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Queen of Hearts (Gambling on Love Series Book 4) by M Andrews (1)


Chapter One

 

Lucy

 

Lucy Bishop, The Queen Of The Hot Mess, should be what they call me when I get that Mother of the Year award after showing up to my daughter’s school on the first day with my hair up in a bun so messy it looks like I went ten rounds with a band of squirrels. The mascara from yesterday smeared under my eyes, and the sweats I’ve had since college that are so thin a good wind could blow them to smithereens. I asked, more like begged, Bailey just this once to take the bus to school, but she insisted that I escort her little butt to school on her first day of Junior high. She’s eleven and has yet to realize that I’m an embarrassment and should be avoided at all costs. Especially on days like today when I over sleep and am forced to leave the house looking like a train wreck. But my sweet kid still loves her momma.

“Bailey, how about we say our good byes at the corner,” I suggest. It’s the first day of the new school year, and I don’t want my kid to kick-start the year as the girl with the crazy bag lady as a mom. It’s junior high, and she’s going to have enough awkward moments of her own, she doesn’t need me adding to them. 

“Okay fine.” She begrudgingly sighs and rolls her eyes. Now that is the eye roll she should have given me when I ran down the stairs looking like this and shrieking at the top of my lungs that we were going to be late. I’d passed out last night of exhaustion before setting my alarm. I should have had my head examined when I came up with the idea to open a second location for my coffee and book shop. I’ve been going out of my mind running two shops. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though. Connie, my assistant manager at my first location is ready to move up to manage the second location. With this extra help, work will calm down a bit, and Bailey won’t be visiting her mother in the looney bin.

“I love you, my sweet girl, and I hope you have an amazing day at school.” I pull her into my arms and kiss the top of her head.

“I love you too, Mom.” She squeezes me a little tighter. I still can’t believe she is starting junior high. It seems like just yesterday I was sobbing my eyes out, dropping her off for her first day of kindergarten. Now, here she is, a little woman, starting a new chapter in her life.

I hold onto her for a moment longer before releasing her. She gives me a kiss on the cheek, then turns to start her way down the last block to school. I watch her all the way to the crosswalk, and she knows I’m watching, because she turns and waves goodbye one last time. 

Days like today, I wish Colton was here to share these moments with me. I know in some way he is watching over her, giving her his strength, but it still feels like something is missing. Bailey was a year old when Colton died. To her he’s just a man in a picture holding her on the day she was born. She got two months with her father before he shipped out for his last tour in Afghanistan. If I would have known it was going to be the last time we would ever see him, I would have taken a million pictures of them together. Made him spend every minute of every day with her. But we thought we had our whole lives for stuff like that. It was supposed to be one year out of her life he would miss. That one year quickly turned into a lifetime, thanks to the bomb that hit his convoy.

May 17th will forever haunt me, that was the day the blue sedan pulled up to our house and tore our whole lives apart. If it wasn’t for Bailey, I never would have survived losing Colton. She was and still is my only reason for getting out of bed every morning. I keep fighting for her. That kid is my world.

I blow her a kiss then turn and bolt down the street toward my car. Finding a parking spot anywhere close to the school had been impossible. I pray like hell none of those gossipy PTA moms see me. I’m still trying to get those evil harpies off my back after the store-bought cookie incident from two years ago. Damn private school snobs, turning their noses up at my box of Lighthouse sugar cookies. Like any of those uptight bitches made the cookies they were selling at the bake sale. I’d like to see them run two coffee shops and raise a kid and see how they manage. The only thing most of them know how to do is their nails. 

I make it to my car without further embarrassing myself. A hot shower and an IV of coffee are sounding so good right now. I’d rather have a ten-hour nap, but beggars can’t be choosers. I may sneak in a quick nap under my desk after the lunch rush down at the shop.

I pull up outside my house ten minutes later. Just as I start my way up the walkway, I hear my neighbor and best friend Brooke call out my name. I stop and turn around, and see Brooke walking toward me up the sidewalk. Brooke and I have been friends for nearly five years. It felt like we’d known each other for longer, what with me being obsessed with her books. I’m surprised she didn’t run screaming for the hills after our first meeting. I fan girled hard when she walked into my coffee shop. I practically threw myself at her. She was really sweet about the whole thing, and once I calmed down, and we had a chance to get to know each other, she became one of my best friends. We bonded over losing the loves in our lives. Now, she is like a sister to me, especially after marrying my brother from another mother, Brian.

I was so happy when Brian and Brooke found each other, they were both going through hell at the time. Brooke, still dealing with the death of her fiancé, and Brian, pissed at the world after he walked in on his ex in bed with his boss. They pulled each other out of the pits of hell, and they have become that perfect sugary sweet couple that makes you sick because they are so in love.

As she gets closer, I notice just behind her is her gorgeous as fuck big brother Hunter, pushing a stroller with Brooke’s two little cuties, Ella and Matthew. It’s no surprise he looks damn sexy pushing that stroller. Hunter is the kind of guy that makes the most mundane things looks a million times sexier. He would make me wet watching him brush his teeth. Of course, today of all days, God decides to play a sick joke on me. Lucy Bishop looks like she just crawled out of a hole in the ground, let’s have the most beautiful man she has ever seen show up to surprise her.

I quickly wipe the mascara from my eyes and tuck the wild, stray hairs behind my ears. None of which is going to make much of a difference. “Hi Brooke. Hey Hunter, when did you get into town?” Don’t engage Lucy, you look like hell, I scream at myself in my head. What I should have said was, “Hi guys, I wish I could stay and talk but I’m running late.” Unfortunately, my brain and my mouth are not on speaking terms at the moment. 

I can’t seem to control myself around Hunter. I haven’t been able to since the day we met. He smiled at me with that crooked smile and dark eyes, and I turned into a horny bitch in heat. Hell, I would have let him get some under the sweater action the way he came at me with that cocky charm. Today he is looking equally hot as fuck, with his morning scruff and messy dark hair. It should be a crime to look that good this early in the morning. My hand twitches at my side, wanting to sweep the stray curl that has fallen over his forehead. I’m in an obsessive relationship with his curly hair. He normally keeps it tamed with either a hat or product. The last couple of times he’s been in town he has left it natural and wavy and I secretly love it.

As he tells me about his latest adventure as a photojournalist, I catch him eyeing me up and down. This man is used to being around some the most beautiful women in the world, ones that know never to walk out of the house looking like a flaming hot mess, and now he is forced to make small talk with his sister’s best friend while she makes googly eyes at him. I hate to imagine what is going on in that handsome head of his right now. Hunter has always been really sweet to me and to Bailey. And he has flirted with me, but I think it was him throwing a lonely woman a bone. It’s not like I’m his type anyway. From what Brooke has told me about her brother, he’s kind of a man whore who has a thing for bone thin models. He has a fuck toy on every continent. But it isn’t stopping him from giving me sex daggers right now. If he only knew the cellulite covered nightmare that was hiding beneath these clothes, he wouldn’t be so interested anymore. I don’t take Hunter as the kind of guy that would be interested in stretch marks and cellulite.  

“Hunter, tell Lucy your exciting news,” Brooke says, jabbing her brother in the side with her elbow. “He’s moving to Seattle,” she blurts out before Hunter has a chance.

“Thanks for ruining the surprise Sis.” He rolls his eyes.

“I’m sorry, I’m just so excited to have my big brother living in the same city again.” The excitement radiates off Brooke’s face. I know how much she has missed living close to her brother. Hunter living in Seattle full time, lord help me. 

****

It’s after ten when I finally make it into the shop. Thanks to a little mascara and dry shampoo, I feel like a human again. Too bad Hunter couldn’t have seen me like this, instead of the she-beast he met earlier this morning. I dump my bags in my office then head out to check on Connie. This is the first morning she has had total control of the shop during the morning rush. It’s a test to see if she can handle things on her own when it’s time to pass the responsibilities of running the second location on to her. With it being the first day of school, I’m sure it’s been a non-stop revolving door of tired and elated parents getting their caffeine fix before shoving their kids through the doors of the school, it was the perfect test.  

The shop is in one piece, and I don’t see Connie rolled up in a ball in the corner sobbing. Everything must have gone okay. I knew it would, Connie knows what she is doing. She was a creative director for Saks in New York for eight years before her and her husband moved to Seattle, so he could work for Google. Connie lasted a year of being a stay at home wife before she went crazy and needed to find a job again. Before I hired her, she was one of my regular customers. One day I found her redesigning the window display, and when I asked what she was doing, she responded, “Getting you more customers.” She was feisty, and I liked that, so I offered her a job. Since she has been working here our profits have gone up thirty percent at both locations.

This coffee and book shop have been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. I practically grew up in my parents’ diner back on Bainbridge Island. I served coffee and pie before I was tall enough to look over the counter. It was where I discovered my love of coffee, well, more like my obsession with it. I can remember sitting at the counter after school, drawing my coffee shop on napkins and telling my mom one day I’m going to have a place of my own that will sell coffee and books, because those were my favorite things. They still are. It wasn’t until I met Colton that I realized my dream could become reality. Once Colton had finished his final tour of duty, we were going to move back here and open my shop. When he passed away, I found myself having to do it all on my own. It was the scariest thing I have ever done, and I would do it all over again, because it taught me I can do anything I set my mind to.  

“Thank God you’re here boss lady.” Connie lets out a deep exhausted sigh.

“I take it, it was a crazy morning,” I say, slipping on my apron.

“Candice called in sick, and Toby was late getting the pastries done, so I’ve spent all morning dealing with pissy under caffeinated people going through sugar withdrawals and overly chipper moms excited to be dumping their children back at school. Not to mention those basic bitches ordering skinny, sugar free, triple shot bullshit.” The woman sitting at the table behind Connie, makes a disgusted look when she hears Connie’s comment. Connie is so New York with that brazen “I don’t give a shit attitude.” 

“Yeah, we’re talking about you miss double shot, skinny, two percent, one pump sugar free,” I reply to her snide expression. She gets up from the table and rolls her eyes in our direction as she turns and walks away.

“Don’t act like I didn’t see you adding twelve brown sugar cubes in your latte when you thought I wasn’t looking,” Connie calls out after her. The door slams behind Miss Stick Up Her Ass, and Connie and I both double over with laughter.

“We are going to hell.” I chuckle.

“Well, at least the coffee will never get cold.” She slumps down on the stool behind the cash register. “How did your morning go?” she asks as she snaps the gum she’s chewing.

“Let me tell you just how wonderful my morning was.” You can cut the sarcasm in my tone with a knife. “First my alarm didn’t go off, which lead to me packing my kid’s lunch with leftover spaghetti and skittles. There was no time to get myself ready, so after parking, I walked Bailey a block away from the school so as to not embarrass her while I was looking like a train wreck, and to top it all off, I ran into Brooke and her gorgeous brother as I was getting out of my car at home.” I let out a long sigh.

Connie grits her teeth and hisses. “So, Mr. GQ saw you in all your glory.” Mr. GQ is the nickname Connie gave Hunter. Every time he comes in the shop he looks like he just stepped out of an issue of GQ. The bastard probably looks like that when he gets out of bed in the morning.

“Holey sweats and all.” My head drops in shame. “I swear, my life is just one big practical joke.” I hope God is having a good laugh on my account. “But the strange thing is, he couldn’t stop giving me the come sit on my dick eyes. I was a legit mess this morning and it didn’t seem to faze him.”

“You could have dicks coming out of your eyes and that man would still want to fuck you.” Connie’s comment drops me to my knees with loud snort.

“Oh my God, stop,” I choke out between laughs. There are tears rolling down my cheeks from laughing so hard.

“You need to do us both a favor and throw him a bone…fuck his dick off. I can’t because Eddie frowns upon cheating, selfish bastard.” Connie jokes about cheating on Eddie, but she would never go through with it. She loves her emotionally dysfunctional computer engineer husband. “So please, fuck Hunter already then share every dirty detail with me,” she begs, clasping her hands in front of her face.

“Connie, you know I can’t do that. Believe me, it pains me and my pussy to not be able to fuck his brains out, but you know Brooke told me to keep my distance with her brother. He has a bad track record with women, and she doesn’t want to see me get hurt.” I wipe the tears from my eyes and rise back up. Brooke warned me about her brother and his lack of heart when it comes to women. After their mom died when they were kids, Hunter saw how destroyed their father was after losing his wife, and how Hunter never wanted to experience that kind of pain, so he locked his heart away and has kept women at a distance. “Which is going to get a lot harder now that Hunter is moving here.”

“Girl, Mr. GQ is moving here! There is no keeping your distance from him now.” She’s right. At least when Hunter was living in New York I had a three-thousand-mile buffer. Now I’m going to see him all the time. 

“Brooke means more to me than a one night fling with her brother.” Because that is all it would be with Hunter and not worth throwing away my friendship with Brooke. Well, maybe him seeing me naked would be enough to scare him away.

“Who says you have to tell her.” She gives me a sideways glance.

“Connie, you know I am not the kind of person to do that to my friend. Brooke doesn’t want me getting too close to Hunter and it is going to stay that way. Now, if we are done talking about this, I am going to go help Toby with the cupcakes.” Before Connie can get in another word on this subject, I turn on my heels and head for the kitchen to hide. Even if Hunter did want to sleep with me, he is off limits.