Zachary Cole's new personal shopper is stunning in more ways than one. Gone is the staid, professional Jonathan. In his place is sexy, whirlwind Edgar, whose methods and lifestyle are less than orthodox. Still reeling from the experience, Zack can't get him out of his head. He needs to see him again. Even if it does involve dragging his heavily pregnant sister and her dalmatian into his cunning plan.
Sick of being dumped yet again, dog-walker Edgar's pledged to stay single and put energy into finding a career more suited to an adult instead. Zack might be extremely tempting...and just happen to pop up wherever he goes, but that doesn't mean he's going to change his mind. He's got bigger priorities in life than a website designer who's after a brief walk on the wild side. Edgar's heart has taken enough of a bruising. He's not prepared to get dumped again.
Zack wants love. Edgar only wants friendship. Can the two men find common ground amid the chaos of Edgar's life? Or is Zack going to find that no matter what he does, there's no happy ending and he'll have to walk away?
Warning: This story contains dogs. Lots of dogs. Big ones. Small ones. Naughty ones. Ones that like ducks, squirrels and lakes and ones that like to be carried. No dogs were harmed in the writing of this book.
- 2 To Be Read lists
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Bad Breakup, Unrequited Love
Word Count: 75 000
Languages Available: English
He stared long and hard at the computer screen in front of him, re-reading the words several times to make sure he’d read them correctly. When he was sure his eyes really weren’t deceiving him, he reached for his phone. Pressing the necessary buttons, he tapped his fingers impatiently while he waited for the call to connect, still staring at the words on the computer screen as it rang and rang. There was no way in hell he was leaving a message, so he was just about to hang up when a breathless voice finally sounded on the other end. “Lo.”
Edgar got straight to the point. “I just logged on to Facebook.”
Edgar pulled a face, wishing it carried down the phone line. He should have FaceTimed him. “That’s all you’ve got to say?”
“What do you want me to say?”
“Maybe an explanation of why your Facebook status has suddenly changed back to single…you know, considering the fact I thought we were meant to be seeing each other. Remember when you texted me, urging me to look at your Facebook status, just so I could see you’d changed it to being in a relationship with me? And that was six weeks ago.”
“Oh, right. I was going to call you.”
Edgar stayed silent, naturally expecting some sort of explanation would follow. When it didn’t, he caved, asking the question that would confirm whether the assumption he’d made since reading the status was true. “So, I’m dumped then, am I?”
A long-drawn-out sigh echoed down the phone line like the question he’d asked was unnecessarily tedious. “You didn’t think we were serious, did you?”
The way Edgar saw it, he had two choices: lie and hold on to his pride, or tell the truth and risk coming across like a pathetic loser. He chose the former. “No, of course not. I just thought when things came to their inevitable end, you might actually bother telling me.”
He trailed off and Edgar became aware of another voice in the background. A man’s voice. “Is someone else there with you? It’s”—he checked his watch—“ten in the evening. Who…” Realization dawned on him, a little too late. He wasn’t just dumped. He’d already been replaced. In fact, there’d probably been an overlap and he’d just been too stupid to realize it. Now that he thought about it, Patrick had been fairly elusive for the last couple of weeks: leaving straight after they’d fucked and not answering his phone more times than he had. It was probably a miracle he’d answered it today. Particularly, since he was apparently busy.
There was another quiet mumble of voices before Patrick came back on the line. “Yeah…listen, I’ve got to go. Good luck with…stuff. It’s…yeah.” There was a click and the phone went dead.
Edgar sat in stunned silence for a minute before immediately dialing another number. This time it only rang twice before the phone was picked up. “What?”
“Ella, I need you to come around to mine. Patrick’s just dumped me.”
The woman on the other end swore loudly. “I can’t keep doing these post-break-up pity parties. I’m going to end up an alcoholic.”
He could see her point. It did happen fairly frequently. “Even if I tell you that I only found out through Facebook? Apparently, the bastard didn’t think I was on the list of people who needed to know. And he’s already got another guy over there.”
She sighed. “Fine. No vodka, though. I’ll do wine or beer. Nothing stronger than that.”
Edgar smiled. “Deal. I’ll stick the wine in the fridge. It will be chilled by the time you get here.”
* * * *
He stared across the table in utter astonishment. Miles, his boyfriend of two years, stared impassively back without speaking. Zack shook his head in disbelief, unable to believe this was actually happening. “You brought me out to dinner to dump me?”
Miles chewed at his bottom lip, his gaze darting around the half-empty Mexican restaurant. “I thought this conversation might be easier in a public place.”
Zack almost choked on the wine he’d just taken a sip of. “Of course. I mean…why would I want to be embarrassed and humiliated behind closed doors, when I can be embarrassed and humiliated in front of a whole bunch of strangers instead.”
“Listen.” Miles’s hand inched across the table, nearly taking hold of Zack’s before seemingly realizing it wasn’t the most appropriate action when you were in the middle of a breakup. He withdrew it, his fingers curling around a napkin instead. “It’s not because I don’t care. It’s because I do care.”
Zack’s laugh was bitter. “Right. Nothing says I love you like, it’s been nice living with you but now we’re done.”
Leaning back in his chair, Miles threw an exasperated look at Zack. “Are you going to let me explain or not?”
Zack polished off the last few swallows of wine in his glass before immediately reaching for the bottle. If this didn’t call for drinking more heavily than normal, he wasn’t sure what would. He waved a hand. “Sure. Explain.”
“What did we do last night?”
Zack thought back. “I had a website to finish. You”—he shrugged—“I don’t know. You were in the other room…watching something on TV. Golf or something.”
Miles quirked an eyebrow. “Rugby actually. And how many nights are we perfectly happy to spend like that?”
“I don’t get your point.”
A look of frustration settled on Miles’s face. “We’re settling, Zack. We have a perfectly nice life together”—his lips twisted on the word nice—“but, where’s the excitement? Where’s the passion? How many times did you think about me today while you were at work?”
Zack’s eyebrows knitted together, confused by the odd question. “I was busy. I’m trying to build a business, as you well know.”
Crossing his arms, Miles gave him a look like he’d proved a point. “So, zero times then? That’s fine. I didn’t think about you either.” He leaned forward, the frustration having given way to a look of intensity. “And don’t you think that’s wrong? We should be out finding the man that makes our hearts beat faster. The one we can’t stop thinking about. The one that drives us absolutely crazy but in a good way. Not at home, happy to spend most of our time in separate rooms. We deserve more. Both of us.” He relaxed back in the chair, looking suddenly weary. “That’s what I want anyway. And that’s what I want for you too. I love you, but I’m not in love with you.”
Zack dropped his gaze to the menu, the letters failing to come together to form anything that resembled words. They hadn’t even ordered yet. He guessed they probably weren’t going to bother now, which made it all the more peculiar that Miles had insisted on dropping this bombshell at a restaurant rather than at the home they both shared. “That’s such a cliché.”
Miles gave a sad little smile. “I know, but it’s also true. And if you’re honest, you’ll admit it’s exactly the same for you. Think about what you’re feeling now. It’s not heartbreak, is it? You’re not wondering how you can possibly get through the day without me. You’re thinking about more practical stuff, like who gets to keep the TV we went halves on.”
Zack thought about arguing, but what was the point? Miles had clearly already made his mind up. “You can have the TV. You watch it more than me anyway. You can have it for the golf…I mean, rugby.”
Miles stood up from the table, shaking his head. “I don’t want the damn TV! You’re completely missing the point, Zack. I don’t know if you’re being deliberately obtuse…or just—” He broke off, sighing. “Anyway…I’m going to go…home and pack. I’ll go and stay with my brother for a while until I can find somewhere else. I thought maybe you could stay here and eat. You know…give me a bit of time on my own, so it’s a little less awkward.”
“Less awkward. Right!” Zack found himself nodding. He wasn’t even sure what he was nodding for. It just seemed an appropriate response. At least the purpose behind the restaurant visit for dumping him was now abundantly clear.
Miles took a step away from the table before pausing. “I’m hoping you’ll look back one day and thank me for this.” He took in the less than convinced expression on Zack’s face. “I did say one day. And I’m also holding out hope that we might stay friends. Maybe not yet, but in time.”
He didn’t wait for an answer before leaving. Zack was glad. It saved him from the temptation of telling his ex-boyfriend where he could stick his offer of friendship. He waved a waiter over. “More wine please. Lots more wine.”
Three years later
Edgar took a surreptitious look around the room at the other candidates for the job. There were four in total. Five, if you included him. Which was far too many in his opinion. Back in school, he’d had a teacher named Mr. Tompkins. He’d been a big barrel-chested man with the bushiest moustache Edgar had ever seen, either before then, or since. He was also pretty much the only teacher Edgar had ever gotten along with; the rest seeming to have him down as some sort of troublemaker.
It wasn’t as if he’d been rude to teachers or disruptive in lessons. In fact, he’d been the very model of charm and politeness. It was just that Edgar Fletcher, and strange events and coincidences, seemed to go hand in hand. Things just happened. Things that were completely outside his control. Occasionally to him, but more often than not, to other people around him. Somehow, it was always deemed to be his fault. How was he supposed to know that accidentally leaving superglue in his school bag could have resulted in Sarah Roberts sticking herself to a chair? Nobody seemed remotely interested in finding out how the glue had leaked or why she’d been touching his bag anyway. As usual, he was the one summoned to the headmaster’s office and, as usual, he was the one that got into trouble for bringing the glue into school. As for Sarah Roberts, her smug smiles from that day onward were nothing short of nauseating.
Anyway, Mr. Tompkins had been different. He’d been surprisingly easygoing for a maths teacher and Edgar had learnt many things from him. Okay, so most of them had absolutely nothing to do with maths and more to do with life in general. But one lesson in particular had stuck with him. It had been on probability. Mr. Tompkins had said that probability odds could be changed. That if you ever found the odds were against you, then sometimes there were things you could do to make them more favorable. Or words to that effect anyway. They may not have been his exact words, but that’s what Edgar had taken from it. He’d lost count of the number of times he’d lived by that principle since, and so far, it had served him well.
At the moment, he had a one-in-five chance of getting the job. When he’d seen it advertised, it had sounded absolutely perfect. Who wouldn’t want to get paid to shop for other people? He shopped all the time. He was an expert at shopping. Sure, he had absolutely zero experience at being a personal shopper. In fact, he hadn’t really known before seeing the advert that there was any such thing. But, seriously how hard could it be? He’d already convinced himself the job was his and that he would be brilliant at it.
But, he wasn’t liking these odds. He glanced down at his plain black T-shirt and non-ripped jeans. For him, he looked smart. However, the rest of the candidates were all dressed in smart suits. They all looked much older than his twenty-five years as well. He had a sneaky suspicion that unless he did something drastic, the odds of him landing this job were actually much lower than the twenty percent he’d calculated.
The receptionist had just left the room, telling them she’d be back in ten minutes to call the first person in for interview. Edgar glanced at his watch. Ten minutes. That should be enough time, it gave him two and a half minutes per person. He’d faced worse time limitations and still been successful, but it did mean he needed to get on with it.
Getting up from his chair, he strolled casually across the room, seating himself next to the only female candidate. She didn’t even attempt to hide her suspicion at his sudden need to change seats. He smiled broadly, making sure to show his dimples. “Hi. How are you today?”
* * * *
When the receptionist returned, it was with her head down, staring intently at a clipboard held in front of her. Therefore, Edgar could forgive her immediate double-take when she finally lifted her head to find herself confronted with an entirely empty room—apart from him. He smiled and lifted his hand in a small wave. “Are we ready to start? Who are you after?”
She glanced back down at her clipboard. “Max Shaw.”
Edgar shook his head. “Had to go. He decided that this really wasn’t what he wanted to do with his life. He’s a musician, see? Plays the bass guitar. He and his brother put a band together. They play twice a week in the local pub, but they haven’t really given things a proper go because work gets in the way. He decided it was way past time he should follow his dreams. He’ll be thirty-eight next week. If he doesn’t do it now, when can he do it? He sends his apologies for wasting your time.” Edgar waited patiently while she pulled a pen out of her pocket and crossed the name from her list.
Edgar pasted a look of regret on his face. “Her baby’s only three months old. And she’s got a six-year-old on top of that. She made a rather hasty decision to return to work and she was already regretting it. So, rather than waste your time, she decided to pull out. She hopes it doesn’t cause too many problems and she’ll be sure to consider applying again if any opportunities come up when her children are older. Like in their teens. Both of them. You just don’t get back those missing years.”
Another name was comprehensively crossed from the list. “Riley Barron?”
Edgar leaned back in the chair. “American. Got really homesick for some reason when we were talking about all the great things about his homeland and comparing them to things here. Said he was going to go and buy a plane ticket. It seemed a bit of a rush decision to me, but hey, I guess he knows best, so what can you do? He apologizes for not staying and letting you know his decision in person. But, you know…” He shrugged.
Was it his imagination or were the receptionist’s pen strokes getting progressively harder? He leaned forward. “Careful! You’re going to go through the paper if you keep pressing that hard.”
His attempt at helping was met with a glare. He held his hands up. Honestly, some people were just so ungrateful. The receptionist spoke slowly like she was trying to modulate her words. “The next name on my list is George Wilson? Let me guess. He made a snap decision to go and join the circus. And he had to go this very minute. He couldn’t possibly hold off on it a moment longer.”
Edgar frowned at the suggestion. “No. That would be ridiculous! Did you meet him? He was in his fifties. What would he do in a circus? I suppose he could be a clown. What, with the thick makeup, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell his age. But, other roles, no way. He didn’t have the presence for master of ceremonies. And unless he didn’t tell me he had secret juggling skills…which I suppose is possible…after all we only spoke for two minutes and ten seconds. He—”
As she held up a hand to silence him, Edgar couldn’t help but notice the slight tremble. He hoped she was okay. He waited patiently while she took a deep breath. That was a good idea. When you weren’t feeling well, it was always beneficial to try and take in more oxygen. Was she counting as well? He’d never heard of that technique as an aid to illness, but he guessed if it worked for her, then who was he to judge? She finally spoke. “Do you know, I don’t really care where”—she glanced back at the clipboard—“George went. He’s clearly not here. I’ll assume he sent his apologies.”
Edgar nodded. “He did. And just in case you need the information”—he waved his hand in the direction of the clipboard—“for your records, he suddenly became concerned about a small medical problem he’s had. He rushed off to make a doctor’s appointment. I’d give you more information but it was quite a personal issue so I should really keep it confidential.” Edgar coughed, pointing briefly at his crotch. “If you know what I mean.” She said nothing. He waited, an uncomfortable silence stretching between them. He cleared his throat. “Do you have any other names on your list?”
The receptionist dutifully cast her eyes down again. The obedience was somewhat spoiled by the fact she was looking at the clipboard like she wanted to kill it. “Edgar Fletcher.”
Edgar stuck his hand straight up in the air. “Present and correct and completely ready for my interview.”
The smile she gave, if you could even call it a smile, was somewhat reminiscent of how he’d imagine a shark would look just before it opened its mouth to swallow its intended victim. “Follow me, please. I’m sure Mrs. Nielsen is going to have an absolutely wonderful time meeting you.”
“I’m sure she will. I’m looking forward to meeting her as well.” As Edgar followed her down the corridor, he reflected on the fact that the probability of him getting the job had now increased to a hundred percent. Mr. Tompkins had certainly known what he was talking about. Perhaps he should try and find the man and send him a card. He could offer to shop for him as well once he worked out what it actually entailed.
Mrs. Nielsen turned out to be a tiny woman who looked to be somewhere in her late forties. Given Edgar was six foot, she made him feel like a giant. He’d stood awkwardly through the receptionist’s explanation of Edgar being the only candidate left. Then she’d made what could only be described as a hasty exit. Perhaps her sickness was getting worse. The poor woman probably needed to go and throw up. She needed to be a bit more careful about what she ate. Maybe on the way out, he could suggest a better diet for her.
He couldn’t help but notice that as Mrs. Nielsen’s gaze raked over him, she seemed less than impressed with what she saw. Finally, she waved him into the seat opposite her desk. “You’re aware this is an interview? I mean, the clothes I might be able to forgive at a push. After all, this is a job about catering to a client’s individual sense of style and making them stand out from the crowd…but the hair…the hair I can’t forgive.”
Edgar raked a hand through the peroxide locks he was so proud of. He had great hair and he knew it. Everyone told him that. Everyone apart from this lady that was. “What’s wrong with it?”
The lady opposite him raised a perfectly shaped eyebrow. “It’s dyed.”
“You don’t know that for sure. It could be natural.” Edgar finished the sentence with a nod, hoping it would add some sincerity to the argument.
Mrs. Nielsen felt around on the desk without once taking her eyes of Edgar, her fingers finally closing around a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles. She put them on before leaning closer. “Then why are your eyebrows a different color?”
Edgar met her gaze steadily. “Maybe I dyed them.”
Without comment, she took the glasses off again and placed them back on the desk. “I have a problem, Mr. Fletcher. A big problem.”
Sensing that she wasn’t quite at the stage where an offer of help would be appreciated, Edgar stayed silent. Sure enough, she carried on talking. “I need to appoint someone for this job today. I have two important clients, who have been with me for quite some time, scheduled early next week. Unfortunately, we had a sudden and unexpected departure from the team due to ill health. Everybody else is fully booked up and no matter how much I look at the schedules, I can’t swap them around adequately enough to satisfy everyone. That leaves me with an unfortunate dilemma. If I don’t appoint someone today, then I will have to call and disappoint those clients. They’re busy people. Both big spenders as well. They’re not clients I can afford to risk losing. But, your actions—whatever they were and however you did it—seem to have left me with no other choice…but you.”
Edgar sat up straighter, wondering whether a wink would be going too far. He decided it probably would. She didn’t exactly strike him as the flirty type. “One person. One job. Almost seems like fate, doesn’t it?”
Mrs. Nielsen ignored him. “Now…it tells me two things about you. Firstly, that you really want this job”—she paused and waited until Edgar’s enthusiastic head nodding had waned to a mere wobble—“and secondly, that you must have the gift of the gab. Somehow, you single-handedly talked a whole room full of people into leaving all within the space of a few minutes. Talk is a huge part of this job. You need to be able to establish rapport with the client, know what they need even before they do. If you can talk people out of a job they’ve spent time applying for, then maybe, and it’s a huge maybe, you might have what it takes to forge a successful relationship with our clients”—she paused—“however, I’m not going to hire you.”
Edgar sat back, stunned. The speech had sounded so promising right up until that last part. “Oh!”
She pulled a piece of paper in front of her. “If…you answer my questions satisfactorily, and promise to sort out your hair, I may offer you a trial. That’s all I can promise you. Dependent on the success of that trial, then I might consider a more permanent role. Your choice. Do you want to carry on with the interview, knowing that it’s for a trial rather than a permanent job?”
Edgar considered it for a moment. It wasn’t exactly the result he’d been aiming for, but it was better than nothing. “Sure.” After all, he was here now. He’d ace the questions, ace the trial. Then all of this would be just a mere hiccup in his newfound career. He’d be the best personal shopper the world had ever seen. She’d be begging him to work for her.COLLAPSE