Once Bitten, Twice Shy: A Romance
Troy Bishop, the owner of a local costume shop, has been single and alone since breaking up with his ex five years before. Other than his employees, his only friends are his dog, Aurel, and his cat, Duchess.
Mike Parish is terrified of dogs, having been bitten by one as a child. So when Troy introduces himself while walking Aurel past Mike's house one evening, Mike's response is less than enthusiastic. The next time that happens, Troy manages to convince Mike that Aurel is not the beast he thinks he is.
That's all it takes for the two men to become friends. As they do, they discover that each of them have been in, and ended, a disastrous relationship. Can they learn to trust their growing feelings for each other, or will the phrase "Once bitten, twice shy" prove to be true and keep them apart?
"Not happening. No way, no how."
"No! The last time you tried to set me up... Let's just say your taste in men sucks, Bel. I'm not looking for some muscle-bound, wannabe movie star with the brains of a gnat. Hell, I'm not looking period. Okay?"
Belinda sighed dramatically. "Okay, Troy. I think you're crazy, but it's your life."
"Exactly. Now what were we doing before you decided to play matchmaker...again?"
"Inventory," she grumbled, putting down her coffee cup and picking up the tablet she'd set on the counter. "You're not getting any younger, you know. You're going to be thirty-nine in two weeks."
Troy smiled ruefully. "That's right. Rub it in."
"Bel," Jake said, coming over to join them, "give him a break. Just because you've dedicated your life to making the perfect man"--he tapped his chest--"happy, doesn't mean he wants you to find one for him as well."
She rolled her eyes. "I may love you, but you're not perfect."
"You wound me to the core," Jake replied in mock dismay. "I'm practically perfect in..."
Belinda smacked his arm. "Do not even go there. Ms Poppins you aren't."
Jake smirked. "I was last year for Halloween. And you made the cutest chimney sweep."
Troy watched in amusement while the pair continued bantering as they walked back to where they'd been inventorying the men's period costumes.
He'd been telling Bel the truth when he'd said he wasn't looking for anyone. He'd been through one disastrous relationship that had ended five years ago. He had no intention of ever trying that again.
Not the disaster part, for sure. And not anything close to getting involved again. I'm doing just fine as I am. The shop takes up all my time and energy, and I like it that way.
With that thought in mind, he went back to what he'd been doing before a phone call, and Belinda, had interrupted him--doing his share of the stocktaking. He used to hate the boring but necessary chore when it had been done with a pad and pen. Now, since he'd taken the plunge and purchased three tablets, it was, if not fun, at least easier and faster.
By five o'clock they had finished inventorying the ground floor and were ready to call it quits for the day.
Belinda collapsed in one of the chairs behind the front counter. "Balcony tomorrow then back to what makes working here fun," she said, heaving a sigh of relief.
"Choosing my costume for Halloween?" Jake asked her.
She grinned wickedly. "Yeah. I was thinking maybe all leather and very little of that."
Jake shook his head adamantly. "Get that thought out of your head right now."
"But you'd look so sexy."
"Try for a sexy Gothic vampire with all the trimmings and you in a sheer nightgown as my willing victim."
"That would be a big 'no'. Sexy lady vampire and you as my willing victim."
Troy laughed. "You have two months to make up your minds and change them at least five times in the process. For now, let's get out of here."
Belinda eyed him thoughtfully. "I can see you in--"
"Nothing," Troy told her. "Or rather, not in costume. You know how I feel about that."
"Yeah and it's weird. Why own a costume shop if you don't want to dress in them?"
"Because, Bel, I'm a watcher, not a wearer."
"Does that make you a voyeur?" Jake asked with a grin.
"I guess you could say that, when it comes to costumes," Troy agreed.
"And life," Belinda muttered as she got up. "Someday..."
"Persistent little devil, aren't you?"
"Devils! That's it. We'll be sexy devils," Belinda said, linking her arm with Jake's as they headed toward the door.
Jake looked back over his shoulder at Troy, winking. "It didn't even take her five minutes to change her mind."
"Oh, shush. They could be sweet costumes."
Troy could still hear the pair debating costume choices as he followed them out of the shop after setting the alarm. When Belinda suggested Samson and Delilah, Troy chuckled. At five-ten and maybe one-fifty soaking wet, Jake was far from Samson material. Of course, she probably sees him as exactly that. Love can be very blind. "Very," he muttered, locking the door before heading to where he'd parked his car.