This is the new story featured in the Canine Cupids collection that Loose Id releases on Valentine’s Day. Perfect huh–Cupids for the Day of Love!!
Here is the link to preorder followed by the excerpt and another peek at the cover.
As you will learn –no spoilers!–Justin and Barry have a past. Now Justin is back and they are both eager but very worried about meeting again. By the way the business Justin wants to buy is a pet groomers. Here is where the meeting happens:
Back at the coffee shop, Justin had learned Barry Barlowe was not miles away but right here in Linda Vista, sitting in the chair of the bank president at Miner’s and Merchant’s. In all probability, it was Barry he’d have to convince to approve the loan he required if he was going to buy the failing business. How could he hope to make a success of it? Where did he get such audacity? There would be hard questions, and the person asking them would make it that much worse. As he stepped through the door he whispered a prayer to every deity he could remember that there really was a loan officer, anyone except Barry Barlowe.
Dear oh shit and shit oh dear. Going hat in hand to his old hero-cum-nemesis was going to be the most difficult thing he’d tried in many years. With his confidence in the toilet and his heart beating like a jackhammer, he entered the bank as soon as it opened on Monday morning.
He had called Friday to make an appointment, asking the cheerful lady who answered the phone to schedule a meeting with a loan officer. Had she made an odd sound when he gave his name? Surely not. He didn’t remember a Tina Espinoza. Not even her voice seemed familiar.
He stopped as a woman hurried across the lobby to greet him. “Justin! It’s good to see you after so many years.”
For a moment he stared at her blankly, squinting to try to read her name tag.
Her smile widened. “You don’t remember me, do you? I was a mousy little thing, and in the yearbook I was ‘the most likely to enter a convent.’ I always looked up to you because you were so smart, seemed to be so focused and determined.”
“Chrissy Delgado? Good grief, I would never have guessed. I mean, who could look up to the classic nerd? And the rest—are we talking about the same guy?”
She laughed, a light, girlish giggle. “Yes, I know. You were really not into girls. At the time, I didn’t realize… And then you left town, like overnight. Kind of a shock.”
Justin felt his face go red. “Nothing so drastic. I was just ready to escape, shake the Linda Vista dust off and try to make something of my life. It was all right for a while. I’m back now, with a plan. That’s why I need to talk to a loan officer. Sorry too. I just didn’t connect Tina to Chrissy and a different last name.”
“I changed my name to Tina after the divorce when I came back too. Barry—er, I guess I should say Mr. Barlowe, shouldn’t I, since it’s business. Anyway, he can see you right away.”
When she wheeled around, Justin had no choice except to follow her swaying derriere encased in a short, skintight, faux leather skirt. Too bad he really wasn’t “into girls” since she put so much into that walk. Convent schmonvent. That would never have worked. Meek little Chrissy really grew up. Then his efforts to divert his thoughts derailed as he followed her through the door. That was when he saw Barry, sitting in a ginormous throne of a leather chair behind a half acre of shiny desk.
For a breath or two, his mouth and throat went drier than the parched desert outside of town. The other man had aged well and apparently did more than simply sit in that chair because he looked tanned and fit.
Barry rose and circled his desk, extending a hand. “Mr. Dunne—why didn’t I connect that name? When did you get back to our fair town?”
Despite his outward hail fellow attitude, his words sounded artificial, so forced Justin had to wonder if Barry was also nervous.
“I’ve only been back a few days. I’m thinking about going into business. That’s why I need a loan.” Apparently, the years in high-tech sales had taken root. Justin had found a voice, and, to his ears, it sounded more normal than he could have hoped.
He met Barry’s offered hand but drew back as quickly as he could. Though not fast enough to escape the zing of energy that flashed through his nerves.
“Have a seat, have a seat. Tina, fetch us some coffee, will you?” Belatedly, Barry added, “Please.”
Justin saw the flash of irritation wash across Tina’s face though it was gone in a second.
“Of course,” she said. She was back almost as soon as Justin settled in the side chair to the left of Barry’s desk.
Barry took a swallow or two, grimaced at the heat, and set the cup down. “So you’re planning to stay awhile?”
“Likely.” Justin then explained about Cassandra’s closure and his sudden desire to buy her business. He tried to insert a lot more assurance into it than he really felt. You had to put on your game face in the business world, and seeking a loan was dead center there. “I still own my mom’s old house, free and clear. I can mortgage it if you need some collateral.”
Barry seemed to be waffling or hedging. “Did Cassie tell you why she’s closing shop? I’m not sure there’s enough business here to support it.”
“I’ll go countywide,” Justin proclaimed. “The van will work perfectly for that, and it’s part of the package.” He didn’t add it would be his only transportation for a while. Still, he hoped he sounded as if he’d researched and planned the whole operation. The fact his scheme was a hundred and ten percent a long shot at best wouldn’t buy him any trust. Somehow he would make it work. He had no other place to slink off to if it failed. He mentally crossed fingers on both hands, having at last to look hard at the other man’s face, trying to judge his reactions.
Barry scratched an ear, shifted in his seat. His gaze touched Justin’s briefly and skated away. “Do you think twenty grand will be enough? I can approve that much without going to the board for their agreement, unless it’s secured. Wait though, if you can get an appraisal on the house, we could go considerably higher, I’m sure. Just guessing it will appraise out at least seventy-five to eighty thousand. I’d lend two-thirds of that.”
Justin sucked in a fast breath. “I think you may have a mortgage on the storefront too. I’m not sure about that yet. The only issue is the fact I can’t lay hands on a substantial down payment right now.” Hell, he couldn’t put up five dollars if he wanted to eat the next week or two. Necessities had taken a bigger bite out of his savings account than he had intended to spend. Barry had no need to know that, though.
The silence seemed to grow until it choked the room. Barry’s gaze came back to Justin, locking with his for a timeless moment. Justin read a hundred hard questions in the other man’s hazel eyes, questions that had nothing to do with a loan, questions he had no answers for even though he had been asking similar ones himself.
“If you can let me have the twenty grand right away, I can use that as a down payment to Cassandra, let her step out and get on with her life. She said she needs to move back to Albuquerque soon to take care of her ailing mother.”
Barry tore his gaze away and let out what sounded like a held breath, a sigh of relief. “Fine, fine. I’ll cut you a check as soon as you sign a note.” Raising his voice, he called. “Tina, can you print us a promissory note? Make it simple for now, just from me to Mr. Dunne.”