“I decided it wasn’t smart for me to gamble my heart on you.”
No Match for Her, an all-new swoon-worthy slow burn romance from bestselling author Stacy Travis is available now!
I need a date to my brother’s wedding in six weeks, and Charlie Walgrove owns a tux. Billionaires are like that.
He’s also my sister’s boss, and I agree to let her set me up with the awkward genius, who apparently has even less luck in the dating game than a struggling artist, aka me.
We’re total opposites, but the date goes okay. We agree to be friends, the kind who won’t become lovers.
Famous last words.
On a series of “friend dates” involving bar snacks, acrylic paint and hedgehogs, I discover that Charlie is nothing like what I expected. Under his hoodie and glasses, he’s handsome and down-to-earth, stuck in a job he hates and afraid to disappoint people by walking away. His heart is as gorgeous as his hidden face.
I’ve always felt like the flaky sister in my family, but Charlie sees me as the artist I want to be. As our friendship deepens, so do my feelings for him. Maybe I’m even falling in love.
But gambling with my heart feels dangerous when all my relationships end in failure–especially if he’s only looking for a friend.
Is it only princesses that get a Happy Ever After? Or is there hope for a hot mess like me?
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n’t eaten anything since breakfast. Nerves.
I’M WEARING RED. It’s a fire engine color that matches my lips and my toenail polish. It’s tasteful, sleeveless, and fitted. I’m hoping it says confident artist, which I don’t feel at all. I’m hoping it doesn’t tell everyone in the room that, on what should be a night of personal victory, my heart still lies in pieces on the gallery floor. I really hope red doesn’t say that.
I still haven’t talked to Charlie. Pulling together the show on relatively short notice has all but consumed me, and I feel like I need to prove to myself that I can take the first step as an artist alone before I investigate what he and I can be together.
Right now, I feel certain the thumping organ in my chest would laugh off the suggestion of anyone getting close to it. Ever again.
With his expression of love, Charlie opened a floodgate that I’d stubbornly wedged closed. I’m the one who chose to drown.
Sadly, more than half the paintings on the walls of the gallery are barely dry, some painted in a frenzy of self-loathing anguish that left me emotionally spent but artistically inspired, along with more than a dozen pieces that are oddly uplifting. Everywhere I look, I see evidence of Charlie.
People are starting to filter through the doors of the gallery space. Or maybe they’ve been here for an hour. I don’t know. I’m looking at them through some sort of fugue state.
If I could, I’d pick up a brush right now and paint through a new emotion twisting in my chest—longing. More than anything, I wish Charlie were here to celebrate this moment with me because he inspired it. Or at least he pushed me out of my comfort zone enough to embrace what my heart has been urging me to do for years.
The gallery space sits in the bottom floor of an art deco building on a corner in downtown Palo Alto, several blocks from the Stanford campus. The surrounding streets boast a collection of restaurants, cafés, wine bars, and retail spaces, so even people who haven’t received invitations to my exhibit are likely to stop in on their walk to someplace else. That has to be the explanation for why the three adjoining rooms suddenly feel noisy with voices. I only invited a handful of people—the design group from work, my family, and a couple of people who play mahjongg with Tatum and me.
“This is amazing!” Becca and Blake are the first of my family members to arrive, which surprises me because they don’t live nearby, and Becca is reliably late. They’re joined a minute later by Isla and Tatum who drove together. “Owen sends his love, and his regrets. He’s stuck in Napa. Some issue at one of the wine cellars.
“Donovan too. Away game tomorrow, and they’re en route.”
“Oh, no regrets. I’m so happy you’re all here. And a little freaked out, honestly, to have this many people looking at my artwork.”
“But your paintings are beautiful. They’re lucky to see them, I’m so proud of you,” Sarah says, hugging me. “Braden’s at the station, so I’m going to spend all our money and buy a big canvas for our house.”
“Okay, now you’re gonna make me cry, and you know how long I spent on my mascara.”
“Ha!” This from Tatum who squeezes in and hugs me. “If I learned anything from you, it’s that you always wear waterproof mascara in case of unexpected emotion.
“Wow, help a person with her makeup, and she throws it back in your face. Fine. It’s waterproof. I was being melodramatic.”
“Melodramatic, you?” Tatum pretends to look baffled. Sarah leans in and drags her away. “Come help me decide which painting to buy. I heard someone say there are crab puffs and I’m hungry.”
“There are crab puffs. Look for waiters. They’re supposed to be mingling,” I call after them, realizing I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast. Nerves.
The others follow them, and the temporary balloon that lifted my spirits starts to sag again. I know it’s ridiculous to miss Charlie at a moment when I should be celebrating, but I can’t help it. I wish he was here.
But we still haven’t spoken since our blowup the night he brought me here, and he’s respected my request for space. A little too well. He’s stopped texting and calling after a couple check-ins to ask if I was okay. I hoped that not responding would make me clearheaded enough to avoid hurling myself into the next disastrous decision, as I’m prone to do.
Now I just miss him.
The thinking has settled my mind in that I know I want two things: to paint as much as possible and to be with Charlie as much as possible. I love him and I need him. It’s as much a certainty as the sun rising every morning.
I also need to apologize to him for making him the scapegoat of my insecurities, and I haven’t figured out what to say about that yet. But I will.
I glance around and see that the number of people has already doubled in the one room where I stand with an untouched glass of champagne dribbling condensation down my arm. On every white wall within my line of sight, work I’ve painted hangs beneath perfect lighting. Tiny signs indicate the titles and prices of the pieces, but I don’t expect any of them to sell. It’s my first show, and I feel lucky the gallery owner liked the images I emailed her.
I’m even luckier that one of her clients had to postpone his show, leaving a three-day opening in the schedule. It felt like a sign when she called to ask if I had enough work and felt ready to mount a show.
The past two weeks have been a blur of paint and canvases during every hour I wasn’t at work. I painted feverishly, blocking out every useless emotion I could and letting the fruitful ones past my walls to guide me.
The result is fourteen canvasses, many of them large enough to command a wall on their own, all replete with deep jewel tones, abstract lines, and intense themes of renewal and hope. I have no idea where those feelings came from because I felt a lot of despair. But painting kept me from spending all my waking hours worrying that I’d destroyed the best friendship I’ve ever had.
Now, when I look at each painting, I can’t help but feel the memory of the headspace I was in when I painted it. They all reflect some aspect of Charlie—kinship, love, and heartbreak— and those are three things I’d rather not focus on tonight, so I need to stop looking.
That leaves me staring into my champagne with little enthu‐ siasm for it. Sylvia, the gallery owner, sweeps over to me, her navy layered caftan grazing the tops of brown rugged boots. Her gray hair is impeccably styled in its pageboy and her lips are redder than mine.
“So far, so good, love. It’s a success. You’re a success.” She kisses me on the cheek and moves on to speak to a tall man in a navy suit who beckons her over with a question.
The words echo in her wake as I try to figure out whether she’s just being nice. What constitutes a success at one of these gallery nights? A big crowd of mostly-strangers? I’m just proud of myself for taking a step toward feeling like a legitimate artist.
About Stacy Travis
It’s a rough world out there, and we all sometimes need a good, romantic beach read, even if we can’t make it to the beach. I’ve spent many lazy days walking the streets of Paris and other gorgeous European cities, and if I’m doing it right, I’m bringing you a dash of romance and a vacay fantasy.
I can’t sit still, so when I’m not hiking, biking or running, I’m playing a very average game of tennis. Background music for writing undoubtedly features some U2, Lizzo, Billy Joel, Pink, Taylor Swift, and Led Zeppelin. Not necessarily in that order. And if I could only eat one food group, it would be cheese. Or wine. Or bread. Are those food groups? Whatever.
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