Goaded by her competition, matchmaker Jane Wright makes a very public bet that she can find the "perfect" match for Manhattan's hottest confirmed bachelor-sexy-as-sin bartender Charlie Goodman. Unfortunately, Charlie is also Jane's ex-lover, a man she broke up with on a cocktail napkin. With her company on the line, Jane has no choice but to convince the man of her most impractical dreams to dive back into the dating pool.
Charlie doesn't want to see Jane's business fail. He just wants a little revenge. Determined to prove to Jane that chemistry always beats compatibility algorithms, he plans to drive her crazy with desire...then walk away. And his plan is working. A little too well, actually. Because even as Jane scrambles to calculate Charlie's best match, the heat building between them combusts. But Charlie's been so busy outsmarting Cupid that he hasn't noticed he's the naughty cherub's next target...
Each book in the Smart Cupid series is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Book #1 Breaking the Bachelor
Book #2 Unexpectedly His
Book #3 One Little Kiss
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Breaking the Bachelor
A Smart Cupid Story
By Maggie Kelley, Vanessa Mitchell & Sue Winegardner
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Maggie Kelley
All rights reserved.
@KathieLeeandHoda Lay down your bets, America, the NYC Love Gamble starts now!
"Totally. Screwed." Standing outside Rockefeller Center, Jane Wright pulled out her phone one more time to look at the article on the NY Singles Facebook page. Even clad in her super-insulated North Face jacket, reading the post made her break out in a cold sweat.
Love's a gamble, right? Not according to local matchmaker, Jane Wright, who claims a logic-based algorithm in her company's new dating app can find a perfect match for any New Yorker in five days — she's even willing to bet on it.
Bet on it? Had she suffered a blow to the head she didn't remember? Sure, her pain-in-the-ass, push-her-to-the-limit business rival had made her furious, mocking her logical love theories on television, but betting her company down to the studs to prove her point was Crazytown. Crazy. Town.
Boy, had that bastard cornered her.
The interview with Kathie Lee and Hoda had been complete sabotage. What should have been a morning spent sipping Prosecco, and chatting about the success of Smart Cupid, generating buzz for her company's new dating app, had morphed into her nemesis making an appearance to tout his company's new matchmaking strategy.
Oh, yes, the battle lines had been drawn. DatesRUs — and, really, who could take a matchmaking service with the nomenclature of a giant toy store seriously — had thrown down the gauntlet.
On live television.
"We generate fifty matches a week," the Antichrist, Adam Walters, had said.
Hoda and Kathie had bobblehead-swiveled at that comment. The whole studio audience had waited silently for a rebuttal. Jane recalled the panic, the just-keep-swimming mantra she'd repeated in her head. Sweat had popped on her brow and she distinctly remembered hoping she wasn't glistening all over national television.
"That's wonderful, Adam." Kudos on not sounding snarky. "But here at Smart Cupid our focus is quality. Not quantity. We take the gamble out of love. Our matches have a statistical compatibility criterion that guarantees success."
"Is that right?" Adam had replied.
She should've bolted right then and there.
"So you wouldn't be opposed to a little wager then, would you?"
Bet? Oh, no. She didn't gamble — ever.
"Let's see," Adam-the-Asshole had begun, conspiratorially nudging Kathie Lee until a picture popped up on the screen behind them. A picture that had the sweat on her face turning to ice. He hadn't picked a normal New Yorker. No sirree. A-hole had done his homework. By the glint in his beady little eyes, he knew it, too.
"Hold the phone!" Hoda shouted. "Isn't that Charlie Goodman?"
It sure the hell was. He smiled back at her from the photo, casual and seductive in a pair of faded Levis and white shirt, unbuttoned at his throat. She looked away. Maybe if she refused to look at him, she could pretend it was someone else — someone other than New York Magazine's sexiest mixologist. Someone other than Charlie Goodman.
Talk about Karma biting her in the butt.
Adam leaned back in his chair, "I dare you" written all over his face. "Think your new dating app can handle him?"
The ON AIR light blinked bright red across the studio, and she fought back the urge to give that chair of his a little push. "Absolutely, Adam," she said, amazed by the calm in her voice. Calm was the last thing she felt. Panic. Anxiety. Assaulted by her own personal shitstorm.
The hosts swiveled back in her direction. "Ready to take a risk for love, Cupid?"
Jane smiled. "If Adam agrees to sit outside my office on Valentine's Day, passing out conversation hearts and chocolate ..."
"No problem. It's a bet!"
Jane refused to rehash any more of the memory. Could she ignore the social media surrounding her Today Show appearance? Um, no. Could she undo the wager she'd been cornered into taking in front of an audience of five-point-two million viewers? Again, no.
Today was all about damage control.
She pivoted to walk down Fifth toward Bryant Park, forced her attention back to the article on her phone, and tried not to pass out.
Rumor has it DatesRUs has chosen super-stud Charlie Goodman, the city's sexiest bartender according to the annual Hot List unveiled in this week's New York Magazine. According to the interview, while the Midtown mixologist is habanera hot, after a break-up earlier this year, this particular NYer claims to be a confirmed bachelor. Tough luck, Cupid. Better aim for the <3.
"Aim for the heart, my ass." There were already six hundred and nine comments. Seems New Yorkers had a lot to say on the subject.
Or maybe they smelled the blood in the water.
She glared at the screen looking for a loophole — wiggle room, even. But no. Damn her for staring at Kathie Lee like a tourist in the middle of Times Square.
Unable to take it anymore, she shoved the phone deep into her pocket, only to stop short in front of a local newsstand stacked with copies of the offending New York Magazine. Unbelievable. The man was literally everywhere.
He grinned at her from the cover, oozing sex and charm. She sighed. There was no way around it. She'd have to call him — the man she'd grown up with. The man she'd fallen into bed with while on vacation in the Caymans six months ago. The man whose kiss made it hard for her to think. Or breathe. Her stomach fluttered at the thought.
No. No fluttering stomachs. She balled her hands into fists and kept walking. That kind of passion couldn't be trusted — the brighter it burned, the colder it was when it burned out, and it always burned out. Even when there was history like hers and Charlie's to back it up. Passion wasn't for her. She needed a safe, predictable guy, and during her six days with Charlie, nothing had felt safe. If anything, she'd been in a free fall, on the verge of falling hard, and falling fast ... right up until she'd seen him cozy up to the Rum Runner girl the very night she'd planned to ask him to give things a shot when they got back to New York. After dumping him unceremoniously via cocktail napkin, she'd made herself a promise.
No more free fall.
She bit down on her bottom lip. Okay, so it was, perhaps, a tad more complicated than just seeing him chat up another woman. But she wouldn't go ... there.
They hadn't spoken in twenty-three and a half weeks. They'd ruined their friendship the second they'd slept together, so there'd been no point. Yeah, Charlie had called, and called, and tweeted, and hit her up on Facebook in those first Post-Paradise Hookup days. Yes, he'd even solicited her brother, Nick — talk about awkward — to reach out on his behalf.
But she hadn't been ready to hear his halfhearted excuses. She still wasn't ready. Not for the first time, she cursed her genes, because surely only a fluke of DNA could've landed her in a bet that put her at the mercy of Charlie Goodman.
Guess it was now or never. She wrinkled her nose at the keypad and dialed the number she knew by heart. A few agonizing rings later, she landed straight in his voicemail. Her eyes narrowed at the glowing screen. 8:13 am. Like he wasn't available to take her call.
She'd call again, and if he didn't pick up ... well, then ... she'd simply hunt him down. Of course, tracking him down would mean seeing him again, and considering that a glimpse of his sexy cover shot for the New York Magazine interview had sent her pulse bouncing around like a SuperBall, actually seeing him might be more than she could handle.
But with the bet going viral, she didn't dare renege because NY Singles and good ole' Hoda and Kathie Lee were following the whole damned deal, and if she failed, it'd mean that the Adam-the-A-hole would win, and her company's reputation would be DOA.
Jane drew in a long, messy breath. Only one thing to be done. She needed to match Charlie Goodman with his one true love.
In five days.
@Goodman Never open your door before nine am. #earlyamwakeupcall #bartenderhell
Charlie pressed end call on his third interview request of the morning. In truth, plenty of R-rated comments had flown to the tip of his tongue, but it was too early to resort to profanity. Even if profanity was justified.
He tossed the phone onto the leather recliner next to the bed, rolled over, and pressed his face into the warm pillowcase. He needed a break. Since Jane's early morning television bet hit social media, he'd been fielding call after call about his love life, and every one of them made him want to remain single, possibly for all eternity.
The phone chimed again. He eyed another unrecognized number, reached for the cell and powered it down. Christ, it was barely eight thirty. He shoved his head under the pillow. All he wanted to do was get some sleep, and forget about the way he'd felt watching Janey on The Today Show. But the morning's hell simply refused to go away.
"Charlie? Charlie, open the door, it's me."
He dragged his head out from under the pillow, his body suddenly on red-alert. There was only one person in New York with the kind of nerve required to knock at his door this early. His ex-friend, ex-lover, ex-whatever.
"I know you're in there, Charlie."
He groaned into the mattress, hating the fact that his name on her lips still drove him absolutely crazy. He hadn't seen her in six months, but what red-blooded man wouldn't respond to that Jameson-laced voice this early in the morning? Especially when he could still hear it whispering sexy little demands into his ear. Could still remember her gold-flecked eyes warming as he rained kisses across her skin, kissing every inch of her until she begged him to make love to her. Not that he was imagining that scenario right now. That scenario led straight back to Hell.
No, all he wanted right now was to go back to sleep and forget all about how her bet had put his marital status on the chopping block.
"Charlie, open up."
Relentless. The woman was relentless. He covered his head with the pillow again, but she refused to go away, pounding on the door like a crazed trick-or-treater out to score a Twix bar.
"Charlie Goodman, open the damn door!"
He muttered his protest into the mattress. If he let the pummeling continue, a petition by his neighbors to kill him — or worse, kick him out of the building — seemed inevitable. He landed a right hook into the mattress and considered his choice. Death, or eviction from an uptown co-op. Tough call in Manhattan. The threat of eviction ultimately forced him to toss aside the pillow and climb out of bed. He dragged on a pair of flannel pajama bottoms, a safeguard against the chill in the early morning air. Somebody needed to teach the woman some manners. He trudged down the hall, tearing at his bedhead with both hands. Late nights at the bar meant he was not an early riser, a fact she damned well knew. She knocked again.
"Holy Mother of all matchmakers, I'm coming!"
He swung open the door and there she was, inches away, fist half-cocked, skin flushed a pretty pink, smiling up at him like an angel.
For a moment — yes, a sad and very naïve moment — he thought maybe she'd come to apologize, to reconcile and admit she'd made a mistake. The single voicemail she'd actually bothered to leave had said only, "We need to talk." But she wasn't looking apologetic this morning. He caught the glint in her bourbon-colored eyes, the set of her jaw. He knew that expression too well. So the angel had an agenda. Figured.
Still, she looked good after all this time, standing there in his hallway, her lips curved, her short, dark hair mussed and curling around her ears. Her form-fitting jeans and low-cut shirt beneath her open coat were a one-two punch, designed to bring a man straight to his knees, and God help him, he was seconds away from hitting the ground. He narrowed his bleary eyes. Maybe she was a dream and if he went back to bed, she'd disappear. He made a move to shut the door and she stopped it with her foot.
"Peace offering." She held up a red and white checkered bag, which he knew would be filled with the world's most perfect bagels.
As if bagels erased the past six months. He ignored the bag. "How did you get past the doorman?"
"You mean Benny?"
"Yes. The doorman. Benny."
Another grin slid across her face, this one as easy as melted butter. Yup, he knew that look, too. He bet his poor doorman hadn't stood a chance. "I may have also brought him a dozen bagels from Hot and Crusty, which may or may not be his favorite bagel place."
He leaned a weary shoulder against the frame. "Good to hear Doorman Benny can be bribed with a few bagels and a tub of cream cheese."
"Pecan honey cream cheese." She tucked a curl behind her ear, all innocent and sweet. "Are you going to let me in?"
"That depends." He scrubbed at his unshaven face with his hands. Did she really think she could bust in and steamroll him with breakfast? "Are you going to tell me what you're doing here?" When she didn't answer, he reframed the question. "Jane, what the hell do you want?"
She smiled and looked up at him from beneath her lashes. "What makes you think I want something?"
He ticked off a list of reasons on his fingertips. "Let's see. That smile, that look, the fact that the last time I set eyes on you was six months ago, the fact that you've avoided me ever since. And, oh yeah, the fact that you called thirteen times this morning. Even left a message."
"You refused my calls, so I decided to stop by and up the ante." Her hip jutted to one side in that uncompromising way of hers. "Guess I'm not a straight-to-voicemail kind of girl."
Oh, and what about all the times she'd avoided his calls? Nah, he wouldn't go there. Better to find out exactly what she wanted and be done with it. Dredging up the past wouldn't change anything.
"Tell me what you're doing here, Jane, and give it to me straight. We both know you don't flirt without an agenda." She wet her lips to object, but he held up his palm. "Don't even try to pretend those bagels aren't flirting."
"Can't a girl stop by for breakfast?" She peeked around the doorframe, and her neckline dipped enough to give him a glimpse of what he had missed. "Unless you're not alone?"
"I'm alone. But I'm only letting you in if you drop the act." His eyes fell to the deep V of her shirt and he weighed his options. Grab the bagels and shut the door, or let her in and hear her out. He took the bag and waved her curves inside.
Her sweet vanilla scent filled the air as she strolled past him like she owned the damned place. As usual, it sent his brain into a tailspin. His thoughts detoured to the street games they'd played as kids, before returning to the more risqué games they'd played as adults.
He kicked the door closed and followed her into his Man Kitchen — concrete floors, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, but not a lot of actual food or supplies. She dropped her parka on the table before working her way through his mostly-empty cabinets, collecting the stuff to make coffee.
Normally, he got coffee at the corner store, but he still kept some on hand for Janey. Before The Cocktail Napkin Incident, they'd hung out all the time. Poker nights, pasta nights, martini Tuesdays. She'd bought him that damn coffee maker with its automatic timer and programmed it for him so when he finally woke after his long-ass shifts, he'd have a hot pot of French vanilla or mocha or whatever frou-frou flavored roast she'd insisted he try. Shit, he'd even grown fond of that holiday spiced java.
Some old habits needed a sledgehammer.
"You look good," she said, all casual and easy, like it was just another morning,
Now, there was a curve ball. Playing the whole for-old-time's-sake card.
"Yeah, well, you always liked the unshaven look."
"A lot of women do. Like the unshaven look." She bit her bottom lip. "A lot of perfectly nice, perfectly dateable women."
Excerpted from Breaking the Bachelor by Maggie Kelley, Vanessa Mitchell & Sue Winegardner. Copyright © 2015 Maggie Kelley. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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