FREE Spicy Romance Read
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Chapter 11, Gracie
I decided to go back to the Under My Spell clothing store for two reasons.
1. I needed something new to wear to the wedding that I was going to with Luke next weekend.
2. I wanted to see Ariana and give her the social media package that I had put together for her.
Granted, it wasn’t anywhere near what I charged for my usual customers, but I could tell that her stuff would take off given the right marketing launch on the Internet. She could increase her profit in a huge way just by expanding her customers from this tiny town to the world at large. She had an amazing eye, and I wanted to help her out. That in itself was worthwhile. I had enough high-paying customers to be able to do things like this once in a while.
I walked in the door to find that, this time, Ariana wasn’t behind the counter. Instead, an older woman with a cream-colored piano shawl around her shoulders was responsible for tending to the shop floor. She had her back to me so that I could stare admiringly at the huge, embroidered fuchsia peonies which trailed down her back and were surrounded by a floral rainbow of twisting vines, garden flowers, and butterflies, which wound their way across the fabric and hung in that classic triangular shape and covered her small, curvy form. Stunning.
On top of her head, a huge, silver streaked bun was held in place with two silver chopsticks that crisscrossed each other.
“Good morning.” She spun around. “Hope I didn’t startle you. I was hoping to see Ariana today.”
“She won’t be in until this afternoon.” She smiled, and deep wrinkles radiated out from the corners of her eyes like cat whiskers. “How do you know my Ariana?”
“I met her the other day when I bought a cute little skirt. I was talking to her about marketing her store online.”
“Ariana doesn’t have a store on the Internet,” she said. “This is the only store that Ariana owns.”
“Oh, yes, I know. What I mean is that I’ve put together some ideas about how she could sell her style concepts online.”
“Style concepts?” The woman started to giggle. “Ariana has always had an artistic flair when it comes to dressing herself and others.”
“Well, why don’t I just leave this here for her?” I put the embossed satin portfolio folder containing my proposal on the counter. It was held closed by a silk bow. “She can get in touch with me whenever. In the meantime, I want to check out some of your lovely dresses. I’m going to a wedding on Saturday.”
“Are you going to Josh’s wedding?”
“Yes, do you know Josh, too? He’s a friend of a friend.”
“A very good man. Who also happens to be marrying Ariana’s sister.”
“Oh, my gravy! Well, I guess I’ll see Ariana on Saturday, then.”
“Absolutely. She might be busy with bridesmaid duties, but you can maybe talk to her at the reception about what you had in mind.”
“That would be great,” I said. “Sooo, let me look around. I don’t even want to tell you what size I am. You’re so petite and dainty.”
“It doesn’t really matter what size a woman is. What matters is the size of her heart.”
“I really do appreciate that Ariana stocks all sizes. Sometimes it’s hard for me to find clothes that fit.”
“Yes, she likes putting outfits together for all kinds of bodies.”
* * *
One Week Later:
Oh my God! Was Luke actually kissing her?
As I walked over to talk to Ariana about the business proposal I had prepared for her, I saw Luke on the other side of the barn where the wedding was being held.
He was looking down on a blonde bombshell who he had backed against the wall. I couldn’t tell exactly what he was doing. The fact that he had one hand placed on top of each of her shoulders made it seem as if someone had poured a trickle of anguish down my throat which seeped throughout my chest cavity. I couldn’t stand it.
I turned quickly on my heel and almost crashed into Ariana, who was stood directly in front of me. “Where did you come from?” I snapped at her.
“Hey, slow down there, Sparky. I was just coming to talk to you about the business proposal you left me.”
“UGH! Sorry, it’s just… I just saw something that I didn’t want to see at all.”
“What’s going on? This is a wedding, you know. It’s supposed to be a happy occasion. Don’t jinx the happy couple’s love with your grumpy angst. What’s got your goat, anyway?”
“There’s this guy…”
“Oh, Lord! Doesn’t it always start out that way?” she said.
“He’s not my boyfriend, but I’ve been staying at his place. It sounds weird, I know. It’s complicated. I just saw him with this blonde woman over there, and I don’t have a clue who she is.”
“Just a minute. Let me go inspect. I’ll be your eyes on the ground.” Ariana walked casually around the corner with one eyebrow raised, shaking her head back and forth. “Listen,” she said. “You cannot pay attention to what you just saw. At all. When I walked around the corner, all I saw was Luke with his finger in Sylvia’s face reading her the riot act about trying to come on to him. Listen, Sylvia is bad news. She left Luke a long time ago, and now the only reason she’s back is because she’s heard that Luke is rich. Like multi-multi-millionaire rich, okay—and he can see straight through Sylvia.”
I tapped my toe in the dirt, like there was a big fat spider there that I wanted to kill over and over again. I crossed my arms and pouted my lower lip. I still wasn’t buying it. “Luke has never even mentioned her to me!” I spat the words venomously. If I didn’t know better, I could almost imagine that Ariana was amused by all this. The corner of her left lip twitched upward.
“Listen, why don’t you just give it a minute and let Luke explain things for himself? I can tell you—and I don’t say this about just anyone—that Luke is a good man. If I can say that with certainty, you’ve got to believe it’s true. Usually, I think most men are obnoxious, and, most of the time, their penises have no conscious, which drives them to do absolutely idiotic things. But in this case, I know Luke to be a gentleman, and if he is showing interest in you, I say take it at face value. He is loyal to a fault. Case in point: that blonde bimbo around the corner. Most men would not have even spoken to her, let alone be listening to her rail at him like a squawking hen for more than a few sentences. If you ask me, sometimes he is a little bit too patient. Maybe you are just the girl to crack him out of that shell of control. And if that’s the case, then you really are one in a million.”
“Well, all I know is I plan on taking advantage of that no-host bar right here, right now. Care to join me? I’m buying!”
“A free drink is not something I’m known to turn down.”
* * *
“Two shots of tequila, please. What do you got?”
“I’ve got Patron…”
“Say no more! We’ll take two shots of Patron.”
“Oh, crikey,” said Ariana. “Nothing ever ended well that started with shots.”
“Oh, we’ll be fine. I need to have a little fun for a change. It’s been a heck of a week, to be honest. To your health!”
“Salud!” Ariana clinked my glass.
“Hey! What do you think about ordering one of those Moscow Mules? I hear they’re good.”
“Uhhh, a Moscow Mule chaser to a shot of tequila? Interesting choice.”
“Why not?” I asked. “They’re the same color. I’m pretty sure that if liquor is the same color, it’s not going to hurt ya. Silver Patron, Silver Vodka…what the heck? You only live once, right?”
Even I could hear the desperate justification in my words, knowing that the evening would most likely end with my head over the toilet. But I wanted to get rid of the image of that slim, busty sexpot out of my mind.
“Excuse me, bartender? Could we also get two Moscow Mules please? Do you make those?”
“I sure can.”
I smiled flirtatiously. “Why don’t you make them doubles?”
“Whatever you say, Miss. I’m here to serve.”
Two copper mugs slid across the table. I sucked my mule down like Kool-Aid and noted with impressed satisfaction that Ariana wasn’t too far behind. I’d picked the right drinking partner for the evening.
“Hey, they’re starting to play some good music over there. Why don’t we take our drinks to a table next to the dance floor and see what kind of trouble we can get into? Let’s see if we can’t give this small town something to talk about.”
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