Not For Me

Toronto #1

Laura Jardine

 

Chapter 1

He was perfect.

Perfect for her friend Maya, who hadn’t been on a date since the oh-shit-I’m-engaged-to-a-criminal fiasco. Kristy hugged a romance novel to her chest and grinned. Such luck! She’d been trying to find someone for Maya for ages.

He was standing around the corner in the science-fiction section. Built like a tank—her friend would like that. But she wasn’t sure how Maya would feel about the mustache. Kristy wasn’t normally big on mustaches either, but it suited him. She was trying to figure out why that was when he looked in her direction.

She quickly turned her head back to the shelf in front of her and grabbed a book at random. Werewolves. Not her thing, but she read the blurb anyway. She couldn’t believe he’d caught her staring at him. How embarrassing.

She returned the werewolf romance to the shelf and pulled out another novel. The man on the cover was shirtless and totally ripped. She glanced at the guy by the science-fiction shelf. Did he look like—

No, she wouldn’t go there. Maya.

Plus she’d gotten out of a relationship only two weeks earlier, and he wasn’t her type.

This guy—Maya’s new guy—had two books in his left hand. Probably his to-buy pile. He was holding another book in his right hand and reading the back cover.

She had a feeling he was kind and intelligent and had a good career and wanted to settle down, and he didn’t have several women and an illegal job on the side.

Yes, just from looking at him. Which she was doing again now.

She’d been right about Maya’s ex-fiancé, though she hadn’t predicted the drug dealing. Really, who could have seen that coming?

Crap. He’d caught Kristy staring at him again. Rather than turning away, she smiled. He didn’t smile back but continued to regard her for a moment. So handsome, with his strong jaw, short brown hair, and a little bit of scruff. If he were her type, she’d be in deep trouble right now.

He returned his attention to the book in his right hand, scowled, and reached for another.

Kristy put back the books she’d pulled off the shelf at random. She was going to do this. She was going to approach a stranger in a bookstore and ask if he’d be interested in dating her friend. But she wouldn’t give him her friend’s number yet, not until she was one hundred percent sure he was a good guy. Because her friend had had a bad experience with a corrupt police officer. So would he mind some interrogation first?

She was good at starting up a conversation, but unfortunately, there was no way to do this without sounding weird. And he’d caught her looking. Twice.

But she would do it. For Maya.

Wait! Where was he going? He strode down the aisle away from her, three books in one of his big hands. Why couldn’t she have spoken up a minute or two earlier? Now she’d have to follow him, and he might think she was a real whack job. She clutched the hotly anticipated romance novel to her chest and stayed several paces behind him.

He came to a halt in the children’s section, in front of a shelf labeled Babies and Toddlers.

Maybe he already had a wife and kids. Wouldn’t be surprising.

She’d have to find out.

*

Grant wanted to talk to her, the petite woman with the reddish curls cascading down her back, but he couldn’t get up the nerve to do it—a problem he usually had with women. It didn’t help that he was terrible at small talk, even though his skills in that department had improved recently. If only he’d smiled back at her, maybe she would have come over to talk to him. But his brain had ceased to function at the sight of her smile, and smiling back wasn’t instinctive to him.

Rather than approaching her, he fled to the children’s section. Maybe he’d work up some courage, and maybe she’d still be in the romance section and he could talk to her. He’d noticed her looking at him twice, so perhaps there was hope. If only he’d smiled!

Grant did have a reason to be in the children’s section: his nephew’s second birthday was tomorrow. He’d made Caiden a wooden truck, but he wanted to buy a book as well.

A board book with a picture of a chameleon on the cover caught his eye, and he picked it up. He probably hadn’t given chameleons a second thought since he was a kid himself, but it seemed like a brilliant idea, being able to camouflage with your surroundings. At his size, Grant was never inconspicuous.

He glanced to the left to see if there was anything interesting on the next shelf.

And there she was. Right beside him.

He could talk to her. What was the worst that could happen? She’d turn him down. Not so bad. It had happened before, after he’d bumbled his way through the conversation.

Two weeks ago, after his brother’s wife—his younger brother’s wife—announced she was pregnant for the second time, he’d resolved to be more proactive about his love life. Now would be the time to start.

He straightened up and turned toward the beautiful woman standing next to him. He could do this.

“Any suggestions?”

She had spoken first.

Well, that made things easier.

“I don’t think I’ve ever bought a picture book before. So, no.” He should say something else to keep the conversation going. “I’m looking for something for my nephew.”

“Do you have any children of your own?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Maybe, one day. But I don’t have a wife or girlfriend, so not anytime soon.” He wanted her to know he was available. Not terribly smooth, but whatever.

“That’s great.”

“And why is that great?” An attempt to sound flirtatious.

She twisted her mouth. “This might sound kind of weird, but I wanted to set you up with my friend.”

Not what he’d been hoping for, but…it was something.

“Her name’s Maya. I’m Kristy, by the way.” She stuck out her hand and he shook it.

“Grant,” he said. “Nice to meet you.”

Kristy dug into her purse and took out her phone. “I’ll show you a picture.” The photo was of herself and two other women, all holding cocktails and wearing fedoras. Her finger skimmed over the Asian woman and stopped on the chin of the woman with light brown hair, who was wearing a white fedora adorned with feathers. “That’s Maya.”

“She’s pretty,” he said. It was the truth. But when he’d first noticed Kristy in the romance section, he’d done a double take. Or was it a triple take?

Kristy tucked her phone into her purse. “She had a fiancé a couple years back, a police officer. I had a bad feeling about him. Turned out, he was cheating on her. She actually considered forgiving him, but then it came out that he was dealing drugs on the side. Can you imagine? A police officer! It was in the news. He used to go to middle schools to teach children about the dangers of drugs and peer pressure. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was taking drugs into schools.” She shook her head, curls bouncing; he wanted to muss up her hair.

“How do you know I’m not a drug dealer?”

She cocked her head and considered this for a moment. “Well, are you?”

“Of course not.”

“Whew.” She put a hand to her chest and let out an exaggerated breath. “That’s a relief.”

He laughed.

“I have a good feeling about you,” she said. “But I still want to know you a little better before I set you two up. Maya’s rather wary of men now, so I need to check you out.”

Unfortunately, not in the way he wanted her to check him out. He wondered if she had a boyfriend. He could ask—it was just a question. “Why are you looking for your friend and not for yourself?” Yeah, that sure was subtle.

“I’ve got a two-month rule, and it’s only been two weeks.”

“Two-month rule?”

“I won’t date for two months after a breakup. Had some bad rebound experiences. And you’re not my type anyway. Not at all. But you’re perfect for Maya, just the sort of guy she finds attractive. I immediately thought of her when I saw you. What do you think? Maya’s wonderful. She’s an accountant, but she’s not boring, I assure you. She’s lots of fun, and she’s a great cook, too. Interested?”

“Sure,” he said, pretending he was answering a different question. “She sounds great.”

Kristy grinned. “That’s wonderful. I can’t wait to tell her about you. So what do you do, if you’re not a drug dealer?”

“I’m a mechanical engineer. I have my own company. Not very big, but I like working for myself. What about you?”

“I’m a dental hygienist. I have a degree in psychology, but then I wanted to get a job that wasn’t in food service, so I went to college to be a hygienist.”

Grant could imagine her doing that, making small talk with people holding their jaws wide open. He’d never be able to do it.

He placed his books on the nearest shelf, then took out his wallet and handed her a business card and his driver’s license. “To prove I’m who I say I am.”

“That’s a terrible photo. You look scary.” She laughed. But he liked that she laughed; it was almost musical.

“Those photos are never good.”

She ran a finger over his license. “Grant Whitley. You’re…thirty-four.”

He nodded.

“I’m thirty. So is Maya.” She took out her own license. “My photo’s not so bad. The last one was awful. It could have been in one of those ads in the subway meant to scare teens about drugs. You know, the ‘after’ picture. It was that horrible. I was pleased with this one.” She passed it to him, along with his own driver’s license. “You look much better in real life.”

He looked down so she couldn’t see how pleased he was.

She was right about the photo—it was really good. Kristy Hyde. So “Kristy” wasn’t a short form.

A child of maybe three ran past them, her mother calling after her.

He handed back Kristy’s license. “Rather than standing in the children’s section, maybe we could go somewhere else?” he said. “Grab a coffee so you can check me out?”

“Actually, I—” She frowned. “I don’t mean to be antisocial, but I really want to go home and read. I’ve been looking forward to this book for months.” She held up a novel. “But maybe we could have a late lunch next Saturday? I get off work at one.”

“Absolutely. My cell number’s on my card.”

She touched his wrist. Just briefly.

“This must seem awful strange—a complete stranger asking if you’d be interested in dating her friend. But I’m sure you’ll love Maya.” Kristy put a hand to her mouth. “I probably shouldn’t have said ‘love.’ Oops.”

“Can’t wait to meet her.” He forced a smile.

They started walking toward the cashier with their books.

Kristy kept talking. “I’m glad I didn’t see you in the true-crime section. Of course that doesn’t mean anything, but after Maya’s…Anyway, a man who reads is great. A lot of men don’t read at all. I wonder why women read more than men?” She peeked at his pile of books. “That chameleon book looks super cute.”

The place where she’d touched his wrist still tingled, and he wanted to keep that feeling, even though it was driving him mad.

She’s going to set you up with her friend.

And he’d agreed to this plan of hers. Partly because it involved spending more time with Kristy, and maybe she’d change her mind and decide he was right for her. If not, he’d get to go on a date with a different woman without having to awkwardly ask her out first. Maybe Maya would be awesome.

But he’d agreed mainly so he could spend more time with Kristy.

He really wanted her to change her mind.

* * * *

“Are you sure you don’t want him for yourself?” Allison said. “You spent five minutes gushing about him.”

“I always talk a lot,” Kristy pointed out.

Maya nodded. “And you just got out of a relationship.”

They were at Allison’s condo that Saturday night, sitting around the counter in her open-concept kitchen and drinking white wine.

“What made you think of me?” Maya asked.

“He looks a bit like the guy you had a crush on back in university.”

“Which one?”

“Second year.”

“Oh.” Maya sighed dreamily. “Him. So hot.”

“But Grant has a mustache.”

What?” Allison said.

“My thoughts exactly.” Maya snickered. “You know how much I hate Movember.”

Kristy skimmed her fingers along the stem of her wineglass. “It suits him. Like Tom Selleck.” His face would look almost naked without it—but she didn’t say that out loud. “And it’s hardly permanent. He could shave it off.”

“Hmmm.” Maya looked down. “I don’t know. I’m off men at the moment.”

“You’ve been off men for too long.” Kristy had begun to get frustrated with Maya’s bitterness. “You’ll like him. Trust me.”

“I can’t believe you walked up to a stranger in a bookstore and asked if he wanted to date your friend,” Allison said.

“Maya will be thanking me.”

“I feel like I owe you a guy now.” Maya turned to Kristy. “But I won’t approach strangers in bookstores to find one.”

Allison walked to the fridge and came back with a new bottle of wine. “Bookstores are supposed to be great places to meet people.” She set to work with the corkscrew. “It won’t be hard to find someone for Kristy. Just go to a hipster hangout. Bonus points for shaggy hair.”

“Guilty as charged.” Kristy held up a hand. She totally had a type, and her friends delighted in teasing her about it. “But I’m not looking at the moment. Maya doesn’t owe me anything.”

“I think you like Grant even though he’s not a hipster,” Allison said.

“Oh, right. You’re the doctor of chemistry,” Maya said, and Allison, who really did have a doctorate in chemistry, rolled her eyes.

Kristy laughed. “We’re not going to stop with that joke. And I like Grant for Maya, not for myself. Big difference.”

“How do you know he won’t have changed his mind when you call him?” Maya poured herself some more wine. “Maybe he only agreed because he wanted to get rid of you.”

“I just have this feeling,” Kristy said.

“You and your feelings.”

“But I’m usually right.”

“Let’s hope you’re right this time, too.” But Maya sounded doubtful.

“You need to get back out there,” Kristy said. “He’s great. Really. I did a double take when I saw him because he was so perfect for you. And I’m sure he won’t back out.”

“Kristy, I think you’re in denial,” Allison said. “You looooove him.”

“Thank you for your opinion, Doctor, but you’re dead wrong.”

Grant was definitely not the guy for Kristy. She was sure of it.

* * * *

The truck was a bigger hit with Caiden than the chameleon book, although he seemed to think the book was good for chewing.

After Caiden was taken upstairs for a nap, Grant walked out to his car with Jon. Grant stood by the driver’s side, keys in hand, and his brother stood by the passenger’s side.

“I was wondering if you could look after Caiden next Saturday afternoon?” Jon asked. “Just two or three hours.”

Grant liked spending time with his nephew, but…

“I’ve got plans, though I could probably move them to the evening.” He paused, unsure of what he wanted to say. “I’ve got a date.” Well, he hoped it would turn into a date.

“Really?” Jon started laughing. “You have a date?”

Grant glared at his brother. “Is that so surprising?”

“You asked a woman out? For real?”

“Not exactly, I—”

“She asked you out?”

Grant shrugged.

“This is too good. I’ve got to tell Sheila.”

“Right. You two had some weird bet about my love life.”

Jon rested his arm on the roof of the car. “That’s right. We did. She bet it would be less than a year before you went on a date again. I bet more than a year. So I won. About three years ago, I won. I think she was just being nice.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Grant muttered. He opened the car door. “There are over a million women in Toronto. It shouldn’t be surprising that one of them would go on a date with me.”

“If she asked you out, she must really like you.” His stupid little brother was still laughing.

“No shame in being asked out by a woman.” Unfortunately, that wasn’t what had happened.

“Didn’t say there was, man. What’s her name?”

“Kristy.” Grant got into the car and slammed the door.

Jon knocked on the passenger’s window, and Grant reluctantly rolled it down.

“If you can’t do next Saturday, that’s okay.”

“I’ll try to move my date to the evening.” That would make it more like a real date.

“Hey.” Jon snapped his fingers. “Hey, man, you zoned out. Thinking about her, eh?”

“Can’t wait to see what kind of bet you and Sheila come up with. Really can’t wait.”

“Try to avoid long silences. Other people find them awkward.”

“I don’t think that’ll be a problem.” Kristy didn’t seem like the type to allow that to happen. And he didn’t mind because it took the pressure off him.

“Do you become a chatterbox around her? This I need to see.”

Grant rolled up the window and turned the key in the ignition, and Jon ran toward the house. This “date” was very exciting news, apparently.