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Authors: Hope Ramsay

A Fairytale Bride (2 page)

BOOK: A Fairytale Bride
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“I’m sorry about the mess,” she said in a rush, her face growing pinker still. “The books are from a large estate sale, and I haven’t gotten around to cataloging and shelving them all.”

No doubt because she’d been spending her time reading paperback novels. What had she been reading? Mystery, suspense,
Fifty Shades of Grey
? He warmed at the thought.

Her eyes were the dark blue color of a fall sky, and the moment their gazes connected, he revised his estimation of her. She wasn’t just some girl in colorful clothing. She was older than he’d first thought, and behind those smart-girl glasses, she was stunningly beautiful.

Awareness jolted him right behind his navel.

He had all day with nothing to do. A crazy, halfway desperate idea popped into his head. “I saw the sign in the window,” he said as he gazed at the disorder around the checkout. “Guess you need some help, huh?”

She tilted her chin up a fraction. One eyebrow arched. “Do you know someone who loves books and is willing to work for nothing?” She had a low, sexy voice that did something strange and hot to his insides, while it erased his better judgment.

He rested his hip against the counter and, forgetting all about his recent troubles, he said, “How about me?”

*  *  *

Melissa Portman almost laughed in the man’s face. He was most definitely not the teenager Grammy had been searching for when she’d put the “Help Wanted” sign in the window three months ago.

He was a grown man, probably her age or a little older, in his late twenties or early thirties. He wore clothes that branded him as someone who came from way, way out of town: a brown tweed jacket with elbow patches, a striped button-down shirt, and a pair of skinny jeans that showed off his muscular thighs. All in all, he gave the impression of a hot college professor.

He also had dark, soulful brown eyes, too-long black hair that curled over his forehead like a sensitive poet’s, and a well-groomed scruff of beard that Melissa found way too attractive for her own good. To top it all off, he held Hugo in his arms like a man who knew something about cats. In fact, just watching his long fingers stroke the cat was vaguely erotic.

No question about it. He was delicious eye candy. And she wasn’t stupid enough to believe that he needed a job. The guy was flirting.

Wow, that hadn’t happened in, like, forever.

She arched her eyebrow the way Grammy used to when faced with the utterly absurd and said, “You want to work here? Really?” She invested her voice with just the right tone of skepticism.

His mouth quirked and exposed adorable laugh lines that peeked through his
GQ
-style stubble. “Really,” he said. “I appreciate literature.”

His voice was low, deep, and had just the right hint of tease in it—like he might be calling her out for the book she’d hidden beneath the counter. Had he seen the title? She hoped not.

“Seriously,” he said, “I’m interested in the job.”

“It’s minimum wage,” she said.

“How much is that? I’m new around here.”

No kidding. “Seven twenty-five an hour.” She managed to say this with a straight face.

The professor’s eyebrows lowered. “That’s not very much, is it?”

Obviously Mr. Professor had been spending all his time in ivory towers or something. “Right,” she said, nodding. “And that’s why we only hire high school students. You’re a little old for that.”

He continued to stroke Hugo as he gazed at her out of those impossibly hot brown eyes. “I know, but I need the work. I recently lost my job.”

Something in the set of his broad shoulders suggested that he was telling the truth, even if he was flirting at the same time. A momentary pang of sympathy swelled inside Melissa. She was in the same boat. She’d given up a good job with the Fairfax County Public Schools in order to take care of Grammy, and now she’d be out a full-time teaching job until next September. She didn’t know how she’d pay her bills.

Unless she sold the historic building that housed Secondhand Prose. The Lyndons were willing to pay a fortune for it—enough to pay all of Melissa’s bills, cover the property taxes, and give her something left over to invest. But selling out to the Lyndons was the last thing Melissa wanted to do. In her heart of hearts, she wanted to keep Secondhand Prose’s doors open, which was just silly, wishful thinking.

“I could be very helpful,” Mr. Professor said, breaking through Melissa’s financial worries. “I’m good at organizing things, and I have other experience and qualifications that could be valuable to you.”

She eyed the cat and then his handsome face. “Aside from charming killer cats?”

His mouth twitched again. “I’m an avid reader.”

She rolled her eyes. “Aren’t we all? But really, there is no job.”

“But the sign. And you’re clearly short—”

“The sign has been there for a while. My grandmother put it up before she died. I’m sorry, but there’s no job available here.”

“Oh. I’m so sorry about your grandmother.”

For an uncomfortable moment, their gazes caught, and the kindness and concern in his eyes surprised her. “Grammy was pretty old,” Melissa said, her voice barely hiding the sorrow that had hollowed out her insides. “So let me ring these books up for you, okay?”

Melissa picked up the books he’d laid on the counter while Mr. Hottie Professor continued to lean his hip into the counter, his mere presence disturbing the atmosphere and making Melissa adolescently self-conscious.

“That’ll be twenty-five dollars for the books,” she said in her best customer-service voice. She expected him to hand over a credit card, but instead the guy pulled out a money clip that held a big wad of bills. He sure wasn’t a professor, not carrying cash like that. He had to thumb through several hundred-dollar bills to find a five and a twenty. So who was he? She was suddenly dying to know.

He put Hugo down, but the damn cat continued to circle his legs. “Nice cat,” he said.

“His name is Hugo—well, his full name is Victor Hugo—and he’s not friendly.”

“Could have fooled me.”

The cat meowed as if he knew they were talking about him. What was Hugo up to? He never made friends with strangers.

She handed the guy his bag. “So, where are you staying?” she asked, hoping she might prolong this conversation and get his name, e-mail address, or even his profile on Match.com.

He took his bag and broke eye contact. “I love your store. Next time I’m going to make friends with the cat in the window.”

“Ha. I don’t think so. Dickens is half wild.”

“I already figured that out. Have a nice day.”

And with that the guy turned and strolled down the aisle toward the door, looking amazingly like the hero in the romance novel she’d been reading when he’d first arrived.

Chapter Two

A
t six o’clock Melissa locked up the store and headed down Liberty Avenue with
The Lonesome Cowboy
tucked into her purse. She took her usual spot at the lunch counter and ordered the meat loaf blue-plate special and a glass of iced tea.

She’d been there for about ten minutes when Gracie Teague, the diner’s owner and chief waitress, leaned over the counter, casting a shadow on page 183 of Melissa’s book. “So what’s it tonight, English aristocrats or down-home cowboys?” she asked.

“Cowboys,” Melissa said, blinking up from the page. Gracie and Mom had been best friends in high school; maybe that’s why Gracie had nominated herself as Melissa’s keeper. Even before Grammy died, Gracie had been a fixture in Melissa’s life. Their relationship started that summer when Mom and Dad had dropped Melissa off with Grammy while they’d pursued their lifetime dream of buying a sailboat and sailing from the Caribbean up the East Coast.

Even as an eight-year-old Melissa had loved books, but an eight-year-old wasn’t patient enough to spend a whole day in a bookstore. So she’d come down to the diner and hung out with Gracie. Then the news had come that Mom and Dad had perished in a storm. The death of her parents had changed Melissa’s life forever while simultaneously cementing her relationship with Gracie.

Gracie had attended Melissa’s high school graduation. Gracie had made her prom dress. Gracie had driven Melissa down to Charlottesville to help her set up her freshman dorm room at the University of Virginia. Gracie had fed her ice cream when she’d broken up with Chris. And in the last three weeks, since Grammy had died, Gracie had provided the blue-plate special free of charge.

Gracie also made no bones about the fact that she intended to dance at Melissa’s wedding—someday soon.

She gazed down at Melissa’s book and shook her head. “Girl, it’s Friday night, and here you are perched on your stool like you have been every night since Harriet died. You need to stop with the books and go find yourself a real man.”

“I don’t think so. I tried that once, and you know how it turned out. Besides, book boyfriends are much easier, and you don’t have to clean up after them.”

Gracie snorted. “You wouldn’t clean up after anyone anyway.”

Melissa nodded. “That’s probably true. I love my dust bunnies. They’re way sweeter than Grammy’s cats.”

“Exactly my point. You’re too young to settle into the role of crazy cat-lady spinster. You should sell out, hon, and go somewhere exotic where rich, handsome bachelors hang out in droves.”

Melissa gave Gracie one of Grammy’s evil-eyed looks. “I could say the same for you.”

“I don’t have cats, and I don’t want to sell out.”

“So?”

“I guess you have a point,” Gracie said as she scanned the diner, which had exactly one other customer this evening.

Several chain restaurants had opened up at the new strip mall down near the highway interchange. The new competition had siphoned off a lot of Gracie’s evening business. Just like the online book retailers had siphoned off a lot of Secondhand Prose’s business.

“I think I need to change my menu,” Gracie continued on a long, sorrowful sigh.

“I like your menu just the way it is. People will get tired of the chain restaurants. I’m sure of it.”

Gracie could give a look as well as she could take one. “Melissa, you are so stuck in your rut you can’t even see the road in front of you anymore.”

Melissa shrugged this off and turned back to her book.

Gracie freshened her tea, rang up the other customer, and returned to the lunch counter, where she sat down with a copy of
People
magazine. They sat together reading for a few minutes before Gracie asked, “Do you think he got her pregnant?”

“Huh?” Melissa looked up from her book, which just happened to have a plot line involving a secret baby. She was momentarily confused. “Who got pregnant?”

“Mia Paquet.”

“Mia Paquet’s pregnant? That’s good news, if it makes her retire from reality television.”

“Don’t be superior, Melissa. A lot of people liked her in that show about Vegas pole dancers.”

“So someone knocked her up?” Melissa glanced at Gracie’s magazine. A big color photo of Mia Paquet and her cleavage dominated the page. A small black-and-white inset showed the reality star on the arm of some ridiculously cute guy wearing a tux and a bad-boy smile.

“Not just someone,” Gracie said. “Daniel Lyndon.”

“Oh, for crying out loud. Which Lyndon is he?”

“One of Charles’s boys. Dropped out of college and seems to be intent on blowing his trust fund out in California.”

“Give it a rest, Gracie. The Lyndons are not the saints and martyrs you seem to think they are.”

“Danny is just young and misguided. He’ll come around.”

“If he got Mia Paquet pregnant, I certainly hope he marries her.”

“I do, too. But you know how things go in Hollywood.”

“Whatever.” Melissa went back to reading.

“I’m much more worried about David,” Gracie said, smoothing back her outrageously bright red hair.

When Gracie got on the subject of the Lyndons, she was like a pit bull with a bone. Melissa put her finger down at her place in the book and looked up again.

“He’s not moving on with his life, bless his heart. He needs to find love again,” Gracie continued.

Melissa closed her book. If she wanted to finish
The Lonesome Cowboy,
she would have to leave the diner. “Okay, I can see how David needs to move on, but please don’t put me on your list of possible mates for him, okay? I mean, I feel for the guy. I knew Shelly a little bit. She used to come in the store all the time with Willow Petersen and buy romances by the dozens.”

“See?” Gracie said. “You and David’s late wife are a lot alike.”

“No, we weren’t. She was all about being a nice wife and fitting in with the Lyndon family’s plans for David’s political career. Can you see me doing that? Ever?”

“You could learn…”

“Gracie, please. I don’t like Pam Lyndon, and I’m not interested in her son.”

“Only because your grandmother carried a grudge. You know it’s time to lay that to rest with her, don’t you?”

BOOK: A Fairytale Bride
10.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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