Excerpt The Romeo Effect by Lila Monroe

Nov 112019
 

The Romeo Effect (Cupids #3) by Lila Monroe

Is it fate…. Or just the Romeo effect? Discover the hot and hilarious new stand-alone romantic comedy from USA Today bestselling author, Lila Monroe!

Seth Harding is the King of Meet-Cutes. If you get trapped in an elevator with a handsome stranger, or stranded on a moonlit cruise with the man of your dreams, chances are, it’s not fate bringing the two of you together, it’s Seth somewhere, pulling the strings.

At least, that’s what I find out, when someone hires Seth to help win my heart. It would be romantic… if he weren’t all wrong for me. And Mr Right…?

Well, he might just be the guy behind the scenes.

Suddenly, my faith in soulmates is hitting a major complication. Seth is cynical, and argumentative… and seriously irresistible. Soon, the sparks between us are impossible to ignore. But can this hopeful romantic really find love with a man who engineers happily-ever-afters for a living? And when all the tricks and tests are stripped away, what makes two people truly meant to be?

Excerpt The Romeo Effect by Lila Monroe

CHAPTER ONE – APRIL

A lot of people don’t realize, but a bouquet of flowers can mean way more than just, “I screwed up, forgive me,” and, “Let’s have sex.”
I mean, sure, most of the people who walk through the door of my little flower shop are looking for one or the other—or, in the case of the guys who’ve been caught sexting with their exes, both. (Seriously, how hard is it to keep your dick in your pants and your passwords on lock?) But anyway, there’s a whole world to flowers, if you just look beyond the obvious. People have been using them to communicate for hundreds of years, from the symbolism in Japanese hanakotoba arrangements to the way people used them to send coded messages in Victorian England. It’s part of the reason I started Bloom, my little flower shop and design company. The perfect flower can brighten someone’s day, become a treasured memory, and express emotions you’re not brave enough to put into words.
It’s just my luck that ninety-nine percent of my customers are looking for the perfect words to say, “Let’s bang.”
“Red roses?” I repeat to the man standing at the counter in front of me. Clearly, my poker face is as bad as ever, because my dismay comes through loud and clear.
“Is something wrong with them?”
“No,” I tell him hurriedly. “Roses are lovely. But red ones are . . . very traditional for a date.”
And by traditional, I mean boring and cliché.
“A first date,” he adds.
Even worse.
The guy looks around the shop. He’s actually kind of cute, if the whole “self-important Wall Street” look is your thing, but a man’s taste in flowers tells me everything I need to know, and unfortunately for his date tonight, this guy is strictly a fumbled foreplay, jack-rabbit, clitor-what now? kind of a guy.
The least I can do is make sure she gets a decent bouquet first.
“Why don’t I put something together for you?” I offer with a smile. “Something bright and fresh that says ‘optimism’ and ‘new beginnings.’ ”
He gives a shrug. “I mean, I guess so.”
He starts scrolling on his phone, which means that’s about as much effort as he wants to put into the gift. Never mind. I duck into the back refrigerator, where I keep most of my blooms in buckets of water for freshness. I pluck individual stems from several different types and pull together a lush bouquet brimming with lilies, irises, and—yes—a few dramatic yellow roses thrown in for good measure. It is a date, after all.
I emerge from the fridge, holding up the arrangement. “What do you think?”
He gives another shrug. “Sure. Whatever.”
I try not to scowl. “I’ll just wrap it up and you can be on your way.”
“Is the gift wrap extra?” he asks. “Because I was looking to keep it under ten bucks.”
I blink. Ten bucks. From a florist in Manhattan? Where my shop’s rent is equivalent to the GDP of some minor country?
My smile starts to grimace around the edges. “Then this won’t suit you, I’m afraid. Are you sure you can’t stretch your budget a little?”
Fifteen would get him a few cheery sunflowers. Wrapped up nicely, with a big bow . . .
“What about those?” he asks, pointing at a bucket of wilted carnations that I was just about to throw out.
“Carnations?” I say. They’re pretty enough, but I only ever use them as filler in more extravagant bouquets. Because, let’s face it, no woman is sitting around dreaming that their man will come home with a big bunch of carnations.
If every flower has a meaning, then these definitely mean, “I made zero effort.”
But this guy nods, determined. “They’ll do.”
I slowly exhale. “Sure,” I say, because why not? “Let me at least wrap them up with a bow.”
The man sighs and starts counting out singles, while I make the carnations look as decent as possible. Which, let’s face it, is a futile quest.
“I hope your date enjoys them!” I lie as he grabs the bouquet and exits.
“. . . And I hope she dumps your ass before she finds out just how little effort you want to make in bed,” I add, sighing.
“Who’s failing in the bedroom?”
I turn. My assistant, Remy, has entered from the back alley, carrying the latest deliveries. Unlike the rest of my shop, which is packed with color and pretty touches, he’s the picture of glowering Goth moodiness, dressed all in black, with a couple of bolts through his ear for good measure. It’s a battle to keep him from turning the shop window into a gruesome murder display, but believe it or not, the guy is a whiz with a tasteful funeral arrangement and knows how to keep my Bridezilla clients from losing their cool.
“Just another unimaginative client,” I reply, tidying the counter. “He insisted on carnations, can you believe it? For a first date!”
“Is he taking out my grandmother?” he quips, and I laugh.
“For her sake, I hope not!”
I turn to the appointment book . . . Which is painfully empty. I wince. Barely ten percent of my business is walk-in customers; I make most of my income from doing the floral arrangements for big events. “What happened to that anniversary order for the DeSantos’?” I ask. “I thought they were renting out the ballroom at the Griffin Hotel?”
“He’s saving his money for the divorce lawyer,” Remy replies. “Turns out, Mrs. DeSantos didn’t so much discover the spiritual charms of Reiki class as discover the charms of the hunky Reiki master.”
“Ouch,” I say—for poor Mr. DeSantos and our empty schedule. “Well, without that job, we’re pretty much running on empty. It’s not exactly wedding season out there.”
We both look out the front window to where the sidewalks are coated in gray slush and everyone is hurrying, head down, trying to escape the bitter February chill. With the Valentine’s Day rush behind us, spring can’t come soon enough.
“Maybe we should do some edgy installations,” Remy suggests. “That new S&M club just opened around the corner—the Devil’s Advocate’s. We could offer to do some cross-promotion. Some Queen of Night tulips and black hollyhocks would look amazing with their purple wallpaper.”
I don’t ask how he knows the color of the sex club’s wallpaper, because the truth is, I’ll take any ideas right now. “Maybe,” I agree. “See if they’re interested. Although, I’m not sure what I could promote from there here at Bloom.”
“You’d be surprised.” Remy smirks. “They have a line of glass dildos that would make super-cute vases.”
I laugh. “I’m sure our snooty Fifth Avenue clients would just love that.”
“You haven’t seen how big they are,” Remy responds, waggling his eyebrows, and I’m just giggling, picturing poor Mrs. Huxted-Bowles’s face, when the bell over the door sounds with a DING!, and sex toys are suddenly the last thing on my mind.
Sex, on the other hand . . .
“You’re drooling,” Remy whispers beside me, and I snap to reality. Because, hello. The man who’s just strolled through the door definitely deserves my full attention. He’s tall and broad-shouldered, with rumpled brown hair and sexy two-day stubble. He’s wearing faded, worn jeans and a button-down not quite tight enough to scream gym rat, but plenty tight enough to show what’s underneath is the product of hard work.
Hard. Sweaty. Work.
Did I mention hard?
Mr. Heartthrob drifts over to a display of potted herbs, looking around with the expression of a guy who’s way out of his depth.
And I know just the girl to point him in the right direction.
“Hey there.” I round the counter, approaching him. “Is there something I can help you with?”
The guy flashes a heart-stopping smile. “Oh, hi . . .” His eyes drop to my name tag. “April. Maybe you can. I need something for my aunt. She’s been, uh, under the weather.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” Although I am not sorry to hear that he’s shopping for a family member and not, say, a fiancée. Before I even realize, my eyes dart to that finger—it’s bare. Even better news.
“Are you looking for a plant or cut flowers?”
He pauses. “Well, I’ve given that question a great deal of thought, you know, since you asked me just now. My response is I have no idea.”
I grin. Hot and witty? Yes, please. “Well in that case, maybe we should start at the beginning. This is not a decision to be made lightly,” I say, mock-serious.
He plays along, nodding solemnly. “Of course. I defer to your expertise on all things flora. And fauna,” he adds, looking around. “Although, I’m not exactly clear on what fauna is.”
I smile wider. “Animals, so no, not exactly my thing.”
“Good. Aunt Penelope already has a labradoodle called Moxie, and that thing does not play well with others.” Heartthrob grins at me, and I swear I melt, just a little.
“Noted,” I say, trying not to sound breathless. “Now. How close are you with this aunt?”
“Hmm,” Heartthrob ponders. “A kiss on the cheek at major holidays—other than that one Christmas she got tipsy and kissed me on the mouth.” He winces. “I’ve been called to change light bulbs on occasion, but I’m unlikely to be in the will. Oh, except for her taxidermied raccoon. But only because it freaked me out when I was a kid. She has one of those senses of humor.”
“That’s oddly specific,” I say. “But OK. How old is she?”
That makes him cringe. “Um . . . fifties? Like, early-to-mid? I’m guessing?”
“Don’t worry. I won’t tell her you didn’t know. We have a cone of silence here at Bloom,” I add, flirty.
At least, I’m trying to flirt. But I’m so rusty, I might be coming across as “deranged stalker” right now. Who even knows?
Luckily, Heartthrob is still smiling at me, and not, you know, running for the hills. “Your discretion is appreciated.”
Focus, April. The bouquet!
“I suppose there’s no point asking her favorite flowers?” I try.
“Would I be throwing myself at your mercy if I knew?” he counters.
“Good point.” I take a look around, my design wheels spinning. “Roses are too romancey for an aunt. Lilies are bright and cheerful—popular with the older crowd. But they’re toxic to some pets, so unless you want revenge on poor Moxie . . .”
“Maybe not.”
“Good call. How about sunflowers?” I suggest. “They represent loyalty and longevity.”
“All good things,” Heartthrob agrees.
“Plus, I always think they’re the happiest flower,” I confide. “They’ll brighten anyone’s day.”
“Then let’s do it,” he agrees. I pluck several stems from the bucket and take them over to start assembling a bouquet.
Heartthrob trails after me. “So what else brightens your day, April?”
I look at him over my shoulder. “What?”
He flashes that irresistible smile again. “A woman can’t live on flowers alone. What else do you like? Hobbies? Interests?”
I blink, surprised, just as Remy passes by—and elbows me. “He’s flirting!” he whisper-shouts.
“Oh.” I blush. Is this guy really hitting on me?
I can but dream.
“Well, umm, this place takes up most of my time,” I blurt. “I opened the store last year, so I’m still getting it off the ground. And then there are private events, and commissions, and . . .”
Do I have anything in my life that doesn’t make me sound like a sad, lonely workaholic?
Clearly not.
“You still have to have a favorite music? Food?” he prods, that smile amping up.
I melt some more. “Well, I like classical music, and some country—Dolly Parton is the queen, obviously. And Italian—food, not music. Though I have been known to rock it out to some Three Tenors.”
Heartthrob chuckles.
“Though,” I add slowly, “it’s been forever since I’ve had good Italian.”
“Food?” the guy asks, mischievous.
“That too,” I quip. And wait. Because if there was ever a moment that screamed, “Ask me out,” this is it.
But Heartthrob just gives me an even smile. “So, that bouquet?”
“Oh right, of course,” I blurt, disappointed. “Here you go. It’s an excellent ‘Get well soon, even though I’m unlikely in the will, except for that taxidermied raccoon that I never wanted anyway’ bouquet.”
He looks at the sunflowers and then grins at me. “Perfect.”
He passes me his credit card, and doesn’t even flinch when I ring up the total. At least somebody’s not a cheapskate today.
I sneak a look at the name. Seth Harding. I take my time entering the sale, giving this Seth guy pleeeennnnnty of opportunity to ask me out.
He doesn’t.
Instead, he takes his card back, thanks me, and takes the bouquet and himself out of my store without a backwards glance.
Which is probably a good thing, because if he did look back, he would totally catch me checking out his ass.
Which is excellent, for the record.
Remy reappears. “So, where’s he taking you?” he asks expectantly.
“Nowhere.” I sigh.
Remy looks confused. “But you were flirting like Nick and Nora back there.”
I look at him blankly.
“From The Thin Man?” he tries. “Jesus, try watching something made before Julia Roberts was born, why don’t you?”
“Easy there, movie buff. And he was just being polite. No biggie.” I pause. “I actually have a date tonight.”
Remy studies me. “You sounded more enthusiastic when you went to get your teeth cleaned the other week.”
“It’s one of those online dates,” I say, trying to seem more upbeat. “Poppy and Natalie forced me now that I’m their third wheel. But maybe it won’t be so bad. Who knows, maybe he’s my Perfect Match hookup! Wouldn’t that be funny? Serendipity! We’ll laugh and have a great story to tell our grandkids!”
Remy gives me a look like I’m nuts. “What are you talking about? Dating is warfare. Expect the worst, and you’ll never be disappointed.”
“That, my friend, is why you’re still single,” I say, teasing.
“It’s also why I’ll be the last to die in a zombie apocalypse,” he mutters darkly. “You won’t be laughing then now, will you?”

I finish up at the shop, then freshen up before heading out to my date. We had a couple more customers come through before the end of the day, including a guy on his fortieth wedding anniversary and another about to propose to his boyfriend.
“We met on that app, Perfect Match,” he tells me, beaming. “Who knew we’d wind up here?”
Take that, Remy! I think, throwing in some extra-gorgeous irises for them. See: true love is out there, you just have to have faith.
Which, to be honest, has been getting harder for me these days. I’m twenty-seven now, which means I have my fair share of heartbreaks stacked up behind me, not to mention a few dozen (or is that hundred?) bad first dates. But I still believe the perfect person is out there for everyone, no matter how long it takes to find them.
I mean, just look at my mom. After my dad moved out and divorced her for Kristi, his personal trainer at the gym (originality was never his strong suit: he was a “gas-station roses” guy, through and through), she thought she’d never find love again. But I convinced her to get back out there, and soon enough she met Mike, the Lawn Care King of Springfield, New Jersey. Their eyes met over a can of fertilizer in the Home Depot, and voila! Instant chemistry.
They’ve been together ten years now, and they’re still madly in love. Plus, he knows that tulips are her favorite, and he redid the turf in the backyard, so they entertain there all year long. They’re so happy together; they give me hope that my special guy is out there too, somewhere. After all, there are over four million men in New York City. Even discounting the ones who are old, gay, Knicks fans, or think that John Mayer is some kind of romantic role model, there has to be at least one who’s perfect for me, right?
So why not my blind date tonight?
I reach the restaurant and pause, checking my reflection in the window. It’s a cute, bustling dim sum spot, with soft lighting and an all-you-can-eat buffet. Romantic and thrifty! And I know I was only kidding before, saying that this Heartthrob Seth might be my date tonight, but as I enter, I can’t help scanning the crowd for a familiar face.
I find one.
But it’s not the one I was expecting. Because inside, sitting by the bar, is Mr. Carnations himself—holding the offending bouquet in one hand while he scrolls distractedly on his phone.
You have got to be kidding me!
My first instinct is to bolt. But he looks up too soon and sees me. He looks at his phone, and then back at me. Recognition.
Damn it.
I paste on a smile, give a reluctant wave, and walk over. “Hi,” I greet him, hoping we just got off on the wrong foot before at the shop. A bad first impression doesn’t necessarily mean we’re doomed. Maybe he was distracted, or nervous, or stressed from work. Maybe he’s really a lovely, generous sweetheart once you get to know him . . .
But he gets up and looks me up and down. “It’s you? Huh,” he says, awkwardly thrusting the flowers at my chest. “Wait a minute, since I’m giving them back to you, does this mean I get a refund?”
Make that a bad second impression.
I guess my soulmate will just have to wait another night.
TO BE CONTINUED…

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