Free Shipping on Orders over $100!

Ebook Bundles! Buy More, Save More!

Books to deepen your faith and resonate with your soul.
Browse, read, and buy directly
from this small, family-owned company!

Love, Lace, and Minor Alterations

by V. Joy Palmer

Isabel “Izze” Vez, bridal consultant extraordinaire, has been helping brides find The Dress for years. She loves nothing more than helping make wedding dreams come true … but sometimes the happy endings grate on her. How many times can a girl discover someone else’s gown without dreaming of the day it’ll be her turn to wear one?

When James Miles Clayton walks into her life, he represents everything Izze can’t handle: change. He’s determined to bring the Ever After Bridal Salon into the black … and to prove to Izze that she should give him a chance.

But if there’s anything Izze handles worse than change, it’s trust. She may have a few issues—fine, she knows she does. But will they keep getting in the way of any chance of her own Happily Ever After? She wants to trust God to give her those dreams of love and lace, but that’s going to require some … minor alterations.

Chapter 1

When a bride finds The Dress, there is joy, laughter, and on some occasions, even spontaneous dancing.

There is none of that right now.

The bride wails like her firstborn son has been promised to Rumpelstiltskin. I stare in horror at the once beautiful dress. Formerly perfect, sparkling with promise, and, well, now it doesn’t.

“What are we going to do?” the bride asks, knocking me back into reality.

Um…I’m not sure there is anything we can do for that dress now. Her undergarments show, courtesy of the torn train, but I’ll attempt to take a more positive route.

“I will have a seamstress look at it and see what she can do, but just in case, why don’t I bring in some other gowns for you to browse through. Just in case,” I add so she doesn’t think all is lost with this gown. Even though all is totally lost with this gown.

“What do you mean, look at other gowns? This is The Dress. Are you crazy? This is the dress!” She screams right into my face, eyes bugging out of their sockets.

“Well, I know that, and you know that, but a bride should always be prepared for whatever happens. She should always have a backup dress. I was going to mention that to you when you came in today for your fitting,” I say this casually while I take a step back. I’m not completely lying. I fitted a bride once who had five backup gowns. When I asked her about it, in one of her fifty fittings, she just called it being well prepared. I called it neurotic, but to each her own. I was going to mention it today for laughs, but you use whatever you’ve got to in a crisis.

“Really?” The bride looks at me in complete desperation. Her hazel eyes are wide and unblinking as she waits for me to fix her world with a single word. I have power.

“Really.” I give her my best reassuring smile. “So why don’t you change out of this dress while I go get some others? Do you want to try some in this same style, or maybe a different one? You would look divine in an empire waist gown.” I keep my voice as sweet as maple syrup.

She takes the bait, and soon an empire waist gown that screams gorgeous drapes from her shoulders. Lace covers the bodice, and a big satin ribbon emphasizes the waist. The lace, covering a chiffon skirt, flows to the floor. It starts off covering her whole waist but gradually narrows at five points around the skirt, very similar to a star shape. When it reaches the hem, there are just five little dots of lace. It’s even more beautiful than the dress her flower girl ruined. A few minutes later, she schedules another fitting and then disappears out the door.

Just another day’s work at Ever After, the bridal boutique in Keene, New Hampshire, where I work.

My name is Isabel Vez. Yes, I love my job. No, the bridal boutique is not named after the movie Ever After. No, I’m not married yet. No, I don’t let the fact that I work with annoyingly perky brides every single day rub salt in my raw single wound. And yes, I still love my job despite all that. Usually.

“That woman would make a model candidate for Bridezillas,” my best friend and Ever After’s one and only seamstress, Kaylee McGrurd, whispers with a giggle.

“No kidding.” I pretend to straighten a couple bridal catalogs long enough to debrief her about the last customer. “I thought her head was going to explode when she saw the dress. Her eyes were twice the normal size.” I try to imitate her expression for Kaylee’s benefit.

“What happened to it?” Kaylee asks.

“The train had been partially ripped off the dress, and clung to one side of the gown by a single, jagged piece of fabric.” Kaylee makes a face, and I hold up my right hand. “Don’t ask me how, but if you get a train that long, it’s going to come with some risks. I imagine it has something to do with the flower girl, who was playing with it, but then hid behind her mother when the bride started to hyperventilate.”

“Good job with that client.” My boss, Lilly Marshall, suddenly appears by my side. It’s spooky how she does that.

I quickly straighten. “Thank you.” My boss does not tolerate slouches at work. She says it brings disgrace to our gowns. Lilly went to an all-girl school from kindergarten to twelfth grade. Etiquette lessons were required each year, or you didn’t move on to the next grade. This especially means that if she catches me slouching, she will give me a five-minute lecture about good posture. I know this speech by heart, in case you were wondering.

“Such a pity her other dress was ruined like that,” Lilly mutters.

“Yes, it is a pity, uh, such,” I say.

Kaylee starts to laugh at my bad grammar, but covers it with a cough when my elbow lands in her ribs. “Yes,” she says, “It’s such, such a pity,” Kaylee says this with a straight face.

My boss stares at us for a few minutes. I really want to howl with laughter. Drat Kaylee and her ability to keep cool under all circumstances! Lilly snaps back to reality and smiles. “Well, back to work, girls. Those gowns won’t find their brides all by themselves.”

Um… okay. Creepy statement.

I look at my friend as our weird boss walks away. “Will you stop doing that?” I whisper. “The woman is not stupid. She’s going to figure out you’re mocking her.”

“If she hasn’t figured it out yet, then I don’t think she’s going to anytime soon,” Kaylee says. “So, The Chow Man after work? I’m craving a good crab Rangoon.”

“That sounds great,” I say. “Do you want to eat there?”

“No. I’ll pick it up on my way home. I just want to crash in front of the TV tonight.”

“Oh, so your usual nightly routine?” I smile at her as she rolls her eyes at me and sticks out her tongue. We may be twenty-five, but we still act like we’re thirteen with each other. You know, as long as no one is looking. Then we act like the mature young women they think we are.

They really have no idea.

“See you at home. I’ve got some errands. I’ll pick up the Chinese food.” Kaylee smirks. “Have fun with the nut cases.”

“They are not nut cases. They are just stressed. Planning a wedding can be very stressful.” I say this in a monotone, as I recite this line to sobbing, spazzing, and emotional brides almost every day. Some of them are total nut jobs, but I can’t tell Kaylee that. I hate losing in any way, shape, or form.

“Whatever. I’ll see you later.”

Kaylee waves as she shoots out the door, her long, red hair flying out behind her like Wonder Woman’s red cape. Kaylee is beautiful. She’s five-foot-ten with long, sleek red hair and bright green eyes. Literally, her eyes are the color of a fresh kiwi. She has a fabulous fashion sense, witty humor, and a love of football, baseball, and various other sporting endeavors.

What? I don’t like sports. I once forgot whether the Red Sox were a baseball or football team. Basically, Kaylee is every man’s dream. She even cooks.

I am the opposite of every man’s dream. I’m short—five-foot-two—with extremely curly, dark hair. I already covered the fact that I don’t know baseball from football, and I do not cook. I can’t even make mashed potatoes right. My roommates call the fire department every time I bring home groceries. You have one little incident with a fiery stove, and nobody trusts you anymore.

I walk around the bridal boutique. The front windows boast mannequins dressed in our newest gowns, but sheer curtains partition them off from the rest of the store. The front section of the store has popular dresses on display. The left and right walls are wall-to-wall mannequins dressed in bridal apparel, as well as a few random mannequins that stand throughout the greeting area. I stop to straighten the hem of one before going to stand behind the front desk, which is framed by a door on each side. One leads to the stockroom. The other leads to the offices.

The bell over the door chimes, and another bride walks inside the store. She takes a seat on one of the three couches arranged like a giant “U.” They face the storefront, but that doesn’t stop this blond chick from turning around to stare at me with the classic, “When is it my turn?” look.

Candace Matthews, the other consultant, comes out of the offices. “Is my two o’clock appointment here yet?” She tucks a strand of black hair behind her left ear.

I gesture to the girl who is still staring at us. How can you miss that?

Candace steps next to me and pretends to busy herself with some paperwork on the desk. “Her name is Precious. Precious Treasure.”

I snort, and immediately start coughing to cover it. “Yeah. You have fun with that.”

“Thanks.” Candace rolls her eyes, and then walks over to the bride to introduce herself.

I get back to work, busying myself with some paperwork for the brides who have ordered gowns and are coming in for fittings, rather than buying off the rack. I don’t have any other appointments scheduled for my shift, and before I know it, it’s time for me to leave.

Once I walk out the front door, I turn left down the strip mall sidewalk. Ever After is right in the middle, with a shoe store and a trendy clothing store on the right. On the left, there is a bookstore and café called Whipped Cream.

I open the door to Whipped Cream, and am greeted by Grant Thurrs—the owner, as well as the man who thought of the corny name to this café.

“Hey Izze!”

I take a step back. Not sure why, but it’s my first response to such an enthusiastic greeting. “Hi, Grant. Been a slow day?”

“I was so bored that I arranged the mugs by color.” He gestures to the shelf to his right.

“And what color dominated?” We have a long-standing argument that he needs to get a variety of different colored mugs, not just blue mugs. He always says that the “mugs” on the customers are different enough for him. I say that’s rude, and blue gets boring after a while. And on it goes.

He sighs. “Izze, do we really have to go there again?”

My lips curl in a smug grin. “Yes.” I bat my eyelashes at him.

He mumbles in a low voice. I balance on my tiptoes to hear him. “Glue,” he says. Yeah, that’s what I heard, too.

“Glue? Do you glue you’re mugs together? Does the health inspector know?”

“What? No. B-L-U-E. Are you deaf from all the shrieking brides?”

“I’m not deaf. You just mumble. Take a speech class,” I say as I settle onto a barstool in front of the counter. “I’ll take an iced mocha with a shot of caramel and an extra shot of espresso. Pretty please.” I add the pretty please for good measure. After all, I did insult his speech abilities.

He rolls his eyes. “No extra mocha shot this time?”

“I thought that was understood.”

“Coming right up.” He turns to get it ready.

I look around the café. It is dead in here. This strip mall is located in the middle of town. This is Keene, New Hampshire. No, it’s not New York City, but it’s not exactly a little stick-in-the-mud town in the middle of a state nobody remembers exists. Normally business is pretty steady.

Grant owns the café along with his sister Miranda, who chooses that moment to enter. Grant and Miranda happen to be my second cousins, so I get a discount on coffee.

“Hey!” she yells.

I blink. These people are not normally so starved for human interaction. “Uh…hi!” I respond, also yelling.

Now she blinks at me.

I decide to change the subject and spare myself from looking like an idiot. “So how are you doing, Miranda?”

“I’m good. It’s been so slow today. It’s making me sleepy. I can’t wait until closing.” She yawns.

Grant comes back with a to-go cup filled with my icy mocha treat. “What are we talking about?”

“Your sister just told me she’s going to club you over the head, lock your body in the shed, and become sole proprietor of this establishment.” I figure potential murder is definitely free of boredom. “Oh, and she’s going to buy more mugs.”

Grant rolls his eyes as he hands me my coffee. I take a sip of the sickly sweet but delicious drink. Grant almost gags as he watches me.

“How can you drink that much sugar and cream on top of chocolate?”

“I have a strong heart.”


I grin. “Bye, guys. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Bye,” they both echo.

I take a deep breath at the door. Iced coffee in the middle of winter was not a bright idea. I take another sip. Who cares? I open the door and run the rest of the way to my car.

I pull into the driveway at my house. Yes, I said house. It’s a four-bedroom house that Kaylee and I rent with two close friends from church, Apryl and Courtney Burns.


Twin sisters.

I’m sure you can imagine the joys that brings our lives.

It’s a small, uh, good house. Really, it’s a rundown shack. The paint is peeling. The shutters are falling off. The stove doesn’t bake properly. The hardwood floors creak. The railing leading upstairs is broken. In fact, we kicked down what was left, rather than keep dealing with it.

On the plus side, there are four small bedrooms. Four small, small bedrooms. Barely big enough for a bed. That may be a slight exaggeration, considering I have a dresser, desk, and chair squeezed into mine. But I love this house. It’s beautiful in a falling-apart-on-an-old-back-road-with-lots-of-sunshine-and-nature kind of way.

I get out of my little blue car. Sweet! I’m the first one here.

As I walk in the front door, I kick my shoes off in the foyer, hang my coat on the rack, and set my Coach purse, a Christmas present from my parents, on the decorative table where we all keep our purses.

I walk the agonizing ten feet to the couch where I immediately collapse without bothering to change out of my skirt and blouse. Bring on the wrinkles, because only a chicken running through my living room screaming, “The sky is falling!” is getting me up and off this couch.

And if that happens I’ll be going to get a psych evaluation.

About half an hour later Apryl and Courtney get home. I can hear them yelling from the car all the way in here, on the couch, with the volume on the TV turned up higher than necessary.

“Are you crazy?” That’s Courtney and her familiar, high-pitched scream.

“Listen. I’m going to say this to you one more time. This is my job. I love to do it. And it’s my head. If I dye the whole thing magenta, that is my right! It’s your job to love me regardless of how I look!” Apryl screams back.

I pause the movie. I might as well listen without any distractions.

“But when you dye my whole head magenta, it’s another story!” Courtney shrieks at a decibel appropriate only for dogs.

“Then don’t bring up my hair color choices.” Apryl huffs. Apryl has had some interesting hair colors. Currently, her hair is jet black, shoulder length, with a ton of layers—at least it was this morning. “And I did your tips. The very ends of your hair. Get over it. You said you wanted something different, and this is different. Besides, it looks great on you.” Apryl sounds like she is trying to speak calmly, like she is trying to reason with her.

Yeah right.

“I’m a law student.” Courtney says. “I’m going to be a lawyer. I can’t have magenta tips! It’s undignified. I was thinking blond highlights or even red. But this is frightening!”

“Listen, undignified works for you. King David was undignified. I think lawyers are too stuffy. Live a little. Add some color to those gray suits.” Apryl says all this in a bored tone. I bet they’ve been going at it for a while.

The door slams open and they walk inside the house. Courtney practically runs through the living room, up the stairs, and presumably into her room, because I hear another door slam. Apryl just stands there and looks at me. Probably because I’m lying on my back, legs flung over the back of the couch, and feet hanging off the edge. Also, I’m in a skirt.

Could be embarrassing if there were any guys here.

She drops her purse on the floor, kicks off her shoes, and belly flops onto the loveseat.

“Did you see her hair?” Apryl asks.

I fiddle with the remote. “She took off running too fast for me to see it. Flash would have been proud.”

“It looks great on her. I’m not dyeing it back. She can go to some other hairstylist and pay for it if she’s going to be like that.” She huffs, sending her bangs flying.

I keep my mouth shut. I don’t really want to deal with it. I just want to watch Letters to Juliet and eat my bag of Oreos.

Yes, I am going to eat the whole bag by myself. It’s been a long day. Don’t judge. I’ll work it off.

Or I’ll skip breakfast tomorrow.

“I love this movie,” Apryl murmurs. “What are you watching next?”

My Fair Wedding. Somebody’s doing a wedding with sky diving or ocean creatures or something like that.” I answer.

“What?” Apryl asks after a moment.

I don’t know what was so hard to understand about that statement. I open my mouth to start over again only slower this time. “I said My Fair Wedding. The episode is about—”

“Not that, dork. I don’t see how you went from sky diving to ocean monsters. They are worlds apart.” Apryl rolls her deep-set, blue eyes.

“Oh,” I say. “I’m not sure where a lot of those ideas for weddings come from, but I’ve seen some weird stuff. I just remember it looked interesting.”

“I see,” Apryl says and then falls quiet again.

Thirty minutes later, a herd of elephants tromps up our porch stairs. Kaylee comes through the door seconds later.

Guess I was wrong about that herd of elephants.

“Hey guys.” Her hands are full of Chinese takeout. “What are we watching? Where’s Courtney?”

Apryl says, “Letters to Juliet,” the same time I say, “In her room.”

“Oh, I love this movie!” She sits down and passes around the takeout containers and chopsticks. “Why?” She casts her eyes upstairs.

But she already knows.

We often go through this scenario with slight variations. First, one of us gets home and flops on the couch with the television blaring. Next, the rest of us start to find our way home. Then, Apryl and Courtney begin to argue about anything from haircuts to whether or not Congress would pass a law stating that socks cannot be worn with sandals. Later, after much “discussion,” Courtney will storm to her room. Finally, Courtney, feeling convicted, will return to apologize, and we will enjoy a lazy evening in front of the TV.

I know my life. Boring for some, but not to me. I have a problem when I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Repetition is good. Change is distressing.

Apryl sets the small container of rice on the floor and rolls over. “She didn’t like the dye job I did for her hair. It’s too wild for her.”

Kaylee just nods in an Oh-I-see way. This is an argument as old as time.

We sit in silence for about fifteen minutes before I hear Courtney come down the stairs. She walks over to the couch, stopping in front of us. Her hair looks great, actually. The magenta looks really good with her wavy, mahogany-colored hair. I pause the movie again and close my eyes.

“I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for freaking out. You’re right. This is different. And that’s exactly what I said I wanted.” Her voice is soft, humble.

Even with my eyes closed I can still see the scene in our little living room. I smile.

“It’s okay, Court. I understand.” I open my eyes as Apryl passes a container of Lo Mein to her as a peace offering.

And all is well.

“Who’s up for My Fair Wedding?” I ask.

I love my life.

Read More

It’s a beautiful morning. The sun is shining bright, and the sky is blue.

Just like my mood.

I’m sure this has happened to you. You have an amazing dream. Then you wake up. The dream felt so real, probably because you wanted it to be real. And now that it’s over you just want to go back to dreamland. Where life is exactly how you want it.

Not the best way to start the day. I roll over in my bed and stare at the wall. I’m just like any other single woman. Sometimes I just want to be loved. For me. I had a dream that I met Mr. Wonderful, Sweet, Smart, Hot, AND Sensitive. We were engaged and I felt so in love. I felt so full, so happy. How can you do that? Feel in love in a dream, I mean? It all felt so real, but better. I’ve dealt with reality, and let me tell you, living a dream is much better.

There’s a verse in the Bible that talks about lifting your eyes up to the hills and about how your help comes from God. I think I’m going to give it a try. But since there are not a lot of hills in Keene, I roll onto my back and lift my eyes to the ceiling.

What is that nasty looking gunk all over my ceiling?

I am so getting up now. It looks like a giant dust bunny that’s planning to eat me in my sleep.

Thirty minutes later I’m showered and hitting the coffeepot. I’m not dressed in my work clothes yet. Instead, I’m wearing a sweat suit that has seen a better millennium.

I go back to my room for a minute and return with my Bible and a notebook. Devotional time.

I head to the sunroom toward the back of the house. It’s not the warmest part of the house in the middle of winter, but it is the most beautiful room no matter what season. The big bay windows show our whole backyard, and thanks to Kaylee’s green thumb, our backyard is beautiful with its big maple trees, stone benches, and flower beds. This time of year, it is like a winter wonderland. A giant snow glob, if you will.

I sit on a little loveseat that Courtney dismissed because it didn’t match any of the furniture we have. It’s fuchsia. With blue flowers. I don’t know where Apryl bought this, but I can’t help the giggle every time I look at it.

I open my Bible and stare at the words, finding it hard to focus this fine day. My heavy heart definitely isn’t helping matters. I haven’t really been reading in a particular book lately, so I close my eyes and open my Bible, flinging the pages to see where they land. Hey, nothing’s a coincidence.

I land in Luke chapter thirteen. I read. I still don’t feel like anything sticks today. Like nothing applies.

The first part of verse thirty-three catches my eye. It says, “In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day….”

Apparently God doesn’t want me to wallow in this, but to trust Him to bring the right guy in His time, and in the meantime, to move forward in life and in Him.

Easier said than done.

Okay. I’m going to try it. Maybe it will help that weird, dull ache in my heart that just wants to be loved.

It’s usually easy to ignore this ache. I think about the past, and about the terrible memories there. Then I just bury myself in friends, family, work, and church. But sometimes I’ll watch a bride find The Dress and talk about her perfect fiancé, and that ache will come back with a raging vengeance.

But today is not a day for wallowing. It is a day for… uh, going on.

I’ve gone on to the bookstore.

Ah. I love coming to the bookstore. Cause it’s awesome.

I take a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. I love the smell of books. Of paper. Of coffee. Of coffee and paper. It’s poetically beautiful.

“Hey, Izze. How are you doing today?” Todd is roughly around my age. He has worked here since the beginning of time.

“I’m great! How’s business? No crazy old ladies trying to pick you up again?” I grin as he sighs. Todd’s a cute guy. The older generation adores him. The old ladies will even pinch his cheeks. I went on a couple dates with him a few years ago, but by the second date we knew there was nothing there.

I walk over to my usual section. Today I’m on a mission. I’m looking for something light-hearted, romantic, and fun. And I will not leave without it.

A wall of books towers over me. I wonder if anyone actually uses the ladder they have hooked to the bookshelf wall. Maybe it’s just for looks? Or does everybody just go without the books on the top shelf? Maybe the top shelf is reserved for all the books nobody likes.

Out of the corner of my eye I see a guy looking at me. He is really looking at me. He’s not checking me out, or looking at me like he’s trying to place who I am. He’s just staring. It’s weird. Obviously, his mother never taught him that staring is rude.

Ten minutes later I’ve got it narrowed down to two books. However, that guy is still staring at me. He’s hardly moved from his spot. This is ridiculous! I am getting agitated now.

“Excuse me, can I help you?” I say in a polite voice. Polite but annoyed. At least I use my manners.

He looks at me as if I was the one who was staring. “No,” he says, and then he turns and walks away.

“Grrr. People can be so rude sometimes.” I grumble to myself. I can’t decide which book I want, so I head over to the in-store coffee shop. There I can sit with a hot cup of some delicious coffee while I get better acquainted with these books.

I always feel a little weird taking something to read into the coffee shop in this store. Like what if I don’t like the book, but I spill coffee on it because I’m a klutz? Then I’ll feel obligated to buy it because I ruined the merchandise, and hindered their chances at a sale. If I hadn’t drunk the coffee while reading, it never would have been ruined.

Maybe they shouldn’t let people read anymore while drinking their coffee. Maybe they shouldn’t let people read the books because they’ll be less likely to buy them if they can just come to the store every day to read them. You know that saying about the guy who won’t buy the cow if he’s getting the milk for free? Well, it applies to more than just relationships. I like to think it applies to all aspects of life. Even book buying.

I stop dead in my tracks once I’m in the open coffee shop. There in the middle of the line is Rude Guy. Seriously? I am so not happy right now. He’s not looking this direction so I slip quickly into line.

Yes! I don’t think he saw me. I start doing little fist pumps in a muted victory dance.

“Uh, Miss, can I take your order?” The barista gives me a funny look. That’s okay—I deserved it that time.

“Hi, uh, I’d like a large caramel latte with whip cream on top,” I say, working to keep my voice normal. No need to freak her out any more.

“Whole milk or skim milk?”

“Whole milk with a ton of sugar, please.” I glance up the line.

She scribbles on my future coffee cup. “Anything else today?”

“Just those fake glasses with the bushy eyebrows and oversized nose so I can discreetly lay low,” I say.

The barista doesn’t even crack a smile. She’s like sixteen! She should appreciate my joke. Or at least be polite and smile.

The manner system in America is failing us.

I hand her the money and then move down the line to pick up my drink. I face the glass display case and pretend to be engrossed in studying the desserts, but out of the corner of my eye I watch Rude Guy to see if he’s noticed me. He’s looking at the paperback in his hand as he waits for his coffee.

As the line moves, I stealthily make my way down a little farther.

I feel like a spy.

Rude Guy gets his drink now and turns to leave. This time I don’t do any fist pumps, but I can’t help the sigh that escapes my lips.

I reach the end of the line, pick up my drink, and look for a semi-clean table. The first one I sit at is coated in some slimy, tan-colored substance. I move toward a table by the window and sit. Ah, perfect.

I take a sip of my drink and open the first book.

Suddenly, a shadow falls over me.

I look up, and who do I see?

That’s right. Rude Guy.

“You’re sitting in my spot.”

“I beg your pardon.” My mouth hangs open.

“It’s perfectly fine. I’d just like my seat back.”

“Uh, no, I think you misunderstood me.”

He raises his eyebrows at me, and I notice his striking blue eyes for the first time. “You’re not going to move?”

“Yes. I mean no. I mean yes.”

His eyebrows creep higher at my stuttering.

I take a breath. “I mean you misunderstood when I said, ‘I beg your pardon.’ I meant it like, ‘I don’t understand what you’re talking about.’ So, no, I am not giving you the seat back because you were not sitting here. To answer your last question.”

His eyebrows have taken a flying leap to the moon by the time I finish. Which makes his rather gorgeous eyes that much more obvious. Oh, I really hate that I notice this.

“Okay.” He sets his coffee down and takes the seat across the table from me.

Bad. Bad. Very bad.

This isn’t going to end well. I can feel it in my bones.

“What are you doing?” I snarl. Politeness gone. Out comes Snot Face.

“I’m sitting.”

“I can see that, but why? This is my table. Go get your own.” My sneer would make any middle-school kid proud.

“Well, I say it’s my table, but you clearly think it’s your table. So you’re not going to budge. Correct?” He holds my gaze and nods when I don’t answer. “That’s what I thought.” He sips his coffee, sets it down, and folds his hands all lawyer-style as he waits for me to refute his logic.

Oh, I’ll refute it all right.

“I don’t know you. And I’m not sharing a table with someone I don’t know.” Ha! Take that.

“I’m James Miles Clayton, but my friends call me Miles. And this is my spot.” His smug grin reveals an even row of teeth. “And your name is?”

“None of your beeswax.” Great, now I’m reverting back to myself at age five.

“That was a good, mature comeback.” He smirks. “You don’t have to tell me your name, but it would sure go a long way in getting to know you.” His expression is somewhat charming. And insanely aggravating.

“You could be a stalker.”

“I assure you I’m not.”

“I’m sure that’s what all stalkers say. Especially when the restraining order is placed.”

“I sit at this table every time I come to this bookstore.”

“I bet the other tables would like to make your acquaintance. Share the joy.”

“I’m a one-table-for-life kind of man,” he shoots back.

“Look, you weren’t sitting here when I sat down. It looked like James had left the building.” I purposely don’t call him Miles because I am not his friend. This man is crazy.

His eyes sparkle. Uh-oh. “Now, why did you think I had left?”

“Um, because I didn’t see you.”

“If you didn’t see me, I would think you would have said something like you didn’t see me. You said it looked like I had left. Meaning you saw me. Possibly even watched me.”

“Uh…” Sigh. I cannot tell a lie. “Uh, I wasn’t watching for you. I saw you and ducked.”

“Why is that?” He leans forward.

“Because you were staring at me earlier. And that bugs me.”

He doesn’t deny staring at me. He just doesn’t address it.

“Did your mother ever teach you that staring is rude?” I ask.

“My mother raised me to be quite the gentleman.”

I snort. Like a lady. “On the contrary. Gentlemen don’t stare.”

James the Rude Guy shrugs. “Think what you’d like, but let’s get back to you. You were watching me after you ducked. To see if it was safe to sit or run.”

I refuse to comment. Hey, if he can do it, I can too.

He chuckles. “Looks like between the two of us, you’re the stalker.”

“I am not!”

Heads turn our way and someone shushes me. Great.

“I am not,” I say again, this time just above a whisper.

“That’s what they all say.”

“Argh!” My head drops to the table. “Can I please just have my table?” Might as well try polite desperation.


I raise my head. “Why? Why sit here and bug me? Why not get another table?”

He looks me square in the eyes, and it almost takes my breath away. “Because I like this spot. And the company intrigues me.” He stands up. “But I’m afraid I have to go pay for this book. I hate reading a book in a coffee shop that I haven’t purchased yet. Until next time.” He winks and walks away.

This time I make sure he walks out the door.