you go for the big tech investors. Canada’s a great place for A.I., robotics and machine-learning, even e-commerce startups—that’s where the big venture capital bucks go up there. But I’m not in that space. I’m a fitness nerd. I develop fitness technology. I needed to be here to access the investors in Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach (the burgeoning Los Angeles tech community), and the footwear and sports apparel brands that are headquartered in Portland. I’m ambitious. I’m not going to apologize for that. But if I’m being honest, the real thing that I dreaded leaving behind wasn’t the potential for career and financial success—it was Gemma. She had quickly become the most important person in my life, and I didn’t want that to change.

It was March, and it was the day before I ran that year’s LA Marathon. Gemma had cooked an insanely delicious pasta dinner for my carb-load. It was beautiful out, my parents had come down to cheer me on, and we all ate at the table on the patio with Ethan and Chloe. My parents brought up job possibilities for when I return to Toronto. Being here on a student visa, I’d have to go back once I graduated, unless I landed some amazing job that I was more qualified for than any American applicant. A work visa would have been my only option—not that I didn’t think it was a possibility—I mean, I am awesome and I already had a bunch of unofficial offers from some big tech companies. But I was already obsessively developing my app for runners as a side hustle and didn’t want to be a cog in the wheel.

So that dinner was bittersweet for me, and Gemma picked up on it. After my parents had returned to their hotel and Chloe and Ethan had gone to bed, Gemma and I were loading up the dishwasher and she said: “Theo. I could marry you.”

Just like that. Could not have been any less sexy or romantic, but it rocked my world nonetheless.

“I could marry you before we graduate. You could get a green card. We’d have to stay married for just over three years. We’ve already been living together, so it won’t look fishy. We just have to take lots of pictures at the ceremony and convince an immigration officer that we did it for love. Nothing else would change.” She looked down at the pan she was scrubbing. “I don’t want you to leave.” She wasn’t even pouting, just stating a fact.

“You’d do that? What about Andrew?”

“What about him? It’s not like he and I will be getting married in the next three years. He’ll be so busy with law school. I’ll still go home every month or two to see him, he won’t care.”

“But you’ll tell him?”

“Yeah of course. We should also tell our parents and Chloe and Ethan. Well, I guess Andrew’s parents should know, otherwise they’d be mad that my parents kept it a secret from them. But everyone else can just think we’re best friends who live together. Which we are. Right?”

“Right. Will your parents be okay with it? I mean, Andrew’s like family to them, isn’t he?”

She shrugged. “They like you. They love that you asked me to live with you in your fancy house for such low rent.”

“I won’t let you pay rent or any of the household bills while we’re married. That way you’ll be able to start paying down your student loan.”

“Really? Wait ‘til I tell my parents that. They’ll shit themselves.”

So sexy and romantic, this girl. “Aww that’s so sweet.”

She laughed at herself. “My parents trust you, because I trust you. Besides…” she paused, and I waited for her to finish the sentence. I secretly hoped that what she was going to say was: “we all know I probably won’t end up marrying Andrew anyway.”

But she didn’t. She said: “Everyone knows I’ll never cheat on Andrew. I mean, we’d never cheat on each other. No one will care. They’re in Cleveland. Nobody really cares what goes on outside The Cleve.”

“If you say so,” I said. “How long have you been thinking about this?”

“Couple of days…I lied. I just lied. It’s been a couple of weeks. I did a little research.”

“You’d really do that for me?”

“I’d do anything to keep you here.”

I could have kissed her right then. Not in an I Want To Fuck You way, but in a You Are The Best Friend I’ve Ever Had kind of way. She was so matter-of-fact about it. It really did sound simple. “Also we’ll have to have joint bank accounts and stuff like that to make it look more real.”

“Wow. It’s almost as if you’ve thought about this before too”

“I haven’t. Honest. But I did know a guy in Toronto who paid a girl to marry him so he could get a green card. Actually, she had a boyfriend too, but she needed the money…” I threw her a side-glance.

“I don’t want you to pay me.”

“I would if you asked me to.”

“I’m not going to.”

“I’ll get you a nice ring, though.”

“You don’t have to.”

“Course I do. To make it look more real.”

She rolled her eyes. “Well, if you insist. Then you should probably get me two nice rings. Engagement and wedding rings. If you really want it to look like the real deal.”

“I do,” I said.

I really did.

I had a feeling neither of us would ever really know how much.

I had no idea if this friendly love of ours would ever become a love story.

I just knew that the story of my life, from that moment on, would always somehow be about us.

 

GREEN is available HERE

 

Kayley Loring

GREEN facebook teaser

 

REBOUND WITH ME – Sneak Peek and teasers!

Hello, Readers!  I am so in love with my new book boyfriend Vince, and the cover for REBOUND WITH ME, and excited to share some things with you now that it’s available for pre-order HERE on Amazon.  This novel is scheduled to go live in Kindle Unlimited on May 9th!

As many of us are still waiting for some actual Spring weather, I have been keeping myself warm by writing about a hot summer fling and staring at THIS BOOK COVER:

Rebound With Me by Kayley Loring

See what I’m sayin’?

 

The plot and main characters are rather different from my previous books, but it’s all so damned sweet and fun that I actually bounce up and down and giggle while I’m at my desk writing.  It’s ridiculous.  Coincidentally, I have also been rebounding on my mini trampoline a lot lately, however, this book is about the other kind of rebounding–the kind that involves at least two people.

 

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

 

When you’re in your neighborhood liquor store trying to figure out what kind of alcohol to consume after finding out your fiancé has dumped you for a 22 year-old nanny, and the hottest guy you’ve ever seen comes up to you and offers to get you a drink at the bar down the street, you’d go—right?

It’s not the kind of thing I would have done before now. I’ve been a Good Girl my whole life. Always played it safe, always followed the rules. I even got engaged to the principal of the school I teach at. Well, look where that got me.

It got me back here in my apartment, with the sexiest most charming guy I’ve ever met. When I find out that he’s the nanny’s ex-boyfriend and his plan was to sleep with me to get back at my ex—you’d think I’d kick him out, right?

Wrong.

This guy Vince Devlin is exactly the kind of trouble I’ve been protecting myself from. Do I want to help him get back at my ex in this way?

Oh.

Hell.

Yes.

I want him to get back at my ex hard. With wild abandon. All night long.

I expect the hottest (and only) one-night stand of my life.

I don’t expect him to come back for more and show me the best summer I’ve ever had. I don’t expect us to fall in love. I don’t plan to invite him to come with me on my weekend getaway, I don’t expect him to say ‘yes,’ and neither of us expects to run into our exes there.

We don’t expect any of it. The only thing we know for sure is that rebounding with each other is a bad idea. The best bad idea that either of us has ever had.

 

REBOUND WITH ME is a sexy and sweet romantic comedy about a hot summer fling that just might turn out to be the real thing.

And here is the sneak peek…

REBOUND WITH ME / Chapter One – Nina

 

 

At least he had the decency to wait until the end of the school year to break up with me so I didn’t have to deal with the awkwardness of seeing him every day. Now I have the entire summer to get used to this new situation. 

 

This is what I’m telling myself, as I enter my neighborhood wine and liquor store, in my four-inch stacked-heel mules and dark sunglasses, with my head held high. My plan is to grab a bottle of something with over twelve percent alcohol in it and get back to my apartment without making eye contact with anyone.

After spending the past two days holed-up in my apartment, listening to break-up songs and eating expired pasta and cookies, it took me an hour to get ready to walk here. I did not want to risk running into my ex and his new girlfriend while looking like a hobo and scouting for booze. Hence, the armor of skinny jeans, heels, shiny straightened hair and cherry-tinted lip gloss that is so slick it looks like I’ve been making out with a pan of bacon grease (I wish). I may be an inexperienced shell-shocked first grade teacher on the inside, but on the outside I would be highly ranked in Maxim magazine’s Hot 100 Most In-Denial Dumped Women Who Need To Get Drunk Fast.

 

My parents raised me to be an optimist. They taught me to look on the bright side of life, to see and speak of the good in people, and to never swear out loud. And so, it is with this attitude that I am grateful to my cluckhead former fiancé, who is the principal of the elementary school I teach at, for being so courteous. He waited until the Saturday after the last day of the school year to come clean about falling in love with a twenty-two year old nanny named Sadie, whom he has been secretly boinking for two months.

Or, to put it another way—after being together for three years, the motherflorker cheated on me for two whole months and now I get to spend my summer break hating him, regretting the last three years of my life, dreading the next school year, and considering finding a job at another school, thus leaving the Brooklyn neighborhood, co-workers, kids, and community that I love just to avoid seeing the crasshole’s stupid face again.

At least now I have the luxury of getting drunk on a weekday. See—I just can’t help but put a positive spin on things. It’s a curse.

 

I’ve never drowned my sorrows before, but it seems like the thing to do. My best friend Marnie came over yesterday to bring me a shoulder to cry on, several little packages of baby wipes, a handful of protein bars and a big baggie full of goldfish crackers and carrot sticks. She’s a mom. She’s the only person I’ve told so far about this whole scenario.

What’s weird is—I haven’t actually cried yet. I was angry. Now I feel numb. I figure I should go through the motions of all the break-up behaviors exhibited in movies and TV shows, so I can move things along. Not one of the Taylor Swift, Adele, Rihanna or Pink heartbreak songs have gotten to me, so my plan is to get drunk, listen to country music and force myself to cry, even if I pop a blood vessel doing it. If “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum doesn’t move me to tears then I will call Marnie’s husband’s therapist in the morning. Or try a different kind of alcohol.

 

I wish I’d Googled “best alcoholic drink for recent break-ups” before coming here. I usually drink wine but I want to try something different. Something unfamiliar. Something more…virile than I’m used to. Not too sweet, not too bitter. Something that will make me feel something.

I remove my sunglasses and let my eyes adjust to the lighting in the store. It’s twilight outside, perfectly believable that I’ve been out all day and just forgot to remove my sunglasses until now. The man at the cash register nods at me. I’ve never been to this store without Russell before. I’ve barely been anywhere in New York without Russell, now that I think about it. How sad is that? I wave at the man and try to look like someone who isn’t coming in here to grab a bottle of alcohol to take home and get drunk on by herself.

I hear the jostling of the bells above the door as I plant myself in front of an aisle full of bottles that look like they mean business. Tonight I’m not interested in those bottles of wine with the punny names and cute labels. Tonight I want a bottle with a skull and crossbones on it—well, a cute skull and crossbones at least. Tonight I want…I turn my head to look at the guy who’s talking to the man at the cash register. They are joking with each other with ease—that Carroll Gardens neighborhood familiarity that I just don’t have yet because I’ve always had Russell by my side.

Speaking of sides—the view of this guy’s back side is enough to drive a girl to drink. He must be a butt model. Is that a thing? The way his butt looks in those jeans just makes me want to do a little happy dance. This is the first time I’ve let myself pay attention to a cute guy butt in three years. Russell’s butt was perfectly decent, but nothing to write home about. I would write a blog about this guy’s butt. I could write a dissertation on this guy’s butt.

He’s wearing a grey V-neck T-shirt and black jeans, expensive shoes. I don’t know why, but it looks like he could just get totally naked in three seconds, like the clothes are only there to keep him from getting arrested. I also don’t know why I can’t stop picturing this guy naked and on top of me. I have to tear my eyes away from him. My cheeks are on fire. What is happening? I’m a first grade teacher from Bloomington, Indiana—I do not have sexy thoughts about complete strangers in New York liquor stores. I didn’t even allow myself to fantasize about Tom Hiddleston while I was in a relationship with Russell and I really really wanted to. I’ve never seen this man before in my life, and already I’m imagining what it would feel like to have him inside of me. The kind of guy I’ve never spoken to before, the kind of guy who’d never pay any attention to me.

I look away and back to the liquor bottles in front of me at the exact moment that I see him turn towards me out of the corner of my eye. I can feel my heart racing. I feel like I’m thirteen and just spotted a cute boy while buying bubblegum at the 7-11. This is so dumb. I’m going to count to ten in French and when I’m done I will be as calm, cool and collected as a French lady.

Un, deux, trois…

Oh merde, he’s standing four feet from me. He smells amazing—like a spicy misty forest that I want to run through in a white silk nightgown.

“You look like you could use a little help.”

Oh God, that sexy voice. I can feel that voice in my panties. I glance over at him. He’s smirking. Oh God, that smirk. I look behind myself, but there’s no one directly behind me. He’s looking at me. He’s smirking at me. His whiskey-brown eyes are making me feel warm and tingly down through my center, and they should come with a warning label but I bet every single woman he looks at the way he’s looking at me right now would ignore it anyway.

“Me?”

He laughs. “You.”

Do not say anything about him helping you by getting naked or putting his penis inside of you. “Oh. Yes. Do you work here?” I’m so proud of myself for saying six words without stuttering.

“No, but I do know my way around liquor. Professionally. I used to be a bartender. You looking for anything in particular?”

“Yes. A bottle of something with a lot of alcohol in it.” I barely recognize my own voice. It’s husky. Maybe I’m coming down with a summer cold.

“Well, you’ve come to the right store.” He was probably born with a husky voice.

“I usually drink wine, but I wanted to try something with a little more of an…edge?” I smirk.

I smirk?

I don’t smirk.

I am definitely smirking.

He grins and crosses his arms in front of his chest. This seems to please him. He leans towards me and looks kind of like a doctor diagnosing a patient and says: “Okay. You want something you can mix with something else, or straight up?”

“I should probably mix something with something else first. Nothing too girly or fruity though.”

“Got it.” He passes behind me and stands to my left, scanning the shelves. The nearness of him is almost electrifying. Some people have that kind of energy—especially in New York City. I’ve been around it, never touched it on purpose. People like that are the third rail, and I’ve always stood as far away as possible from the yellow lines at the subway station. But something in this guy’s eyes tells me he has no interest in hurting me. “Mind if I ask what kind of mood you’re in?”

“Does it matter?”

“Oh yeah. It matters.”

Oh Schmidt—he has tattoos. He has a sleeve of tattoos on his right arm.

“Um. I think I’ll just get gin and tonic. Thanks, though.” The alarm in my brain is definitely telling my feet to move away from him, but they are not listening.

“Oooh. G & T?” He wrinkles his brow and steps a little closer to me. “At eight o’clock in Brooklyn, alone on a Monday night? I don’t think so. Gin and tonics are for sipping on your yacht at the Hamptons while you’re watching the sunset like an asshole.”

“Oh well I guess that’s what I’ll be drinking tomorrow then.” I cross my arms in front of my chest and face him, wrinkling my brow, mirroring him.  “I’ve never watched a sunset like an asshole before. What exactly does that entail?”

He shrugs. “Loafers, no socks, if you’re a guy. Staring at your phone the whole time and twirling your hair if you’re a girl. You don’t seem like a gin and tonic type to me. Not right now, anyway. You look like you need something with a little more personality and muscle.”

My eyebrow arches up. I step away from him. “Uh huh. You know what—I think I’ll just grab a bottle of merlot and call it a night.” I start to wander towards the wine section.

He follows me, not too close. “Oh God, not merlot.”

“Why, is that what assholes drink in Miami at midnight?” Now I’ve said “asshole” out loud twice in one night. Who am I?

He releases a quick, surprisingly high-pitched song of a laugh—so unexpected from a guy like him. “Not even close. What’s your name? I’m Vince.” He holds his hand out.

“Hi Vince. I’m…Susan.” I shake his hand. It’s strong and a little bit rough and he could do a lot of things to me with that hand. Wait—what?

He lets me pull my hand away, shoves his hands casually into his front pockets as his eyes travel slowly down to my shoes and back up to my glossy pursed lips. “Hi Susan. What’s your real name?”

Oh what the heck. “It’s Nina.”

“Nina.” He nods, accepting that answer. “Hey. How about this—there’s a bar two blocks down called Bitters, you know it?”

“Yeah, I walk by there all the time.”

“I used to work there, why don’t you let me make you a drink. I think I know what you need…”

“Well, thank you for the offer, but I’m not in the mood to get raped or murdered tonight, so…”

Judging from the look on this guy’s freakishly sexy face, no one has ever foregone the opportunity to get roofied by him before. Hey, I get it. He’s very attractive. I would love to stare at his face and other parts of him all night. But I also don’t want to get raped or murdered.

A smile slowly spreads across his face. “Right. Good call, Nina. You don’t know me. Let’s be clear about this—you can watch my hands the whole time.” He holds his hands up. His strong, slightly rough, very capable hands. “I’ll make sure you can see exactly what’s going to be going in you before you decide if you want it or not. Sound good?”

 

Gulp.

 

“Hey, Marty,” he calls out to the man behind the counter, hands still raised in front of his chest, eyes still fixed on me. “Tell Nina here I’m a good guy.”

“He’s a pretty good guy.”

“Thanks a lot, Marty.”

I laugh.

He turns his head towards Marty, body still angled towards me. “If anything happens to Nina tonight, you can tell the cops where to find me, right?”

“Leave me outta this, you.”

“You got it.” He smiles at me. He’s got one beautiful smile, this guy, and it fades so fast I have a feeling not many people get to see it. “What do you say, Nina? Two blocks. Neighborhood bar. One drink?”

I wrinkle my nose. “So…People do this? Meet in a store for the first time and then go get a drink?”

He laughs, that brief, surprised laugh of a boy being tickled, before going back to being seriously hot. “Some people. Sometimes.”

I mean…I guess that sounds better than drinking vodka from a bottle alone in my apartment while belting out Patsy Cline songs.

 

To read more, you can pre-order REBOUND WITH ME and the e-book will be available to read late at night before it goes live on May 9th.

 

When his lips touch mine

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