Real Romance - By Ginny Baird

Chapter One

"So, what do you think?"

Marie McCloud opened her eyes wide and blinked. She saw bright blue eyes looking into hers, and a glacier-melting smile. What did she think, indeed.

When she'd walked into the spectacle shop nearly an hour ago, her vision had been so fuzzy she'd barely been able to make out the blue shirt and slacks the optician wore, let alone his muscular build. Now that she could focus, Marie was all too aware that the smooth-as-silk southern baritone was coming from a stunning specimen of masculinity.

She adjusted the frames on her nose and felt herself blush.

"Fine," was all she could manage to say through her clogged throat. "I'll take you. I mean, them."

Marie lifted a hand to wipe the tiny beads of sweat gathering at her hairline, thinking it was awfully hot in here for October. November. What the heck month was it, anyway?

"Well, they suit you," he said, sending the room spinning, as he leaned forward with an appraising smile.

The frames did look good with her chestnut brown hair. She was really quite attractive. Gorgeous, some would say. In an understated way, that a lesser man might think of as mousy. But David Lake knew better. He'd hooked up with more than one soft-spoken brunette in his lifetime. And every one of them had a fiery furnace burning beneath that creamy, cool exterior.

Something in her big, brown eyes told David that Marie McCloud was no different. The only question was, did she know it?

David checked his watch, then glanced back at her lovely face, trying hard not to be obvious. There was something in the delicate curve of her cheek, the long, porcelain line of her neck, the richly dark tendrils, spiraling recklessly from her pulled-back hair.

"Have any plans for lunch?" he asked, his lips racing with the thought that had barely formed in his brain.

She looked him up and down and blinked again, her color going all pink and cinnamony.

His hair was sandy and cropped short. Parted neatly on the side. He looked less like an optician and more like... a lifeguard. Marie froze momentarily at the thought of him administering mouth-to-mouth.

"I, ah..."

David glanced nervously over his shoulder to see if Caroline, his boss, had been listening. She'd have his head for certain. Socializing with the clients. Last time he'd done it, he'd nearly lost his job. Didn't help that Cindy had threatened to smash a whole wall of designer frames when he'd finally called things off.

"Can't." Marie sprang from her seat like a frightened cat. "Oh my gosh," she said, studying the clock on the wall, "twelve-thirty! Gotta be getting back."

"I'm sure they'll understand at..." David waited, hoping she'd fill in the blank.

"Books & Bistro," Marie added hastily, making her way toward the counter and digging for the checkbook in her purse. She bit into her bottom lip, realizing what she'd just done.

So now he knew where she worked, David thought, ringing up her purchase. And it was right around the corner.

"Well," he said, eyeing the soft curves of her body beneath her figure-hugging sweater dress. "You couldn't have overrun your lunch hour by that much. Surely, they won't throw the book at you."

Marie looked up at a smile brighter than sunlight on freshly fallen snow. His crisply pressed shirt did little to disguise his delectable shoulders and broad chest. The flat plane of his stomach that ran in a flawless line right down to...

Book! The only books Marie should have thrown at her were all those romances she wasted so much time reading. Silly escapism. Nothing like that ever happened in real life.

His hand grazed hers as he passed over a fabric-covered glasses case. "Hope you have better luck this time."

Marie laid down her checkbook and steadied herself against the counter. What was it in those clear, blue eyes that turned her knees to butter?

"With the glasses," David said, thinking he'd read her look. She'd been burned, that's what it was.

Bad luck with men, in a town like Covesville where the women outnumbered the male population ten to one, was commonplace in these parts. And David, he realized with a sense of shame, was partially to blame for those dismal statistics. He'd had plenty of opportunity with women. Plenty of opportunity, that was, to break their hearts. But why in the world was he thinking of that now?

Not that David ever tried to hurt anybody intentionally. It just appeared to be an unhappy by-product of his becoming romantically involved. He couldn't seem to help