An avid knitter and manager of a yarn store in New York City, Caitlyn finds herself at loose ends after getting dumped by her long-time, live-in boyfriend. What better way to move on than to find a man like the old-school movie stars that she dreams about? But her first attempt at online dating is a disaster. Especially when the date turns out to be the new renter of a room in her apartment.
Wall Street powerhouse Ben needs a place to crash while his condo is being renovated. Love is the last thing on his mind since he’s just getting over a breakup. But he can’t resist a challenge, especially one like his prim and proper new roommate. A do-gooder with a heart of gold, Caitlyn is spearheading a fight to save an old theater, while Ben is working for the developer trying to tear it down. Sparks will fly, but they may not be enough to ignite big-screen romance . . .
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Her Leading Man
A Reel Romance
By Maggie Dallen
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Maggie Dallen
All rights reserved.
Seeking Cary Grant, that's what her online profile had read. The guy sitting across from her at the bar was attractive, had a British accent, and ... Well, that was where the similarity ended.
"So what do you really do then?" he asked with a mouth full of bread. They hadn't ordered dinner but the waiter had kindly brought them a basket of warm bread, most likely in a vain attempt to sober up her obnoxious date, who stank of whisky.
Caitlyn let out a weary sigh. She was way past caring if her disgust was obvious. This man had tested her patience from the moment he'd sat across from her.
"What do you mean, what do I really do?" she repeated.
She hated that question. Hated it.
He shrugged and tossed back a large gulp of his beer. "So you just work at a yarn store then?"
Caitlyn's hands clenched together in her lap as she prayed for patience. So maybe managing and teaching at a yarn store wasn't the career she'd dreamed of when she'd gotten her art degree in college, but she liked it there. "Isn't that enough?"
Her date shrugged again and leaned over the table so the smell of whisky was nearly overwhelming. "Not much of a career path, is it?"
He let out a belch that nearly knocked her out with its gaseous fumes.
"I like it." She squelched the urge to qualify her life decisions. She certainly didn't have to explain herself to this man, who wouldn't know art or passion if it hit him upside the head. Being surrounded by gorgeous textures and fibers, and sharing her passion with others — it made her happy. She'd made a home for herself there over the last five years and she refused to apologize for it, especially not to this drunken jerk.
"And what about you?" she asked, fruitlessly attempting to make eye contact with their waiter so she could pay the bill and get out of there. When that failed, she shoved her empty wineglass toward the end of the table so the waiter could see that they were done. One drink had never felt so interminably long.
"I'm a venture capitalist." Though with his drunken slur it came out more like vent captlish. "I build companies from the ground up." He shoved a piece of bread into his mouth and leaned in even closer, lowering his voice as if sharing a state secret. "I make a lot of money."
Caitlyn actually flinched in the face of such a gauche remark. "Good for you."
He pointed a finger in her face. "You could learn something from me. I could help you."
Oh, wonderful. "I don't need any help, thanks."
His eyes narrowed to the point where she suspected he might just fall asleep and land face first in the breadbasket. Part of her hoped he would. At least then she wouldn't have to hear him speak. He wobbled in his seat. "Yeah. You need me."
"Check, please." She was a little louder than intended, but it did the trick. The waiter looked in her direction and raised a finger in the "one second" gesture before racing off toward another table that was beckoning.
Her date seemed oblivious to her quest for the check. He was currently leaning over the table, his bleary gaze fixed on her. "Want to know what I think?"
"Not really." She fumbled through her purse for her wallet. So far, she'd heard everything this man thought on a myriad of topics and was thoroughly disgusted. How this soulless, aggressive, alpha male had managed to come across as sensitive and thoughtful in their e-mail exchanges was a mystery. To think she'd actually been excited when she'd first spotted him sitting there. Sensitive, thoughtful, and hot as hell? For a split second she'd honestly thought she'd found the one. Mr. Right.
She couldn't have been more wrong.
"I think you need someone to add some excitement to your life," he said matter-of-factly before popping another piece of bread into his mouth.
Her hands froze inside her bag as those words shredded her last bit of patience. "What does that mean?" The words came out through gritted teeth, and she glared at him across the table. He continued to chow down on his bread as he explained — loudly and with an excessive amount of hand gestures, not noticing or caring that his running commentary on her life had struck a nerve.
"Look at you." He waved a hand toward her, nearly tipping over the condiments in the center of the table in the process. Caitlyn picked up her purse again to look for her wallet, hoping that by ignoring him, he would stop speaking.
It didn't work. Ben continued on with his explanation undeterred. "There's probably a hot piece of ass hidden under all those layers, but no one would ever know it."
A sudden jolt of anger made her nauseous. Caitlyn clutched her purse, and for one brief moment she envisioned slugging him with it.
He kept going, apparently unaware that he was in danger of being smacked upside the head with an oversized handbag. "This whole look you've got going is so Plain Jane. Are you trying to come across as frigid and matronly? Because if so, you've succeeded."
She tried to hold on to the initial rage, but his words hit too close to home. He was all but echoing everything her ex had said. Oh, her ex had never been quite so crass — aggressive and crude had never been his style — but the basic message was the same.
"You need to spice it up a bit," he was saying. She was vaguely aware that her date was still talking, but his words were partially drowned out by the rush of blood pounding in her ears.
Taking a deep, steadying breath, she tried to rein in her raging emotions. Do not listen to him. He's a drunken asshole who has no idea what he's talking about. Despite her mental pep talk, her hands were shaking. She stared at the jumbled contents of her bag. She needed to find her wallet so she could pay and get the hell out of there.
"I mean, I get it if you're going for the whole sexy librarian thing but trust me, love, if that's the case, you really need to focus on the sexy part of that equation." He laughed at his own joke, and it sent little crumbs of bread flying out of his mouth. "And no offense, but a yarn store? Sounds painfully boring."
The waiter walked past — without the bill — but with an apologetic smile that said he heard every word and felt sorry for her. Great, stranger pity. That was exactly what she needed after being mocked mercilessly by the man who was supposed to be perfect. She didn't need pity; she needed the damn check.
Mr. So Not Right leaned over the table and lowered his voice. "You know what you need?"
She ignored him, focusing instead on fishing out the leather wallet that had gotten wedged beneath a tattered romance novel and a skein of yarn. Wallet found! Now where, for the love of God, was the check?
"You need to get laid."
Caitlyn gasped, her cheeks burning and her stomach sinking with revulsion at the crude remark. "That's it, I've had enough."
Screw the check. After digging into her wallet, she pulled out enough cash to cover her drink.
"I'm serious," he said, one hand reaching out as if to grasp hers. She pulled back just in time. The man was repulsive enough to listen to — she sure as hell didn't want his hands on her.
"I'm serious," he slurred again. "You look like a woman who needs a little excitement ... in the bedroom." Leaning back in his chair, his lips turned up into what could only be described as a leer. "I could help you."
Bile rose in her throat at the repulsive, offensive offer, and she didn't attempt to hide her cringe of horror. The waiter finally set the bill down on the table between them. Thank the freakin' Lord.
They reached for it at the same time, but Caitlyn was faster. Her date lurched forward to snatch it out of her hands. "I got this." He fell back into his seat, knocking the rest of his beer over in the process — directly into her lap.
Yup, it was official. Worst. Date. Ever.
* * *
Caitlyn stomped through the snow on her long walk from Manhattan's Murray Hill neighborhood to Alphabet City. It was quicker than waiting for the bus at that time of night, and the exercise helped her work off some steam.
That man was infuriating. And worse, a complete and total waste of time. She could have gone out with her friends tonight. Or made some progress on her latest knitting project. But no. She'd spent the last hour listening to some jackass from London explain in excruciating detail why he was God's gift to women.
If that had been the extent of it, the night wouldn't have been completely intolerable. But then he'd insisted on challenging — no mocking — her life decisions, and apparently doing his very best to make her feel bad about herself. As if her self-esteem wasn't already at an all-time low after the breakup.
She had nothing to feel bad about, she reminded herself. Just because she didn't have a sexy career or a boyfriend didn't mean she was a failure. She liked working at the knitting store, and she loved sharing her craft.
It wasn't so easy to dismiss his comments about her sex life, however. Or rather, the lack thereof. But it wasn't like she wasn't trying to get back on the horse. Yes, she had taken some time to recover from her heartbreak, but she hadn't joined a nunnery. She'd gone along with Meg's great Internet dating plan, hadn't she? And look how well that had turned out. She blew a strand of hair out of her face. Clearly online dating was not for her. She'd stick with the tried and true method of meeting a man in her everyday life. Well, probably not at the yarn store. But at a bar, or when she was out running errands. That kind of thing happened, didn't it? That was it. This was the last time she'd let her friend talk her into online dating.
Her phone buzzed in her pocket. Speak of the devil.
"I am never going to forgive you for putting me up to this," she greeted her best friend, pouting into the phone despite the fact that her friend couldn't see her.
Meg sounded annoyingly amused. "I take it the big date didn't go so hot?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Fair enough. Would a drink cheer you up? I'm at Cagney's and need some company."
Halfway between Murray Hill and home, Cagney's was an old-school pub that offered the sweet, sweet temptation of blissfully mind-numbing alcohol. "I'll be there soon."
Meg and her husband, Jake, had bought the bar several years before, and at the time it had been as run down as the old movie theater it neighbored. Caitlyn spotted Tamara in the ticket booth as she walked by the theater. Her friend was bundled up, her long blond hair tucked into an oversized hat, and her slim shoulders hunched over beneath a puffy winter coat. She looked freezing and miserable, but she gave Caitlyn a smile and a wave as she passed by. "How was the date?" Tamara mouthed through the glass.
Caitlyn scrunched up her nose in disgust and gave her the thumbs down signal. Tamara's face fell, but she didn't look surprised. As a fellow single lady, she was adamantly opposed to blind dates or online dating ... or dating at all, for that matter. She would most likely take Caitlyn's failure and use it as yet one more reason why dating was not for her.
And maybe she was on to something. Her friend seemed to be quite content with work and friends. Maybe that's all she needed too. Inside Cagney's, a fire roared in the giant fireplace and couples cuddled up against one another in the booths. Loneliness made her throat tighten. Okay, so maybe she wasn't like Tamara — she wanted to find someone and she couldn't deny it. And not just any someone, she wanted to find the one. A partner, a friend. Someone she could count on. Her parents had found it. They'd been lucky in that regard. Even if they hadn't had a full lifetime with one another, the time they'd had together had been perfection. Or at least that was how Caitlyn remembered it. They died when she was a teenager, but all of her memories were of her parents as a united, contented team.
She slumped onto a barstool beside her very pregnant best friend. "I just want that," she said, nodding toward a nauseatingly cute couple to her right. "Why can't I just fast forward to that? I'm tired of all this online dating."
"You've been on one date so far," her friend reminded her.
"Yeah, but it was the worst."
Jake set her drink in front of her and leaned over the bar, apparently eager to hear a horror story. "How bad was it?"
Caitlyn sighed. "The only thing more depressing than wasting an evening on a date from hell is having to relive said date for one's happy couple friends."
Meg rolled her eyes. "Oh, stop whining. We could use a good laugh."
They were watching her with expectant looks, and Caitlyn resigned herself to the inevitable. "Fine, but you two are buying my drinks tonight."
By the time she was finished recounting the story, Caitlyn found herself laughing alongside her friends. "God, how pathetic am I that I actually sat there for an hour?"
Meg nodded and picked at the bowl of popcorn sitting between them. "Mmm, I would have walked out immediately."
Jake leaned against the bar with a mocking grin. "So he was no Cary Grant then, huh?"
Meg stifled a laugh as Caitlyn tipped up her nose and pointedly ignored the comment. All of her friends thought it was hilarious that she was actually seeking her dream man. Granted, her dream man had died decades before, but still — was it too much to ask to find a sexy, chivalrous, self-deprecating, gallant, charming, and witty single man in the city?
When her ex had dealt the deathblow to their long-term relationship, she'd fallen into a bit of a depression, if she was being honest. She'd thought they were happy, that they'd had a future. He was supposed to be the one. Her life partner. The man she would grow old with. They'd never really talked about marriage and kids, but Caitlyn had assumed it was just a matter of time. Once he grew up a bit, surely he would want to settle down. After all, they were happy — or content, anyway.
Or at least she'd thought they had been. But looking back, she was no longer sure. The day he'd broken up with her was the day the rug had been pulled out from under her feet. Her perfectly content world tipped over. It was all over. Like someone had snapped shut a book they were finished reading and moved on to the next one on the shelf.
Her friends had done their best to drag her out of her funk, but for a solid six months she'd grieved for the life she wouldn't have. No longer able to envision her future, she'd found it hard to know where she was in the present. For the first time since her parents died, she'd been aimless. Lost.
It still wasn't easy, but at least she'd fallen into a rhythm and forged new habits and pastimes over the past few months.
When she'd finally caved and let her friends convince her that it was time to get back on the horse, she'd felt the first glimmer of hope. Maybe her ex wasn't the one. Clearly he wasn't or he wouldn't have left. Maybe there was someone better out there — someone who fulfilled her wildest dreams. Sitting in front of her computer, staring at all of the limitless options, the huge unseen universe of potential mates — she'd finally been able to see that there might be a new and exciting relationship in her future.
So why not aim for the best? Why not set out to find the ideal man of her dreams? And that was Cary Grant. It had been since she was eight and she'd stumbled upon Bringing Up Baby one rainy weekend afternoon. She'd known then and there that he was her perfect man — always had been and always would be.
She was certain there were men out there that embodied his charm and chivalry — his kindness and warmth. She just hadn't met one yet. But he was out there, she knew it. And this time when she fell for someone, she would make sure he was the spitting image of her perfect leading man.
Caitlyn let out a wistful sigh and Meg patted her arm. "Cheer up, buttercup. Maybe if you're this pathetic tomorrow, Tamara will pick Cary Grant for the next weekend double feature."
Caitlyn's eyes widened with excitement. "Ooh, you think?"
Every other Saturday for the past two years, Caitlyn, Meg, Jake, and a few of their friends volunteered alongside Tamara to keep the Ellen Theater in some semblance of working order. The current owner had let the place fall into disrepair over the past decade, which was not only bad for the neighboring bar's business, but just plain sad. There wasn't much they could do as far as restoring the architecture of the old theater, but they did what they could to keep the interior clean and functioning.
Excerpted from Her Leading Man by Maggie Dallen. Copyright © 2016 Maggie Dallen. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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