Decidedly With Love

 

Fake boyfriend Rule #1: never fall for your fake girlfriend.

Oops.

Emma Lovejoy runs Aphrodite’s Boutique, a store that specializes in all things love-related. A store that she adores with all her heart, and which is at risk of being shut down and replaced with a condo development.

Playboy Travis Hamilton was raised by his feisty, well-meaning grandmother, who is determined to help her grandson find The One. But when most women he meets tend to be puck bunnies or women only interested in his hockey-player income—and let’s not forget the nutcase of an ex-girlfriend—why bother?

Travis realizes only a fake girlfriend will deter his grandmother’s matchmaking scheme. Too bad the one woman who can help him is the sexy redhead who wants to assist him as much as she wants her eyeballs to be dunked in hot sauce and barbecued. To convince her, he promises to help her with her own dilemma. But sometimes fire and ice really do mix. Now Travis has to decide if love is in the air—and if together he and Emma make something hotter. Something stronger. Something real.

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Chapter 1

Emma

Dear Dr. Lovejoy,

I’m a huge fan of the Harry Potter series. My bedroom is even decorated in a Harry Potter theme. But my new boyfriend told me that the books are for kids, and I should get rid of it all. What should I do?

“As if there’s any question. Dump him,” I said under my breath as the bell above the door jingled. A moment later, Kate entered Aphrodite’s Boutique. Glowing.

I slipped the independent newspaper under the counter. Did I have a Harry-Potter-themed bedroom? No…although that would be cool, especially since the series had been my favorite as a kid. Why? Because I could relate to Harry. No, I didn’t have any magical powers—which was too bad.

Like Harry, I had no parents or family. But unlike Harry’s mother, mine didn’t fling herself in front of evil himself because she loved me more than anything.

Not even close.

Kate strolled past the display of sensual bath products, massage oils, and scented candles near the front of the store. Her gaze paused briefly on the section farther back with the sexy lingerie.

As she walked to the counter, I pretended to straighten the heart-shaped cookies in the basket near the till.

Correction—as she practically floated to the counter. Her expression held the look of love. I hadn’t personally experienced it. I thought I had in college.…I was wrong. Silly me.

How did I know it was the look of love? Hazard of my job—love all around me—in case you missed it from the store’s name.

Aphrodite was the ancient Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation. Just not the self-induced pleasure I was more familiar with.

Still glowing, Kate placed a large paper coffee cup on the counter and held her left hand out in front of me. Unlike the last time I’d seen it, her ring finger now sported a diamond capable of making all other gemstones jealous.

I squealed. “Ohmigod, Jamie proposed?” I rushed from behind the counter and hugged her. “I’m so happy for you both.”

The tears in my eyes? Dust. Must have entered the store at the same time as Kate.

Right—it was raining. My point? The tears had nothing to do with Kate finding the most amazing guy in the world. And it had nothing to do with how at seventeen minutes past six that morning, I had officially become a twenty-eight-year-old spinster.

A spinster who didn’t even have a cat.

Maybe I needed to get a cat.

“Thank you,” Kate said, hugging me back. “You were so right in your Dr. Lovejoy column. He would never have settled down if he thought I’d be around for him no matter what. When I moved out of our apartment last week, he finally realized he couldn’t live without me.”

“I figured he’d come around sooner or later.”

Dr. Lovejoy? Yeah, there might be a slight chance that I wrote the weekly column in The SF Metro, one of the city’s independent papers. Was I a doctor? Not exactly. Lovejoy was my last name…but I didn’t have a PhD or anything like that. I had a business degree with a minor in psychology. I did take a human sexuality course in my undergrad years, but the professor who taught it had been as exciting as a wet towel left in the rain.

Kate hugged me again. Was I jealous that she was now engaged? Not at all. Everyone deserved to find love.

“But remember,” I said, “no one is supposed to know I’m Dr. Lovejoy.” It was a fluke that Kate had figured it out. My bio didn’t proclaim I was also the owner of what most people referred to as the “love store.” And very few people had figured out that I was the same Lovejoy who wrote the column. Heck, very few people were aware that my last name was Lovejoy.

“Don’t worry, I haven’t told anyone. Like I promised. Anyway, I need to get back to work.” Kate owned the coffee shop next door. “I just had to tell you the good news and drop off a little thank-you present.” She indicated at the paper coffee cup. “It’s your favorite. Skinny butterscotch latte.”

“Oh, God, I love you!” I said, a step away from squealing.

“I know you do,” she said over her shoulder, chuckling, and left the store.

“Come to Mama,” I said to the coffee and took a deep, satisfying whiff of the butterscotch richness. My coffee mug with, “You’re my sunshine on a rainy day” on it sat empty and alone by the cash register.

“Sorry,” I said to my mug, “I’m not risking any of this amazing coffee by pouring it into you. I was up late last night baking cookies for the store. I need this happy dose of caffeine.”

Yes, it was official. I was losing it. I was reasoning with a mug. Next up? I’d be asking it advice on my lack of a love life.

And no, the irony wasn’t lost on me. I wrote an advice column and owned a store that specialized in love and romance, but when it came to myself, I had yet to find Mr. Right.

Or even Mr. Close Enough.

As I sipped my precious beverage, the bell above the door jingled, and three women in their late seventies entered. They took in the store—the fountain, lingerie, bath and massage supplies, books, housewares—with eager grins on their faces. It didn’t matter if you were looking for a touch of romance or the whimsical or full-out sexiness, you could find it here. Although if you were looking for something featured in Fifty Shades of Grey, you’d be sorely disappointed. Leather and whips were not on the agenda.

I drank another quick sip of my coffee and placed it on the counter behind me. The three women shuffled farther into the store until they came to the fountain.

That’s right. I have a fountain in the store. And yes, the goddess of love is perched in the middle. Nice touch, huh?

“Wow,” the woman in the light blue trench coat said, examining the fountain. Her expression was one of awe…and mischief. “It reminds me of the Fontana di Trevi in Rome.” She turned to me as I approached. “Are you familiar with the Trevi Fountain?”

Was I ever. “Legend claims that if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, it guarantees your return to Rome. The second coin will ensure a new romance. A third coin guarantees marriage.”

Do I believe in the legend? Well, I’ve already thrown in about fifty dollars’ worth of coins over the past two years, and I’m as single as the day I was born.

I know. I know. The legend only applies to the fountain in Rome. And heck, mine isn’t even a replica of it. But it’s always nice to dream. Besides, the fountain is there for another reason.…

“That’s right,” the woman said.

“And just like with that fountain,” I explained, “all the coins thrown into this one go to charity.”

The woman in a trench coat covered with large, bright pink flowers glanced at me and smiled. “What charity?”

“The James Bell Youth Center. I’ve been donating the money to them for the past few years. I’m currently saving to have a mural painted on their wall. You know, to brighten the place and to give the kids hope.”

And I was almost there. At least I was there when it came to the supplies. I wasn’t close to the amount needed when I factored in the cost of the artist.

The women fished through their purses and removed some coins. The woman in the blue trench coat, who had asked me about the Trevi Fountain, turned around so her back was facing it. “You need to throw the coins over your left shoulder with your right hand.”

The other two women followed suit and turned around.

“Are we supposed to make a wish first or just throw in the coins?” the shorter woman asked. Her white trench coat hung below her knees.

“If this was the real Trevi Fountain, no wishing would be necessary,” the woman in blue said. “But it wouldn’t hurt to clarify things, just in case.”

The woman in white nodded as if this made sense.

The woman in blue threw in her coins. Plop. Plop.

Guess she wasn’t interested in returning to Rome.

The woman in white threw her coins next. Plop. Plop. Plop.

The first woman peered over at her, eyebrow raised. “You want to get married?”

“Why wouldn’t I wish to get married? I loved being married to Frank. Best years of my life.”

“Is there anyone you have in mind?” The woman in the flowery trench coat asked.

“Possibly.”

“Would it possibly have to do with the handsome gentleman in apartment thirty-four?” The woman in flowers then said to me, “He’s been a widow for five years now. There isn’t a senior in our building who hasn’t been lusting over him.”

The woman in white giggled. “Including poor Mathew in apartment forty-eight. But I’m pretty sure he’s barking up the wrong redwood tree. He’s gay,” she added, in case I hadn’t figured that out myself, I guess.

“So is that a yes?” the woman in flowers asked.

“Possibly.”

“I’ll take that as a yes,” the woman in blue said, grinning. “Okay, Fanny, your turn.”

The woman in the flowery trench coat got into position and threw the coins over her shoulder. Plop. Plop.

Ah, she was looking for a new romance.

She switched the coins from her left hand to her right and tossed them over her shoulder. Plop. Plop. Plop.

“Wait!” The woman in blue said. “You’re hoping to get married and have an affair?”

Fanny laughed. “I’m almost eighty. How much energy do you think I have?”

“Then why did you throw in five coins?” I asked. Maybe she knew something I didn’t when it came to the fountain’s lovemaking abilities.

And no, I don’t mean its abilities to fuck. I mean its abilities to help me find love.

Maybe I had been doing it all wrong.

“The first two were for me. It’s been twenty years since my dear Robert passed away, and I’m finally ready to climb back on that horse again.”

“Except now you’re too old to ride the horse—if you get what I mean.” The woman in white snickered.

Ohmigod, was I seriously listening to eighty-year-old women talking about sex?

“What about the other three coins?” I asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

“Those are for my grandson. He’s twenty-eight years old and still single. I want him to hurry up and get married and give me some great-grandkids before I end up next to my poor Robert in the ground.”

© 2017 Stina Lindenblatt

End Of Excerpt

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