“There aren’t nearly enough women in this display.” Rosie Taft braced one hand against the stepladder as she reached to place yet another book whose cover featured a dashingly handsome man into the display case in the front window of Between the Pages Bookstore. She was in the process of filling the window display with a colorful array of romance novels, her absolute favorite genre.
“Not to worry. There are plenty of ladies waiting,” Lia said as she handed Rosie the next book on the stack, a sunny yellow paperback with a woman holding an adorable pup on the cover. Lia was Rosie’s best friend and the manager of Between the Pages.
“This is more like it,” Rosie said as she tapped a finger against the illustrated dog’s nose. “I loved this one. Did you read it yet?”
“I haven’t,” Lia said in her crisp British accent. “Unlike you, I actually try to have a social life when I’m not in the store.”
Rosie carefully added the book to the display before flipping off her friend. “I go out plenty, and between you, Nikki, and Paige, I never get a moment alone at home either.”
“You go out with friends, which is not the same as a date, and you know it.”
“What’s the point of wasting my time with the wrong person?” Rosie wouldn’t apologize for being picky about who she dated.
“Because sometimes you have to date Ms. Wrong to find Ms. Right,” Lia said.
Rosie balanced on her toes as she placed the yellow book on the shelf. “I’d date Ms. Maybe to find out if she could be Ms. Right, but not if I already know she’s wrong for me.”
“Or maybe you’re holding out for Ms. Perfect.” Lia lifted her eyebrows as she handed Rosie the next book.
Rosie’s cheeks warmed as she recognized the cover, which depicted a woman in a business suit wearing killer red pumps, with the Manhattan skyline visible outside the window behind her. It was the latest lesbian romance by Brie, a notoriously reclusive author who also happened to be Rosie’s favorite.
She had stumbled across one of Brie’s books about three years ago and immediately fell in love with her writing. There was something so evocative about Brie’s words. Rosie could lose herself in one of her books and not come up for air until she’d finished. Brie wrote heroines Rosie related to and the kind of swoon-worthy romance she wanted for herself someday. Books like Brie’s had shown her what she wanted in a real-life partner, and she wouldn’t settle for anything less.
She and Lia booked authors into the store for monthly signings, so she’d immediately reached out to Brie’s publisher and to Brie herself through the contact form on her website, inviting her for a signing, only to receive the same response from both: Brie didn’t do in-person events.
Rosie supposed it went along with Brie’s enigmatic persona. Her headshot was artfully styled so that her hair obscured most of her face, and her bio contained almost no personal information. A few months ago, Rosie had replied to one of her tweets, and from there, they’d struck up an online friendship on Twitter that only increased Rosie’s fascination with her.
Brie was warm and funny, and she and Rosie never seemed to run out of things to talk about. It was more than that, though. Rosie had never been one for celebrity crushes or even online dating, but when she chatted with Brie, she felt . . . smitten. Sometimes their interactions seemed flirty, or maybe it was all in Rosie’s head. She was a hopeless romantic, after all. And if she ever met Brie in real life, she definitely wouldn’t say no to a date.
“Go on and put Brie’s book right up front,” Lia said with a knowing smile. “You know you want to.”
Rosie placed it in the center of the display. “It’s a great book with a stunning cover. It belongs up front.”
“Mm-hmm,” Lia said. “When are you going to tell her who you are? She might agree to come into the store now that you two are friends.”
Rosie shrugged as she adjusted a regency historical so that it didn’t block the Fall in Love sign at the top of the display. Paper leaves in various shades of red, orange, and yellow decorated the shelves. “We’re just online friends. I don’t even know her real name.”
“Online friends are perfectly valid,” Lia said. “I’ve met lots of lovely people online.”
“Okay, that’s true,” Rosie admitted. “But as you know, she doesn’t do signings. Maybe she has a good reason for staying anonymous. Besides, she probably doesn’t even live here in the city. Her author bio just says New York. It’s a big state.”
“And right now, you’re having too much fun flirting with her on Twitter,” Lia teased.
“It’s chatting, not flirting,” Rosie deflected, tired of trying to define her relationship with Brie. She extended a hand so Lia could pass her another book. “We talk about books and TV, not specific things about our lives. She’s very private. I’m afraid if I told her now, she’d think I was only chatting with her to try to get her into my store.”
“Well, aren’t you?”
“No. I like her as a person, and I like talking to her.” Rosie placed the last book on the shelf and then hopped down from the ladder to survey her work. The display featured a diverse array of romance novels that made her heart happy. When her mom first opened Between the Pages over thirty years ago, she’d wanted to create a store that would welcome everyone and every genre, and now that she was gone, Rosie was doing her best to follow in her footsteps.
In today’s ever-changing book market, she worked hard to keep Between the Pages relevant. She offered lots of in-store events and extras, including subscription boxes and gift baskets. Rosie’s specialty was matching a person with their perfect book when they came into the store, and she had a loyal following who returned to be matched over and over again.
Books spoke to her on a soul-deep level. They had the power to change lives when someone saw themselves represented on the page for the first time, and nothing made her happier than helping a customer find that connection.
“You know, Brie may have already been in the store,” Lia said, pushing her glasses up her nose. Today, she wore a blue-striped jumpsuit that would have looked ridiculous on Rosie but perfectly suited Lia’s offbeat aesthetic.
“What do you mean?” Rosie asked as she led the way outside so they could see the display from the street. The September afternoon was cool and breezy, and the air was lightly scented with herbs and tomato sauce, courtesy of the Italian restaurant on the corner.
“Well, she lives somewhere in this state,” Lia said. “And she obviously loves books. So, for all you know, she may have already visited us.”
Rosie put her hands on her hips as she surveyed the window. The yellow book with the dog on the cover was slightly off center. “I don’t think the chances are very high. Plus, she told me she mostly reads e-books.”
“Maybe you should keep an eye on the women who come into the store, just in case,” Lia said playfully. “You never know.”
“I don’t—Brinkley, no!” Rosie lunged for the door as her dog’s little brown head appeared in the window display, knocking over several books. She rushed inside and scooped him up before he caused any more damage. “Of course you wake up the minute I step outside.”
His tail swished happily as he wriggled in her arms, leaning to kiss her face.
“He’s probably ready for a walk, and I could do with some fresh air myself. Want me to take him?” Lia offered as she knelt to straighten the books on the bottom shelf of the display.
“Sure, thank you.” Before setting him down, Rosie pressed her lips against the little flat spot between his eyes that just begged for kisses.
Lia retrieved his leash from behind the counter and was clipping it to Brinkley’s collar just as the bell tinkled over the front door, announcing that someone had entered the store. She mouthed, “Maybe that’s her.”
Rosie opened her mouth to give Lia a hard time for even putting that thought in her head, but it wasn’t a woman who’d come through the door. It was the mail carrier, Brad. With a shrug, Lia slipped out the door behind him, taking Brinkley with her.
“Hi, Brad. Can I help you with something?” Rosie asked, because he usually just put her mail in the slot outside the door.
“Hey, Rosie. I’ve got a certified letter for you that requires a signature.” He set the envelope on the counter and slid a small tablet toward her.
“Oh, okay.” She signed her name on the screen and handed the device back to him.
“Have a nice day,” he said.
“You too.” She turned her attention to the envelope. It was from Breslin Property Development, the company that had bought this building a few months ago, and since the letter came certified, it almost certainly wasn’t good news. This was probably a notice that her rent was about to double or even triple. Rosie’s stomach swooped, leaving her feeling vaguely nauseous. She ripped the tab and removed a bundle of paper with a letter on top.
Breslin Property Development 132 W 21st Street New York, NY 10001 Ms. Taft, This letter is to inform you that the lease for 1450 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10128, will terminate on December 31st and will not renew. I have attached a copy of the lease agreement for your reference. Thank you for being such a reliable tenant, and please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. Sincerely, Jane Breslin Property Manager
“No,” Rosie whispered, blinking at the paper as if it might somehow change the words printed there. This couldn’t be happening. Breslin Property Development couldn’t just kick her out of the space Between the Pages had occupied since before Rosie was born. Well, of course they could. But why? As the letter said, she’d been a reliable tenant. She always paid her rent on time and kept her inspections up to date.
She couldn’t lose the store. She’d spent her whole life here. Memories of her mother inhabited every inch. As she swept her gaze around the room, Rosie saw her mom adjusting books in the window display, sitting in the red chair in the corner reading to a group of eager children, standing beside Rosie here at the counter. Her chest constricted painfully around her heart.
There must be a way to stop this. Frantically, she began to read through the attached lease agreement, looking for something to fight.
She was deep in rental-termination clauses when the bell over the door chimed, and she looked up to see Lia and Brinkley reentering the shop.
“It’s so nice outside today,” Lia said as she unclipped Brinkley’s leash. “I just love fall weather—reminds me of home. You should sneak out for a walk of your own.”
Rosie stared at her as tears blurred her vision.
“Rosie? Are you okay?”
She held up the paper with shaking fingers. “Breslin Property Development just terminated our lease.”
* * *
Jane Breslin walked down Lexington Avenue as her nine-year-old niece, Alyssa, skipped ahead of her, brown ponytail bouncing with each step. Jane had helped her sister out of a bind by picking Alyssa up from school today, but it meant she’d had to bring her niece with her to a meeting with the architect on her upcoming renovation project, which hadn’t been much fun for either of them.
“Look!” Alyssa exclaimed, stopping on the sidewalk. “A bookstore. Can we go in, Auntie Jane?”
Jane shook her head. She owned every building on this block, or Breslin Property Development did, anyway. She’d mailed a lease-termination letter to Between the Pages Bookstore earlier in the week, and the last thing she wanted was to go into a store she had probably just put out of business. “We’ve got to meet your mom soon.”
“Fine,” Alyssa said with a sigh.
Something familiar snagged Jane’s attention out of the corner of her eye, and she glanced at the bookstore’s window display.
No freaking way.
Brie’s latest release, On the Flip Side, was featured prominently at the center of the display. Jane gaped at the book for a moment in disbelief before standing a little taller in her stilettos because . . . wow. When she’d released her first book as Brie, she’d made the decision to stay anonymous. She could only imagine what her coworkers and clients would say if they found out she wrote sexy books, and her parents—well, okay, mostly her dad—had openly scoffed at the idea of her becoming an author, so it had seemed easier to keep her two lives separate.
After a while, she’d started to like it this way. She could be buttoned up and professional at work, helping to transform outdated buildings into something modern and beautiful. And at night, she let out her inner romantic, penning scorching-hot romance novels about women finding love, which was ironic, since she wasn’t overly concerned with romance in her own life. She was incurably awkward when it came to relationships, preferring to live vicariously through her characters.
After her first book was released, she’d gone into a few local bookstores, trying to spot it on the shelves just for fun, but she’d never found it. In five years, she’d never seen her book on a shelf.
There it was in the window of a building she was about to demolish. Clearly, the universe was having a laugh at her expense.
“Oh my gosh, there’s a dog in the store,” Alyssa said, cupping her hands against the glass and peering between them. “Can we please go in?”
“Just for a minute.” Jane relented, because really, what kind of aunt—or author—would she be if she refused to let her niece go in a bookstore?
Alyssa grasped the door’s handle and pulled it open. A bell chimed overhead as Jane followed her into the store, and sure enough, a little brown dog trotted over to greet them. Alyssa knelt to rub its head, and the dog’s tail wagged happily.
“Welcome to Between the Pages Bookstore,” the woman behind the counter said. “Let me know if there’s anything I can help you with.”
Jane gave her a quick smile before returning her attention to Alyssa. She didn’t want to notice anything about this store, not the neatly arranged shelves of books, the cute dog currently charming her niece, or the attractive woman behind the counter with her bouncy blonde curls. She especially didn’t want to notice the way the blonde’s gaze slid appreciatively over Jane’s suit.
“What’s his name?” Alyssa asked, looking at the blonde.
“That’s Brinkley,” she told her.
“Is he yours?” Alyssa asked, still rubbing the dog, who was sitting in front of her now, tongue out and looking thrilled by the attention.
“He is,” the woman behind the counter confirmed. “This is my store too. I’m Rosie. What’s your name?”
“Alyssa.” She giggled as Brinkley licked her hand.
Jane feigned interest in the nearest display of books, because shit, that must be Rosie Taft, and there was a good chance she’d already received a lease-termination notice with Jane’s name on it. She slid her fingertips over a row of mystery titles, listening as Alyssa and Rosie talked about books.
“Do you know any stories about dogs that have a happy ending?” Alyssa asked. “Because I hate when the dog dies at the end of the book.”
“Oh, me too,” Rosie agreed, and when Jane darted a glance in her direction, she had a hand pressed dramatically against her heart. “But luckily, I know a lot of books where the dogs live happily ever after. Do you want to read something set in the real world or more of a fantasy setting?”
Alyssa twisted her lips to one side as she pondered the question. “A fantasy world.”
“Okay. And do you want the dog to be the main character, or would you rather read about a girl or boy who has a pet dog?”
“The dog as the main character,” Alyssa answered without hesitation.
Rosie beamed at her. “I know just the book for you.”
Alyssa followed her to the opposite side of the store, with Brinkley at her side. Jane watched them go, noticing another employee on the other side of the store, stocking books. The woman glanced in Jane’s direction with a polite smile.
While she waited for her niece to decide on a book, Jane browsed on her own. A case full of colorful paperbacks drew her attention to the romance section. Of course she would gravitate here. Her gaze tracked automatically to the beginning of the alphabet. There were several Brie titles on the shelf.
Jane inhaled sharply, the rush of seeing her books on a shelf for the first time tempered by an unfamiliar surge of guilt. Why did this have to be the one store that carried her books? Breslin Property Development was going to demolish the existing structures on this block to put in a new condominium complex. It wasn’t personal. Just business. But that didn’t make her feel any less terrible when she saw Rosie and Alyssa walking in her direction, laughing like old friends.
“Is it okay if I get three?” Alyssa asked somewhat sheepishly as she displayed an armful of books.
“Sorry about that,” Rosie said. She had the cutest dimples in her cheeks when she smiled, and she seemed to smile a lot. She was also younger than Jane would have expected the owner of the shop to be, likely younger than Jane herself. “Sometimes I have too many book recommendations for my own good.”
“But look at them,” Alyssa said, showing Jane a book featuring a sparkly dog running toward a castle, another depicting a girl about Alyssa’s age hugging a puppy, and one with a ballerina in a pink tutu twirling across the cover.
“Those do look perfect for you,” Jane said, giving her niece’s ponytail a playful tug. “And yes, you can get all three.”
“Thank you,” Alyssa said, hugging the books against her chest.
“You’re welcome.” Jane had mixed feelings about this particular store, but she always tried to encourage Alyssa’s love of reading.
“Can I help you find anything for yourself?” Rosie asked Jane, gesturing to the shelf behind her. “If you like romance, I have plenty of suggestions.”
Jane shook her head. “Not today, but thank you.”
“No problem. I can ring you up if you’re ready,” Rosie said, leading the way toward the counter in back. Brinkley trotted behind her and curled up in a dog bed against the wall.
Alyssa placed her new books on the counter. “Is that you?” she asked, pointing to a photograph on the shelf behind the counter, showing a blonde girl about Alyssa’s age with a woman who was probably her mother. It looked like it had been taken right here in the store.
“It sure is,” Rosie said, glancing over her shoulder. “That’s me and my mom. She owned this store before me.”
Great, like Jane needed one more thing to feel guilty about. Her gaze landed on the envelope from Breslin Property Development beside the cash register, and she quickly looked away.
“Cool,” Alyssa said, watching as Rosie rang up her purchases.
She scanned each of the bar codes and tucked the books into a blue paper bag with the store’s logo on it. “That’ll be thirty-four twelve.”
Jane pulled her wallet out of her bag, but she couldn’t bring herself to let Rosie see the name on her credit card, not after she’d been so sweet to Alyssa. Instead, she pulled out two twenties and handed them to her niece. “Would you like to pay for the books yourself?”
Alyssa nodded, passing the bills to Rosie.
“Thank you,” Rosie said as she took them. “I don’t think I’ve seen you in the shop before. Do you live around here?”
Jane shook her head. “I had a meeting nearby.”
“And you went with your mom to her meeting?” Rosie asked Alyssa.
Alyssa grinned, shaking her head. “She’s my aunt.”
“I’m just helping her mom out of a childcare jam this afternoon,” Jane said.
“My mom and my aunt work together,” Alyssa told Rosie.
“Oh, that’s fun,” Rosie said as she handed Jane’s change to her. “Well, I’m glad you got some new books out of the deal.”
“And I got to meet Brinkley,” Alyssa added, walking behind the counter to pet him. His tail thumped against the dog bed.
“Well, if you’re ever in the neighborhood again, stop in,” Rosie said. Then she looked down at the envelope from BPD, and the sparkle in her blue eyes dulled.
“I’ll do that,” Jane said. “Alyssa, we need to get going or we’ll be late to meet your mom.”
Alyssa hurried over and picked up the bag of books. “Bye, Rosie.”
“Bye, Alyssa. It was nice meeting you.” Rosie waved as they headed for the door.
“She was so nice,” Alyssa said as they pushed through the door onto the street.
“She was,” Jane agreed, darting one last glance at her book in the window. She really wanted to take a photo, but Rosie was just on the other side of the display, and Jane didn’t want to draw attention to herself.
She and Alyssa walked two blocks to the Ninety-Sixth Street subway station and boarded the 6 train, headed downtown. Twenty minutes later, they exited at Grand Central Terminal, where Jane’s sister, Amy, was waiting for them. Alyssa was still talking about her new books and the nice lady in the bookstore when Jane left them.
Yes, Rosie was nice. Pretty too. Maybe she’d reopen her store in a new location after she left her current space on Lexington Ave. Actually, Jane hoped she would. She boarded another train, headed for her apartment in Greenwich Village.
While she rode, she checked the messages on her phone, hoping she might have heard from @AureliaRose113. At first, it had been weird for Jane, messaging with one of her readers, especially since she wasn’t very active on social media, but she and Aurelia seemed to have a lot in common, and before she knew it, they were chatting about everything from favorite books to dating woes. Jane opened a new message and began to type.
@BrieWrites: How was your day? @AureliaRose113: Shitty. Tell me about yours instead. @BrieWrites: Sorry to hear that. Mine wasn’t great either. Actually, I’m pretty sure I ruined someone’s day, in a roundabout way. <sad face emoji> @AureliaRose113: You?! I can’t imagine that. @BrieWrites: It’s complicated. I was just doing my job, but I still feel bad about how the whole thing played out. @AureliaRose113: Aww, I’m sure the person knew that. @BrieWrites: Thanks. That makes me feel a little better about it. @AureliaRose113: I’m glad. @BrieWrites: Read anything new I should add to my wish list? @AureliaRose113: If you’re in the mood for a romance, I know just the thing. @BrieWrites: I’m *always* in the mood for romance.
Aurelia told her about a new series set in London, and by the time Jane exited the subway, she’d already downloaded the first book and read a few pages. As promised, it was delightful. Aurelia had yet to steer her wrong with a book recommendation. Jane climbed the steps to the street, wishing she’d brought flats to change into, because her feet were killing her in these heels and she still had a four-block walk ahead of her.
As she walked, her thoughts drifted to Rosie Taft. For a moment when Jane had first walked into the store, she’d been sure Rosie was checking her out, although she certainly wouldn’t have been interested if she’d known Jane’s name. And wasn’t that just the story of her life? She never seemed to have her timing right when it came to dating.
Luckily, she was a lot better at writing romance than experiencing it. On the page, she had control of all the variables and could guarantee a happy ending for her characters. She thought of Brie’s book in the display window. Did Rosie read her books? Jane had a vague memory of a bookstore owner contacting her for a signing a few years ago. Had that been Rosie?
Finally, Jane let herself into her building, grateful for her first-floor apartment so she wouldn’t have to take another set of stairs in these heels. She walked straight down the hall to her bedroom to change into a T-shirt and lounge pants and then backtracked to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of wine.
She was on a tight deadline with her latest book, which meant she’d be writing until she went to bed. But first, she picked up her phone and tapped out a quick message to Aurelia.