Wednesday, August 18, 2010

First Chapter Wednesday--Winning Mr. Wrong


Can an internet list help Charley win her man?




Charlene Randall drove her fiery red Honda into the covered parking space, killed the engine, and yanked the keys out of the ignition.

Tonight would be the one-month anniversary of her breakup with Tim, and she wished she had forgotten about it. Never again would he come over after work with his purebred toy poodle, who always yapped in a high pitch and threatened to tear off her big toe.

Okay, so Charley wouldn’t really miss Jaws as much as she would miss the tangy scent of Tim’s aftershave. Too bad she liked his scent more than she liked him. Even now she couldn’t quite remember the shade of his eyes.

Yet thinking about having a man in her life weighed deeply in her heart, and she wished it didn’t. It was her fault loneliness invaded her life right now. That truth was hard to swallow.

She snagged her leather briefcase from the passenger’s seat, stuffed with material she’d have to look over before the next morning’s meeting with Sacramento’s Channel Nine directors, and climbed out of the car. Another evening keeping company with news reports rather than a man! She sighed. People had said, Charley, life will go on. But she had seen little evidence besides the fact that the sun still rose and set—and she was still very much alone.

Oh, she’d said her daily and nightly prayers, asking the Lord to make the ache in her heart disappear. It hadn’t. She still wanted someone to talk to, watch television with, or take her out to dinner once in a while.

She grabbed her purse and bumped the car door closed with her hip. Her two-inch heels clicked against the concrete as she hurried toward her townhouse. She fished around in her purse for the remote hooked to her keys. She’d just had the keys in her hand, and the same magical force that eats socks from the dryer had worked again, sucking the keys to the bottom of her Gucci bag. Finally, her fingers brushed over the key chain and she withdrew the remote, aimed it over her shoulder, and clicked the doors locked.

A gentle evening breeze teased the strands of hair that had fallen out of her ponytail and tickled her neck. In an automatic reaction, she flipped a stray lock. It was a good thing she didn’t wear her hair long. She already wasted enough time styling it.

Next to her townhouse, shadows danced under the streetlights and throaty giggles floated in the breeze. A movement from the Porsche parked in front of her neighbor’s townhouse caught her attention. She recognized the wave of the man’s raven hair and the shape of his muscular shoulders.

Damien Giovanni, her single, Italian neighbor who had turned romancing women into a career, was obviously doing what he did best—getting another woman to fall for his charms. Charley rolled her eyes.

On tiptoe, she sneaked toward her front door, not wanting to make her presence known. Damien’s deep laughter rang through the quiet night, and Charley paused before reaching her porch. Could his date be over so early in the evening? That man entertained women late into the night just about every night. She didn’t want to know what they did. In fact, she wouldn’t blame the Lord if He launched a lightning bolt down on Damien just to wake him up and put him on the straight and narrow.

The glow from the streetlight shone upon the figures leaning against each other beside the door of Damien’s sports car. Despite herself, Charley angled to get a better look. They looked like two worms in electric-shock therapy. How disgusting!
The woman in Damien’s arms was his usual five-foot eight, blonde Barbie doll. He laughed again, and the baritone ring sent warm shivers down Charley’s spine. She cursed her weakness, admitting she enjoyed hearing his laugh. It always sounded like he knew a secret. Regardless, she couldn’t stand men like him who never could settle on one woman.

The Barbie wannabe raked her extra-long, fake fingernails through his hair and linked her arms around his neck. Damien grabbed her closer and planted a kiss on her mouth. Charley grumbled under her breath. Couldn’t he do that in his house? It was bad enough to hear his voice, but to see him in action . . .

Before she could look away, Damien pushed the woman from him and grinned. “See you later.”
Barbie waggled her fingers. “Call me.”

“Why? You have my number.”

Charley pursed her lips. The arrogant man. It didn’t matter, though. Women still flocked to him like dieters to a chocolate factory, and they devoured his charm just as quickly.

She clutched the briefcase to her chest and tried to make it to her front door before he spotted her. Damien would certainly know she had witnessed the quaint scene a few seconds ago, and he would never let her live it down. Her neighbor always enjoyed making snide remarks just to rile her—and it worked.

Fumbling with her keys, Charley hurried to find the one that opened her front door. But the keys slipped from her fingers and hit the porch, clanging loudly enough to wake the dead. She scolded her clumsiness, knelt on one knee, and swept her hand over the concrete, searching for them in the dark. Why hadn’t she turned on the porch light before she left for work?

“Do you need any help, mi amore?”

She jumped and fell back on her rear. The beating of her heart thundered in her ears, and she placed a hand on her chest. “Damien Giovanni, why do you always sneak up on me like that?”
He bent and grasped her upper arm with one hand and her keys with the other. “Because I like the way you jump.”

She yanked her arm away. “One of these days you’re going to scare me so bad I’ll use my pepper spray on you.”

Damien’s chest shook with laughter. “Honey, if you’re as steady with the little can of pepper spray as you are with your keys, I don’t see that as a threat.”

Charley gasped and punched his arm, but a grin tugged at her mouth. “Just give me back my keys.”

He stepped away and folded his arms. “Say the magic words.” He raised his eyebrows in that self-assured, infuriating way of his.

“Emergency 9-1-1?”

He tilted his head and laughed harder. The half moon illuminated his handsome features—straight nose, strong chin, and lips that looked like they’d be heaven to kiss . . . for other women, of course.

“Oh, mi amore, you really know how to tickle my funny bone.” He dangled the keys in front of her.

“Yeah, well, you really know how to . . . um . . . irritate me.” She grabbed her keys and turned to unlock the door before he noticed the smile she couldn’t hold back.

He leaned against the doorframe. She didn’t dare meet his gaze directly, knowing what she’d witnessed between him and his date. There was no reason she should feel any kind of attraction toward him. He was not the kind of man who would attend church with her every Sunday, and she highly doubted his top priority was temple marriage.

If Damien were anything but the player she knew him to be, she might have given him a chance when, several months before, he’d first suggested they go on a date. But Charley didn’t want one-night stands, and she was tired of the love-’em-and-leave-’em kind of guys. After enduring several broken relationships, she wanted something that lasted. Something better. At age thirty, it was time she got married and had a family.

“I’ve noticed Tim doesn’t come around anymore. Did you two break up?”

Charley lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “Our timing was off, that’s all.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“You sure?”

She tightened her fingers around the handle of her briefcase. “I’m continuing with my life, just as he’s done. I don’t see why you’re so interested.”

Damien held up his hands. “Hey, no need to get upset. You know, one of these days you’re going to thank me for being such a nosey neighbor.”

She lifted her gaze to his and shook her head. “Only in your dreams, buddy.”

He grinned and then stroked her cheek with his finger. “My dear Charlene Randall, someday I will be in your dreams.” With a wink, he turned and walked away.

She pushed the door open and rushed inside her townhouse, breathing a sigh of relief. That man made her uncomfortable in more ways than one.

She walked to the bedroom, kicked off her heels, and slid each foot into a fuzzy purple slipper. On the nightstand, the picture of her latest flame captured her attention. Actually, slapped her face was more like it. Tim’s grin used to make her sigh, but now she wanted to spit at the silver-framed 4 by 6.

How dare that man sponge off her for three months, having her pay his bills, buy his groceries, and help him with rent, then leave her for a woman who made more money? And to top it off, he acted like the breakup was Charley’s fault. How dare he act like he didn’t have to find a job and like all he had to do was keep the sofa warm?

She grabbed the photo, flung it in the small wastebasket a few feet away, and brushed her hands together. There, that took care of one problem.

Charley entered the kitchen and took a TV dinner from the freezer—her usual gourmet meal on nights like this. After pulling the meal out of the box and setting it to cook in the microwave, she turned to yet another order of business: collecting information on the Internet for tomorrow’s news.

She made herself comfortable on the gray swivel chair and turned on the computer. Whistling a made-up tune, she tapped her fingers on the desktop and waited for the machine to boot. Within minutes, she’d logged onto the Internet. The homepage popped up and she scanned the headlines, searching for something of interest. In the top right of the screen, an article grabbed her attention: “Ten Ways to Win Your Man.”

Her explosive laugh disintegrated to a snort. Yeah, right. Win a man? And there is a certain way to do it? Ha!

She ignored the link and searched through several other articles, but her mind kept going back. What would it hurt to read it? She had a few minutes until dinner, and she needed a good laugh. She clicked on the hyperlink.

What do men find romantic? With the help of Jason Stewart, founder of guyswithemotions.com, we’ve uncovered just how women can win men’s hearts. Below, panelists answer women’s questions and bare their souls.

Charley leaned back in her chair, threading her fingers together over her stomach, eager to read more.

Dark Chocolates. “Milk chocolate is for kids. Dark chocolate is for falling in love.” The chemical Phenethylamine, found in dark chocolate, mimics the feeling you have when you’re in love.

She arched an eyebrow. Very interesting.
Hard-to-find gifts. A gift that requires effort is sure to be a big hit with the guys. Compliments. The quickest route to a man’s heart is through his ego.

Charley snickered and shook her head.

A night on the town. Take your man on an old-fashioned date. Fix him dinner or go dancing. While in his arms, stare into his eyes. Tall buildings. In general, guys like big things. Find a place with a good view. Kiss him under the stars. Funny movies. When you can laugh together, you’re really connecting. Offer to mend his clothes. Believe it or not, most men are old fashioned and love it when a woman can do domestic duties like this. Surprise intimacy. Men like it when women surprise them with spontaneous activities on a date. Great memories. When you’re together, make it memorable. Create memories by taking photos or writing in a journal. Tell him ‘I love you’ in a note. Leave little notes around the house, his office, in his car. Telling him you love him will strengthen the relationship.

With a sigh, Charley folded her arms across her chest. She’d never done any of those things for the men she’d dated. Could that be why she’d never kept them?

The beeping of the microwave jarred her from her thoughts. She pushed away from her computer desk and hurried into the kitchen.

Could this article be a sign? It wouldn’t hurt to try it, Charley decided. But who would be her target?

Damien’s face popped into her head. She scowled, wishing she hadn’t thought of him. He wasn’t the kind of man who would get involved in a serious relationship. The last thing she needed was to give her heart to him and have him trade her in for a newer version of Barbie. He would never live up to her moral standards anyway.

She rubbed her forehead and crossed her neighbor off her mental list. So who would be her guinea pig?

The aroma of fried chicken wafted through the air, making her stomach growl. For tonight, she’d put off her experiment and concentrate on filling her stomach.

Tomorrow she’d find a man, and with any luck, she’d make the relationship last.

******

Close your trap and wipe the drool off your chin.

Charley snapped her mouth shut, hoping she didn’t look like a wide-mouth bass as she eyed the handsome blond man walking beside her boss. Fred Murray, Channel Nine’s station director, escorted Tall, Brawny, and Gorgeous down the hall, making introductions as they passed offices and cubicles.

The new guy looked familiar, but Charley couldn’t recall where she’d seen him before. She jumped from her chair and hurried toward her supervisor’s cubicle. Just as she expected, Amanda’s curious eyes followed the pair. Charley said a silent prayer of thanks that Amanda was married or her flirty friend would have first dibs.

Charley stopped beside Amanda. “What’s so interesting?” Although Charley knew, she didn’t want Amanda to think she did.

A knowing smile stretched across Amanda’s face. “That’s the new guy, Maxwell Harrington. He’s taking Phillip’s place now that he’s retired.”

Charley’s heart raced. This couldn’t be happening, not to her. The dream walking with her boss was Charley’s high-school crush! Max was the super jock, the super stud, and he had the super personality all the girls flipped over. Especially her. Although he hadn’t been in her ward, they’d been in the same stake, and Charley had followed him around Church activities like a lost puppy . . . secretly, of course.

“Are you serious?” She looked at the two men slowly making their way toward Amanda’s desk. “He’s the new sports anchorman?”

“Sure is.”

“Maxwell Harrington,” Charley whispered almost reverently. But this man hardly resembled the boy she’d had a mad crush on for three years. Muscles rippled on his tall frame, and his hair seemed blonder than she remembered as it swept perfectly back from his face. The years had turned him into one looker, that’s for sure.

If she’d been the least bit forward, Charley would have hurried over to ask if he remembered her. But that wasn’t her style, not even back in high school. Wallpaper was more her style—especially the kind that hid behind furniture and potted plants.

Shyness had always been Charley’s biggest downfall with men, which was probably another reason her past four boyfriends had moved on to other women. With all of her failed relationships, she’d collected enough material to write a new best seller called Breaking Up for Dummies.

The closer Fred and Maxwell Harrington came, the harder her heart pounded, until she thought the organ would jump right out of her chest. Give it up, girl. He’s out of your league. And if he remembers you, it’ll be a miracle. Yet, with a man like that parading past her cubicle every day, she knew she would continue fantasizing about the unobtainable.

Amanda nudged Charley’s elbow, snapping her out of her thoughts. “Here he comes,” she muttered under her breath.

Fred, a potbellied older man with a head full of thick, gray hair, stopped in front of them. “Ladies,” he began, his smile so big it showed most of his pricey dentures. “This is our new sports anchorman, Maxwell Harrington.”

Amanda pushed her way to the front, her arm stretched out in greeting. “Hi, Maxwell. I’m Amanda Shepherd, executive producer.”

A smile spread across his beautiful face. “Please, call me Max.”

His deep voice made Charley want to sigh, and familiar tingles ran through her. She moved her gaze from his astonishing eyes to Amanda’s hand as he shook it, wishing her hand were touching Max’s instead of Amanda’s.

“So, Max, what brings you to Channel Nine?” her supervisor asked.

“I’ve been working at a Chicago station for the past six years, and I thought it was time I came back to my hometown.”

Max finally let go of Amanda’s hand and turned toward Charley. She opened her mouth to speak, but her tongue seemed to swell and her vocal chords froze. She swallowed and tried to begin again.

“Hello.” Her voice squeaked. “I’m Charley Randall.”

No spark of remembrance lit his eyes, but she didn’t give up hope.

“Nice to meet you, Charley.” Max’s smile widened, making his eyes twinkle.

Her heart fluttered. He paused as if waiting for her to say something else, but all she could do was stare into his brilliant, sea-blue eyes—eyes a girl could drift away in.

“What do you do at Channel Nine?” he asked.

She focused on the conversation instead of her girlish dreams. “I’m the presearch roducer.”
Beside her, Amanda laughed condescendingly. Charley’s cheeks grew hot, and the dread in her stomach sank lower than the Titanic.

She cleared her throat. “I mean, I’m the research producer. I’m Amanda’s assistant.”

Max’s lips twitched as if he held back a laugh. “Well, I hope we’ll work together soon.”

As Fred and Max continued down the hall, Charley released a mouthful of air. Why did she act so tongue-tied around good-looking men? After her mind returned to normal she realized he didn’t remember her at all, and a dull ache formed in her chest. Then again, why would he remember her? They’d never really talked in high school, and certainly not at Church youth activities. She was always the shy and clumsy girl who followed the jocks around like a rock-star groupie. Back then, boys like Max didn’t have time to look at unpopular girls like Charley.

When he turned down another hallway out of her view, deep disappointment washed over her. “Wow. He’s one fine-looking man.”

“Yeah.” Amanda squeezed her arm. “And you know all the available women at the station will be after him.”

Charley frowned. “So? What does that mean?”

“Well, I would hate for you to get your hopes up.”

Charley folded her arms. “Explain yourself.”

“You know your track record with men isn’t the best.” Amanda shrugged. “It’s common knowledge.”

“Common knowledge for whom?”

“The whole office knows you can’t keep a man longer than a couple of months, Charley. In fact, wasn’t Tim the longest?”

“Are you saying you don’t think I have a chance with Max?”

A sorrowful expression clouded Amanda’s eyes. “Well . . .”

Charley flipped her hand through the air. “Don’t say it. I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong. The reason I haven’t been able to keep a man for longer than a couple of months is because I choose not to.” She lifted her chin. “I was bored with the others. Max is different.” Of course it helped that he didn’t remember her from school—and because he didn’t know about the other men and how she lost them.

Amanda patted her shoulder. “But wouldn’t you lose interest in him as you did the others?”

The shield Charley had tried to build around her heart crumbled, but she hid her distress behind a smile. “I don’t know, and I won’t know until I try.”

“Then I wish you all the luck in the world.” Amanda turned and sat behind her desk, a look of pity on her face.

Anger surged through Charley and she clamped her hands against her sides. How dare Amanda doubt her ability to hold onto a man! She supposed Amanda meant well. After all, her coworker had observed all of her failed relationships.

Charley turned and stormed back to her desk as her dreams of catching Max started to take shape. As much as she wanted to believe she’d been bored with the other men, the plain and simple truth was they had tired of her. Keeping a man for a long period of time wasn’t her forte, but this time she would prove she could catch Mr. Heartthrob. And keep him.

When the others had walked out of her life, they’d never really explained why. Wasn’t she adventurous enough, spontaneous enough? She had always given in and participated in the activities her dates enjoyed, even when she had no interest in them. Did men get annoyed with her clumsy ways as she tripped over herself to please them?

Max was different. He didn’t remember her from school, and he certainly didn’t know the woman she was now. She could show him a better side of her personality than she’d shown before. She’d prove to her coworkers she could keep a man.

That man would be the boy Charley had dreamed of for three years in school. The boy she wrote about in her journal every night, and cried over when he took another girl to the prom. The boy she wore black for when he left to go to college—the one she never thought she’d see again.
Was fate finally being kind to her?

She slid into her chair and swiveled back to the computer. With a long exhale, she pushed a lock of hair from her face and looked at the stack of papers on her desk. Ugh.

Just like most mornings, Charley checked her personal email first thing. After all, the small television on her desk wasn’t giving her any national news she didn’t already know. She adjusted her chair, then gripped her computer mouse and clicked the Internet icon.

Thoughts of the article she’d read the night before lifted her spirits. Should she make Max her target? She rolled her eyes. Her chance at winning him was about as good as her chance at winning ten million dollars from Publisher’s Clearinghouse.

She clicked on her inbox. Thirty-one messages. Without even looking, she knew most of them were from her mother. Would she ever stop nagging Charley about finding a man and settling down? Couldn’t she at least give her daughter better encouragement than “There are other fish in the sea”? Her mCharlene Randall drove her fiery red Honda into the covered parking space, killed the engine, and yanked the keys out of the ignition.

Tonight would be the one-month anniversary of her breakup with Tim, and she wished she had forgotten about it. Never again would he come over after work with his purebred toy poodle, who always yapped in a high pitch and threatened to tear off her big toe.

Okay, so Charley wouldn’t really miss Jaws as much as she would miss the tangy scent of Tim’s aftershave. Too bad she liked his scent more than she liked him. Even now she couldn’t quite remember the shade of his eyes.

Yet thinking about having a man in her life weighed deeply in her heart, and she wished it didn’t. It was her fault loneliness invaded her life right now. That truth was hard to swallow.

She snagged her leather briefcase from the passenger’s seat, stuffed with material she’d have to look over before the next morning’s meeting with Sacramento’s Channel Nine directors, and climbed out of the car. Another evening keeping company with news reports rather than a man! She sighed. People had said, Charley, life will go on. But she had seen little evidence besides the fact that the sun still rose and set—and she was still very much alone.

Oh, she’d said her daily and nightly prayers, asking the Lord to make the ache in her heart disappear. It hadn’t. She still wanted someone to talk to, watch television with, or take her out to dinner once in a while.

She grabbed her purse and bumped the car door closed with her hip. Her two-inch heels clicked against the concrete as she hurried toward her townhouse. She fished around in her purse for the remote hooked to her keys. She’d just had the keys in her hand, and the same magical force that eats socks from the dryer had worked again, sucking the keys to the bottom of her Gucci bag. Finally, her fingers brushed over the key chain and she withdrew the remote, aimed it over her shoulder, and clicked the doors locked.

A gentle evening breeze teased the strands of hair that had fallen out of her ponytail and tickled her neck. In an automatic reaction, she flipped a stray lock. It was a good thing she didn’t wear her hair long. She already wasted enough time styling it.

Next to her townhouse, shadows danced under the streetlights and throaty giggles floated in the breeze. A movement from the Porsche parked in front of her neighbor’s townhouse caught her attention. She recognized the wave of the man’s raven hair and the shape of his muscular shoulders.

Damien Giovanni, her single, Italian neighbor who had turned romancing women into a career, was obviously doing what he did best—getting another woman to fall for his charms. Charley rolled her eyes.

On tiptoe, she sneaked toward her front door, not wanting to make her presence known. Damien’s deep laughter rang through the quiet night, and Charley paused before reaching her porch. Could his date be over so early in the evening? That man entertained women late into the night just about every night. She didn’t want to know what they did. In fact, she wouldn’t blame the Lord if He launched a lightning bolt down on Damien just to wake him up and put him on the straight and narrow.

The glow from the streetlight shone upon the figures leaning against each other beside the door of Damien’s sports car. Despite herself, Charley angled to get a better look. They looked like two worms in electric-shock therapy. How disgusting!

The woman in Damien’s arms was his usual five-foot eight, blonde Barbie doll. He laughed again, and the baritone ring sent warm shivers down Charley’s spine. She cursed her weakness, admitting she enjoyed hearing his laugh. It always sounded like he knew a secret. Regardless, she couldn’t stand men like him who never could settle on one woman.

The Barbie wannabe raked her extra-long, fake fingernails through his hair and linked her arms around his neck. Damien grabbed her closer and planted a kiss on her mouth. Charley grumbled under her breath. Couldn’t he do that in his house? It was bad enough to hear his voice, but to see him in action . . .

Before she could look away, Damien pushed the woman from him and grinned. “See you later.”

Barbie waggled her fingers. “Call me.”

“Why? You have my number.”

Charley pursed her lips. The arrogant man. It didn’t matter, though. Women still flocked to him like dieters to a chocolate factory, and they devoured his charm just as quickly.

She clutched the briefcase to her chest and tried to make it to her front door before he spotted her. Damien would certainly know she had witnessed the quaint scene a few seconds ago, and he would never let her live it down. Her neighbor always enjoyed making snide remarks just to rile her—and it worked.

Fumbling with her keys, Charley hurried to find the one that opened her front door. But the keys slipped from her fingers and hit the porch, clanging loudly enough to wake the dead. She scolded her clumsiness, knelt on one knee, and swept her hand over the concrete, searching for them in the dark. Why hadn’t she turned on the porch light before she left for work?

“Do you need any help, mi amore?”

She jumped and fell back on her rear. The beating of her heart thundered in her ears, and she placed a hand on her chest. “Damien Giovanni, why do you always sneak up on me like that?”
He bent and grasped her upper arm with one hand and her keys with the other. “Because I like the way you jump.”

She yanked her arm away. “One of these days you’re going to scare me so bad I’ll use my pepper spray on you.”

Damien’s chest shook with laughter. “Honey, if you’re as steady with the little can of pepper spray as you are with your keys, I don’t see that as a threat.”

Charley gasped and punched his arm, but a grin tugged at her mouth. “Just give me back my keys.”

He stepped away and folded his arms. “Say the magic words.” He raised his eyebrows in that self-assured, infuriating way of his.

“Emergency 9-1-1?”

He tilted his head and laughed harder. The half moon illuminated his handsome features—straight nose, strong chin, and lips that looked like they’d be heaven to kiss . . . for other women, of course.

“Oh, mi amore, you really know how to tickle my funny bone.” He dangled the keys in front of her.

“Yeah, well, you really know how to . . . um . . . irritate me.” She grabbed her keys and turned to unlock the door before he noticed the smile she couldn’t hold back.

He leaned against the doorframe. She didn’t dare meet his gaze directly, knowing what she’d witnessed between him and his date. There was no reason she should feel any kind of attraction toward him. He was not the kind of man who would attend church with her every Sunday, and she highly doubted his top priority was temple marriage.

If Damien were anything but the player she knew him to be, she might have given him a chance when, several months before, he’d first suggested they go on a date. But Charley didn’t want one-night stands, and she was tired of the love-’em-and-leave-’em kind of guys. After enduring several broken relationships, she wanted something that lasted. Something better. At age thirty, it was time she got married and had a family.

“I’ve noticed Tim doesn’t come around anymore. Did you two break up?”

Charley lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “Our timing was off, that’s all.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“You sure?”

She tightened her fingers around the handle of her briefcase. “I’m continuing with my life, just as he’s done. I don’t see why you’re so interested.”

Damien held up his hands. “Hey, no need to get upset. You know, one of these days you’re going to thank me for being such a nosey neighbor.”

She lifted her gaze to his and shook her head. “Only in your dreams, buddy.”

He grinned and then stroked her cheek with his finger. “My dear Charlene Randall, someday I will be in your dreams.” With a wink, he turned and walked away.

She pushed the door open and rushed inside her townhouse, breathing a sigh of relief. That man made her uncomfortable in more ways than one.

She walked to the bedroom, kicked off her heels, and slid each foot into a fuzzy purple slipper. On the nightstand, the picture of her latest flame captured her attention. Actually, slapped her face was more like it. Tim’s grin used to make her sigh, but now she wanted to spit at the silver-framed 4 by 6.

How dare that man sponge off her for three months, having her pay his bills, buy his groceries, and help him with rent, then leave her for a woman who made more money? And to top it off, he acted like the breakup was Charley’s fault. How dare he act like he didn’t have to find a job and like all he had to do was keep the sofa warm?

She grabbed the photo, flung it in the small wastebasket a few feet away, and brushed her hands together. There, that took care of one problem.

Charley entered the kitchen and took a TV dinner from the freezer—her usual gourmet meal on nights like this. After pulling the meal out of the box and setting it to cook in the microwave, she turned to yet another order of business: collecting information on the Internet for tomorrow’s news.

She made herself comfortable on the gray swivel chair and turned on the computer. Whistling a made-up tune, she tapped her fingers on the desktop and waited for the machine to boot. Within minutes, she’d logged onto the Internet. The homepage popped up and she scanned the headlines, searching for something of interest. In the top right of the screen, an article grabbed her attention: “Ten Ways to Win Your Man.”

Her explosive laugh disintegrated to a snort. Yeah, right. Win a man? And there is a certain way to do it? Ha!

She ignored the link and searched through several other articles, but her mind kept going back. What would it hurt to read it? She had a few minutes until dinner, and she needed a good laugh. She clicked on the hyperlink.

What do men find romantic? With the help of Jason Stewart, founder of guyswithemotions.com, we’ve uncovered just how women can win men’s hearts. Below, panelists answer women’s questions and bare their souls.

Charley leaned back in her chair, threading her fingers together over her stomach, eager to read more.

Dark Chocolates. “Milk chocolate is for kids. Dark chocolate is for falling in love.” The chemical Phenethylamine, found in dark chocolate, mimics the feeling you have when you’re in love.

She arched an eyebrow. Very interesting.

Hard-to-find gifts. A gift that requires effort is sure to be a big hit with the guys.

Compliments. The quickest route to a man’s heart is through his ego.

Charley snickered and shook her head.

A night on the town. Take your man on an old-fashioned date. Fix him dinner or go dancing. While in his arms, stare into his eyes.

Tall buildings. In general, guys like big things. Find a place with a good view. Kiss him under the stars.

Funny movies. When you can laugh together, you’re really connecting.

Offer to mend his clothes. Believe it or not, most men are old fashioned and love it when a woman can do domestic duties like this.

Surprise intimacy. Men like it when women surprise them with spontaneous activities on a date.

Great memories. When you’re together, make it memorable. Create memories by taking photos or writing in a journal.

Tell him ‘I love you’ in a note. Leave little notes around the house, his office, in his car. Telling him you love him will strengthen the relationship.

With a sigh, Charley folded her arms across her chest. She’d never done any of those things for the men she’d dated. Could that be why she’d never kept them?

The beeping of the microwave jarred her from her thoughts. She pushed away from her computer desk and hurried into the kitchen.

Could this article be a sign? It wouldn’t hurt to try it, Charley decided. But who would be her target?

Damien’s face popped into her head. She scowled, wishing she hadn’t thought of him. He wasn’t the kind of man who would get involved in a serious relationship. The last thing she needed was to give her heart to him and have him trade her in for a newer version of Barbie. He would never live up to her moral standards anyway.

She rubbed her forehead and crossed her neighbor off her mental list. So who would be her guinea pig?

The aroma of fried chicken wafted through the air, making her stomach growl. For tonight, she’d put off her experiment and concentrate on filling her stomach.

Tomorrow she’d find a man, and with any luck, she’d make the relationship last.



Close your trap and wipe the drool off your chin.

Charley snapped her mouth shut, hoping she didn’t look like a wide-mouth bass as she eyed the handsome blond man walking beside her boss. Fred Murray, Channel Nine’s station director, escorted Tall, Brawny, and Gorgeous down the hall, making introductions as they passed offices and cubicles.

The new guy looked familiar, but Charley couldn’t recall where she’d seen him before. She jumped from her chair and hurried toward her supervisor’s cubicle. Just as she expected, Amanda’s curious eyes followed the pair. Charley said a silent prayer of thanks that Amanda was married or her flirty friend would have first dibs.

Charley stopped beside Amanda. “What’s so interesting?” Although Charley knew, she didn’t want Amanda to think she did.

A knowing smile stretched across Amanda’s face. “That’s the new guy, Maxwell Harrington. He’s taking Phillip’s place now that he’s retired.”

Charley’s heart raced. This couldn’t be happening, not to her. The dream walking with her boss was Charley’s high-school crush! Max was the super jock, the super stud, and he had the super personality all the girls flipped over. Especially her. Although he hadn’t been in her ward, they’d been in the same stake, and Charley had followed him around Church activities like a lost puppy . . . secretly, of course.

“Are you serious?” She looked at the two men slowly making their way toward Amanda’s desk. “He’s the new sports anchorman?”

“Sure is.”

“Maxwell Harrington,” Charley whispered almost reverently. But this man hardly resembled the boy she’d had a mad crush on for three years. Muscles rippled on his tall frame, and his hair seemed blonder than she remembered as it swept perfectly back from his face. The years had turned him into one looker, that’s for sure.

If she’d been the least bit forward, Charley would have hurried over to ask if he remembered her. But that wasn’t her style, not even back in high school. Wallpaper was more her style—especially the kind that hid behind furniture and potted plants.

Shyness had always been Charley’s biggest downfall with men, which was probably another reason her past four boyfriends had moved on to other women. With all of her failed relationships, she’d collected enough material to write a new best seller called Breaking Up for Dummies.

The closer Fred and Maxwell Harrington came, the harder her heart pounded, until she thought the organ would jump right out of her chest. Give it up, girl. He’s out of your league. And if he remembers you, it’ll be a miracle. Yet, with a man like that parading past her cubicle every day, she knew she would continue fantasizing about the unobtainable.

Amanda nudged Charley’s elbow, snapping her out of her thoughts. “Here he comes,” she muttered under her breath.

Fred, a potbellied older man with a head full of thick, gray hair, stopped in front of them. “Ladies,” he began, his smile so big it showed most of his pricey dentures. “This is our new sports anchorman, Maxwell Harrington.”

Amanda pushed her way to the front, her arm stretched out in greeting. “Hi, Maxwell. I’m Amanda Shepherd, executive producer.”

A smile spread across his beautiful face. “Please, call me Max.”

His deep voice made Charley want to sigh, and familiar tingles ran through her. She moved her gaze from his astonishing eyes to Amanda’s hand as he shook it, wishing her hand were touching Max’s instead of Amanda’s.

“So, Max, what brings you to Channel Nine?” her supervisor asked.

“I’ve been working at a Chicago station for the past six years, and I thought it was time I came back to my hometown.”

Max finally let go of Amanda’s hand and turned toward Charley. She opened her mouth to speak, but her tongue seemed to swell and her vocal chords froze. She swallowed and tried to begin again.

“Hello.” Her voice squeaked. “I’m Charley Randall.”

No spark of remembrance lit his eyes, but she didn’t give up hope.

“Nice to meet you, Charley.” Max’s smile widened, making his eyes twinkle.

Her heart fluttered. He paused as if waiting for her to say something else, but all she could do was stare into his brilliant, sea-blue eyes—eyes a girl could drift away in.

“What do you do at Channel Nine?” he asked.

She focused on the conversation instead of her girlish dreams. “I’m the presearch roducer.”
Beside her, Amanda laughed condescendingly. Charley’s cheeks grew hot, and the dread in her stomach sank lower than the Titanic.

She cleared her throat. “I mean, I’m the research producer. I’m Amanda’s assistant.”

Max’s lips twitched as if he held back a laugh. “Well, I hope we’ll work together soon.”

As Fred and Max continued down the hall, Charley released a mouthful of air. Why did she act so tongue-tied around good-looking men? After her mind returned to normal she realized he didn’t remember her at all, and a dull ache formed in her chest. Then again, why would he remember her? They’d never really talked in high school, and certainly not at Church youth activities. She was always the shy and clumsy girl who followed the jocks around like a rock-star groupie. Back then, boys like Max didn’t have time to look at unpopular girls like Charley.

When he turned down another hallway out of her view, deep disappointment washed over her. “Wow. He’s one fine-looking man.”

“Yeah.” Amanda squeezed her arm. “And you know all the available women at the station will be after him.”

Charley frowned. “So? What does that mean?”

“Well, I would hate for you to get your hopes up.”

Charley folded her arms. “Explain yourself.”

“You know your track record with men isn’t the best.” Amanda shrugged. “It’s common knowledge.”

“Common knowledge for whom?”

“The whole office knows you can’t keep a man longer than a couple of months, Charley. In fact, wasn’t Tim the longest?”

“Are you saying you don’t think I have a chance with Max?”

A sorrowful expression clouded Amanda’s eyes. “Well . . .”

Charley flipped her hand through the air. “Don’t say it. I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong. The reason I haven’t been able to keep a man for longer than a couple of months is because I choose not to.” She lifted her chin. “I was bored with the others. Max is different.” Of course it helped that he didn’t remember her from school—and because he didn’t know about the other men and how she lost them.

Amanda patted her shoulder. “But wouldn’t you lose interest in him as you did the others?”
The shield Charley had tried to build around her heart crumbled, but she hid her distress behind a smile. “I don’t know, and I won’t know until I try.”

“Then I wish you all the luck in the world.” Amanda turned and sat behind her desk, a look of pity on her face.

Anger surged through Charley and she clamped her hands against her sides. How dare Amanda doubt her ability to hold onto a man! She supposed Amanda meant well. After all, her coworker had observed all of her failed relationships.

Charley turned and stormed back to her desk as her dreams of catching Max started to take shape. As much as she wanted to believe she’d been bored with the other men, the plain and simple truth was they had tired of her. Keeping a man for a long period of time wasn’t her forte, but this time she would prove she could catch Mr. Heartthrob. And keep him.

When the others had walked out of her life, they’d never really explained why. Wasn’t she adventurous enough, spontaneous enough? She had always given in and participated in the activities her dates enjoyed, even when she had no interest in them. Did men get annoyed with her clumsy ways as she tripped over herself to please them?

Max was different. He didn’t remember her from school, and he certainly didn’t know the woman she was now. She could show him a better side of her personality than she’d shown before. She’d prove to her coworkers she could keep a man.

That man would be the boy Charley had dreamed of for three years in school. The boy she wrote about in her journal every night, and cried over when he took another girl to the prom. The boy she wore black for when he left to go to college—the one she never thought she’d see again.
Was fate finally being kind to her?

She slid into her chair and swiveled back to the computer. With a long exhale, she pushed a lock of hair from her face and looked at the stack of papers on her desk. Ugh.

Just like most mornings, Charley checked her personal email first thing. After all, the small television on her desk wasn’t giving her any national news she didn’t already know. She adjusted her chair, then gripped her computer mouse and clicked the Internet icon.

Thoughts of the article she’d read the night before lifted her spirits. Should she make Max her target? She rolled her eyes. Her chance at winning him was about as good as her chance at winning ten million dollars from Publisher’s Clearinghouse.

She clicked on her inbox. Thirty-one messages. Without even looking, she knew most of them were from her mother. Would she ever stop nagging Charley about finding a man and settling down? Couldn’t she at least give her daughter better encouragement than “There are other fish in the sea”? Her mother obviously hadn’t been fishing in a while.

Soon, Charley closed out of the email program. For some reason, all she could think about now was that ridiculous internet article.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Max stroll into the room that would be his office. Another coworker poked her head inside and made a comment that made him smile. Charley’s heart leapt. She’d do anything to see him smile at her that way.

She thought back to the article. Should she give it a try? She couldn’t bear the thought of another failed relationship, but with “Ten Ways to Win Your Man” to help her, what could go wrong?

Perhaps this was the Lord’s way of telling her to go for it.

Her decision made, Charley smiled wide. Give her a couple of days and she’d figure out something intelligent.

Watch out, Maxwell Harrington. Here I come!other obviously hadn’t been fishing in a while.
Soon, Charley closed out of the email program. For some reason, all she could think about now was that ridiculous internet article.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Max stroll into the room that would be his office. Another coworker poked her head inside and made a comment that made him smile. Charley’s heart leapt. She’d do anything to see him smile at her that way.


She thought back to the article. Should she give it a try? She couldn’t bear the thought of another failed relationship, but with “Ten Ways to Win Your Man” to help her, what could go wrong?
Perhaps this was the Lord’s way of telling her to go for it.

Her decision made, Charley smiled wide. Give her a couple of days and she’d figure out something intelligent.

Watch out, Maxwell Harrington. Here I come!

2 comments:

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  2. It's great to see my chapter one on the blog today! Thanks Walnut Springs!!! LOVE YA!

    ~Marie~

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