Dating by the Book304
Dating by the Book304
Six months ago, writer and bookstore owner Maddie Hanson was left at the altar. Since then, she’s had zero interest in romance—despite the fact that she runs a book club full of sexy eligible bachelors. But when her latest novel is panned by an anonymous blogger who goes by the name Silver Fox—and who accuses her of knowing nothing about passion—she decides to prove her nemesis wrong by seeking a romance hero in real life . . .
There’s the smoldering rock musician, the bookish college professor, and her competitive childhood friend who may want to steal her bookstore more than her heart. Even Silver Fox is getting in on the action, sending Maddie alarmingly—and intoxicatingly—flirtatious emails. And that’s not all. Her ex wants her back.
Now Maddie is about to discover that like any good story, life has twists and turns, and love can happen when you least expect it—with the person you least expect . .
Praise for Mary Ann Marlowe’s Some Kind of Magic
“Marlowe makes a name for herself in this hilarious and sexy debut.”
“Frisky, Flirty Fun!”
—Stephanie Evanovich, New York Times bestselling author of The Total Package
“Fun, romantic and sexy. . . . This love story will make readers smile!”
—RT Book Reviews
“Sexy, engaging and original. . . . An amazing first novel.”
—Sydney Landon, New York Times bestselling author of Wishing for Us
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|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)|
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The vandals had struck again. With a shaky R scrawled on the window pane, they'd redubbed my bookstore the Mossy Stoner.
This sort of thing never used to happen in the sprawling metropolis of Orion — "the small town with the big heart." But over the past few months, I'd scraped unwanted paint off the window three times. At least the latest effort was somewhat clever. Three weeks ago, they'd doodled a crude dick and balls under the Y. Kids.
I fetched my maxed-out Visa card and scratched at the graffiti, thankful they'd only defiled the glass. If they'd painted on the wood, I would've gone Javert on the miserable twerps.
Once I'd more or less rectified the problem, I fished out my keys, but the front door refused to open even when I bumped it with my shoulder. Great. Another problem to fix.
I gave one good hip slam, and I was inside. All at once, a sense of home settled over me. I breathed in the peace like a meditation.
Every morning, as I walked across the threshold into my sanctuary, I said two prayers. First, I'd offer up thanks to the gods for the bookstore that was (mostly) mine now. Second, I'd send out a plea to the universe to drive customers my way so I could keep it. I'd already sacrificed so much to fulfill my dream, failure would be beyond heartbreaking. It would crush my soul.
Six months ago, my fiancé had begged me to abandon my small-town business and follow him to his preferred life in the city. Stubborn as always, I chose to stay. Ever since our paths had forked, I inhabited a strange new dimension where one-half of my dreams could come true, but at the cost of the other, like an ironic twist out of an O'Henry short story. Yeah, I had my bookstore, but because of the same, I'd lost one husband. I wasn't even a widow; I was a never-married. I should have been Mrs. Peter Mercer. Instead, I was still Miss Madeleine Hanson.
I dragged a couple of tables outside with sales books, then grabbed my sidewalk sign and knelt down to chalk in the daily deal. TAKE AN EXTRA 15% OFF CLEARANCE BOOKS. As much as I hated practically giving books away, my shelves were bursting with unsold merchandise.
A gentle breeze stirred, and I closed my eyes to appreciate the dawning warmth of the morning sun, but then I caught the aroma of fresh-baked croissants from Gentry's French bistro, and my nose wrinkled. The no doubt delicious pastries smelled rancid to me, since they would lure all the morning traffic away from my pitiful café.
As if my thoughts had conjured it, a white panel van pulled up to the curb, and I shaded my eyes to watch Max Beckett jump out. He waved, then skipped around to the back, hollering, "Wanna give me a hand, here?"
I trudged over and let him stack a pair of boxes in my arms before he lifted three more. I nearly dropped them, thrusting the front door open. Max followed me to the counter where I inspected the contents. An assortment of muffins, croissants, and other pastries made up the bulk of the baked goods. The boxes I'd carried contained two whole cakes, marble pound and double chocolate.
"How much do I owe you?"
He produced an itemized receipt. As I scanned it, he leaned against the display fridge and said, "Have you considered my proposition?"
I raised my eyes and snorted. "Not so much."
He sucked on the inside of his cheek for a second. The light caught in his hair, revealing layers of browns and reds and auburns dancing together in a combination any colorist would envy, a combination I envied with my ordinary chestnut.
"It would be good for business, Maddie. Both our businesses."
His innocent act didn't fool me.
He claimed he wanted to expand his catering business, the one he ran with his mom, into my bookstore to get a foothold in town. He claimed it would help my bottom line, too. And maybe it would, but it drove me insane that he thought he had all the answers. Always giving me advice I didn't ask for. Like when he'd expressed his concerns about my impending wedding last year.
It only irritated me more when he turned out to be right. Sometimes — usually — I couldn't help suspect he had ulterior motives.
I just needed to figure out why he wanted to insinuate himself into my business. "How would it help me?"
"If we open a legit bakery here, you could draw in more customers."
"I already sell your baked goods. Try again."
He sighed. "Maddie, I've got a degree in marketing. Look at what I've done for my mom."
That was true. She'd focused on the occasional wedding cake until he stepped in with new ideas, and now they cranked out orders for local restaurants and special events.
"I don't see how that's relevant to my situation."
"I've got ideas. Ways to make better use of your space and grow your customer base."
Just like he'd done with his mom's business. I narrowed an eye at him. My stink eye. "You're trying to take over my bookstore, somehow. Is that it?"
He must have counted to ten before answering. "We wouldn't be taking it over. We'd be forming a partnership."
A partnership implied a relationship of equals, but ever since high school, Max had patronized me with unwanted advice when he wasn't straight up trying to best me. It wasn't like I hadn't also studied marketing, and I liked running my business my way.
"Our current arrangement works for me."
We had a solid routine. I placed daily orders, he and his mom baked in their kitchen, and Max delivered the food. I sold their baked goods at a markup. And I didn't have to give any control to Max.
"Come on. You have this amazing kitchen going to waste. Imagine if I could come in at night and bake? I could even open the store early and catch more early morning traffic."
God knew I needed to find some way to increase revenue, but what he was describing sounded a lot like ousting me. I didn't want to give Max a chance to pull a fast one on me. "I'm doing just fine, thanks."
Red spots dotted his cheeks, and I knew my resistance irritated him as much as his pushiness infuriated me. "It's almost like you've completely forgotten all the things you wanted." His tone softened. "Maddie, you lost a fiancé, but you haven't lost your bookshop. Not yet."
I tilted my head at that last dig. "You don't think I can do this?"
He bit his lip, and his chest rose and fell, like he was practicing some new age breathing technique. It pissed me off that he could keep his emotions in check better than me. Score one for Max.
Suddenly, his face lit up, and no trace of conflict remained. "Oh, Mom wanted me to give you this." He opened a pastry box and pulled out a small cupcake with off-white frosting and held it aloft, a wondrous talisman discovered in another realm. "Try this." He arched an eyebrow, in challenge or concession, I couldn't tell.
I glared at him and popped the entire cupcake in my mouth. As if I'd suddenly give in just because he —
"Oh, my God."
His green eyes shone like emeralds. "You like it?"
It was a burst of strawberries. It went down so easy. "What is that?" "It's a mini strawberry shortcake cupcake. Mom's been experimenting." A smile curved the corner of his lip.
I shrugged. "It's okay."
"Uh-huh." His eyes crinkled. "I've seen you hanging around our back door like a stray dog begging for scraps whenever mom used to start gathering strawberries."
I never knew how he could make me drop my defenses and laugh, like when we were kids. He was right, though. I was a sucker for his mom's shortcakes.
He chuckled, knowing he'd won a tiny victory. I blew a raspberry.
"Mind if I bring some tonight to your book club? Push them on your captive audience. Advertising."
Always an angle. "Sure. Whatever."
When I walked him out, I propped open the door to let in some air and invite customers to venture in without having to battle the fortress of the sticky portcullis. Max turned and said, "Have you tried oiling the hinges?"
He acted like he was my dad. Or a more capable older brother even though we were roughly the same age.
I gritted my teeth and tried out his deep breathing technique. "Thanks. I'll give that a try later."
The weather was so nice, I couldn't stay disgruntled for long. Inside, I tuned Sirius radio to the Coffeehouse station and hummed along as I replenished the muffins from the batch Max had delivered. Then I sat back and waited for patrons to pour in.
The Mossy Stone had stood on this tree-lined street for thirty-seven years, since long before my parents had adopted me and brought me to Orion, population two thousand. I'd purchased books here in my youth, and I wanted to keep selling them as long as I could.
As such, the business student in me fretted over the immediate emptiness, but the book lover in me wanted it to stay quiet forever, so I could hide in the corner and read every book on the shelves like I had when I was a kid.
My initial love of reading was born sitting cross-legged on the floor as Mrs. Moore, the original owner, licked her fingers and turned the page of A Wrinkle in Time or The Indian in the Cupboard.
My mom started taking me to our small library up the street when I was old enough to read on my own, but that was about as well stocked as a wet bar in a dry county, and I was a voracious reader. So Mom started letting me buy one book a week from the Mossy Stone. It wasn't until later that I understood the meaning behind the store's name. By then, I'd begun to grow moss myself from sitting immobile in the reading corner.
I savored the musty smell of the old space and the old books. I basked in the muted glow of sunlight that filtered through the antique windows, illuminating ghosts. Dust floated among the high rafters, and the wooden floorboards squeaked in the Mystery section, giving it a bit of spooky ambiance. There wasn't enough room to create a dedicated children's space since the coffee shop consumed a good third of the entire store — and accounted for two-thirds of my revenue — but the cozy corner with soft inviting chairs was a relic of my youth.
There was a space on the front wall, between the new arrivals, where I intended to shelve my own novel. Spending so much time among books had eventually worn off on me, and I'd tried a hand at writing myself, like so many others. Fortunately, I'd managed to land a book deal, but I hadn't made my author identity public yet. I'd decide whether to confess that once my novel was released in a matter of weeks. And then only if it met with a positive reception. That thought gave me a thrill of excited, nervous butterflies.
But that was in the future. For today, it was business as usual.
It wasn't long before one of my regular customers, Charlie Hamilton, strolled in and waved as he crossed over to his favorite table near the front window. He'd sit there grading or working on his laptop all morning, punctuated by long periods of time resting his chin in his hands and watching people pass on the sidewalk outside. Ah, the life.
I hollered over, "The usual?"
He looked up from plugging in his computer cord. "Thanks."
I kept one eye on Charlie while I pressed espresso into the filter.
As a quintessential college professor, Charlie had constantly disheveled dirty-blond curls. He kept a close-trimmed beard and wore black round glasses you'd feel compelled to call spectacles. He reminded me a little bit of Indiana Jones at the beginning of Raiders, cute in a super nerdy way. But I'd be shocked to discover he went on any adventures. Except in his own mind. Like me, he kept one foot firmly rooted in the fictional worlds he'd experienced. We both found life a little more tolerable by imagining we lived a fluid existence, part in and part out of reality.
If Charlie were a character in my fantasy novel, he'd either be the scribe or the droll sidekick. I dubbed him: Charlie the Chronicler.
When I set his latte between a legal pad and his cell phone, he pushed a chair out with his foot. "I don't think the romance in Pride and Prejudice would fly in the real world. At least not the modern world."
That was typical Charlie. He didn't much go for small talk. He started up mid-conversation. He wasn't from here, but since he'd started working at DePauw, he'd made Orion his home. I'd grown fond of him and looked forward to talking to him about literature and his English classes.
"Why not?" I sat and rested my elbows on the table. This could be a good topic for our book club tonight.
"It isn't exactly sparkling with chemistry."
I laughed. "You're joking. I find hate-to-love romance sparks the most chemistry. You have to admit it's hot."
He rolled his eyes. "If you say so. I find it kind of lacking."
I was about to accuse him of being a robot when across the room, my phone went off with the throwback ringtone associated with my author email account: You've got mail!
"Excuse me." I stood, and he returned his attention to his papers.
With trepidation, I ducked behind the cash register to check my phone. Emails to my author account could bring great news, like: "Congratulations! We're going to make an audio book!" But they could also bring terrifying, challenging work. "You need to rewrite the last third of your novel."
This email turned out to be neither — just a disappointing Google alert. Junk.
I'd set up a search on my pen name and the title of my as yet unreleased novel to catch any mention on blogs, but this alert came from some site spoofing a bootleg of my book. I forwarded it to my editor, disgusted at jerks who would try to scam other people by using my creative output as the bait.
Then I saw another link below the first. I clicked it, unaware that three innocuous words were about to flip my world upside down.CHAPTER 2
Funny how so many life-altering moments are accompanied by three little words.
I love you.
Kiss the bride.
Hold my beer.
The three words of advice my editor imparted when she sent me my advance copies were: Don't read reviews. Nevertheless, I settled on the stool behind the cash register and scanned the blog post, blood pulsing in my fingertips, hoping to see the words "Brilliant first novel" and some ego- stroking praise. The few advance reviews I'd already read had been fairly glowing, so despite the prevailing wisdom, I'd started to look forward to the external validation.
The teaser in the email read: "Review of Claire Kincaid's The Shadow's Apprentice," and led to a site called the Book Brigade. I'd never heard of it, but then again, I hadn't recognized the last few blogs I'd come across. Authoring was all new to me. I had so much to learn.
My high school English teacher liked to say the author is dead, and, in literature classes, that was usually literally true, so I never gave much thought to the fact that modern-day writers were living, breathing, in-the-flesh real people with feelings and possibly very strong opinions about wrong interpretations of their works. I figured JK Rowling had better things to do than peek her head into a lecture and listen to arguments about the overarching themes in The Prisoner of Azkaban.
That was before I crossed the Rubicon from reader to writer. Now reviews gave me a weird thrill. Knowing someone out there was reading my book, I couldn't resist spying on their reactions.
Today was my reckoning.
I scanned the review, and my heart stopped in my chest when I hit the final verdict: Three solid stars.
Objectively, I knew most people would consider three stars good enough, and I tried to tell myself it was one disheartening review, not a presage of doom. But I had lofty, and apparently unwarranted, aspirations of literary praise, awards, and interviews with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. My career was over, and it hadn't even started.
Rest in peace.
Like a straight A student receiving a C, I wanted to challenge the teacher.
My three word reaction: Not gonna read.
I barely registered when Charlie gathered his things and approached the counter to pay for his latte. I wiped my eyes and took a deep breath. I didn't have the luxury to wallow. I had a business to run.
He paused and cleared his throat. "Are you okay?"
I reached for the stubborn resilience of Anne Shirley and straightened my spine. "I'm fine," I lied.
He narrowed an eye, not convinced. "Gotta go teach, but I'll return before book club."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Dating by the Book"
Copyright © 2019 Mary Ann Marlowe.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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