Read an Excerpt
"Alexander Nikolas Stamos of Chicago and Tenley Jacinda Marshall of Sawyer Bay, Wisconsin, were married on Saturday in a traditional ceremony at St. Andrew's Greek Orthodox Church. Stamos, president and CEO of Stamos Publishing, and his bride will reside in Lincoln Park after a honeymoon in Tahiti." Celia Peralto leaned back in her chair and sighed. "So they're going to live happily ever after."
Angela Weatherby glanced over her shoulder. "Alex Stamos was the exception to the rule," she said softly. "He's an aberration, part of the margin of error."
"And what about Charlie Templeton?" Ceci asked. "He's getting married, too."
"He's engaged. He's not married yet," Angela said stubbornly. She spun to face Ceci, her hands clutching the arms of her desk chair. "Listen, this isn't doing me any good. Every time this happens, I start to doubt the thesis of my book. Please, can you just keep these stories to yourself until I finish?"
This book was turning into a nightmare. Every time Angela thought she had her thesis nailed, something came along to screw it all up. She just needed to be right about this. These men—these smooth operators—weren't supposed to change. They weren't supposed to fall in love and get married and live happily ever after.
She hadn't set out to write a book about bad boys and the women who loved them. With her career as a freelance writer stalled, Angela had begun writing a blog, ruminating on the state of the male-female dynamic in contemporary dating. After hundreds of women had begun relating their own dating disaster stories, the blog had turned into a Web site, filled with profiles of thousands of men and a catalog of their dating atrocities. And now, Angela was about to put all of her theories and research into a book, Smooth Operators: A Woman's Guide to Avoiding Dating Disasters.
"Ever since you've started this book, you've been really tense," Ceci said.
"I should be tense. It was due at the publisher three months ago and I can't seem to finish."
"Maybe you should put it down for a while and reconsider your reasons for writing it."
"I know what you think," Angela said. "And I'm not doing this because I want to prove something to my parents."
"Oh, really?" Ceci asked. "Both your parents are psychologists who've written numerous books. They both teach at prestigious universities here in Chicago. Your older sister is a neurosurgeon and your younger sister is a physicist. This is your chance to step up to the Weatherby plate and hit a home run."
"A baseball metaphor?" Angela asked. Her thoughts shifted, an image of a handsome man flashing in her mind. Max Morgan. Professional baseball player. Classic smooth operator. And the subject of Chapter Five—the Sexy Devil.
"Sorry," Ceci said. "It's all Will can talk about. Baseball, baseball, baseball. He's in this ridiculous fantasy league and they get together every Monday night at some bar over in DePaul. I have no idea what they do, but he can't stop talking about it."
Angela turned back to her computer. Max Morgan. For such a long time, she'd barely thought of him. And then, one day, she'd been looking at profiles on the site and there he was. Twenty-six women had commented on him, and the comments were far from flattering. Since then, she couldn't keep from wondering what had turned her teenage Prince Charming into one of her bad-boy archetypes.
Throughout her childhood, Angela tried her best to please her parents, cultivating a rational and practical facade. But inside, Angela knew she wasn't like her sisters. They dreamed of academic glory while she secretly dreamed of romance and adventure, of being rescued from her dull existence by a white knight with a heart of gold.
As a young girl, she'd waited, secretly smuggling romantic novels into her backpack at the library—Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Gone with the Wind. As she devoured each one, she became the heroine, strong and feisty, the kind of girl every man wanted for his own.
And on the day she began high school, she'd met the man of her dreams, her prince, her white knight—Max Morgan. They'd bumped into each other in the registration line and from that moment on, Angela knew they were meant to be together. He'd been tall and beautiful, with chocolate-brown eyes and a mop of unruly, sun-streaked hair.
He'd said one word to her—''sorry"—and she'd fallen deeply and madly in love, or at least as deeply as a fifteen-year-old could. He'd never noticed her again. Forget about Mr. Rochester, Mr. Darcy and Rhett Butler. Max Morgan became the stuff of all her secret fantasies.
She'd followed him around high school, secretly watching everything he did. She attended his football games and baseball games, describing every moment in her diary in great detail so that she could relive it all over again when she was alone.
When it came time for college, she made a last minute decision to go to Northwestern in her hometown of Evanston, rather than an Ivy League school as her parents had wanted. Her self-respect denied that the only reason for the change was because Max had decided on Northwestern, securing both a football and baseball scholarship his freshman year.
"Hope springs eternal," Ceci said in a cheery voice. "It does give you hope, doesn't it? That maybe the men you've written off as…unsalvageable might just need the right woman?"
"No!" Angela said. "Our Web site proves my point every day. SmoothOperators has thousands of profiles of men who can't commit."
She couldn't be wrong. This was her one chance to prove to her parents that she wasn't wasting her time with this "silly Web site" as they called it. She saw it as a giant petri dish, a source of ever-evolving information about how men and women related in the world of dating. Her undergrad degree in psychology and her graduate degree in journalism made her the perfect person to write this book.
Ceci sighed. "I bet they both had a moment. Now, that would make good material for a book."
"Who? What are you talking about?"
Ceci rolled her chair over to Angela's desk. "Charlie Templeton and Alex Stamos. They had a moment and they were magically transformed into decent guys."
Angela rolled her eyes and shook her head. "There's nothing magical about this. They probably just decided they were tired of playing the field. The instinct to procreate kicked in. Once they've done that, they'll dump the wife and hit the bars again."
"I don't think so. Look at how fast it happened for them. They had a moment. You know, that instant when your eyes meet and you realize your life is about to change forever and there's nothing you can do about it. Maybe that deserves a chapter in your book. Chapter Fourteen. The Moment."
Though she didn't want to admit it, Angela knew exactly what Ceci was talking about. She'd experienced a moment…once, about four years ago. But it hadn't changed her life. "Have you ever had a moment?" Angela asked, keeping her gaze fixed on her work.
"No," Ceci admitted.
"Not even with Will?"
"Nope. It might happen, though. It doesn't have to be the moment you meet. That's love at first sight. For some people, it happens a little later. And sometimes it happens at different times for men and women. My brother-in-law said he fell in love with my sister when she burned a pot roast for his birthday dinner. She sat on the kitchen floor and cried for a half hour. And that was the moment he knew they'd be together forever."
Unfortunately, it had taken Angela six years to realize that she and Max would never have a moment. She'd even wrangled an interview with him for the college paper, but she'd been so nervous, she could barely remember the questions she'd planned to ask. After that, they'd passed each other on campus on numerous occasions, and even shared a sociology class. But he'd never once given her a second glance.
The summer after her sophomore year, Angela set out to transform herself into the kind of girl Max would notice. She studied the fashion magazines and bought a whole new wardrobe. She dyed her mousy brown hair a pretty shade of honey-blonde. She got herself a pair of contacts and lost ten pounds. She silently observed the girls that Max found attractive and she turned herself into one, then waited for her moment, determined to turn it into something special.
But it wasn't to be. At the end of his sophomore baseball season, Max left college for the minor leagues, signing with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He packed his bags and headed south for their farm system.
She knew her last chance at romance was gone, so she'd done exactly what the rational middle daughter of the Doctors Weatherby should do—she moved on. She started dating other guys and within a year, Max Morgan had become a distant memory from an all-too-foolish adolescence.
Until that night, four years ago. A night that could have changed the course of her life—except it hadn't. "There was a moment," Angela murmured. "With this one guy."
Ceci leaned forward. "Really? With who?"
"With whom," Angela corrected.
"With whom!" Ceci said.
"I was out with a coworker at a sports bar in Evan-ston. I came there to meet her cousin, a stockbroker. It was a blind date. Our eyes met across the bar and it was like I'd been struck by lightning. It took my breath away. We stared at each other for what seemed like forever. It was…frightening and exhilarating. And I felt like I was under some kind of…I don't know. Spell."
"See! You know exactly what I'm talking about! What happened?"
"Nothing. I got nervous and looked away. When I looked back, some other woman had captured his attention."
"But this guy was your blind date," Ceci said. "God, what a creep. He went off with another girl?"
"No!" Angela said. "My blind date was sitting next to me, rattling on about bond rates and investment strategies. This was a different guy."
It was the only real regret she had in her life. She'd let her one last chance at Max Morgan slip away. As his career in the majors blossomed that season, he became the stuff of tabloid legend, slowly transforming himself into her archetypical smooth operator—dating a long string of models and actresses and party girls, then tossing them aside when something more interesting came along.
Angela had gone home that night and wrote her first blog, talking about what she called "White Knight Syndrome," and her silly dream of finding the perfect man to rescue her from the horrors of single life.
Ceci reached out and took Angela's hand. "That's so tragic."
Angela shook her head, lost in thoughts of Max. "No, it isn't," she said stubbornly. "It wasn't meant to be. If he'd been interested, he would have walked across that bar and introduced himself."
"And you'd be married to him today," Ceci said.
"No!" Angela protested. "We might have gone out, had a nice time, maybe slept together, but then he would have turned out to be like all the others."
"You don't know that," Ceci said.
"I do." Angela paused, not sure of how much she wanted to reveal to Ceci. "He has a huge profile on our site. Nearly fifty women have commented. I would have been just another in a long line of broken hearts."
"You found him on the site?"
"Actually, he's the reason I started the blog," Angela admitted. "We went to high school and college together and I had this massive crush on him. He never noticed me. We had that moment in the bar and I realized what a ridiculous fool I was, still carrying a torch for him after all those years. That night, I went home and wrote my first blog."
"What's his name?" Ceci asked, turning back to her computer. "I want to look him up." She clicked on the search engine, then waited.
Why not tell Ceci? It's not like she had feelings for him anymore. "He's the Sexy Devil," she murmured. "Chapter Five. Max Morgan."
Ceci's hands froze on her keyboard and she slowly turned to face Angela. "You know Max Morgan? The baseball player?" She sighed in frustration. "How many times have we talked about him? About his chapter in the book. And you never told me you knew him."
"I don't, exactly." Angela shrugged. "I've spoken to him…once. No, twice if you count the one word he said to me when we first met. I know almost everything there is to know about him. But we don't know each other. He's not even aware I exist."
"But you had a moment!" Ceci cried. "Maybe you were destined for each other."
"Love is not about magic moments and fairy-tale endings," Angela said. "It's about two people willing to work hard to make a relationship succeed. Two people sharing common interests and goals. And there are few truly decent men around willing to invest the time and effort to make a relationship work."
"You sound just like your mother," Ceci said. "So what are you going to do? Are you going to interview him?" She frowned. "Wait a second. Is that why you didn't go to that big charity event? The one he was hosting last month?"
"It wouldn't have been a good place to conduct an interview. I have to get him alone and talking, without any distractions." She swallowed hard.