A Charmed Little LieSharla Lovelace
Charmed, Texas, is everything the name implies—quaint, comfortable, and as small-town friendly as they come. And when it comes to romance, there’s no place quite as enchanting . . .
Lanie Barrett didn’t mean to lie. Spinning a story of a joyous marriage to make a dying woman happy is forgivable, isn’t it? Lanie thinks so, especially since her beloved Aunt Ruby would have been heartbroken to know the truth of her niece’s sadly loveless, short-of-sparkling existence. Trouble is, according to the will, Ruby didn’t quite buy Lanie’s tale. And to inherit the only house Lanie ever really considered a home, she’ll have to bring her “husband” back to Charmed for three whole months—or watch Aunt Ruby’s cozy nest go to her weasel cousin, who will sell it to a condo developer.
Nick McKane is out of work, out of luck, and the spitting image of the man Lanie described. He needs money for his daughter’s art school tuition, and Lanie needs a convenient spouse. It’s a match made . . . well, not quite in heaven, but for a temporary arrangement, it couldn’t be better. Except the longer Lanie and Nick spend as husband and wife, the more the connection between them begins to seem real. Maybe this modern fairy tale really could come true . . .
Books by Sharla Lovelace
Charmed in Texas
A Charmed Little Lie
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
A Charmed Little Lie
Charmed in Texas
Kensington Publishing Corp.
Lyrical Press books are published by
Kensington Publishing Corp.
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Copyright © 2017 by Sharla Lovelace
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First Electronic Edition: April 2017
First Print Edition: April 2017
Table of Contents
About the Book
Books by Sharla Lovelace
Aunt Ruby’s Hot Baked Cinnamon Apples
Lucky Charmed Teaser
About the Author
To the weird ones, the introverts, the misfits and those hiding in plain sight . . . High five, my loves. You are me and I am you. You are my tribe. ;)
A quick note to all my wonderful readers. . . I am so over the moon excited to bring this new series to you! I fell in love with Charmed from the moment the idea wiggled its way in, and I hope you will, too. Lanie and Nick have a special place in my heart, kicking things off with A Charmed Little Lie, and I can honestly say this is one of my favorite books to write so far. I hope you will love them like I do—and Ralph of course. Because who couldn’t love Ralph?
Everyone knows I thank and love them, I couldn’t do this writing thing without my husband’s support and all my coworkers at my day job when I’m on deadline and having to think about numbers and I’m walking around in a wide-eyed frenzy like, “But I need the words!” Thank you all.
And oh—as usual, there’s a recipe waiting for you, so get you some!
May you be drizzled in honey… ;)
“Take caution when unwrapping blessings, my girl. They’re sometimes dipped in poop first.”
In retrospect, I should have known the day was off. From the wee hours of the morning when I awoke to find Ralph—my neighbor’s ninety-pound Rottweiler—in bed with me and hiking his leg, to waking up the second time on my crappy uncomfortable couch with a hitch in my hip. Then the coffeemaker mishap and realizing I was out of toothpaste. Pretty much all the markers were there. Aunt Ruby would have thumped me in the head and asked me where my Barrett intuition was.
But I never had her kind of intuition.
And Aunt Ruby wasn’t around to thump me. Not anymore. Not even long distance.
“Ow! Shit!” I yelped as my phone rang, making me sling pancake batter across the kitchen as I burned my finger on the griddle.
I’m coordinated like that.
Cursing my way to the phone, I hit speaker when I saw the name of said neighbor.
“How’s my sweet boy?” she crooned.
I glared at Ralph. “He’s got bladder denial,” I said. “Possibly separation anxiety. Mommy issues.”
“Uh-oh, why?” she asked.
“He marked three pieces of furniture, and me,” I said, hearing her gasp. “While I was in the bed. With him.”
“Ralph was in the bed?” Tilly asked.
“That was the part that caught your attention?”
“Well, I just don’t allow him up there.”
“It wasn’t by invitation,” I said. “I woke up to him staring down at me and then he let it rip.”
I liked my neighbor, Tilly. She was from two apartments down, was sweet, kinda goofy, and was always making new desserts she liked to try out on me. So when she suddenly had to bail for some family emergency with her mom and couldn’t take her dog, I decided to take a page from her book and be a giver. Offer to dog-sit Ralph while she was gone for a few days.
“Oh wow, I’m so sorry, Lanie,” she said.
“Not a problem,” I lied. I’m not really cut out to be a giver. “We’re bonding.”
“How’s he eating?” Tilly asked. “Sometimes he’s shy about eating around other people.”
I glanced over to see Ralph lick pancake batter off the cabinet, then sit back on his haunches and lick himself.
“I think he’s doing all right.”
Tilly sighed on the other end. “Thank you so much for this,” she said. “It takes a load off my mind to know he’s taken care of.”
Something in that sentence or in h
er voice sounded weird.
“So, how long are you going to be gone again?” I asked.
“Um, well,” she began. “Things are a little complicated, so it may be a little bit.”
A little bit. My weird radar perked up.
“Yeah?” I prompted. “Like—a week? What are we talking?”
“Well, I’ll call you in a couple of days when I know more,” she said. “It’s—you know, my dad is really sick, and family just gets so—”
“Your dad?” I asked. “I thought it was your mom.”
“Oh yeah,” she said. “That’s what I meant. Sorry, I’m just a little scattered right now.” She laughed. “I’m buzzing on too much coffee, probably.”
Too much something.
“Hey, remember,” Tilly continued. “When you put him outside to leave for work, talk sweet to him so he doesn’t think it’s a punishment.”
“He peed on me!” I exclaimed. “His fragile ego isn’t my biggest concern right now.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ll send you some money to clean your mattress. I actually kind of hoped he’d cheer you up.”
What? “Cheer me up?”
“You’ve been so—I don’t know—forlorn?” she asked. “Since your aunt died, it’s like you lost your energy source.”
Damn, that was freakishly observant of her. Maybe she got the Barrett intuition. She nailed it in one sentence. Aunt Ruby was my energy source. Even from the next state over, the woman that raised me kept me buzzing with her unstoppable magical spirit. When her eyes went, the other senses jumped to the fight. When her life went, it was like someone turned out the lights. All the way to Louisiana.
Honestly, I had this thought. That I’d feel her more after she passed. After all, she’d been the one with all the intuition. A rumor that had wagged tongues in Charmed, Texas my whole young life. Something I’d thought was cool when I was little, spent most of my teenage years denying, and mostly forgot as an adult—living hundreds of miles away. Forgot until I’d go for a visit, anyway. One step inside that old house left little question.
There hadn’t been any intuition my way, however. No feelings. No aromas of baked apples or orange peels. No sudden penchant for raw honey or the color blue or the new ability to sew. No Aunt Ruby.
Well, maybe the honey part, but that was just me. You can’t grow up in a bee-farming community and not have strong feelings about honey. You either love it or despise it.
I was truly alone and on my own. Realizing that at thirty-three was sobering. Realizing Aunt Ruby now knew I’d lied about everything was mortifying. Maybe that’s why she was staying otherwise occupied out there in the afterlife.
Then again, lying was maybe too strong a word. Was there another word? Maybe a whole turn of phrase would be better. Something like coloring the story to make an old woman happy.
Coloring with crayons that turned into shovels.
No one knew the extent of the ridiculous hole I had dug myself into. The one that involved my hometown of Charmed, Texas believing I was married and successful, living with my husband in sunny California and absorbing the good life. Why California? Because it sounded more exciting than Louisiana. And a fantasy-worthy advertising job I submitted an online resume for a year ago was located there. That’s about all the sane thought that went into that.
The tale was spun at first for Aunt Ruby when she got sick, diabetes taking her down quickly, with her eyesight being the first victim. I regaled her on my short visits home with funny stories from my quickie wedding in Vegas (I did go to Vegas with a guy I was sort of seeing), my successful career in advertising (I hadn’t made it past promotional copy), and my hot, doting, super gorgeous husband named Michael who traveled a lot for work and therefore was never with me. You’d think I’d need pictures for that part, right? Even for a mostly blind woman? Yeah. I did.
I showed her pictures of a smoking hot, dark and dangerous looking guy I flirted with one night at Caesar’s Palace while my boyfriend was flirting with a waitress. A guy who, incidentally, was named—Michael.
But it made her happy to know I was happy and taken care of, when all that mattered in her entire wacky world was that I find love and be taken care of. That I not end up alone, with my ovaries withering in a dusty desert. Did I know that she would then relay all that information on to every mouthpiece in Charmed? Bragging about how well her Lanie had done? How I’d lived up to the Most-Likely-To-Set-The-World-On-Fire vote I’d received senior year. Including the visuals I’d sent her of me and Michael-the-Smoking-Hottie.
So later on, in Aunt Ruby’s last days, when said boyfriend—a very fair, blond-haired GQ-style guy named Benjamin—wanted to come with me to meet the woman that raised me, and be with me at the sparse little funeral, I couldn’t do that. Not when Lanie Barrett’s husband was dark-haired, tall and blue-collar sexy Michael. Which would have come as somewhat of a surprise to Benjamin.
“I know, Tilly,” I said, pulling my thoughts back to her as Ralph finished up cleaning the cabinets and had come nosing around the counter to find the source. “I probably have been in a funk. Just—nothing’s been the same.”
“Well, and Benjamin,” she said, and I could hear the nod.
Damn, I really needed to stop talking to people so much about my personal life. I forgot I’d told her about my boyfriend.
“Benjamin was a douche,” I said, feeding Ralph a burned pancake. Maybe he’d be less likely to pee on me tonight.
Benjamin was a douche. He called me cute.
He didn’t understand the insult, but it was really the whole disclaimer phrase that went with it that got my goat. The words still echoed in my head.
I’ve always wanted that average, girl-next-door, dependable girlfriend. The one that isn’t too sparkly. Cute but not gorgeous.
I wanted to throw up just thinking about it. Nothing in my entire life had made me feel more mediocre than that. Whether it was true or not, your man shouldn’t be the one to say it. Not that I was looking for undying love. I didn’t do love. But I was certainly looking for unbridled lust with someone who thought me above average.
My phone beeped in my ear, announcing another call, from an unknown number. Unknown to the phone, maybe, but as of late I’d come to recognize it.
“Hey, Till,” I said, finger hovering over the button. “The lawyer is calling. I should probably see if there’s any news on the will.”
“Go ahead,” she said. “I’ll call you in a few days and see how my Ralph is doing.”
So, not coming back in a few days.
“Sounds good,” I said, clicking over. “Hey, Carmen.”
“Hey yourself,” she said, her voice friendly but smooth and full of that lawyer professionalism they must inject them with in law school. She warmed it up for an old best friend, but it wasn’t the same tone that used to prank call boys in junior high or howl at the top of her lungs as we sped drunk down Dreary Road senior year.
This Carmen Frost was polished. I saw that at the funeral. Still Carmen, but edited and Photoshopped. Even when I met her for drinks afterward and we drove over to the house to reminisce.
This Carmen felt different from the childhood best buddy that had slept in many a blanket fort in our living room. Strung of course with Christmas lights in July and blessed with incense from Aunt Ruby. That Carmen was the only person I truly let into my odd little family circle. She never made fun of Aunt Ruby or perpetuated the gossip. Coming from a single mom household where her mother had to work late often, she enjoyed the warm weirdness at our house. It wasn’t uncommon for her to join us to spontaneously have dinner in the backyard under the stars or dress up in homemade togas (sheets) to celebrate Julius Caesar’s birthday.
Returning for the funeral and walking into th
at house for the first time without Aunt Ruby in it broke me. It was full of her. She was in every cushion. Every bookcase. Every oddball knickknack. Her scent was in the curtains that had been recently washed and ironed, as if she’d known the end was near and had someone come clean the house. Couldn’t leave it untidy on her exit to heaven for people to talk.
We sat in Aunt Ruby’s living room and cried a little and told a few nostalgic stories, trying to bring back the old banter, but it was as if Carmen had forgotten how to relax. She was wound up on a spool of bungee rope and someone had tied the ends down. Tight and unable to yield.
Still, we had history. At one time, she was family. Which is why Aunt Ruby hired her to handle her will and estate.
A word that seemed so silly on my tongue, as I would have never associated estate with my aunt or her property. But that was the word Carmen used again and again when we talked. Her estate involved the house and some money (she didn’t elaborate), but it had to be probated and there were complications due to medical bills that had to be paid first.
Which made sense. It had taken almost two months, and I had almost written off hearing anything. Not that I was holding my breath on the money part. I was pretty sure whatever dollars there were would be used up with the medical bills, and that just left the house. I figured that would probably be left to me. I was really her only family after my mom died young. Well, except for some cousins that I barely knew from her brother she rarely talked to, but I couldn’t imagine them keeping up with her enough to even know that she died.