by Charli Kent (@charli_kent)
Editor: Heidi Shoham (@heidishoham)
Adult Contemporary Romance
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Most love stories end with a kiss, but for Allie Scott, the kiss is just the beginning. THE GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO KISSING STRANGERS is a 95,000-word adult contemporary romance novel that will appeal to fans of Denise Williams’s How to Fail at Flirting and Abby Jimenez’s The Happy Ever After Playlist.
Rules exist because someone found out the hard way that they’re needed. So when it comes to kissing strangers, take my advice:
Rule #1: Don’t kiss strangers: Doesn’t matter if he’s sweet and smart and has forearms you can’t take your eyes off. Don’t do it.
It’s been three years since Allie’s husband died and took her sex drive and her financial security with him. Looking for a fresh start, the twenty-six-year-old relocates to a small town to take her dream teaching position at a new school. Allie accepts a temp job at the local newspaper to bridge the school vacation pay gap and plans to spend the summer answering phones, but her summer picks up when she goes for coffee at a café and sees an adorably sexy man trying to escape a blind date. She rescues him by doing what her hormones waking from hibernation demand she do—she kisses him.
Rule #2: If you break Rule #1, make sure the stranger stays a stranger.
Allie is shocked to find out her new boss is none other than the hot guy she kissed in the café. Trevor Kingston owns a successful property development company, but a desire to impress his father keeps him working at the family newspaper. Trevor’s summer gets brighter when his new assistant turns out to be the charming woman who rescued him from his terrible blind date with an incredible kiss.
Rule #3: If for some crazy reason you break Rules #1 AND #2, definitely don’t fall in love.
Allie starts to feel things she never expected to feel again. It doesn’t hurt that Trevor’s sweet, smart, and sexy. He would be the perfect man—if his property development company wasn’t the reason her school might not open this fall, ruining her chance at her dream job.
I’m a teacher with a B.A. in English who loves learning about bourbon, and I’ve made the finals twice in regional Romance Writers of America contests.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
First Five Pages
I didn’t normally make a habit of eavesdropping on private conversations, but I couldn’t help myself. And judging by the snickering coming from the nearby tables at the Grind Café, I wasn’t alone.
I moved my foot under the table to avoid tripping two girls in sorority shirts passing on the left. It was more than a little cramped in the tiny café, but I wouldn’t give up my seat if the barista yelled, “Naked Chris Evans is outside giving away free cheesecake!” And I loved cheesecake. The view I had was that good.
One of the coeds looked up from her phone and froze, transfixed. I followed her gaze to the handsome stranger at the corner table. Well, that confirmed it. I definitely wasn’t the only one who’d noticed him.
A pile of untouched folders sat on his table. He’d spent the last ten minutes alternately checking his watch and staring at the door. As he spoke into the phone, his smooth voice carried over the clatter of the clanging dishes and customers chatting. From my side of his cell phone conversation, I gathered he’d been lured to the Grind under the guise of a work meeting
“It’s not that I don’t want to date your friends. I just don’t want to date your freaky friends. What have I done to you that was so bad that you’d send me on a tour of Dante’s Inferno, the Dating Edition? I swear every date you set me up on is worse than the one before.” He paused, listening to whoever was on the other side of the call. “You’re kidding, right?”
“If by great you mean, I spent the evening wondering if her hairless cat was going to eat me? Then, yes. Jane and I had a fantastic time.” He huffed.
Staring was impolite. I knew that. But the late afternoon sun highlighted the beauty of his high cheekbones and strong jaw, and together they sparked a craving I couldn’t resist. Seriously, the man’s jaw could stop a mob of shoppers on Black Friday, and I couldn’t overlook the way my pulse picked up. Maybe it was the caffeine. If the wide-eyed gazes flitting over ceramic mugs were evidence, I wasn’t the only one with a growing interest in him. We were all taking advantage of him being too into his phone conversation to notice us.
He kept his eyes on the stack of folders in front of him, and knowing he wasn’t going to catch me ogling, I settled into my seat and wrapped my hands around the ridiculously overpriced coffee I’d splurged on—thanks to my new job—and enjoyed the show. And what a sexy show it was.
“I’m talking about an actual cat, you perv, not her— Never mind. She wore it in a baby sling, and the little creeper glared at me all night.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “But nothing beats my date with Tiffany,” he said, his voice full of bewilderment.
Collectively, everyone within earshot of the conversation edged closer. The sea of spectators all wore the same expression— What could this Tiffany have done that was worse? He rubbed the back of his neck, and the rolled-up sleeves of his dress shirt exposed tanned forearms and the evidence of time well spent in the gym.
“As soon as Tiffany got in my car, she asked me to—and I quote—Rate my performance in the sack on a scale of one to ten. She didn’t want to waste her time if I didn’t score at least a seven.”
A chorus of chuckles from a Betty White look-alike and her Golden Girls at the next table caused the man to look up and notice his audience. Betty caught his eye.
“Honey, I wouldn’t kick you out of bed no matter what you rated yourself.” She winked.
The tops of his ears turned pink as he shook his head and laughed at himself. It was endearing to see a grown man so adorably embarrassed. He looked down and spoke softly into the phone. With the show over, the customers returned their attention elsewhere.
I, on the other hand, craned my neck in a desperate attempt to better hear him. I ignored the hollow feeling in my chest when I thought about how I missed having someone to banter with.
“No, I didn’t answer her. I can’t believe you asked.” The smile said he’d already forgiven the caller, even if they’d shoved him through a revolving door of shitty dates. “You abuse my status as your best friend. You know that, right?” His shoulders dropped. “I don’t care if she does look like Julia Roberts. I would much rather help with the interviews.”
Interviews? I can’t imagine many companies conduct interviews on Saturdays, so was it possible this man worked at the same place I’d just interviewed? My tummy tightened. How would I focus with him around?
“You owe me, Miranda.” His groan was heavy with resignation.
Miranda. I relaxed. That definitely wasn’t who had interviewed me. My mind drifted back to Kandis, the well-spoken office manager who had explained what my duties as an administrative assistant would be.
He ended the call without a goodbye and tossed his phone onto the table in such a rush he bumped his mug, toppling it over. He jumped into action and grabbed the folders, saving them from the coffee flowing across the small café table and onto the ground. He mumbled something under his breath about leaving and got out of his chair to clean up his mess.
I understood having a bad day. Hell, I’d had a few bad years, and I couldn’t sit here and not help him. I snatched up some extra napkins and closed the short distance between us. “I’ll take care of the table.”
“Thank you,” he said without looking up from his crouched position.
“Rough day?” I mopped up the mess, the white napkin turning brown in my hand from the still-warm coffee.
“I’m afraid it’s about to get worse, but I’m sure you heard that,” he said, his tone deflated.
“I think the entire café heard you.” I suppressed my smile, barely. “Sorry, that was rude of me.”
He paused his cleaning. Soft brown eyes swept slowly over me, starting at my black heels and easing up my legs, pausing for a half a heartbeat too long on my breasts, and stopping at my eyes.
An unfamiliar flutter flitted in my belly.
Thank goodness, I’d come from a job interview next door. My weekend attire included yoga pants and an oversized t-shirt, not the green silk top that matched my eyes and my best black pants. I definitely wouldn’t have taken the time to attempt the Victoria Secret model waves in my black hair—thanks to YouTube tutorials and forty-five-minutes I was never getting back—if this had been a regular Saturday. But right now, I was happy I’d gone to the trouble.
I’d noticed his sophisticated exterior while eavesdropping. Even from his seated position, anyone could see his clothes had been carefully tailored. Kudos to Brooks Brothers for the form-fitting shirt. But I wasn’t prepared for the man looking up at me with soulful eyes that flickered with interest and a chin dimple so deep and cute my fingers twitched to touch it. He noticed me checking him out, and his cheeks popped with color.
He got to his feet, dropped the napkins onto the table, and ran a hand through his brown hair, leaving it in that gorgeously messy style some guys rocked. He most definitely rocked it. He exuded an underlying charm. Kind of like if you’d mixed the sex appeal of Matt Bomer with the quirkiness of Paul Rudd, a truly lethal combo for lady parts everywhere.
One side of his mouth quirked up. “Hi,” he said, his smile deepening.
“Hi.” My stomach spiraled, like the moments before I gave a speech to a crowd of my peers at a faculty meeting.
We stared at one another like awkward middle schoolers and then broke into laughter.
“Thank you for helping.” He motioned toward the pile of soggy napkins.
We return to gawking at each other. From behind us, the barista shouted, “Frozen mint hot chocolate with extra whipped topping for Nathan.”
“Uh. So…” He stuffed his hands into his pants pockets. “I know this is random, but would you like to join me?” He said the last few words in a rush and bit his lower lip.
My heart skipped a beat. Traitorous thing had lain dormant for years until now. “Don’t you have a date coming?”
His smile dropped. “Yes, but I’d rather spend time with you. I mean—” He cringed and held up a hand as if to apologize. “Only if you want that, too. I didn’t mean to assume you’d like to sit here with a man in the midst of a string of bad dates as long as a CVS receipt.”
The flutter in my stomach reappeared. He had no clue how attractive his self-deprecating comment was.
The bell above the door jingled, announcing the arrival of a new customer. I glanced over his shoulder as a statuesque redhead entered. Stunning, with shiny hair, a wide smile, and legs any man would wish were wrapped around him, she was a dead ringer for Julia Roberts circa Pretty Woman, post-stripper makeover. His friend was right.
The woman scanned the customers. I couldn’t imagine any man thinking a date with her would be bad. A twinge of something like jealousy settled in my stomach.
“You’re absolutely sure you don’t want to go on your date?”
“Even if she actually looks like Julia Roberts?”
“One hundred percent,” he said firmly with no idea she’d nearly reached our table.
“If I could get you out of this date—”
“God, yes.” For a moment, the gold flecks in his brown eyes sparkled with possibility, but that glimmer of hope was soon replaced by a look of confusion. “But how—” Before he finished, I grabbed his shoulders and pressed my lips to his.
His muscles tightened under my fingertips. He stilled completely.
Someone wolf whistled. Pretty sure it was Betty White.
I started to pull back, and his hands settled on my waist with a touch so light that for a moment, I wondered if I’d imagined it. But there was no ignoring the spark of electricity sizzling through my body. It had been so long since a man had wrapped his arms around me. It had been so long since I’d felt connected to someone. It had been so damn long. Tears pricked my eyes from the unexpected intensity of my random moment with a handsome stranger. For three years, life had happened to me. I hadn’t lived it. But I was living now. And I wanted this kiss.
With every beat of my heart, my body reminded me that I was alive. Thump thump… Alive… Thump thump… Alive… Thump thump…
I did something I never thought I’d do again. I gave myself permission to feel. The grinding whirl of the espresso machine and the hum of voices faded away. A strange sensation that was not unwelcome woke my hibernating hormones. I melted into him, and he let out a soft sigh of pleasure. He pulled me closer, and I heard another sound, only this one was from me. He cupped my cheek in one of his large hands and tipped my head to the side ever so slowly, taking control of the kiss.
The kiss was sweet and gentle, yet I still had to tighten my grip on his shoulders to steady myself. With the feel of his corded muscles under my hands, my nipples tightened and pushed against the lace of my bra. Well, hello ladies. Did you enjoy your three-year nap? Clearly, they hadn’t received the memo that our kiss was a ruse to get him out of his blind date.
He tasted sweet with a hint of coffee. Forget needing the cream and sugar. He was definitely enough. I’d never be able to drink coffee again without thinking about this man, this kiss.
First kisses are supposed to be awkward, not perfect.
He lifted his head but kept his almost-closed eyes on me. His milk-chocolate gaze had transformed into a dark espresso. I wanted to drink him up, but I needed to calm my racing heart.
“Hi.” He gave me a sexy smile.
“Hi.” I giggled. I never giggled.
I’d forgotten about Miss Roberts until we were interrupted by someone clearing their throat.
“Are you Trevor?” The woman’s voice pulled us out of our kiss-induced haze.
We both turned toward her. She took in how closely he held me and arched a perfect brow. “Sorry… I thought you were someone else.” She hurried through the maze of tables toward the door and threw a final glance over her shoulder at us before leaving.
Her exit broke the spell. That grinding whir of the espresso machine and chatter of customers once again registered in my brain. Along with the fact that I was face-to-face with a stranger. I dropped my hands, and he loosened his hold on me.
We both said sorry at the same time and took a step back.