Read an Excerpt
A Little Bit Cupid
By Jennifer Shirk
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Jennifer Shirk
All rights reserved.
Six years in photography had taught Phoebe Ward one thing. Being the photographer at someone else's wedding was the next best thing to being the bride in your own.
Unless, of course, that wedding happened to be your ex-fiancé's.
The glowing bride and groom gave a final wave as Phoebe snapped the last picture. She lowered her camera and sighed. Quitting time — thank goodness. She wasn't sure she could have endured one more minute. Not that she didn't want Kyle to be happily married to someone else. She did. After all, she had never really loved him — not in the way he deserved — and he obviously hadn't loved her. She swallowed the lump that lingered in her throat and went to find her camera case.
At least they'd broken up on amicable terms, which was why she agreed to be his wedding photographer. But that didn't mean a pang of envy hadn't hit a direct bull's-eye on her heart at the start of the ceremony and dug deeper with each kiss throughout the reception.
Phoebe had seen the way the couple looked at each other. The way they'd shared secret smiles during the evening exposed the gaping hole in her heart and loneliness in her life. That was when she'd realized something was utterly wrong with her: she had never been in love. Not completely and truly.
And she doubted she ever would be.
Phoebe removed the strap from around her neck just in time to see the bride's mother, smothered in green taffeta, waving a checkbook at her. "Don't you just adore weddings the week before Valentine's Day?" she said in a singsong voice.
For a single girl, someone else's wedding and Valentine's Day meant double the torture. But since the bride's mother had yet to sign the last payment check for her photography services, Phoebe pasted on a polite smile and nodded.
The woman let out a booming laugh. "Ha! You don't have to agree with me, you know. I'll still pay you," she said, shaking her pen at her. And true to her word, she signed the check and promptly handed it over to Phoebe.
Phoebe chuckled, tucking it into her jacket pocket. "Okay, maybe not. But it was a beautiful wedding — Valentine's or not — and I hope your daughter and Kyle have years of happiness. It's nice to see someone find love, at least."
The woman clucked her tongue. "Alone for Valentine's?"
Phoebe bristled at the presumption, even if it happened to be 100 percent true. "No, I —"
The woman held up a heavily ringed hand. "Take it easy, honey. I'm a mother of four young women. I've become adept at reading body language and yours is emanating 'Hallmark holiday marketing ploy'!"
"I didn't realize I was so transparent."
"Only to a trained eye," she said with a wink. "Don't let weddings get you down, though. You're a pretty girl. You'll find true love soon enough and maybe even have your own Valentine's wedding."
Phoebe packed her camera in its case, and when the lid gave a sound click, she looked up. "No offense, ma'am, but I highly doubt that will happen. I've given up looking for love. It may be in the cards for some, but Cupid seemed to have missed his mark with me."
The woman's eyes filled with sympathy as she patted Phoebe's arm. "Well, you never know, dear. Cupid just may find you yet. Have a nice evening."
"Thanks. You, too."
One of the bridesmaids called out and the woman went bustling in the direction of the bar. If Phoebe weren't so tired, she would have headed for a drink, too. But adding alcohol to her already-down mood wouldn't be a smart idea.
"Excuse me, doll," a burly voice said from behind her.
She turned around and was met by a short, stocky man in an ill-fitted tuxedo. He had messy dark hair and a ruddy complexion she suspected might have been caused from one too many cocktails. If him calling her "doll" hadn't already put her on the defensive, the creepy, eager smile he was radiating sure did.
"I couldn't help but overhear your conversation about true love," he went on.
Oh, great. An eavesdropper. She rolled her eyes, not bothering to hide her exasperation with his weak idea of a pickup line. "Look —"
"Allow me to introduce myself," he said, reaching his chubby hand into his jacket pocket and pulling out a pink business card.
She hesitated to reach for it, not wanting to be rude. A pink business card didn't exactly look promising, either. But it had been a long night, and since it was a wedding event, she decided to humor him and take it. The card read: Cosmo E. Cupid III.
Huh. His last name was Cupid. Funny, considering she'd just been talking about love. Then she took a closer look at the card and her stomach dropped. Oh, no.
Ugh. He wasn't trying to hit on her at all — it was much worse. He was trying to enroll her in an online dating service. Not that she hadn't tried that already. It just hadn't worked.
She shoved the card none too lightly back into his palm. "Nice try, buddy. What are you, some kind of wedding chaser, hoping to prey upon single depressed females? Not interested." Grabbing her camera case and coat, she sidestepped him and made her way to the hotel lobby.
"Not interested in your destiny?" he asked, following closely behind.
"I doubt that. Besides, you would be wise to hear what I have to say."
She doubted that. She picked up her pace. "I told you, I'm not interested."
They only come out at weddings — unknown family members, the Electric Slide, and people hawking matchmaking services. Sheesh.
She stepped out of the hotel into the frigid Boston air and threw her coat around her shoulders. The man hadn't followed her, which was a relief, and a taxi pulled up as soon as she reached the curb. Finally the night was going her way.
She stepped into the cab, lugging her camera gear. "Five twenty-one Snow Hill Street," she told the driver.
"You got it, doll," the cabbie said as he pulled into traffic.
Her gaze shot to the rearview mirror and their eyes met. The Cupid guy!
She gasped. "But how did you — ? Weren't you just — ?"
He let out a guffaw and almost dropped the cigar that hung from his lips. "Told ya, you can't run from your destiny, Phoebe."
Blood drained from her face. How did he know her name? She'd never given it to him. Wait — she had to calm down. That wasn't such a surprise. He could have easily asked the bride's mother or maybe even Kyle himself for her name. But that didn't mean he wasn't still creeping her out.
Downtown traffic slowed the cab to a crawl, and she drew in a shaky breath. This was her chance to get away from him. Placing her hand on the release of the door, she debated jumping out, when he suddenly lifted his right hand and wiggled his fingers. Cars on Newbury Street parted for him like the Red Sea.
That got her attention.
"Okay, who are you?" Her heart pounded so hard it shook her voice.
She saw him frown in the rearview mirror. "I thought you read the card. I'm Cosmo E. Cupid the Third. Love —"
"Expert," she finished impatiently. "Yes, I got that much. You don't own a matchmaking service, though, do you?"
"Don't insult me. My services go beyond mere money, doll. In fact, if it weren't for me and my family, matchmaking companies wouldn't even exist."
"What do you mean? What are you, then? Are you some sort of ... angel?"
Please be an angel. Please be an angel.
Or at least something good and kind and non-soul-sucking.
"Nah. Nothing that big. I'm Cupid. Well, not the Cupid. Cupid's son. I'm next in line for the throne, though. If there still is a throne," he murmured.
Oh my God. Cupid is real? And he has a son? She shrank back against the seat of the cab. "Wh-what do you want from me?"
"I've come to help you," he said in a way that made it sound as if he'd added "duh" to the end of his answer.
"Help me," she repeated. Cupid's son, who chain-smoked cigars and looked like Fred Flintstone, wanted to help her. She pinched herself. Hard.
She needed to get out of this Freddy Krueger nightmare.
"I know what you're thinking," he said after a minute.
Her body stiffened. "You can read minds, too?"
"Nah. But I learned about people like you in school." Amusement edged his tone. "Your reaction is a classic textbook I-must-be-dreaming case."
"Glad I'm so predictable," she muttered.
"So you'll let me help you?"
She narrowed her eyes. "Help me with what, exactly?"
"Find your soul mate and fall in love."
Fall in love.
She wanted to laugh, even though his promise of true love was very tempting. Here she was, going on the ripe old age of thirty-one, and had never been in love. Yet, somehow, he was going to make it all happen for her now? Had she eaten anything funny at the reception? She tried to remember. It seemed all too ridiculous. Too simple. Cupid's son just happens to come into her life to finally grant her what she's always wanted? Yeah, right. There had to be more to the story. Like everything in life, she was sure there was a catch.
"Well, Mr. Cupid, this seems all well and good on the surface. But what if I, uh, don't want to do it? Suppose I'm happy with the way things are? You know ..." She cleared her throat. "Loveless. What will happen then? Will you not earn your Cupid wings or something corny like that?"
Cosmo pulled up outside her apartment building. After he parked, he calmly blew out a cloud of smoke, then turned serious gray eyes on her. "No, nothing corny at all. It's just that if you don't let me help you ... all love will cease to exist on earth."CHAPTER 2
Cosmo's expression turned dark. "Just what I said. If I don't help you, you don't help us — and all of humanity. Discordia, the goddess of discord, and her cronies will wipe love off the planet completely."
"But — but why?" And more importantly, why would love's fate for the whole world rest with her?
"There's a war going on in the heavens between love and hate. Right now, Dad is trying to negotiate a peace treaty. You were chosen because you are a descendant of Thessela."
"Descendant?" She scoffed. "I don't have any magical powers."
"You wouldn't. She was the mortal sister of my father's first wife, Psyche. However, your line is still very attracted to love." He pointed to her camera case. "Even if only to document it. The gods know you've never been in love and that you have a great fear of it."
She bristled. "What? I don't have a fear of love." Do I?
Cosmo gave her a look that said otherwise.
"Wanting love to be perfect does not mean I'm afraid of it," she countered.
"Be that as it may, both sides have agreed that if you can find true love by Valentine's Day, anyone can. And if not, then" — he snapped his fingers — "love gets wiped out for good. Heck of a thing to happen on Valentine's, wouldn't you say?"
She blinked, having a hard time believing she had actually been talked about as a means to ending a celestial war. "What will happen to the people on earth?"
"Oh, they'll still live. Like I said, they just won't love or be loved." He squinted at her. "Are you slow or something?"
She clenched her teeth. "Look, Cosmo, it's not every day that someone claiming to be Cupid — excuse me, Cupid's son — tells me I have to find my true love or love gets wiped off the earth. So pardon me if I need extra time to get the facts straight."
"Jeez, you're a touchy one. I'm beginning to see why you have man troubles."
"That's it. I can't deal with you — this — anymore." Irritated by his mocking tone and his whole unbelievable story, she jumped out and marched toward her building.
This is not real. This is not real, she repeated in her head. She glanced behind her. Cosmo and his cab were nowhere in sight. Relief surged.
Good. He'd obviously gotten the message. The fate of love was going to have to rest on someone else's shoulders — if, in fact, she hadn't imagined the whole thing.
Her breathing returned to normal. And by the time she'd reached the door to her condo, she even chuckled at how silly her thoughts had been.
Like Cupid really existed. Ha!
Shaking her head, she flicked the lights on in the hallway and stopped dead in her tracks. Cosmo E. Cupid III sat on her living room sofa, his feet propped on her coffee table.
He looked up and tossed aside the magazine he'd been flipping through. "About time you showed up."
She glowered. "How did you get in here?"
"Look, Phoebe, don't shortchange us minor gods. We have a few tricks up our sleeves."
"Stop saying that! You're no god. You're just a really, really good con man. Now, take your sleeves and your smelly cigars and get out."
He spread his hands regretfully. "Can't do that, doll. If love ceases to exist, then I cease to exist. Besides, the earth would be pretty dismal around here with so much hate and strife. Discordia is already about to lob her first grenade."
"What do you mean by that?"
Cosmo stood and with a few twiddles of his stubby fingers, turned on the TV to a cable news program. The newscaster was going on and on about a robot from the Technology Expo that would clean gutters.
She looked at Cosmo and rolled her eyes. Some grenade.
"Wait," he warned.
Before she could order him out again, the screen changed. "We have a late-breaking news alert coming in right now," the anchor said. "Several well-known charities have decided to disband today, citing frustration with givers and their sudden lack of interest in helping others. The White House is shocked. A press conference is scheduled at two today with more information on what will happen with current funding for these organizations."
Her eyes widened. "That's awful. How did you —?"
He raised his palm and cut her off. "There's more," he said.
Another news alert flashed on the screen. "We're getting another report now from Tibet. The Dalai Lama has canceled his speaking engagements for the foreseeable future. Sources closest to him say he is seeking meditation time due to his sudden questioning of his beliefs, particularly on the need for love as the foundation of human existence, which was once part of his teachings."
"That's enough." Her heart in her throat, she moved away from the TV. "Turn it off. Please," she whispered.
Cosmo did as she asked and sat back down. "Unfortunately, those are only a few teasers of what Discordia has planned. I'm sure you don't want to see how the rest could pan out."
She put down her camera case and rubbed her forehead. No. Of course not. Not when he put it like that. Not when she'd just seen a glimpse of what was to come. Who would want to live in a world without love?
She certainly didn't. She wanted to find her soul mate so badly but had given up on ever finding him. Could Cosmo really help her in order to save humanity?
She walked forward, stopping in front of him. "I think you're betting on the wrong horse here. I haven't found my soul mate in" — she coughed — "over thirty years. What makes you think I'll be able to find him by next Saturday?"
Cosmo took the cigar out of his mouth and appeared to be looking for an ashtray. When he didn't find one, he waved his fingers and one plopped onto his lap. "Don't worry. I've been working on it," he said simply. "So are you on board?"
She let out a long breath. At this point, she didn't really have much of a choice, and she certainly had nothing to lose. She shook her head at herself, still not believing what she was about to agree to. "Yes. Of course I'll help."
Cosmo stuck the cigar back in his mouth and grinned. "Excellent."
"So ... what happens now? How will I find him?"
"Like I said, I've been working on it while the deal was being made. Those hate-loving deities haven't made it easy, though. They obviously want us to fail. But I think I've finally found him."
"You found him?" Cosmo had found her soul mate. Suddenly her heart felt light and she wanted to jump up and down. Almost as if she were in love already. "That's great, right? All is not lost, then. Humanity is saved."
Cosmo gave a noncommittal shrug.
"Well, who is he?" she asked.
He snapped his stubby fingers again and a dossier an inch thick appeared in his hand. Without giving it a second glance, he held it out to her.
She took it, feeling a jumbled-up mixture of nerves, sickness, and excitement. It would be weird knowing who her true love was before she actually loved him. She slowly opened the file and read the name.
Humanity was doomed.
She snapped the file shut and handed it back. "This isn't going to work."
Cosmo rested his cigar in the ashtray and frowned. "Why not?" he asked, opening the folder and looking over the name for himself. "According to our records, this guy — Adam Lovello — is perfect for you. Besides, it can't be changed. You don't get to pick who you fall in love with. It doesn't work that way. Cupid has spoken," he said, holding out the file to her again.
"Well, Cupid should do better research," she snapped. "Adam Lovello isn't interested. He brought his niece and nephew to my studio for a photo session once and he didn't even know I existed behind the camera. Well, that's not entirely true. He did happen to notice me when I spilled my coffee all over the place."
Excerpted from A Little Bit Cupid by Jennifer Shirk. Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Shirk. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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