The following is an exclusive excerpt from An Agreement.
Available November 13th. Only on Amazon.
I never thought I’d still be single at twenty-five. But I’ve never been the best with men.
Maybe it’s childish, but I always had a fantasy in mind. That he’d come riding up on a white horse. I thought if I simply went through the motions of life, that he would find me.
But life isn’t a fairy tale. And it’s certainly not like the movies.
Instead of getting swept off my feet, I spent my post-college years building a business from the ground up. And in the past year, my little boutique shop has been growing like a weed. So much so that I’ve finally been able to pay back the loan from my dad. One that has been a monkey on my back for what felt like centuries.
My father is a brilliant businessman. And while I’ve always admired his success, I knew from a very young age that I wanted a career of my own. So I studied fashion merchandising at NYU and opened up a clothing store at the end of my senior year. Everyone said it would fail. And after sixteen months of being in the red, I’d started to believe them.
But now that business was moving in the right direction, I’d never been happier. Professionally, that is.
Deep down, I was aching for something more. I won’t lie. Making a profit feels great. Especially when you’ve put all your savings and then someone else’s investment on the line. But I’d sacrificed my heart in the process. And the years I could’ve spent looking for Mr. Right were ones I’d never get back.
So that’s why I made the decision to do something drastic. Well, for me anyway. I let my two younger brothers talk me into online dating. Something I’d always found strange and taboo.
But when the stats they kept throwing my way started to sound convincing, I’d taken the plunge and set up a profile. I didn’t know what to expect or where this path might lead. But so far, I was making progress.
That’s why, for the first time in seven years, I had a date tonight.
I was so excited to put myself out there for a change. It was New York City. Anything could happen.
But when I got off work, my stomach flipped and flopped. It felt like I was seventeen again.
Running a clothing store for three years, you think I’d know how to dress myself by now. It’s quite the paradox, I know. I have no problem styling my clients. But when it comes to parading around a bunch of eligible men, my fashion sense goes right out the window. And my nerves take the wheel.
I rifled through dresses in my closet and tried half of them on. One didn’t fit right, one didn’t feel right, and one was just plain ugly. So I grabbed a bunch of trash bags and made a pile for Goodwill.
Having too many clothes made me feel greedy and selfish. Even though I was in the business, I didn’t believe in shelving good fashion when someone else could be using it. That’s why I donated all the inventory that was left on the rack quarterly — at the end of every season.
I was a minimalist at heart. And I wanted to give to those who couldn’t afford it.
Just because someone doesn’t have the money to look glamorous doesn’t mean they don’t deserve it.
One hour later, it was pushing seven. Panicking, I scrambled around my apartment and decided on a black cocktail dress. It wasn’t what I originally had in mind—not ideal, not what I had envisioned—but it would do.
I jumped in the shower and washed my hair, feeling those butterflies flapping around in my stomach. A flash of the past made me question everything. Maybe I shouldn’t go tonight. Maybe this was all a big mistake.
But I forced myself to get over it. My brothers were right. I needed to do this.
With the aid of a blow dryer, I styled my hair into soft waves. There was some natural curl at the ends. For the first time, I wondered why I had always gone to great lengths to straighten it.
I brushed out my brows with a small grooming brush and applied a few coats of mascara. Then I swiped tinted moisturizer over my lids, cheeks and chin. What I knew about contouring was minimal, but I tried my best.
The clock was ticking, so I slipped into the dress and a pair of strappy black heels. Then I patted some berry lipstick on with my index finger. It went on better that way, silky and smooth.
I picked up a bottle of floral perfume. It smelled like a meadow. After spritzing it on my wrist, I rubbed the excess at the pulse points in my neck and the sensitive spot beneath my ears.
I needed to leave soon if I didn’t want to be late. It was my last chance to cancel.
I looked in the mirror. Did I look okay? Would he think I looked pretty?
Truth is, with my blind date’s obscure profile picture, I wasn’t so sure what he looked like.
I guess I would find out soon enough.
So I caught a cab and stared out the window in the backseat. I was so nervous, my palms were sweating.
You’re twenty-five years old, I thought. You’re a grown woman. You can do this.
“You all right back there, miss?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m fine.”
“Big date tonight?” The driver looked at me through the rearview mirror.
“How did you guess?”
“You all dressed up and what not.” He chewed on gum. “You look beautiful.”
I averted my eyes and blushed, but appreciated the compliment just the same.
“Listen, you ain’t got nuttin’ to worry about. If he stands you up, I’ll date you myself.”
“Thanks.” I saw the license plaque up front. “Vinnie.”
“You’re welcome, beautiful. Well, here we ah.”
I licked my lips and swallowed. You could hear my gulp a mile away.
“Come on now.” Vinnie turned around in his seat. “It won’t be so bad.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” I paid him in cash. “Keep the change.”
Climbing out of the taxi, I could hardly breathe. I walked on the sidewalk and squeezed the purse in my hands. I had to be positive, because I knew this was a step in the right direction.
So I took a deep breath and promised myself that I would have a good time tonight.
When I stepped inside, the hostess came to greet me. I scanned the restaurant for Barnum but didn’t see anyone I recognized. Then again, how do you recognize the back of someone’s head?
But then I spotted a dark-haired man bent over some paperwork. He was sitting at a table alone and drinking a glass of red wine. He looked around the room like he was expecting someone. And every other table was full, so I assumed it must have been him.
He looked handsome in a traditional sense. And I loved the way his hair curled at the back of his neck.
Clearing my throat, I girded my loins and made my way towards him.
“Hi.” I flashed him a sweet smile.
His eyes lifted from the table and he smiled back. “Hi.”
I’ve never liked surprises. But this was a good one.
Barnum was hot. One look, and I was weak in the knees. It was a rush of blood to the head, because I hadn’t felt this way in such a long time. And with the way he looked, maybe never.
He had these big blue eyes. The kind that look so piercing they almost scare you.
Then there was that unruly mop of dark hair. And those curls that touched the nape of his neck.
Not to mention that handsome face, those sensual lips, and just the right amount of scruff. He had a jawline most men dream of acquiring and teeth as white as sugar and straight as an arrow.
Maybe I was too caught up in the chemical attraction. Pheromones and all that. But that’s what happens when you shut yourself off from the world and deprive yourself from a man’s touch for nearly a decade.
“Hi.” I laughed, leaning into a chair to catch my balance.
“I think you already said that.” His eyes brightened. “Why don’t you sit down?”
“Okay.” I pulled out the chair and slid across the seat.
“Would you like a glass of wine?” He pointed at a bottle of merlot.
“Sure.” I looked at him. It felt nice being in his company.
Barnum held my gaze as he poured me a glass of wine.
Then he set the bottle down and lifted his glass. “To beautiful strangers.”
“To beautiful strangers,” I echoed, and our glasses clinked.
I took a sip of the merlot and closed my eyes. It was the best I’d ever tasted.
“What do you think?” Barnum smiled like a cat, watching me.
“It’s subtle and sweet, but silky too. I like it.”
“You seem to know your way around wine.”
“Hardly.” I shook my head. “My uncle owns a restaurant. Everything I’ve learned is from him.”
“Well.” He stared into my eyes. “He must be a good teacher then.”
I bit my lip and smiled, taking another sip. “Have you lived in New York long?”
“About five years,” he said. “I moved here after—” He looked down. “After college.”
I nodded, letting him tell his story. He was wearing a white pleated shirt and dress slacks.
“But I’m originally from Louisiana. How about you?”
“I’ve lived here my whole life. Born and bred.”
“So you’re a New Yorker then?” He blinked, while I admired his long lashes.
“Yeah,” I sighed. “I guess so.”
“Well, listen I—”
“Wait a minute. Louisiana? I thought you were from Connecticut?”
He blinked several times. “What?”
“New Haven.” I grabbed my phone to look it up. “That’s what your profile said.”
All the blood drained my face.
“An online dating profile,” I said.
“Online dating?” he chuckled. “Isn’t that for desperate losers?”
I narrowed my eyes with a glower. “I’m guessing your name isn’t Barnum either?”
“No.” He picked up a name tag, and my stomach dropped when I read it.
“Carter.” I shut my eyes, feeling like such a fool. “Your name is Carter.”
“Last time I checked.”
“You don’t have to be so smug, you know.”
He shot me a crooked grin. “I didn’t realize I was.”
Rolling my eyes, I threaded my fingers through my hair and sighed.
“It’s such a shame. And here, we were getting off to a good start.”
“You could have said something.” I grabbed my purse. “Instead of letting me make a fool of myself.”
“Look, I just thought you were a pretty girl who’d had too much to drink.”
“Seriously, I work here and you’re a customer. I was just being polite. I never thought I’d see you again.”
Something about the way he said that last part really rubbed me the wrong way.
“Don’t worry.” I pushed my chair out and got up. “You won’t.”
He grabbed my wrist. And that’s the only thing that made me stop.
“Why is a beautiful girl like you looking for love online?” He gazed into my eyes.
“Bailey?” A young man approached. He wore glasses and a business suit.
“Barnum?” I scanned him from head to toe. He wasn’t very tall and had shaggy hair. But he had a friendly smile, and the man I’d mistaken for Barnum certainly wasn’t polite. Maybe I would have a better time with my real date.
“Barnum and Bailey?” Carter chuckled. “Really? So what—are you trying out for the circus?”
I glared at him, because I was on the verge of tears. I’d never been strong like the other women in my family. And hearing this beautiful man call me a desperate loser reminded me how sensitive I was.
His words stung. And I was disappointed that he felt no shame in teasing me. In fact, he enjoyed it.
“Now that I’ve found my real date, I think we’re done talking,” I said.
“Ouch.” He put his hand over his heart. “Well then.” He stood up, looking down his nose at me. “You two have a good night.”
Carter walked off as I looped my arm through Barnum’s. It was strange—the sudden sense of loss I felt. While I was pleased the jerk was gone, part of me wondered if I would ever see him again.
“Oh I love my job. Accounting work just lights up my fingertips.” Barnum took his glasses off and rubbed them with a handkerchief. I took a sip of wine and considered downing the whole bottle.
It had been like this for over an hour. With no promise of improvement any time soon.
“I’m sorry. I need to use the ladies’ room.” I took my purse and finished my wine.
“Oh, of course.” He put his glasses back on with a snort. “Should I pull out your chair?”
“That’s okay.” I flashed a smile. “I’ve got it.”
He was still talking by the time I made it to the bar. But then Carter popped out, and I wanted to crawl under a rock. “How’s it goin’?” He leaned across the counter with a toothpick in his mouth.
“Excuse me?” I took a step towards him. I’m not sure why.
“You’re hot date.” He gave me an ear-splitting grin, and I wanted to slap it right off his gorgeous face.
“Barnum is a nice guy. Unlike some people I know.”
“Hey, I’m a nice guy. You don’t know me well enough to vouch for me yet.”
“Yet?” I raised my brow, knowing good and well what he’d implied.
“Yeah.” His hands slid across the bar, almost touching mine. “Yet.”
I lowered my voice. “You called me a desperate loser and—”
“Hey, it was a joke.” He looked serious for the first time all night. “I was just teasin’ you.”
“Well, it wasn’t very funny.” I looked away, feeling low.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I was a jerk.”
I furrowed my brow, surprised that he was apologizing. “Why?”
“I don’t know.” He took the toothpick out of his mouth. “Maybe I was hoping it wasn’t a mistake. That you’d actually come over to see me.”
I didn’t say anything. My mind was racing.
“I guess we got off on the wrong foot. It was a misunderstanding, and I’m sorry.”
I nodded, wondering why I was still standing over here, listening to this stranger.
“Let’s start over.” He stuck out his hand. “Carter Boudreaux.”
“Bailey Lewis.” I shook his hand. And there it was. His electric touch.
“Enjoy the rest of your night, Miss Lewis.” His eyes stayed on me as I went to leave.
“You too.” I bit my lip and felt the heat brewing beneath my chest.
“Hey and maybe—”
I turned around, and it was like he forgot how to speak. Then he looked over my shoulder at Barnum and shook his head. He furrowed his brows and the dip of his mouth bled into a frown.
“Never mind.” He tossed a rag on the bar. “Have a good night.” Then he turned around and left.
I stood there for a few seconds, wondering what I’d felt between us—this magnetic pull. Nothing had ever felt like that before.
Barnum took me home and left a kiss on my cheek. I couldn’t say that it had been the worst date ever. But I think we both knew it wasn’t going to work out. He wished me well, and I did the same.
There were no hard feelings between us. And I truly respected him for that.
Before bed, I pulled out my laptop and searched ‘Carter Boudreaux’ in my local area. I couldn’t find him on social media, and none of the dating sites had a profile picture that matched him. That shouldn’t have come as a surprise though. Especially since he’d said online dating was for desperate losers.
But I was disappointed just the same.
I thought about him as I fell asleep. It was annoying that I couldn’t get him out of my head.
Despite what happened with Barnum, I felt like the date hadn’t been a mistake.
I closed my eyes and saw Carter’s face. That curly dark hair and those big blue eyes.
And then I thought about how his lips would feel on mine.
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