Lacey Black

Dear Love Vixen,
You know the saying “always a bridesmaid, never a bride?” That’s me. I’ve stood beside six best friends, with the seventh to marry the man of her dreams in less than a month. I’ve tried everything, from dating apps to websites that promise to find you deep, meaningful love, only to set you up with a dud who leaves you with the whole check. So, I’m done. Throwing in the towel. Over dating. I’m just going to sit here and wait for it to show up on my doorstep like pizza delivery. I’m… Ugh! Sorry, my neighbor is horrible! I wish you could hear how loud and annoying he is. He’s the worst, even if he is slightly gorgeous. The problem is… he knows it. Anyway, back to my issue. I’m tired of looking for love in all the wrong places! (Wow, cue Johnny Lee.) Help!

Sincerely,
Waiting in Washington

Dear Lady in Waiting,
You’re going about this all wrong. Don’t think of it as giving up. Think of it as the perfect time to do some inner soul-searching and find out exactly who you are and what you have to offer those you love. You know I always say, you’ll never find love until you find yourself.

Sweetie, I wish I could tell you a timeline, but there isn’t one. Finding true love could take years or it could be closer than you think.

Good luck, hon!
The ♥️ Vixen

**Disclaimer: The Love Vixen concept, letters, posts, and advice are works of fiction. The LV is not a licensed doctor or trained professional, or even a real person. The guidance she gives should probably not be followed because everything is made up by the authors.


Meet the Author!

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Lacey Black is a Midwestern girl with a passion for reading and writing. She carries her e-reader with her everywhere she goes so she never misses an opportunity to read a few pages. Always looking for a happily ever after, Lacey is passionate about contemporary romance novels and enjoys it further when you mix in a little suspense. She resides in a small town in Illinois with her husband, two children, and a chocolate lab. Lacey loves shooting guns and should only consume one mixed drink because she’s a lightweight.

Chapter One

Penelope

“This new summer stuff is amazing,” my boss, Constance, says through my laptop monitor. “It’s fun and educational.”

I offer a quick grin. “I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it. All I could picture is my nephews playing with that bug stuff,” I reply, recalling how I thought about my unofficial nephews when I was meeting with the toy company at the toy show last month.

I’m a buying assistant for Sloan’s, a regional chain store in the northwest corner of the U.S. We have thirty stores in four states, and my department handles toys and crafts. Never in a million years did I think I’d be using my marketing degree to buy toys for a living, but now I can’t see myself doing anything else.

But the best part? I get to work from home. Twice a year I attend shows in Seattle where I meet with manufacturers and developers to discuss our needs for the upcoming season. Every spring, I buy for the winter and Christmas holiday, while in the fall, I’m looking at spring and summer products to stock our shelves.

“How are the Davis triplets?” Constance asks, a knowing smile on her face.

“They’re wild and loving preschool,” I answer of the three kids who completely stole my heart the day I saw three beans on the ultrasound. I call them my unofficial nephews because they belong to my best friend, Shannon. She was the first one in our group to marry after college and the first to have kids. Since I don’t have any siblings of my own, my friends are my sisters, which means their kids are mine by proxy.

Hagen, Holden, and Henley are four, and if you were to look up mischief in the dictionary, my sweet little nephews would be photographed. What one doesn’t think of, one of the other two will, and they definitely keep Shannon and Aaron on their toes.

“Oh, I bet they are. I only had one and remember how hard that age was. I can’t imagine having three.” Constance has been my boss for six years. The moment she was promoted from

a buying assistant to director was the day I finally found my groove at Sloan’s. She’s energetic, compassionate, and listens well.

Plus, she knows what it’s like to be an assistant, and knows how much work we put into our jobs. Our success is her success, really, and Constance gets it. She oversees all of the assistants, putting the final approval on all our orders and freight distribution. It’s a detail- oriented and, at times, complicated job, but she handles it with grace and patience.

Just as I go to speak, the steady grind of a table saw echoes through the room. I’m instantly irritated, grinding my teeth together at the horrible noise blasting through my walls. Day in and out, that’s all I hear. Grinding, sanding, sawing. Not to mention the horrible classic country blaring through speakers he clearly points directly at my property.

My neighbor.

Theo Emerson.

“Is that your neighbor again?” she asks, her eyes lighting up in humor as the corner of her lip turns upward.

“I hate him,” I grumble, uncharacteristically. I try not to badmouth my jerk of a neighbor, but sometimes, I just can’t help myself.

Like now.

I’m supposed to be on my weekly video conference call with my boss, and it’s suddenly difficult to hear.

Theo makes furniture. Beautiful, yes, but noisy, nonetheless. If it’s not one piece of equipment running and annoying me, it’s another. Tables, chairs, bedroom suites, and entertainment centers. Hell, he even makes organizational systems for closets and utility cabinets.

Rumor has it he’s booked up twelve to fifteen months in advance for his custom pieces, but if you have the time to wait, it’s worth it. He does beautiful work, as intricate or as simple as you want, in just about every design style you can think of. He’s probably the most sought-after carpenter in Washington. Maybe even along the entire western coastline.

Too bad his cocky assholery outweighs all of that.

“I was checking out his website last weekend. You know, after the circular saw interruption,” Constance says. “He’s very talented. Too bad we couldn’t get some of his product in the stores. They’d sell out in a heartbeat.”

I wave off her comment. “Won’t ever happen. He mostly does custom orders, and the few extra pieces he makes to sell outright go to Harmon’s Furniture across town.”

“Well, that’s too bad, but I do understand. However, if you ever hear he’s looking to expand, let me know. I’m sure Sloan’s would be interested in striking an exclusive deal.”

“I prefer not to talk to him at all, so you’re on your own there,” I quip with a chuckle.

“My next conference is in a few moments, so I’m going to let you go. Great work on the spring/summer line. You are still under budget, so let me know if you find anything else you’d like to add.”

I nod and sign off, closing my eyes and sighing the moment the video is disconnected. The noise outside persists, causing me to jump up and rush to the window. We share a large driveway, which means our garages are right smack dab next to each other. Mine, a cute little single car detached garage, while his has been added on to. Theo can still park his big stupid truck in there, but it has a whole new addition into the yard that’s used for his workspace.

Even though the temperatures are dropping in late October, I see the big roll-up door to his shop open. He does that a lot, which is also the reason I don’t leave my door open. Too many times I went to get into my vehicle to find it covered in sawdust. Hell, it even covers my back patio and my lawn chairs. There’s nothing worse than sitting down to relax and watch the sunset with a glass of wine, only to find your ass covered in wood dust when you’re done.

Of course, this is the moment Theo steps out of his shop. He stretches his back, reaching his arms up to the sky and slowly twisting from side to side. The movement causes his light blue T-shirt to ride up above his belt and display a nice little sliver of toned, tanned skin.

Theo Emerson is gorgeous. Like legit, the hottest guy I’ve ever seen in person. The problem is, he knows it too. At just over six feet tall, he has a build that lets you know he works out, but not so much he looks like he’s about to Hulk out of his shirt. Throw in dark hair, a nicely trimmed beard—something I never even realized I was attracted to until recently—and the world’s prettiest chocolate eyes, you have the makings of a wet dream come to life.

Too bad he’s a complete jerk.

Before I’m able to back away from the window, he looks up, as if sensing my eyes on him. He slowly lowers his arms, while holding my gaze, and gives me that stupid smirk. The one he throws my way every time he catches me gawking. The problem is he’s so full of himself, he thinks I’m doing it just to enjoy the view. I mean, it’s not entirely about that. If he only knew I was stabbing him with that stupid utility knife hanging from his belt in my mind.

No, I’d never do that.

Ever.

I don’t like blood.

It makes me all…squeamish.

Even if blood was my jam, I’d never go all Dexter on him or purposefully injure another human being, even if said human being spends his entire day getting on every single nerve I have, especially the last one.

That’s the one he likes to tap dance on.

I give him an eye roll, making sure it’s big enough he can see, and then close my blinds. Usually, I’d love the natural light filtering into my home office, but today it’s too much temptation. The last thing I need is for Theo to see me checking him out again, even though that really wasn’t what I was doing.

Or at least it wasn’t what I started out doing.

With the blinds closed, I return to my seat at my desk and fire up distribution requests yet to be filled. Part of my job is to make sure the products I purchase and have sent to our distribution warehouses are scheduled for movement to the individual stores. All of my winter and Christmas freight is either moving or has arrived at its destination, and now I’ll work on ensuring the remaining summer and fall lines are ready for discount.

I spend the next hour going over numbers when an alert in my email makes me pause. Only this isn’t my work email, but my personal. As soon as I switch screens, I wish I hadn’t. It’s a notification for Let’s Get Together, the latest in a long list of dating apps I’ve signed up for over the last few years.

I’ve been ignoring all of those notifications, mostly because I’m pretty sure all that’s left online are the duds. At least, that’s who I’ve found in the last few years. Plus, I swore off dating just a few weeks ago, determined to let Mr. Right find me when I’m least expecting it. But for some reason, I click on the latest series of notifications from the site.

“Well, look at that. Jimmy Duncan wants to talk,” I mumble to no one, deciding against my better judgment to click on his message.

Hey, Penelope!

Do you mind if I call you Penny?

I instantly groan. Why does everyone instantly want to give me a nickname?

I’d love to chat more and get to know you better. I’m a Virgo who likes magic. I’ve been attending classes to learn the art of becoming a magician, and all I can say is it’s simply amazing.

I sit up straight in my chair, rereading the first half of his message to make sure I read that correctly.

You’re a very pretty lady. I love that shade of periwinkle on you. In fact, I showed my mom when she came into my room to collect my laundry.

Seriously?

I glance around, as if my friends are going to jump out of the closet or from behind the wingback chair in the corner of the room. When I don’t see Ashton Kutcher and his Punk’d team, I slowly turn back to the computer screen, dreading the end of the message.

How about coffee or tea? There’s a great little place in Jameson, which looks to be fairly close to you. If that goes well, we can have dinner, but as long as you’re groovy with going Dutch. HMU soon!

HMU. Hit me up.

Uhh, no.

The use of an acronym frequently used by teens bothers me. How old is the young magician who still lives at home with mommy? I click on his profile and scan the details. Twenty-four. Umm, Mr. Magician is nine years my junior. I’m certain when I signed up, I indicated I was looking for a man no less than five years younger than me and no more than

five years older. I’m aware that narrowed the dating pool a bit, but that’s okay. I don’t have a whole lot of stock in the process at this point anyway.

I end up not replying to Mr. Magician. Instead, I close down the app without even looking at the other messages. See, this is why I’ve given up on dating. It’s been bad date after bad date. Creepy messages after bizarre ones. At one time, I thought online dating was going to be the gateway to finding my one and only.

Except, all I’ve found are the weirdos.

I’ve tried everything. Prior to my stint with internet dating, I was meeting guys at bars and coffee shops, stumbling into them in the produce aisle at the supermarket, even late-night showings of action films at the local theatre. Nothing worked. At least, not for anything long term. I did happen to find the guys who pretended to be looking for a meaningful relationship, but in reality, were more interested in adding notches to a bedpost.

That’s why I had to give it all up.

The whole thing.

Dating.

I’m done.

My friend, Teagan, is the one who told me I needed to just relax and let love happen. Of course, she’s getting married in less than two weeks, therefore thinks everyone should be as sickly sweet and deliriously happy as she is.

But the truth is, I’m the last one of our small group of eight to tie the knot. It started with Shannon directly out of college and has steadily continued over the last eleven years. Once Teagan walks down the aisle in ten days, I’ll be the only remaining friend without a ring on her finger.

Instead, I have a cat who only likes me when it’s feeding time and a neighbor whose sole purpose in life is to drive me crazy, making as much noise as possible under the guise of working. Worse, he looks fabulous doing it.

I find one more email in my inbox that requires my attention and click on it. It’s from Teagan with the itinerary for her wedding weekend. Everything from manis and pedis and lunch on Friday afternoon to the reception on Saturday evening. It’s all there, detailed down to the

exact minute of execution. But I wouldn’t expect anything less from my bride-to-be friend. She’s a detail-oriented person, a junior associate for a defense attorney husband and wife team in Seattle. The fact she’s dictating when I can use the bathroom doesn’t surprise me in the least.

I fire off a quick reply, acknowledging her itinerary and promising to study the timeline prior to my trip up to Seattle next Thursday night. I don’t bother to print off a copy though. I already know she’ll have laminated copies waiting for us at the hotel.

Think I’m exaggerating?

I’m not.

I promise you.

Closing down my personal email, I hop back over to my work one, determined to get through the rest of the day as quickly as possible. Tomorrow night, I’m meeting Shannon at El Toro for our weekly dinner date, which she uses as her time away from her triplets. Of course, I can’t wait to hear what she has to say about the itinerary we just received. If I know my best friend, I know she’ll have plenty to say.

I just hope she doesn’t bring up the lack of a wedding date again. She’s tried numerous times to set me up with someone she knows, all unsuccessfully, I might add. The guy at her gym, her dentist, the dude who changed her oil two months ago. There’s always someone she’s trying to fix me up with, and the fact that there’s a wedding coming up and I’ll be the only one without a plus one has been the driving force behind her constant push.

I guess we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Or should I say, who it’ll bring.

Let’s just hope she’s not wanting to set me up with a budding magician who still lives with his mommy.