Love at first sight is more than just a dream.
In high school, Bianca Charleston had a crush on Cole, but she was a nobody. Nothing but a wallflower so invisible he never knew she existed.
Things have changed, and she’s finally ready to show off her new bombshell look. Sort of. Maybe. After a one-sided pep talk with her cat, she comes home to help with the annual carnival, no longer the girl who faded into the background, Charlie discovered there’s even more to Cole than she ever imagined.
FBI field officer Cole Johnson doesn’t have an easy job, but his life was good. Uncomplicated. And he was happy or so he thought. Then in walks Charlie, a blonde with killer…everything. Suddenly he’s mentally clearing his schedule for a rare night out.
While Charlie doesn’t do one-night stands, somehow after-dinner dessert is served up against the wall of her hotel room. Both must get rid of preconceived notions of love and family to find their happiness and discover…there’s No Place Like Home.
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“Given any thought to applying to that charter school here in Buffalo? I still think you’d be a perfect fit.”
Shrugging probably didn’t translate all that well over the phone. “I’ve looked into it. It’s amazing. Exactly what I’d like to be doing, especially since it’s an arts academy. It’s perfect.”
Kia paused before speaking. “But?”
“Buuuuttt.” She drew out the word and nibbled her bottom lip. “The application process is ridiculously stringent—”
“Which means you’ve already filled it out almost completely.”
“Possibly,” Charlie kind-of admitted. “I need references as well and I have a big fat goose egg when it comes to Buffalo and references.”
“Am I chopped liver?” Kia wanted to know, her words accompanied by another yawn.
“Of course not.” Charlie clamped her mouth shut because she hadn’t asked Kia and if the roles were reversed, Charlie would be more than a bit miffed Kia hadn’t approached her. “And I have to have more than one. Two required. Three recommended.”
“Surely you know more people here than just me?”
“Of course. As the girl I used to be.”
“And you aren’t that girl anymore.”
Charlie smiled. “No. Thankfully I most definitely am not. I feel cute now, which I love. And confident.”
“You know what you should do with this newfound realization of your hotness?”
“What?” She put a few groceries away, grabbing a bowl to scoop some cottage cheese into and a plate for the rest of her meal.
“Come to the carnival.”
Charlie’s spoon clattered to the floor and Lord Voldemort made a beeline for it. “No, kitty.” She put it in the sink—the spoon, not the cat—and tried to take a silent deep breath.
“Before you automatically say no, hear me out. You wouldn’t need a hotel because you could stay with me. You could meet with some people in town who knew you before and make some contacts on getting a reference for the charter application. And as head chairperson for the Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital Carnival Committee, I formally invite you to come support this most wonderful charity event.”
“While I thank you for the formal invitation, I just can—”
“In a week and a half, thousands of people will be coming together to raise money for the local hospital with the mostest. There’s going to be amazing food, entertainment, hay rides.”
“Where are you going to do hayrides in Buffalo? And where are you getting hay from?”
“I was hoping you were going to bring it.”
“Hardee har har.”
“Come on. You know it’s the biggest event here each year. We raise massive amounts of funds for the hospital and—”
“All the not-awesome people from high school will probably be there.”
“Exactly. You can’t tell me you haven’t envisioned the moment when you get to see all of them again and show them exactly what you’ve turned into. You’re slender now with curves in all the right places.”
Charlie looked down the length of her own body in a summer dress and heels and loved knowing she looked good. “It may have crossed my mind a time or two. Hundred.”
“I knew it.”
“But I think I’ll wait until next year at the reunion. I could drop a couple more pounds and—”
“You drop a couple more pounds and I will hunt you down.”
“Oh will you now?”
“Yes I will. And don’t sass me while I’m sleepy. My snark-meter isn’t sufficiently charged.”
“Now, I know most of the kids back then were assholes in school.”
“Okay, pretty much everybody was assholes except for me and the rest of the kids in the robotics group, but you’ve worked really hard to drop the extra weight you didn’t like. And instead of a fashion flop, you’re now a fashionista. You’ve really come full circle. You could truly teach classes on awesome. Bibi is no longer alive, and no longer the most likely girl to become a real wallflower.”
“Ugh. Hated that nickname. Not to mention the worst title ever in the history of yearbook titles.”
“So, you could show them all up. Life’s too short for waiting for something this epic.” Her pause didn’t bode well. “I hear Trane’s supposed to be there.”
“Trane.” It came out sounding like a question and a prayer. The guy she’d had a crush on from the moment she entered high school in the Bakersville Central ISD. He was a star athlete, smart, definitely one of the popular kids. Four years of sharing classes with him. Having a locker just a handful of steps away from each other. Passing him in the hall thousands of times. He didn’t even know she existed and she was so in love with him.
“Just think about it. You show up, charm the pants right off of him and then drop him flat.”
Charlie rolled her eyes and then sat down to eat. “I’m not that good.”
“No, you’re not. You’re better. You could have any man you wanted.”
“And if I came, which I’m not, I’d stay in a hotel. It’d be like a mini vacation. He’s probably already married with kids and out of state and—”
“His name’s on the roster to man one of the dunk booths and I know he’s not married. Plus, you’re single. Wouldn’t it kind of be a total moment for you to bag Trane, and cross him off your to-do list?”
“You’re awful.” Charlie laughed as she stabbed a forkful of lettuce and blackened chicken. “You think like such a guy.”
“I’m not encouraging you.”
“You don’t need to. Nobody can turn off this much amazing. Besides, you never know. Trane could be the man of your dreams. You guys could fall madly in love at first sight and be married within the summer.”
“Or you could just sleep with him, jump up and down about it and move on. Your call.”
“I could never dump somebody like that. I’ve never had a one-night stand and honestly? Trane probably still wouldn’t give me the time of day.”
“You’d be surprised how much people change. Just look at you. I’m going to put your name down to help me in my booth.”
Jennifer Kacey is a writer, mother, and business owner living with her miniman in Texas. She sings in the shower, plays piano in her dreams, and has to have a different color of nail polish every week. The best advice she’s ever been given? Find the real you and never settle for anything less.