“Deeply emotional, sweetly sensual and wonderfully witty, Flirt is everything I love in a romance.”
If you haven’t met Moss and Brooke, let me tempt you with Chapter 1. Enjoy!
WANTED: A SITUATION-SHIP
I’m a single female who’s tired of relationships ruining my life. However, there are times when a date would be helpful. If you’re a single man, preferably mid-twenties to late-thirties, and are in a similar situation, we might be a match.
Candidate must be handsome, charming, and willing to pretend to have feelings for me (on a sliding scale, as the event requires). Ability to discuss a wide variety of topics is a plus. Must have your own transportation and a (legal) job.
This will be a symbiotic agreement. In exchange for your time, I will give you mine. Need someone to flirt with you at a football party? Go, team! Want a woman to make you look good in front of your boss? Let me find my heels. Would you love for someone to be obsessed with you in front of your ex? I’m applying my red lipstick now.
If interested, please email me. Time is of the essence.
My best friend, Jovie, points at my computer screen. The glitter on her pink fingernail sparkles in the light. “You can’t post that.”
I fold my arms across my chest. “And why not?”
Instead of answering me, she takes another bite of her chicken wrap. A dribble of mayonnaise dots the corner of her mouth.
“A lot of help you are,” I mutter, rereading the post I drafted instead of pricing light fixtures for work. The words are written in a pretty font on Social, my go-to social media platform.
Country music from the nineties mixes with the laughter of locals sitting around us in Smokey’s, my favorite beachside café. Along the far wall, a map of the state of Florida made of wine corks sways gently in the ocean breeze coming through the open windows.
“Would you two like anything else?” Rebecca, our usual lunchtime server, pauses by the table. “I think we have some Key lime pie left.”
“I’m too irritable for pie today,” I say.
“You don’t want pie? That’s a first,” she teases me.
“I know,” I say, releasing a sigh. “That’s the state of my life right now. I don’t even want pie.”
“Wow. Okay. This sounds serious. What’s up? Maybe I can help,” Rebecca says.
Jovie wipes her mouth with a napkin. “Let me cut in here real quick before she tries to snowball you into thinking her harebrained idea is a good one.”
I roll my eyes. “It is a good one.”
“I’ll give you the CliffsNotes version,” Jovie says, side-eyeing me. “Brooke got an invitation to her grandma’s birthday party, and instead of just not going—”
“I can’t not go.”
“Or showing up as the badass single chick she is,” Jovie continues, silencing me with a look, “she wrote a post for Social that’s basically an ad for a fake boyfriend.”
“Correction—it is an ad for a fake boyfriend.”
Rebecca rests a hand on her hip. “I don’t see the problem.”
“Thank you,” I say, staring at Jovie. “I’m glad someone understands me here.”
Jovie throws her hands in the air, sending a napkin flying right along with them.
Satisfaction is written all over my face as I sit back in my chair with a smug smile. The more I think about having a situation-ship with a guy—a word I read in a magazine at the salon while waiting two decades for my color to process—the more it makes sense.
Instead of having relations with a man, have situations. Done.
What’s not to love about that?
“But, before I tell you to dive into this whole thing, why can’t you just go alone, Brooke?” Rebecca asks.
“Oh, I can go alone. I just generally prefer to avoid torture whenever possible.”
“I still don’t understand why you need a date to your grandma’s birthday party.”
“Because this isn’t just a birthday party,” I say. “It’s labeled that to cover up the fact that my mom and her sister, my aunt Kim, are having a daughter-of-the-year showdown. They’re using my poor grandma Honey’s eighty-fifth birthday as a dog and pony show—and my cousin Aria and I are the ponies.”
“Okay.” Rebecca looks at me dubiously before switching her attention to Jovie. “And why are you against this whole thing?”
Jovie takes enough cash to cover our lunch plus the tip and hands it to Rebecca. Perks of ordering the same lunch most days. Then she gathers her things.
“I’m not against it in theory,” Jovie says. “I’m against it in practice. I understand the perks of having a guy around to be arm candy when needed. But I’m not supporting this decision … this mayhem … for two reasons.” She looks at me. “For one, your family will see any post you make on Social. You don’t think they’ll use it as ammunition against you?”
This is probably true.
“Second,” Jovie continues. “I hate, hate, hate your aunt Kim, and I loathe the fact that your mom makes you feel like you have to do anything more than be your amazing self to win her favor. Screw them both.”
My heart swells as I take in my best friend.
Jovie Reynolds was my first friend in Kismet Beach when I moved here two and a half years ago. We reached for the same can of pineapple rings, knocking over an entire display in Publix. As we picked up the mess, we traded recipes—hers for a vodka cocktail and mine for air fryer pineapple.
We hung out that evening—with her cocktail and my air fryer creations—and have been inseparable since.
“My mom is not a bad person,” I say in her defense, even though I’m not so sure that’s true from time to time. “She’s just …”
“A bad person,” Jovie says.
I laugh. “No. I just … nothing I can do is good enough for her. She hated Geoff when I married him at twenty and said I was too young. But was she happy when that ended in a divorce? Nope. According to her, I didn’t try hard enough.”
“And then Geoff started banging Kim and—”
“What?” Rebecca yelps, her eyes going wide.
“Exactly. Bad people,” Jovie says, shaking her head.
“So your ex-husband will be at your grandma’s party with your aunt? Is that what you’re saying?” Rebecca asks.
I nod. “Yup.”
She stacks our plates on top of one another. The ceramic clinks through the air. “On that note, why can’t you just not go? Avoid it altogether?”
“Because my grandma Honey is looking forward to this, and she called me to make sure I was coming. I couldn’t tell her no.” My heart tightens when I think of the woman I love more than any other. “And, you know, my mom has made it abundantly clear that if I miss this, I will probably break Honey’s heart, and she’ll die, and it’ll be my fault.”
“Wow. That’s a freight train of guilt to throw around,” Rebecca says, wincing.
I glance down at my computer. The post is still there, sitting on the screen and waiting for my final decision. Although it is a genius idea, if I do say so myself—Jovie is probably right. It’ll just cause more problems than it’s worth.
I close the laptop and shove it into my bag. Then I hoist it on my shoulder. “It’s complicated. I want to go and celebrate with my grandma but seeing my aunt with my ex-husband …” I wince. “Also, there will be my mother’s usual diatribe and comparisons to Aria, proving that I’m a failure in everything that I do.”
“But if you had a boyfriend to accompany you, you’d save face with the enemy and have a buffer against your mother. Is that what you’re thinking?” Rebecca asks.
“Yeah. I don’t know how else to survive it. I can’t walk in there alone, or even with Jovie, and deal with all of that mess. If I just had someone hot and a little handsy—make me look irresistible—it would kill all of my birds with one hopefullyhard stone.”
I wink at my friends.
Rebecca laughs. “Okay. I’m Team Fake Boyfriend. Sorry, Jovie.”
Jovie sighs. “I’m sorry for me too because I have to go back to work. And if I avoid the stoplights, I can make it to the office with thirty seconds to spare.” She air-kisses Rebecca. “Thanks for the extra mayo.”
I laugh. “See you tomorrow, Rebecca.”
Jovie and I walk single-file through Smokey’s until we reach the exit. Immediately, we reach for the sunglasses perched on top of our heads and slide them over our eyes.
The sun is bright, nearly blinding in a cloudless sky. I readjust my bag so that the thin layer of sweat starting to coat my skin doesn’t coax the leather strap down my arm.
“Call me tonight,” Jovie says, heading to her car.
“Rehearsal for the play got canceled tonight, so I might go to Charlie’s. If I don’t, I may swing by your house.”
“How’s the thing with Charlie going? I didn’t realize you were still talking to him.”
She laughs. “I wasn’t. He pissed me off. But he came groveling back last night, and I gave in.” She shrugs. “What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good grovel.”
“I think it’s the theater girl in you. You love the dramatics of it all.”
“That I do. It’s a problem.”
“Well, I’ll see you when I see you then,” I say.
I give her a little wave and make my way up Beachfront Boulevard.
The sidewalk is fairly vacant with a light dusting of sand. In another month, tourists will fill the street that leads from the ocean to the shops filled with trinkets and ice cream in the heart of Kismet Beach. For now, it’s a relaxing and hot walk back to the office.
My mind shifts from the heat back to the email reminder I received during lunch. To Honey’s party. It takes all of one second for my stomach to cramp.
“I shouldn’t have eaten all of those fries,” I groan.
But it’s not lunch that’s making me unwell.
A mixture of emotions rolls through me. I don’t know which one to land on. There’s a chord of excitement about the event—at seeing Honey and her wonderful life be celebrated, catching up with Aria and the rest of my family, and the general concept of going home. But there’s so much apprehension right alongside those things that it drowns out the good.
Kim and Geoff together make me ill. It’s not that I miss my ex-husband; I’m the one who filed for divorce. But they will be there, making things super awkward for me in front of everyone we know.
Not to mention what it will do to my mother.
Geoff hooking up with Kim is my ultimate failure, according to Mom. Somehow, it embarrasses her, and that’s unforgivable.
“For just once, I’d like to see her and not be judged,” I mumble as I sidestep a melting glob of blue ice cream.
Nothing I have ever done has been good enough for Catherine Bailey. Marrying Geoff was an atrocity at only twenty years old. My dream to work in interior architecture wasn’t deemed serious enough as a life path. “You’re wasting your time and our money, Brooke.” And when I told her I was hired at Laguna Homes as a lead designer for one of their three renovation teams? I could hear her eyes rolling.
The office comes into view, and my spirits lift immediately. I shove all thoughts of the party out of my brain and let my mind settle back into happier territory. Work. The one thing I love.
I step under the shade of an adorable crape myrtle tree and then turn up a cobblestone walkway to my office.
The small white building is tucked away from the sidewalk. It sits between a row of shops with apartments above them and an Italian restaurant only open in the evenings. The word Laguna Homes is printed in seafoam green above a black awning.
My shoes tap against the wooden steps as I make my way to the door. A rush of cool air, kissed by the scent of eucalyptus essential oil, greets me as I step inside.
“How was lunch?” Kix asks, standing in the doorway of his corner office. My boss’s smile is kind and genuine, just like everything else about him. “Let me guess—you met Jovie for lunch at Smokey’s?”
I laugh. “It’s like you know me or something.”
Kix and Damaris Carmichael are two of my favorite people in the world. When I met Damaris at a trade show three years ago, and we struck up a conversation about tile, I knew she was special. Then I met her husband and discovered he had the same soft yet sturdy energy. All six of their children possess similar qualities—even Moss, the superintendent on my renovation team. Although I’d never admit that to him.
“I swung by Parasol Place this afternoon,” Kix says. “It’s looking great. You were right about taking out the wall between the living room and dining room. I love it. It makes the whole house feel bigger.”
I blush under the weight of his compliment. “Thanks.”
“Did Moss tell you about the property I’m looking at for your team next?” Kix asks.
“No. Moss doesn’t tell me anything.”
Kix grins. “I’m sure he tells you all kinds of things you don’t need to know.”
“You say that like you have experience with him,” I say, laughing.
“Only a few years.” He laughs too. “It’s another home from the sixties. I got a lead on it this morning and am on my way to look at it now.”
“Take pictures. You know I love that era, and if you get it, I want to be able to start envisioning things right away.”
“You and your visions.” He shakes his head. “Gina is in the back making copies. I told her we’d keep our eye on the door until she gets back out here, so it would be great if you could do that.”
“Absolutely,” I say, walking backward toward my office. “Be safe. And take pictures.”
“I will. Enjoy the rest of your day, Brooke.”
I reach behind me to find my office door open. I take another step back and then turn toward my desk. Someone moves beside my filing cabinet just as I flip on the light.
“Ah!” I shriek, clutching my chest.
My heart pounds out of control until I get my bearings and focus on the man looking back at me.
I set my bag down on a chair and blow out a shaky breath. “Dammit, Moss!”
He leans against the cabinet and smiles at me cheekily.
“We’re going to have to stop meeting like this,” he says. “People are going to talk.”