Hollywood made him a star. She makes him want to be a better man.
Charlotte Jeeves, “Charlie” to anyone not pulling her over or collecting her taxes, is the only one in town who’s not excited about her new neighbor, TV actor Jeeves Allencaster. It’s not “cute” how they share a name, and so not charming that he steals her muffin before they’ve even met. The last thing she wants is some slick Hollywood type turning her safe, small-town haven into a circus.
If the locals have their way, though, she and Jeeves will be dating by…well, it depends on who you ask—and how much they’ve invested in the betting pool.
Jeeves hates Hollwood. Mostly he just hates the way it’s changed him. Port Grable is the total opposite of LaLa Land—the perfect place to rediscover himself. His plan didn’t include hooking up with the bitter—yet undeniably lush—girl next door. She’s not his type, yet he can’t get her off his mind.
Trouble is, to thaw the ice around her heart, he’ll have to show her the real man behind the Hollywood charade. If he still exists…
Baked-good larceny is prohibited by law in many states. Please seek competent legal advice before trying this at home.
Copyright © 2011 Gwen Hayes
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
This is a mistake, Charlie repeated to herself across both the lawns that separated their houses. It was a bad, bad idea. She thought about returning home and changing clothes one more time. What exactly did a girl wear on a date she didn’t exactly agree to, with a guy she didn’t exactly like?
She chastised herself. No, no going back. The little black dress wasn’t little enough to send the wrong kind of statement, but it was black enough to be flattering without trying too hard. Plus, her patent leather boots were made of awesome. They made her legs look longer and leaner. Even though, of course, she wasn’t trying to impress anyone. She climbed the steps and inhaled deeply before she knocked on the screen door. The front door had been left open despite the December chill.
“Come on in,” Jeeves Allencaster, likely not his real name, called from another room.
This was ridiculous. What was she doing dating a movie star? She’d only meant to call his bluff. He just never stopped asking her out—like the Energizer Bunny only hot and funny and with a silky bedroom voice and piercing green eyes…and…and…and she didn’t even like him!
Charlie closed the screen door behind herself right before the dog launched at her. “Hey, Medusa.” She scratched the dog’s mismatched ears and pushed her off gently. “Down, baby.” Medusa’s curly hair would weave into the fabric of her dress and take root. The brown wiry hairs looked silly enough on the dog—she didn’t need to be pulling them out of her clothes all night.
Music started playing from the surround-sound speakers in separate corners of the room. Was he joking? Marvin Gaye?
“Subtle, Jeeves,” she called to the kitchen. Very subtle.
God. There were candles covering every flat surface in the room. And…were those rose petals on the floor? In a trail. Leading to his bedroom. She rolled her eyes. Apparently they needed to discuss, yet one more time, the fact that she was not going to sleep with him. Not ever.
“I’ll be right out. There’s wine on the coffee table,” he yelled. Plates rattled and the house smelled amazing, aromatic herbs and sweet onion. So he really was cooking for her. She reminded herself not to be impressed by that.
She pulled the bottle out of the ice bucket on the table. Pink Champagne. Pink? The man was out of control. He needed counseling. He needed…
Jeeves paused provocatively in the doorway separating the kitchen from the living room, posing for maximum effect. He had on the tightest pants she’d ever seen and a button-down shirt that was not buttoned down from his belly button up. In his hands, he held a tray of appetizers. “Oysters, foxy lady?” he asked, arching one eyebrow and sending come-hither vibes.
Charlie shook her head and tried not to laugh. Her smile, though, felt as if it were coming from a place deep in her chest, lighting up her insides. “You don’t have nearly enough chest hair to pull that look off. But nice touch with the gold chains.”
He winked at her before he strutted across the room as if he had the Bee Gees singing directly into his ears. Jeeves was utterly ridiculous.
It was at that moment she knew she would sleep with him.
Four Months Ago…
Charlotte Jeeves, Charlie to everyone who didn’t pull her over or collect her taxes, was really tired of hearing about her new neighbor, and he hadn’t even moved into the house next door yet. The whole town was talking about him. Wasn’t it cute, they said, that they shared the same name—Jeeves and Jeeves? Wasn’t it great that he’d fixed up the old house next door to her? Wasn’t he just the most charming man ever?
Granted, Port Grable didn’t get brushed with celebrity very often, but that was part of its charm. She had a feeling Jeeves Allencaster, which could not possibly be his real name, was going to ruin everything she loved about her anonymous nook in the world.
Port Grable was the town that time forgot. It had all the modern world amenities, of course, but somehow it had charmed its way into keeping the simple grace of a different era. She could drink a latte and surf the internet downtown, but it was at the counter of an old-fashioned soda shop in the back of the pharmacy instead of Starbucks. The soda machine in front of the hardware store sold Coke…in real glass bottles. Downtown, all two blocks of it, still had angle parking in front of all the stores. Angle parking. She didn’t ever drive downtown, preferring her bicycle, but knowing there was angle parking filled her with warm, happy feelings.
Port Grable had been her gift from God, her reward for waking up each day when she hadn’t wanted to anymore. If she hadn’t found this place, well, she might not have made it, and she was really afraid the Hollywood star was going to take it all away from her.
He wasn’t even all that great. Well, okay, he was really gorgeous and she’d liked him in that one show she’d seen him in…but he was more of a television star than movie star. His shows were almost popular, but they were always cable series, not network. It wasn’t as if he was Brad Pitt or George Clooney. He was just Jeeves Allencaster.
But Charlie knew that he was going to taint her refuge from the rest of the world, damn him. Everyone in town was already acting different, trying to one-up each other to impress him before he even got here. She wouldn’t be surprised if they planned a parade. It was getting unreasonable. She glanced up at the banner as she rode her bicycle onto Main Street.
Welcome Jeeves Allencaster.
Charlie got off her bike and pushed it into the bike rack. No need to chain it up. Not here. Not like Milwaukee. Even after ten years, it still made her smile every time she walked away from her unsecured bike, knowing how safe it was here. How safe she was here.
First stop, Myrtle’s Muffins. She’d been thinking of a Dark Cherry Desire muffin for days. If she was feeling virtuous, she could make it last through tomorrow. They were huge. And dreamy. The secret was ricotta cheese, Myrtle had told her once, knowing her secret was safe because Charlie would never bake anything that didn’t come pre-packaged with reheating instructions.
Charlie strolled down Main Street, enjoying all the fall decorations. The town was getting ready for the Autumn Festival. All the planter boxes were filled with late-blooming mums and colorful kale, and the doorways were surrounded by leaves of burnished orange, yellow and red. A few shops used Halloween props too, but they were friendly, happy decorations. Nothing creepy or scary. Not downtown. They saved that for the haunted house down the road a bit.
The September weather was warm enough for a light sweater over her dress. She almost always wore dresses since she moved to Port Grable. She never felt frumpy when she wore a dress, even if she threw it on straight from the dryer and paired it with her Keds. She’d worn one of her favorites today. It was hard not to feel upbeat wearing red with white polka dots.
The bell tinkled merrily as she opened the door. The rich smells of sugar, butter, chocolate and cinnamon almost knocked her over like they always did. “God, Myrtle, you’re a saint.”
Myrtle popped up from behind the counter, all buxomly blonde Marilynness. “Hey, Charlie.” She even sounded breathless and sexy.
Myrtle, not the gray-haired granny you would expect from the name, was someone Charlie wished she could hate. Unfortunately, the goddess who ate all her own baking and never gained a pound was also her best friend.
“Please tell me there’s a cherry left.”
Myrtle smiled and began wrapping the last one up. “Has he moved in yet? Lord, I can’t wait.”
“Not yet. Thank God.”
“Spoilsport.” Myrtle slapped one hand over her eye. “Oh ow. Son of a baker!”
“What’s wrong?” Charlie rounded the counter to her friend.
“There’s something in my eye.”
Myrtle tried opening her eye, but Charlie didn’t see anything. The bathroom had better light, though. While they were in there, the front door jingled.
“Be right out!” Myrtle chirped brightly, ever the professional, even while suffering.
“I see it,” Charlie said. “Try blinking really fast.”
Myrtle made the classic goofy faces while she tried blinking out the eyelash. She even looked pretty doing that. It wasn’t fair. “You’re such a bitch,” Charlie complained.
“Yeah, I love you too.”
When the eyelash had worked its way out, Charlie reiterated how much she hated Myrtle. Myrtle reminded Charlie that she wasn’t above poisoning her food. They made it back to the front of the store giggling.
The man who’d come in was patiently waiting, checking out the local art on the walls. A few of the pieces were Charlie’s. She hoped he would buy one. Extra money was never a bad thing.
That was when she noticed it.
“Hey,” Charlie said, stopping at the counter. “Where’d my muffin go? I left it right here.”
She sent a look to the guy across the room. The one holding her muffin. He turned slowly, oblivious to his breach of baked-goods etiquette. Myrtle gasped. Charlie’s shoulders sagged.
“You, sir, have my muffin.”
The man looked dubiously from Charlie to Myrtle, where his gaze, like most men, paused a little longer than necessary, then back to Charlie. “Excuse me?”
Charlie pointed to the muffin in his hand. “My muffin. You took it. I set it on the counter and you took my muffin.”
He squinted at her. “I’m sorry?”
“It’s the last one.”
He looked behind her, to a case full of muffins and treats. Stopping, again for a second too long, on the five-foot-eight blonde treat standing next to the case.
Exasperated, Charlie closed the distance between them. “Look, you already get to be Jeeves Allencaster. You don’t get to have my muffin too.”