To celebrate Valentine’s Day, my winter short story, DUPING CUPID, is FREE from February 11-15 at Amazon.
“Because sometimes, even Cupid needs a little help…”
Vivi Maxwell runs Cupid To Go, a unique dating service in New York. When wealthy client and former model, Ava Featherstone, seeks an escort for the winter season in Manhattan society, she sets her sights on Vivi’s best friend, Sebastian “Bass” Lawrence.
Vivi and Bass have both been burned in their love lives and have never considered their relationship more than platonic. But Ava’s sudden intrusion makes Bass realize he’s in love with his best friend, Vivi. Now, with Ava’s help, he’ll try to dupe Vivi into seeing that the man she’s been waiting for has stood beside her all along.
Shaking off annoyance, he took Vivi’s seat behind the desk and turned on the charm. “I’m Sebastian Lawrence,” he told the well-dressed and coiffed woman. “My friends call me Bass.”
“Not anymore.” The woman sniffed as she perched on the edge of the chair across from him. “It’s too undignified. If you’re going to be my escort, you’ll go by Sebastian at all times.”
Aha. Vivi’s hesitancy made sense after all. She didn’t worry that he couldn’t handle the gig. She worried he might kill this woman before the winter was over, and the possibility did exist. He should have known better. Well, he’d stepped into the fray when she’d tried to protect him. No way would he abandon her now. “May I ask your name? I’m afraid Vivi was remiss in the introductions.”
The woman grinned, calling to his mind a barracuda zeroing in on a tasty tidbit for dinner. “Ava Featherstone Bannerman.”
“Ava.” Thank God he hadn’t lost his acting skills. He took her hand and placed a soft kiss at the base of her palm. Nothing. Not so much as a smile on her frozen face. Recovering quickly, he reached for the standard paperwork. “Once we go over the contracts, we’ll have you happier than you’ve been in years. For the next four and a half months, I will be your devoted slave.”
She took the stapled packet, folded it, and shoved it into her purse. “Not yet, you’re not. I have to be careful. I can’t afford to look foolish. Not only will I have this reviewed by my attorney, I’ll also be hiring a private detective to thoroughly investigate you. If you have any skeletons in your closet, now’s the time to let me know.”
He relaxed, easing back in the chair. A woman on a power trip. How unoriginal. “No skeletons. My life’s an open book.”
“Not too open, I hope,” she remarked. “Your picture isn’t routinely splashed on tabloid covers, is it?”
“No, of course not.”
“What exactly do you do for a living, Mr. Lawrence?”
“These days? Real estate. I own several lucrative properties in Manhattan.”
“I was an actor on ‘Our Small Town’ for eleven years.”
No reaction. Wow. Normally, women bounced on their toes and shrieked when they realized he’d played the hunky Dr. Morgan Reed on the successful television series. This one just sat there—like a barracuda—cold, deadly, with soulless eyes.
“What’s your current marital status?”
And the questions kept on coming. “Divorced. Fifteen years ago.”
None of her business. Jeez, did all of Vivi’s clients demand so much personal information? Never having been in the hot seat before today, he had no idea if what she asked was standard.
“I’m waiting, Mr. Lawrence.”
“She found someone else.” An understatement, but all the information this barracuda deserved to know. In truth, his ex-wife had left him for a woman, a blow from which his ego had never fully recovered.
“No.” He’d wanted them, but his ex, Jenna, an actress in her own right, refused to consider ruining her figure or sacrificing her chaotic lifestyle for a child. After the divorce, he’d realized her stubborn refusal to start a family had actually helped them avoid additional tragedy. The one good thing to come out of the whole ugly mess.
“And what’s your connection to that Maxwell woman?”
“Vivi? We’re friends. For almost ten years now.”
“Nothing more?” She quirked a penciled brow. “Have you ever slept together?”
“No!” The denial came out fast, not because the idea was abhorrent, but because…well, because they were friends. Both scarred from romantic entanglements, they’d never considered ruining their relationship with sex.
“I didn’t really think so,” she replied airily. “A big girl like that. No wonder she’s single.”
Now, wait a minute. Anger welled up inside him. He opened his mouth to argue with her, but she never gave him the chance.
“Shame, too. She has such a pretty face…” Frowning, she glanced down at her flawless French manicure.
“She’s also funny, generous, and the best damn friend I’ve ever had. And I think she’s beautiful inside and out. You know nothing about Vivi, what she’s been through, and how special she really is.”
Her focus snapped back to him, that barracuda smile fixed in place. “And you love her.”
“Of course I do,” he said. “She’s my friend.” Craning his neck, he looked past the woman and out toward the lobby to make sure Vivi hadn’t returned from her trip to the ladies room. She might pretend not to care when some skinny know-it-all commented on how pretty she’d be if she only lost a little weight, but Bass knew how much those well-meaning insults belittled her. Silly, really, since, in his eyes, she was pretty much perfect, size-wise and in every other way.
“That’s not what I mean, and you know it. I’m actually jealous. You love her, despite her weight. If I ballooned up like her, my husband would have ditched me faster.”
Thank God, Vivi still hadn’t returned.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t realize you’re in love with her until now,” Ava announced.
“There’s nothing to realize. We’re friends.”
Under the barracuda’s intense scrutiny, he squirmed. Did he love Vivi? As more than a friend? He liked her. A lot. Just thinking about her warmed his insides faster than a shot of iced vodka. For eight years now, they’d been the best of friends. How many nights had they spent, snuggled together on his couch, watching television and munching popcorn? Like an old married couple. At least three times a week, he popped in to her office to take her to lunch. Like a loving husband would. Whenever he had good news to share, Vivi heard it first and celebrated with him. Like a wife. They had a stronger relationship than most married couples he knew. Except for sex.
For God’s sake, they’d never even kissed. Not a real kiss with passion and promise. How could he be in love with someone he’d never kissed, much less slept with?
“You should tell her.”
“There’s nothing to tell.” Her eyes narrowed, enhancing her disbelief and his discomfort. “Even if there was, Vivi’s not interested in love. With me or anyone else. Her last guy did a real number on her.”
“She’s Cupid, for God’s sake. Of course she’s still interested in love. Besides, I’ve got eyes, you know. She loves you, too. Your so-called friend just needs someone to sweep her off her feet. Don’t you want to be that someone? Or would you prefer her to find somebody else?”
He sat up. What somebody else? The guy in the apartment down the hall from her with the pet monitor lizard he dressed up in doggie sweaters and walked on a leash? Or the dentist she thought had nice eyes but a creepy smile? Jeez, she deserved better than both those losers.
“If you really love her—and I know you do—you’re going to have fight her demons for her.”
Despite his doubts, a spark lit inside him. “How?”
“Give me the next four months. Together, you and I will dupe Cupid into realizing how she feels about you. By the time I’m through, I’ll have the two of you all sewn up in a happily-ever-after quilt.”
Who said he wanted to be all sewn up? With Vivi or anyone? His main concern was that she didn’t wind up with some loser like that Julian bonehead. She deserved a man who appreciated her, who understood how perfect she was, someone who wouldn’t try to change her.
…like him. No. Not like him. Him. He loved her. No one else would ever love her the way he did.