Every girl deserves a little revenge…

Southern bell turned city girl shop owner, Bethany Lange knows a thing or two about gay men. She’s dated five of them. On top of her failed dating life, she’s trying to keep her SoHo boutique ahead of the creditors and on top of the trends. When a friend offers her a consulting job on a new gay makeover show, she snatches up the golden opportunity faster than you can say, “Never wear stripes with paisley.”

Color her déjà blue when one of the cast members turns out to be her latest ex. She doesn’t believe for a second that he’s gay and she’s going to prove it, even if she has to stalk him to get the proof. In the meantime, she’s battling a growing attraction to Chris, the show’s kitchen god. He’s sweet, sexy, and funny. The perfect guy… if only he weren‘t gay.

As the stalking and her attraction to Chris escalate, can Bethany prove to herself, once and for all, that she’s not the closet cleaner she fears she’s become? Can she stop falling for unavailable guys and find one that’s a lifetime keeper? Only time—and stalking—will tell.

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Prologue

“You’re a turner,” Lydia declared, her voice carrying crisply despite the noisy crowd in Cafe Frais, my favorite SoHo teahouse.

Intrigued, I regarded her over the gold rim of my teacup.

Next to me Fiona choked on her Earl Grey. “Is that anything like a spinner?” she sputtered as she dabbed a napkin to her chin.

I wasn’t sure what Fiona meant, but odds were it was obscene. Her mind lived forever in the gutter.

Carefully setting my own teacup on its waiting saucer without a clatter—some Southern manners were hard to lose—I considered the conversation leading up to Lydia’s odd statement.

We had been discussing my romantic past. Not exactly my favorite subject, but with new beau Evan on his way to join us for brunch—meeting the girls for the first time—they seemed intent on rehashing history. I had just finished telling them about seeing my latest ex shopping at Gracious Home with his new boyfriend.

Sad, but true.

Which did not explain Lydia’s bizarre declaration.

“What precisely do you mean?” I asked.

“Well,” she began, resting her elbows gently on the floral tablecloth. “David is gay.”

I nodded politely at her statement of the obvious. “Yes.”

“And before David there was Jon. He’s gay, too.”

Also true. Two for two. With a sinking feeling about the direction of this conversation, I nodded again.

“Tell me, Bethany. How many of your ex-boyfriends are gay?”

“Just the—” two, I started to say. Then I remembered Tad. But that was all—oh. And Richard.

Four?

How was it possible that I had blocked out the glaring reality that my last four beaux had since burst forth from the closet? That was the sort of pattern a girl really ought to notice.

What did this say about me? Was I the kind of girl who only attracted men of uncertain sexuality and repressed urges? Was I a … closet cleaner?

My face must have fallen, because Lydia leaned even closer and smiled sympathetically. “A turner,” she repeated. “See what I mean?”

Yes, I did. All too well.

This was probably all my fault. How depressing. Oh, not that I made a conscious decision to only date un-outed gay men, but must have been signs. Little indications—or big ones, as in the case of Tad’s “roommate” in his West Village studio apartment—about a man’s true sexuality.

That I had overlooked these signs in the past might mean I was only looking for unavailable guys. I couldn’t get hurt if rejection was beyond my control, right?

Sounded like something a therapist would say.

Deeply psychological.

I read once that girls only sought out men either similar to or the opposite of their fathers. Since none of my exes were the strict, overbearing, ultimatum-giving type, I had to assume I was seeking out the latter.

I sighed, lifted the teacup of English Breakfast with two sugars, and took a fortifying sip. Over the porcelain edge I caught sight of Evan making his way through the crowded café.

A welcome sight.

“Evan’s here,” I announced as I set my cup back on its saucer. “He’s different. Not a gay bone in his body.”

Fiona snorted again, but turned with Lydia to get their first look at the new man in my life. Well, he wasn’t new to me. We’d been dating for almost six months, but I kept him tightly under wraps. After my previous disasters I’d wanted to wait until I was sure before introducing him to the closest thing to family I had in the city.

Seeing me, Evan waved enthusiastically.

He dressed so well. In a non-gay, purely heterosexual way, of course.

Simple black leather jacket. Flat-front black trousers. Shiny black loafers. Lavender paisley shirt?

I scowled.

Fiona and Lydia exchanged a less-than-inscrutable look before turning back to me.

“Good luck with that,” Fiona said.

Lydia added, “I’m so sorry.”

I did not need sympathy. Evan wasn’t like the others. Lydia had already found her Mr. Perfect. Fiona was working her way through the entire male population of New York before settling on a favorite. And I, despite my questionable track record and my friends’ initial impressions, had found mine.

I was certain.

We talked about everything. He made little romantic gestures like leaving a single red rose on my pillow and sending me chocolates at work. The sex was—well, the sex was mediocre at best, but the rest of the relationship more than made up for that lack.

Just as I had that affirming thought Evan reached our table. He came immediately to my side and bowed down to kiss me on the cheek. As he leaned in I noticed the silver and leather jewelry adorning his neck and wrist.

“Evan, I’ve put a lot of time and effort into you,” I said before I could stop myself. “If you turn out gay, I’ll castrate you.”

Chapter One

Walk-In Closet was doing okay. Not great. Not fantastic. Not an overnight success. But for a relatively new SoHo boutique it was doing okay.

Two years in business and going strong.

Still, it could be better.

Things could always be better.

If a great windfall fell my direction, I wouldn’t step out of the way.

The bell over the front door tinkled just as I finally found a home for a box of shantung neckties in the overcrowded back room. Quickly dusting off my toile skirt, I pushed through the sage green damask curtain separating the showroom from the storage to find my mail carrier walking to the counter.

“Good morning, Fred.” I smiled even as I cringed at the thought of another delivery. If he had anything bigger than a clutch purse I would have to start turning the boxes into displays.

Or he might have bills. Bills would be worse.

 “How was your weekend?” I asked.

Fred answered with a terse, “Fine.”

One word responses were his forte.

He was never much for conversation. In fact, in the two years since Walk-In Closet opened I couldn’t think of a single time he had actually spoken more than two words to me. And those were usually, “Sign here.”

I only knew his Christian name because Albert, the Saturday mail carrier, was a friendly older gentleman who loved taking the time for a chat. Fred seemed to resent the fact that I had learned and called him by his name, but I took a perverse pleasure in being friendlier than his behavior warranted.

Eventually the honey would sweeten him up.

Without another syllable, he handed over the small stack of envelopes—all disgustingly bill-shaped—and walked back out the door.

Sometimes I felt he would prefer my absence so he could leave my mail on the counter. But I was convinced I must be the only pleasant interaction he got all day and that he needed all the help he could get. One day I would break through that gruff veneer. One day he might even say, golly, three words.

A girl can dream.

Quickly flipping through the pile, I saw two bills that absolutely had to be paid by Friday and several more that could be put off another week.

This was not how I had imagined running the store. A financial balancing act between downright necessities and necessary improvements. I downright needed to pay the rent. But I also needed to order better quality padded hangers before another careless shopper left the floor around the lingerie display littered with slinky camisoles and lace garter belts.

Footprints didn’t wash out of pastel silk.

The SBA loan that jump-started the shop had gotten me the lease and the décor and the initial stock with a little left over for advertising. But that was gone. Now that I knew what I needed.

Too soon old, too late wise.

I pulled the portable file tote from beneath the register and filed the vital bills in the “Pay Now” file and the rest under “Pay Someday.” The “Pay Now” file was a little plumper in the pants than I last remembered.

With the business bank account hovering precariously above the red, I had to bring in some bill-paying cash soon.

Whenever I needed extra cash flow there was one easy answer. Well, two, but I wasn’t about to call and ask my father for help. His opinions on my choice to stay in the city and start my own business rather than return home and marry a nice, successful Southern boy were unequivocal: he would neither forgive nor assist me.

So, it was time to hold another trunk show.

They always brought in a crowd of fashion hunters desperate to get the newest, hottest couture. When they found the perfect piece, they usually bought an item or two from the shop to go with. When they didn’t, they usually bought something from the shop so they didn’t leave empty-handed.

Thanks to Lydia’s connections, I could always get a Ferrero Couture trunk show when I needed one—occasionally with an appearance by Ferrero himself. And the last one had been nearly four months ago.

Right around the time Evan and I broke up. Le sigh.

At least that relationship had dissolved over another woman—not another man.

I had the card for the Tri-State sales rep tacked up in the storeroom. Pushing back through the damask curtain, I hadn’t taken two steps into the cardboard maze when the doorbell tinkled again.

I groaned.

At least it couldn’t be more bills. Unless one of my creditors had resorted to couriered delivery or repo men.

Maybe it was a customer.

Actually, I noted as I stepped into the showroom, it was two.

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City Chicks series

About the Series

Straight Stalk is part of the City Chicks series. Here is the  complete (as of this moment) list in proper reading order:

  1. Eye Candy (Book 1)
  2. Straight Stalk (Book 2)
  3. Trying Texas (Book 3, Fall 2014)
Eye CandyStraight StalkTrying Texas

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