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Chapter 3

 

That same day, eight
skeins of the loveliest hand-painted Italian cashmere yarn Kendra had ever seen
arrived at her agency, situated above The Sassy Sheep, her Aunt Jackie’s
Hoboken, New Jersey yarn shop. After the courier left, she examined the skeins
nestled inside a large satin pouch, along with precious-stone embellished
knitting needles and matching stitch markers. The handwritten gift note read:

Now you can
get down to the knitty-gritty. Sorry if I made your flight home less than
enjoyable.

—Dominic

 

Kendra looked to Brittany, her good friend,
assistant, and agent-in-training, who sometimes overcompensated for her Disney
princess looks with a potty mouth and predilection for grim “business Goth” makeup
and clothing
.
That day she wore a
knitted obi belt, a gift from Aunt Jackie, her staple dark lipstick, a pencil
skirt, spike-heeled boots, and a short fitted jacket
.


This
guy isn’t messing around, is he? But how did he know?”
 
Brittany ran polished dark nails of one
hand along the soft yarn while the other hand held a powdered strawberry-filled
doughnut she’d snagged from the refreshments stash for Sassy Sheep customers.

Kendra was too preoccupied to eat the glazed
cruller she’d filched from the same tray downstairs. “I didn’t tell him
anything. I barely spoke to him during the flight.”

“I’ve got to admit, I like his style. He did his
homework.”

 
Like
most passionate knitters, Kendra continued to amass more yarn in her personal
stash than could be used in a lifetime. Dominic’s gift was fitting, but
selecting it was hardly a feat requiring Sherlockian deduction. He had probably
spied the yarn stash inside the
I Knit So
I Don’t Kill
People
canvas bag
she’d carried on the plane.

Kendra harrumphed, and then put more space between
her and Brittany. Fat jelly doughnuts, like the popping of champagne bottles,
made her nervous. Too much potential for wayward squirts or projectiles.

“So you’re totally resistant to this yarn and his
charisma, eh?” Behind cat-eye glasses, Brittany regarded Kendra.

“The yarn is beautiful. And I’m actually drawn to
him.”
 
One index finger skimmed
along the card attached to the yarn. “He’s handsome, hot, and charming, but in
a somewhat dorky sort of way.”

“Dorky?”

“Not sure that’s the right word. He’s like this
big kid, doing playful, cheesy things to get your attention. And he comes off a
tad overeager.”
 
Kendra recalled his
antics with that catalog.

“So ‘the shark’ is a puppy?”

“You mean guppy.”

“Right.”

“He has this deep, smoky voice, but zero game.
Zilch. Nada. At least in the way he approached me. Not smooth. At. All. He just
puts it all out there. But his directness is endearing, if that makes any
sense.”

“Makes perfect sense. He’s exactly your type.”

 
“And
that’s the problem, a big problem, based on my track record.”

Dominic had also been blessed with a sleek, fit
physique…like the exes.
 
Devil-may-care stubble darkened a square jaw…like the exes.
 
Strong, chiseled facial features… like
the exes. And he smelled so delicious. She suspected it was his natural scent,
not something from a bottle. She’d wanted to grab him and bury her nose against
his chest, as she’d often done with the exes.

“So you’re still on that break-out-of-the-box
dating kick?”

“You know how difficult those breakups were.”
Kendra caressed the yarn. “If this sounds crazy, well, it’s a coping mechanism.
I seriously worry about my judgment.” Dominic felt all too familiar.

All along, Kendra had believed she and Dominic
would click if they ever met. After all, most of the men Kendra had dated over
the years had fit his MO. All had looked perfect on paper, especially the last
three: Graham, Colin, Randall.
 
The
more perfect they’d appeared for her, the more whirlwind their relationships
had been. When she lost her heart, she had a tendency to lose her head. With
each she’d been on lockdown before she could say Bed, Bath, & Beyond bridal
registry.
 
Three men had proposed,
and she’d accepted three times in the past four years.
 
For someone who had never appeared on a
reality dating show, surely that record had garnered her some sort of outlier
status on the mating-and-dating scene. However, she’d only made it to the altar
as a bridesmaid.
 

Kendra wasn’t so much a runaway bride as a flighty
fiancée.
 
She’d returned
rings and dispensed the heart-rending breakup speeches. As she regarded the
yarn, that famous quote about insanity buzzed inside her head: Doing the same
thing over and over again and expecting a different result. A fierce pull drew
her to Dominic, but at the same time it felt like déjà vu.

“I’m doing the best I can to ensure I don’t make
the same mistakes again, that’s all.” Kendra sat down at her desk.

“So this time you’re not letting anyone sweep you
off your feet? You’re playing hard to get?”

“I wouldn’t say that. I need to broaden my dating
horizons and increase my odds of having a better outcome by choosing a
different
kind of man.”

“But this is Dominic Tobias.”

“Brittany, during the flight home we wore matching
outfits!”

“Unless both of you wore bustiers, micro-minis,
and stilettos, I don’t see the problem. Weren’t you both in jeans and sweaters?
Hello.” She moved closer to wave a hand in front of Kendra’s face. “Half the
people on the plane were probably wearing the same thing.”

“Not the
same
striped sweater in bisque and pepper.”

“Bisque and pepper?”

“Off white and red.”

“Don’t you just love catalog colors? Nothing beats
nail polish. I’m wearing On the Prowl right now.”
 
Brittany made a claw and growled to show
off her chocolate-tinted nail tips.

“And Dominic loves Love Nest Ninjas, too,” Kendra
added after Brittany’s nail art spiel.

“Oh? And how do you know that? I thought you
hardly spoke to him.”

“He did most of the talking,” Kendra replied, not
revealing she’d gleaned that tidbit and numerous others from his blog and
social media accounts. “And there was that spooky thing with the cabin service
I told you about.”

“So you take your coffee the same way. Big
deal.”
 

“And don’t forget about the snack.”

“Oh, right. So we have two trail mix mates, who
are also bibliophiles in his-and-her matching sweaters clicking like crazy and
practically crashing into cloying ‘Cute Coupledom, like an eighteen-wheeler on
an icy mountain pass,’ as Lizzy would say. Which is why you can’t possibly date
him.
 
I get it. I think. Twisted
logic and all. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.”

“Or not do what she
always
does. No more seeking out the familiar. I need something
new.”
 
To that end, she’d opened an
account at a dating site, Cupid4You.com. “None of that whirlwind fairytale
nonsense for me this time.
 
Real
love takes time, thought,
pragmatism, and research.”

“Ooooh. Venn diagrams. Sexy,” Brittany deadpanned.

 
“Lust
is instantaneous.”

“But what a way to start.”
 
When Brittany took a huge bite of the
doughnut, powdered sugar rained on her jacket and jelly squirted on the corner
of her mouth.

“It’s fleeting. It’s opposites attract for the
long term. And with opposites it’s easier to keep things exciting. Maybe I
should go for the dark, brooding, mysterious type.”

“So you want to swap a heartache for a big
headache? You want a challenge, a project, so you can redeem him?”

“You still don’t you get it.”

“Because you’re making my head spin.”

“And another thing, Dominic and I are agents!”

“So? You share the same passion for the industry
and books. That’s a
good
thing,” she
said as if Kendra were a thick-headed child.

“I foresee a situation fraught with, you know,
weirdness, for lack of a better word. You know, the way he does business and
all—”

“He’s a formidable, gloves-off agent but there has
never been anything illegal or unethical about the way he operates. At most
we’re talking gray areas.”

“In other words, morally murky areas.”

 
“He’s
successful. You’re successful.”
 
Brittany finished the doughnut, licked her fingertips, brushed away the
sugar on her outfit, and used a napkin to clean filling off her mouth.

Successful
.
 
But for how long?
 
Kendra had been putting a hefty chunk of
her own agency profits into helping her aunt’s yarn shop. After Hurricane Sandy
flooded large swaths of Hoboken, the shop still struggled to regain its solid
financial footing. The Sassy Sheep and several nearby shops suffered water
damage and financial relief or reimbursement for the needed repairs had been
slow to come. Uncle Alex’s life insurance provided just enough to maintain her
aunt’s personal lifestyle.
 
She
needed a loan, which she hadn’t been able to secure through the reputable
financial institutions to which she’d applied. Kendra refused to let her
grieving aunt become victim to predatory lenders with fat checks in hand for a
temporary, but ultimately disastrous “bail out” with outrageous interest rates
and service fees. Nor would she let her aunt lose the shop she’d run for twenty
years, so soon after losing her husband.

 
In the
last two years, three agents at Porter Literary Agency had taken jobs in more
“stable” industries. To make the financial juggling work, last year, Kendra had
relocated from the pricier Lower Manhattan address to the space above the yarn
shop, which required extensive remodeling.
 
She had yet to replace the other assistant who had moved to the West
Coast.
 
She couldn’t afford to do so
right now.

Kendra still managed to operate in the black.
Barely.
 
Now that ebooks had rapidly
gained on print book sales, in some genres surpassing them, several clients had
experienced precipitous drops in their incomes, which translated into smaller
commissions for the agency. So far, her attempts to negotiate higher ebook
royalty rates beyond the lock-step standard for all clients had been fruitless.
Publishers had granted such increases to only a few traditional superstars and
indie sales outliers they’d scooped up, as far as she knew. Were
her
traditionally-published clients the
only ones denied the golden ticket to the ebook royalty party?

Kendra had always believed she was good at her
job, but now she wasn’t so sure. And that disturbing thought kept her up most
nights. What if she’d been deluding herself all this time? And fooling everyone
else? Maybe it was just luck that had gotten her this far. What if she could no
longer cut it as an agent in this tumultuous market?

“Did you forget I lost Brody Goodwin to Dominic?”
Kendra said.

“You still got your panties in a knot over that?
Seriously? That yarn is awfully nice,” Brittany said. “Look at it this way:
Getting to know one of your toughest rivals could be good for you and the
agency.” Brittany scooped up a stack of newly-arrived galleys and audio books
from Kendra’s desk and moved toward her own work space.

 
“Maybe
he can teach me a few things. Is that what you’re trying to say?”

 
“And
vice versa, boss. Maybe you two will become good,” she paused and looked over
her shoulder with an indecent wink, “
friends
.
I say go for it.”

 
No way.
Besides, there was work to do.
Kendra had an agency to run. The coffee she’d chugged twenty minutes earlier
kicked in, giving her a much-needed jolt of caffeine confidence.
 
She had skills!
 
She was born to do this! Despite the
popularity of self-publishing, submissions streamed in steadily. She needed
something
big
—another huge hit
from a current client or a new rainmaking client or two so she could continue
doing what she loved most without falling into deep debt.

 

Chapter
4

 

Kendra soon experienced a
change of heart, but she waited until the next day to phone Dominic so as not
to appear too eager to connect again, though a part of her most certainly was
eager, despite the objections she’d voiced to Brittany.
 
Besides, it would’ve been discourteous
not to thank the man for such a nice gesture. She even let him persuade her to
meet him at a little eatery, midway their offices, known for its amazing coffee
and prize-winning sandwiches.
 
A girl’s gotta eat, right?

An early lunch crowd and the appetizing aroma of
frying food filled the place. Her stomach growled as the waitress showed her to
a corner table. Soon after, a smiling Dominic approached the table.
 
His stride was smooth and
purposeful.
 
Her insides went all
aflutter again. What was it about a handsome man in geeky specs and he-man
stubble?

Dominic removed his slouch beanie and raked his
fingers through his wavy hair. He hooked his army jacket on a nearby rack and
sat across from her. “Well, hello. Sorry I’m a little late. A meeting ran a
little longer than expected.” His eyes widened. “You look amazing, as always.”

Kendra’s hands skimmed along her thrift store
sheath worn with black leather knee-high boots. The fifties-style black dress
flattered her assets, but was still suitable for business casual because she’d
layered it with a red floral puffer vest to tone down its sexiness.
 
She tucked the left side of her shiny
long hair with its single blueberry-shaded streak behind her ear, showing off
her new platinum ear cuff.

“Wasn’t that streak purplish red on the plane?” He
gestured toward her colored lock.

“Yes, it was, but I get bored easily. I can change
it up daily or hourly if I want because I use a highly-pigmented eyeshadow
paste to paint it. Bright, but temporary. Easily removed with a dab of water
and shampoo.”

“All the fun without the commitment.”

 
“Exactly. Thank you for such a thoughtful
gift. I love knitting.”

“On the plane, I noticed the brown lumps of yarn
in your bag. I know they could’ve been for someone else, but I’m glad I took a
chance.”

“They’re called
skeins
or
hanks
of yarn,
not lumps. You saw chocolate alpaca hanks.”

“Noted. But what’s with all the foodiness when it
comes to fabric color? I say keep it simple. Cherry is
red
. Grape is purple. Lime is green. Cream is white. Le-”

“Lemon is yellow. In other words that sweater
you’re wearing is not honeydew?”
 
Kendra’s gaze roamed to the V-neck sweater worn with a cherry, checkered
button-down shirt. A graphic scarf with an image of Jimi Hendrix curled around
his neck in a loose Parisian knot. A large-faced watch adorned one wrist and a
chunky braided band with spikes circled the other. She’d noticed his wing-tip
oxford Doc Martens when he’d arrived.

“Definitely
not
honeydew,” he replied.

“I like your style, Dominic. The, um, creative
chaos of it all.”
 
Kendra’s fingers
briefly fluttered toward his scarf. “Nice touch.”
 
Despite her intentions, she found
herself flirting. Unabashedly. After twirling a lock of her hair and batting
her lashes, she fiddled with the tiny hoop piercing her tragus.

 
“Why,
thank you. My older brothers give me hell about this.” He tapped his scarf.
“What did you call it? The ‘creative chaos.’ Last time we all had dinner at my
parents’ place they badgered me about carrying a green backpack.”

“Like the one you had on the plane?”

He nodded. “Gage quipped he was sure it came with
an Incredible Hulk thermos,
 
trading
cards, and stickers, but Cooper conceded it was a step up from my,” he made
finger quotes, “ ‘murse’ or —”

“Man-purse also known as the courier or messenger
bag?”

“Yup. And Gage definitely hates the
froufrou
scarves.”

“There’s nothing froufrou about Jimi, okay? What’s
his problem?”

“He can’t believe I’m taken seriously as a
professional. ‘You’re way too old to dress like an outcast from a British boy
band,’ he grumbled, shaking his finger at me.”

“My aunt razzes me about the same thing. She
doesn’t approve of my choices, either. But if she did, I’d know I was in big
trouble. I love Aunt Jackie, but if my outfits get the thumbs-down from the
woman who owns three dozen pairs of Wallabees and mail orders polyester poplin
culottes with a ‘full-stretch comfort waist’ from a
TV Guide
ad, I’d say I’m on the right track. Let me guess, your
brothers carry briefcases.”

“Correct.”

 
“So
who is really the smart one? You’ve dispensed with the blah for cool hands-free
functionality.”

 

And
I even own a cardigan labeled bright
quartz, though it looks suspiciously pink.”

 
“Real
men aren’t afraid to express themselves with color or distinctive patterns,”
Kendra added.

“And they never fear the quirky. I always say,
embrace
the quirky.”

“And the backpack or the crisscross shoulder
strap.”

“I guarantee I’ll be the geezer at the senior
citizens center in the shades, straight-up styling. A real hepcat.”

“Hear, hear! And I’ll be the granny in the
psychedelic go-go boots with bubblegum pink streaks in her hair.”

“I’m glad you feel that way.” Dominic lifted one
leg of his jeans to reveal the bold palm frond pattern of his socks. “From the
Dwyane Wade collection. Why walk in his basketball shoes when I can wear his
crazy cool socks?”

“Wait! You have to check these.” When Kendra
unzipped one of her boots to show the striped Wicked Witch of the East socks
hidden underneath, both laughed heartily. “Okay, we’re getting carried away
with the show and tell.”
 
She
savored his wonderful scent—a clean, but sensual masculine mix. “And I
have to note, you smell good. On the plane and now.”

“So, you like, huh?” He grinned. “I like your
scent, too.
 
Light and citrusy.”

“So, we’ve been sniffing each other like a couple
of dogs? Nice,” she deadpanned to diminish the current crackling between them.

When Dominic leaned forward with a mesmerizing
gleam in his eyes, she met him halfway until about an inch separated their
lips.

“You know,” he said in a low voice, his breath
pleasing against her cheek, “some researchers believe that scent plays a
significant role in determining our mates—”

“As in why we’re drawn to one person over
another—”

“When, say, all other physical measurements of
attractiveness—”

“Are pretty much the same.”

“Sounds as if we memorized the same pop psych
article in that old
Mind Matters
science
magazine on the plane.”

“Uh-huh.”

Kendra also thought of a passage from Lizzy’s book
: While cute couples sometimes emit a
Ken-and-Barbie vibe, nobody would mistake them for brother and sister; their combustible
chemistry is undeniable.

Dominic’s gaze dropped to her lips.

And hers to his.
 

Kendra admired his mouth for far too long, and the
rest of the restaurant drifted away.
 
She closed her eyes.

“Hello! I’m Carol, your server. Ready to order?”

Startled, Kendra jerked back, leaving Dominic
hanging.

“Just a minute.” Dominic cleared his throat,
settled back in his chair, and reached for his menu.

“What a cutie pie!” Kendra mentally swerved,
noting the little girl in the photo dangling from the lanyard around Carol’s
neck.

“My grandkid.” Carol smiled. “Her name is
Charley.”

“I love that name!” Kendra gushed, reaching out to
steady the photo for a better look at the smiling, chubby-cheeked tyke.

“I named her,” Carol said. “It’s from an old
perfume commercial. Way before your time.”

Kendra amazed Carol when she began singing the
jingle. Carol joined in, her skinny ponytail swaying.

“My aunt used to sing it
and
the one about bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a
pan,” Kendra explained after they’d shared a good laugh.

Someone at a nearby table waved to Carol.

“I promised water to the table over there. Be
right back,” Carol said before continuing her duties.

“That’s one way to guarantee you receive top-notch
service,” Dominic said with a sly smile. “I’m impressed.”

“The kid is too stinking cute, okay?”

“That she is.”

Carol returned from the table just a few feet
away. “Ready?”

Dominic studied his menu.
 
“After you,” he said to
Kendra.

“No. You go right ahead. I need a minute.”
 
Thinking of their cabin service orders,
Kendra wanted him to go first to curb what she suspected were copycat
maneuvers.

“I’ll wait for the lady,” Dominic told Carol.
“This place is known for the sandwiches?”

“Yes,” Carol replied. “They’re delicious.”

Kendra salivated over the tasty-looking offerings
and craved an ice cold beer, but ordered a chef salad and unsweetened iced tea
instead.

Dominic studied the sandwiches, paused and then
said, “And I’ll have the same.” He closed his menu and passed it back to Carol.

Kendra had hoped he’d go for one of the sandwiches
glistening with gobs of meat and melted cheese so she could at least ogle or
inhale the greasy goodness.

Carol scribbled on her pad. Kendra modified her
order. She and Dominic would most certainly not have the same thing if she had
anything to say about it. “I’ll need the dressing, low-fat, on the side and on
second thought nix the ham.”

Carol took notes and then turned to leave.

“Wait.” Dominic smirked. Mischief twinkled in his
brown eyes as if he knew what Kendra was up to. “Ditto mine.”

“Then make mine low-fat cheese,” Kendra added.

“Mine, too,” he said.

Carol took more notes and turned to leave.

“Wait!”
 
Kendra blurted, “Cut the cheese!”

“Excuse me?” Carol asked with one raised brow.

“I meant
hold
all the cheese on my salad,” Kendra said.

Carol looked at Dominic. “You bailing on the
croutons?”

“No, the croutons are fine,” he replied.

“Then hold my croutons,” Kendra said.

“Wait. On second thought, hold mine, too.”
 
He chuckled.

“How about the simple house salad with no dressing?”
 
Carol suggested.

 
“Or a
stalk of celery on a plate,” barked the buttinsky two tables away who’d
obviously overheard them. He glared at Dominic and Kendra. “Another Heineken
for me when you get a chance, Carol.”

“A beer for you, Kendra?” Dominic asked.

“No,” Kendra replied. “And the house salad has
iceberg lettuce, so I’ll pass. The romaine packs a greater nutritional punch.
And, oh, if you have it on hand, could you have the cook throw some kohlrabi on
there, too?”

“Cold rabbit?”
 
Dominic’s thick brows rushed together.


Kol-ra-bee
.”
Kendra cast herself as the kohlrabi expert of all kohlrabi experts even though
she’d Googled it only three days ago after finding it in a client’s manuscript.
“It’s a vegetable. Looks like a cross between a cabbage and a turnip. In fact,
in German
kohl
is for cabbage and
rabi
is for turnip.
 
It’s packed with loads of potassium and
vitamin C. Its flavor is akin to broccoli stem or cabbage heart.” When Dominic
made a brief yuck face she added, “Make that
lots
and
lots
of kohlrabi.
Kohlrabi is the new kale, don’t you know?”

Dominic stroked his chin. “So with beer being the
exception, you’re health-conscious.
 
I like that.”

“Sorry,” Carol told her, “but I’m sure we don’t
have any kol…um, what you said.”


Kol-ra-bee
.
Kohlrabi.” Kendra now played the parrot stuck on mimicking a new word.

“But we do have kale,” Carol said brightly.

“Very well, add the kale,” Kendra said.

“So are you going for the kale?” Carol grinned at
Dominic.

“Sure! Why not?”
 
Dominic said, winking at Kendra.

Monkey see,
monkey do, monkey pee all over you.
Kendra resisted reciting the juvenile
taunt, closed her menu, and passed it back to Carol, who departed before they
could change their minds.

“What made you assume I’d want a beer?” Kendra
asked.

“A big-ass stein in your hand. I spotted you at
the conference hotel bar in Dallas. I was going to join you before you took
off.”

“Oh. Well, they say you are what you eat, not
drink.
 
Fresh fruit and vegetables
every chance I get to balance things out,” Kendra replied primly, though
maraschino cherries (from late night ice cream sundae binges) and a jar of
pickled beets (from her apartment’s previous occupant) were the only fruit and
veggies in her fridge.
 
Her cabinets
housed one mini can of expired Beanee Weenee she made a mental note to toss
once and for all, three cans of creamed corn, and eleven boxes of assorted
kiddie breakfast cereals.

Dominic’s gaze lingered on Kendra as her puffer
vest grew warmer, but she didn’t want to appear as if she were stripping for him
so she kept it on.

Carol zipped back with two tall glasses of iced
tea and their salads.

“Why did you send the yarn?” Kendra asked after
Carol left.

“I find you attractive, make that extremely
attractive,” Dominic said with a slow, brazen appraisal of her.

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