Decidedly With Love (By The Bay #3) by Stina Lindenblatt
Fake Boyfriend Rule #1: never fall for your fake girlfriend.
I run Aphrodite’s Boutique, a store that specializes in all things love-related. A store that I adore with all my heart, and which is at risk of being shut down and replaced with a condo development.
To save it, all I have to do is pretend to be Travis Hamilton’s girlfriend.
Sounds simple enough. Right?
Except he and I have a history together…but he doesn’t seem to remember me.
My feisty, well-meaning grandmother raised me after my parents died, but now she’s determined to help me find The One. But when most women I meet tend to be puck bunnies or women only interested in my hockey-player salary—and let’s not forget the nutcase of an ex-girlfriend—why bother?
Only a fake girlfriend will deter my grandmother’s matchmaking scheme.
Too bad the one woman who can help me is the sexy redhead who wants to assist me as much as she wants her eyeballs dunked in hot sauce and barbecued.
To convince her, I promise to help her with her own dilemma. But sometimes fire and ice really do mix. Now I have to decide if love is in the air—and if together Emma and I make something hotter. Something stronger. Something real.
Excerpt Decidedly With Love (By The Bay #3) by Stina Lindenblatt
Sitting on the fountain’s ledge, I pulled on my rubber boots. Why the boots?
You didn’t expect me to climb into the fountain in my heels or go barefooted, did you?
“Wow, that looks like so much fun,” Hannah said, laughing. “If I didn’t have to go to work in a few minutes, I would’ve volunteered to help you. But alas…” She snickered. “Why are you doing this when there are no birds in the store to crap on the statue?”
“Just because there are no birds doesn’t mean Aphrodite doesn’t get dusty.” I had no idea if the woman in the toga really was supposed to be the Greek goddess of love, but she looked similar enough. “Plus I need to remove the coins, and it’s a lot easier to do that by climbing in the water to retrieve them.”
“If you say so.” The laughter in her voice was still there.
The bell above the door jingled and I glanced up to see if I was about to be busy—or if Lisa could handle things. Several people already were milling around, checking out the merchandise or trying on the lingerie in the fitting room.
Oh, God. Not him again.
Travis entered the store and his gaze settled on me.
“Oh, this should be good,” Hannah said. “Too bad I have to leave now if I want to make it to work on time.”
I turned my head to look at her. “What should be good?”
“The guy you were scowling at the other day is obviously here for a repeat. And this time he’s minus the senior citizen squad. On that note, I’m off now. I’ll call you later for the scoop.” She started backing away. “And have fun with your goddess.”
Before I could respond, she was out the door, pausing only long enough to give Travis a quick once-over and wave good-bye to me.
He wasn’t the only one to be given a once-over. Except in my case, his gaze slowly traveled up my body as if he were undressing me—removing my ever-so-sexy rubber boots; my whimsical blue floral sundress that brushed against my knees; my white lacy bra and underwear, which he couldn’t see but I was sure he was imagining on me. That, or he was imagining I was in a thong.
Once his gaze was on my face, his mouth slid up to one side. “The boots are definitely a nice touch. But I must admit I’m more a fan of stilettos.” He leaned in closer, his breath brushing against my ear…and my body decided to go rogue and ignore my brain telling it to take a step back.
“Especially when the legs they’re attached to are wrapped around my waist,” he added. No—the girlie part between my legs did not release a longing sigh. Not. At. All.
Note to self: add dirty talk to list of requirements for next boyfriend.
I stepped away from him, the back of my calves hitting the low fountain wall. “What are you doing here? I thought we weren’t checking out any more retail spaces until next weekend.”
“I came to talk to you.”
“I figured that, but now’s not a good time.”
I indicated the fountain. “I have to clean it and remove the money. So unless whatever you need to tell me can be done while I’m working, you’ll have to come back later.” Or preferably never.
“I can wait.”
Of course he could.
“Don’t you have to be at work or something?” I had no idea what he did for a living, but it probably didn’t involve hanging around my store.
He opened his mouth to answer but didn’t get that far.
“Ohmigod, aren’t you, like, Travis Hamilton?” A tall teenage girl asked him. She was pretty, with an athletic body and long dark hair spilling down her back.
She didn’t wait for him to reply. “I also play defense. You’re like my idol.”
I felt my eyebrows climb north. Idol? Why would she idolize him?
And how did she even know him?
Maybe I should have Googled him…like I had with some of my past dates.
Not that I was going out with him.
He offered her a friendly smile—not like the smiles that threw me off kilter. “Nice to meet you.”
Her friend was looking at Travis as though she also had no idea why the girl was excited seeing him here.
“This is Travis Hamilton,” the dark-haired girl explained. “He plays defense for the San Francisco Rock. The NHL team.”
She kept chatting to him, mostly about hockey. Since I still had work to do, I grabbed the cloth on the ledge and climbed in. I’d already turned the water off before putting my boots on.
Have you ever tried walking through a fountain while wearing rubber boots? It’s not easy. And I don’t care how graceful you normally are, this sucks all the gracefulness from you in one easy swoop.
But I figured the sacrifice was worth it. For Aphrodite’s sake…which could only help benefit the store.
Now if only Aphrodite could help me with my lease problem.
Splosh. Splosh. Splosh.
“Ready for a little spa treatment?” I asked the statue in almost a whisper. No need for the customers to believe I was crazy.
I dipped the cloth in the water and began cleaning her.
“What are you doing?” Travis asked.
“What does it look like?” I spared him a glance over my shoulder. The girls he had been talking to were no longer with him.
“It looks like you’re giving her a sponge bath. Very kinky, by the way.”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m cleaning her and then I have to remove the money.”
“What do you do with the money?”
“It goes to charity,” I said, my attention on my task.
“A youth center for underprivileged kids where I volunteer.”
“Why a local youth center for underprivileged kids?”
I shifted around and glanced at him from over Aphrodite’s shoulder. “Why not there?”
The corner of his mouth twitched up to one side. “I asked you first.” At my silence, he continued, “The Rock encourages its players to be active in the community. Some players donate large amounts of money to a charity of their choice. Some participate in various events at the children’s hospital, which are always popular with the kids. For some players, they do it simply because publicity recommended they give back to those less fortunate—because it makes the player look good. Others do it because their charity has special meaning to them. So which is it for you?”
“Which type of player are you?” I replied. Or maybe he donated neither time nor money.
“I donate money to a charity that provides sports equipment to kids. Because of the cost, they might not otherwise be able to play hockey. And I participate in the annual wheelchair hockey game at the kids’ hospital.”
Did I have “selfless” on my list of requirements for potential boyfriends? No—but it was a given. I’d written off a few individuals in the past because they didn’t believe in donating either time or money to a worthy cause.
So, yes, my heart had warmed up a little bit more toward Travis. Not that it mattered. He wasn’t looking for a girlfriend, and I wasn’t looking to be a fake one.
“How come that charity and event?” I asked.
The smirk was back on his face. “Uh, uh. You first. Why the youth center?”
The coins in the water shimmered under the bright store light overhead, almost as if encouraging me to tell him.
“Because I understand what it feels like to be underprivileged. I grew up in foster care.”
Which he would know if he remembered me from school.
But he didn’t—so what was a girl to do?
Apparently Aphrodite had an answer for that. The pump that I had turned off before climbing into the fountain suddenly turned on. Water burst up from the jets, hitting me full on—and I shrieked. Ugh!
Then the fountain turned off as quickly as it had turned on, leaving me standing there with water dripping from my hair and down my body. My now-wet dress clung to me, leaving not much to the imagination, including my white lacy bra and underwear.
“Sorry,” Lisa called out, returning from the back. “I accidentally hit the switch to the fountain.” Her gaze landed on me, soaked and still standing in the water, and her hand flew to her mouth. Not from shock. She was attempting to hold back a giggle.
I stepped over the fountain’s low wall. Squish. Squish.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, her hand still covering her mouth. The corners of her eyes crinkled with barely held back laughter.
Travis wasn’t doing much better.
I tried to yank off a rubber boot—which wasn’t easy when your foot was wet and you were standing. Swaying on one foot, I grabbed the closest thing available to hold on to: Travis’s arm.
And wow, the man worked out.
Don’t think about his muscular body. Don’t think about his hot, muscular body.…
I would’ve removed my hand from his arm, but it was either touch him or risk falling over.
The boot eventually slipped free of my foot. I tilted it, pouring the water back into the fountain. Once it was empty, I placed the boot on the ledge and proceeded to do the same with the other one while still holding on to Travis.
With what dignity I had left—which was pretty much zero—I walked toward the back where my office was located. With my body shivering, thanks to the air conditioning, I tossed an “I’ll be back in a moment” over my shoulder to Lisa.
In my office, I scanned the area for something to dry off with.
The door clicked shut behind me. I startled and spun around. Travis was standing in front of the closed door, his eyes dark and focused on my breasts. Or more specifically, my perky nipples pressing against the wet fabric of my thin bra and dress.
I crossed my arms in front of me, doing my best to hide the view. Doing my best to warm my girls up.
“Is this a good time to ask you again about being my fake girlfriend?” In his hand was a soft wool throw from the store. Red on one side and white on the other, it was covered in hearts of the opposite color.
“So what’s the deal? You’ll give me the throw if I agree to be your fake girlfriend?” There might have been some teeth chattering when I said it. “And just so you know, that’s not going to work. For one, I can’t sell the blanket if it’s dirty.”
“And what’s the second?”
“It will take a lot more than a blanket for me to agree to be your fake girlfriend.” A deliciously warm blanket.
“So does that mean you’re considering it?”
I shook my head. “There’s nothing you can offer me that will make me change my mind.”
“How about you not being forced to relocate? Would that cause you to change your mind?”
I snorted a laugh. “How exactly do you expect to do that? The owner doesn’t want my store in the building anymore because it won’t fit with the new image.”
“I might be able to change his mind.”
“Right. Might. So what you’re really saying is I help you and at the end of the day I’m still screwed?”
“No. That’s not it at all.” He stepped closer. “The blanket’s now mine. And I don’t care if it gets dirty.” When I didn’t say anything, he wrapped it around my shoulders. His finger accidentally brushed against my bare arm. And this time when I shivered, it was for an entirely different reason.
“You’re welcome. Now back to you being my fake girlfriend.”
I shook my head again. “Not happening.”
“How about if I can’t get the owner to change his mind about your store by October first, I’ll help you find another location that fits your needs.”
“That’s not enough. If I’m pretending to be your girlfriend, I won’t be able to date a real man.”
“The last I looked, I am a real man.” He gestured at his shorts…and the noticeable bulge there. A bulge that wasn’t so noticeable earlier.
A laugh burst free. “Sorry. I wasn’t laughing at your manhood,” I quickly said, doing my best to not start giggling.
He raised an eyebrow and my attempt to curtail my giggle failed.