Chapter 1

“It’s not usual for you to be here on a Friday.” Amit, the gent who owns the Indian restaurant where I get my takeaway, arches his brow. “Or do I have my days mixed up and it’s Thursday?”

I briefly wave my phone in the air. “What can I say? I’m a dedicated business owner like yourself.” Because he’s always here when I come in. I type the last sentence in the email I began composing earlier this afternoon, which feels like a lifetime ago, and press send. I check my inbox and find twelve new emails; that’s over fifty I’ll need to answer tonight.

I should be happy that my business is doing so well, but at this moment I only feel tired. Exhausted from the endless days, I can’t determine when I did what or if I intended to do something but never got to it. It’s starting to blur together.

I’m thinking the funneling of energy drinks doesn’t help either.

“I had a shipment today that was wrong. According to the packing slip, I ordered four beautifully crafted Italian knee-high boots in brushed brown leather. Also according to the slip, they were in the box that contained the slip, but according to my eyes and hands, nothing was in said box but Styrofoam peanuts. I’ve been on the phone making international calls all day.”

Amit’s bored stare tells me he’d rather not listen to me prattle on about my woes. I mean who cares that I’ve done takeaway from him practically every Thursday for the last few years? It’s this look now that’s stopped me from putting him on my Christmas mailing list. That and he’s Hindu.

“I suppose you ordered the same thing?” He shrugs while reloading the toothpick dispenser.

“When something works, why change it?” I lean against the counter.

“Because you might like something new. Add a little excitement.” His look is pointed.

“My parents have had no luck hiring waitstaff for their pub, three months now.” I show him three fingers. “I’ve been working there during the dinner rush to help out. That’s plenty of exciting for me.” And draining. It’s mindboggling how my parents do it every day, because the few short hours I go in leave me weary and desperate for a bath and foot massage.

“You need a new definition of excitement.” He finishes with the toothpicks and moves to replenishing his takeaway menus.

I scroll through the emails and ignore him. That’s twice today I’ve been told to mix things up.

This morning’s fortune cookie read: Sometimes we need to wander off the beaten path to find our true destination.

Complete rubbish that.

For someone who finds wisdom and guidance in the prophecy of a good fortune cookie, that one was disappointing for sure. It will not be a fortune I’ll tuck into my inspiration jar at home with the intention to draw it again. No thank you; I only save the really good ones. That one was immediately tossed into my cavernous handbag with a slim chance of ever surfacing again.

Being singularly focused on my goals and staying on the well-traveled path of small business entrepreneurship has brought me success. I’m certainly not going to “wander” as I’m about to launch the next stage in my Jayne-takes-over-the-fashion-world plan. First Florida, then—sooner rather than later—another state. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

And, really, how would trying something different on Amit’s menu provide such a thrill it would change my life?

The bell to his door chimes as it opens and I move aside to make room for the customer that’s come in. He pays and casts me a quick smile when he picks up his order.

It does smell wonderful.

“I’m excited to try the special, Amit,” the guy says as he’s making his way out.

“Enjoy. Come again, Joe.” Amit waves and turns his attention back to me. “Joe tries something new every time he comes in.”

“I like what I like and what I like is shrimp korma and naan with cheese.” I really like the cheese.

“Why are you not going out tonight? You’re too young to sit in your house probably peeking out the window and watching others. You need a date? I can introduce you to Joe.” Amit takes a bundle of takeaway orders from the waitress delivering them.

“What? No. I do not peek out my windows and I do not need to be set up.” And not by the guy I get takeaway from either. “As if. I mean, it’s Friday and Joe’s getting takeaway.” I cross my arms. “I worked a long day at both my own shop and my parents’ restaurant. Also, I have bookkeeping that must be done or else my business will implode from the weight of all this paper and all will be for naught.” I nod as if to put finality to the sentence. “What’s Joe’s reason?”

Amit gives me a flat look. Definitely not getting a holiday card from me. “He’s a doctor. He probably just got off work.”

That explains trying the special. Everyone knows doctors are thrill seekers.

Amit looks at the receipt on a bag. “Jay-nee.”

“It’s Jayne. No nee.” We do this every time. I think it’s his way of teasing me.

“But it’s not spelled like Jane.”

“No, it’s not.” I stare into the chaos of my overstuffed handbag, preparing for the dive in to retrieve my money. A scarf and several bits of paper in various sizes, mostly receipts and notes, obscure the view into the depths. Funny—or is it ironic—the bloody fortune from this morning is right on top as if chanting its false wisdom. With vigor (likely due to equal parts hunger and frustration), I plunge my hand into the bag and dig for my purse. When I find it, I pull it free with a feeling of victory. As it would happen, I also pull free a newspaper clipping, which flies out and lands on the counter, facing Amit.

The headline reads: Young entrepreneur invents menstrual undies and makes first million by thirty. On a Post-it note, Mum has scrolled This could be you, time is ticking!

Embarrassed, I snatch it up, crumble it in one hand before tucking it back into my purse.

Amit stares at me, his lips pressed into a thin line, a puzzled look on his face. I don’t have the energy to explain that my mum frequently leaves inspirational messages such as this one in my purse, on my car windshield, or clipped on her schedule board at the pub.

I count out the dollars needed to make my escape while silently cursing mum and her obsession with the business side of my life. Most mums plead for grandbabies. Not mine, she wants me to have a set amount in the bank before I bring anyone else in the picture. The second year after I opened my shop, she went as far as making a motivator for me, drawing out a thermometer on the large chalkboard she kept in her office—the top being my target net worth—and tsking when I fell short at the monthly check-ins she required. I’ve refused to participate each year and, even though I’ve yet to reach the goals she’s set, I’ve come really close. Though in Mum’s eyes really close and success are not equal.

Amit hands me my change.

I snatch my takeaway bag from the counter and exit as fast as I can.

The drive to my flat—or as my friend Paisley likes to correct, townhouse—is quick and loaded with yawn suppressions. When I pull into the lot facing my place, too lazy to park in my garage, the obnoxious growl of my stomach has replaced my yawning as the tangy yet sweet aroma of my shrimp korma keeps my salivary glands working overtime. I’m hungry enough I could eat in the car. But I’ll likely fall into a sleep coma afterward and perhaps my car isn’t the best place. What does it say about me that I’m ready for bed at half past nine?

Spinster? Workaholic? Loner?

I wouldn’t hear that from Mum. She’d applaud any of one of those, surely.

Before I go inside, I take out the extra fish I nicked from Mum’s pub. Behind the shrub next to my front door, I’ve placed a small bowl where I dump the fish.

“Kitty, kitty,” I say, calling the feral tabby arsehole that’s been coming around.

I say he’s an arsehole because he, like all men, deigns me with his presence when it suits him. Not that I asked him to come around. When he first popped up, I tried to shoo him away and for my efforts was awarded several eight-inch claw marks down my arm. Not before I felt his jutting ribs and the lack of meat between his skin and bones. I’m not keen to be a crazy cat lady, though. Which is why I tried to make him scamper off in the first place. Pushing thirty, the last thing I need is a horde of cats. Are you married? Have children? Pushy folks always want to know your status. I don’t want mine to be that I have more cats than fingers and toes. That’s a meme if there ever was one.

Still, he’s terribly scrawny and I can’t bear to see him looking the way he does, those big green eyes blinking at me. Hence the fish from Mum’s. I wait a few beats but there’s no sign of him.

See Jayne be an absolute sucker.

Once inside, I toss my ledgers on the table. I swear I’ll get to them at some point today but first…food. Without bothering to change from my dress, I devour the bread while standing in my kitchen. My phone chimes an alert, reminding me I have a new client appointment first thing in the morning. I inspect my chipped nail polish, ruined from helping bus tables and working the dishwasher at the pub. To show up like this tomorrow will not do!

Right, first things first. Nails and food then books. By then I hope to catch my second wind and be able to power through the paperwork. Who doesn’t like to do typing and paperwork with pretty nails? Masochists, that’s who.

Bonus, I fancy the gel polish that doesn’t require a special lamp to process. I love that it cuts down on the nail painting upkeep, as it lasts longer. Though it does need several coats. Excited, I change into yoga pants and a t-shirt, because I’m an expert at getting a food stain out of my clothes, but not nail polish.

I set up the polish next to the remainder of my food and click on the telly. Starting with my toes, I apply my favorite color. Mum calls it dirty slag red.

“Should I stop wearing it?” I once asked, humoring her.

“Is this the color a smart, successful business woman selects? Just be mindful that you’re drawing in the wrong sort. Sending the wrong message,” was her response. Tonight, I shall ignore her warning.

I aim to see eleven o’clock. But to do so means none of the standard telly for me. Good as my favorite shows, Graham Norton or Downton Abbey are, they’ll knock me out. I’ve a free trial to one of those premium channels and after nine p.m. things get a wee bit racy. Does an accelerated heart rate from soft porn count as cardio? I hope so. That’ll be the catalyst for my second wind and give me the energy to do my ledgers.

If my clients could see me now they’d never believe it. Posh Jayne Grandberry with the immaculate clothes and style, painting her toes while eating a large portion of shrimp korma from the box it came in. Thankfully, my first impression is usually cracking good. It’s in the privacy of my own home where I cast off that mantle. Here I wear manky yoga pants and mismatched fuzzy socks. I show this side only to my family and closest friends, who happen to be a small group of women that came together nearly two years ago.

I complete the coats of polish on my toenails and start my fingernails. I’m placing the first coat on one hand when the melodic ringing of my phone forces me to pause. I click the sound of the telly down, lest the vixen who’s currently getting a massage starts moaning, as people in these types of shows tend to do.

Paisley’s name shows on my screen and I hesitate. She’s supposed to be on a blind date, and our mutual friends Josie and Brinn are with her. What could she want with me? A rescue? Paisley already has two guys on the hook. When I saw her earlier today at my shop, she didn’t seem keen on a third. Rescue seems the likeliest.

If I answer, there’s a good chance I’ll have a hard time saying no.

If I ignore it, I will keep to my plan and my workday will have surpassed the twelve-hour mark.

See Jayne rescue her friend and be a hero.

I stifle a yawn before I answer. “Hallo.” I stare longingly at my food, knowing the odds of not finishing it just increased. Quickly, I shove a food-laden fork in my mouth. My gaze settles on the half-empty—or should I be an optimist and say almost full?—glass of wine. Had I finished it I wouldn’t be able to drive, so I’ll give her props for timing. It’s a shame to waste it. Can it be funneled back into the bottle to save for later?

“Jayne, what are you doing? Right. Now,” Paisley calls into the phone. I can tell she’s overly excited because her southern drawl gets thicker and her voice goes up a few octaves.

I make her wait while I chew then swallow. “Right now, right now?” I ask, a trace of sarcasm in my voice. She sounds too happy for me to be alarmed.

“Yes, right now,” she answers, a bit impatiently.

I glance from the telly, my nails, the food, and my bag with the ledgers. Truth is, I’m terribly behind on the administration bit of my business, which in turn means I’ve neglected the private clients I do personal shopping for. All this combined affects the color of my bottom dollar. I prefer black, but if I continue with my current habits then red it will likely be. Which is why I’ve also decided to paint my manky nails the motivating yet forewarning shade of Russian Roulette (AKA sultry slag red) instead of my typically encouraging Midnight Fog. I’ve still only one hand emblazoned with the bold red color, though it’s streaky and needs the second coat.

“Well, let’s see. Right now I’ve Colin Firth on the other line begging me to fly in and see him. Graham Norton keeps texting me to leave this small hick town to do wardrobe on his show, where he promises I shall meet more eligible men than I can handle, and Ryan Reynolds is naked in my bed as we speak. So make this quick.”

“So you’ve got nothing going on. That’s great!” Now she’s fairly singing with excitement.

“What’s so great about my pathetically boring existence and that I’m home on a Friday night?” I sigh wearily, seeing now how I must have appeared in Amit’s eyes. A young woman who can’t even be bothered to meet a young, and in hindsight somewhat handsome, doctor. I really am a sorry sod.

“Nothing except now you do have plans. Get your bum off the couch and put on something pretty, but casual. Meet us at Maggie May’s. Oh and brush your teeth. I bet you’ve had Indian food.”

I huff. “I always brush my teeth.” But I’m saying it to the air because she’s already rung off.

 

** I hope you enjoyed the first chapter of THE GIRL HE WANTS. Don't wait! Grab your copy now and find out what happens!