This book is a cute contemporary romance that features two characters that don’t get along at first but come to fall in love with each other. Their journey made for an entertaining few hours so check out this excerpt and be excited about this release with me.
My dear lady,
I’m not sure how to say this politely, so I’ll just say it. You’re incorrect in every sense of the word. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried a lemon sorbet on a hot summer day in the city. Ice cream, by comparison, is so very pedetrian. I thought I knew you.
Yours in gentle contempt,
To Sir, with equal contempt, less gentle:
I stand by my assertion that sorbet is an affront to frozen treats everywhere. I’ll see your lemon sorbet and raise you a pistachio gelato any day of the year.
“What am I looking at here? What is that smile?”
I drop my cell phone back into my bag and turn my full attention to the baby settled on my thighs, my hand resting protectively over his warm tummy. I wipe a tiny bit of drool from his adorable mouth. “That smile is me plotting to steal this baby. And maybe the baby’s beautiful daddy.”
My best friend is unfazed by my threats to steal her child and husband. “Never going to work. Felix assures me he’s partial to Jewish women. Oh, and he likes big boobs.”
“I can convert.” I make a cooing noise at the baby. “And get a boob job.”
“I hope those fake boobs produce milk. Because Matteo here’s still breastfeeding.”
“You’re a boob man already, hmm?” I ask the baby, who wraps tiny fingers around my own and shakes, grinning at me.
“Not for long,” Rachel says. “I’m trying to wean the little bastard, but bottles make this one gassy.”
“Farts from bottles?” I look over. “That’s a thing?”
“Oh, trust me,” Rachel says in a dark tone. “It’s a thing. Too bad there’s not a return or exchange policy for children.”
“No need.” I make smooching noises at the baby. “I’m stealing him, remember?”
“So you said in your attempt to distract me, but back to your Disney princess smile over whatever you were looking at on your phone. I’ve known you for over twenty years, and I know that smile. You’re in your Cinderella mode.”
“I do not have a Cinderella mode.”
“You totally do,” Rachel says. “I just watched you feed half your sandwich to the pigeons. Who you named.”
“Are you even a real New Yorker if you don’t befriend pigeons in Central Park?”
“And then you sang to them,” Rachel continues.
“I hummed. A slight but crucial distinction.”
“Mmm-hmm, and what song did you hum?”
I purse my lips and refrain from answering the question.
I’d been humming “It Had to Be You,” Frank Sinatra style. To the pigeons. Which, when not in my so-called Cinderella mode, I know are basically sky-rats.
This isn’t looking good for me, and we both know it.
Rachel very slowly shakes her head. “Gracie Madeleine Cooper, you are in love and you didn’t tell me.”
I snort. “That’d be a hell of a feat, considering I haven’t been on a second date in almost six months and waaaaay too many first ones.”
She holds out her palm. “Phone.”
“That dreamy smile comes on your face every time you check your phone.” She reaches over me to grab my purse in the confident, overbearing way of a best friend of twenty years. “Let me see it.”
“What? No! Here,” I say, trying to maneuver Matteo into her arms. “Let’s trade. Your baby for my privacy.”
Her jaw drops. “You never want privacy! You have a secret!”
“I do not have a secret!”
I do. I totally have a secret, and it’s delicious and also a tiny bit embarrassing to admit, even to someone who’s held my hair back over the toilet of a Coney Island bathroom after too much blue cotton candy.
I manage to safely get the baby back into her arms, and Matteo takes my side and starts to fuss, granting me a brief reprieve from my best friend’s prying. As though reading my mind about the hair thing, Rachel shifts Matteo to her shoulder and hands me a hair band. “Tail me,” she orders, turning her back to me.
Obediently, I gather her thick hair and attempt to wind the elastic around her mass of gorgeous curls. I smile as a childhood memory bubbles up. Me, on the first day of third grade at a new school, my ponytail a lumpy mess, courtesy of my widowed father who did his best but didn’t know the first thing about little girls’ hair.
Rachel, the definitive alpha of Jefferson Elementary’s third-grade class, had taken one look at my stricken face, marched over, and announced that she needed to practice her French braiding and that I was her muse.
We’ve been styling each other’s hair ever since.
“You have the best hair,” I say, tucking an errant curl into the band and studying my handiwork.
“Attempt to distract from the matter at hand rejected,” she says, turning back around.
“You’re such a weirdo.” But I sigh and relent. “Okay, if I tell you what’s going on, you have to promise not to lecture.”
She makes a mock-wounded face. “If you care about me at all, you wouldn’t ask me to deny my true nature.”
“Fine,” I relent. “But as you lecture, at least try to remember that I already have an older sister who has yet to grasp that I’m thirty-three and not ten.”
“I will take it into consideration. Proceed.”
I take my time, leaning back on the green park bench, studying the cheerful energy of Central Park at lunchtime on a late summer’s day.
I exhale. “So there’s this dating app.”
“Okay, you rattled those off way too quickly for someone who’s been married for seven years,” I say. “And it’s called MysteryMate.”
Rachel makes a face. “Oh, I don’t like the sound of this at all. There is no good use for the word mate outside of the Discovery Channel.”
“Yeah, the name’s not great,” I say.
Their tagline’s even worse: Love at no sight. And that’s not even the embarrassing part of my secret.
“So how does it work?” she asks.
I reach over and rip off a piece of her unfinished sandwich and toss it to my pigeon friends, Spencer and Katharine, as in Tracy and Hepburn.
“So, you know how Tinder is all about first impressions based on someone’s photo?” I say. “Well, this is sort of the opposite. There are no photos. No names, even. Instead you choose from these little cartoon avatar things and a screen name, and the app matches you with potential mates.”
I emphasize the word deliberately with a grin, and she rolls her eyes. “Okay, I get it. The app is all ‘beauty is on the inside.’ What happens after you’re matched?”
I shrug. “You message each other. If you click, you set up a meeting in person.”
“But what if the other person’s hideous?”
I give her a gently chiding look, and she shrugs as she rubs the baby’s back. “It’s a fair question. A meeting of the minds is nice, but physical attraction is hot.”
“Well, so far, none of the guys I’ve decided to meet in person have been hideous.”
“But one of them was hot, huh? Oh wait, no. You said you hadn’t been on any second dates.”
“I haven’t,” I say a little glumly. “All of the men have been perfectly nice, all pleasant looking in their own way. But no chemistry. None.”
Rachel tilts her head. “Then why the Cinderella mode? You only ever revert to that when you’ve got a crush.”
I take a deep breath. “Okay. Here’s the part where you’re going to want to dust off your best lecturing voice.”
Rachel taps her throat and hums like a singer warming up her voice. “Okay, ready. Hit me.”
“There’s this guy on the app I really like talking to. But . . . we haven’t met.”
“Hmm.” She purses her lips. “No lecture yet. But why not just meet him and see if you have chemistry?”
I bite my lip. “He’s not really available.”
“Then what’s he doing on a dating app?”
“He didn’t actually sign up for the app. He was at a friend’s bachelor party, and I guess one of them got drunk and thought it would be hilarious to steal his phone and set up a profile on his behalf.”
“Okay, but if you guys hit it off—”
“He has a girlfriend,” I interrupt.
“Ohhhhhhhh,” Rachel says, eyes widening. “That’s tricky. Wait. You’re having a cyber affair! With a cheater!”
“I’m not. I’m really not!” I repeat at her look. “And he’s not a cheater. After we matched, I messaged him, and he explained right away what had happened and that he wasn’t looking for a relationship. If he were looking for some sort of weird Internet affair, would he have told me about his girlfriend right away?”
“No,” she admits. “But then why are you two still talking?” “We’re just friends,” I say, shrugging. “After he replied to my message, I replied saying no problem, and then he replied, and then I replied. Somewhere along the line we discovered both of our first crushes are from Empire Records—”
“I’d forgotten about that! You loved A.J.”
“Still do,” I say with a nod. “He had a thing for Corey. We both live in Manhattan, we’re both highly suspicious of oatmeal, we both lost our dads to lung cancer four years ago, we both put mustard on our scrambled eggs—”
“We don’t, however, like the same ice cream, apparently.” “You’re smiling that smile again,” Rachel says. “Sweetie. I’m not buying this just friends thing. You’re in love with this guy.”
“I’ve never met him!”
Rachel’s lips purse as she shifts Matteo to her other shoulder. “Does Lily know about this?”
“That I sometimes message a male friend? Why would I bring it up?”
I don’t add that I might have mentioned it, if the last time we had dinner Lily had not been going on and on about a documentary she’d just watched about online predators.
“Yes,” I say sarcastically. “My younger brother loves to hear all about his sister’s love life.”
“Ah-ha! So it is a love life.”
Whoops. I definitely walked right into that one.
“Did I tell you Caleb moved to New Hampshire?” I ask in an admittedly lame attempt to change the subject.
“Yes, and I still don’t fully comprehend moving out of a rent-controlled loft in SoHo to a barn in New Hampshire, but quit trying to distract me. Does anyone know about this? I need backup that this is nuts.”
“Keva knows,” I say, referring to my friend and upstairs neighbor.
Rachel looks away with just the slightest flinch, and I feel instant regret. She and Keva have met a couple of times and get along, but I sense she’s sometimes jealous of the friendship.
“Hey,” I say gently, pushing my finger into her forearm. “You’re still First Bestie.”
“I know,” Rachel says with a sigh. “It’s just another reminder that living out in freaking Queens means I don’t get to see you as often or get to know the daily details of your life anymore.”
“But you have a yard,” I point out.
“It’s more like a patch of dirt, but . . .” Rachel grins. “Yeah, I have a yard. My mother is scandalized. I swear, half the reason she wanted me to bring the kids into Manhattan today was because she’s worried they’re not getting enough concrete.”
Amy and Sammy, Rachel’s other two kids, are spending the day with her mom in Morningside Heights, which is the only reason I’m not fussing more that I don’t get to see my de facto niece and nephew. Grandma trumps best friend, and though I’m careful not to mention it, Rachel’s fears about Astoria being too far away from her old life aren’t totally unfounded. It’s at least an hour by train, which means I don’t get to see her or her family as much as I’d like.
Rachel gives me a sly look. “What do you think he looks like?”
Medium height. Wiry build. Longish brown hair, warm brown eyes. Big smile.
“I haven’t thought about it,” I say casually.
“Uh-huh. Liar. In these fantasies of yours, is he by any chance a musician and a Sagittarius?”
“Okay, that’s impressive,” I admit.
“I know,” she says, looking mollified to have best-friend status restored. “But you forget that we spent all of middle school and most of high school discussing our future husbands in very specific detail.” She pauses. “Damn, I was far off.”
“You mean your hot Puerto Rican husband isn’t a blond surfer named Dustin? Get out.”
“Oh, Dusty. What might have been,” she says dreamily before turning back to me. “Aren’t you worried your mystery guy could be, like, a hundred? With gout and gingivitis? What if his girlfriend is a caretaker at his nursing home, and the most action he gets is a sponge bath?”
“That would be fine,” I say primly. “I can be friends with someone of a different generation.”
I send out a silent plea to SirNYC. Please don’t get sponge baths.
Rachel takes a last bite of her sandwich, then scrunches the paper wrapping into a ball with a sigh. “I want to warn you about catfishing, but honestly this is too adorable, assuming you don’t do anything dumb. Like agree to meet him in a back alley.”
I let my eyes go wide. “Wait, so I shouldn’t have wired my life’s savings to his overseas account and then given him my home address when he asked to see my panty drawer?”
“Aren’t you funny. Here, want to give my arms another break?”
“Absolutely,” I say, taking the baby and kissing his head. “How’d you manage to escape with this one? Grandma Becca would have snatched him right up.”
“Oh, she tried. But though she’d die for her grandkids, she’s not big on diapers, so all it took was a casual mention of eruptive poops to secure some Auntie Gracie time.” She gives a slight sniff. “Joke’s on me though. I think he’s just backed up my lie with a very real diaper situation that needs to be addressed.”
“You want to change him at the shop?” I ask, gathering up the remnants of our lunch as she straps Matteo to her chest in some fancy-looking sling thing.
One of the best things about the champagne shop I own and run is that it’s just across the street from Central Park.
Rachel gives me an apologetic look, and I shake my head before she can speak. “You need to get back. Don’t worry about it.
“I do. Ugh. I’ve become one of those moms, huh? Can’t be apart from her Littles for more than two hours.”
“Those are the good kind of moms,” I reassure her as we begin making our way toward the west side of the park.
Rachel tosses our garbage into the green trash can and links her arm in mine, careful not to jostle Matteo. “You don’t have to walk this way with me,” she says, checking her watch. “Doesn’t the shop open at noon?”
“Josh and May are there. Plus, I need to get flowers for the counter, and Carlos on Seventy-Fourth and Broadway always has the best ones.”
“Damn, I miss those pop-up Manhattan flower carts. Almost as much as I miss May. Give her a squeeze for me, it’s been way too long. And wait, who’s Josh?”
“Newish hire. Mostly helps with inventory and stocking, but it’s sweet to watch him overcome his shyness customer by customer.”
“I’m surprised you even know what shyness looks like. Have you ever met a human being who didn’t instantly adore you?”
“Blake Hansel, fifth grade.”
“No, he just really adored you, in the pull-her-pigtail kind of way,” Rachel says as we exit the park and step onto the bustling Central Park West sidewalk. We embrace, careful not to smoosh the baby between us.
I pull back and give Matteo a proper goodbye, unapologetically inhaling his sweet baby smell, mingled with—yep, there’s the eruptive poop. “Goodbye, handsome. You sure you don’t want to run away with me?”
“You, young lady, will text me more often,” Rachel orders with a pointing finger as she begins walking backward uptown toward her parents’ place in Morningside Heights.
I salute in acknowledgment and wave goodbye.
The second my best friend’s back is turned, I pull out my phone to see if I have more messages from him.
Okay, fine. So maybe I’m a tiny bit in love with a man I haven’t met.
My dear Lady,
Pistachio gelato, you say. That’s my mother’s favorite, on the very rare occasions she lets herself eat food with actual flavor or calories. Alas, I confess the often-added green food coloring creeps me out.
Yours in renewed devotion to sorbet,
To Sir, with alarm,
Did you just compare me to your mother? Not sure how I feel about that…
My dear Lady,
I hear it now. I take it back and reassure you that in no way do I think of you as my mother.
Yours in apology,
Copyright © 2020 by Lauren Layne. From TO SIR, WITH LOVE by Lauren Layne , published by Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission.